Photography Skill: How to work a scene


Professional photographers have a term for exploring ALL of the possibilities of a location. Its called “working the scene”. The typical amateur photographer hops off the bus, follows the crowd over to the designated “Kodak Moment” photo spot, waits their turn in line and takes the same show that has been taken by millions of photographers before them.

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Back in the film days when every shot represented real money being spent, I can understand wanting to get that one “safe bet” iconic tourist shot and then perhaps worrying about how many shots you have left on the roll.  But in the digital age there is no excuse for not exploring a scene from a variety of angles.  Go ahead and take the most obvious shot. The first shot that everyone takes.  Then once that shot is out of the way, take some time to look around and explore the area.

Work The Scene

Move your physical body, not just the zoom lens.  This is when prime lens are really great for beginning photographers because a fixed focal length lens really forces one to move around a scene and look for compositions.  Walk around, look behind you, look down from a higher vantage point, look up from a low vantage point, seek out something unique.

I created this little video just to give you a since of how I might explore a scene here at an old barn complex in Windsor, Vermont.

In the end you are seeking to find a unique vantage point, something compelling, something that perhaps hasn’t been seen before which is especially important if you are photographing a well worn out subject matter.
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It’s also important to return to a scene at different times of day and different seasons.  The photographs above was taken at the same barn complex when there was snow on the ground.

Learn More About Working The Scene

Eric Kim’s video goes deeper into the concept of exploring or working a scene with classic street photographers: