I am sure I’ve pondered what my objectives are while making pictures way too many times over the years. Still, I did that because…..well, it matters to me. I believe almost every picture that’s made is a statement of some sort. It says something about either the subject or the photographer, and most times both. My favorite subjects, those that remained with me for most of my photographic life, are nature, followed by artifacts of human history. They likely say more about me than any other.
I am quite sure that certain aspects of my image making are self-centered, but I can honestly say that my subjects are more important than I am. I want to honor those subjects whether that means capturing an exact replica of a subject that everyone will surely understand and appreciate, or an abstract that reduces it to shape and form. The latter interpretation can sometimes tell you more about a subject, particularly a nature subject, than the aforementioned more literal view. All complete subjects are comprised of many small subjects. When you create a photograph that shows everything, under high visibility conditions, you are also making more images within the image of the bits and pieces that make up that whole subject. To me, everything in the picture frame is the subject. Especially, the light. If the light is warm than warmth is my subject too. If the light colors a Snowy Egret in gold, the truth of that egret is that it is gold, if only for a few minutes. The Egret, the water, the plants, and the light are a combined vision. They are all a part of the photographic subject. How any photographer chooses to treat that vision is their business, I am just saying that for me, I want to honor the subject/subjects first and foremost. How I do that, may be quite literal but it may be quite abstract. In the end, there will be a part of me in that photograph, but the photograph will be about the subject, not me. Hopefully I will remain unobtrusive in comparison to the subject (s) which are inside the four corners of the photograph.
Different subjects lend themselves to more literal interpretations, and some more alternate interpretations. An animal tends to be a literal subject, while a waterfall lends itself more naturally to abstractions. That doesn’t mean that any given photographer will not find a very ingenious way to photograph an animal like say a turtle. Turtles have amazingly beautiful parts that combine to make the whole turtle. Those parts, can be a wonderful way to honor the subject, and do so using your personal creative juices. A waterfall is in essence, moving water, and most of the time rock. I know of no viewer of waterfall pictures who does not feel the photographer is not honoring the subject, by the use of selective vision, and slow, water blurring shutter speeds. Is that photographer a creative genius but a selfish photographer, while the image maker who photographs the whole waterfall, and does so with a shutter speed (maybe 1/60th or 1/125th) that renders the water in a fashion that is close to what the eye sees, a literalist who loves his/her subject? To me, it is logical that both photographers are giving credence to the beauty and wonder of the waterfall. If a third photographer photographs the same waterfall and does so with a purple filter, and when he/she gets home makes every other ribbon of water blurry, and then crisp while editing, I feel, they are saying look at me!! The actual waterfall was irrelevant. It was just a tool to call attention to the photographer. I will defend to the death the right of that image maker to do that, but it does not mean that I have to respect him/her. I will in fact, be left wondering what the waterfall was really like. A macro image of one tiny drip of water that is falling, and one sliver of rock, will tell me more about the subject, and leave me more impressed with the photographer’s vision, than will all of those photographic alterations. Ultimately I relish great photography and I am grateful to view the photographer’s own personal interpretation. Just the same, I want the subject to matter to me. One drip of water from a waterfall, with one tiny bit of natural rock, allows me to appreciate the photographer’s skill and vision, more than any artificial alterations. It also allows me to appreciate the subject, even if it is only one part of it. That’s just me, we all have our own opinion.
The female Red-winged Blackbird is a pretty ordinary bird. Her color and markings are unremarkable, but they are still an important part of the natural world. I love photographing these birds and I try to honor them in what they do, and how they look, with my pictures. Like all birds, they create their own art and I just need to know how to photograph that art and share it. Just the same, in the final of the four pictures below, that particular bird became more than a bird to me. I watched her in the reflections of a quiet marsh and eventually she and the reeds along with their reflections, became something in addition to a bird. Not better than a bird, just an addition that became a part of the subject I chose to share.
There are an uncountable number of ways to photograph a sunrise or sunset with water. Sunrise/sunsets with water are great subjects because almost anyway you look at (and photograph) it, you bring honor to the sun, the earth spinning on its axis, the water, and any shapes that might just get in the way. Artistic expression is rarely a separate thought from the sunset itself.
