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Fun Things to Try

More than just the subject pictured, photography is also about how you choose to show it. Your selection of shooting position, focal length, and other variables change what your results look like in significant ways. Here are some fun exercises to help explore new ways of seeing things.

Try standing in a forest and look straight up to see a view of the trees most people never notice. As the trunks separate into branches and recede in the distance, they appear increasingly slender. Branches from adjacent trees will seem to merge and converge directly overhead. Look for an area with good tree density but some sky peeking through. Mount a wide-angle lens on your camera, point it upward into the canopy, and see what you can find. Take a shot whenever you find a pleasing composition. A tripod will help to hold things steady while you fine-tune the framing. It may take some effort to mount your camera in this position if you've never done it before. Seeing through the viewfinder can be tricky as well. If your camera has an articulating LCD screen, you're in luck. If not, see if your camera supports a right-angle viewfinder attachment. City dwellers can substitute downtown skyscrapers for trees. The same idea works.

If the crick in your neck from looking straight up gets to be too much, try switching directions. Point your camera facing straight down and try the same exercise. We rarely look at the world this way, and you'll be surprised at what you can find once you look. Since the horizon line won't be visible, you can rotate the camera around the lens axis as necessary to create a pleasing arrangement. Zoom in or out to alter the framing. But don't get too far into the telephoto range, or you'll find yourself unable to focus. Longer lenses inherently have longer minimum focus distances. If your focal length is too short, you'll have difficulty keeping tripod legs out of your shot, but hand-holding will introduce unique challenges. Take your pick.

Returning to the world where we tend to look horizontally, let's try a different exercise. Mainly out of convenience, most images are shot from near eye level. For fun, try seeing what the world looks like from ground level. Flowers, mushrooms, and even random grasses and rock formations can serve as good subjects. Shooting from their level can feel like you have entered the world most people never see. You can frame shots in context with a wide-angle lens or use a longer focal length to focus on the details. For years now, I've had an obsession with seeing how low I can go while still holding the camera steady. I've tried many ways of getting lower. But one solution with a regular tripod is to flop the head over to ninety degrees, then lay the whole tripod on the ground. The camera mounting platform will now be just a few inches above the ground. Spread the tripod legs slightly to improve stability.

Now try shooting from as high as possible. Drone-mounted cameras have become increasingly workable and popular these days, but I'm talking about a more terrestrial exercise here. Tripods have their limits even with a center column, but there are ways of getting a leg up. I've shot from the roof of my car more than once. Each spring, the canola and other crops in eastern Washington's Palouse region bloom, and this vantage point helps me get a better perspective on the show. A convenient rock formation has proven helpful on other occasions. I even climbed a tree in search of a higher vantage point once. Hold your camera over your head on a pole and fire away for a different approach to the problem. Framing and composition can be matters of random chance, but with enough frames, you may get lucky. Or, if your camera has megapixels to burn, take what you can, and then crop your images later.

Photographers typically strive to have as much in focus as possible, but there's nothing that says you can't march to a different drummer. As a fun exercise, try shooting with the widest aperture you own. You want only the essential elements necessary to recognize your subject to be in focus. My favorite way to do this is by adding a short extension tube to a telephoto lens to focus closer. Depth of field decreases as you get closer, just as in close-up and macro photography.

There are lots of similar exercises you can try. Any constraint or choice that forces you to change the usual way we see things will work. Who hasn't shot a waterfall with a slow shutter speed to see the water blur? Or with a fast shutter speed to freeze each droplet in mid-flight? The ideas I've outlined here are no different. Photography can allow us to see the world in new ways, but it's up to us to give those ways a try.

Have fun.

Date posted: January 23, 2022


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