Over the last week or two I’ve been spending quite a bit of time on the waters of Washington State’s Puget Sound region. This area is chock full of opportunities for maritime photography and I’ve been shooting like crazy to capture the scenes.
While shooting pictures last week, I consciously planned for a number of them to show the context of the area. I wanted the shots to be more than just a pretty scene or a boat on the water. Rather, I wanted the viewer of the images to gain a better understanding of the setting and environment.
One of the best skills you can have as a travel photographer is the ability to create context for your imagery. For example, it is very easy to take a picture of a boat on the water, but it is much more difficult to illustrate how that boat relates to its surroundings. You should know that when viewers look at your images, they are always thinking about more than the image itself. They are trying to figure out answers to the five W’s – who, what, where, when, why?
Who is in the image?
What is the image about?
Where was it taken?
When was it taken?
Why are you showing this to me?
If your photograph is able to visually answer these questions for the viewer, then you’ve done a good job of creating the context for the image. Obviously, not all images need to answer all of these questions. In fact, many times images work just fine without answering any of these questions. But, if you are trying to tell a story with your images, then you must answer these questions visually by thinking through the design and composition of the photograph.
Here are three easy ways to create context:
Always be thinking about how you can position your subject with other elements in the scene. Rather than shooting an object that is isolated by itself, it needs to be positioned next to something in order for it’s context to be understood. Use things like buildings, trees, crowds of people, parking lots, and roads as background elements in the scene to help the viewer understand location.
2. Include well-known landmarks.
This is the obvious corollary to the juxtaposition tip, but asks you to go one step further by deliberately including something in the background that is well-known. In the case of the images shown here, I included landmarks such as the Olympic Mountains, the historic Port Towsend Post Office building, Mount Rainier and the Port Townsend Paper Company factory. Well-known and famous landmarks are an easy way to help the viewer immediately grasp where the image was taken.
3. Shoot medium wide angle to medium telephoto lenses.
The most difficult part of creating context is figuring out how much of the background you should include to let the viewer know where the photograph was taken. If you include too much by using a super wide angle lens, then the impact of the subject can be lost. If you include too little with a long telephoto lens, then the viewer doesn’t have enough visual information to understand the location of the photo. The solution is to make these types of shots with lenses between 35mm and 200mm focal lengths. In fact, a couple of zoom lenses like a 24-70mm and the 70-200mm make the perfect pair for creating context.
A few days ago my father-in-law and I took a few nieces and nephews on a boat ride through our local waters here in the Puget Sound. During our two-hour tour, we motored through Tacoma’s Commencement Bay, Vashon Island, and Gig Harbor, WA. The morning clouds had just started to burn off, so there was quite a bit of haze obscuring the famous Mt. Rainier, but I thought the haze added an interesting look. This haze had the effect of isolating the mountain from the surrounding foot hills, so it looked as if the mountain was floating above the city.
As always, I had a camera with me and in this case brought along my Nikon D800, 24-70mm f2.8 and 70-200mm f2.8 lenses. Back at my office, I processed these images in Adobe LR4 and Nik Color Efex Pro 4.
I know you’ve all heard this a million times before, but if you are a photographer, then you should always have a camera with you. I don’t care what type of camera you take, but it should be something that allows you to snap an image. Cell phone. Point and Shoot. dSLR. Rangefinder. EVIL. ILC. Anything.
Over the last two weeks, I’ve had lots of family staying with me at my home in Gig Harbor, WA. Each day, we’ve gone on hikes and adventures exploring this beautiful corner of the world. Over the last two days my nieces, nephews and I have been exploring the local Puget Sound beaches. The kids and I have been having a blast skipping rocks, climbing cliffs and looking for jelly fish. The entire time I’ve slung my little Nikon D7000 and 18-105mm kit lens over my shoulder everywhere I go. It’s been wonderful to capture these great images that I normally would have passed by.
“You can’t get the pics if you don’t have the camera.”
Last night we were coming home from a softball game and I just had to stop to take a photograph of Mt. Rainier over Gig Harbor, WA. The sky was as clear as I’ve seen in a long time. I used my Nikon D300 with 70-200 f2.8 AF-S VR lens. ISO 200 and f/8.
Just as I was finishing up, this Cessna 180 float plane came into view and swooped down for a landing among all the boats. It was definitely a beautiful night!
One more reason to always keep your camera with you. You never know what might pop up!