These first three pictures are pretty literal for sunrises.
The sun, the shape of the geese, the boat and the fisherman make it easy to keep my focus on real life subjects even though the back-lit exposure produces an image void of detail. I must say, it took quite a bit of effort to get the rising sun, the small buoy, the boat and fisherman, and the geese all together in one shot in a pleasing composition.
A silhouetted tree line with the sun, sky and water, is just enough information to understand that this a small lake or wetland at the magic hour of sunrise.
This is a very similar image but the patterns of the sky and clouds, make for interesting light and shadow combinations on the water. This picture gets closer to an abstraction. That being said, this was a “scene”, and hopefully I honored it.
With this shot I began by creating wide-angle waterscapes of Lake Michigan, and the rising sun. I began slowly tightening the view until it became surf and color. I used a fast shutter speed to show all the fury that was occurring in front of me. While this is a rather odd picture, it is an abstract of my own vision and response to what was actually happening. Water movement and light. It is of my own vision, but it is also very much a specific subject.
This foggy morning sunrise has been shown many, many times. The sun, the sky, the clouds and the water (via the reflection), are all traditional subjects. Was it my vision or was it the only thing I could do under the circumstances? A bit of both I imagine.
This is an abstract view of the sunrise reflecting in the slowly moving waves of a small lake. There are not many clues here except that it was made at sunrise or sunset, and there seems to be water there. This was my personal vision but I was inspired by the actual sunrise. A very literal event combined with a vision that was beyond reality. This was exactly what you would see with the naked eye if you were standing next to me. The question is, would you have seen this or something else? I just narrowed down my view to the “piece” of what was happening that I wanted to show. This is in fact, a literal vision of a natural occurrence that became abstract through the application of my vision.
Waterfalls are a photographic favorite of a lot of photographers. I know photographers who have traveled the country only creating pictures of waterfalls. I would never have the discipline to do that. There’s always just been too much in the world to photograph to limit myself.
Waterfalls in the context of their environment are amazing subjects for photography. Where did (the water) it come from and where is it going? I could spend hours making full environment pictures of this subject. They tell a story, but their rhythm and flow makes everything that might be static, come alive.
Rock and falling water is indeed a waterfall. The continuity between these two shots is very simple, as they are both only hard rock and soft water. They are more than a contrast, they are a contradiction. They were made a short ways from each other of the same waterfall. Notice the difference in color and mood between the two pictures. The first is in direct sunshine and the next is in shade except a tiny patch of light in the upper right hand corner. The light and the color cast it produced in these images, is a part of the subject within the subject.
This final waterfall was made on film (actually all but the second picture were film), and is of the same waterfall as is that second shot. We now know that this waterfall (Morgan Falls) lives in a seasonal climate. We also know we can get up close. For anybody in this area, that is not easy to do, especially in winter, so be careful. This image like the others, is falling water and rock, but now you add ice and the season of winter. My objective was to show how the liquid water melted a space in the solid water as it moved along on its journey. My other objective was to do so artfully.
Is this picture of a young Moorhen among the Cattails a photo of a marsh, the Cattails themselves, the bird, or is it an abstract that evolved in my mind? All four. Our imagination and sense of design can work together to honor our subjects. There is always room within the photographic process to display what is in front of us, but do it with our own personal style and vision. It’s all about combining visions.
Make your photographs “your own”, but show reverence for your subjects. Those subjects will live without your photography, but you’re not a photographer without the subjects.
I am not trying to suggest, that any photographer should scrutinize or analyze every move we make as a photographer, to see whether we are all about ourselves, the subject or a combination of both. That would indeed take the spontaneity out of image making. I have however figured out just how much I can learn about myself, by looking backward and realizing what I’ve done, and why I did it. Photographically speaking. My photography is a result of who I am, and as that photography evolved and changed, it changed because of me, and I changed because of it. I fed the photography, and the photography fed me.
Have a great day, Wayne