Where and When

As a photographer, I totally rely on my camera. Without a camera (and this includes my cell phone whenever I shoot pictures with it), I won’t be able to capture any photographs. This is a fact for any photographer or anyone taking photos—and who is not these days?

No camera, no photos. As simple as that. Isn’t it then quite an intriguing thought that the two most important choices having maybe the biggest influence on the result have nothing to do with the camera at all? Yes, camera quality does have an impact on the final result. So does aperture and shutter speed. But two of the most important tools for crafting photos are not camera related whatsoever.

I am talking about where and when. If you have no where and no when you might just as well not take any photo. In fact, you cannot capture any without a where and when. You may be unconscious or unaware about them, but any photograph captured is a statement about its where and when.

Think about, even a timeless photo not giving away or depending on a location, will have to have been capture sometime and somewhere. As a photographer, you may choose to not give time and location a visual importance, because you want to give the image a timeless and open quality, but just as often, if not most of the times, both where and when is an important part of the story in a photograph.

Thus, you should be aware of both choices. Because it is yours to pick. In a way, it seems obvious, as you cannot take any photo without a where or a when. You go on a holiday. You shoot photos of the trip and anytime something special happens. It’s clearly about both when and where. However, being consciously aware of the two factors—and more importantly their visual impact—will guarantee to boost the pull of your photos. Because there is more to both where and when than what follows automatically just by shooting.

You want to shoot the Eiffel tower? Obviously the where is Paris. But where is more than just Paris. You can stand on this side of the Seine or on that side of the Seine. You can stand close to the Eiffel tower or you can try to capture it from afar. Or, take the photo above. It’s captured in Canyonlands National Park in Utah, USA and it shows the sandstone formations around the Druid Arch Canyon. However, the where is not only the national park and the specific canyon, but also where in the canyon, which side of it I stand and also at what part of the formations I point my camera. It’s all very conscious decisions on my part.

There is even more to the where. Yes, it’s about the location, it’s about your position as indicated, but it’s also about your point of view. Do you take a step to the right to include the wall there, do you bend down to include more of the foreground, do you step closer or away from details you either want to emphasize or diminish? As you can see, where has quite more to it.

The same goes for time. Let’s look at the above photo again. Time is not only arbitrarily whenever I took the photo. There is a season to it—summertime, to be more specifically—and there is time of the day, too—in this case afternoon. Both have a visual impact. If I had chosen to shoot in wintertime, snow may have covered the ground and the quality of light might have been different. Same with the time of day. I waited until the sun was partially going down beneath the rocks to the right. This brought out drama as well as a direction of the sunlight that emphasized the structural quality of the sandstone formations. Morning light would have created a very different expression.

Another time dimension is important, too, although not so much in this photo. It’s about capturing the highlight of an event or of something going on. This has to do with choosing the right fraction of a second that shows what it’s all about—what the deceased and renown photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson called the decisive moment. An obvious example is the moment a high jumper reaches of the bar. Getting the decisive moment right can break and make a photo.

There is even a third aspect of time, which I will only mention slightly here, and which has to do with your choice of shutter speed. However, then we are back to the camera again and its controls, and this post was not about that. In other words, I have gone full circle here now. My advise is to be more aware of both where and when when you photograph—if you aren’t already. It could change the result dramatically.

On a different note: When you read this post, I will be travelling in Belize for two weeks. Thus, I will have to take a break from blogging, but I’ll see you again in a couple of weeks.

58 thoughts on “Where and When

  1. Love the photo, you have been in the right place in the right moment!
    And it’s correct, many times a small changing in your position can make a very different photo. Keeping out a disturbing object for example. Good post, Otto!

  2. You have captured a gorgeous view of this region Otto. Only with with experience comes the ability to know just where to be and when. Enjoy Belize, I hope you are able to catch some great shots, or maybe just take a break, your choice of course 🙂

  3. You are right these two things are very important before you even lift the camera to take any pictures. It takes a lot of efforts to get both factors in right and that could be very discouraging too 🙂

    1. Discouraging in the sense that it takes some time to handle both variables well during the shooting process. But it’s also encouraging to know that it’s just a matter of practice to make it work. 🙂

  4. Ah, it’s amazing all the who, what, where, and when that go into taking a photograph. It’s truly a narrative you capture… a story with no words but so much information the eyes can take in. I enjoy your creative mind. Have a fantastic time in Belize, dear Otto!

