Pictures That Talk
The phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words”, was coined a long time ago.
Words are important, but we do respond to what we can actually see
with a more lasting impression. No matter how much we hear about a
tragedy or a news event, we become more invested in it, and more
angered or sad, or happy, when we actually see what’s happening. Even in this
world of digital alterations that we have today in both still
photography and video, we believe what we see over what we hear.
Photography was created to show something to others, be it a
place, a person or an event, the way it actually appeared or happened.
Everybody who reads this blog knows all too well that I love
photography. I think most of you also know that I love words. You can
educate with “poetically yet accurate” words, but you can also inspire and
even take readers to “another place”.
Both photography and the writing can be an art form.
Most of us make photos to show something we see and want to share.
Almost everybody who has ever made photos, has initially attempted
make an exact copy of what they saw, and then shared it so others
could experience the same thing they did at that moment. Still, it is
when we learn to see beyond the surface of the subject, that
photography becomes compelling.
Photography can produce its own rhythm just as a wordsmith does. Much
like the iambic pentameter to a five beat sentence. The good part is,
we need not intellectualize and keep track of the beat in an image.
Just “go with the flow”.
I cannot and I would not pretend to tell you (with words) what other
photographers hoped to convey when they made their pictures. I can
however, tell you what they say to me.
Today’s visitors are and have been for quite a while, among the top
outdoor photographers in the world. The images I have chosen are
spectacular, but the thoughts and words they convey to me might be
completely different for you.
This black & white, infrared interpretation of the Smoky Mountains in
spring was delightfully produced, and done so very artistically by Tony Sweet.
Whatever it meant to him when he created it, it imparts literal
information which in this case, is shown in the abstract. I have been
to those mountains in spring multiple times and never has an image
that was this departed from reality, been so accurate within its mood.
That seems to be a dichotomy, but it is the way it makes me feel.
This image of a Lady Slipper Orchid, created by the venerable John
Gerlach, does indeed show us exactly what a Yellow Lady Skipper Orchid
plant and blossom looks like. It does so accurately as well. Yet it
does say more.
The image with its perfect composition, flawlessly simple background,
and its pinpoint use of focus and depth of field, provides a crisp,
unfettered view of one of the natural world’s perfect joys. It says
much to me and it conjures up many words as well.
I have not shared the work of wildlife photographer David Hemmings for
far to long of a time.
Below we have two Grizzly Bear cubs. Can you make a better composition
than this. There are dozens of ways to approach and compose this
picture, but it is hard to imagine a better way than this. It makes
artistically judicious use of space.
Once again we have a very literal sort of subject, wild animals. This
picture gives us through its view, and the words that the view paints
in our minds, an accurate (and sharp and pretty) look at what Grizzly
Bear cubs and the habitat they live in at this locale, look and feel
It does however, go beyond that for me. It describes to me almost what
these cubs are thinking. The descriptive words that come to mind are
pensively reflective, but also maniacally mischievous. Wow. Some big
words to describe these little bears.
I am in no way with my photos below, attempting to compare my images
with the incredible photography above. There are valid reasons as to
why they each have had longer and more successful careers in
photography than I did.
What our own pictures might mean to us can be very different than what
the images from others mean to us.
Firstly, we were there when they were made. We saw the subject or
witnessed the event in “real time”. It was also our personal, creative
thought that went into the making of the picture. Words ran through
our minds as we created the image. We also made the technical choices
on how to capture what we wanted to capture.
As we moved through the early 1900s, photography finally evolved to
the point where smaller more manageable cameras were developed. This
added some versatility to cameras (which most everyone could afford),
not before experienced with the bulky 8×10 glass plate view cameras.
One of the biggest use of cameras, especially those in today’s cell
phones, is to document where we have been, and what we have seen.
Vacation memories are one of the more important reasons to make a photo.
Below we have Turquoise Lake, from high in the Rocky Mountains of
Colorado. This image certainly helps to refresh my memory of the time
(about an hour) that I spent at this powerful location. I was
traveling alone so there are no memories of my time spent with people,
but because I was a serious photographer on a photographic journey, it
does bring back fond memories of the actual act of creating this
image. I can (almost) go through every compositional and technical
decision I made during that fulfilling hour of my life.
I have spent many hours at many locations in that same mode, but every
one of them brings different words to my mind. For Turquoise Lake,
serene, powerful and satisfying are all words that are brought forward
when I look at this image.
Bald Eagles are among the easier birds to capture in flight. They do
not hover but they often glide or soar. Those are great attributes for
a subject you are attempting to capture in action.
As much as I love fully mature Bald Eagles, I truly enjoy these
younger birds even more with the varying tonal patterns in their feathers.
I have photographed my share of eagles in flight, and I admit, my
specific memories of making this specific shot are absent from my mind. While
this picture does not serve to remind me of the moment, it does bring
forth words to me. Amazingly, the same words of serene yet powerful
come to mind. A mountain lake and a bird of prey in flight, can indeed
bring forth similar feelings and some of the very same words.
To me, flowers are a very versatile subject. They are natural art but
they become completely different entities as we move in and out, back and forth.
A field of flowers. Three flowers in a bunch. A single flower drooping
beautifully at an angle across the picture frame. One little area of one flower.
This Lily presented to me the issue or challenge of depth of field.
The closer I got, the more the problem became apparent as I could not
render every part of the flower in focus. Eventually, I made a
conscious decision to render the Stamen, and specifically the anther,
sharp and to let the petal go soft to whatever degree it chose. The
difference in those areas, provides depth, although I was not
specifically trying to accomplish that result.
Words like strength, and delicate both cross my mind when I view this
As I think about that “thousand words” for each photograph, the recurring theme of opposing words keeps popping up. It seems contradictory but reproduces itself often for me when I look at photos. The subjects within an image are often not one thing or the other to me, but a little bit of both.
What do each of today’s images say (in words) to you?
A picture may not be worth a thousand words, but then again it might.
Keep talking with your cameras!