This year, as has been the case in the past few years, as a family, we take a few days in the summer to go camping. I’m not going to lie; I find camping really tough. I don’t like the inconveniences camping requires but I do love the campfires and stargazing. This year has been particularly difficult as we went during a heatwave. The heat was relentless, and during the day we couldn’t even stay in our tents. We had to seek shelter in the forest for hours when not going on a long walk.
This article came to me on one of those mornings finding respite from the heat in the forest. My kids were drawing, sitting on the swings, hacking a path through some bushes, and I sat on a picnic blanket with my camera. I gave myself the maximum space of the mat to move around in, approximately 1.5m square. All I had with me was my Nikon D610 and a 60mm micro prime lens, so I gave myself a challenge. What can I photograph creatively whilst glued to this picnic mat?
4 ideas to get more creative shots when restricted in space and position
1. Direction and perspective
To get more creative shots, look at different perspectives. Here I lay down and looked upwards at the branches and leaves above me against the sky.
I tried to find more interesting compositions given the limited subject matter. Also, I tried to find layers of branches to achieve some bokeh and depth of field and focused on the nearest branches above me.
I moved around the mat while still on my back, and took shots with the tree trunks as leading lines reaching up to the sky for interest whilst still looking upwards as pictured above. Then I looked down and took some close up of twigs on the forest floor as pictured on the right below.
Look both directions: left and right.
To my left was this tree (pictured above left). I used the forest floor to create foreground interest, some greenery as the middle ground (which was focused), and the big tree in the distance as the background. To my left was a big tree trunk covered in moss and knots, both of which I found an interesting subject to take close-ups of.
This is what I love about this micro/macro lens. When you shoot close up, even at small apertures, you still get really pretty bokeh. So, I leveraged this and used the distant leaves and the sky to achieve bokeh behind the mossy trunk.
For more creative shots, take your gaze further and see what’s on the horizon. Below is the furthest view I could see.
To the left of this tree trunk is the tall spindly white tree that dominated my distant scenery. I thought this was a rather unusual tree and made for a good, strong subject. It stood out from the lush greenery as if constantly growing its way into the sky.
Also, don’t forget to check what’s right in front of you – especially anything that could be close-up material too. Below-right is a cut off tree shot at normal eye-view distance. I put a little leaf on top, so I had some close-up material to play with.
This trunk below was too far for me to reach or do a close-up of so this was my “midway” subject to photograph. Again, I used the foreground and background to create some interesting bokeh.
3. Create a new subject matter
Whilst it’s good to use our observational skills to find interesting things to photograph, we mustn’t solely rely on what’s already there! Get creative and think of unusual out-of-the-box ideas you can put together as your subject matter.
Here I happened to see heart-shaped leaf just outside the blanket I was sitting on, so I created a ring of seeds around it. I liked the way the colored leaf pops out of the brown earth.
Our picnic was laid out on the blanket and wondered what I could do with an empty water bottle. I photographed it looking through the hole at the top into the bottom of the bottle.
4. Experiment with effects
We had some plastic from our picnic stash and I used it to create a soft-focus effect on this landscape shot of the tree. I achieved this by wrapping the plastic around my lens, so it covered a little bit of the lens around the edges. Doing so, rendered those areas soft whilst the rest of the tree is still in focus.
I played around with how much or how little of the plastic I wanted to obscure the image. This one below had more soft-focus leaving only the strip of horizon sharp and clear.
I tried recreating a tilt-shift effect.
Tilt-shift lenses are called so because you can rotate, tilt and shift the lens optics in order to blur parts of the image whilst leaving other parts sharp if you wish. This is a neat trick when trying to photograph miniatures. I asked my daughter to create a little miniature teepee for me. These are my attempts whilst shifting the positional angles of my lens as I was still using the 60mm micro and not a tilt-shift lens.
This was a fun little challenge for me and got me out of boredom and into thinking creatively! I hope you enjoyed this and will try it sometime!
If you have any other ideas for more creative shots, share them in the comments below!