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  • Writer's pictureEvan Ruffell

Quick Thoughts #2 - Take a Minute or Ten

Showing up at a new shooting location is exciting every single time. Living on the west coast and shooting nature/adventure images often means I hike for hours along muddy and root-covered paths to discover new spots. Coming out of the forest or over the ridge and finally arriving feels like a success all on its own. I’m eager to jump right in and start taking images. Surely most photographers can relate. However, I’ve noticed a negative side effect resulting from this urgency.

Jumping right in always results in shooting the most obvious subject first. A natural tunnel vision sets in. Taking many extremely similar images while trying to dial in a “perfect” composition. There are a couple of issues with this. First, at the end of shooting, you end up with a bunch of variations of the exact same image. You’ll eventually cull and end up with only 2-3 images despite the time commitment. The lack of diversity also limits your ability to tell a story later. Photosets that show many different elements can give viewers a much stronger “sense” of the place versus a singular stand-out image.

Secondly, focusing on the obvious subject also means you end up with the same photo as everybody else from that location. An easy way to see this effect is simply searching a location on Google Maps or Shutterstock.

Finally, after spending the time and focus to capture that singular subject, my mind is locked in a rut. I’ve subconsciously forced myself into deciding what is important in the scene. Breaking out of that and exercising any further flexibility or creativity can be extremely difficult.

An effective solution I utilize now is to simply find somewhere to sit, set a 10-minute timer, and start taking notes. I often bring a notebook and pen along (notes on your phone work just fine too). While you could try and do this all in your head, I find the act of writing it out forces you to continue generating new ideas, good or bad. I usually begin by jotting down some random compositional elements (example: reflection, colour contrast, movement, foreground element). You start to notice more subtlety and come away with a significantly more varied set of images.

To show this in action I walked after work one day to Lily Lake in Beacon Hill Park. It's a tiny location, nice but nothing that would normally capture the imagination. The sort of area you enjoy, stroll through, and forget in a couple of minutes.

Quick phone capture to show the area. Certainly nothing that would stop you in your tracks.

This time, I sat down, set a 15-minute timer, and started jotting down whatever sprang to mind. Please ignore my horrendous writing.

And resulting from that list and 2 hours of shooting are these images.

Some ideas worked, some ideas didn’t but I came away with way more than just shots of the obvious fountain focal point. They are by no means my best photos. No new portfolio shots. Yet by taking the time to observe first, I got far more varied and interesting images than most people would expect from this little, unremarkable location.

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