A long time ago, I read a blog post by Joe McNally, Nikon Legend. His schedule freed up that fall, and he took Jay Maisel’s 5-day intensive workshop in New York City. I tried to find the post on Joe’s blog site to share with you, but I just couldn’t unearth it. The take away and point that comes back to me every so often was a comment that Jay made as he walked behind his students as they were processing. He stopped at Joe and said (expletives removed) “Move your feet, McNally” as apparently the on-screen contact sheet of thumbnails that Adobe Bridge provides showed that Joe had not moved off his “spot,” as he worked the composition and subject.
Earlier this month, I was shooting in eastern Washington (The Palouse) in a workshop group of ten students from all over the country run by another Nikon Legend Behind the Lens, Tony Sweet. When the group first arrived at this incredible scene, the composition below was what all the students lined up to shoot — the postcard shot. There were just too many people vying for the same spot, so I decided to go elsewhere and return to the shot when the crowd and tripods thinned out.
The Postcard Shot; Nikon D800 converted to 720nm; Nikkor 24-120mm f4
I wandered down the dirt county road to work the composition below. I made sure that I got separation between the trunks of the two trees. I hiked the tripod up, in the hopes that the lowest-hanging leaves would clear the hillside in the background (isolate and separate as Tony says). But alas, I’ll have to wait until the new D800 series body is released … I hear it will have an articulating LCD screen like the D750.
Nikon D800 converted to 720nm; Nikkor 24-120mm f4
But the most fun I had was putting the 16mm fisheye lens on the D800 body. I got down low and centered the trees to reduce the distortion, keeping the camera body level with the ground (any tipping up or down made for skewed results common to fisheye use). The result blew the clouds into an arc of sorts almost encircling the two trees. Not enough separation between the tree tops and the puffy clouds (ah, the bane of infrared) but at least I made the effort to try something different.
Nikon D800 converted to 720nm; Nikkor 16mm Fisheye
After working both sides of the road, I came back to the composition that everyone else got — the postcard shot, as I call them. Believe it or not, probably at least 45 minutes had passed and there were a few people still shooting the postcard scene in the same place when I first left them. They had planted themselves and they had not moved an inch. I doubt they changed lenses either.
When I was a beginning landscape shooter, I did the exact same thing. I got home and looked at my images in Bridge. I was appalled I had been stuck in the same spot and took no other compositions. I didn’t move my feet. I had 500 images of the same thing. You can imagine how I felt (with time and distance) when I decided all the images from that particular location were
crap not worth processing or disk space.
These days I am quickly seeing different compositions in an area. I believe it is because I have spent a lot of time shooting over the last year. I have become photographically discerning. Now I will wait for clouds to appear (or disappear), walk greater distances to see how the subject looks from different viewpoints (which inevitably results in a new subject!), go “low” (tripod flat on the ground), look for less visually complex compositions (simple is elegant), and change lenses if I am feeling uninspired. Perhaps it is also because I am shooting in monochrome. You quickly see exactly what you are shooting. You cannot hide a
crappy poor composition behind gorgeous color.
Above all, I make sure to move my feet.