Pro Tip from Jeff Foott: “Shooting the Scene”

There’s a story behind every image. A combination of visual cognition, emotional response, thoughtful investigation, composition, technical judgments, and timing (among other factors) play into the creation of the best photographs. It’s a process of purpose.

Visionary Wild instructor Jeff Foott recently shared with us a series of teaching images that he uses to as part of a lecture designed to shed some light on the process of, as he calls it, “shooting the scene.” While walking along a stream near his home in Moab, Utah, Jeff’s attention was captured by this frozen puddle among the rocks. His first reaction was to make a record photograph of the scene as he saw it at first glance – “frozen puddle among rocks” – isolated within the broader landscape.

Recognizing that it was the graphics, tones, and textures of the puddle itself that were what appealed to him visually, Jeff chose to make it a close-up, isolating the frozen puddle from the rocks.

The scene then became the puddle itself, and Jeff sought out compositions within it. He points out, “This is the kind of thing that you can shoot all day, looking for the new compositions and treatments. If you’ve got a great scene to work with, stick with it.” We would add that when looking for abstract close-up compositions, it can help to let go of preconceived notions of what the subject is supposed to look like. Be open to reframing the nature of the subject in new ways.

A good exercise in this sort of situation is to speak out loud what it is that you want to make a picture of, and then gradually modify that statement through a series of images. In this case, that statement started with the very literal “frozen puddle among rocks,” and ends with “abstraction of form, tone, and texture.”

All photos © 2010 Jeff Foott