If you have seen my previous photos you may know by now that I am partial to moody dark monochrome, but every once in a while I throw in some uplifting and comforting scenes. For me personally, photography is as much a creative outlet as it is a never ending exploration. So, I set on an adventure this past Saturday. After hours of scouting I finally found that calm photogenic place at a secluded forest pond, set my gear up (IR was the best on this bright mostly cloudless day), took a bunch of shots to chronicle the breathtaking beauty and serenity. As is my habit I also spent time just looking around and soaking in the scenery. After arriving back home I promptly started culling the footage in search of my five star picks and with excitement waited to spot that perfect take. The one which warms one’s heart as soon as they lay their eyes on it…
Instead, I finished my post-processing workflow in Silver Efex, looked at the final result and the hair on the back of my neck stood up with unease while staring dumbfounded straight into a window of a dystopian universe.
I don’t know when and how I subconsciously decided to take detours while processing this shot, as I hardly ever do much planning or thinking in my post and mostly feel my way through the flow. It is nowhere near what I intended, or expected, and it most definitely doesn’t have the look or feel of the real place. Yet, somehow it just works.
While studying up on photography techniques and reading articles, or watching presentations by photography heavy weights there was one ever-present theme I constantly picked up on: decent photos should raise some emotion in a viewer, really good photos should tell a story, and truly exceptional photos should have both, leaving the audience in wonder. Yes, there are technical aspects, such as color, tonality or composition for a photo to become outstanding, of course, but the former two are a pre-requisite. I guess what I’m trying to say is: a story and emotion do not make a great photo, but a great photo without a story or emotion is a really really hard thing to accomplish.
Although I do pay attention to tonality, color or composition, they are of secondary importance to me. That approach of ignoring tone and composition handily applies to street photography where a capture of fleeting life moments is a never ending quest, but that is easier said than done in landscapes. Composition can change everything, as it surely happened here.
This photo evokes an emotion and suggests a story. Do I claim it is exceptional? Of course not. Just like with everything else, life is not black and white, there are degrees of grey in between. Does the photo convey a really memorable, clear and captivating story, or is the emotion powerful? Those are the deciding factors and each person will have a different opinion when they look at the picture. Few things stand out to me, though.
First the tonality was really harsh due to lighting conditions, because of the location of the sun at about 10 o’clock and 30 degrees high. The clouds in far distance behind the trees thus ended nearly fully blown out. Because this is IR, there is a distinct radiance around the highlighted area between the tree trunks, looking like mist (it’s an artificial halo, despite me using a lens hood).
Which brings me to the second topic: composition. I did not notice it while framing the shot, but the two leaning trees create converging leading lines, drawing your eye to the center of the overexposed area where a pair of other trees create an arbor as if it were a doorway, inviting you to come in. When combined with their water reflections the leaning trees form a primitive hourglass outline. A sense of time or urgency, perhaps?
Third, the birdhouse. An empty, long abandoned birdhouse in the middle of what looks like a desolate dystopian wasteland. How more obvious can this get? It did not ruin this photo, rather it underscored and amplified my other two observations.
What do I see? The first feeling coming to mind is a conflict of tranquility and anxiety. Reflections of towering dead-looking trees in calm waters, amplified by leading lines of the crooked tree trunks drawing your gaze into misty unknown distance, dirty algae in the water brings up a question whether one could survive wading this pond, and if they did, nothing positive would be surely waiting for them on the other side. An abandoned birdhouse begs the question: why no birds? Actually, why no life anywhere? A patch of sun in front of my feet leads to the water asking me to go forward, while I cannot stop thinking I need to turn around and get out of here. I do wonder what is in the distant mist, but will leave that for someone else to find out.
One obvious error (a rookie mistake) I cannot correct (even if I tried) is the missed juxtaposition of the birdhouse pole and the trees behind it. I should have stepped a foot to the right. Landscape composition did not work in this case as well as portrait (I tried) and getting lower at knee level did raise the birdhouse above the horizon, unfortunately such a low viewing angle diminished the size of water reflections, so eye level was the best perspective I could find. It’s a never ending learning experience. That’s what makes the art of photography so great.
As Bob Ross used to say: “We don’t make mistakes, we have happy accidents. And we make up stories about our art”.