Don't eat all that candy, it will spoil your appetite for dinner...

some stuff gets shot not because it's interesting but because you have a camera in your hand, you are there, and you feel as though you might as well get something --- just in case there's nothing better around the bend. Filling up on junk, metaphorically.

When I was in Iceland ten days ago I noticed a pattern among photographers from everywhere. They would arrive at a destination and immediately begin photographing whatever was in front of them. The more technically skilled they were the more they tried to squeeze something "profound" and "artsy" out of each thing they came across. There seemed to be a fear that they'd miss something if they didn't turn over every leaf and document each pile of rocks. But the reality is that all of us were "time-limited" in one way or another. Either we had to compromise to meet the schedule parameters of a group tour or we had to fight against fading light and physical fatigue. But the reality is that there were generally one or two significant visual subjects that really merited a closer look and a longer engagement. 

If a cool waterfall was 800 yards from the bus park one would find photographers strewn along the pathway to the waterfall or scenic overlook, diligently searching for a chance reflection in a pool of water, an "interesting" growth of moss on the side of a rock, or another wide shot that showed everything and nothing (see image just below). Of course, I am as guilty as everyone else, I just tend to be faster at identifying something (anything) that might be an acceptable photo and making short work of the process. It's a rare photo that can't be made to "seem" better than it was by some judicious post processing...

But on rare occasions, when I had my wits about me and had come to the realization that I'd just tried to make an overflowing trash can look like great art, I would hew to a tried and true methodology of photographic discovery which is this: 

Arrive on site and take a deep breath. Get set in your mind what brought you to the site in the first place. What is the real treasure that your tourist soul seeks in this particular engagement? What did you really drive or ride all this way to see? What is the "important" shot. Generally, the thing you seek is furthest from your arrival point. If you aren't clear on your objective you'll likely get sidetracked and arrive at the true destination with only minutes to spare and then you'll rush through the process of getting an acceptable photograph. 

Better to set a good pace, keep the lens cap on and make your way straight to the "alpha" subject. Use all your time to get something you can be proud of at the "peak" of the attraction. Then, with your primary goal well met you can go back along the trail, stopping to photograph the things that caught your eyes as you made your way to the "good stuff." 

When we sequence a commercial job we try to schedule our most important shots of the day at the very first of the day and work along toward the least important shots. This ensures that we're not rushed on the important "money" shots, but if we do our jobs well (while we are fresh) we'll end up having more than enough time to get the lesser shots. If you do it in reverse you'll find yourself trying to "perfect" shots that most likely will end up on the cutting room floor (that's a film era reference but it means you'll end up deleting a lot of crap in the post processing).  Get the monster shot first. Hike to the top of the waterfall first; get the accent shots on your easy descent.

There are so many reasons that this makes sense. First, spending lots of time trying to get a banal shot morphed into something vaguely interesting robs you of the time and energy to apply your talents to scenes with much more potential and appeal. Secondly, it's just a reality of time management. If you have limited time you absolutely have to prioritize. And, finally, you know that editing through all those images takes lots and lots of time. Seeing thousands and thousands of images dilutes your enthusiasm and your honed ability to separate wheat from chaff; selfie from portrait; landscape from snapshot.

Better to have the discipline to keep your lens cap on and search for the good stuff than to promiscuously shoot 10,000+  in the course of a week and then spend another week looking for the pony buried somewhere in the pile of droppings. 

This is a lesson I have to keep learning. I'm not anywhere near as disciplined as I could be about what gets shot and what gets passed by but I know there are some subjects that will never have real value to me even if I push the clarity slider to 110 and add saturation like crazy. Those subjects are just time and energy wasters and it's our battle (mine included) to fight against shooting everything that appears in front of us. We'll inevitably run out of time. It's the only thing that's certain.

VSL reader and ace landscape photographer, Tom Judd, interpreted the photo I posted above. His version is just below. There are things I like about each. I'm curious how other VSL readers see it. Let me know in the comments (added in the afternoon). 
Kirk's photograph interpreted in post by Tom Judd. 


Kristian Wannebo said...

and that's why I always prefer to travel without a schedule, camera or not - which is hard in holiday time as ho(s)tels might fill up early.
- - -

Time ?

"I said we ought to take a plane.
Time. Time. What is time?
The Swiss manufacture it.
The French hoard it.
The Italians squander it.
Americans say it is money.
Hindus say it does not exist.
You know what I say? I say time is a crook.
If we took a plane, we'd be there inside 15 hours instead of who knows when."

[ From the Movie "Beat the devil"
by Huston / Capote / Bogart.]

Anonymous said...

I find it amusing when I see tourists get off a coach outside the hotel, with digicam already stuck to their face, take 2 steps and then stop and do a slow pan of the street scene around them. There’s a hotel on one side of the road - pretty much the same as any modern hotel anywhere around the world. Likewise, a coach on the other side...

Still fair point about the trip. One goes on photography tours to... take photos. And hopefully learn a thing or two along the way.
Without a focus (sorry), one ends up with a pile of crap. I’ve been stung by having to wade through hundreds and thousands of holiday shots, and working out how to cull down to a usable set. Less is indeed more.
Not THAT Ross Cameron

Anonymous said...

Well, the cardinal rule is not to show the client TWO versions of the same picture. It creates confusion for the person who is trying to interpret what is better, be it skill level , vision, purpose etc.

