Tell a deeper story of a place by adding close-up images to your location portfolios

From a photographer’s standpoint, one of the wonderful things about Oregon is the predominance of cloudy conditions when you are photographing in forests. Bright sunlight creates muddy shadows and horrible hot spots—Oregon’s often-overcast, cloudy skies produce soft light that makes the scene glow.

I had these perfect conditions while photographing in Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area. Wahclella Falls, in the gorge, is a beautiful waterfall surrounded by ferns and rainforest vegetation. With soft light all around me, I captured a beautifully grand landscape of the falls and verdant plants. Time to pack up and go? Not on your life. Now is when you need to get creative.

You’ve captured that grand scenic and established the beginning of the “story in pictures.” It’s time to switch your thinking from “grand” to “intimate.” Look for the little details that produce a microcosm of the scene to bring the viewer into your story.

Looking closer in the scene, I noticed a tiny rivulet waterfall with downed leaves plastered along its path. Here is an example of the intimate scenic or macro image to be extracted from the overall scene. To eliminate all the surroundings and focus on the mini-waterfall, the colors of the leaves and the structure, I put my wide-angle lens away and pulled out my medium telephoto lens to extract this section of the scene.

When creating such an image, move your viewfinder around the area until you find a composition that captures the intimacy of the scene. Your ultimate goal is to create a unique image that continues the story but can also stand alone.

As you study your grand scenic, look for strong elements in your landscape that add punch to the image. If you have these strong elements, see if you can pick out one or more elements for your close-up. This is where element extraction comes into play. Extracting the small waterfall from the overall scene gave me an interesting, intimate view of the landscape and tells a story within a story. Some of these intimate scenes may be greater images than your wide-angle scenic.

These images often involve small subjects or elements, and you have to look for them. So, when you have your great landscape, put your camera down, switch your thinking from grand to small, and study your surroundings. Look into the scene for elements you can isolate. Look behind you. Look all around. You will be amazed what you find if you just take the time to look. When I finished capturing the above image of Mount Whitney jutting out from a clearing storm framed by the amazing boulders of the Alabama Hills, I did exactly that. I looked around, and then I looked down.

Right at my feet, a beautiful desert wildflower displayed its spring blossoms. For this little guy (less than 5 inches high), I pulled out my macro lens. I could also have used extension tubes on my medium telephoto lens, but macro lenses are incredibly sharp, and I always want to optimize my chances for a “keeper” image. Desert calico is a dainty but very colorful, diminutive high desert wildflower and, when blooming, begs to be photographed. I responded and was rewarded with a very nice image of this unique little flower. You might not expect wildflowers in the desert, but you would be amazed at what will grow in such a hostile environment. Including this wildflower image in a storyline on the Alabama Hills and the Sierras adds a special, unexpected element.

Don’t just look down, look around. Stop and take that 360-degree turn looking for mini-scenics, small details and possibly abstract elements. When you are walking the trail to your grand scenic location, look for elements along the trail. You may get sidetracked with amazing details that you could spend hours or even days photographing.

When I photographed the waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, I hiked numerous trails to get to them. The above image of Elowah Falls was captured by my sliding down a mud chute almost into the stream. I set up and captured a very different view of the falls and was quite happy with the results.

I hiked directly to the falls, so I took my time walking back. Not too far from the falls, right along the trail, this beautiful, tiny wildflower hung over a raindrop-covered fern. It formed an almost perfect composition with complementing colors as a bonus. This little scene was no more than a foot above the trail. You would never have seen it if you weren’t “looking” down.