February 04, 2022  •  Leave a Comment


This week I would like to discuss the opportunities that await when you take a walk in a location where the photographic possibilities are less than stellar. Ordinarily new locations will engender creativity by their intrinsic novelty. Some places almost defy you to take a "bad" shot, resulting in an embarrassment of riches. There a photographer is faced with the problem of the tyranny of choice, with the result that when we are reviewing our images later we realize that had we taken just a little more time it would have allowed us to improve a particular image. But what do you do when you arrive at a location and realize that there is not that much to photograph?


     Are we getting farther from a snapshot with black and white or am I just fooling myself?


My answer is to fall back on what I am ordinarily interested in, and try to create an image that appeals to me, even if it hasn't much to do with the location itself. Of course you can take the few obvious shots, but I believe your best success comes when you concede defeat by the location and just see what you can find despite the apparent banality around you. This also is a good strategy when you discover that the location has some possibilities, but that you lack the equipment or the experience to take advantage of it - you didn't bring the wide angle or the telephoto lens, or maybe you have very little experience in wildlife or sports photography.

Having watched some incredible football over the last few weeks, I'll try a football analogy. The best coaches are adept at taking what the opposition is willing to give them instead of banging their heads against the wall. On the other hand, they also do not abandon the tactics or players that "brought them to the dance." So when you are confronted by a less than stimulating location, rather than just putting your camera away, try to both experiment and fall back on your visual strengths, to take what the location has to offer and to create imagery that is not location dependent. By distilling your vision, by concentrating on your particular way of "seeing", I feel that you can create images out of thin air - let others worry about "what or where it is."

                            MT. ST. HELENS OVER VANCOUVER LAKE : FINAL VERSION

Right now I'm thinking that my readers are thinking that Rich is more delusional than usual - I'm showing you images of glorious mountains and complaining about a location. These images were captured on one of the few nice days we had in January, when I walked along the Columbia near Vancouver, Washington. The park was pleasant enough, the weather was wonderful, the birds were abundant, but in general I was having a rough time finding something to shoot. Part of this was the casual response I might have to what visitors would find extraordinary. I'm not saying that the mountains aren't beautiful, but that after thirty years of capturing Mt. Hood sometimes it can be hard to find something new to say. So familiarity can be part of the problem at a location others might find very stimulating. So sometimes take what you can get. Are these the best images I have ever taken of Mt. Hood? No. But are they mildly interesting? I tried to use the river's reflections and the flight of geese to generate something new. Someone might think of these images as "studies", reminders to come back sometime at a better time or with different equipment. If I was a "proper landscape photographer" I might return to the river at dawn to capture a better reflection, or rent a very long lens to capture the geese larger above the mountain. And my very aggressive panorama cropping also makes these images more than a casual snapshot. But come on, how many photos of Mt. Hood can you take? Even a Mt. St. Helens portrait, from such a far distance, is mostly useful to scare Easterners when they realize that lump was once far more pointy than Mt. Hood.


Another problem I had with this location was the very thing that attracted most of the visitors - the birds. I like birds as much as the proverbial next guy, but I have long realized that nice bird images require a lens at least of the 400mm length. My 200mm zoom will not suffice, and it actually pains me to see people taking birds in flight with their phones, although i know it shouldn't. Here I tried to compensate with a long distance look at the reaction of ducks across the river in Oregon when some hunters intruded on their lunch. No one has to know that I actually miss-timed the shot -there were at least twice as many ducks a moment before. A tight crop removed most of the sky and the sun behind my well-placed Oak.


This image shows how I finally achieved one good shot after many meaningless snaps of a large flock of geese in a field nearby. The first solution was to get closer, to cross the road and get right up to the gate about twenty yards away. 200mm would now suffice, with a lot of cropping. I finally got somewhere when I crouched as low as my knees would allow, which put me down to geese level. Just like portraits of children, it pays to get the camera down to their eye level to appreciate their view of the world. I took the image when I realized that one goose had been volunteered for guard duty while his comrades pecked at the grass.

                                                       BOLLARDS : FINAL VERSION

Like I said, take what you can get, especially if it falls within your comfort zone. If my specialty is noticing things that others might not, for better or worse, then why stop when you are on a walk across the river? Who cares if this "says nothing" about this park, or Vancouver, or my feelings about the state of the world? It just excited me to see perhaps my first shadows of the year. Remember, just because you might thrill at mountains, a resident of Portland might just get giddy at a shadow. I also wondered about how so dangerous cyclists could be that would require such a phalanx of bollards to protect the adjacent field from harm.


This was my best image of the day, in my opinion, which might mean nothing to you. I was attracted to this slightly surreal scene of a beach volleyball tournament venue ready for action at least four months before anyone in the Pacific Northwest would conceivably desire a chance to play. My telephoto lens only increased the absurdity by reducing the distance between objects in the scene. It looks like it would be impossible to play on these courts, just like photographers make New York streets appear to be crowded by millions instead of mere thousands of pedestrians. I also enjoyed the photogenic net borders, and the way the very white poles contrasted with the dull sand. The panoramic crop also seemed to fit with the subject. If this image is about anything, it's about the nets, so who cares about the sky, or the trees, the river or the sand?


Photographers must learn to judge their own images without concerns about how much trouble they took to get the image - most viewers certainly don't care, especially when it comes to post-processing. Some people still feel it's at least cheating, but I feel that it is my art, and while I still have not replaced a sky, I have gotten more liberal about "distractions." At least at this scale of enlargement, software can enable the disappearance of distractions like monkey bars or cargo ships that do not contribute to the subject of the image. Of course, some might feel that these distractions aren't really that important, but it is my image. What you don't know can't hurt you, right?


I did my best to convert this image to black and white, but I couldn't achieve the impact of the pink nets. I used the On One preset that is somehow called "Machinist" for some reason, that rendered the pink as the lightest shade of grey than any of the other poetic presets available in the program. I'm getting more comfortable with this program for two reasons. I have realized that while it's effects might seem ridiculous at first glance, all it takes is to just lower the opacity to a more reasonable level below 50%. I have also finally discovered a book on the software, which allows me to use my best learning method. I'm still learning to cope with the fact that it is an "e-book", but I have begun to reconcile with the Twenty-first Century. After all, I doubt that many of you are printing-out my musings, and I am grateful for my "readership", no matter how you receive my essays. Thank you.