By Lizzie Gadd
I’ve heard it said among landscape photographers, “Keep walking until you see what you want to see”. Get past the distracting objects. Go further than the norm. Go the extra mile to find that perfect perspective.
The same sort of mindset can be applied to any type of photography. I remember realizing about eight years ago how much of a difference it makes to take that extra step with each shoot. To come up with ideas on how to bump a photo from mediocre to awesomeness.
The first “going the extra mile” moment I can remember was when I wanted to portray myself as a woman of the wilderness. Like, a truly wild woman of the wilderness.
Like, full on cave-woman style. Like… face completely covered with coal and mud smudges, branches and leaves weaved into my back-combed hair, and wearing a ragged torn up sheet for clothes. I wanted to go all out. I thought it would be most effective.
And it was certainly effective, when a group of teenage kids skipping school to go on a “forest walk” (smoking weed) stumbled across my cave-woman self-portrait shoot in the woods. To this day I’m not sure who was more horrified – me, staring silently at the kids while internally super panicking and not knowing how to explain myself… or the kids, staring in wide-eyed silence right back at me, mouths agape for the longest 10 seconds of my life before they all turned around and retraced their steps back into the woods as if a bear were on their heels.
I think that’s when I realized just how much “wow” factor going the extra mile can bring. Although I haven’t really applied that wow factor in cave-woman style since, I’ve taken the “going the extra mile” mindset into most of my shoots thereafter – whether that means hiking further to get to better locations, wearing a dress in a blizzard, climbing up a sewage waterfall, walking straight into a half-frozen lake to get the shot.
Over years of shooting, I’ve learned how just going a few extra steps (whether literally or creatively) can turn a good shot into a great shot.
I’m going to include three more fun story examples with the three photos below – each of these photos unexpectedly became some of my most well-known work to date after I decided to go the extra mile to bring them to life.
1. The Slime Log
Originally I was going to stand next to the tree roots, looking nonchalantly out into the foggy distance… as I seem to do… quite a lot. But after a few test shots, the idea struck me that this photo would be so much cooler if I were perched on top of the log. Turns out, with a tree that is buried under lake water for 11 out of 12 months of the year, a climbing attempt is rather a slimy ordeal. Flash forward to nearly 10 minutes later, I somehow managed to slither my way up and over the top ledge, where I proceeded to face away from the camera (mostly to hide the thick dark green slime covering the entire front side of my body).
But, as I predicted, the extra struggle to get up there was worth it. The photo instantly became one of my favourites.
2. The Rainy Lake
You’ve probably seen several of my self-portraits where I’ve gone the extra mile to wade into this particular lake for several photoshoots.
This time, however, I was excited to have my sister come along to model for me. In other words, she would get to do the dirty work and go for a cold and rainy swim while I stayed bundled up and warm under my umbrella on the lakeshore.
Of course, karma came back to get me when I realized the best angle for the shot could not be found upon the shoreline…. So into the lake I went. Once in up to my shoulders, the thought occurred to me that the raincoat I was still wearing and the umbrella I was still holding weren’t exactly going to save me from getting a little damp. Still I persevered, holding my camera above my head in one hand and umbrella in the other, getting the low angles right against the water with the falling raindrops. I wanted the viewers to feel as if they were fully immersed in the shot, right where the magic was happening… and the only way to do that was to go the extra mile and immerse myself.
3. The Highlands Escapade
… Sometimes, you might find yourself going the extra mile without exactly meaning to. This happened a couple years ago when an “experienced” friend living in Iceland decided to take a few of us for an “afternoon” drive into the highlands.
Short version of the story (which I blame entirely on fun weather conditions) is as follows. The truck we were in decided to become a boat as we were swept down a raging river, we made it out the opposite side, couldn’t cross back over for two days, rescued 7 elderly ladies who’s giant tour truck was also swept down the river later that day, stayed in a technically closed lodge and lived off cake for 2 days (not bad for being the only food available), lounged in our underwear with the elderly badass women while waiting for our clothes to dry, tried to be rescued by a legendary farmer dude who also got stuck in the bad weather and had to be rescued by another rescue mission, went for a “walk” in a snow/rain blizzard to scout the land while we were stuck (during which the below photo was captured), then hiked across the land during the middle of the second night in the ongoing storm to reach an “easier” crossing section of the river where a new rescue mission was waiting to pick us up.
And out of the whole ordeal I managed to get the photo that would become my most well-received, sold and licensed image I’ve ever taken. Going the extra mile paid off, even if un-intendedly. (But maybe don’t try to copy this exact method. Stay safe out there please!)
So my challenge to you is, remember to think outside of the box when you’re shooting. Straightforward shots are beautiful and still have their place in the world, but I do love the challenge of asking yourself, “what can I do to take this photo a step further than usual?”.
Explore all perspectives. Think up all the ideas. Let the crazy things happen (but stay safe). You might be surprised at the difference it makes when you consistently think of ways to go the extra mile. Challenge brings growth to our minds and our work, and it pays off. Keep that mind eternally growing.
Elizabeth Gadd originally wrote this article for our private online photography community here at OFFBEAT. There are dozens more where that came from. If that sounds like something you like the sound of, sign up for our community!