With Photography, It Pays to Experiment

You never really know what shot is going to turn out to be your favorite.

I went on a hike yesterday morning with a friend. We met at 6:30 AM and proceeded to hike up a steep trail on the west side of Wenatchee, WA. It was a mostly clear day with thin clouds overhead and smoke from a fire about 30 miles away drifting in over the city.

Lone PineI brought along my camera. I didn’t really expect to find anything of interest to photograph, but on nearing the top of the first big hill — after an elevation gain of about 800 feet in 1-1/2 miles — I caught sight of a lone pine tree on a hilltop off in the distance. It reminded me a bit of the Lone Cypress at Pebble Beach. (Just a bit, mind you.) I had a subject for a shoot and captured multiple images of it against the sky. I thought that with the sun behind it, I’d get a nice silhouette. I peeked at the screen in the back of my camera after each shot and liked what I saw. (More on that in a moment.)

Weeds with TreeAs I continued the hike — my friend had gone up ahead because I’m so damn slow when hiking uphill — I got a little artsy with some weeds along the trail. I liked the way the sun shined through them. Remember, the sun was up ahead of me. Again, from what I could tell, the image looked interesting in the screen at the back of the camera. I felt good — as if I were getting some interesting shots.

I met up with my friend and we stopped near the base of the pine to take in the view. I only had one lens with me — my 16-85mm — so I couldn’t get a shot of the tree as close as I would have liked. But I figured I’d already gotten some good shots, so I didn’t beat myself up over it.

But as we were turning away, I decided to experiment anyway. The city was spread out beneath us, under a layer of haze from that forest fire. The light on the mountains in the distance was still warm. The clouds were interesting and random. So I shot one more photo before we began the hike down. I peeked at it on the LCD screen and wasn’t impressed.

That evening, I looked at the photos I shot on my 27″ iMac’s monitor. I was disappointed — to say the least — in the “lone pine” shot I thought would be good. Apparently, my eyesight simply isn’t good enough to see detail in the little screen at the back of my camera. Even the shots with the weeds didn’t do anything for me.

But the last shot — the one with the city in the background — the one I just framed up and snapped almost as an afterthought — that turned out to be my favorite shot from the morning’s hike. What do you think?

Lone Pine Over Wenatchee

I take away two things from this experience:

  • My eyes suck. I really can’t depend on what I see in that tiny LCD screen to know whether an image I captured is any good. I should probably bring along cheaters so I can actually see what’s in the damn screen.
  • Experimentation can be a very good thing. If I hadn’t tried that one last shot, I wouldn’t have come away with any images that I liked. I should definitely experiment more so I have more to look at back at my desk.

Thoughts?

15 thoughts on “With Photography, It Pays to Experiment

  1. I love photography as well. I was wondering if a Polarizing filter may have helped? I have a very good friend who is a photographer who I’ve known for years. I taught him flying back in Washington, DC and he aught me a little about photography. He was a photographer for Nat’l Geographic. He comes to Wickenburg once a year with his son to photograph the preseason baseball league and I would love to introduce him to you. His name is Jim Sugar and he lives near San Francisco. If you Google him you would see a number of his incredible photos. He has done a lot of work for Burt Rutan and others.
    Thanks for a summer full of wonderful stories and pictorials!

    • I had a polarizer on the camera for all of those shots. Even rotated it properly for the best effect. I won’t give up on silhouettes. I’ll just try a bit harder.

      As for your friend, I’d love to meet him. But we’re about 90% out of Wickenburg these days, so might be tough to connect. I’m planning on getting back to WA as early as May next year. Don’t expect to be in AZ until October. Just no reason for me to come back. I need to decide on my NEXT place and move there.

      • I read your articles all the time, so I will have a bit of an idea where you are. I did hear something of humorous interest you might find interesting. Our good friend, Ron Badowski says he’s going to run for Mayor next year. Boy, is this a great example of an ego gone overboard? I guess we’ll have to look for another 90 yr. old to run against him. (Didn’t mean to ruin your week!). Fly safe!

        • Frankly, nothing that happens in Wickenburg would surprise me anymore. He’ll probably win, too — by having competitors’ signs go missing in the middle of the night and other equally sleazy tactics. The people of Wickenburg are just dumb enough to vote him back in.

        • I do work in a military history office as an archivist and I’ve been going through mountains of personal awards given out since 1989. Going through them I noticed how incredibly (impressively to me) diverse the surnames are ethnically, from all over the world and a few of them I thought were pretty cool names. By coincidence, last week my favorite surname I came across was Badowski. (<:

  2. Hi. I carry three pairs of glasses with me just to make sure the my photos are properly sharp and I also have the diopter adjustment on the viewfinder of the camera dialed in to match my vision. Also, I’m aware of the relationship between the focal length and f-stop as far as how they affect focus.

    • THREE PAIRS!!! Jeez, I hope I never need that many.

      When I check focus in the field, I always zoom in. I should probably have the cheaters on for that, too.

      As far as composition and exposure go, that tiny screen is just too misleading for me. I never really know how well I did on a shoot until I look at the photos on a computer screen.

  3. Hi Maria,

    Those photos are fantastic – I am a photographer in my spare time and recently upgraded from a point-and-shoot (a Kodak EasyShare Z700 Zoom) to a Digital Single Lens Reflex (an Olympus E-620 Twin Lens). I take photos of events, helicopters, trucks, cars and sometimes even landscapes – I will post some up on my personal blog and will post the link on my Google+ profile with a + mention so you can find it!

    Cannot wait to share my photos with you!

    Joe

What do you think?