Earlier this fall a friend posted a photo on Facebook of vine maple trees on the shore of Clear Lake up in the Cascade Mountains. The trees were vibrant with fall color and the wonderful blue-green color of the north end of the lake added to the beauty of the scene.
I knew the area where my friend’s photo was made, so on the next day with suitably overcast weather I headed up to the McKenzie River Trail for the short hike to the lake.
It was a pleasant little hike and the maples were doing their thing. I didn’t want to imitate the photo I’d seen, but I envisioned something along the same lines – looking across the lake to a nice grouping of colorful trees on the opposite shore. But after a couple of hours walking up and down the trail, trying various compositions, I was getting frustrated that I wasn’t seeing well. I just couldn’t find a composition that I liked. So when it started to rain, I decided to pack it in.
And then I saw this one small vine maple right next to the trail. Despite the rain I got the camera out of the backpack, set up the tripod, and started shooting, getting closer and closer with a wide angle lens, trying to make the brilliant leaves a really dominant foreground with the lake and trees on the far shore as the background. But again I became frustrated, just not liking at all what I was seeing on the LCD.
Finally, I stepped back, took a look and suddenly found an image I was happy with. Not a wide angle landscape like I’d planned, but a telephoto close-up, emphasizing the color of both the leaves and the lake. Backing away from the tree and using the 70-200mm lens I was able to frame a nice arrangement of branches and leaves. The shallow depth of field from using the telephoto lens made the water mostly out of focus, although you can see soft white spots all over the background – which are actually the glint of sun on raindrops hitting the water.
Once again I found that my best photos result from really working a scene. The pre-conceived idea doesn’t always work, and I need to be open to seeing in a new way. I need to try different angles, different approaches, and sometimes, both literally and figuratively, step back for another look.
What is your method? How do you work a scene when what you see in person doesn’t match what you thought you would find?