There is a certain negative connotation to the phrase “tunnel vision,” which is defined as a “narrowness of viewpoint resulting from concentration on a single idea, opinion, etc., to the exclusion of others.” Tunnel vision is typically associated with those who are relentless and single-minded in the pursuit of too narrowly defined goals and interests. Those afflicted with tunnel vision are viewed as missing the big picture, getting mired instead in the weeds of their obsession.
Sometimes, however, tunnel vision is needed to bring a concept to fruition, and to fully realize one’s creative vision. Nature photographers in particular are at the mercy of wild elements that cannot be controlled, and persistence is often required to wait for the right convergence of elements that bring an idea to life. A single-minded fixation on a particular scene or composition can be a good thing—although you may end up missing many other opportunities in the process. When you find something truly special, however, it can be worth sacrificing other prospects in order to get the shot.
There's a spot just ten miles outside of Badlands National Park that I have photographed many times over the years. It has an incredible set of badlands formations, and because it isn't in the national park, drone flying is allowed. There's a particular composition at this place that has captivated me, and everytime I fly here, I end up shooting it again. It's a really wonderful scene, and each time I photograph it, I feel like I've almost gotten it right, but not quite. After dozens of attempts, I've been tempted to just give up on getting it perfect. Perhaps there isn't any way to make it perfect; maybe there is no optimal solution to this particular visual puzzle. But each time I tell myself that, I find myself returning yet again and giving it another try. Yep, I'm deep in the tunnel.
Below you can see a progression of photos that I've taken here, all compositional variations of the same landform. You can see the evolution of this idea, and how with each iteration, the concept gets (hopefully) stronger.
At first, I was attracted to the complex, feathery canyons. I quickly noticed that at sunrise, golden light illumates the cliffs facing east (which are at the bottom of these compositions), while the feathery canyons are still in shadow, rendering them blue, creating a natural split tone effect.
One particular feature immediately stood out to me: a set of converging, curving canyons that catch the first light at dawn. They look like a lotus blossom to me, and soon I was using this feature as the visual anchor for all of my compositions.
I really like how the "lotus blossom" leads to the feathery canyons, so I kept experimenting with compositions that featured both.
I also kept trying slightly different angles to create more dynamic compositions. I had a raging internal debate: whether or not to include the curving arm of cliffs on the right side of this next composition.
I also tried different light. Although I typically prefer clear light at sunrise to get the split tone effect, I also like this photo taken during the early twilight glow when the scene and the clouds in the background were bathed in pink light.
For my final composition, I went vertical, trying to emphasize the visual relationship between the lotus blossom and the feathery canyons. Here, the canyons become the middle-ground of the composition, creating a visual bridge between the lotus blossom in the foreground and the distant sunlit formations in the background.
I feel like maybe, just maybe, I have finally been getting it right on my last few visits. Maybe. Okay, maybe I'm still not fully satisfied. Maybe I have to go back.