Monday, April 11, 2011

Photographing Tips: Historic Sites and Panoramas

Some subjects are just tooooo freaking big in scope to get a good picture of. Try photographing the Grand Canyon without looking like a post-card photography wannabe.

Upon occasion on vacations we go to historic sites, monuments, huge panoramic overlooks with enormous vistas. The scope of such places can be daunting to photograph.

I'm not one for full-frontal shots (well, perhaps in porn, but not in scenic shots). I don't like to take a picture of a mountain and say, "look, here's the mountain, nicely centered, straight on, no perspective other than that of a lazy ass photographer standing up straight and holding the camera to her eye." (yawn)

Y'all know my bend about making everyday life an adventure. I like to tackle these places as adventures. It's how I felt when I was there, what I noticed, the encroachment of man or animals or nature on the site, the seasons changing around me, making the scene unfold with a different tone. If I recall having to hike a vigorous trail, I want to show the long arduous hike's perspective. If I want to photograph the Grand Canyon, I get someone to hold a stick to the edge and poke at it. I want the memories I take from the place.

The day Julie and I went to Montezuma's Castle on last Sunday, I remember the bare Arizona Syncamore trees, the large green wash, the ground squirrels, and the one thing I find at every Indian monument--one insane big bird squawking at the crowd with anger. Usually it's a hawk or owl, this time it was a huge blackbird.

Here's how I remember the trip on a crisp clear day...

And, since I only need one picture of the monument to remember what it looks like, I took it from the perspective of the day, a dead tree overhead, bright sunlight, crisp air. That's how I saw the monument this time. Other times I've seen it, it was hot and dusty, snowy and cold. This time, it was like a late fall afternoon.

Don't waste your time taking a hundred shots of a statue or a famous building. Get one shot from the perspective of how you saw it, whether it looked super tall and intimidating (take the shot from underneath looking straight up) or if it was a bright day and you take the shot to let some of the sunlight rays impart...

(There was something almost magical about a giant chicken statue in the red rocks of Sedona, rays of light shining towards it made it kind of go "ahhhh" in an angelic way and it went from being a statue outside a gift shop to the chicken that defeated Sedona.)

Sometimes, with a huge vista, all you can do is give it a perspective that grounds it from being so far away and so majestic to encroaching on human territory...

Happy photographing those epic situations from a perspective driven by your emotions being there, the surrounding nature, the people and their reactions or the seasons. Don't just remember the "thing," see it through your eyes.

Now, do y'all feel that you just went to Montezuma's Castle and the red rocks of Sedona with me--through my eyes? That's how I remember it. That's how I experienced it. Take a breath and take a moment in such overwhelming places and "feel" the pictures before you take them.


  1. Great piece--good advice.
    You ever go to that flying saucer cafe in Sedona?

  2. Hey Tim;
    Julie and I didn't find a UFO cafe there. We went to the one in Gila Bend, though. We did go by the UFO store, but they keep small town hours-in other words, whenever the owner felt like showing up, but the folks in the store next door let us wander through the UFO shop to pick up brochures. It was a hoot! I cannot wait to go up there and do the nighttime UFO hunt with nightvision goggles. We got aura pics taken and reads on those and Julie should be having a lot of giveaways of very cool stuff she got on the trip. The woman is an AZ gem!

  3. Love the pics ,and looking forward to more.

  4. Let's not forget that wherever there is an autumn leaf alone on a tree, you will find it. Your pictures turned out nice. They brought me right back to our weekend in the redrocks. Check out my giveaway tomorrow.

  5. Oh, your giveaway will be fantastic! I'll put a reminder up here tomorrow.

  6. those are great tips how to squeeze huge historic sites and panoramas into normal format pictures.

  7. Thanks Echo. I'm sure it can be used for beach/ocean perspectives, as well, placing a nice umbrella in the foreground or showing the view from on your belly looking at the ocean.

  8. Actually, this post really helped me out with a couple of pointers. I am a very skilled computer engineer, but cameras and cell phones vex me. I've tried so many times to take decent landscape shots down here, only to have them come out looking like fuzzy vistas through a vaseline covered lens.

  9. Aaron;
    Visually/color/moisture-wise, you have a really rich environment to be photographing, but as someone who is not from there, you might doing it from your newly transplanted POV. Overwhelming walls of green, plants growing where they shouldn't like through cracks and in places that are inhospitable like parking lot cracks. You get fantastic filtered light through canopies and makeshift buildings and loads of things that are seen through the eyes of a non-native who sees it all with amazement. I think I'd try to take advantage of the speckled light and colors. The colors here in the desert--all washed out and grayed and yellowed. I take advantage of 180-degrees of view and blue/purple mountains. Find out what amazes you about your new home and focus on it. Don't get the whole jungle, just get one insane plant bursting with color in a sea of green that contrasts in hot pink.

  10. I think you need to come down and give me some pointers. What do you charge?

  11. A trip to paradise? It'd be free, buddy.

  12. There's an Eddie Money song in there somewhere (whatever happened to him anyway?)...

  13. Hell if I know, but I do agree--Two Tickets to Paradise sounds good or, hell, I'd go for Margaritville. Do you feel like a parrot head?