I just love it when a photo works.
When I’m out hiking with friends there’s a lot going on. First of all, I almost always have my children with me. They require a bit of attention. Secondly, I’m usually not the one in charge, or at least I don’t want to be, which means I don’t set the pace or decide when we take a break. Thirdly, we’re hiking. We’re moving forward, constantly paying attention to our surroundings and our footing. None of these things make taking a particularly good photograph while out on a hike easy.
However, every once in a while it happens. All the stars align and an image not only presents itself, but maintains itself just long enough for me to capture it.
I didn’t take a lot of pictures on our most recent hike to Providence Canyon, but I did take this one and I’m pretty happy with it.
I tend to be pretty critical of my work, so it’s a little difficult for me to write this post about how much I like this photograph, but the more that I look at it, the more that I love it. I figured I’d take a little time and walk through the different points that make it great. In the end you can tell me if you agree. There’s nothing better for an artist than an honest critic.
First of all, let’s talk about LINES.
This photograph has multiple lines, which makes me very happy indeed. There is a lot you can “fix” in post-production, but beyond a little cropping here and there you can’t fix composition. That’s one thing you’ve got to get right the first time.
I love a good fence rail. It creates instant lines. Lucky for me they are often found along trails, where I primarily shoot these days. The fence here starts in the bottom right of the photo, weighting the image and providing a starting point for the viewer’s eye.
The line of the fence pulls the viewer deeper into the photo and trails off near the back, leaving a bit of mystery. The fact that the end of the fence is hidden from view and does not reach all the way to the other side of the frame is even better. The viewer can imagine where the rest of the trail might take them, creating an even larger story than what is actually shown in the frame.
Alongside the fence is the line of the trail itself. This strengthens the sense of movement within the frame, forcing the reader’s eye to follow it deeper.
The fence rail, however, is not the only line in the image. All three subjects in the photograph are looking off towards the distance in the same direction. This creates powerful movement within the frame and adds dynamic energy as the lines pull the viewers eyes in different directions.
The SPACING OF THE SUBJECTS is perfect.
I’ve photographed enough hikes to know how hard it is to get this right. So often, when I’m behind a group of people trying to capture the perfect image they all end up stacked on top of each other. I know how to get around this, but unless I’m taking the time to stage the photograph and put people where I want them, it rarely happens spontaneously. I’m not working with models that understand their relation to the camera. I’m “working” with real people who just want to hike. So, when this happens, I celebrate.
My subjects are far enough away from each other (but not too far) and I was able to shoot at such an angle that there is a distinct silhouette of each person. Even the dog decided to cooperate, leaving enough space between itself and its owner. Seeing the far subjects foot, clearly visible, is also great. The dog may be blocking one, but the location of the foot mid-stride is so dynamic that it’s all that’s needed.
Having my hikers to the right of center also adds to the weight of the photograph and creates a pleasant amount of negative space off to the left.
Out-of-focus FOREGROUND OBJECTS add DEPTH.
I really lucked out with this one. To create this effect in the studio you simply grab an object and place it perfectly within frame. The trick is to not let your foreground object dominate the image so you move it around a bit til it looks good. It will eventually land somewhere just enough in view to create a bit of mystery as to what it is and where it will ultimately add to your composition.
On a hike, in real-time, this is flat-out impossible. Impossible to stage, but not impossible to capture.
Tree branches stick out into the trail all the time. Catch a few of them in frame, make sure they don’t block your subjects too much, and you’ve succeeded in the effect.
The foreground leaves in this photo are the icing on the cake. Everything else fell into place, but without them, the photo would be somewhat flat. The fence does draw your eye deeper into the photo, but the leaves add so much depth to the image. Quite literally, given that they are out on trail, the viewer begins to really get a sense of where the subjects have come from, where they are and where they are going.
The LIGHTING wasn’t perfect, but it worked.
The last element worth mentioning is the lighting. Now, we started this hike around 11am, which meant I was shooting in one of the worst possible times involving direct sun. When the sun is directly overhead it creates impossible shadows that just can’t be “fixed in post”.
On top of that, the heat of the day and the light reflecting off the leaves created a very hazy environment to shoot in. These aren’t conditions that I love.
The saving grace, however, was the small amount of clouds in the sky that drifted over us throughout the day. At the moment I took this photograph there was enough diffused light from the clouds to make it work.
If you notice the near subject’s left arm, the light falls off nicely on it. Yet, the sun was shining bright enough to create a nice rim effect on both subjects’ hair. There is a lot of light reflecting off the leaves, which can sometimes be distracting, but in this photo I don’t mind it. It creates a feeling of the last days of summer, before the cold of the fall takes over. (Amazing that this is the sense you can get from a photo taken in January.)
The sun is bright enough to create these effects but tempered by the clouds enough to avoid harsh shadows on the ground from our subjects and the fence rail. It’s really quite wonderful how it all worked out.
It All Comes Together
They say the more that you shoot, the better you get. I always feel like there is so much more to learn with photography, that there is always a way for me to improve. I try to bring my camera to every hike these days and sometimes I’m inspired on one hike more than another. Either way, I always make a point to snap a few pics. This photograph is the reason why.
I’m so pleased with how all the elements came together. In a studio I know what to do to get a good composition, to get the lighting just right, but you don’t always have that level of control out on the trail.
More often than not I end up with blurry images as my children run away from me and harsh lighting from mid-day sun. Even still, I keep shooting because sometimes it works. And that’s the goal, isn’t it?
So I’ll keep practicing. I’ll keep shooting. And every once in a while I’ll get an image I fall in love with.
So what do you think? Do you like the photo? Comment below with what you think works and what doesn’t.