On location, visualise your nature photography as a series

Venturing out into the field looking for photographs, either in hope or with a plan inevitably leads to thinking about how these images will be seen.  Of course, a book is one form and for nature photography, it’s a popular route to take.  However, going from a website portfolio gallery to book form is quite a leap.  The division of pages and the necessity of chapters requires a bit more thought in how to achieve this successfully.

Projects often require closure by virtue of the need for us to stylistically, geographically or developmentally move on.  A clear written aim will serve as a useful device to steer the project’s course and to decide both the sequencing and its final look.

I would advise early on when deciding to make a book, especially on nature photography, to set some parameters based on location(s), timeframe, shooting style, or weather conditions.  Setting constraints is useful as it helps you work out what your project is about.  Too much choice on all fronts can be overwhelming. 

Also, you should let the theme organically emerge.   little worse than straitjacketing photographs to suit an idea that on-location doesn’t really work.  Think about what the project’s essence is and evaluate/update this in the early development stages.  If necessary re-write your aim.

It may be a simple visual idea about a place but that’s fine, write it down just the same.  Once you have the aim, don’t analyse this too much when you’re out in the field, instead, leave this to when you’re at home reviewing images.  Your original intentions may have shifted somewhat, and the images say something else.  No problem, just check them against your written intentions and judge whether it’s a fruitful diversion or not.

Your ultimate goal in seeking the project’s message is to illuminate its subtext, how might the audience interpret your work and does it have a metaphorical interpretation.  This can be a difficult point to reach without the input of others so you should build this into the process including the sequencing of your project.  You can now refer back to the aims to keep a check on this.  Also here, the self-imposed constraints and commonality of imagery made earlier, will now enable the maximum flexibility in playing with your presentational order as they will all interlink on some level.

The book: Andalusia

In the case of Andalusia, the project was location-based and I had chosen a region close to Morocco.  Western Andalusia is also both varied with few iconic landmarks allowing me some freedom to create my own pathway.  Popular nature photography can be dominated by familiar hotspots so breaking this pattern is somewhat desirable. A three-week timeline was set to explore a triangle of locations based on trees, water and rocks.  I set a framework that an end haul should equally include all three places.  Moreover, they would work as a balanced set, without stronger images at the expense of weaker ones.

This unity set my choice on using mainly one (telephoto) lens. It would allow me to focus on intimate views that were missing perfect lighting conditions, whilst simultaneously creating greater density from front to back.  I chose colour to allow less graphical subjects and more mid-distance scenes with the complexity of tone to be captured.  Compositionally after a couple of days, I realised I was seeing more successfully in vertical framing which I continued with.

Making visual connections on location

I worked on location twice a day, in the morning and late afternoon using the other times to evaluate my work. Early on in this process I began to see connections with images from a previous session and so this informed how I would see a new location on subsequent days. Gradually these images paired up and so the unity across the set found a form in the diptych. On location, I had formed the idea of a book based on images side by side. In the first steps of sequencing whilst there, I began to see places only in a narrow set of visual ways, offering little space for an emotional connection.

camera club talks sample image spain

Sequencing in the evening

In order to see how the images were pairing and flowing, I first did some light raw file processing using Photoshop’s auto settings.  This one-click immediately transformed the image into life and gave me an idea about how colours and composition were working together.  Moreover, by placing the images in pairs, I began to see more visual associations on location.  Consequently, I now see many of these pairs as two halves to a whole.

Diptychs and narrative

For nature photography diptychs to work, there should be some commonality between the photos, either a shared aesthetic, subject or formal approach.  Side by side the commonality reduces the individuality and stand-alone impact, but the gain is the extra dimension through visual associations.

In Andalusia’s case, the diptych works mostly on visual interconnections as listed above.  It also asks the viewers to think about space and to imagine if the pair were from the same location and indeed if one subject is present in the accompanying image.  In many cases, they were not.  This is a lovely idea that Chaddy Dean Smith uses for his series of triptychs.

The final sequencing for the book took place several months later and by then I had researched the locations from a historical perspective.  Surprisingly I discovered a recent dark past in the forest locations and a tentative link to Plato and the ‘lost city of Atlantis’ at the coastal points. I used this to precede each of the three chapters with a short poem or excerpt of a historical account.