Pictures mean things, but the same pictures mean different things to different people. When I see pictures (thousands every day) created by other photographers, I am most interested in what that picture means to the one who made it. What is says to me will be different from what is says to the creator. That image will mean more to me, if I can get inside the head of the photographer. If and how you name an image, will sway and color that image for everyone who will ever view it.
When someone posts a picture on Facebook or Twitter, Google Plus or Instagram, Flickr or maybe their own website or blog, most of the time they need some sort of caption or meaning to go with it. I always took that caption seriously.
Way back when I spent much of my summer photographing car races, I would develop my film and print my pictures, and set them to dry, so I could slip them through a slot in the door of the newspaper I was working for, on my way to my day job early the next morning. The editor needed to know who took the photo, but they also needed information so they could caption it when it was printed in the paper. I’ve spent many an early morning, writing on the back of a now dry photograph. What was the track, who was in the picture, what race (heat, semi feature, feature etc.), and were there important circumstances behind the image. Those might be, was it the pass for the lead of the race, is one of those drivers just coming out of retirement etc. I always took it a step farther. I would actually write my own newspaper captions. Sometimes they used them and sometimes they didn’t but to me it was important. I wanted the picture to mean more than the nuts and bolts facts of the race. Pictures have meanings.
I went through stages of captioning, or better said naming, most of my pictures even on my own website. I then discovered if I conveyed my feelings well through those words, those pictures were more likely to sell as an art print. Some of my captions were information giving, some were titles that just seem to fit, and some were named for what I felt inside.
Today I only caption those old pictures when necessary, but they all still mean things. I have found that what they meant when they were conceived, what they meant back when I first titled them, and what they mean now are all likely to be quite different.
This is certainly not one of my most popular images with viewers, but I look at it differently than most. I mean, it’s just a little dam in a county park, but to me, it was and is a graphic series of contrasts of harshness and softness, and strength and stability with movement. It ceased to be a dam with water flowing over it, while I was creating the image.
Vertical Drop (water over the dam)
Greek Valerian pretending to be a Christmas ornament. When I made this image it was a flower covered with rain drops. It was a wet and dismal day and this little gem made walking around in the rain worth while. A few years ago while I was looking for Christmas type images during that season, this suddenly became an ornament hanging on a Christmas tree. Well, that’s what it represents to me.
Christmas in Spring
I caught this young Bighorn at the edge of its universe. It turned and looked at me as if to say, “maybe not”. He could have just as well been speaking English to me when he looked my way. He thought better of it and headed in the direction of other young sheep in the grasslands at the top of the rock form.
After careful examination!
Random thoughts about random pictures. No names, no labels.
I love hoar-frost and what it can bring to a cloudy day. Sweet and delicate but still somewhat somber. Even in the middle photo with the blue sky there is no direct sun. These were made at nearby Bong State Park, a location that has brought me and my cameras, years of special delights.
An odd picture to make, but an even stranger one to share. I’ve used this old Birch tree as a texture and color contrast with fall Maple leaves many times over the years. This picture, which displays the details in the bark, shows just enough autumn color around it to place the season. I grew weary of distant shots of the tree surrounded by autumn, or pictures of the one lone maple branch that crosses the trunk. I became obsessed with the design of the lights and darks of the trunk, and featured that with just enough leaves in the background to show the season. We all make our own statements and every picture does not have to be made for applause or money.
I love the common birds that nobody wants to photograph, and usually nobody even likes. I caught this Common Crow dancing around in the snow looking for some bread crumbs. The blue tint in the background is natural, as the dark areas of wavy fields of snow will go blue from the shade provided by the areas that are in the sun. I used a compromise exposure (between the dark and the light) to hold some detail in the dark crow, but the lightened areas of snow also bounced light back onto the bird like a photographic reflector.
Crows are among the smartest birds in the world, and they can be very difficult to photograph it they do not choose to be.
I will photograph anything that strikes my fancy when I am out, and I certainly do not turn my back on domestic animals, especially when they are living in the wild. I photographed this duck shortly after sunrise along the shores of the Pike River near Lake Michigan.
One of my favorite birds is the Black-crowned Night Heron. They have little fear of humans and that is especially true of the young ones. This immature bird balanced on the railing for at least thirty minutes displaying a wide variety of poses. I thanked him (I always do) and moved on. He/she performed, and I shared that with others. Simple.
This Horned Grebe was just coming into summer/breeding plumage when I photographed him/her in a Lake Michigan harbor. A large part of my photographic life has been spent on harbors, and it has been profitable.
The first picture of a Red Fox father with baby, was made in Wisconsin, and the second two pictures were made in Illinois, but once again they were all made along the banks of Lake Michigan. Whether I created images or not, I’ve never found a moment that I spent with foxes to be wasted. There is profit of the wallet, and profit of the mind and soul. Foxes, help keep my soul rich.
We started today’s journey at Bong State Park in Wisconsin. We will finish there as well.
I’ve spent countless foggy mornings at Bong and most of them were worth the effort of getting up early. I made this one from a viewing platform in the middle of the park. God Blesses mornings like this.
What would you do, if you had to begin captioning, or even writing a title for every picture in your files. Other than quit your job and move to an island in order to find the time, I’m betting you would learn something about your photography, what each picture means to you, and something far more profound about yourself.
I used to love to brag about the number of 35mm, medium and large format images I had in my files. It hovers around 55,000. The truth is that I knew photographers (Art Wolfe, Barb and John Gerlach etc.) who had close to two million images each . Shucks, there are probably digital photographers today who make (and keep) 55,000 files on a nice day’s shoot. Especially when the subject is wildlife. I remember the joy of digital photography was not having to ration my film. There is however, something to be said about being thrifty in your picture making. It’s not about the numbers. In my latter days of professional digital photography, I began to “ration” my digital files. I wasn’t trying to save hard drive space, or make my memory cards last the day, I just wanted to leave behind that machine gun mentality and make sure I lived by the code that every image counts. Unfortunately, just as I found a peaceful rhythm of nicely paced image making, my photography days came to and end. In some ways, I treasure my last year of photography, right around home, more than all those years on the road with a camera in my hand.
God Bless, Wayne