4 Tips on How to Be Creative in Undesirable Photography Conditions

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How many times have you arrived at a place and it just is not up to your expectations? There is nothing worse than wasting your time, especially when it was all planned out to be a good day. What a letdown. But, what if you could turn that around and produce something amazing? What if you can do it, and make a great photographic experience out of it? Well you can and it doesn’t take a lot of work, or a lot of camera equipment.

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There are likely many times as a photographer where you have prepared all your gear and scouted your location, only to arrive at your destination and find that it was not all what you thought it was going to be. Maybe the light is not what you imagined, maybe the building was demolished, or maybe there are numerous people when you thought you would be the only photographer there. Many scenarios could come up, and that is why as a photographer you need to think on your toes and improvise.

So, how do you make a bad day of photography, turn into something meaningful that you can still be proud of? Unless you are in a studio, photography is a balance between action and inaction. What are the things you can control and what are the things out of your control? And in the moment of interaction between the two, how do you see and create your vision? The best photographers in the world don’t control more in the situation, they SEE more. So how do you see more in a bad situation?

1. Flip the script

Be flexible in your photographic visions. You may have a favorite type of photography like landscapes or portraiture, but that shouldn’t prohibit you from enjoying other aspects as well. If you expected to shoot people and the streets are empty, then shoot the buildings. If you expected sun and it rains, then shoot the boy playing in the puddles. Don’t struggle to create what the place or situation is not. Change your own narrative to fit the situation. This mindset means you are not always reacting, rather that you can be proactive in a new direction and creative in your story.

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A rainy day in the famous Glockenspiel square of Munich. From the tower above you get a very different feel of the space.

2. Get up close

When you change your perspective there is a new world to be discovered. The easiest way to do this is by getting close, and that means to get down on your knees and elbows. There are always amazing creatures, delicate flowers, and wildly uncommon structures in tiny forms below our feet. So, when heading into unfamiliar environments bring your macro lens. In cases where the scenery or situation is really unappealing, something on the micro level will surely amaze you. The opposite of this would be to get further away to obscure the subject and give it a new setting. The point is to change the perspective.

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Macro photo of a sunflower in the mountains of NE China. You would never know how awful the weather was for the whole week.

3. Get in touch with your reaction

Allow yourself to feel the letdown or disappointment between what you originally hoped to find and what you are actually presented with. But, don’t let it decide your photographic destiny. This means do find creativity in the presented emotions. What are the emotions that are being portrayed in the scene? This could actually be done figuratively in an abstract way by photographing negative space to define your images. Or it could be done by finding images that literally match your mood. What is most important is that you are open to opportunity, not confined or limited by what your expectations were. By getting in touch with your photographic feelings you are freeing your photographic expressions.

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A splendid view of the Taj Mahal from Fort Agra was closed for cleaning. A real disappointment or an opportunity for a new story to be told?

4. Experiment

If you are not working professionally, and don’t need to get a specific shot that your customer has commissioned you to do, then you are free to experiment. When doing so, will you come home with some images that are going straight to the recycle bin? Yes. But, you will also learn something in the process. Thus, you will be increasing your photographic experience, discovering new techniques, and pushing your creative self.

Experimenting might mean going from Aperture Priority mode to fully Manual. Or it may mean that you will take some bracketed exposures even though you really don’t know how to combine them in an HDR software (yet). Or how about focus stacking? It could mean that you are adding light by using a flash. Whatever level you are at, or whatever gear you have purchased, think about how it could be used. When conditions don’t present themselves perfectly, it is a perfect situation to experiment.

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An HDR panoramic in the midday sun in the Austrian Alps. The sun was behind the mountains and high noon is not the best time for landscapes, so HDR was a possibility. A sun flare was also added in post-processing to experiment more with the image.

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Double exposure experimentation

The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. But that doesn’t mean you must be in the green pasture to get great results. There will always be conditions that are not ideal, and as alluded to above, great photographers don’t see constraints in difficult situations they see creative opportunity. So can you. Creativity is not spontaneous; it is habitual. Any creative person will tell you that their successes are predicated upon effort; so too, is much of photography. There are so many variables, that each time you go out with your camera, you really never know what you will get.

Stop thinking about how lucky you are if you get a perfect sunset, but how incredibly lucky you are when you need to be a constructively creative photographer and how you can turn a bad day of photography into a great series of images. So, no more excuses — go out and be the great photographer you are.

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Branson Quenzer has chased bygone eras in a vastly changing Chinese landscape for over a decade. He has a Master’s Degree in Economics, whereby he uses a paradigm of seeing the world through a system of interlinking processes and changes, to explore photography and the world. Please visit his website to see more or contact him through Facebook.

  • EHL

    Quite a debate here at DPS about what the worst thing in the world is.
    “There is nothing worse than a brilliant image of a fuzzy concept.”
    “There’s nothing worse than leaving with your camera and a fully charged battery only to realize your card is still at home…”
    “There’s nothing worse than having to retouch 300 shots because of gunk in the corner of the frame…”
    “There is nothing worse than coming back from an early morning or late evening shoot to see…”
    “There’s nothing worse than getting the photos back and realizing…”
    “there is nothing worse than to find you’ve run out of battery…”
    “There is nothing worse than being in the field and having your equipment malfunction.”
    “there is nothing worse than getting up early to a prime location, only to have your single cleaning cloth ruined…”
    “there’s nothing worse than seeing your telephoto/zoom lens visibly sag…”
    “absolutely nothing worse than missing a shot because…”
    “There’s nothing worse than wasting money capturing tons of blurred blobs…”
    “There is nothing worse than framing a shot and having your subject scared off…”

    And on it goes.

    (From a quick Google search prompted by reading here, yesterday, that there was nothing worse than chapped lips and today, that there’s nothing worse than wasting your time.)

  • done67
  • Alberto H.

    I like the article. But the last two pictures… C’mon

  • tonyc0101

    omgosh…ESPECIALLY that last picture! lol

  • Great article. Like the first image.

  • the first one is so beautiful. thanks for sharing.
    ??? ???

  • Branson Quenzer

    Thanks! I hope your next photo outing is fantastic!

  • Branson Quenzer

    Thanks, and I hope that the article will help you on your next outing.

  • Johan Bauwens

    I find the last pic quite intriguing. Don’t like the postprocessing though. But the double exposure is fun

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