Location photography creates many opportunities for a photographer, in often unexpected ways. Unlike studio photography where the subject is carefully lit and the scene composed at will, location photography forces the photographer do with whatever appears on location. Often, lighting, subject, camera features, composition and time are limiting factors that must be weighed carefully, sometimes at a moment's notice before the opportunity quickly disappears.

    An outing may be at a museum with items on display typically either dimly lit to preserve the art or naturally lit by filtered sunlight.

     Here is an example of a typical scene you would encounter in a museum - statues brightly lit by filtered sunlight coming through the skylights.

     Three limitations/conditions can be noted immediately - 1) the subject, the statues in this case, are fixed in location and can't be approached closely, 2) the lighting will be very neutral and well controlled - practially perfect lighting for digital cameras and their automatic color balancing algorithms and 3) various rules govern photography within museums, which typically include no flash, no tripod use, no touching of the subject to move them into a better composition.

     Good lighting means we don't have to adjust the white balance manually to achieve consistant results or compensate for extreme under/over-expsoure. If we were taking pictures under artificial lighting, we would have to make a few tests to see if certain white balance settings produced better results than fully automatic. On some cameras, this becomes extremely important to do. If we were taking pictures at the beach or in snow, we would typically have to keep in mind the need to increase expsoure compensation to keep bright beaches and snow from turning dark due to the very bright light provided by the sunlight.

     You can see already from the far away shot that the statues have been arranged for closer viewing and enjoyment, so typical sweeping shots used for landscape photography won't work as well here. Although it does give one a good sense of space and mood, unless you're taking an architechtural shot that is focused on the building elements, this isn't more than an estabilishing photograph to show others where you were later on since nobody can see the details in the statues from afar. But if there was an interesting foreground subject, or perhaps an interesting pose by someone closer to the statues, you may find a good photograph to be made here.

      Stepping right up to the front of the room, a quick shot of the statues in display in the center gives you this picture.

    Most causal photographers would see the excellent detail of the statue, the good top to bottom fit of the foreground statue, and a bit of interesting 'location' detail created by the backwards facing statue in the rear. A quick look at their cameras in playback mode, a nod at the good colors, and off they go to the next room.

     But here, a discerning photographer would also see the glaring inclusion of the two gentlemen in the background sticking out like sore thumbs. The solution if you have the time is to wait until there is a moment when nobody is standing in the open (they can be standing behind the larger statue, which would hid them completely). Even so, in a busy museum, this may not be possible. Keep in mind that with digital photography, there is the opportunity later to digitally remove the people in a good photo editing program, so you should still take one shot even if the scene is not perfect.

    In any case, a few moments with these two statues reveal their main limitation - although there is a bit of depth created by the front and smaller rear statues, there is lack of dynaminism and excitement.

     One may wonder for a moment what that is and only by looking at the works of great photographers and developing your own sense of likes and dislikes will you be able to understand quickly. For the rest of us, a quick look at major magazine covers and advertisements will give you a better idea as to what works and what doesn't. You will want to look for various photographs that stand out attractively, look good even under a few more seconds of scrutiny, and retain a fresh, imaginative, exciting appearance even after a few more viewings. At the same time, look at the boring and dull photographs and try to compare them to the attractive ones. You'll often begin to see patterns of great photography and how some compositions work better than others. By doing this, you'll become attuned to what works well, sometimes so much so that you can easily recognize and take great pictures in a heartbeat.

    In any case, this could be a typical photograph scene in a descriptive brochure or educational flyer since it is easy to take by the curators when nobody is around, and it gives an accurate view of the major details of the foreground statue for later study.

    Lucikly, the curators of this museum had thoughtfully consider the layout of this room and placed additional artwork around the room to help create a sense of balance. Taking a few steps to take us to one side of the room brings up this shot.

    But once where we had too bland of a shot, now we've too many elements in the scene - all competing for your eye's attention at once. Placing everything in the very center of a photograph just because they seem interesting is just that sort of picture many casual point-and-shoot photographers will take, but one hardly worth more than a moment of one's attention later.

    Well, one way to create a more dynamic sense of balance when there are a lot of things in a scene is to place the majority of the major elements in one of the corners of the photograph. Here, we push everything down into the lower left hand corner of the picture and immediately get a more interesting picture to look at.

    Unfortunately, given the lower placement of the artwork along the walls, and the lack of an interesting foreground subject (all of the statues are looking away from the viewer, and none truely inviting you to look at them), this picture still lacks a sense of excitement. On the other hand, if you were to use this image as the background to set the tone and mood for an advertisement, it may work well. Such a photograph would not compete too strongly with the message of the advertisement. (For advertisements, a photograph may be too interesting! So much so that the main message being delivered is never picked up by the readers!)

     Moving the camera higher and lower doesn't work well here given the boring arrangement of the statues. However, the sharper contrast between the brightly lit statues in the foreground, the more subtle pastel lighting of the background, and the rich color of the woods can give you a clue that a better arrangement can give you a very nice picture. When you're out taking photographs, it's important to note the colors present. If dull, uninteresting colors are present, sometimes even a better arrangement can do nothing to let you take a good photograph, even after more careful composition. This point is especally true for beach and landscape photography, and the main reason photographers go out at wee hours of the day.

    When you've got too many distracting elements in a scene, one of the quickest things you can try is to pick an interesting part and focus on that alone.

     Here, we've picked this statue since it faces the subject more so than the others. From experience, we know that unless we spend a lot of time with the other statues or can see a good composition of their backs right away, they probably won't be very productive in a short amount of time.