  5. I might suggest that it’s not strictly necessary to have a camera. Sometimes the mind’s eye sees an image when, lacking the mechanical gear all you can do is say “click”, and “I’ll remember that”. Even then, perspective and moment count.

    1. Of course, you are right, and I for one certainly don’t encourage only valuing what has been captured by a camera. Nevertheless, if you want to take a photograph, in the true meaning of the word, you do need to use a camera. 🙂

  6. I love your gentle advice and direction. You review the things most of us know, but tend to lose sight of. Have a splendid time in Belize. I look forward to seeing the results. 😉

  7. Where and when…the importance of both are obvious, one would think, but I’ve seldom considered their influence consciously in the way you’ve pointed out here. More good food for thought! Thanks, Otto — and have a wonderful time in Belize. I hope we’ll get to see some pictures!

  8. Belize! How wonderful! This topic interests me greatly. All too often I realize I’m trying to take photos at “high noon,” which is dreadful. I need to plan my time differently!

  9. Where:

    There have been a number of times in my landscape work in which I have deliberately staked out a particular location, and shot it from multiple angles to decide which specific spot around the subject would be best to reshoot the subject from.


    Part of that planning of the reshoot was to wait for a specific time; including a whole year later, to go back to that spot to reshoot the subject at a specific time of day under specific weather and lighting conditions.

    I tend to get meticulous at times, so that I am satisfied with a shot.

  10. A very helpful post, as ever Otto. I like to add a third W, – ‘Why?’ – to the list. Why do I want to capture this view? What is it saying to me? What do I want to say about it?

  11. I smiled at the first association that came with your title: the old Rogers and Hart song “Where Or When,” from the 1939 production of Babes in Arms.

    Then, I realized that “where and when” is another way of saying “place and time.” Both phrases remind us that we live in history — not in some ethereal spot removed from the flow of time and the particularities of place. As for the realities of photography, thinking about the shutter click always reminds me of this, from T.S. Eliot’s “Burnt Norton”:

    To be conscious is not to be in time
    But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
    The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
    The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
    Be remembered; involved with past and future.
    Only through time time is conquered.

  12. This may be one of my favorite posts of yours, it is extremely useful like all your posts but in this one, you state something that I never thought about before “any photograph captured is a statement about its where and when.” It is why thinking about your subject and photography prior to heading out to shoot can be so valuable. I guess I’ve always thought this on a subconscious level, but you’ve actually defined it so well, the “where & when” of a shot. Cheers and happy trails to you in Belize.

    1. I am happy that my thoughts on where and when has contributed to how you approach your photography. You certainly already knew it, if “only” on a subconscious level. Thanks for the good wishes for the trip to Belize, Randall. I had a great time.

  13. Totally inspirational post Otto both from the stand point of the image and the excellent, thought invoking words. Always a pleasure to visit your work either here or on Instagram. Best regards, James

  14. It’s funny you wrote about this now. Recently He-Who and I arrived too early for an engagement in a little town we have been to many times. I asked him to drive down a road we had never been on before and found ourselves at a lighthouse I wasn’t aware existed. As we drove I kept “seeing” shots. It made me very happy to feel that way again. When we discovered the lighthouse I jumped out of the car and started taking pictures. Where I started taking pictures and where I finished were completely different shots. I had to go around it to find the best shot with the sun shining the way it was. He-Who stayed in the car and kept driving around trying to keep up with me. It was all about the where and when.

  15. Another rewarding reminder. Changing the when and where even in one location alters the story we tell the visual audience, so I always take the longest time deciding these two questions.

  16. Great advice Otto. As a relative new comer to photography, I find I think of these aspects quite often to obtain the maximum impact from my capture and it’s always a welcome reminder though. Sometimes I see the image I want in my head first and go searching for it…
    It’s an awesome creative art that’s one thing that’s certain.
    I hope you enjoyed your trip away too.
    Hear from you soon,
    Di 💐🙋🏻

  17. I love trying the same shot from different perspectives when I have time, It amazes me how much it can change the same subject! Have fun in Belize! I can’t wait to see the photos you take there. 🙂

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