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Take your Time and Work the Scene

I recently shared this photo on Facebook, Google+, and Flickr, with a quick tip on how to create a starburst effect. In this article, I’d like to share the thought process behind the image, and a few of the less successful images that led up to this final shot.

Final photo of the tree with a small starburst for creative effect

Canon EOS 5D Mark III with EF 40mm f/2.8 STM, 1/320, f/14, ISO 100

Here’s the first shot of the tree:

First Image

I shot this photo as soon as I saw the tree. It’s a fascinating tree, but not a very interesting photo. There’s just too much happening here. So I moved behind and tried a silhouette against the sky:

First silhouette

Sometimes your first few shots will not be the best, take your time to work the scene. Think about how you can best use the elements in the scene to create an interesting photo. There are 4 elements in this image:

1. The sun
2. The tree
3. The deep blue sky
4. The rocks

I liked the tree, and I wanted to shoot it as a silhouette against the blue sky. I also thought that I could use the sun to create a starburst and add a sense of drama. But after my first silhouette attempt, I realized the sun was just to big and bright to use as a separate visual element. It was upstaging my tree. Not cool. I also didn’t like all the rocks and fuzzy vegetation at the bottom of the frame. Too many distracting elements competing for the viewer’s attention.

So I moved closer, tilted the camera 45 degrees counterclockwise to eliminate some of the foreground, and put the sun behind the tree:

Intermediate image

Then came the decisive moment. I realized that if I allowed just a bit of sun to shine through the ‘V’ formed by two branches, I could bring back a little of that starburst, while preventing it from overpowering the image.

All in all, I shot 12 photos in two minutes to arrive at the photo that I felt was the strongest, the image at the top of this post. The key is work the scene and make small changes until you arrive at the shot you want.

I hope this behinds the scenes look at been helpful. Many of the amazing photos you see have several less interesting shots leading up to them. Next time something catches your eye as interesting, but your first few shots don’t capture that feeling, slow down and work the scene.

I appreciate feedback, please comment below or feel free to connect with me through Facebook or Google+. I’ll do my best to answer questions and reply to comments.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Jason Weddington is passionate photographer and the creator of PhotoQueue.com, a service that helps photographers maintain their online presence by scheduling uploads to Flickr and 500px. PhotoQueue will soon add support for Facebook, and Tumblr. You can connect with Jason on Google+, Facebook, or Flickr. Jason is also an Associate member of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP).

  • http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/ Mridula

    Lovely composition. And the number of shots and the time frame are really encouraging. No excuse that I didn’t had time.

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/

  • satesh

    Excellent article. I have gotten better at slowing down to examine the scenes.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/satesh/8482398544/

  • http://www.phogropathy.com John Davenport

    Nice write up – You’re right it’s very rare that your first shot will be the keeper. I usually find that I need to get warmed up and in the zone before I start putting the puzzle of all the various subjects in the scene together in the frame.

  • Scottc

    A great article and photo. It would be helpful to know what filter you were using (I’m assuming a filter was used, looks polarized), maybe a little info on the lens as well.

    I completely agree with your topic and points.

    Thanks

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5417928725/

  • http://500px.com/dcassat Dan Cassat

    And, i would add to walk the scene BEFORE you work it! It has really added to my successes to take the time before I start shooting to find the angles and points of interest before I ever snap the first shot.

  • http://ingrenoble.ca Lisa

    Seeing your other photos from that scene was really useful. As a beginner, I wouldn’t have thought to do a silhouette against the sky like that, so mental note for the future. Also, with all the HDR photos that I keep seeing (on 500px for example), it’s so nice to finally see a silhouette again!

  • http://jasonweddington.com Jason Weddington

    Thanks for the comments everyone!

    Scottc – These were shot with the Canon 5D mkIII and the ef 40mm f/2.8 pancake lens. No filter, just the amazing dynamic range of the mkIII, and I slightly enhanced the blues in Lr by cooling the white balance and saturating the blue channel.

    Dan – excellent point, walk the scene, then work the scene!