     This is about as close as we can get to the statue given the barrier around them at the museum and we have encountered one of many camera and physical limitations that exist when doing location photography. Even the longest zoom lensed digicams have their limits of reach, and we can only bend so far beyond the barriers before we're stopped. Perhaps a closeup of the faces or a smaller section of the statue would be more interesting, but that will have to wait for another time when we have different equipment.

    Besides, in a few moments of thought, one realizes that such a detailed closeup would only duplicate many similar ones published in the museum art books. There's little point in duplicating a tough closeup that can be bought for a few cents at the gift shop.

    Because location photography often limits the time you have on location, you learn to drop what doesn't work quickly and to find another subject nearby. In this case, we move on to another group of statues.

    Whether by experience or art classes, you will soon learn that many objects placed at an angle to the viewer gives not only a greater sense of depth and realism but also a sense of dynamic tension. When this tension is carefully balanced, you create a captivating feeling within the image.

     In any case, a quick look by many snapshooters would find this picture to be inviting enough to accept, and this is just what they'd find in their photo albums years from now.

     Again, just like the earlier photograph of two statues located at the entrance, most casual photographers would not notice the presence of the people in the background right away. But we've seen this layout before - everything's placed in the center, people clutter the background, and too many elements make for a great photograph.

    A quick look at the background reveals an interesting art piece mounted out of the frame to the right, and a closer look at the brighter white art piece on the left suggests it's a bit too bright as a background element to fit in with the other, softer colored elements in this picture. Also, the table extends annoying to the rear, so perhaps that's another piece we can maneuver around to get a good composition.

     The contrasting colors between the yellowish statue in the foreground and the gray statues immediately behind it, followed by the even darker bluish-gray background gives the entire picture a good sense of depth. Colors become darker as objects are placed farther away from the photographer, and this illusion created by the differing colors enhances that feeling of depth. We can take advantage of it here to make the image 'pop' or leap out at viewers.

    Jockeying around these statues a bit - simply moving up, down, left, and right while looking at the image frame - and carefully positioning the camera so that the frame crops out the annoying elements noted, everything finally falls into place.

       A clean, uncluttered photograph with a strong balance in the elements and colors. The central subject leaps out due to the attention-stopping yellow and dynamic grouping immediately pulls a viewer's eye to the statues. Meanwhile, the background retains enough interest to prevent the image from looking too dull and sterile. Creative use of a leftwards-looking art piece rightmost on the wall pulls you back to the main statues to enhance their significance and interest.

      Although there are a few minor distractions here and there, you have to realize at this point that there's simply no more that can be done since you're not allowed to move anything in this room. Overall, perhaps five to ten minutes have been spent maneuvering about the room for a great photo, and luckily, there is one!

     Not every scene will allow you to take a great photo but after some practice, you'll realize which scenes will offer you greater possiblities. Because you are often limited by time, you must develop a feel as for how much time you will want to spend on any scene. You will learn through practice to notice that when a scene strongly attracts your eye, there's often a good picture to be had, and a few extra minutes will probably be worth it (although your companions will have moved on by now).

     Thankfully, because digital cameras are limited only by their available battery power and size of storage, you should take a few more pictures than you would normally do with a 35mm camera. Extra batteries and larger storage cards would help. Take the pictures and view/print a proof sheet of them on screen. Then, compare the various photographs of the same scene and pick out ones that stand out particularly well. If you take the time to find out the differences between these and the duller photos, you will be on your way to knowing which scenes will turn out to be great photographs and when to avoid taking the duller ones.


+ Limitations in lighting, subject, camera features, composition and time are factors to keep in mind. You have to work around these the best you can during location photography. Make changes first in those things that you can quickly and easily adjust - often, they're all that you'll need to do.
+ By noticing which factors require adjustments and those that don't, you can focus on the troublesome ones whether it be lighting, grouping, background, composition, etc.
+ Viewing the works of great photographers is a good way to acquire a feel for what works well as a great photograph. Because magazine and advertisment work are so competitive, these are often cheap alternatives for most people to look at when developing a feel for what attracts the eye and what fails. Examine them for color, lighting, contrast, composition, etc. and ask yourself why they look good or not.
+ Learn to switch between opposites - close and far, crop or wide angle view, etc. This will help you find a good shot quickly when pressed for time or creative juice. Looking for contrasts or interesting elements near and far will help.
+ Don't forget to look at the entire scene, foreground and background! You need to avoid, eliminate or reduce distracting background elements to take a great photograph.

+ Unless you have unlimited time, realize when to move on. Spend less time at scenes that are boring, more at scenes that catch your eye. Often, the latter will give you a good photograph after a few minutes. Be patient when necessary! Sometimes, simply waiting long enough for an element to come into or go out of a scene is all you need, but don't dally so long that your entire party has moved on to the museum down the street!


+ Because digital cameras have the advantage of lower cost than film cameras when taking many pictures, don't be afraid to carry an extra set of batteries and a large storage card. This will allow you to freely experiment, taking all the pictures you want without worry or waste.
+ Learn how the automatic white balance and exposure compensation features work on your camera. Often, a small adjustment is all you need to capture a great photograph.
+ Feedback and group outings with more experienced photographes can help improve your photography quickly. They can often point out problem areas and help you compose better pictures on site. But feel free to experiment and follow your heart's desire, too! Photography -is- about creative, personal expression and you don't need to take pictures that look just like someone else's.
+ A basic art class or book briefly covering the classic techniques used by masters of art will help you understand how various arrangements of subjects can create different moods and balance. Just like taking a beginner's swimming class, once you've gotten a feel for what works, you'll advance much easier and quicker knowing what to focus on.