Working a Scene

If time permits, working a scene can be very beneficial in terms of helping to train ourselves to look at a variety of composition options. This article features a selection of images captured at the Western Brook Pond Tour departure area. The objective is simply to illustrate how a specific subject can be incorporated into a composition in a number of different ways. All of the images featured in this article were captured with the M.Zuiko PRO 12-100 mm f/4 IS zoom.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 12-100 mm f/4 IS @ 12 mm, efov 24 mm, f/6.3, 1/500, ISO-200

When working a scene I often like to identify a specific element that has some visual properties which enable it to standout from its surroundings.  In this case the obvious choice was the red and white tour boats at the end of the wharf.

My first composition was captured at 12 mm, after I stopped part way down the wharf. Using a wide angle focal length has the visual effect of pushing the background away. In addition, a shorter focal length will always create more depth of field when compared to a longer focal length given the same aperture and shooting position.

You can see that I used the walkway as a leading line and incorporated the middle cross brace as a corner exit. I chose an aperture of f/6.3 to increase my depth of field, and used a focus point about 3.9 metres away from my physical position on the wharf.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 12-100 mm f/4 IS @ 12 mm, efov 24 mm, f/8, 1/400, ISO-200

When using zoom lenses it is important to remember that we still need to use our feet to get the most utility from a zoom lens. As we increase our focal length we decrease the amount of depth-of-field in our image. If we want to maximize our depth-of-field, while still using an appropriate aperture as to avoid the effects of diffraction, we need to use a shorter focal length.

You can see in the image above that I had continued to walk down the wharf. I kept my focal length set to 12 mm. As I got closer to the boats I kept checking on my composition through my EVF until the boats were positioned exactly where I wanted them in the image. I used a focus point about 4 metres away. To ensure that I would have deep depth-of-field I stopped my lens down to f/8.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 12-100 mm f/4 IS @ 16 mm, efov 32 mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-200

I continued walking down the wharf until I was between the John Deere Gator vehicle and one of the boats. I used the right hand side of the cargo box on the Gator as a leading line to point towards mountains in the background. As you can see, it was also important to line up the side of the Gator with the metal border on the wharf. This helped to extend the leading line visually.

I kept my aperture at f/8 and chose an auto focus point on one of the boxes in the back of the Gator. That focus point was about 2.2 metres away. To get the exact composition that I wanted it was necessary for me to adjust my focal length to 16 mm.

When using smaller sensor cameras it is critical not to consider efov when composing an image, or deciding on camera settings. Considering efov (equivalent field-of-view) is only relevant when comparing fields-of-view between different camera formats. I was not shooting with a 32 mm focal length when I captured the image above… I was using a 16 mm focal length… and utilizing the optical characteristics of a lens of that focal length.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 12-100 mm f/4 IS @ 21 mm, efov 42 mm, f/8, 1/200, ISO-200

After I returned from the wharf I looked for other composition possibilities. One of the things that I always look for is a foreground element that I can incorporate into an image. Often these can act as a partial reveal, or as a corner anchor. I spotted some trees on the right hand side of the gathering area. I used these trees as a partial reveal in the composition above. Using a partial reveal can help create a 3-D layering effect in a composition.

I kept my aperture at f/8 and used a focal length of 21 mm to create the image above. I placed my single, small auto-focus point on the trees in the foreground which were about 2 metres away. Given the density of the underbrush along the pond bank I didn’t see any other obvious composition options so I moved over to the other side of the staging area.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 12-100 mm f/4 IS @ 12 mm, efov 24 mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-200

Working a scene always involves some walking around and investigating a number of vantage points and shooting angles. After looking around for a couple of minutes I created the image above using a focal length of 12 mm with an aperture of f/8. My focus point was about 2.2 metres away.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 12-100 mm f/4 IS @ 38 mm, efov 76 mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO-200

I then moved up next to the railing and zoomed in on the boats using a focal length of 38 mm, and an aperture of f/8. I played around with various focal lengths for a couple of minutes and couldn’t find another composition that I liked. So, I decided to change my physical position again.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 12-100 mm f/4 IS @ 50 mm, efov 100 mm, f/8, 1/320, ISO-200

I found another shooting angle that allowed me to position the wharf as a leading line coming in from the right hand side. There were a number of other visitors on the decking, causing an obstructed view of the boats. I climbed up on one of the benches and composed the image above using a focal length of 50 mm with an aperture of f/8.

You can see that the longer focal length helped to compress the visual elements of the composition closer together. This made the mountains feel that they were much closer, and created more of an intimate feeling in the composition.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 12-100 mm f/4 IS @ 50 mm, efov 100 mm, f/8, 1/320, ISO-200

I returned to the same approximate shooting position I used for image four in this article and composed another image. This time I used a focal length of 50 mm to get in closer to the boat. This focal length also helped to compress the elements in the composition… bringing the mountains closer. You can see that the wharf serves as a leading line on the left hand side of the image.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 12-100 mm f/4 IS @ 54 mm, efov 108 mm, f/8, 1/320, ISO-200

Working a scene also can involve changing our elevation. To some degree this can be done by lowering our camera and using a shooting angle closer to the ground. To create the image above I climbed down the bank of the pond to reach the water level. A focal length of 54 mm helped compress the visual elements in the composition. As in the previous image, the wharf served as a leading line coming in on the left hand side. You can see that a lower elevation helped to create more of a 3-D effect with background elements.

If you have some spare time when you’re out with your camera, try working the scene. This can help encourage some creativity with our compositions.

 Technical Note

Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process in post. This is the 1,329 article published on this website since its original inception in 2015.

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