Only The Shadow Knows, Packed and Loaded, and Other Stuff

Only The Shadow Knows

Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, falls the shadow. T. S. Eliot

I’ve stated in many previous articles, that while many photographers (and teachers) run away from shadows in their images, I often embrace them. T. S. Eliot was writing about life rather than photography when he coined the phrase above, but for me, it could have come from Art Wolfe or the Late Galen Rowell. The shadow presents us with mystery and sometimes that’s what separates the special from the ordinary. It is a bridge between the obvious and the obvious. Often, what’s important in a scene, is what you don’t say, because of shadows.



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Aerial perspective, especially in mountains, dictates that the farther a subject is from your lens, the lighter it will be do to atmosphere. If you have several layers of contrast, and expose for the lighter or mid-tones, the closest landform to you will be dark and shadowy. In the image below made in the Colorado Rockies, you can see the different layers quite well.5BLCanSanJuan 070

The question has been asked of me, do I alter the contrast between the light areas and shadow areas in any of my pictures, whether aerial perspective is present or not? The answer is normally very little. The “little” is a click or two of contrast in the editing process. Contrast of course, lightens the  light areas, and darkens the dark. With this picture, I also used software to subtract the last bits of light that existed in the shadowy section of the scene.

For me, the western U.S. with its colorful red rock or its layers of mountains, is the supreme area in America for using shadows as part of a composition. That doesn’t mean that shadows cannot work in eastern “style” scenes. This autumn picture was made in the morning hours in Wisconsin’s Chequamegon National Forest after a beautiful, albeit chilly night of backcountry camping.  Notice that the brightly colored leaves, and the relfections they produce in Lake Five, mean that these shadows are not as “all consuming” as are the other shadows in this post.6s

Nature isn’t the only subject where shadows work well. The shadows in this abandon old building are what makes this image. They add depth, and certainly mystery. There is a flaw in this image. The photographer (me of course) needed to shoot this image straight on. The light was far enough to the side to still create shadows in the windows, and texture ( via shadows) on the building from a straight on perspective. If you look towards the top of the building, you will see that the top of the windows, do not remain parallel to the top of the picture frame. The right side windows are ‘downhill” from the left. A straight approach, would have prohibited that from occurring. MyBad!7DSC_0140

Packed and Loaded

When photographing large mammals, especially large male mammals with enormous antlers like this Rocky Mt. Bull Elk, there is some quick, but common sense thinking to be employed. Firstly, When you leave the car with camera lens and tripod, do you have all of the lens combinations that you might need?

We saw this ’big boy” grazing  in a Yellowstone meadow as we drove past in our car. We quickly stopped, grabbed the needed (we thought) equipment and carefully walked into the field. I of course grabbed my 500mm f4 lens. Despite wearing a photographer’s vest that can easily carry an assortment of shorter lenses, I settled for my 500. We set down our tripods, aimed and shot. It was perfect. Just as I switched to the horizontal format he came closer. Now with an animal like this, before you begin to think about unusual pix, the one thing you want to make sure gets into the picture are those impressive antlers. Luckily the grasses were tall enough that there was no way to include his feet in the picture. I barely squeezed his antlers into the picture frame. Yes he came even closer.8DSC_0091


We made the pictures we made, and headed back to the car. He (and his two cows), left the scene. I wound up with pictures of an elk, you might even say an elk with a landscape, but no images of a landscape with an elk.

Always remain packed and loaded for excursions into the field. You don’t always get a second chance.

Other Stuff

How many ways can you look at a lighthouse?

Lighthouses lit brightly by the sun, is the most common way to photographically capture their essence.

How about a pre-sunrise morning silhouette with the beacon itself providing a bit of light.


Many lighthouses have manmade artificial light to put the tower and the grounds on display for the public. Add a very small (wide-angle) sun, and once again that beacon, and you’ve got something different.11FilmArch2012 018abc

Is this next picture worth sharing? Well, it’s not likely to be published or sold as a print, but……..

I grabbed this shot of a male Red Fox taking an unfortunate Gray Squirrel to cache as a future meal for his family. I made this picture very quickly, and among a few other minor technical flaws, I cut off the back-end of the fox. I’ve shared this only once before, but find it worthy enough of merit, to do so one final time.12DSC_5184bbb

Spring is here and that means an uncountable number of things to different photographers. To birders with cameras, and all wildlife photographers, this is the most exciting bird photography season imaginable. Where I live, neo-tropical birds such as this male Baltimore Oriole are now arriving for your photographic pleasure.13RBGrosOriole 125

We also have upland birds performing their courtship dances. Most of this activity is over now but when you live in Wisconsin, there are great opportunities to photograph dancing Greater Prairie Chickens, and as you see below, Sharp-tailed Grouse. I have been fortunate enough to view and photograph both species during their rituals.14D5

I could obviously go on with a subject called Other Stuff, forever. Well maybe not forever, but I could certainly share several thousand pictures this way. I won’t bore you with that, but I will wish you a happy and productive spring.

My next photography related post will feature some great images from other photographers

You’ve got to take the good with the bad, smile with the sad, love what you’ve got, and remember what you had. Always forgive, but never forget, learn from mistakes, but never regret.—–Unknown

It’s all downhill from here.


God Bless,                                                                                                                                                  Wayne


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