Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Finding the Essence

The art of nature photography can be a daunting task. You are surrounded by a world of exciting visual material - animals, plants, objects, land, water, sky as well as their abstract components of colour, shape, line and texture. In addition there are the non-visual elements such as sounds, smells, wind, warmth, cold, damp, dry - all of which contribute to your total experience when you are immersed in nature. Then there is the internal environment of our beings, our feelings and thoughts from one moment to the next. When you place your eye to the viewfinder all this is rendered down into a strictly-bounded, two-dimensional frame in which you try to depict what you see and, more importantly, what you feel in that moment. For those who have truly tried to do this, you know it is not easy.

It's also inescapably subjective. It has been said that you are in every image you make. Each one is autobiographical. This is because the way you choose to frame an image, select its content and set its boundaries, is such a personal thing. During our tours and workshops I am often with other photographers, both professional and amateur, at the same place, in the same light, at the same time, each of us with high quality gear and perhaps similar skill. But when we share our images afterwards, it's surprising how different they are. Each eye chose a different way to frame the scene or subject.

It takes discipline and work to select the essence of an image and eliminate the distractions. You can do this as you shoot the original image of course, but you have a second crack at it when you are editing. Then you can crop away the parts of the image that do not contribute to your vision. Sometimes when you are shooting it's simply impossible to position the camera to get rid that unwanted branch on the top left or the highlight near the bottom edge. Or perhaps you discover a different version of the image, an image within an image, later when you are examining it on you computer or light-table. That's where cropping and editing come in. These processes allow you to ask the question, "What is the very best way of rendering this image?" You want it to be both true to the subject and true to your emotional response to it. You hope it will stimulate the viewer to appreciate your view and have a sense of your feeling about it.

So go ahead and capture your first impressions of a scene. Sometimes these end up being the best images. But don't give up there. Keep working it. Move around. Seek out different angles and notice how the light changes with each camera position. Change lenses and see how that affects your perspective. Ask questions like, "What do I feel right now?", "What might the surface of the petals feel like?", "How would a small insect see this scene?" Then try to answer those questions with an image. Be a child. Enjoy the discovery.

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