Techniques in the Field: Scouting
Scouting is kind of overlooked, I think, for the most part by people that look at photography, or landscape photography, as a hobby. There's sort of the lack of time and life that gets in the way, so that we don't always get a chance to go out and use the energy and take the time to find pictures and compositions before we actually carry the camera and are in the act of taking the picture. And I think there's a separation in our ability to discover things when we're actually trying to photograph. So we kinda change our thought process, at least I have, over the course of time, depending on what mode I'm in. So I think to bring up scouting as a creative outlet, it's not like photographing, you shouldn't have a deadline, number one. So if somebody's actually planned dinner, you have to somehow try to get out of those plans, even before you start. That's my recommendation, or even breakfast. 'Cause many a times when you're out scouting, you end up, as I call it, chasing squirrels. And tha...
t's basically we get a little carried away about going one way or the other. And that's really what scouting's about. It is you have to let the place take over, and sort of guide you and your intuition into where you wanna go. I didn't come up with this all on my own, obviously, it's been known for years, and so the industry that use scouting forever was the film industry. And as I mentioned yesterday, my grandfather's pictures were used sort of as scouting pictures for what all the John Wayne films that came out, and so in the same vain, when I was first hired by some of the ad agencies, we'd send a scout out to go find specific sand dunes and places that we wanted to photograph. Well, one of the better agents I had was working for a company called Hakuhoto in Japan, and the art director had come up with this crazy idea that he would drape a Budweiser flag all over landscapes. And so, I know it's not exactly that environmentally great of a job at this point in my career, but I did it years ago, so I can tell you about it. Essentially, it was exciting though, for me, because I had to go out and capture the landscapes that he was going to put together, at the time what was a Sitex machine. There was no Photoshop, so this was a whole different process. They needed to take multiple pictures, and then combine those, in addition put the flag in. And so they hired a scout, and his name was Gary, we called him Gearman, because he was so funny and he always had like four radios on him, he was also one of our producers. So, Gary would go out and he would go take pictures of all the places I would recommend where it might be good. And he would come back, and then he would put all the little four by six prints on a table and we would put the ones together, he actually took panos, and we'd just simply lay the pictures down next to each other to see the different compositions, and the different points of view. And in that whole process, then we'd bring in the art director and we'd start talking about which way to go, which one worked better. It just dawned on me that this is actually a very valuable process. And I think that if you could possibly take the time to do that, even in your career as a hobbyist, or a passionist, I like to call it, then you will actually benefit enormously from it. So, you don't have to leave the camera behind, I'm gonna talk about some of the ways you can scout. But the essence of scouting is really trying to separate your mental intuitive workflow, in essence. Alright, so I'm gonna talk about exploring. Locating the foreground, and background. And then of course returning to kind of rediscover certain places. I think this is kind of funny, thanks Wikipedia, 'cause they talk about exploring. The best way to explore Iceland's northwest, that's a great example right now, it's very hip, because Iceland is a great place to photograph. And then the project encourages children to explore the world of photography. I like their connection to what we're talking about here. And I thought that was fairly relevant. Just for the definition of explore. So, part of this whole process of finding a picture is something that is becoming more of a current term, and I heard it the other day, it was actually mindful eating. And so it kinda rung a bell, and I was just I had this vision you know, my wife and I are sitting there, we'd just ordered food at a restaurant, and I'm just like my boys, we'll look at the food and we'll eat it. We'll just pretty much put it all away, 'cause it tastes good most the time. My wife will be sitting there pulling open the top, and kinda looking underneath, and seeing if everything's there, the right cheese, or the right pickles, or whatever it is we're eating. And just dawned on me that's exactly what she's doing, she's making sure that it's what she ordered, and what she paid for, you know, so it's mindfulness, I guess, and it dawned on me that that's really what we're doing when we're scouting so, that's the whole idea when you go out, so, you think about these things that I talked about yesterday. All these terms of vocabulary, all the aspect ratio and shapes, negative space, and so just to kind of remind you about some of the things, number one, aspect ratio. That's sort of the first on the list. Because that's where we're able to decide whether we're going to go horizontal or vertical. If that's a magazine cover, that might be one of the factors. Leading lines, again, not only leading lines from the bottom but leading lines from the top. That's a big idea, or concept to think about. Then of course, we've got all our shapes that we can consider when we're out looking. And don't forget about the edges and corners. Alright, and so, we also have timing. Stages of the day, stages of the night, all that stuff should be rolling around in your head. If not, it's gonna be on lists on your iPhone hopefully, or phone, and you can look at that and remind yourself. Just to kind of recap again, color changes, contrast decreases, these are things that will change the place that you're looking at enormously. Painting with light, great time to paint with light is the blue hour, not only in the evening, but in the morning as well. And then of course, the milky way and nighttime. It's another wonderful new way of looking at the landscape. And then scale, we talked about scale, and how to use scale yesterday. Subject matter, looking for subject in the landscape. Timing, timing not only from nature, but also your own personal response time. And then we talked about aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. But you're scouting now, so, don't think about those things, alright? That's the other side of the brain that's trying to take over and tell you how to do what you're trying to do, and at that moment in time you're really exploring, you're looking for compositions, it's more about seeing something new and it's really hard for a lot of people to let go of this because it's the first thing that comes to mind. So, not only that, but in addition the tripod. Okay, so, sometimes you just have to leave that behind and go handheld and go for a walk. Don't take five extra lenses, sometimes just take one single camera. Don't worry about putting it down. I just love this picture, I have to show it again because it really shows the involvement that I wanna see people get into when they're out photographing, or out scouting, that is. So, couple things I wanna talk about is this is