Bring Your Imagination to Your Wissahickon Photos

Nature // July 06, 2016

The deadline for FOW’s Biennial Photo Contest is not until October 14, but summer is a great time to take a winning photo! Here are some photo-taking tips from FOW Trail Ambassador and photographer Bruce Wagner who will be leading a hike, Finding Summer Photos, on July 10. Click here for more information on this year’s Photo Contest.

It doesn’t take very long, standing or walking in the Wissahickon Valley, before its loveliness makes you wonder how you can tell its tale. Artists who work in every type of media have sought their own expression of this 1,800-acres-of-wilderness beauty in the midst of a city. For a photographer, the question, “What do I do?” seems to invade your being. That’s been my experience for years, and so I’m going to attempt to explain what I try to do in order to capture the image of what I feel when walking in the Wissahickon Valley.

My first suggestion is to avoid just taking a photo of the place. Wait a moment and recognize just what it is that has captivated you. What–about the scene or moment–is bringing you joy? Then telephoto or walk closer to that particular point of interest. Examine that point and decide where you want it in the photo (interesting photographs are rarely centered). Now click the shutter. You have one image, but look around for shadows, reflections, or complementary details and determine if they might add to the image. Don’t be shy about taking several images of the same spot.

In the Wissahickon, many of the most memorable images are related to one of our structures–bridges, buildings, and long views of a trail. Don’t settle for a “straight on” shot of that structure. Walk around to a corner of the structure so the angle of your photo will be “different.” Stand above or below the structure. Capture interesting objects in the foreground of your picture–trees, water, rocks–so that your photo will reflect the sense of wilderness that is unique to the Wissahickon. You’ll discover interesting things you didn’t realize were a part of your subject. Use your imagination and try to discover some part of the spirit of the image that is your own contribution to its statement.

Amazingly, if you look very closely at the surface of moving water, you will find reflections there that you had no idea were present. Below are three photos of the very same corner of the Thomas Mill Dam. Notice what happens if you “get closer.”

Interesting photos are a combination of good subjects, color, shadow, composition, and imagination. Take your time. Give yourself the opportunity to add all the ingredients to your photo image.

By Bruce Wagner, FOW Trail Ambassador