Hiding in Plain Sight

March 23, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

Photographs are everywhere. Whether or not we can recognize the nearly limitless potential is another matter.

One of the ways to take the blinders off is to expand your ideas about what might make for an interesting subject. You wanted to make an expansive landscape but didn't get the colorful sunrise you hoped for. Was the outing a complete disappointment and waste of time - or could there still be something to shoot?

You seldom have opportunities to visit iconic destinations such as national parks or forests. Will your camera sit in the bag, unused, but for those rare occasions when you're able to travel? 

And so on.

Set pre-conceived notions and expectations aside; you'll begin to see with a fresh perspective. Your idea of "suitable locations" will expand, too.

Broaden your horizons by including small scenes and/or abstract compositions in your repertoire. "Grand landscapes" are great - but consider how seldom it's possible to make one. (After all, we have no control over the conditions.) Even on those occasions when Mother Nature cooperates, I can almost guarantee you'll find additional interesting subject matter if you take the time to look.

Every-day locations might be treasure troves, like these steps (below) leading up to an office. Just a nondescript building, just a few miles from my home. How's that for ordinary? The leaves were falling so rapidly that afternoon it almost seemed as if it they were raining down. I was struck by the fact that the color was nearly as intense under foot as it was in the canopy remaining above. I finished my business inside, grabbed my camera from the car, and got to work. There's more than one way to tell the story of autumn in New England. 
Step Right UpStep Right UpAs the foliage peaks and leaves drop from the trees with increasing frequency, the colors on the ground begin to rival those which are above. The maple leaves are so thick here they nearly obscure the steps on which they rest. (Exeter, New Hampshire)

Past peak foliage in the White Mountains, I was back in New Hampshire's Seacoast looking for colorful scenes locally. To be honest I didn't expect to find much, if anything; the show that year had been lackluster. Heading down a rarely-travelled (for me) road late one day, I was just about ready to pack it in when a pop of red caught my eye. I made my way down a steep bank through thick underbrush to the river only to find that the scene was uninteresting now that I was closer to it. The tree was small and a bit scrawny, the shoreline cluttered and unattractive. (The river itself isn't exactly picturesque at this spot, either.) The reflection, though, had potential. I used the red to anchor the composition and completely eliminated the messy shore - including its mirror image - from the frame. A slower shutter speed created some movement in the leaves floating on the surface. A Claude Monet moment.

Autumn reflections Lamprey River Durham New HampshireImpressionisticFallen leaves floating on the surface of the Lamprey River, their movement captured with a long exposure, combine with reflections of autumn color along the shoreline to create an impressionistic scene. (Near Durham, New Hampshire) A period of calm conditions prior to my arrival (and during this entire stay) at Death Valley meant there would be no wind to erase the hundreds of footprints scattered liberally over the sand dunes. Even after hiking a few miles into the dune field, pristine real estate was nearly impossible to come by. I won't lie: it was a disappointment. Wide vistas were a non-starter. But the color contrast was spectacular and interesting lines, shapes and textures were still out there. I just needed to think much smaller. 
Shadow PlayShadow PlayThe setting sun creates beautiful long shadows at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes

Death Valley National Park, California
Architecture presents excellent opportunities to consider subjects differently. I got an assist on this day from incredibly foggy conditions in my home city of Chicago. The image is not processed in black and white which will give you an idea just how dreary it was. (The ceiling dropped even lower after I made this photo.) The Hancock building becomes somewhat anonymous. The photograph isn't about a skyscraper or a specific landmark; it's a study of lines and mood. 
Disappearing ActDisappearing ActHeavy fog descends nearly to street level, shrouding the Hancock Building. Though this appears to be a black and white photograph, it is not - giving you an idea just how foggy it was on that day.

Chicago, Illinois

You can also try framing subjects such that they're rendered completely abstractly and perhaps become unrecognizable. (This is Cloud Gate in Chicago's Millennium Park.)

DistortionsDistortionsAn abstract view of Cloud Gate (nicknamed "The Bean"), the sculpture which is the centerpiece of Millennium Park.

Chicago, Illinois
If you're new to smaller compositions or abstracts, let yourself go. Experiment. Don't worry about whether or not everyone will like everything you shoot. (They won't. You can't please everyone and shouldn't try.) The point is to practice seeing your surroundings differently. You'll develop your eye and begin to find subject matter that might previously have been hiding in plain sight. 


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