Picture(s)-In-Picture: Creating Multiple Images From a Single Viewpoint

Overall, wide-angle view of The Lake in Central Park at 24mm.
Overall, wide-angle view of The Lake at 24mm.

Story and photos by F.M. Kearney

It’s easy to get caught up in the big picture. Some photographers tend to focus solely on the main scene. They shoot one or two photos, then quickly move on to the next “great thing.” This can be very tempting – especially when you’re shooting in a new area and you have a limited amount of time. But, most likely, you will end up with a bunch of generic-looking images of many different places, but fail to capture the true essence of any single place.

I was recently in New York’s Central Park photographing late fall foliage images. After spending the morning shooting a variety of scenes in the beautiful golden light, I was pretty much ready to wrap things up. On my way out of the park, I walked across a small wooden footbridge near The Lake (yes… that is its actual name) and saw the scene above. The bridge transverses a body of water, known as Bank Rock Bay, and offers a tunnel view through a narrow inlet into The Lake with the Mid-Manhattan skyline in the background. This is a very popular spot for photographers, but my initial thought was to keep walking. I too, had shot many photos of this scene in the past, but I just wasn’t seeing anything special this time. However, as I stood there, things slowly began to change. The light winds that were blowing over The Lake gradually subsided – calming the water to reveal an eye-catching reflection of the autumn colors and the skyline. The ducks swimming around in the bay were generating ripples all over the place, but thankfully, they remained generally within the bay – leaving the surface of The Lake almost glass-like. I was now looking at something special.

As I began setting up my tripod, I could see several great compositions within the main scene right from where I stood. I shot the opening photo with my 24-70mm lens set to its widest setting. I then shot the vertical below at 34mm – zooming in a bit to crop out the excess water and sky.

Vertical view of The Lake in Central Park, framed slightly tighter at 34mm.
Vertical view framed slightly tighter at 34mm.

This is about the extent to which many photographers will go when shooting a scene. But, there’s almost always the potential to extract several other “intimate” compositions from within the main shot. I really wanted to focus on what attracted me to the scene in the first place… the reflections. I zoomed my lens to its maximum focal length and captured the image below at 70mm.

Fall foliage around The Lake Central Park. The tightest composition I could shoot with my 24-70mm lens.
The tightest composition I could shoot with my 24-70mm lens.

I was happy with what I had gotten so far, but I really wanted to emphasize the reflections even more. I switched to my 70-200mm lens and shot the image below at 200mm.

My 70-200mm lens opened up more options. (200mm)
My 70-200mm lens opened up more options. (200mm)

To get this view, I only had to shift my position on the bridge about five feet to the left. I got a nice mix of urban and nature, but I wanted to see how it would look if I completely eliminated the urban elements. I simply shot a horizontal of the rock outcropping on the right and produced the image below. With all traces of the city gone, I ended up with a scene that looked like it could have been shot deep in the wilderness of some faraway land. Of course, if this was a video, the wail of sirens and car horns in the distance would have quickly given it away!

Horizontal version of tight shot of fall foliage and rock outcrops at The Lake in Central Park. A simple reorientation of the composition totally changed the look and feel of the scene. (200mm)
A simple reorientation of the composition totally changed the look and feel of the scene. (200mm)

It’s common knowledge that using a tripod forces you to work slower. It’s not just due to the physical time it takes to set up and break down a tripod, but because it takes time, you want to make absolutely sure you’ve captured all there is to capture at any given scene before moving on. In this particular case, most of these compositions were immediately apparent to me. If, however, nothing initially pops out at you, just give it some time. You’d be surprised just how many other pictures you can coax out of the main scene by carefully studying it. If I had had a longer focal length lens, I’m sure I could have gotten even more images. I was on the bridge for about an hour and a half – long enough for about a dozen people to pass by, shoot a couple of snapshots and move on. Now, most of these people were probably tourists and anxious to see what the rest of the park had to offer. I’ll admit that if I wasn’t intimately familiar with Central Park and confident that I had captured everything of interest in my immediate vicinity, I too, may have been tempted to rush on to the next attraction. But remember, what matters most when it comes to serious photography is quality not quantity.

F. M. Kearney began his photography career as a photojournalist for New York City newspapers. His focus soon shifted to capturing the beauty of the natural world. As an award-winning nature photographer, Kearney’s images have been widely published. A slight departure from photography, his recently published horror novel, “They Only Come Out at Night,” about supernatural happenings in the New York City subway (partially inspired by his travels as a photojournalist), is available on Amazon. To see more of Kearney’s work, visit http://www.starlitecollection.com.