    Lisa – don’t get me started on HDR, I’ll be glad when that fad has run it’s course! :-) Actually, HDR has it’s place. I just like photos that look like photos, sometimes HDR can help you get there, especially in the case of a difficult scene that the camera’s sensor just can’t handle in a single frame. But there’s a lot of HDR for the sake of HDR going on. Just like not every portrait needs the photoshop fake soft focus effect, not every image needs HDR.

  • Laurence

    Did you expose the scene so that It would already be a silhoutte in camera? or did you exposed it to the right then continued your desired product in post?

  • http://jasonweddington.com Jason Weddington

    Laurence – I shot on Av, stopped down to f/14, without exposure bias. Shooting straight into the sun like that with center-weighted averaging meter mode, usually renders the foreground subject as a silhouette, if the subject is small enough. There is a tiny bit of detail on the rock at the bottom of the frame in the original raw file, but after increasing contrast and adjusting the tone curve, that also appears black.

  • http://www.wildlifeencounters.eu Steve

    I agree that a good shot is often worked hard. Experimenting with different settings can sometimes produce interesting results and also I always walk the scene to get the most interesting angle.
    In this shot I walked for an hour before deciding this was the scene I wanted:

    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/Wales/G0000Exlf55keW7Y/I0000TAXLDsZ_3uE/C00006idB3II8aC4

  • Paul Moyer

    Thank you so much for sharing Jason. I really enjoyed seeing what kind of work goes into a final shot. 2 minutes seems pretty quick. Is there an average amount of time you usually take working a scene to come away with a “keeper”? I would love to see more of these behind the scenes to see how one might go about the difficulties of varying situations. Thanks!

  • http://www.guigphotography.com Guigphotography

    Very simple but highly effective lesson and congrats on keeping it light! I think this has been one of the most valuable approaches I’ve adopted in the last year and I’m enjoying it. The simple scene could have had many outcomes before I settled on the angle I wanted.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/69604456@N07/8488810495/in/photostream

  • Dave

    This is by far one of the most helpful articles I have read on here. It was great to see the thought process that went into the shot and how you arrived at a great image as opposed to just studying the “keeper image” and why it works. I would love to see more articles like this

  • http://jasonweddington.com Jason Weddington

    Steve – thanks for sharing, I’d be interested to her more about your experience with Photoshelter. I’ve been thinking of giving them a try.

    Paul – Two minutes is quick. It’s because this is a technique I’ve used before with a different subject (Model on a Sand Dune. So it only took a couple of minutes of playing around before realizing I could fit this scene into one of the shots in my mental catalogue.

    When I’m trying something knew and need to figure it out, rather than drawing from experience, it takes much longer. This shot of my Canon AE-1 took about 1 hour and 100 images to get right. Now that I’ve figured out how to nail the lighting though, I could do it again in 5 minutes. It turned out that simple was better, I started out trying something more complicated.

    Guigphotography – thanks! Interesting shot there with the strong shadows. It looks good in BW.

    dave – Good to know! I’ll do more of these when I have a sequence of shots leading to a keeper.

  • http://http??funsturr4.@hoop.la Verneitta

    Thank you very much, that was quite helpful. :-)

  • boloto

    Such a great article. Thank you for showing every step – that will definitely help me to work on my composition!

  • http://www.deannacantrell.com Deanna Cantrell

    Excellent post, love your final shot! I love silhouettes, starbursts, and blue skies.

  • John K

    great post! this is the type of article i always hope to see when i click through a promising title. thanks!

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/cristiano007 cristiano007

    One of the best advices you can give to a photographer doing the transition from begginer to intermediate and even advanced. I confess I have read it before in “On Being a Photographer” by David Hurn, and thought about it seeing the Contacst series, but you have made a very practical demostration and a very nice explanation in your article. Finally, maybe two minutes is nothing in landscape photography but in street photography is an eternity. Big thanks.

  • Mike

    I really like this advice. Makes me happy I found this site.

  • http://www.duncansphotography.co.uk Duncan

    What a really good read that was! I would not have thought about doing any shot like that but now I know how sensible it is and how it helps make for a great photo I will be trying it out all the time and practicing like crazy. thanks for the very useful tip. :)

  • Andy

    If you are interested in studying how more pros work through a scene then you should definitely check out Magnum Contact Sheets: http://www.amazon.com/Magnum-Contact-Sheets-Kristen-Lubben/dp/0500543992. It is a collection of “naked” contact sheets shot by Magnum Photographers. It’s an incredible way to see how some of the best photographers in the world worked through scenes to capture their iconic images.

