My workshop season for 2013 kicked off with a bang with my recently completed Winter Big Sur Workshop. I begin all of my Orientation meetings with the same statement: I am not the type of instructor who will get constantly bother you while on location; however, I will check on all of you and please ask questions! Three questions that inevitably will be asked at each and every workshop I teach are: What lens should I use here? What are we shooting here? What is the best shutter speed when shooting water? (assuming the workshop is based around some form of water) All legitimate questions but also the type of questions with no definite answers. Let’s take a look at all three and hopefully you will see what I mean.
What lens should I use here?
I always understand when someone asks this question as we arrive at a new location, but my answer is always the same: bring them all. I liken the situation to the old game of Where’s Waldo? Location shoots are not designed to find a single image or composition; instead, they are generally areas that I have pre-scouted that I feel will offer a plethora of compositional opportunities combined with the correct light. I understand if a student doesn’t want to lug an entire backpack; at that point I will give suggestions. But generally my answer is to bring all your lenses. McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is a good case in point. Most people start of shooting this iconic scene wide angle – awesome! Yet, there are so many other potential compositions that I have used lenses all the way up to a 600mm! My mantra is: start wide and work tight, make horizontal and vertical compositions along the way. Here are a couple of examples:
The first is a standard wide-angle scene shot with my 16-35mm, zoom at 16mm. This gives the viewer the entire “grand view” scene and includes the sun that lines up with the cove only during the winter months.
My second composition is an example of a vertical composition. I started working this scene horizontally, then flipped the camera and worked it again vertically.
If I was to just think wide angle, or worse, tell my students that this is just a “wide angle location,” then I would be missing compositions. This next image was of McWay Fall shot with a 300mm lens.
Another example of a telephoto lens isolating a section of an incoming wave with a 400mm lens.
As you can see, I ran the gamut from 16mm to 400mm – vertical and horizontal. Bottom line: if you limit your lenses, you limit your compositional choices!
What are we shooting here?
From an instructor standpoint, I love this question. When scenes are obvious, our brains tend to go to mush. My most rewarding images are the ones I had to dig to find. There are images everywhere in nature awaiting our discovery. For me, that is a huge part of what makes landscape photography fun. Don’t get me wrong, I like shooting the icons as much as anyone else, but I also like finding scenes that are uniquely mine. Here is a scene I captured in Yellowstone National Park. Does this scene scream – YELLOWSTONE? No. It’s a tight isolation scene of travertine that was literally right at my feet.
At no time did a I think, I’m only shooting tight travertine images today! I had a backpack full of lenses and used most of them on this location. This image is just one of many I captured on that location shoot at Yellowstone’s Mammoth Hot Springs.
What is the best shutter speed to shoot water?
Impossible question to answer for three reasons. Water motion is a function of focal length + distance + speed of the water. Three variables that are constantly changing. Thankfully, we have LCD screens that can give us a great idea as to what is going on. You are the artist. The question you need to be asking is what effect you are seeking: misty, scratchy or frozen (or anything in between)?
The image that leads off this blog was captured with a 1 second shutter speed. It lent for a painterly affect to the water. Of course, a longer shutter would have allowed for mist. Here is an example where I let the wave turn to mist with a longer shutter speed. It’s your call. If you are not certain, bracket your shutter speeds and decide later.