Capturing the Essence of a Place

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Notes from Lyle

By Lyle Trusty

Sometimes, as a photographer you have to look hard to find a scene that merits capturing after arriving at a new destination.

Ever run into that problem? It has happened several times to me over the years. The problem most often encountered is lighting. The flat, low contrast light at noon is discouraging, and you may have to look for something colorful to compensate.

You have probably come to realize that it's much more rewarding to take pictures at places like that at sunrise or sunset, even if it entails getting up early for a sunrise shoot, or waiting for a sunset, but that still leaves you with the problem of capturing something interesting when the place is open. What can you do? There's an old photographer's saying; If you don't like the picture, it's usually because you were too far away from your subject.

So, suppose you have committed to touring a place that is beautiful, but largely shaded, and painted white. Greenery abounds, obstructing every view. All you are getting in your viewfinder and on your histogram are large areas of blocked up shadows and blown out highlights. There are a couple of things that can save your day. First of all try to get a shot that “sets the scene,” one that tells the viewer where he's at. Then get in close on the features that make the place unique and tell something about the occupants – right down to macro photographs. Natural flora and fauna, and unique architecture can add interest to an otherwise mediocre experience.

In support of that thought, I visited Earnest Hemingway's house in Key West, Florida several years ago and spent half a day touring his residence. I took pictures of all the obligatory places, the studio, verandas, bedrooms, a bathroom, etc. but the best shots were of groups of cats, (there were 32 in residence that were provided for in his will), and a large artfully adorned structure in the back yard. The tile and cement “thing” had obviously been moved there from its original location, not from within his house, and had weathered naturally over the years into a colorful green, red and blue back yard porcelain adornment.

On first seeing the item it appeared to be a shrine that was missing a religious figure, however, on closer examination it became obvious this was a urinal, probably obtained from the bathroom of an art deco hotel undergoing restoration. It made a statement about Hemingway that no other item in the house or on the grounds conveyed. When I think of this legendary author, those are the images that I remember best because they reveal personal things about him that tell of his independence, humanity, humor, and love of his space.

The bottom line is this; try to capture the essence of the place, and the reason for it being preserved. Thoughtful pictures often evoke emotions and feelings – which make photography the wondrous art that it is.




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