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In the Trees – Using Constraints

I’m back in Central New York visiting family and taking time out from my travels. While I’m taking a break from my treks, I will share with you some tips and ideas on making a great photograph.

Creative Constraints are choices you make photographing guiding you to a great photograph. Constraints make you think differently about a subject and help you zero in on it.

A great example is my photograph “In the Trees.” The photograph is different from my usual photography. It is not a sweeping landscape or waterscape. Sometimes to see, you need to step out of your comfort zone. Make yourself think differently.

It’s easy to be in a rut doing the same thing following the same rules and habits. So, in making this photograph, I gave myself some very different constraints to work with.

My first constraint was not to use my usual 24-105 lens. Today, I decided to photograph with only my 85mm lens. This lens is very fast (f/1.8) and is often the choice for making portraits. My other constraint is that I would shoot handheld! What? Norm is not using a tripod did I hear right? Yep, no tripod. Here’s what happened.

It’s mid-March at Hardridge Creek, and I head out with my camera. Hardridge Creek is a park on the border of Georgia and Alabama. The day is overcast with grayish light clouds and lots of filtered soft light. Walking down the hill towards the lake and trees, I’m thinking about my constraints.

I start photographing taking pictures of landscapes and trees much like I always do. The results were… well the word crappy comes to mind. I started to think differently.

I start looking for subjects different from my usual landscapes. The 85mm lens is great for isolating and minimizing what is in the frame. This is very different than the wide-angle approach I tend to use. Not using a tripod, I increase the camera’s sensitivity by upping the ISO and using a faster shutter speed to minimize camera shake.

Eventually, I came across a tree with bright new fresh green leaves and buds everywhere. Making a few images and I studied them, I decided to isolate a branch shooting upward using the sky as the background. My camera called for an exposure with a shutter speed of 1/200th of a second. The resulting image was a disappointment. The camera made the sky gray and textured while silhouetting the branch making it black against the sky. This is a time you need to override your camera’s metering choice.

Increasing my shutter speed to 1/800th of a second, dramatically changed the exposure. The exposure now is correct for the reflective light from the leaves and branches. The sky went almost pure white or “blown-out.” The faster shutter also froze any motion of the tree or my hand holding the camera. Starting with the constraints, guided me to make a beautiful photograph.

The constraints make you look differently at a subject. The lens choice changes how you see. The 85mm lens becomes very selective, allowing you to isolate a piece of the subject.  The hand-held choice made it more flexible making it easy to change the point of view.

The next time you photograph try using a constraint. It could be simply to photograph everything in black and white or decide to only use one lens as I did. You might see a subject differently. The simple constraints I used and adding a creative choice changing the shutter duration led to a beautiful photograph.

P.S. Want more like this? I send these articles out to friends, photographers, and art lovers who want to improve their skills, and explore their creativity or simply enjoy my thoughts and stories and I would love to include you.

Tell me where to send it and I’ll send you a copy of Seven Moments an eBook, as well as articles, sneak peeks of my new work, and very occasional info about resources to help you with this creative craft we love.