Serendipity in Photography

No matter how well planned your shoot, no matter how well organized your equipment, the moment comes when the unexpected presents itself. It may come in the form of unexpected weather, conditions far hotter or cooler then anticipated, or photo subjects that were not planned. In landscape photography a large number of the better photos are serendipitous, with cloud patterns or lighting that could not possibly be anticipated, but can be captured if the timing and equipment is right. In the photo below, serendipity occurred in the form of wine barrels that had been moved outside from the cantina on their way to recycling, but which, while they were there, provided a wonderful photo op.


C. David Tobie

Death as a Photo Theme

Death has been an artistic theme for millennia. A stroll through an old cemetery will produce a number of death-related themes, including that odd mix of a skull and angel wings called a death head, weeping willow trees, more symbolic of mourning than death itself, and the occasional “cut down in his prime” gravestone carved in the form of a tree stump with its branches cut off.

While such themes are not appropriate for condolence cards, they do have a powerful psychological value that makes such images useful for illustrating death-related themes and articles. The orchard of white stumps in the image below can have a ghastly effect on some viewers, with its references to death and even to the battlefield. But it also has notes of life in the yellow mustard blooming between the rows, and the shoots attempting to grow on the stumps.


The next image, below, is a less ambiguous image of death. The less-majestic-than-usual Tuscan field adds a lyric backdrop without detracting from the main theme, and even the colors are less dramatic then typically seen in Tuscany.


But perhaps its possible to take the image theme a level further. Below is the same image converted to black and white. No brilliant blue sky, no greens below. While this version reduces the impact of the tree’s actual shades of gray, it does create an even more sober result. You decide which mood you prefer: death amidst color, or death in black and white.


C. David Tobie

Vertical One Point Perspective

One point perspective is a powerful tool, creating tunnel-like symmetry and focus on whatever is at, or in front of, the vanishing point. But we nearly always use one point as a horizontal tool, looking down a corridor, tunnel, or street.

There is a second orientation which can be utilized for one point perspectives, one that still respects the rectangular geometry of most architecture. That is vertical one point. The image below is an even less common type of one point: an exterior vertical one point perspective. Typically exterior one point shots are reserved for creating powerful visuals in redwood groves or amongst other tall trees.


Here the mix of tall architecture, a convent bell tower, and Cypress trees, provides the encroaching elements from all four sides, which make a one-point work. Lighting provides a second layer to the image. But the single element that adds a living story to the shot is the crow, heading towards its nest in the belfry. The bird, and its relation to the belfry, was sufficiently important to my vision of this image that I took the best shot from the series, then rotated the crow 180 degrees, so that he was flying towards, not away from the nest. Other images had that direction of flight, but not that clarity of silhouette, so this edit offered the best solution to tell the story.

C. David Tobie

Turning Your Back on the Sunset

We are accustomed to shooting with our backs to the sun. But at sunrise and sunset, we tend to do just the opposite, and shoot images of the colors in the sky.  With the right landscape, that can produce some very satisfying images. Here’s an example of such a shot, from Tuscany in the Wintertime. TuscanWinter3-1

And yet, there is a sameness to such images, usually depending on clouds, or silhouetted trees, hills or buildings, to provide the visual interest to accompany the colors. The alternative is to turn your back on the sunset, and see if more creative options may await you in the direction you haven’t been looking. The image below was taken moments after the one above, and while it is less of the iconic sunset shot, it certainly has more of a story to offer. TuscanWinter2-1

The way the sunset colors wrap all the way around the horizon offers subtle color even in the opposing direction. The arched glass window above the door and the brass door bell show just a snatch of the reflected sunset to add further color. At the same time an entire domestic scene of the door, the bench, and the many plants tells a compelling story in the foreground, while a much more detailed landscape fills the background, given the better lighting in this direction.

C. David Tobie

Off Season Photo Scouting

Part of landscape photography is the scouting of possible locations, and noting the best time of year, time of day, and weather conditions for shooting in each spot. However, this constant judging of the ideal can blind us to the beauty of the moment. The shot included with this article was taken in February, hardly the ideal month for photography in Tuscany. And it would be easy to become caught up in what the summer light, and the blooming roses, would do for this facade.


However there are aspects of this scouting shot that make it an interesting image in its own right. The hint of winter sky reflected in the window adds context. The Miller’s Thumb prospering by the steps, despite the season, adds life to the image, and the copper compounds sprayed on the rose bushes leaves a wonderful turquoise tint, that highlights the wintery forms of the bare rose bushes. The classic stone and brick colors of Tuscany are also different, under the cooler light. Overall this forms a palette of Tuscan Winter colors unique from the Summer colors we are accustomed to associating with Tuscany.

C. David Tobie

Macros, Details, and Texture Shots

Its not uncommon for photographers to shoot image that they don’t consider to be important images or complete compositions. Sometimes it is for series they are developing for their own portfolios, and sometimes its for images that graphic designers will purchase as stock. I shoot a wide range of such macros, architectural details, and texture shots, but do not rate them highly in my own library, so they tend to never see the light of day.


The shot this article focuses on qualifies in all three of the title categories, yet has never been printed, shown, or used on-line. Yet I find it so compelling that I am choosing to feature it in an article of it’s own. It was shot in a small Tuscan hill town, early in the morning, with low direct light hitting a wall that I had admired, but only occasionally shot, before. In the past I had always shot it when it had flowering plants growing in the cracks, that were in bloom. But on this morning the lighting made the wall look like different colored cubes of sugar, as are offered with coffee drinks in Europe. Lacking that analogy in America, I had named the image “The Candy Box”.

Processing in Lightroom was limited to assuring optimal exposure, contrast and color, and cropping to the strongest composition. A bit of weed was left at the top to give a sense of scale and reality, and to show that it is an exterior wall. In the past walls and buildings in Tuscany would have been plastered over; it is a recent aesthetic to leave them raw. The chisel marks that form much of the detail in this image would have served the original purpose of anchoring the stucco to the wall. Now the varying sizes, shapes, colors, and textures, and chisel patterns look as though they were provided specifically to add visual interest.

I would enjoy hearing from other photographers about what types of macros and texture shots they collect, and what they do with them once collected.

C. David Tobie

NIK Radio Interview with C. David Tobie

I was recently interviewed by Scott Sheppard for NIK Radio. The interview covered a wide range of topics, including NIK and Datacolor products, my own photography, iPhone photography, and my recent experiences with the latest Nikon and Canon cameras. To hear the full interview click here, and choose the interview dated 8/9/12.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012. Website: Return to Blog’s Main Page