Friday, March 21, 2008
PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: Scouting - I've been thinking lately about my shooting methodology. In the four years since I've returned to shooting, I find I have unconsciously developed patterns - strategies - processes for finding images. These work for me; they may not work for anyone else. Identifying the things I do over and over, putting words around them, and understanding how & why they work allows me to control, evaluate, and improvise on the processes. Maybe I'll also find tiny insights into how my conscious and unconscious mind finds flat images amid space.
To break these processes into three steps is to be too precise. Sometimes two or all three steps occur together, and sometimes a good image is there when I am doing nothing. However, at least for the moment, I identify three. How nice that they all begin with "S":
Today I was mostly scouting. On such days my camera may not even be out. Today it was, and I shot more than I should have, but really I was following new trails, trying to get the lay of the land, seeing where I wanted to get and trying to get there to see what I could see once I was there. Once I actively stopped, scoped and shot, but mostly I was scouting.
I'm always scouting for new sites, places that make me eager to shoot and sometimes I just drive the back roads within roughly a 60 minute radius of home. I know, it's not the green thing to do, but this drive is essential to the end goal of photographing the place I live. I like the back roads, partly because I can dawdle a bit, but also because I'm often trying to catch glimpses of the vanishing past, or perhaps the truth is I'd rather listen to birds and streams than cars. Of course step 3, shooting, will require me to forget the stream and the bird sounds.
Scouting can also occur on foot along trails or roads, even some I've walked dozens of times. Returning, I look for new stops along the way, places to explore. If I meet people I sometimes get new tips, new access, and even bits of folk lore and history. Often I get no photos. On a four or five mile loop there can be lots of nooks and crannies in the muffin. Of course, to find new muffins I have to get back in the car. I don't enjoy being in the car; I'd rather be out in the field being "productive," but I do enjoy the adventure of coming on new surprises.
Like all aspects of my photography, scouting is controlled by the weather, the light, and the seasons. For the past few weeks we've had rains that have finally washed the last bits of snow from the forests. The streams are gushing and everything suggests this is the time to shoot water sites. Except in Collinsville, shooting has been in fits and starts because for all other sites I'm pretty much in scouting mode. While scouting Kent Falls for shots this week I liked the old leaves that had settled into rock pools beside the falls. The leaves have darkened, thinned, begun to dissolve back into earth, a sure sign that spring can not be too far. I shot this photo there, but really I was just scouting. I moved on to other sites to see what things looked like with the rivers and streams gushing. My focus never reached the intensity it does when shooting.