Scouting, Vision, & Perseverance

June 5, 2024  |  Death Valley, California

Location scouting is a vital element of filmmaking and commercial photography. Many landscape photographers also employ scouting in their strategies, although the strategies of most differ greatly from my own. For many landscape photographers, scouting means using the portion of the day when "bad light" (is there such a thing?) makes photography difficult or impossible (another entire article could be written about the topic of "bad light" versus "wrong attitude" or incorrect working mode, but I digress...). Most photographers who scout will return later that day or perhaps the next to execute their image. They'll know exactly where they will set their tripod and how they'll compose their image, and they'll pray or hope that the weather gods smile upon them. To my way of thinking, this is a terribly limiting exercise that narrows endless photographic possibilities down to just the one - the one that was preconceived. And what a cruel thing that is to do to yourself as a creative photographer.

The photograph accompanying this post, Bosque del Muerte, required a loose strategy and several years of waiting. This is a location that I had passed a great many times over the years. I had studied this bosque - a Honey Mesquite forest (Prosopis glandulosa) - in virtually every kind of light and atmospheric conditions over the years. I had walked in the forest with my camera (scouting), I had studied individual trees, and I had a rough vision of how I wanted the photograph to look (vision). What was then required was mere patience (perseverance).

I almost never know what my composition will be until I set up the camera and start working. What I scout for is concepts and ideas that I can employ when the perfect opportunity presents itself (chance favors the prepared mind). Good photographs don't happen accidentally. When the moment finally presented itself - that particular light and atmosphere that I had visualized behind the bosque - I knew exactly where I should go and how I should react, without having any firm composition in mind. By not having pre-planned the exact image, I was free to move myself and camera to carefully position the trees with the greatest gesture in front of the light, mountains, and clouds. I made not just one good photograph, but several. I was mentally prepared for this moment, which gave me the greatest compositional flexibility and the time for experimentation.

The Artful Black & White Landscape
workshop, with me and Chuck Kimmerle, takes place November 13-17, 2024, in the incomparable Death Valley National Park. Consider joining us to take your photography in new directions.

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