This Friday it’s all about cross-training. No, not that kind. We’re not going to bust out the sneakers and lift weights, run, swim and bike all before breakfast! I’m applying this concept to photography. The point I’m making here is this: whatever types of subject you are primarily interested in, there is much to be gained from going into a different environment to capture images from time to time. Here I will use the example of landscape/nature vs. urban/street photography.
Since I am primarily a landscape/nature photographer, it is a stretch for me to go into the city with my camera. But as with many things, once I am there I lose myself in the moment. For me, one of the bigger challenges in the urban environment is finding compositions without too much clutter. I often need longer focal lengths on cityscapes than in landscapes for precisely this reason.
For example, there always seems to be annoying wires to deal with. I’ve never found a picture in which wires add anything. They only take away. I wish that when Edison lighted New York City after inventing the light bulb, he would have pushed for burying utilities. If they would have done that early on, it would have been much cheaper. Now, with all the development, it’s nearly impossible to do so at a reasonable cost.
Reducing the number of elements in your compositions is one of the many things the two kinds of photography have in common. And moving into the environment with which you are less comfortable will force you to become better in this regard. Finding more ways to simplify your compositions is but one example of how this kind of cross-training can benefit your photography. I really feel that landscapes and cityscapes share much in common. But at the same time they are dissimilar enough so as to make crossing over a useful yet fairly painless exercise.
In both types of photography, you will be getting a variety of shots, from wide overviews to the smallest details. And yet it will be a challenge to find leading lines, strong subjects, and dramatic backgrounds in the environment you are least familiar with. A bonus for me is that living things are much easier to find in the city than in nature. The kind of diversity you find among living things in cities is different than in nature. And the approach you use to put the creatures at ease is quite different as well. Animals are easier in some ways, in that they never ever ask for money and are never unhappy with their looks. But in both cases, with people or with animals, once you have earned their trust, you’re in!
Once the sun has set and you enter the realm of night photography, the city offers some unique challenges, not the least of which is the mixed lighting present. But at blue hour, when the sky attains that deep purplish-blue color, and the lights have come on, cityscapes can truly be magical. In the natural world, you are hard-pressed to include much of the foreground during blue hour, unless you have recognizable silhouettes or are next to water. In the city, you can include as much foreground as you want since it is almost always well lighted. Once the sky goes black, you need to minimize the sky in the city. In nature, this is the time to go for the stars!
This is just one example of photographic cross-training. You can probably think of others. Go ahead and include them in your comments below. It is a great way to avoid the dreaded photography rut, of course; that’s the obvious benefit. But it will also allow you to overcome challenges in a manner different from what you are used to. Thus it will give you more tools to work with, both in and out of your favorite photographic environment. I really think cross-training can greatly benefit the images you capture of your favorite subjects. And as a bonus it will help to diversify your portfolio.
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