Mark Alberhasky offers up a great piece of advice for those trying for that little extra something in their photography.
I just returned from teaching a photo workshop in San Francisco for the American PHOTO / PopPhoto Mentor Series. As usual, the process of teaching others is an opportunity to revisit basic principles and renew enthusiasm for the foundations of good photo technique.
One tenet I truly believe is that by, “looking into, not through, the viewfinder” we can greatly improve the content of what we place in our images. Another principle I stress is the importance of working a scene, so when a special moment presents itself, you are either ready or capture the moment during a series which portrays the unfolding drama.
Imagine what can happen when good fortune finds the shutter button depressed as both these approaches are at work. When this kind of magic happens,
a picture can literally define itself inside your camera.
The story unfolds in a progression, so the accompanying images should be viewed in order. Don’t cheat and look ahead!
We were visiting Arizona, spending a few days in Sedona, an absolutely stunning photo destination which is not the location for this story. My wife had never seen the Grand Canyon, and when she heard others talking about a day trip during breakfast, our plans changed in an instant. My honest reaction was to think, “We’ll only actually have about two hours there. That will be little more than torture since to do justice to the Grand Canyon would take days if not weeks.” But she was excited at the prospect, so I shared her enthusiasm.
As you drive the south rim there are multiple scenic overlooks, where guard rails and safe tourist walk ways present millions of visitors each year with basically the same canyon views. Glorious, yes. Photographically novel, no. But when faced with a compelling landscape that one may see firsthand only a few times in a life, one has to shoot. So I did.
Now something as huge and sweeping as the Grand Canyon can actually be quite difficult to capture. A wide angle view shows so much that the grandeur can be diluted. Telephoto views can become such detailed studies that the scale is lost. It can be a real quandary. But from the perch at Lipan Point, I found an interesting promontory in the afternoon sunlight which I decided to capture against distant shaded canyon wall, with the Colorado River in the receding distance. I carefully defined content in my viewfinder and began a short series of images, first with a wide horizontal view, then with a narrower vertical composition to study canyon wall detail.
(frames MTA_3861 and MTA_3863.
While holding the camera vertical, capturing several frames to ensure sharpness, I noticed movement at the top of the frame within an otherwise static landscape. My breath caught and I could not believe my eyes. A figure walked right to the edge of a sheer drop off and casually sat down. I literally watched this happen in my viewfinder and managed to calmly continue shooting, capturing several frames until he stood back up and walked away, his companion no doubt having taken his picture from nearby.
This momentary addition of human scale within an otherwise almost incomprehensible vista defined the image which started with this shot.
I now knew that to complete this moment I needed several additional vertical images progressing out into the canyon view for a sweeping panorama.
I won’t argue the element of luck involved in being there at the exact moment this young man “went for a walk”, but the sequence bears out the inherent value in studying the content of the viewfinder while continuing to work the subject within a given scene. The proof is in the pudding!
(If I’d been shooting film I can guarantee I’d have been changing the roll as this happened! Three cheers for digital and high capacity memory cards!)
If any of you can’t see the images within the email, you can download them from this webpage, looking for the corresponding file names: