(Published December 2007 in Murray Bolesta's "The Borderlands Photographer" in Tubac Villager.)
As this column has begun to explore, borderlands Arizona is chock-full of photo opportunities that, if political, would make a presidential candidate blush (almost).
The critters and plants around the home are close-in targets for the camera hound, and local watery places, though scarce, can provide even greater access to colorful natural prey for capture by the camera lens.
Going near or far, the position in which you put yourself – your body, if I may, can be equally important to creating a photograph that stands out from the rest. Moreover, positioning the camera away from your face can often lead to a much better shot as well.
Away from your face, you say? Yes, many photographers, no matter how much of a beginner they may be, learn that holding a camera (or cell phone camera) up over your head when you’re in the middle of a crowd can mean an unobstructed shot of that sports play or of the celebrity walking by.
The borderlands photographer will learn that critter shots will often be best when taken at eye-level of the critter. So, whether it’s a Gila monster or a Gila woodpecker, it pays to adjust your height, if possible, to be on the same level as the critter.
So, when talking about reptiles, for example, this means that you must get down and dirty to get a dramatic shot, instead of the more common angle from the normal human standing position.
This normal human standing position is often the bane of the good photograph. A little physical discomfort may be required; in fact, professional photographers learn quickly that being self-conscious about their physical position is not a good career move. If that lizard or snake (providing you’re not too close) is on the ground ahead of you or on a rock, then getting down on your knees is often required.
This is one reason always to wear long pants when photo-trekking in borderlands Arizona. The overall reason to do this, to paraphrase John Wayne, is that when you head outdoors, everything in this country either sticks you, stings you, or bites you.
But getting on your knees is actually not low enough, sometimes. A truly ground-level shot of a low-flying or low-hanging critter may require you to put that camera right down on or near the ground, without you looking through the eyepiece.
Many shots, such as the one of the sports play I mentioned earlier, will require you to just guess at the angle, and then press that shutter button many, many times. This is one beauty of digital photography these days, allowing you to take dozens of shots, many of which will be bad, and then just review the screen and erase the worst ones. If the shot turns out clear but the horizon is slanted, you can always crop it later on a computer.
The same ground-level lens-pointing guesswork applies to any other angular situation, including seeing around corners and taking a high-level shot downward (such as in this article’s bird nest picture). In fact, for those of us getting older, holding the camera away from your face sometimes prevents some hard physical bending which can be arduous at extreme angles.
Even subtle movements of your position can improve results dramatically, especially if you keep in mind the background of your picture. This article’s dragonfly picture changes significantly by forgetting human-height during composition, and moving the camera just a foot or so downward and aiming upward.
Composing an image usually starts with finding a subject, but you should always keep in mind the background of your picture too. If you’re lucky, as with this article’s bird pictures, some backgrounds offer a multitude of options. Experiment by moving yourself up or down, or sideways just a bit, and you’ll see the difference it can make.