  • Nuru

    Fantastic article, especially for its simplicity and common sense approach to taking an amazing shot. I sort of intuitively/naturally adopted this same approach since i have recently realized photography to be a passion of mine. I’m adding you as on facebook.

  • http://employerscheck.blogspot.com/ Ella

    hi there! , Is extremely good crafting a whole lot! ratio many of us be in contact additional roughly your post for AOL? I want an expert within this place to solve my own difficulty. It’s possible that is certainly an individual! Having a look to watch you.

  • Normanh11

    Shot this with my cellphone in one take.

  • Normanh11

    It only took a minute or two to find the right position where the sunburst was cradled between the tree branches. The cellphone camera’s ultra wide angle lens made it fairly easy to do.

  • http://www.naturalportraitsandevents.com Normanh11

    Cellphone cam photo – It only took a minute or two to find the right position where the sunburst was cradled between the tree branches. The cellphone camera’s ultra wide angle lens made it fairly easy to do.

Some older comments

  • Ella

    August 6, 2013 12:08 am

    hi there! , Is extremely good crafting a whole lot! ratio many of us be in contact additional roughly your post for AOL? I want an expert within this place to solve my own difficulty. It's possible that is certainly an individual! Having a look to watch you.

  • Nuru

    March 1, 2013 08:06 am

    Fantastic article, especially for its simplicity and common sense approach to taking an amazing shot. I sort of intuitively/naturally adopted this same approach since i have recently realized photography to be a passion of mine. I'm adding you as on facebook.

  • Andy

    March 1, 2013 06:24 am

    If you are interested in studying how more pros work through a scene then you should definitely check out Magnum Contact Sheets: http://www.amazon.com/Magnum-Contact-Sheets-Kristen-Lubben/dp/0500543992. It is a collection of "naked" contact sheets shot by Magnum Photographers. It's an incredible way to see how some of the best photographers in the world worked through scenes to capture their iconic images.

  • Duncan

    March 1, 2013 05:49 am

    What a really good read that was! I would not have thought about doing any shot like that but now I know how sensible it is and how it helps make for a great photo I will be trying it out all the time and practicing like crazy. thanks for the very useful tip. :)

  • Mike

    March 1, 2013 05:13 am

    I really like this advice. Makes me happy I found this site.

  • cristiano007

    February 28, 2013 08:15 am

    One of the best advices you can give to a photographer doing the transition from begginer to intermediate and even advanced. I confess I have read it before in "On Being a Photographer" by David Hurn, and thought about it seeing the Contacst series, but you have made a very practical demostration and a very nice explanation in your article. Finally, maybe two minutes is nothing in landscape photography but in street photography is an eternity. Big thanks.

  • John K

    February 25, 2013 05:37 am

    great post! this is the type of article i always hope to see when i click through a promising title. thanks!

  • Deanna Cantrell

    February 24, 2013 03:53 am

    Excellent post, love your final shot! I love silhouettes, starbursts, and blue skies.

  • boloto

    February 24, 2013 02:51 am

    Such a great article. Thank you for showing every step - that will definitely help me to work on my composition!

  • Verneitta

    February 23, 2013 03:55 pm

    Thank you very much, that was quite helpful. :-)

  • Jason Weddington

    February 23, 2013 07:30 am

    Steve - thanks for sharing, I'd be interested to her more about your experience with Photoshelter. I've been thinking of giving them a try.

    Paul - Two minutes is quick. It's because this is a technique I've used before with a different subject (Model on a Sand Dune. So it only took a couple of minutes of playing around before realizing I could fit this scene into one of the shots in my mental catalogue.

    When I'm trying something knew and need to figure it out, rather than drawing from experience, it takes much longer. This shot of my Canon AE-1 took about 1 hour and 100 images to get right. Now that I've figured out how to nail the lighting though, I could do it again in 5 minutes. It turned out that simple was better, I started out trying something more complicated.

