It’s in the Details

By David Cobb

“A mountain is composed of tiny grains of earth. The ocean is made up of tiny drops of water. Even so, life is but an endless series of little details, actions, speeches, and thoughts.”


I recently returned from the Black Hills of South Dakota with photographer Christian Heeb, and he kept calling me a detail photographer. One day while observing me with a macro lens he mentioned that, “Here I was in the expanse of the Badlands and I spent my time leaning over a dead frog encased in dry, cracked mud.” I’m a details photographer.

Another day we walked a valley with flowers and rock spires in the Black Hills. Instead of the larger landscape, I chose a bundle of Black-eyed Susans to capture some detail. For me, it’s not all about the wide-angle lens—I often choose the zoom or macro lenses to capture the smaller and more intimate scenes. These lenses are useful in telling a piece of the location’s story.

For instance, this beautiful Lakota woman looks fabulous in her red dress, surrounded by the flowering Horse Mint. But look closer. Another part of the story is her fine bead work, her silver ring, her hands—the details. So, I got in closer with a zoom lens to help tell that part of the story.

With landscapes too, I often leave that wide-angle lens behind to pick out scenes of light and form. This helps to get me out of that “wide-angle rut” I so often see in newer landscape photographers. There was an expansive scene to be shot at Sylvan Lake in the Black Hills, but this morning I preferred the one with a zoom to capture the details of light on the cliff-face and rock. This image not only provided more interest and drama to the scene, but the nearby trees also helped give a sense of scale.

With a macro lens, I look for the details in flowers or smaller life along the ground. Often I add a Canon 500D diopter (close-up filter) and extension tubes to get as close as possible. This not only lets me capture the play of light on a small scale, but offers me countless opportunities for composition and detail. I work on these Yellow Salsify seedpods every year, and never tire of it because of the millions of compositions to be created with a shallow depth-of-field.

Capturing the details helps provide another point of view while also improving your photography, by forcing you to think and compose out of your comfort zone. Next time you see that expansive scene, stop and consider what the smaller scenes may bring. Because for me, the details help capture the big picture.

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