‘Work the scene’

Created date

August 10th, 2016
Photo of a stone structure

"If you concentrate and work the scene, you might find a fine-art photo that’s truly a wall-hanger."

When taking landscape and scenic photos, there is usually more than one picture contained in the scene that you are photographing. You just have to find them. The best way is to “work the scene.”

A technique I use is to first examine the location with the naked eye. I analyze and assess the character of the scene—is there a story to be told or just attractive picture options? I look for what appeals to me, what interests me, what catches my attention and holds it. I try to note other elements that might influence my photography, such as the position of the sun and obstacles that might impede my freedom to move about.

I advise that you shoot alone or, at the most, with one or two other photographers. Eliminate all distractions that might divert your attention from what you are doing. That includes chatting with other people. Working the scene takes a serious amount of concentration.

My preference for a camera with a viewfinder isolates me and allows me to concentrate solely on what the lens shows me. It also permits me to compose a scene better than with the LCD screen. 

This process connects me to the scene and unlocks unlimited photographic possibilities. I’m now ready to look through the camera. I feel inspired and excited—ready to document a visual cornucopia of color and light. Here are some tips that might help you work the scene.

Helpful tips

Center your attention on the subject or object that first attracted your attention. There may be more than one single object. The scene might contain a number of illustrations that tell a story. 

Photograph a wide, establishing view first and make only one exposure. If you limit yourself to just one wide-angle shot, you will force yourself to be selective, to move around and discover the best angle. Now, locate the other shots—find the variety of images that are hidden in the scene. Take a lot of different pictures, not a lot of the same picture. Hold the camera near the ground for a low-angle shot. Move around. Zoom in close and frame small pieces of the scene. If you don’t have a zoom lens, use your legs to get closer. Shoot lots of close-ups as they will be useful if you later decide to tell a story in the form of a slideshow or composite print. 

Look for abstract shapes and patterns as well as lines, curves, circles, and triangles. They often lead the viewer’s eye to what you want him or her to see. Converging lines are particularly effective for this purpose. Bright colors and highlights draw the eye, too, but they can be a distraction. Avoid them if they are not important to the composition of your picture. Eliminate, if possible, all objects that don’t contribute to the shot or interfere with the character of the scene. 

Finally, step back and ask yourself, “Did I get it all?” If you concentrate and work the scene, you might find a fine-art photo that’s truly a wall-hanger.