Working a scene

If you ever happen to stumble upon a professional photographer on a job, they’re usually in constant motion.

They might be standing on a chair or laying on the ground or might be constantly moving closer and further away from their subject.

It’s working a scene, something I always think of when I’m photographing a certain subject.

This is especially true when I’m photographing which seems simple or something that I think could turn out to be truly special.

Did I try every type of shot I could think?

Did I discover every angle?

Am I finding the right moment?

These are just some of the questions, which help me work the scene.

It makes me try a wide-angle shot of the entire environment and then forces me to move up and isolate a tiny subject with a closeup.

I try everything, because many times you don’t know fully how a shot is going to appear until it’s on your computer screen and although experience helps you discover the most dynamic shot earlier in the game – it’s always better to have the shot in your camera then to not have it at all.

I played out this exact thought-process at the last wedding I photographed.

Usually I’m taking pictures in Milwaukee, but for this wedding I got to travel a little bit and see some of the beautiful more-remote locations of Wisconsin.

The ceremony started in the country church the couple grew up with in Beloit and then everything moved to this beautiful lake-side location in Janesville for the reception. The reception location was Camp Rotamer and it bordered Spauldings Pond (just a bit of specifics, in case anyone ever wanted to see it for themselves or book it as a venue).

With the setting sun and the colors flying off the water, this setup was a dream for even a novice-hobby photographer.

As the day grew old, the couple and I made our way out on to a deck, which T’d off into the water.

I have to shout-out to the bride for being willing to hike up her dress enough to brave a somewhat-rickety gangplank connecting the main deck with the shore.

Once we were out on there, I knew this was something special and I wanted to make sure I got it right.

Since the whole environment was beautiful and perfect, I started the shoot with my wide-angle, capturing the couple, the deck, the pond and the dark blue sky.

I got lower to get more sky, which simultaneously cleans up the background, and this has been something that is usually a go-to move of mine.

I get lower and it makes the subject seem more powerful and dynamic. It works great to get more sky in the picture as well (a wise move, considering my name is Big Sky Photo).

However, it can also be unflattering and as is quite obvious, people at weddings want to look good!

So what do you do?

Pictures are best when you have a clean, simple background.

That’s why I usually get lower than my subject and never shoot straight on, but it works just as well getting higher.

This is perfect for weddings, because a shot taken from above is also the most flattering. Millions of selfie takers know this very well.

I then moved closer and above, framing them in the deck with just the water visible.

With a quick look through my shots, I realized things were looking really good, so I moved around them and then moved them to the edge of the deck.

I then took my favorite shot of the whole night, by holding the camera above my head and getting the couple kissing with only the water ringed by a tree-filled shoreline in the rest of the frame.

When you work a scene, sometimes your best shot is the first, but as I already mentioned sometimes that that last creative juice you threw at a situation really pays off.

I think it paid off here, but I’ll let you judge for yourself.

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Posted in Big Sky Photography

Walking down the aisle

I’ve always heard you don’t remember much you learn in college. You forget much of what your professors say and what was written in those oh-so-expensive books you buy every semester. However, I still remember one story my photojournalism professor told us when he was explaining sports photography.

He was talking of one of the all-time best sports photographers and how he would sit on the street and practice tracking cars with his lens, keeping them in focus as they drove closer and further away. He would do this over and over again for hours on end. 

“Yeah, not fun,” is what my professor said.

“But, that’s what it takes to be the best.”

Well, that stuck with me as I started my photojournalism career and I was zealous in my manual focusing for the first two years.

No matter, if it was basketball, softball or football, I would manually focus.

Sometimes, I would be right on track and get great shots, but I would also miss and there would be many between shots where my focus was just a little bit off and I would miss a key moment.

In my third year on the job, I then learned a very critical piece of information from another photographer who woke me up from my own high-minded notion of sports photography.

That notion was “it’s OK to use automatic focusing.”

After that, I switched to automatic tracking with center-point focus area and it hasn’t let me down since.

I immediately cashed in on the dividends and started catching three in-focus peak action shots ever minute and my sports photography started being much more dynamic.

An example of a time when I was autotracking the players and then got a peak action shot.

An example of a time when I was autotracking the players and then got a peak action shot.

Now, in most situations I usually begin by trusting the camera’s focus before my eye. If it’s not sports and the object I’m shooting is in a static location I’ll usually autofocus and then flip it off and keep shooting. That way I know the focus is right on point and the camera won’t change it every time I push down the button and thereby lose time and shots.

It’s treated me very well, but there’s always certain situations when the autofocus won’t help you.

I’ve known this and had the lesson reinforced to me on a wedding shoot in Milwaukee recently.

As most photogs know, weddings are usually located in non-ideal venues for actual photography. Yes, I know it’s surprising that the couple chooses the location based on wanting a beautiful ceremony and not what the photography finds easiest to work. Usually the lighting ends up being very poor.

