Take a Photo Out of Your Tent Door

The difference between a dull through-the-door shot and one that gets shared and liked is all about what’s included—and what’s not. Here’s how to elevate your technique.
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The difference between a dull through-the-door shot and one that gets shared and liked is all about what’s included—and what’s not. Here’s how to elevate your technique.
tent view

Spot: Garnet Lake, Sierras, CA Specs: f/8, 1/80 sec, ISO 160, 11mm focal length Photo by Josh Steele

Pick the right spot

A good view can be expansive (see above) or close-in, like a steaming pot or campfire. Either way, scout a location where you can pitch your tent so nothing blocks the scene. Avoid obstacles like a nearby tree trunk that splits the view in two, or the edge of a boulder that intrudes on the vista. A forest rarely works as a view if there isn’t a focal point of some sort, such as a burst of sunlight.

Tidy up

Remove clutter but keep sleeping bags if the tent floor is visible (without them the scene looks less inviting, like a house with no furniture). In a tent with a door at the narrow end, sleeping bag edges will create lines that lead out toward the view. If the doors of your tent are on the sides, look for scenes with horizontal lines, like a lake or stacked ridgelines. The bags, pad, and tent door will set a visual rhythm that’s continued in the view.

Frame your shot

Using the wide end of a zoom lens is best. Wide angles help the viewer feel more like they’re within the scene, and you want the ability to zoom in and out to fine tune the tent foreground. Shoot from a centered position and try to get all of the door in the frame (but not at the expense of the view). If you have two side doors, try kneeling outside the tent and shooting through both open doors. Most of the image should be view, rather than mostly tent.

Focus

Use a narrow aperture (higher numbers) to have enough depth of field to get both the door of the tent and the view outside in focus. Experiment: Position your camera low, close to the sleeping bags, to create a small amount of interesting blur in the immediate foreground. Or use focus to dramatically direct attention to the view by opening up the aperture wider and focusing outside, blurring the door.

Add a human element

Make sure he or she is far enough away to be part of the landscape (this is not a portrait). Your subject’s head shouldn’t be cut off by the door frame. Make sure it doesn’t feel like you have to look past the person to see the view. If you’d rather enhance the POV effect, include your legs or feet in the picture. Do not bend your knees and lose your feet from the photo. Variation: Dogs make great models, too.