A Favorite Shooting Technique
Don’t get too excited, this top image is the before image. Now that you can breath again, continue on reading. There was a time when I use to go after cactus like I do birds and mammals. For the life of me I can’t remember what got me so excited about them originally, but I do have all of California Cacti in my files. The funny thing, I had only one in digital until my last trip to the Alabama Hills. While once I had all of these species committed to memory, sadly that knowledge has slipped away. But when I saw this gorgeous example in the morning light, I just had to take its pic. And it’s a perfect example of one of my favorite techniques for shooting a smallish subject while showing where it lives all in one click.
I’m shooting with the 14-24AFS at 14mm at f2.8. The top image is what I see many photographers do when trying to photograph a smallish subject while recording its surroundings. Now there is nothing wrong with that top photo, but I feel it can be improved. Let’s start with lens selection. I went wide so I could bring in more elements into the frame. With the goal being to eliminate elements you don’t want while including those you want, with a wide lens getting closer to the subject is a great technique. In this case, the unwanted element was our dog Benson who wanted to water my subject. Now if you just bent over, the top photo is what you would end up with. By eliminating the horizon in the photo, the expanse of the landscape, the loneliness of the cactus in the landscape is lost. How do you get that horizon line back in? You go down to almost bug level and then get close again to emphasize its size, shape and more importantly, its world. But just getting low isn’t enough, we can do better.
What I like to do is go down low but then come up a little bit and tilt the lens to shoot OVER the top of the subject. You could almost say the film plane is at a 45 degree to the subject. This angle permits you to get a little bit closer, minimize how much you see above the horizon and my favorite, minimize your DOF while still capturing a lot even at f/2.8. How can that be? The subject is kinda round, not square. By moving in very small increments, an inch or two, one way or the other, even at 14mm you can make big changes in what you include or exclude. You can see this technique in lots of my images because while I might have forgotten the names of cactus, I’ve not forgotten this favorite technique of mine.
Photos captured by D3x, 14-24AFS on Lexar UDMA digital film