The Big Picture, The Little Picture, No Picture

"The Big Picture"

Often times I take notice of other photographers while I'm out in the field taking my own photos. I think most of these photographers that I encounter would probably classify themselves simply as tourists, amateurs, or maybe even very serious hobbyists when it comes to photography. It never ceases to amaze me just how little time some of these people stay in one spot while taking landscape photos. It seems that they show up, break out their camera, then engage in the “rapid fire” technique of shooting photos, and averaging something like 25 photos in about as many seconds. Then they make a quick hop to the other side of the subject and do the exact same thing. They pack up their gear and are gone almost as quick as the photos they took. I always shake my head and wonder, what did they really get, are they going to be satisfied with it and if they realize how much better their photos would look if they simply slowed down and took their time to take a quality photo. The fact is, the big picture will always be there, and it’s usually been photographed over and over by countless other photographers. This is one of the brutal truths of being a landscape photographer. The next location, the next “big picture” will always be there waiting for you. Remember, you’re trading quality for quantity when you are trying to shoot as many locations as possible in the shortest amount of time possible. If you are that pressed for time across the multiple locations that you are trying to visit, if possible, try to make plans to come back when time allows you to stay longer in one place.
Slowing down is a lesson that most people should learn and practice, especially when it comes to photography. The benefits reap greater rewards and become evident once we see how much better our photos become. It also allows you to put your spin and style on what it is you’re photographing, and it helps to set you apart from the thousands of other photographers that have been here before you shooting the exact same thing. Photographers that are engaged in burst speed photography really have very little chance of getting their images just right in the camera, or seeing the “little pictures” that always accompany the “big picture”. Once you are on a location, go ahead and take the big picture, because we all do and love to. Don’t deny yourself this opportunity, that’s why we are here in the first place. Then stop and look around for a few minutes. Just look, observe and see what exactly is in front of you. Really see it. It only takes a minute to do. You will be amazed at the things that you start to see when you really begin to look closer. Slowing down in the field can sometimes save you lots of time in editing, and is well worth the extra few seconds, or even minutes. It may also allow you to capture the best photo that you have ever taken. It’s true. Lighting sometimes looks entirely different in a matter of minutes depending on the conditions and the time of day. You have virtually no chance of capturing a scene the best it can be if you are continually on the move, and in rapidly changing light or weather conditions. There are no second chances and redos here. Once the moment is gone, it’s gone forever.

"The Little Picture"

It has been said, “There is enough subject matter within a 20 mile radius of where you live to provide you with a lifetime of photo opportunities, all you need to do is look for them,” or something along these lines. Not all landscape photography is about the grand scene, or the “big picture” in front of you. There is so much to see at almost any place we shoot that we could literally spend hours there, and often times I do. Learning how to see beyond the big picture is something that requires practice and patience, and anyone can learn this amazing skill. People are quite often surprised to learn that many of my shots that are not of the “big picture” itself are taken in the same location. “I didn’t even see that”, or, “I had no idea”, or even, “Wow, I never even noticed that” are the usual comments we hear. I too love the grand scenes, but I also love getting the little things that help make and support the bigger picture. It’s a bit more intimate and provides a much broader view of an area. It also helps to either create or complete a series if that is your goal. I can’t stress this enough but, the opportunities are there, you just have to remember to slow down a little and train yourself to see them. This comes with time, patience and practice.
The “little picture” can be a grouping of leaves or it can be swirling water patterns. It can be the flora in the area, whatever that might be. Maybe it’s a macro of some flowers. It can be a tangle of tree roots or it can be a decaying stump with a plant growing out of it. It can sometimes be an unusual insect or small creature that you might not have seen or had a chance to photograph previously. It can be an abstract or out of place color element in the landscape. Quite possibly it can be an unusual rock or cluster of rocks. Maybe it’s a growth that is out of place but yet here it is. It’s quite possibly a sunray or the way the light is playing off an object. Obviously these are just a very small sampling of examples but the point here is to make people that might not be aware that photo opportunities are everywhere they go, not just the iconic landmarks, or tourist trap that has been photographed to death scenes that stand before them. Sometimes those little shots are every bit as good, sometimes even better than the big picture once you learn to look past it. This never ceases to amaze me.

"No Picture"

There is also something to be said about actually standing in a place and taking in the visual stimulus and surroundings that are feeding your senses and feeling and experiencing an emotion that is stirred up by the scene or location. Everyone that takes landscape photos should also learn to practice this skill as well. Stop and take a few minutes to allow yourself to take it all in and notice what you’re feeling. We all know people who have photos from some very beautiful, breathtaking landscapes, scenes and locations, but aside from the photos they took, they couldn’t tell you the first thing about the place other than how to get there, or if it made them feel anything at all. We personally find this sad. It’s truly a beautiful world we live in. Seeing it with our eyes, heart and emotions and not just through camera viewfinder is a skill that also takes practice but can be learned in time.
I have seen sunrises and sunsets that have taken my breath away so much that I have forgotten to snap the pic. Seriously. It has happened more than once. I have seen waterfalls that have stopped me in my tracks. I have seen rain, fog and atmospheric elements that mostly goes unappreciated by other people. Landscapes, in all conditions, seasons, and weather patterns have beauty of some kind and in various forms. Sometimes we need to just put the camera down, or step away from it, let ourselves feel what we are seeing and experiencing and get caught up in the moment and just have the experience of being a human being looking at something wondrous and beautiful. Fortunately for me as an author and photographer I get to share that with my wife in everyday life, in our travels and also through our photographs. After all, that’s some of what life’s all about isn’t it?
Snowy Path to Cable Mill - Cades Cove
Frozen Cable Mill - Cades Cove
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