something I do for fun. I haven't, I don't think I've sold a picture that is particularly infrared, but it's a really wonderful way to play, and so I've converted an old GH-2, Panasonic GH-2 camera to a infrared camera, and I do it through livepixel.com. And I use their supercolor option, they have some different options about the way you can actually have your sensor converted to infrared. But, supercolor gives you these colors. I'm not saying they're great, they're just fun. And if you don't like the way those colors look, there's a thousand ways to change it in Photoshop. And in addition, you can just obliterate that color and it makes a beautiful black and white. So, you know I converted a small camera, so that I can carry it in addition, or I can just drape it over my shoulder and go tooling off through the woods, 'cause I don't want some big burden, some back of equipment while I'm doing this. So, you might take pictures like this. This is my office, just wanted to show you guys exactly where I work. No, this is not my office, but it is close. That's the Santa Barbara mountains, and I guess some kids had drug this couch up there, not sure what they were doing, but anyways, that's the kind of stuff I'm photographing when I'm out scouting, having fun. I'm looking for little vignettes, I'm looking at color, and shape, and form, as I mentioned. You know, a lot of these things are looking down at where you're walking, and looking up, again it's the same thing we were talking about yesterday, really, it's your point of view. And then another example, looking for faces. Weird things. Rocks that are alive, trees that are moving almost. I don't know if you can see this, but it's a viking. There's his mouth, the two eyes. And this is actually something that they say the local Icelandic people will say that there are a lot of vikings in the stones in Iceland, and so once you hear that story, well, I started looking of course, and found this guy crusted into the side of the mountain. It's actually about 30 feet high, so he's quite a large viking. And then you see weird stuff, you know, like self-cooking chickens. Actually, yes, that is a rooster and he jumped up on the barbecue. This was in Kauai, they actually run all over the place. And you see things sometimes that you normally wouldn't take pictures of, but that is an interesting place for a heart. It's on the back of an Icelandic pony. Alright, some other things that you might wanna use for scouting. These are actually very helpful. The first one is Photopills, and it works on iPhones only, at the time, but what it does is it gives you an interface so that you can line up where the sun's gonna come up, and where it's gonna set. And in addition, you can line up where the milky way is gonna come up and where it's gonna be at a certain time a year, and so that's really very helpful. The other one is The Photographers Ephemeris. Very similar app, different interface. Little bit different options, but they essentially do the same thing. What you're trying to do is you're gonna get to a location, stand there, and try and figure out where the sun's gonna come up. So we did this out in the field. One of the things about scouting is we kinda know where the sun's gonna go down, being down here at sunset, but sometimes it's always a question of where it's gonna come up, or vice versa depending on where you are, and when you're there. So one of the handy features that has occurred over the last couple years is apps, and there's all kinds of 'em that'll tell you exactly where the sun's gonna come up, go down, even where the milky way comes up and goes down. And it's pretty simple, actually, the one that I use is called TPE, or The Photographers Ephemeris. There's another one I like called Photopills, but that works on a Apple iPhone only. But basically, you can see here it's giving me a little map and it's pointing at the direction of the sunrise and sunset the moon rise and moonset. You get the date right, you zoom into the right spot, you can even put a pin there to save exactly where you are. But you can see here this line is going right along the coast here, you can see some of the towers, and there's the lighthouse. And so if you follow that view, that visual down the line here, you're gonna be able to line up with exactly where the sun's gonna come up, just right over that little mesa, if you will. So, given that information, then I'll be able to figure out where I wanna go for sunrise, I think I'd probably go out to the end there, maybe find some nice little rocks in the foreground, with the sun coming up over the hill in the background. Apps are really handy these days. Okay, and then in addition, we have wonderful meteorologists today that have grown in skill and wit, and actual looks as well, because amazing when you look at the weather channel, they're basically anchormen, and they're incredible at what they do, but still they don't always get it right. So I'm not complaining about the Weather Channel, or any of these places, but sometimes you really have to become, or pretend to be a weatherman. So what I recommend is learning how to predict the weather. No, I'm just kidding. Some of the tools you wanna use though for looking at satellite pictures are wunderground.com, and forecast.io. These are two great sources, resources that I use constantly to be able to look at what's going on with my own visual, because often times the local weather in a place is different than the general weather. And that's one thing that the forecast.io does real well, it gives you a couple tabs at the top of the page, one for local, regional, and global. And then it gives you a little preview of where the weather is coming, and in that case, I think it's the radar, so it shows you the moisture. So if the weatherman says it's going to be 80% chance rain and you look at this prediction here on the website and it says the opposite, then you have to make a decision which one to believe? But often times the more of these resources you have to look at gives you a better understanding of what might happen because often times like I say the weather prediction is wrong, especially when you're looking at going up in different elevations in local regional areas. Now, this is weather underground, and I tried to bring this up the other day to show you a picture of clouds. But somehow there weren't any clouds in Seattle, so I actually had to go down to Santa Barbara to find the clouds to show you the satellite picture. But the only reason I wanna show you this is it is fairly informative. So, I'm not a meteorologist, but I do love this stuff. Good thing is I can see the screen where I'm pointing. So, essentially what you're looking for is this band of clouds here, and if that band of clouds were over Santa Barbara then basically you could tell that within a certain amount of time, and it's moving east to west, it's probably going to be sunny. And that's something the weatherman doesn't always tell you you know, "Oh, it's going to be sunny in 10 minutes." So it really is helpful as long as you can read some of those bands of clouds. And that's really the most informative part about this. Alright, you kinda look at the general movement of the clouds and then you can decide, well, there's a better chance than what the weatherman forecasted. And another picture of the clouds, here's the same thing, I just wanted to show you the low pressures down here just because I always wanted to be a meteorologist and do this.