Things to Photograph When There’s Absolutely nothing to Photograph

I’m for the annual Photography Life fall colors workshop with Nasim, and our group leaped into a tricky photographic scenario this morning. A beautiful mountain overlook was completely blocked simply by clouds at sunrise, ruining any photos we had in your mind. Time to pack it up plus go home? Not quite.

Here’s the shot all of us wanted to take, as taken by Nasim a few years back:

Mt Sneffels at Fall
NIKON D850 + 24-120mm f/4 @ 38mm, ISO 64, 1/3, f/5. 6

And here’s how sunrise looked today:

Landscape Covered by Clouds
GFX100S + GF63mmF2. 8 R WR @ 63mm, ISO 100, 1/6, f/5. 6

It’s hardly the particular view our group had envisioned after waking up at 5 AM, but sometimes that is how nature goes. Installed know how the sunrise will be unless you take the time to get out presently there yourself.

But even when your plans go awry, some creative thinking can lead to good photos anyway. In this case, the clouds that obstructed the mountain weren’t all bad. They also added the layer of fog to the colorful trees all around us.

Rather than facing ahead toward the overlook, I started looking around to find compositions that took advantage of the lower clouds. With a telephoto lens (I was generally from 240mm with the Canon 24-240mm superzoom we’re testing), some of the foggy trees made for great, subtle subjects.

Telephoto Aspens in the Fog 1
Telephoto Aspens in Fog 2
Cannon EOS R5 + RF24-240mm F4-6. 3 IS USM @ 240mm, ISO hundred, 1 . 6 seconds, f/6. 3
Telephoto Aspens in the Fog 3
Canon EOS R5 + RF24-240mm F4-6. 3 IS USM @ 183mm, ISO 100, 1/10, f/10. 0

The particular images don’t scream from you with a nuclear sunrise, but I think the calmer atmosphere suits the subject. The morning that looked like an overall total loss had become an effective exercise in landscape digital photography at a distance. With a telephoto rather than wide angle lens – and facing exactly in reverse from the popular direction – our group was able to isolate the most interesting colors and foggy layers of the trees to create plenty of good compositions.

Situations like this are pretty common in photography. You show up somewhere with a photo in mind, and it also turns out to be impossible to take. Maybe crowds, the light, the weather, or anything else completely ruins your own plans. Looks like there’s absolutely nothing to photograph. What do you do?

Don’t stand around waiting against hope for circumstances to improve. Don’t put away your own gear and leave prematurely. Instead, figure out if there are any non-obvious subjects a person missed, and spend some time wanting to capture the more hidden photos.

A good place to start is with a telephoto zoom lens, like our group do this morning. Telephotos let you separate subjects much better than a wide position, from abstract shots to birds and other wildlife. Shop around, including behind you, designed for opportunities with a telephoto even when you’d never shoot that way with a wide angle. (It’s why we tell our own workshop participants to bring together a telephoto even when they will don’t expect to need it. )

Another spot to look is at the ground. Macro and close-up photography is achievable almost anywhere in the world and in almost any conditions. In rainy, uninspiring landscapes, I’ve taken macro photos of sparkling droplets of water on eco-friendly leaves that have a very peaceful mood. Even if you’re not really carrying a dedicated macro lens, a standard zoom is usually capable of capturing small subjects within interesting ways. Don’t pack up your camera until you’ve looked around for smaller sized subjects.

DC-S1R + LUMIX S 24-105/F4 @ 73mm, ISO 320, 1/80, f/4. 0

This article is not meant to be a long treatise on composition, just a simple tip to keep your eyes open for more than just the photo you had in mind. It’s uncommon for there to truly end up being nothing to photograph – maybe just nothing obvious. If you deliberately look around for various subjects and get creative along with your compositions, you’ll find that nearly every scene can lead to high quality images.

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