This particular wedding was darker than most, set in a church in Milwaukee that used to be a factory building with very small windows and little to no-natural light coming in. The main source of light were scattered candles around the room and then whatever stage lighting would bounce across the room. Many times I’d have my autofocus spinning back and forth and not being able to find a point to focus on in the dark.

This happened right during the processional and as most people know the processional is a very important part to a wedding and not the part where you want to find yourself taking out-of-focus pictures.

Fortunately, I knew exactly what to do and after manually focusing on the first couple down the aisle, I immediately focused on a row of chairs right next to where I wanted to get the shot of the people walking down the aisle.

With my manual focus set, I then waited for each couple to hit the mark and then pressed the button, letting my flashes around the room light the couple up, getting a shot that was well-exposed and in focus.

Obviously, a better-lit venue is much more ideal, but if you ever find yourself helpless in the dark hopefully this can help you still come away with some great images.

At this moment I had the autofocus off the camera and had manually focused on the spot and waited for the couple to cross the marker before taking the shot and letting my flashes around the room light up the couple.

At this moment I had the autofocus off the camera and had manually focused on the spot and waited for the couple to cross the marker before taking the shot and letting my flashes around the room light up the couple.

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Posted in Big Sky Photography

Humboldt River



Here is the Humboldt River in Elko during sunset. We have a footbridge next to our house. Normally, the Humboldt doesn’t offer much of a sight since it barely has running water most of the year, but in the early spring it had enough water to give off a nice blue sheen. I’m usually not much of a landscape and scenery photographer. Those people usually have to be incredibly patient. Here I didn’t spend too much time, just snapped it while I walked past, but I think it definitely turned out well.

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Posted in Uncategorized

Shootin’ Hoops

In the spirit of March Madness and the Final Four on Saturday, I decided to share a photo of the basketball hoop I grew up with as a farmer’s kid in Eastern Montana. I remember watching plenty of basketball games and then taking my joy or frustration out on this hoop hanging from the barn. I shot hoops on this for hours it seems like. It was a good set up, hooked up to the side of our family’s barn on our farm where my parents still farm and ranch. There was always beautiful outdoor pictures everywhere and it was a great place to grow up with seemingly endless lands to explore on foot or as in my case on a four-wheeler. I look forward to going back and visiting the place in July.

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Posted in Big Sky Photography

Up close and personal

I took this photo last fall when I got an incredible opportunity to hike up the Goshute Mountain south of West Wendover, Nevada. I met up with some people involved with a Migration Project. Although it looks like this sharp-shinned hawk was out by itself in the wilderness it was actually captured and held by a member of the project. This was all about using a telephoto lens and making sure the angle left out any human hands.

Here’s the original story.<br />

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Posted in Elko Daily Free Press Photography, Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , |

Sunset stretch

Property of the Elko Daily Free Press

Here’s a photo I took at the recent Ruby Mountain Relay. I was really excited, because the runners run all through the night and I thought I could get some really cool photos with all the different lighting situations. This one I ended up taking right at sunset in the middle of a lonely highway. This runner was stretching before his leg and I hit him with the flash and got the nice lighting on the horizon.

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Intense Elko mine training

So I got the chance to check out the Elko Safety Olympiad a couple weekends ago. It’s a competition where all these different gold mines around Elko bring their emergency responders and compete to see who’s best at saving lives. I had out my wide angle lens and when I saw these shoes on the ground I decided to get really low. It was an added plus that the girl on the board, who was pretending to be injured, also had some fake blood on her arm. I felt like this photo had a lot of interesting elements in it.

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A little bit of fashion

Copyright Elko Daily Free Press

So I took this photo last week for an advertisement for Haleys in Elko. The store sells jewelry as you can see she’s wearing a bunch of jewelry. One of my coworkers brought the cowboy hat, and at the time I was thinking that it might look a little hokey with her grabbing the hat like that. But once I looked at it on camera it sure looked pretty cool especially with the clean background which is an alley on fifth street. It was a good chance for me to shoot a photo that was more fashion and modeling orientated. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to do more of these shots in the future.

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Posted in Elko Daily Free Press Photography Tagged , |

Trashin’ Fashion Show

I took this shot at the Trashin’ Fashion Show in Elko put on by the local roller derby girls. This derby girl had one of the most popular dresses of the night, a porn card dress. However, for obvious reasons I couldn’t put it in the paper, but still this was probably my favorite shot of the actual cat walk. For this photo I ended up blurring the dress in photoshop.

In the paper we ended up using one I shot before the show started of the girls waiting in the dressing room. With their faces painted and the crazy getups it turned out to be a pretty good photography night.

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Posted in Elko Daily Free Press Photography

Elko Dump

All rights reserved Matt Unrau and Big Sky Photography


I took this picture of the Elko dump on the way back from the animal shelter. I don’t think I did the actual scene justice. There was so many seagulls and the sky in Elko was actually interesting, not the usual cloudless sunny sky. The sky, in particular, was maybe the missing ingredient of what I couldn’t quite translate into the photo. The photo is still interesting though.

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Posted in Big Sky Photography