The Sum Of The Parts Is Greater Than The Whole

Outdoor Photography

Regardless of the subject matter you photograph, don’t overlook the small stuff. For instance, if you vacation in Paris, you’ll make photos of the Eiffel Tower, but will those images stand out as the best from the trip? If you go to Grand Teton National Park, you’ll photograph The Grand from Schwabacher’s Landing and Mount Moran from Oxbow Bend, but will images of other peaks or locations rise to the top? A photo safari demands you capture a regal male lion in the open, but while you drive the roads, do you pass up fantastic light on an impala?

I’ve run many hundreds of nature photo tours to all the quintessential locations in the United States. On every trip, year after year, I stood in the best places to capture the Mittens of Monument Valley, the Howling Dog at Bandon Beach, under a classic cottonwood to frame The Castle at Capital Reef, the prime location to make images of Multnomah Falls and more. Everybody wants those photographs. The problem is many already have them. With this in mind, I also stressed the importance of capturing the flavor of the area on a smaller scale or with images that reverberate the location but not via the use of icons. The best photo of the trip may even be photographed with a macro lens!

In always encouraging my tour participants to “Exhaust All Possibilities,” I had them look at each location, “from the other side of…..” We certainly photographed the classic compositions, but we then branched out. We looked for the sum of the parts. With each new “addend,” we started the creation of our stories. By the time the trip was over, we created entire mathematical equations utilizing a long list of numbers of parts of the whole. Every figure was important to tell the final story. The beauty is that this philosophy can be imparted to every type of photography out there. Whether you photograph architecture, people, sports, vintage cars or more, include the smaller overlooked parts that still speak volumes about the subject.

From another perspective, think about all the photos that have been made of Yellowstone Falls. For me, to go there thinking I’m going to capture the best one ever would be arrogant and foolish. Even if the light was spectacular, would it be the best? Would I still go to the overlook and try? You betcha, but my expectations are going to be realistic. What about other falls in Yellowstone? What about parts of a cascade? What about varying the shutter speed to create different effects? What about moss on the rocks created in the wet environment? You get the idea. Your “from the other side” images will still convey Yellowstone yet may not be as cliched and may net stronger images than the one of Yellowstone Falls from the overlook!

The principles of good photography still apply to your “from the other side” photos. Make your images in early and late light, provide balance in your compositions, make verticals and horizontals of the same subject and strive to capture the mood. Look to your left, right and behind you once you think you’re done. Quite often, a killer shot goes unnoticed because your eyes are fixed on one location. When I lead my safaris to Tanzania, we obviously place an emphasis on lions and other big cats, elephants, giraffes, rhinos and more. That being said, if the “Small Five” are in great light, with great backgrounds and displaying action, we’re all over those animals.

To learn more about this subject, join me on a photo safari to Tanzania. Visit to get more information.

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