Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Capture the Season: Rephotography

Spring is slowly reaching us here in the Upper Midwest, although this week is much more full of April showers than any sign of May flowers. The changing of the seasons is an excellent time to start thinking about a long-term photography project. A seasonal collage of pictures is a great way to celebrate a favorite scene or a special spot.

Springtime Oak Tree with Fog

The first step is to choose a spot that would lend itself well to a rephotography project, and there are a few guidelines to keep in mind. You want to choose a view that will demonstrate the full range of seasonal variation. A deciduous tree is an ideal subject, but you should also consider the foreground and background of the image. Fields or forests or gardens can also emphasize the seasonal progression and add interest. Even a cityscape can offer seasonal interest, if you frame it well.

Second, accessibility is important. You want to choose a location that is easy for you to get to during all seasons of the year and, ideally, one that is fairly close by. The more often you can visit and photograph the spot, the better range of images you will have to choose from.

Third, you need to standardize your composition. This type of project works best if you can exactly match your positioning and composition across all images. Think about using physical clues in the landscape to remind you where you took each shot or what was near the edges of the frame. Keep in mind that you want to use markers that you can rely on even in winter.
Rephotography: Seasonal Collage of an Oak Tree | Boost Your Photography
Rephotography Collage of an Oak Tree
Four Seasons Collage on Flickr by Archaeofrog

This collage was one result of my first year of doing a 365 project (taking a picture a day for a full year). The composition is a bit deceptive, as this oak tree is actually on the playground of the school where I work, which made for a very accessible location. I was initially drawn to the stature and presence of the tree alone, but the inclusion of the grass in the foreground and the natural area in the background really helped emphasize the seasonal differences.

Finally, it was relatively easy to standardize the composition. This is the view out the emergency exit door in the stairwell. Because it is a narrow window, I could ensure that I was standing in approximately the same position each time. I also chose not to use the zoom on my digital point-and-shoot camera, so that the view of the composition would be the same.

Timing is important, as the right sky or the right lighting can really make or break this kind of composition. Because I chose a location I saw on a daily basis, I had many opportunities to capture an iconic composition that I felt represented each season. I loved the early morning fog of the ‘spring’ image compared to the bright blue sky for ‘fall.’ The image below was taken during a snowstorm in the middle of the day. The light above the doorway lit the speeding snowflakes, causing the motion trails.

Winter with Falling Snow
Snow Motion Blur on Flickr by Archaeofrog
There are many variations of this idea too. Some photographers try to take their pictures at the same time of day each time, while others try to take a picture every single day. For the month of October in 2012, I took a photograph of this view nearly every school day and created the following video composite of more than 20 such images. I find it amazing how much variation was captured in such a short span of time.

Animated GIF of the same tree daily during October 2012
Do you have a location in mind? Get out there and start playing around with your composition and your placement, and you’ll be surprised at what you’ll be able to capture!
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