The Importance of Framing – a Hunt vs. a Walk

I rarely have completely unsuccessful shoots or photo walks. Even if I don’t get the particular shot I had in mind, I usually capture something that I would consider a keeper, and frequently come back with an image much better than I had been hoping for. Today almost wasn’t one of these good days. The weather was crazy (in a good way, at least for photos), but the excessive wind kept me out of the woods for a large portion of the day – I’ve had a couple of close calls with falling branches and trees in the past, and I appear to be getting older and wiser, or at least older and slightly less self-destructive.

The down time provided an opportunity for me to think about what I wanted to shoot. I decided that it might be interesting to use my neutral density filter in the whiteout, just to see the effect that it might have. Once the wind died down a bit, I took a test shot from my porch. Interestingly, the 30 second exposure (thank you, ND filter!) significantly increased visibility in the literal whiteout; I decided that I liked the atmospheric effect, and ran off to don my snow gear. The hunt was on (spoiler alert: considering this a hunt, as I like to do, was my main mistake of the day).

TIme to make my brother clear his trucks off the lawn, don’t you think?

In the thirty seconds it took me to grab my coat and boots, it stopped snowing. I nearly put my gear back, but decided to venture out anyway, in the hopes of making the most of a bad situation. The creek near my house had been my intended subject for my snowy long exposures, so I adapted and decided that it would now be my subject for my not-quite-so-snowy long exposures.

This was not a wise course of action. My creek is beautiful, but very difficult to photograph; odd angles, consistently abysmal light, a strange mini-ravine, and hundreds of fallen trees and branches always manage to prevent me from getting the shots that I want. I was hoping that the fog-like effect created by the snowy exposures that I had intended would create enough atmosphere to compensate for the lack of favorable light. I’m sure it would have, but since the falling snow was no longer my ally I ended up with absolutely horrible shots of the creek itself.


I didn’t give up without a fight, but everything resulted in disgustingly terrible to mediocre shots, so I decided to mope my way downstream in the hopes of finding a shot. I visited one of my favorite subjects, a tree with an amazing exposed root system, but still ended up with disappointing results.  I moved on, and as I continued to wander around dejectedly, the sun decided to spite me and began to emerge from the clouds – for about five seconds at a time, brightening tiny spots on single trees, while leaving nearby trees unilluminated. While it cast a lovely glow, its intermittence and narrow scope made shooting even more of a nuisance. Annoyed, I turned around and began heading home.


Thanks, sun. Really handy.

Luckily, I’ve become smart enough to leave my camera out after I decide to call it quits. No matter how cranky I am when I decide to stop shooting, I always manage to get distracted or inspired before I stomp my way home. This time, as was inevitable, I got distracted by the light that had initially annoyed me, and stopped to shoot in a couple more locations.  This shot that isn’t anything spectacular; I just like the textures created by the snow and the bark. Strangely, I also really like the look of the falen branches in the background in the bottom of the frame.


My last series of shots ended up being my favorite of the outing. Additionally, I finally managed to get a “looking up at the trees” shot that I was happy with. The sun was completely out at this point, and the clouds were breaking to reveal patches of blue. When I noticed the wind picking up once again, I decided to take advantage of this, at least, and set up my tripod with my camera facing straight up. My neutral density filter allowed me to take six second exposures without blowing out the now-bright sky, and created the motion blur in the branches that I had been hoping for. I took several exposures with the wind at different strengths, to make sure I could choose the amount of blur I found most pleasing. The shot below is my favorite, and it was taken when the wind was a moderate strength – a happy medium.

Finally! I’ve successfully taken one of these cliche shots.

If you look at the first image in the post and compare it to the last, it’s obvious that I didn’t succeed in capturing an image that even remotely resembles what I wanted. That said, even if I hadn’t come back with the last shot (which I do like), it’s impossible for a photo walk to be a waste. For all my crankiness, I still had fun! That’s the one danger with treating a photo shoot or photo walk like a hunt – as fun and motivating as it can be, hunting is very frustrating when you come back empty-handed. Once I managed to stop treating this particular endeavor like a hunt, I ended up having a pleasant walk in the woods instead. That’s never a bad thing, and even if I’m not happy with the photographic results, at least I got more practice, which is always a good thing.


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