Travel Photography: The Family Cabin
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Travel Photography: The Family Cabin

with Ben Long

Video: Recreating a third image to document changes in the surroundings

So this is the last of the 3 shots that I wanted But also, the cabin sits on the edge of this kind of bluff, Okay.

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Watch the Online Video Course Travel Photography: The Family Cabin
56m 50s Intermediate Mar 14, 2014

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Do you and your family have a favorite travel destination that you've always gone to for rest and relaxation? Or did you grow up with fond memories of family getaways like these? Maybe you're starting the tradition with your own kids. These places become touchstones in our lives, filled with memories and impressions that grow and change as the years go by.

There are several layers to photographing trips to memorable destinations: you want to capture accurate depictions of the place and its surroundings, but you also want your photos to convey the notions of tradition and the passing of time. In this course, author and photographer Ben Long visits his family's New Mexico cabin. He shows how to create photos that not only capture the essence of the place and its surroundings, but also convey its significance as the backdrop for shared family experiences and traditions. Along the way, he shows how to recreate old photos to capture what has changed, shoot details that haven't been documented before, and explore the surrounding area, to capture the full essence of the place.

Ben Long

Recreating a third image to document changes in the surroundings

So this is the last of the 3 shots that I wanted to recreate, and it's the least interesting of the 3, both because it's not a very interesting picture and also because I never spent, this is the back of the house, I never came back here. I have no memories of this place at all. I think that's for a couple reasons, it's the outhouse was just right over there. But also, the cabin sits on the edge of this kind of bluff, that just opens up into the whole, looking down the whole canyon. So, that's the place you oriented to. So I don't really have any real attachment to this space back here.

And it's kind of like the the mechanical, the engine room of the place, because this is where the, the tool shed is, and the water meter, and what not. Still, I've dragged my parents back here and had them talk about it. >> Was this close to the beginning? >> Mm hmm. >> Well, it would be close to beginning because I moved the stove pretty earlier on. Okay. >> because we found out that the stove that was here, just wouldn't heat the place at all. It was, >> Oh, that's not the original stove? >> Oh no, no, no, it's not.

>> Oh. >> The stove that was here was, was kind of an open stove that you just put wood in and it just burned up almost immediately. >> Oh, that's right. >> And bigger. >> Right. >> And it got extremely hot right around the stove and then the fire went out. And we sound that. >> It is just interesting getting, even just to watch their faces as they look at the stuff and, and see their wheels turning and, and what not. Is, it's just a cool experience. So, as I stand here getting ready to re-shoot this, I run into something we haven't talked about. Talked in the other two movies about, which is time of day.

Right off the bat you look at this and you see well this is full sunlight here and right now I've got the shadow of the cabin and the shadow of this tree. So what's going on here? All 3 of these images, and this is a concern for all 3 that we haven't talked about, these all look to me like they were shot at high noon or thereabout. This cedar tree here may be short and squat but it would still be casting a shadow if the sun was off axis. It has no shadow so the sun must have been right overhead. I'm at 2 o'clock in the afternoon, so I've missed to that time, but we also need to think about time of year, it's late October now, and I'm just certain this were shot in the summer, cause that's when we came out here.

So, it maybe that I can't ever get the exact lighting. So maybe I want to come back in the summer and try it again if I'm really serious about it, I'm not that worried about it here, and even if I did get the exact time of day, it may not matter because the trees are so different and the shadows are going to be very different. That's the first thing you notice here in this picture as we discussed, as I discussed with my parents the two big differences are, there was a tree right here, that's now just a stump, because they had it removed because it was such a horrible fire hazard. And they decided that they'd rather have their fire hazard on this side of the cabin, and there was this beautiful one growing right here.

So, so they had that one cut down. So those are the two big differences. So, even if I come back in the morning, it's very likely the shadow situation's going to be different because that tree is going to be casting a shadow onto the house. Whatever, that's the change. I'm going to frame it up and, and take a shot. So, when I look at this, right away I go, oh, okay. I'm a little off axis here. I just need to frame with that in the, that side of the building in the right side of my frame. So I might stand here. Again, I know that I'm shooting at 35 millimeters, and so what I've got is, where that tree was it's now a stump, so I just want that stump right on the edge of my frame.

