Posted by: GeekHiker | March 11, 2009

Evolution Of A Photo

(First inspired by this post by Homer-Dog… two months ago…)

Back in the day (which makes me sound much older than I am, I know) I used to shoot pictures on my hikes with an SLR and slide film.  When I changed over from shooting slides to digital a few years ago, my shooting style changed pretty dramatically as well.

Shooting slides, which are expensive to buy and process, I spent a lot more time on shots.  It wasn’t uncommon for me to spend five or ten minutes (maybe even more) moving around to find the right angle, checking exposure, etc.

Shooting digital, I spend far less time setting up the shot, and instead end up just shooting a bunch of frames until I come to the right one.

I don’t know that either method has a particular advantage; in the end I seem to end up with about the same amount of decent photos.  On the one hand, digital sometimes has an advantage since I’ll occasionally have a “happy accident.”  On the other, when I spent more time setting up a shot I also spent more time on focus; shooting quickly on digital I am, at times, a little too dependent on the auto focus and have lost shots as a result.

In either case, I don’t do a lot of “thinking”.  Don’t remind myself of the rule of thirds or any of the “rules” of photography, though often my shots fall into those guidelines.  As such, there’s no conscious thought process, but I can sometimes see my thinking when I review the shots afterwards.

When I got back from Sacramento last December, I found this series of shots.  Lest you all think that every time I open the shutter I capture brilliance, here’s what it took to get the good one:

X-Mas 08 09a

First attempt at the scene.  I see the parts I liked here: the sun, the sparkling water, the birds silhouetted on the water, the storm clouds on the Coast Range.  Yes, it follows the rule of thirds.  But it’s boring, the birds are too small, and the right side of the shot, dominated by the large black bush, is dead.

X-Mas 08 09b

Second attempt at the scene.  I liked what the sun was doing in the clouds above me, so I figured I’d try to include it in the frame.  Problem is that there’s too big a gap between the sun and the horizon clouds, leading to big dead space in the middle.  And, again, the right side of the shot is just too dark and uninteresting.  This composition might have worked by tilting up more, putting the horizon squarely in the bottom third of the frame, but what attracted me to the scene initially was everything about the water, including the reeds in front of it, so I went in the opposite direction.

X-Mas 08 09c

Third attempt at the scene.  My thinking: concentrating more on the water and ignoring the sky.  This is somewhat better, since zooming in makes the birds more clearly birds.  The reeds in the foreground look better, and I think I noticed the cattail on this take.  The dark plants on the right still don’t look good, and the hills should either be in the shot or out, not hanging on the edge like here, so the shot doesn’t quite work.

X-Mas 08 09d

Fourth attempt at the scene.  Hills are back in.  The exposure is a little darker.  (Yes, I know they say you shouldn’t over-expose in digital, but it works here.)  The birds are clear, and you can see the horizon clouds.  I’m close, but the shot still feels unbalanced.

X-Mas 08 09e

Fifth and final.  Switching to vertical solves a lot of the problems.  Gone is the dead space on the right side of the shot, the birds are clearly birds, my cattail is back in, the Coast Range and clouds are there.  Ideally, I might have tilted up just a bit to include the Coast Range a bit more, but I was probably concentrating on the sun on the water.  The sun on the water, which you’ll note has been getting bigger and bigger in frame in each shot, finally becomes a dominant element, balancing the dark silouettes of the ducks on the water.  It’s not perfect, but it’s not bad.

And I hope I didn’t bore you all to tears with this post.  😉



  1. Ooh neat. Very interesting post!

    I tend to line up my shots and then take multiple iterations of them because I worry about focus problems.

    This leads to a lot of back and forth, back and forth as I try which in a series of identical shots is actually the best. 🙂

  2. Not boring, I am just too unobservant because I didn’t see anything “wrong’ with any of the pics. 🙂

  3. Very interesting post. Back in the day when I had my trusty Cannon AE-1 and shot film, I had a whole different mind-set when taking a shot. I spent a lot more time thinking about composition and getting the right angle and lightening before I ever snapped a picture. With digital I generally don’t spend as much time setting up a shot because I can take a bunch, knowing I’ll get at least one that I’ll be happy with, and also knowing I can edit the picture if I need to. In some ways I think photography was more “pure” back in the old days before everything went digital. I wonder what Ansel Adams would think of digital photography. I suspect he’d still be lugging his big old camera up to the mountains!

  4. Just goes to show how subjective this subject (ahem) truly is. I much prefer the second shot.

  5. You know I’m a huge photography dork, so I was definitely not bored by this post.

    Excellent final shot, by the way 🙂

  6. i would make a terrible editor because all those look good to me. i really like the 2nd one.
    and i really need a camera.

  7. Those ducks seem just so wonderfully content!

  8. I always admire people who have an eye for photography. It’s such a talent. Thanks for showing and explaining the progression and your thought process.

    The final shot is my favorite.

  9. All the shots are good. You have the patience that I often lack.

    Great post.

  10. TGAW – I thought you might like this one. And, yeah, I do the back and forth too!

    Kori – LOL, maybe I’m just over-critical?

    Stewart – I dunno, from what I’ve read of Adams, and what he wrote, I somehow suspect he would embrace the new technology. After all, we went to digital ourselves, didn’t we?

    Moshizzle – (What happened to Mr. Bartowski?) The second one might have worked if I’d gone vertical on that one as well, but at the time I was really wanting to capture the light on the water.

    East Coast Teacher – *blush* Thanks.

    Blakspring – If we meet, let’s go camera shopping!

    Ruby – I think they were just happy the rain had passed!

    Dingo – Welcome, and thanks for liking the shot!

    Homer-Dog – Actually, I think I shot them all in a minute or two! LOL

  11. Hello Geek Hiker – I have been very inspired, entertained and have gathered a lot of info from your well done blog. I recently bought a digital SLR and have been taking a lot of photos hiking. I usually find after taking 100 photos from a hike I have a couple that are OK. I wanted to ask you what lenses you have found to be the most appropriate for hiking photos and if you usually use a tri-pod and carry one with you. I try to be mindful of the time of day so I will have optimal light for my shots but usually cram a hike in whenever so I just take what I get. Do you make special trips for the lighting alone? Would love to hear more about your photography and your equipment set-up.

    Thanks for your time and great work! Julie

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: