“BkkSteve, the most difficult thing for me is knowing what to photograph.”  This might be the most common question I get during a workshop. It’s also a topic we could talk about and fill volumes with.  In fact, many have.  Thousands of such books.  We’re going to cover this topic in a short multi-part series “Pointing Your Camera.”

Fuji x100 @F11 1/320th ISO 200

“BkkSteve, the most difficult thing for me is knowing what to photograph.”  This might be the most common question I get during a workshop. It’s also a topic we could talk about and fill volumes with.  In fact, many have.  Thousands of such books.  We’re going to cover this topic in a short multi-part series “Pointing Your Camera.”

The person asking this question is really telling me they have trouble ‘seeing’, or put more bluntly, filtering what they do see to narrow down their choices to the best available composition.  You’re not alone, professionals the world over face the same question each and every time they pick up their camera.

Really, all it takes is thought.  But thinking takes time and few are confident they’ll come up with the right image.  So they avoid thinking much about their shots and they try to compensate in other ways.  I’ve had friends and clients running around at light speed taking pictures of everything in sight hoping later in post-processing they’ll be able to pick out the best scene and come up with that magic image.  This rarely works, the only difference in post processing ‘might’ be that you have more time to view.  But the moment is lost and you can’t go back.  My biggest challenge in such cases is to get them to slow down and smell the flowers.

Does this sound like you?  Allow me to use the Karate Kid Mr. Miyagi analogy.  When you learn martial arts (and many other things) you learn the process/steps in slow deliberate steps.  You do this over and over enough times (wax on, wax off) and soon you can perform these steps extremely fast without much thought at all.

Some genres of photography are this way.  It’s always better to put more thought into a composition, but certain types of photography, like street shooting, weddings, and event coverage provide little time for thought.  So, practice your wax on and wax off steps, over and over again, and soon you’ll be able to step into a situation and make great compositions in a fraction of the time you could before.

Take enough time to go out with your camera and take slow deliberate steps, wax on/off, in deciding on your composition.  Do this enough times and you’ll soon know what to point your camera at in a fraction of the time you could before.

As you get comfortable with choosing your composition add in your compositional rules of choice, steps for exposure, steps for critical focus, and soon you’ll achieve the Full Monty without much thought at all.  You’ll even be able to do it with the kids hanging off your legs, the wife nagging, traffic buzzing, and Red Shirts protesting.  Nothing will stop you from achieving great images.

Okay, that’s the theory, now let’s look at my shot above and I’ll explain what was going on in my head when I made this capture.  Anyone who has been out shooting with me, either in a workshop environment or just a casual shoot, knows I often drive through areas in full scan mode.  We might be talking, but my eyes are always “seeing” and at the drop of a hat, often in mid-sentence, I’ll stop the car to capture a scene.

This is how I found this scene in rural Oregon.  I was driving the back roads and nothing seemed remarkable.  I turned a corner and was presented with these wildflowers planted by a vineyard operator to prevent winter erosion.  I saw that the wildflowers presented a sharp and colorful contrast to the rest of the environment so I looked around for other compositional elements.

The mountains were the obvious choice with the valley centered.  The wicked winter sky was a bonus.  Remembering my personal rule of always trying to ‘anchor’ a wide angle landscape I looked around for an anchor and couldn’t find anything.  It was then that I noticed the wildflowers had as much detail as they did color, and if I moved right up on them they’d make a decent anchor as well.

 

In the above composition I moved even closer and used the taller standing flowers as anchors, making sure they were sharply focused, there was enough depth of field (DOF) so the near hills were sharply focused as well.  The three main colors, the grey of the sky, the green tree covered hill, and the yellow wildflowers equally divided the scene.

Fuji x100 @F11 1/220th ISO 200

In the above composition I moved even closer and used the taller standing flowers as anchors, making sure they were sharply focused, there was enough depth of field (DOF) so the near hills were sharply focused as well.  The three main colors, the grey of the sky, the green tree covered hill, and the yellow wildflowers equally divided the scene.

I find it pleasing, but not as strong as the first example image that peers over the entire crop of wildflowers and down through the valley with the interesting sky overhead.

You might not agree, you might prefer the latter or none at all.  This is the choice you’ll soon make if you wax on and wax off enough to build your own style.  And you’ll be able to wax on the move.  Give it a try and see if it fits.  I wish you fast and productive shooting.