And I'm, I'm doing this right now because I'm shooting into the sun and it makes it hard to see the view finder, so I'm going to put that over there. If I was working with a camera that had an LCD view finder, I might really be having a difficult time shooting into the sun there. Very difficult to, to work within bright light. I think I'm too close. If I take, if I frame up the stump there and take the shot, I'm, I'm too close. I can't get the space that I've got over here, so I've gotta go backwards. So I'm just going to come back here, and where's my stump? I can't see the stump because this tree branch is in the way but I, but I have the space over there that I like.

So something's not right though, and there's a clue in the image to camera position. I need a third hand. If I look over here on the right side. So, again, what this building is, is someone somehow got a trailer hauled up here, they parked it, this is kind of typical New Mexico construction. That's why I like New Mexico so much. They hauled a trailer up here, they parked it, they built a room onto the side, they put siding all around. But first, they built this kind of stone foundation. The, the new room is built on the foundation.

The rest is just around the trailer. That foundation shows up in this image, and I can see that I, I'm actually looking down the wall of the foundation a little bit. And with the siding, the wall's kind of this big piece of graph paper, so I can, I can look exactly to where, though, the line of the wall intersects with the siding somewhere almost all the way up to the second line. At about the half, well no, not, not almost. It's right about the halfway mark between the first and second line. So all I gotta do is find a camera position that recreates that relationship, and I'll probably be pretty close.

Unless it turns out that the person who shot this was 7 feet tall or something. Actually I guess if the person who shot this was really short, just my luck, it would be mom who shot this, and it turns out she was shooting from down here, I don't know. Let's see, so I think it's about right here. And there's my, where is it? There's my stump. How much room do I have at the bottom? Quite a bit. Alright so I end up with this. I think that's, I think that's pretty good. I thought there was going to be more space at the bottom, however, the shadows in this image may be confusing my sense of space.

But there's another concern that I have when I'm trying to line something up this exactly, and that's the accuracy of my viewfinder, this is a Canon Rebel, and it's, I like it because it has a real optical viewfinder, but that viewfinder's only rated to high 80s, low 90s accuracy. I mean, like, 90% coverage. If I had my 5D with me, that's more like 100, 99 to 100% coverage. So I'm very carefully lining these things up in the edge of the frame, but my camera's oversampling. It's, it's capturing more than that. So that may be part of the problem, is I, I need to know that I'm actually catching an image that's a little bit wider.

How picky am I going to be? I mean, this is, this is not a great photo to start with. So I need to think about what it is that I want in, in recreating this very boring picture. And that's mostly about the change in the vegetation around here. And I feel like I've got that. I'm seeing, in the distance, what's different with the plants. I'm seeing all these tree branches come in that weren't there. It is, it is capturing that bit. So I think I'm okay with this. I'll go inside and take a look at it. If I don't like it, it's just walking back out, back of the house so I can do it again. So that's good. I think I'm, I think I'm set. I'll review them, I'll see what they look like.

But I think I've got my, my images recreated. Now, none of these were great pictures. They're just snapshots done with a lousy camera a long time ago. It is interesting to see that now it feels like just the basic photographic skill level of everybody has improved because now we're taking pictures all the time. And back then it was, it was a more rare occasion. I've got them all, but you know, I think the real benefit for me in this exercise has not been so much getting the pictures done, but just the conversations I got to have with my parents. It's cool actually just to watch them look at the pictures, and see the wheels turning in their heads, and hear the memories come out, and that kind of thing.

That's one of the reasons to do this is not just to get the images, but to get to have that interaction. I should probably go in and write down some notes about that interaction, because that might actually be, for me, the memory thing that I take away with from this, even more than these. That said, I'm really glad I did this exercise.

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