“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around once in a while you could miss it.”
— Ferris Bueller

Life does seem to move faster and faster with each passing year. The pace just never seems to slow down; deadlines at work, soccer practice and dance lessons for the kids, lawns to cut, and a hundred other tasks that all demand our attention, right now!

So when we finally have the chance to pick up our cameras, we often fail to leave that sense of urgency behind. We see something interesting; find a point of view we like, shoot, perhaps bracketing our exposures a bit, and then move on: “Done that, what’s next?” The problem with this is that we can easily fail to fully explore the visual possibilities in each situation.

When I’m traveling, or just out for a day of shooting around town, one of my favourite approaches is to simply find something interesting; something that might only make an good background. After setting up, I wait for something interesting to happen in front of my background.

On my last trip to Provence, I visited the town of Aix-en-Provence one morning. I was scouting the area ahead of the arrival of my workshop students, so I didn’t allow myself too much time for actual shooting that day. As I walked along, I spotted this interesting storefront. It was late morning and the streets were quite busy, and without a lot of time to work this subject, I simply cranked off a “record shot” and made a mental note to revisit the location earlier in the morning when the shops were just opening up.

When we returned a few days later, I staked out a position across the street with some of the workshop students, and waited. The store had not yet opened, but we could see activity inside as the shopkeeper prepared for the day ahead. While we were waiting I tried a few images of passersby, some using a slow shutter speed: but none of these were really working. However we didn’t have long to wait; shortly after this the shopkeeper appeared and began setting up the display outside her store. Over the next twenty minutes or so we shot dozens of frames, each with slightly different compositions. Some worked, most didn’t: while you are focusing on capturing the peak of action or the “just right” gesture of your subject it is all too easy to miss a distracting bit around the edges of your frame, or to clip of an important element of your composition (this is one of the few situations where a tripod is more of a hindrance than a help). Here is a representative sample, both good and bad.

In only one frame (second from bottom on the right) did all of the compositional elements come together with just the right gesture of the shopkeeper watering the plants in front of her store. All that was left was to take the image into Adobe Lightroom to bring out the best elements of colour: the contrast of warm interior with the blue themed colours of the storefront.

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