My approach to shooting small scenes

I was recently asked what focal length I used on a particular photo so I decided that I would write something that might be more helpful than simply answering the question. Let me first state that I do not consider myself any leading source of info. 🙂 This is nothing more than me sharing what I do. Take it for what it is.

Texture has become a fun subject for my wife and me to shoot. We did a photo tour in Death Valley with some good friends of ours, David Kingham and Jennifer Renwick, which if you’re interested I highly recommend for photo tours. You can find more information about them at Exploring Exposure. One of the stops they took us to was the infamous mud cracks. We had seen so many photos of them and we became obsessed the first time we saw them in person. Since then, every time we visit somewhere we always take time to pay attention to all of the smaller details going on around us as we hike.

This has helped me train my eye to see patterns, lines, and textures that I used to gloss over because I was looking for the grand landscape view. I also feel that it helps add variety to my portfolio because a lot of the shots are not of things other people will have.

The beauty of texture shots is it can be done in almost any light. As always, certain scenes will look much better in different lighting conditions. Sometimes harsh light can help these shots out to emphasize shadows. I begin by walking around an area just scoping things out. Paying attention to lines or whatever the scene is. If they are lines, do they lead you to a central spot? Random lines typically cause confusion for a viewer because it can lead their eyes all over the scene. If there are not lines, what is it about the shot that you like? How do you take a photo that highlights that certain aspect and more importantly, how will you process it to bring it out even more?

Most shots that I do are with my Canon 16-35 V3 f2.8. At times, I will swap out to the Canon 24-105 to compress the scene a little more. There is no right or wrong lens, but it’s usually more to do with the scene itself. Before I begin editing, I decide if I need to crop the image at all. Once done, I apply my lens correction profile, sharpen the image, and go from there. Depending on what you want your final shot to look like will decide if it is in color or B&W. If there is not much color in the photo B&W might be the better option.

Depending on the angle and layout I decide whether or not I need to focus-stack the image. During the day, if I do not focus-stack, I can do most of this handheld. It’s always good to shoot faster shutter speeds so that you eliminate movement. If you’re shooting near sunset then you will eventually need to switch to a tripod. The sharpness of images like this is everything. I always zoom in 100% first to make sure the edges are in focus. In the field, if you have an image you like a lot, take the time to review the image. Zoom in on it as much as possible to double check that the focus is where you want it to be. Sometimes autofocus can miss the mark just enough to ruin the photo.

The image above was a focus-stack project. I aligned the rock so that I could make it appear larger than what it was by using the distortion of the lens on the corner. There are many ways to enhance detail, but I highly suggest that you do not crank up the clarity slider.

Small scenes will challenge your ideas of composition and typically put you in a spot to really concentrate on how to line a scene up. I have enjoyed retraining my brain to pay more attention to the most basic items that so many of us walk by the majority of the time. Now when the weather does not cooperate for the grand views it usually opens up tremendous opportunities for other stuff. I think the most important lesson in all of it is to not have preconceived notions of what you want to shoot. Approach everything with an open mind and allow the scene to dictate what you shoot. If you’re not careful you can become frustrated and miss out on something cool.

If you have any questions that require more in-depth information, please feel free to ask in the comments or email me.

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