One of the best techniques I know for helping to set scene is layering. this is where you have a foreground, something in the middle and a background. This photo here above I am using layering to help engage the viewer with the little boy and the interaction with his parents in the overall concert scene.
Here is another scene setter, but notice how it is more of just a wide shot saying "here it is" rather than the above photo that engages the viewer in something going on much more effectively. The lower photo just has two people walking closest to the camera.
Here I am using the lady taking a photo with her phone that lets me pull the reader into the scene.
The photo I loved the most and used as the scene setter for this event is this one of the couple dancing. Even without seeing the stage, the couple dancing and people in the background facing in one direction you can sense the band playing. Hopefully you are seeing the important piece is the photo needs to being powerful enough to engage the viewer. In this photo the romantic moment is what is engaging.
In this photo I have the couple enjoying themselves, but it really isn't a scene setting type of photo. Yes it captures the mood of a party, but I am missing the feel that the earlier photos give the audience.
Here is a more cliche scene setting photo. It establishes the location. It does so from a low angle.
Here is another way to introduce a story say on Saint Martin by getting up high on a road and shooting down into the bay where you capture the community.
Often we think of scene setting photos as the overall shot like this of the arabica coffee growing in Salvador Urbina, Chiapas, Mexico. But sometimes you can set the scene with a tight shot just as well.
Both the tight shot of the arabica coffee and the wide shot help introduce the topic of coffee being grown. Often photographers make the mistake of trying to put everything into their scene setter and in doing so loose the impact of what the scene setter is doing—introducing the topic.
This photo of the fence along the border between Agua Prieta, Mexico and Douglas, Arizona is also a great scene setter for the story on coffee, however using this photo is starting with the reason for the story—illegal immigration.
When I think of The Citadel I think of the pageantry of the parades. Here I got low with a wide-angle lens to show the beginning of the Friday afternoon parade.
Another time I went across the parade field and capture a more compressed photo with a longer telephoto lens.
Tossing the hats at graduation is another great scene establisher for a story on The Citadel.
Just as significant to the graduate of The Citadel is the long gray line that the seniors do when they graduate. They form one long line and walk across the parade field for the very last time.
Pat Conroy, Class of 1967, immortalized the sentence “I wear the ring.” in his novel The Lords of Discipline published in 1980. Which of these photos would work for the beginning of the book The Lords of Discipline?
I think any of the three can work and that is the point. Your establishing shot could be a close-up photo like the one of the ring and start your story just like Pat Conroy.
I like the last photo for different reason. Most of the guys in the photo picked going to The Citadel after reading The Lords of Discipline.
So you can just shoot mindlessly and get over all shots which most likely will not engage the viewer or you can work at getting overall shots that do engage people.
Probably the most important point about finding your establishing shot is to have an idea what the story is all about otherwise the overall or closeup shot you need to help set the scene will be lost, because you were paying too much attention to capturing a subject or just capturing the climax of the story. Remember you need sequences of different photos to move someone through the plot of your story.
Take the time and think about what the story is about and how you can best establish the scene for the audience.