I have photographed Fort Clinch on Amelia Island around a dozen times. I’m fascinated by the light and architecture—the many tunnels, windows, doorways, arched ceilings and worn, handmade bricks. I usually go with my tripod, camera and one or two zoom lenses on lightly overcast (preferred) or sunny days.
Earlier this week, I was on the island and it started raining. I ditched my plans, grabbed my camera and drove to the fort. No tripod, no zoom lenses, no filters. Just a 50mm lens and an umbrella. The rain tapered, but it was still wet, drizzly and moody.
Shooting in different weather wasn’t my only motive for returning. I wanted to try looking at the fort in new ways. Handholding allowed me to be more playful. The 50mm lens required me to zoom with my feet—physically moving closer to or farther away from my subject.
I noticed some things had changed at the fort. Furniture had been rearranged; some windows had been opened while others had been closed; the pantry was open in the kitchen; white barriers had been randomly placed along an exterior staircase (above); a different (interpretive) soldier was on duty.
When you find a subject or location you like to photograph, keep going back. See what has changed. Capture different moods by photographing in different seasons or light. Push yourself creatively by focusing on something different, using a different lens, or experimenting with a different technique each time you go. Be open to the serendipitous—the interaction of people or animals with a place or each other. One time think broad views; another time think intimate details. Look for opportunities to tell different stories about or reinterpret a place.
Is there somewhere close to your home or a place you travel to often that you could photograph regularly? Why not start building a portfolio of images about that place? If you do, I'd love to hear about your experience.
I’d rather shoot one fine photograph than 100 mediocre ones. The catch is, we sometimes must take 100 shots of something before we nail it. Okay, perhaps that is an exaggeration. Then again, Imogen Cunningham reportedly took 100 shots to produce her iconic magnolia blossom photograph.
However many photographs it takes, the point is that if something is worth photographing, it is worth taking the time to photograph it right—to get an image you are genuinely pleased with. Too many times, we take a shot or two and then move on without having fully explored the possibilities of our subject. Far too often, we leave the best shot behind: We’re in a hurry. There are other shots to get. Someone is waiting on us. We’re hungry. We were intrigued, but distracted and not fully engaged. And then there are things like clouds, light or people that aren’t as cooperative as we'd like. I know, it’s hard to wait on clouds to or people to do their thing, but it can mean the difference in a publishable and non-publishable shot, something you hang on your wall or stash in the trash.
We need to slow down and study our subject like a painter might. We need to look at it from different perspectives—taking time to walk around it, move closer, move away, look underneath and look down from above, as possible. We can try photographing it with different lenses or at different shutter-speed and aperture combinations. We can add a filter, alter the light, or change some element of the composition.
And that’s just the beginning, because then we have at least as many choices for how we interpret the image during processing and printing. But you’ve got to nail that image first. I challenge you: For the next week, for everything you photograph, photograph it ten different ways. If you like photography because it helps you to see the world around you in new ways, you should love this exercise.