Photo Techniques- Documentary to Interpretive

In this section of the blog it is my intent to share, not preach. These are techniques I like to perform in the field (or at the computer) as I pursue my photographic vision.

When I stop for a photo opportunity my first instinct is to produce documentary photos. These could be landscape, intimate environmental portraits or close-ups. One of the beauties of digital photography is knowing that I have bagged the shot according to histogram and review screen so I am often left with the question ‘what else can I do?’ Usually my answer  (apart from trying different angles and waiting for changes in light) is to try interpretive approaches with my camera. Here are some examples.

This photo is a documentary landscape image of autumn colour. Documentary images tell stories and describe scenes, perhaps providing some insight into ecological or behavioural relationships in nature.

Using in-camera multiple exposure I then treated this scene with an interpretive approach. One frame is exposed in focus followed by five frames out of focus (shallow depth of field) with a bit of zooming thrown in. It creates a dreamy, Orton-like effect. If you don’t have in-camera multiple exposure it may be possible to shoot 5 or 6 separate frames and then combine them later. There are a number of possible variations but I find that 6 frames is a nice starting point for satisfactory results.

Something else I like to do, if I can produce long shutter speeds, is walk with my camera while the shutter is open. Long shutter speeds can be achieved with neutral density filters as well as low ISOs and polarizers.

I try this technique on little-travelled back roads. I call it ‘drive-by-shooting’. I try to set the camera controls to produce a shutter speed around 1/8 s, f16, auto focus and aperture priority exposure. As I drive by colourful subjects, I point the lens out my window, one-handed, and loosely try to stay with that subject as I fire the shutter.

Camera Movement is a tried and true interpretive technique that works well for fall colour, especially if I have tall tree trunks. I like the technique for horizontal as well as vertical. I try to use shutter speeds 1 s and longer and I keep my camera on the tripod, with the ball head loose. I tend to use telephoto zooms for this technique (70-200 mm) but some neat results can be produced using wide-angle lenses, since these lenses exaggerate perspective.

Fall Colour Report, Northern Ontario

Autumn is a frantic time for outdoor photographers. So little time, so much colour. We hope for an alignment of the colour planets- favourable weather and excellent displays of pigments in the foliage of the hardwoods, among other things. This year I was moping a bit, disappointed in the progress of autumn. The birches just weren’t doing anything and it seemed as if the maples were peaking too early. Add in several days of bald blue skies, which are OK to a point, and I was largely sitting on the sidelines. I have to be careful that this type of ‘seen it better before’ mindset does not influence me to miss otherwise good opportunities- one of the themes in my Close to Home Book.

In the meantime I got a blog post from Adventure Photography in Colorado. Cathy and Gordon will be leading a group to New Mexico (Bosque del Apache for birds) in December. Brenda and I signed on for that tour. Their blog post was packed with great pictures of Colorado Fall colour. That helped to nudge me to get off my eastern butt and get out there to see what I could find. Fortunately the weather was calm, making for great reflections around here, since we have so many lakes. Close to Home are Simon Lake and McCharles Lake/Vermilion River. The colour planets had indeed aligned and luck was with me as the maples had not yet passed their prime.

Reflections in Simon Lake

These two locations are minutes apart, by car.

Reflections in the Vermilion River