Embracing the Crowds Part 2, Isolation and Gesture

Fishing the Merced River Yosemite National Park, California

Fishing the Merced River
Yosemite National Park, California

May 20, 2013

Like “Sunbeam Girl,” the above photo shows another classic scene from an iconic American landscape. In this case, I’d seen the view hundreds (maybe thousands) of times in photos before I gazed upon it in person. It appears to be deep in the backcountry, (spoiler alert for those that haven’t yet been to Yosemite) but actually it is right off a parking lot and picnic area in Yosemite.

Most of my classic landscape views are taken on family vacations. My family humors me for a few minutes each day on vacation as I bring them to some famous photo location and set up my tripod. This became easier as my children became teenagers. I just went out to take pictures at sunrise and returned back to the hotel room/cabin/tent, before they were even up. For sunset pictures like this one though, I normally have the family in tow.

One limitation to taking photos on family vacation is that I usually only get one shot. Once I get there, I have to live with the weather, the crowds, and whatever else I encounter. My wife and kids are not coming back to watch me do this again. I’m also on my wife’s timer. If I take too long, she’ll give me ‘the look.’

The evening I got to this location, the weather was nice, but not particularly colorful. The sky was perfectly clear, so there were no clouds to add drama to the scene. I knew I’d be able to get a “postcard” picture, but it would be like a million others.

As I approached the edge of the river, I soon realized that this picture was going to be trickier than I thought. On the other shore, were two families with multiple kids picnicking. The kids were running up and down the shoreline. Worse, they were even in the water messing up my “postcard” scene. To be honest, my first thought was: I can probably clone them out in Photoshop.


The boy in the picture was in the water practicing fly fishing with his father and siblings during most of my time at the river. He was obviously more engaged with fishing than the others and I was hoping that he would stay at it long enough to get a good picture. My patience was rewarded as the sunset progressed. Eventually the other family members retreated to the opposite shore and out of the frame. Although reviewing my pictures for this blog entry, some of the frames show kids running up and down the shoreline occasionally. Once he was alone in the water, I had the first element to a successful picture: isolation. I was able to isolate him in the frame as an important (if small) element. Isolation can be achieved with a shallow depth of field as well, but in this case I needed him alone since I wanted everything in focus.


Since he was such a small part of the frame, I knew it would have to be abundantly clear what he was doing in the water to make the picture work. I had been reading a lot about wildlife photography at the time and seen the importance of “gesture,” when capturing wildlife (Moose Peterson has a nice blog entry on this concept here). I realized that in order for this photo to work, I needed to capture the boy in the classic fly fishing casting gesture. Otherwise, the boy in the water would confuse the viewer. So, I put my camera in high-speed continuous fire and waited for him to cast. I chose the above frame from the sequences because it captured him in the perfect fly casting pose (or gesture).

In the end, I think the boy makes the picture. It adds the element of scale and spontaneity to the scene that I discussed with the ‘Sunbeam Girl’ picture. As always in crowded locations, it took patience to get the shot.  And it also took two more elements to make the composition work: isolation and gesture.

Equipment used:

Nikon D200 with 16-85 VR lens @26mm

Singh-Ray 3-Stop Galen Rowell ND Filter

Gitzo 0540 Tripod with RRS BH-25 ballhead


1/4s – f/ 7.1- ISO 100

Next: Embracing the Crowds Part 3, Form and Flow

Previous: Embracing the Crowds, Part 1

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