“The Swing” – Interpreting the Scene


Sometimes I make a concerted effort to interpret a scene very differently than most people might see it. In the case of The Swing I was searching for a subject that I could render radically altered from the customary interpretation. I was intent on creating an image that would evoke an emotional response. I encourage this type of shooting. First decide the mood you want to create and the emotion you want it to elicit. Then find an appropriate subject and shoot according to your vision. Finally use post processing techniques that meet your goals.

I spent time over a few weeks considering different types of subjects and visiting sites for this shot. Though I didn’t know I would end up in a public park shooting a swing my visit there convinced me that I had found what I needed.

The Shot – Mood and Interpretation

I wanted to render a dark mood for this shot while leaving the viewer room to create the story about the swing. In reality, there is no subject in The Swing. I used the swing as the frame for the missing child or whomever the viewer thinks should be there. Given that nearly everyone played on a swing I felt that this image would have broad interest and wide ranging interpretations. The question most people who have spoken with me about this image ask is ‘What happened to the child?’ They often reach back to their own past to find the answer.

Compressing Image Depth

I needed to draw the forest closer and make the trees appear far denser than they actually were. I wanted to bring the forest into the story. This required a telephoto lens. You can use telephoto lenses to ‘compress’ the depth in scenes. These lenses can also make distant objects appear larger in respect to the foreground.

Post Processing

I applied broad tonal adjustments using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop to clean up some of the details. I then used Nik Silver Efex Pro to convert the image to black and white and apply an appropriate film type.

The Images

Here are three images; the general park setting I captured recently to use in this post, the original capture and the final result.

The Swing Scene

The Swing Scene

I shot the above image recently to show the larger scene. It is at a slightly different angle and a higher elevation than the final image but you can see the rail fence and identify some of the trees. Notice how much depth this image has, shot using a 50 mm focal length when compared to the compressed images below shot using a 135 mm focal length lens setting. I shot this recently for this post and the park service had changed the swing seats. Everything else remained the same.

The Swing Original

The Swing Original

Above is the original shot for the project. The difference in depth compression is stark comparing the 50 mm scene with this one shot at 135 mm. I was about 20 feet from the swing.

The Swing Final

The Swing Final

This is the final image. I think you would agree that it is a radically different interpretation than the scene in the first image in this post and certainly a much darker mood than the unprocessed shot. The depth compression is an example of how much control you have using the simple tools of focal length and shooting distance. It takes some experimentation to decide upon the shooting distance and focal length that meets your needs. I was fortunate that the trees were far enough away to capture a number of them in the narrow angle shot.


This simple set up consisted of

  • Nikon D200 body
  • Nikon 70 – 200 mm telephoto zoom lens
  • Weighted tripod
  • Remote shutter release

I did not use a polarizing filter because I wanted to capture the glare from the wet chain and other hardware.

Tips and Techniques

Here are some tips and techniques I have found useful:

  • Decide upon the type of image and mood you want to create before you start, but be open to inspiration as you visit different locations.
  • Shoot on a drizzly, cloudy day if you want a dreary scene.
  • Look for a scene where the distance between the subject and the background meets your needs. The farther away the background is, the more of it you will be able to include in the shot.
  • Experiment with different shooting distances and focal lengths as well as angles for the shot.

Thank you for visiting this post. I hope I have encouraged you to try different renderings of your typical and new subject material and to break outside of your photography box.

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Happy shooting!



 Copyright Notice

© Michael J. O’Connell, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael J. O’Connell and this blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
This entry was published on August 10, 2014 at 4:56 PM. It’s filed under Photography Tips and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

3 thoughts on ““The Swing” – Interpreting the Scene

  1. Really well done post, and it’s just what the title says – “Photographic Arts and Education.”

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