When we visit picturesque countryside, a great woodland, mountains and valleys, or a spectacular coastline, we know how easy it is to break out our cameras and simply take the grand, all-encompassing shot. After all, having made the effort to visit a fantastic viewpoint, it feels like a waste not to capture everything we can see.
But by including the whole scene in one shot, aren’t we potentially missing out? Could it be that the deeper beauty of the place, or its valuable stories, are being overlooked? Lost in the broadness of our sweeping image?
Following, are two photographs of the same waterfall, Seljalandsfoss, in Southern Iceland. Seljalandsfoss is a simple, elegant, 60 metre high fall and I captured these images on a freezing cold, windy but bright, sunny morning.
Like much of the landscape in Iceland, Seljalandsfoss is grand and spectacular. It’s one of the must-visit natural attractions. And from a photographic point of view, well, it would simply be rude not to pay homage to the whole of the scene (or at least as much of it as you can get without tourists encroaching into your frame).
I managed to take a few pictures of the ‘whole scene’. One is attached. Although happy with the shot, I have to be honest, it didn’t really capture what I think is the essence of the place. It’s fine as a record, I’m glad I’ve got it, but it just admires from afar. I took the picture from too far away to gain any real insight.
My deeper connection with Seljalandsfoss came when I got up close. Close enough, in fact, to feel the spray, which in hindsight wasn’t very wise in the harsh conditions. Being this close gave me at least a small insight into the fall’s true nature. The sound of the unhindered water falling and its impact at ground level; the colours, crack lines and textures of the layered geology behind the fall and the rock’s endurance in the face of extreme water and weather erosion over thousands of years; and Seljalandsfoss’ simultaneous power and grace. Sitting at the base of this grand monument of nature and feeling its energy, it was like I was absorbing something from it, as though it was sharing part of itself.
The close-in picture, while not epic, gives me much more of Seljalandsfoss. It doesn’t admire from afar. This is a photograph that gets intimate with the environment and, thereby, captures more of it.
(To get the close-in shot, I needed to be as near as I could and lower to the ground. This wasn’t just for technical reasons but also to keep others out of my frame. Then, while struggling to keep the lens dry, I focused specifically on the centre of the pool).
It’s easy for us to arrive at a great location, admire the view from a distance and allow ourselves to be taken in by the whole scene. I’m the worst for letting myself be absorbed by a grand vista and failing to look closer. But while we should, of course, enjoy the wow-factor of big scenes, a deeper connection with the environment is possible.
If we allow more time for closer scrutiny, we can get more acquainted with the core nature of a place. We can discover its stories, nurture feelings for it and let the location share some greater meaning with us.
So, the next time you’re out in picturesque countryside, a great woodland, the mountains and valleys, or on a spectacular coastline, why not take a little more time and focus in. Maybe take binoculars with you, or use a zoom lens to have a closer look. Better still, use the best get-closer tools you have, your legs. Wherever you are and whatever you’re looking at, don’t wait for the true nature of the place to be revealed from afar. Move in and discover what it has to share with you.
Time to get up close and personal.