'Shoot' like a photojournalist:
pro photographer tells you how

by Rob Stimpson
Many trippers -- I'm one myself -- always pack a camera when paddling. In my case, it's hardly optional. I'm a professional outdoor photographer and teacher. That's why VOYAGEUR asked me for pointers on taking outdoor photos with a professional touch. In this piece, I'll use my photos, and some background on what went into them, to illustrate a first basic lesson -- make your pictures tell a story.  
Tidal Flats, Prince Edward Island
  Pick up a magazine and look at the photos editors pick for cover shots, or to illustrate stories What do you see? Generally, a picture that tells a story -- visually. The cover conveys what sort of magazine it is; the inside photos depict what each article is about. Plan your photos to capture the sort of trip you're going on and to record its happenings.

Think of yourself as a photojournalist. Assign yourself a topic and consider the photos you need to take to tell your story in pictures. Think ahead as to when opportunities might present themselves to get these pictures and be prepared.

Train yourself, as you grab your camera, to answer two questions before you shoot: why am I taking this photo?; what am I trying to say? Too often, people just 'take' a picture. Take your time; think and look before you shoot. While good 'compositions' sometimes evolve spontaneously, for the most part you have to anticipate and help create them.

With the photos shown here, I've suggested the 'story' each was taken to convey -- and some technical facts. I hope this information is useful to your own tripping and wilderness photography.

.Portage along Barron River, Algonquin Park, Ontario
  You know the scene well: a canoe on your shoulders; a pack on your back; and trekking. You also know how hard it is to describe the experience, verbally, to non-paddlers. Try to do it with photos. Here, during a portage, I aim for an unusual perspective to communicate the experience. I take the photo while carrying the canoe. And I plan it all ahead. First, I decide what lens to use. To see as much boat as possible, a 28-mm wide-angle lens is my choice. Next, I metre the scene before I start the portage. This allows me to set my shutter speed and aperture -- before I put the boat on my shoulders. To add some human interest, I get a fellow canoeist, my brother, to walk in front of me. The tricky part is making sure the canoe is balanced enough so the camera lens can capture the front half of the boat. (If portaging a 17-foot Old Town Tripper, you'll need a little help from your mates). Then I stop; bring the camera up; compose the shot; press the shutter -- and finish the portage. You can set this shot up on a few trips, especially on really interesting portages. You'll get many good conversation pieces!
Sunset shots are the most popular of all photographs. People love bright colours, be they those of autumn or a radiant sunset. If there's a camera handy, you can bet pictures will be taken. Again, planning ahead is called for. Aiming the camera at 'all that colour' and pressing the shutter is not the way to go! For starters, let's add some interest. Here, the campsite is ringed with jackpine. Instead of walking out to a clear area and taking the shot, I look for a vantage point that captures the tree-ringed charm of the campsite.
Sunset in Wabakimi, Ontario
  I metre the sky, about 10 degrees off the horizon -- not the brightest or the darkest -- and shoot a few images. Using Fuji Velvia, a film with an ISO of 50, and a shutter speed of approximately 4 seconds, I make sure my camera is on a tripod.
Hiking the Prince Edward Island coast at low tide -- what a way to discover the sea! Tidal pools and sea creatures.... I want to capture sand textures and the extent of the low tide. Here is where the use of 'lines' comes in. We see three-dimensionally but a picture has only two dimensions, height and width. To create the illusion of depth in images, I need to introduce lines. How do I do this? I look for the natural lines in my composition. Here, the sand and coastline provide the lines. The eye follows the sand and coastline out to the open water. I choose my wide-angle lens here, metre the scene and take the photo.

The Big Salmon is a wonderful river for all levels of paddlers. You won't find huge rapids but you will find a remote wilderness with stunning scenery. Here, the river cuts it way through the mountains meeting up with the historic Yukon River.

  Big Salmon River, Yukon
  The day this photo was taken, we had camped for the night on a sand bar. The canoe was catching the later afternoon light with the river in the background. The clouds, big and puffy, floated majestically overhead. The procedure is the same. I take the picture in my mind so as to mentally set up the composition. I select the lens that best suits my intention. I use a wide-angle lens and a vertical format, which takes in the whole landscape. This shot should gives the viewer a sense of place. I position myself behind the scene, metre the scene and take the photograph
  Rob Stimpson is a professional photographer, photography instructor and outdoor guide. He and his wife Laurie own and operate Windsong Adventures. Contact Rob Stimpson, Northshore Graphics by phone at 905 826 7408 or e-mail: canoenorth@sympatico.ca

Article courtesy Voyageur Magazine

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