    Guigphotography - thanks! Interesting shot there with the strong shadows. It looks good in BW.

    dave - Good to know! I'll do more of these when I have a sequence of shots leading to a keeper.

  • Dave

    February 23, 2013 06:42 am

    This is by far one of the most helpful articles I have read on here. It was great to see the thought process that went into the shot and how you arrived at a great image as opposed to just studying the "keeper image" and why it works. I would love to see more articles like this

  • Guigphotography

    February 23, 2013 05:15 am

    Very simple but highly effective lesson and congrats on keeping it light! I think this has been one of the most valuable approaches I've adopted in the last year and I'm enjoying it. The simple scene could have had many outcomes before I settled on the angle I wanted.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/69604456@N07/8488810495/in/photostream

  • Paul Moyer

    February 23, 2013 04:47 am

    Thank you so much for sharing Jason. I really enjoyed seeing what kind of work goes into a final shot. 2 minutes seems pretty quick. Is there an average amount of time you usually take working a scene to come away with a "keeper"? I would love to see more of these behind the scenes to see how one might go about the difficulties of varying situations. Thanks!

  • Steve

    February 23, 2013 02:10 am

    I agree that a good shot is often worked hard. Experimenting with different settings can sometimes produce interesting results and also I always walk the scene to get the most interesting angle.
    In this shot I walked for an hour before deciding this was the scene I wanted:

    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/Wales/G0000Exlf55keW7Y/I0000TAXLDsZ_3uE/C00006idB3II8aC4

  • Jason Weddington

    February 22, 2013 10:20 am

    Laurence - I shot on Av, stopped down to f/14, without exposure bias. Shooting straight into the sun like that with center-weighted averaging meter mode, usually renders the foreground subject as a silhouette, if the subject is small enough. There is a tiny bit of detail on the rock at the bottom of the frame in the original raw file, but after increasing contrast and adjusting the tone curve, that also appears black.

  • Laurence

    February 22, 2013 10:10 am

    Did you expose the scene so that It would already be a silhoutte in camera? or did you exposed it to the right then continued your desired product in post?

  • Jason Weddington

    February 22, 2013 10:09 am

    Thanks for the comments everyone!

    Scottc - These were shot with the Canon 5D mkIII and the ef 40mm f/2.8 pancake lens. No filter, just the amazing dynamic range of the mkIII, and I slightly enhanced the blues in Lr by cooling the white balance and saturating the blue channel.

    Dan - excellent point, walk the scene, then work the scene!

    Lisa - don't get me started on HDR, I'll be glad when that fad has run it's course! :-) Actually, HDR has it's place. I just like photos that look like photos, sometimes HDR can help you get there, especially in the case of a difficult scene that the camera's sensor just can't handle in a single frame. But there's a lot of HDR for the sake of HDR going on. Just like not every portrait needs the photoshop fake soft focus effect, not every image needs HDR.

  • Lisa

    February 22, 2013 09:51 am

    Seeing your other photos from that scene was really useful. As a beginner, I wouldn’t have thought to do a silhouette against the sky like that, so mental note for the future. Also, with all the HDR photos that I keep seeing (on 500px for example), it’s so nice to finally see a silhouette again!

  • Dan Cassat

    February 22, 2013 09:29 am

    And, i would add to walk the scene BEFORE you work it! It has really added to my successes to take the time before I start shooting to find the angles and points of interest before I ever snap the first shot.

  • Scottc

    February 22, 2013 09:28 am

    A great article and photo. It would be helpful to know what filter you were using (I'm assuming a filter was used, looks polarized), maybe a little info on the lens as well.

    I completely agree with your topic and points.

    Thanks

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/5417928725/

  • John Davenport

    February 22, 2013 07:15 am

    Nice write up - You're right it's very rare that your first shot will be the keeper. I usually find that I need to get warmed up and in the zone before I start putting the puzzle of all the various subjects in the scene together in the frame.

  • satesh

    February 22, 2013 06:59 am

    Excellent article. I have gotten better at slowing down to examine the scenes.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/satesh/8482398544/

  • Mridula

    February 22, 2013 05:54 am

    Lovely composition. And the number of shots and the time frame are really encouraging. No excuse that I didn't had time.

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/

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