Nat Geo Travel sent photographer Matt Moyer on assignment to capture the landscape, wildlife, and people of Florida. Find out why there’s more to making an incredible photo than aesthetics.
When I’m shooting I become hyper-aware of light, color, and composition in the hopes of communicating something more meaningful. As I explored De Leon Springs State Park I had the place nearly to myself. Although the humidity was oppressive the sun had not yet climbed high enough to drive large numbers of visitors to the spring’s cool waters.
My short walk around the perimeter had resulted in nothing more than a sweat-drenched shirt and a rapidly growing bout of photographer’s panic. No pictures.
I knew I couldn’t linger long because I was tasked with photographing ten parks in ten days—an ambitious undertaking given the hours of driving time between each location, the time it takes to check in and out of hotels, the inevitable time spent getting lost on dirt roads, and the time it takes to find your way back to asphalt, all while allowing time for pictures to happen.
As I accessed the visual possibilities, I realized a scenic picture was out of the question. Every angle I tried had concrete structures or concrete walls spoiling the composition. My panic intensified.
Then I noticed a mother sitting on a walkway holding her baby. An American flag beach towel lay on the grass, providing color and a dose of visual kitsch. I positioned myself so the angle of the towel would draw the viewer’s eye toward the mother and her child. Holding the composition, I waited for a moment to happen. The great photographer Sam Abell has labeled this technique “compose and wait.”
Within a couple minutes the woman’s older daughter skipped into the frame and, performing a graceful, dancer-like bend, delicately placed a kiss on her mother’s lips. I pushed the shutter.
An image that had started out based on color and composition transcended those intellectual building blocks and became a photograph about a relationship—about love.
Photo tips: We photographers often spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about composition, light, and color, but the most important thing in a photo is the story it tells. Look for moments that convey relationships.
Photographed with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens. Camera settings: 1/160; f/8; ISO 100.