In this age of specialization, too many of us find ourselves concentrating on one or two areas of interest. For photographers, that usually means people shots (portraits) or nature photography. From there, we often specialize further.
Portraits are either posed or candid. Nature shots are frequently either animal or plant -- but rarely both.
But how about the occasional special shot that doesn't mesh with specialization?
I was snooping around the shores of a very attractive lake last summer when I noticed an interesting old building on the opposite shore. It seems to have been a barn or granary or perhaps even a winery at one time.
Luckily, I had a camera with a 200-mm telephoto lens along. I examined the building close-up through the lens and decided I wanted to put it on film.
Ah, but the scene I saw through the telephoto wasn't quite the scene I saw in my mind. So off came the long lens, on went a 50-mm normal lens, and the shot I wanted was right there in the viewfinder.
Admittedly, scenic photos aren't the stock in trade of most amateur photographers. That's probably because they're not easy to locate (the really good scenes, at least) and not particularly easy to capture on film.
Many elements come into play when considering a scene to photograph. Pay attention to them, and you're more than likely to be rewarded.
Choose a central subject. No scene is strong enough that it can stand without one. The subject may be as large and grandiose as a prominent mountain (or even a distant mountain range) or as inconspicuous and humble as a ramshackle out building. Decide in advance what the subject is, and then compose around it.
Watch the light. When I saw that scene at the lake, the sun was overhead, directly lighting the building I wanted to capture. I wanted a shot with fewer harsh shadows and less contrast, so I waited until the sun moved a bit lower in the sky. By coincidence, the sky also clouded over slightly, lending a soft, semi-mysterious touch to the scene.
Pay attention to foreground and background. They exist, you know, and can make or break a photograph. Get in the habit of checking them out.
Are there distracting elements in either foreground or background? If so, it's up to you to minimize or eliminate them. Either wait until the light changes enough so those elements are less visible or change your subject-to-camera angle to view to eliminate them entirely.
The scene I shot at the lake included a small pier that, together with its reflection in the water, lent balance to the composition, so I chose to include it in my shot. With practice, you'll develop a feel for what elements work and what elements don't.
Take advantage of natural framing wherever possible. Natural framing is a tree trunk to one side or branches above the scene. These elements serve to focus attention on the central portion of the print or slide -- in effect "framing" the subject in natural elements.
But one word of caution: Don't "force" natural framing. Either it exists and works or it doesn't. Don't go out of your way to create a camera angle that destroys the value of your subject simply for the sake of including natural framing. Once again, practice will help you determine when it works and when it doesn't.
Compose carefully. Classic composition involves placing your subject via the Rule of Thirds. Except for special occasions, the subject should be a third of the way to one side or the orther of the viewfinder and a third of the way down or up from horizontal center. Q: My grandson's new camera arrived without an instruction manual. It's a Praktica Super Tl. So far, we haven't been able to locate a manual. Can you help? A: I contacted Hanimex (USA) Inc., in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, the U.S. distributor for Prakltica, and they promised to send a manual to your grandson. He should be receiving it shortly. Q: I have enjoyed your articles in the past. The review of the Contax 139 Quartz in particular interested me. I had some time ago obtained the brochure on the 139 Quartz, as well as on the Contax RTS. On the basis of your high regard for the 139 Quartz and the RTS, I'm undecided which one to purchase. I have had three Contaflex cameras, but the third one has a problem with the locking mechanism and I think it's time I get a new camera. A brief word from you could put me on the right track. Which one would be best? A: The difference between the Contax 139 Quartz and the RTS is basically one of appeal. While the RTS is a fully professional model, with several interchangeable components and pro-level accessories, the 139 Quartz is geared more to the amateur or the pro looking for a less expensive second body as a back-up to his RTS. Unless you're pro oriented, the 139 Quartz is probably the better camera for you.
Besides being less expensive, it has some very nice features that make shooting relatively effortless -- features like a dedicated accessory electronic flash that functions effortlessly at several shutter-speed and aperture combinations; an exposure memory system useful in shooting in tricky backlit situations; and an auto-off metering system that prevents accidental battery drain.
The best test, however, is always a side-by side comparsion. Keeping in mind what I've said, try out both Contax cameras in the store. Compare the features available versus the features you feel you need, get the feel of the cameras, compare the prices, and decide. To make your decision even tougher, there's another Contax on the market -- the 137 Quartz. It's similar to the 139, but it features a built-in motorized film-advance mechanism.