The Power of Scouting

Up until recently, I’ve been a catch-as-catch-can type of photographer.  If I was going somewhere, I took my camera and tried for photos as I went.  Rarely did I return to a location to do better or capture a different aspect of the place.  Now though, I understand what scouting a location can do.  Remember that old slogan the Boy Scouts used, be prepared?  Or maybe it was Outward Bound.  Whatever it was, scouting helps me do that really well; be prepared.  I have no idea why I didn’t do it before.  Just lazy I suppose.  Now though, even if I don’t come away with the best portfolio-making shot on earth, I find just being in a location valuable enough to make it worth my effort.

The more familiar you are with locations near you, the more confident you’ll be going into the field.  I’ve got shot list in my head and a ton of trail maps in my glove compartment so I’m never short of ideas.  In New England we’re lucky to have distinct seasons and the changes that come are big ones.  Locations look completely different and it’s an adventure to capture all aspects of them.  And don’t forget local meet-ups.  I love both being introduced to a new location by someone, and sharing one that might be new to others.  We always have fun and it’s great to see how differently we view the same place at the same time.

Sunday for example, I met up with a photographer friend to take advantage of sunrise side-light at another Nature Conservancy Preserve – Lubberland Creek in Durham, NH.  It’s part of the Great Bay estuary and is mostly a tidal wetland full of grasses, reeds, flowers, birds and oh yeah, poison ivy.  That evil vine aside, the place is lovely and has potential for future sunrises when the sun is in a better position and when there are clouds in the sky.  I think it would even work well for sunsets.  There’s a beautiful island in the mouth of the creek’s delta and boy won’t that be great at high tide.  I’ve really got to get some waders or at least knee-height rubber boots so I can go in the really squishy parts.  As it was today I got my shoes pretty soaked, but that was probably more because of the dew than anything.

Watching the light on the grasses was pretty wonderful even it it wasn’t dramatic –

Transitions - before the sun crested the trees
Old Wonders in the New World - after the sun crested the trees

I was fascinated by how the light transformed the scene and of course I got down for some bokeh action –

Somnambulist's Dilemma
Dreaming with One Eye Open

If you’ve got your Sherlock Holmes hat on, you’ll notice the difference in the bokeh between those two shots.  It’s part of what fascinates me about using extreme bokeh and pinpoints of light, like these dewdrops.  The shapes of the aperture blades in the lenses is different and gives you different looks.  The blades in my Olympus Zuiko Digital 12-60mm are round and the blades in my 80s vintage Olympus Zuiko 65-200mm are octagonal.  Oh and I used the close focus feature of that old lens, something I don’t do very often, and I think it came out really well.  After playing with the depth of focus for a few frames, I decided this mid-point approach was best.  It was tough finding a section of grasses that went all the same way.  Reaching in and even delicately removing a blade going the wrong way would make all the dew fall off and ruin the shot.  I think my shooting buddy Jeff found out the same thing and if anyone was watching us we must have been pretty comical.

It was all about texture, light and patterns and I think even monochrome works well –

May Today Become the Day

So now that I’ve scouted it, I’ve got ideas brewing for other shots I’d like to get.  Frost and snow in winter.  A dreamy sunrise with fog.  Now I just need to spend a little time with The Photographer’s Ephemeris…

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