tuscan farmhouse on hill above misty valley

Moving in a bit tighter with 173 mm.

What does “Working the Scene in Photography” mean?

On our photo tours, I occasionally get asked by a participant about the perfect composition for a scene.

Hint: There’s often more than one way to skin a cat (or make a successful image).

They might be feeling some insecurity about their compositional skills and think that there is only one perfect shot. Usually, my answer is for them to show me their composition. I then share mine and then I might encourage them to try different angles and focal lengths. Move around, zoom in, zoom out. Sometimes I like their composition better than mine and I thank them for the new perspective. 

tuscan farmhouse on hill at sunrise

This is perhaps the most common focal length that I use for this scene: 100 mm.

Is there one perfect composition?

I think it would be arrogant to suggest that there is one perfect composition. We actually encountered such an attitude from a photographer during one of our Tuscany Photo Tours (not one of our participants). Some of you reading this may have been with us a couple of years ago when an Italian photographer showed up and planted himself about 40 feet in front of a group of about 20 photographers. We were all there before him and were waiting for the light to get better. When we asked him to move his answer was that his location was the only one for the perfect composition – my blood pressure is climbing as I write this. He never did move despite many polite (and not-so-polite) requests and we all had to walk forward to his position. So much for photographers’ etiquette!

misty and foggy valley with tuscan farmhouse on a hill

Going a bit wider, with a 70 mm focal length.

“Working the Scene” at Il Belvedere in Tuscany

Anyway, enough of that rant. I think a very good example of Working the Scene, is the iconic “Il Belvedere” farmhouse in Tuscany’s Val d Orcia. This is a sunrise shot so we always arrive an hour before sunrise to claim our spot before the trove of other photographers shows up. And we don’t have to worry about Mr. Arrogant getting in our shot because our position features a 15-foot drop-off in front of us. ;-)

tuscan farmhouse on hill above foggy valley at sunrise

Moving the vantage point and going in tight with 168 mm.

I always have two of my favorite lenses with me for Il Belvedere, the 24-105 and the 100-400, although the longer range of the zoom is not needed. One could get by with a 70-200 or 70-300 for this location. If I had to choose just one lens it would be the 24-105 but as we are talking about Working the Scene, it is nice to zoom in occasionally.

foggy valley with tuscan farmhouse at sunrise

Sometimes it is fun to go wider. 47 mm.

I also want to mention another aspect of Working the Scene which has to do with waiting for the right light or shooting under different light situations. Don’t forget to practice patience. Landscape photography often requires you to wait or come back again for the right light. In the case of Il Belvedere, we are also hoping for fog and mist to rise out of the valley as the sun breaks over the horizon. We don’t always get the fog on our first attempt but have the luxury of spending seven days in this region and we can come back and try again. Patience can also be helpful if the weather is less than favorable. Epic photographs often happen when the crappy weather suddenly improves. The clouds open and a ray of light magically illuminates the scene. This can be a very brief period but sometimes that is all one needs.

Be patient, be ready, and have fun working your scene!