In the case of 2 shots you have given us to analize, I agree that both offer something that the other does not show or reflect. However, my personal view is that I prefer #1 - it has more drama, looks very real and it probably looks exactly what you have seen at the moment you pressed shutter button...

jmarc.schwartz said...

bONJOUR Kirk, après avoir lu vos posts relatant la photographie de paysage en islande, je vous invite à découvrir Bruce Percy ( photographe écossais ) et sa relation philosophique avec le paysage photographié. Bonne découverte. Prenez soin de vous.

mikepeters said...

I'm so glad I began my career deep into the days of film. I first picked up a camera in 1975, so I had a good long time to look at images made on film, all kinds of film. The Kirk rendition looks like film. The bottom rendition seems like it's trying too hard, like a pretty girl who wears way too much makeup. I like Kirk's rendition, it seems more real and is comfortable being what it is.

Kristian Wannebo said...

after looking a while I'd say that your version feels like an image of a cloudy landscape with the sun shining through, and the Tom Judd version feels like a sunny view with some clouds.

I've found that the colours of the sky (and the clouds) are very different in different countries, latitude and proximity of the sea being two major variables, perhaps also contrast to the main colours of the landscape.
As I've never been to Iceland and can't see if the sea is close enough, I've no idea of what the colours really might have been.

Tim Auger said...

Good advice in the article. We are all guilty of taking a load of mediocre shots for fear of missing something. As to the two photograph options, I would go somewhere between the two, but I strongly prefer the original to the post-processed version, which looks horribly artificial to me.

MikeR said...

I feel compelled to disagree with your advice, Kirk.
Speaking primarily as a tourist, my mindset is that I want a visual aid for my memory of the trip. If I snap a photo of an inane something in Vienna, well, I've never been to Vienna, so those figures on the bridge along the entrance to the Stadtpark are part of the experience that I want to remember later. I'm not looking for a prize. There is not one thing that I "must" see in the park, because until the moment, I never even knew it existed.

Same with the Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland. Standing not far from the parking area, I thought it was fantastic. I also liked the way the light played on the canyon walls opposite. I had no idea that eventually we'd find the path down and over to the ledge overlooking a series of falls before the longest drop, and that I could climb up and get close to the first falls. So, I took pictures all along the way. My only client was me, and the "money shot" was anything I liked.

Unprofessional? You bet. Matters not. Not to me.

Anonymous said...

I think the Tom Rudd version is way over the top while the original image needs a little WB adjustment to give it a slightly warmer tone. Just my humble opinion :-)


Tom Judd said...

I was not intending to make it "better" but to explore what it might look like with better light than Kirk seemed to have during his trip. On the other hand, I do not agree that the aim of fine art landscape photography is to record exactly how things looked at the time of exposure. To me pressing the shutter is data collection. Then in post production one tries to express the feelings at the time. There will never be 100% agreement on an image.

Frank Grygier said...

The Kirk Tuck version takes me to Iceland. Tom Rudd's version looks a little to warm for a cloudy day.

Kirk Tuck said...

I thought it was great that Tom (with my permission) gave me his interpretation of the file I shot in Iceland. It opened my eyes to a different approach. In several ways I like his interpretation better than mine; the one thing I prefer in mine is the coldness. But both are cool to have and it's great to actually have a conversation on line about the relative merits of different artistic expressions! Thanks Tom.

Anonymous said...

As you say, there are things to like about each photo. I really don't have a preference; I might hang them side by side.
It would be an interesting experiment to go to a visually interesting place like Iceland, and always carry your camera in a backpack, taking it out and replacing it with each shot. In other words, spend most of your time *looking,* rather than shooting, because taking the camera out and replacing it would be such a pain in the ass after a while. I suspect the average artistic value of each shot would increase, if there is such a thing as average artistic value. -- John Camp

mosswings said...

Agree with Frank. Iceland is blue and rock, with magenta skies at sunset this time of year. Ice and snow and all that. There are brown things this time of year, but they're mostly things that a couple of months ago were green. Your interpretation is the better one, Kirk. But I would not be opposed to a bit of warming of the exposed mountainsides...they do have a bit of brown in them.

Jack said...

I recently traveled to Colorado to visit the Rocky Mountain National Park. Before getting there I knew I was not a landscape photographer. While there I proved that to be true. I shot a few of the "required" vistas, but that's not natural for me. I prefer details shots of lesser noticed things. One reason is that everyone has shot the grand views, especially the local pros who know the best time for the best light, etc. I've no interest in trying to copy what is already been done to death.

My wife had different opinion and actually took my camera to go off and shoot with the crowd. I was a bit stunned and stood there trying to decide between buying her a camera of her own or calling a divorce attorney, so this would not be repeated.

I made the cheaper choice, or course, and bought me a used Fuji X-T2 and gave my wife the Fuji E-X3 that she appropriated from me. Besides, the attorney's line was busy.

I like your version better, btw.


Unknown said...

I enjoy photographing people as well as landscapes as individual subjects and co-mingled sometimes. When it comes to landscapes, I find my visual voice better away from crowds.

Last year I visited Sedona. While there I went to a popular overlook before sunrise. The overlook was nearly empty before sunrise. At sunrise the site was PACKED with fellow tourists taking sunrise over Sedona photos. Not long after sunrise everyone was gone and I was by myself. Most people missed the lovely balloons floating over the valley after dawn.