It is, “Get Pickier”.
It’s something I’ve been trying to do with my own photography for a while now: not just get the “walk-up” shot – the one that everyone gets just by “walking up” and planting their tripod feet in the most obvious spot – but really working a scene from different angles until I find the very best composition it has to offer – what professional photographers call “the money shot”.
Driving through the Palouse with friends this past June, we were touring the back roads looking for old barns and abandoned cabins, when we came upon this log cabin up on the side of a hill (see second image). We stopped our SUVs on the side of the road, maybe a quarter of a mile below the cabin, which seemed to be as close as we could get, put on our longest lenses and everybody got the walk-up shot. It’s a nice enough image but nothing special: there are dozens of shots like this to be had all over the Palouse.
We all piled back into our vehicles and drove on down the road, when one of my colleagues said, “Look at those flowers”, pointing to a big clump of purple wildflowers growing on the side of the hill, a few hundred feet below the cabin.
That was it! I knew immediately that that was the best shot this scene had to offer: the cabin framed by that big clump of wildflowers. But I knew I would have to get pickier to capture it.
I asked my friend to stop the car. He refused, as we had already lost sight of the lead vehicle and anyway, he insisted, there was no way to get into the right position for the composition I had in mind. I hesitated a moment, not wanting to seem unreasonable or to inconvenience my friends.
Then, I dug my heels in. “Stop the car!” I shouted. He eventually pulled up and, at my insistence, reversed up the road to a spot where I thought I could just make out an unused dirt track, leading up to the cabin. We turned off the road, on to the dirt track, climbed the hill and, there, just as we crested the hill, was the shot I had pre-visualized: the clump of purple wildflowers perfectly lined up in front of the abandoned log cabin – the money shot!
We radioed to the lead vehicle to turn around and come back. Reluctantly, they did. But, as soon as they saw what we had found, their reluctance evaporated. Everybody got the walk-up shot and the money shot – because I got pickier, acted unreasonably and insisted on getting the best possible shot. Several of my colleagues even thanked me for insisting that we stop.
Compositionally, I placed the cabin in the top-right third of the frame, waited for the clouds to move, so that they weren’t merging with the cabin roof, and focused on the foreground, leaving the cabin in soft-ish focus, giving it a dreamy, faraway look to emphasize the fact that it was abandoned. And I shot the scene in both vertical and horizontal formats – which is always a wise thing to do.
So, get pickier – and get the money shot.