Details, details…

Ella Bella

One of my former managers used to discuss with me the importance of “zooming in and zooming out” – and no, he was not speaking about photography. He was stressing the value of understanding the bigger picture and how all the little details that I worked on, contributed.

It’s funny, in a way, because it would seem that in photography, I only see the bigger picture. I challenged myself for the month of September to take a closer look at the little details – and struggled… I mean, seriously struggled…


For example, if I happen to drive down a country road and notice a light in a window – what I see is not the light in a window, but the light in the of a charming farmhouse nestled in the mountains at the end of a winding driveway. There are probably some beautiful trees and flowers, and maybe a wreath on the door; and since this is Vermont, it is likely that there is a rustic barn out back, a tire swing, and a few chickens scratching around the yard. That is what I want to photograph – all of it – the whole shebang. The light in the window, alone, well – that is where I need a little help in placing my focus.

antique telephone

My larger view in photography is not wrong; large landscapes and scenery have their place. It is more that I am challenging myself to pause, to take a closer look, to isolate what is really drawing me into a scene – to tell the story in a different way. What am I finding compelling?

trunks on rusty luggage rack

So – struggle, I did – all in the name of learning. And really, I had a lot of fun doing it – even if I did find myself a bit frustrated at times. The antique trunks, above, were sitting on a rusty rack outside a train station in Fort Kent, Maine. The station had its charms, but it was this luggage that I was drawn to. I could have gotten closer, still. But, well, I didn’t want to.

old window of abandoned cabin

As I took more and more photos, I did get a little better at moving closer and isolating a subject. My first instinct with this photo was to shoot the entire abandoned cabin with some of the trees as a backdrop – but then, the window reflections, chippy wood and pine needles tell that story. And really, if this were a story – written in words – I would prefer it to the one where the author feels the need to spell everything out.

weeds against a rustic shed

I still find, though, that when I feel as if I have gotten in closer than my normal comfort zone allows, the truth is that I could have, and probably should have, moved just a few steps more.

obelisk at Fort Kent

And – as life imitates art (and sometimes, vice versa), I realize, this is me – head in the clouds and full of ideas. Often, as I write in my journal, I will need to stop myself and write “so, today…”, rein myself in – get myself focused on the details. Ideas are wonderful to have, but without taking a closer look and formulating some kind of plan or list, they are unlikely to happen. And each item on the list is kind of like a separate photograph.

Ella picking an apple

I suspect that my preference will always be to look at the larger scene. But this exercise emphasized, for me, the importance of “zooming in and zooming out”  –
and also led to a particularly humorous conversation with Greg regarding my “need” for a macro lens.  😀

And  then, as if “details, details” wasn’t challenge enough – my photography group has been on a week-long minimalist photography scavenger hunt. Yeah, don’t even get me started…
It’s all awesome, though – really.

Photography and/or life – do you have a preference – big picture or details?
I hope you have a wonderful week!


8 responses to “Details, details…”

  1. Sarah Avatar

    I want to know how the conversation went about the macro lens. LOL! I really DO think that would help you see the details. Plus I can’t list macro as a challenge until you get one. HA HA HA! Look at B and H Viideo’s site and their used camera gear. I picked up my 35mm lens that way. Just pay attention to their ratings of the equipment. They are spot on. I think you did great this week, and really stretched yourself and took some amazing photos.

  2. Lynne Avatar

    Sounds like and looks like . . . a great exercise.
    I likened this to being on the Amtrak, on a trip with friends.
    They commented on “nice look, cute, handsome, pretty day” . . .
    and I am . . . “looks sad, happy, mysterious, memories.”
    Not sure if I am making sense.
    I see the trunk, brass fittings, rusty, tattered, immigrants, hoping, new life.
    I see the window, chipped paint, abandoned, reflections . . . becomes why, what, when . . . who.
    Dreamer . . . somewhat . . .
    Feeling challenged . . . and . . . I like.

  3. León Avatar

    Like you I want to include everything, but I do also go for details. What I often forget to capture is the middle ground. And to leave some breathing space. It’s always a learning process, isn’t it? Re: a macro lens, I’ve wanted one for a long time but have never seriously looked into it. I do much more wide angle shooting than telephoto, and have always just made do with cropping for closeups.

  4. Barb Avatar

    What a great exercise! I like your focus in these shots. That portrait of your granddaughter is more perfect than if you had taken a full body shot with her surroundings included. I think I’m most comfortable in the big picture (both in life and in photography), However, I looked back over my posts, and I notice that I do often include a closeup shot among the other whole scene ones. I just gave my (expensive) macro lens away to my teenage grandson who has an interest in photography. The macro lens requires either an extremely steady hand (which I don’t have) or a tripod (which I dislike carrying). What I use for closeups now is either my 17mm pancake lens or my 15-150 mm zoom on my micro 4/3 camera. I’m loving the pancake which is light and encourages me to move around and get closer when I spot something interesting.

  5. Debbie Avatar

    hi karen, i am not sure what i prefer, i know i photograph both, i enjoy both!! i find your pictures to have a much better artsy feel than mine and i really like that, it is something i strive for while i’m here. then i leave your page and i forget that i want my pictures to imitate art, like yours do!!! you have achieved your goal in all of these pictures, the 4th picture is amazing…and yet how could it be??? your exercise really shows off what you were trying to achieve!!! oooooh and your granddaughter is adorable!!!

  6. Beatrice P Boyd Avatar

    Looking for the details has become what I look for lately. I still find myself taking photos of the while, but then enjoy looking for all the parts that make it up. My current photo equipment consists of cameras with fixed lenses, so It dies help me concentrate more. I do think that less is more many times when telling a story through images. i liked the last one of your granddaughter reaching fir the apples as this told a story at least for me, Karen.

  7. Carola Bartz Avatar

    The results of your zooming in are all very compelling and I particularly like the one with the window. I do understand getting out of your comfort zone, and I think it is a great practice for photographers. I love challenges like that. But I still photograph what I want and what truly gives me joy. That, in the end, is important to me. I photograph both the bigger picture and the more detailed with a focus on detail I certainly do like to isolate in my photos, but not always. It really depends on how we see things I guess.

  8. Lissa Mayer Avatar

    This is a struggle I’ve often faced. Living where I do, it’s the broad landscapes that capture my interest. I’m surrounded by mountain ranges and endless saltwater views, farmland and homesteads and (my favorite) barns. The tallest mountain in the Cascades is just 40 miles south, and I always look that way to see if the mountain is “out.” Still, once I capture that landscape, I always try and give my camera a chance to “find” other views for me. It’s one reason I love a zoom lens, even though my prime is much faster and better. I stand in the spot that captured my interest, and zoom in and pan around, to see what else grabs me. I love your detail photos, especially the trunks and the little girl picking apples. Lovely!

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