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Leaves & Reflection, Convict Lake, Eastern Sierra

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 1 August 2009 in People & Portrait and Portfolio.

Convict Lake, just south of Mammoth Lakes, is a sapphire gem set between soaring granite peaks. The steep slopes surrounding the lake are blanketed with aspen and cottonwood that turn a vibrant yellow in fall.

The first (understandable) inclination at Convict Lake is to capture the entire scene with a wide lens. By all means, go for it. But whatever your subject, the first shot you see is rarely the most creative (or best) shot. After spending a bit of time there, I realized it was the juxtaposition of vivid yellow and blue that made the scene unique, and chose to emphasize the color of the backlit leaves against the lake with a more abstract composition.

Of course to my eyes the entire scene was in focus, but I knew with a fairly long focal length and large aperture (small f-stop number) I could make the distant trees reflecting in the blue water a smear of color. The vaguely parallel diagonal elements (leaves, reflected trees, open water) create a sense of motion that helps maintain visual interest. (I didn't consciously think this much as I composed, but you may find yourself conscious of this stuff when you first attempt more artistic creations, before it becomes second nature.)

This photo is just another example of the value of learning to turn off your view of the world in favor of your camera's view. Overcoming the urge to create a literal representation of what you see will free you creatively, improve your images, and make you a much happier photographer in general. The possibilities are endless and (in my opinion) your goal should be to limit your creativity to capture, and use post-processing for refinement and clean-up.

Next post: August 4 (please view my previous posts by clicking the arrow in the upper left of today's image)

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Thanks for visiting. Even if I don't respond, your comments are always read and appreciated.

Anina from Auckland, New Zealand

I just love everything about this photo!
Great lighting, composition, colours, angle, dof,... you name it, its all perfect!
Well done! :)

1 Aug 2009 8:06am

@Anina: Thank you, Anina.

sawsengee from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

well spotted & executed shot.....excellent display on the depth of field with the background thrown into a melted hues of blue & yellow....& very well explained modus operandi

1 Aug 2009 8:44am

dobbino from Cape Town, South Africa

As always, you have come up with a superb photo. The blues give the image an extraordinary feel. Gary, please excuse me, I am a little more thick than normal as I have the most dreadful 'flu. I have read your goal statement above a number of times and can't quite get what you mean when you say "limit your creativity to capture". Could you perhaps expand for me? And thanks again for sharing your thoughts on how you went about acquiring the image, and for your generous advice.

1 Aug 2009 9:39am

@dobbino: Thanks, Rob. Even though I've been 100% digital for five years, I remain a film shooter at heart. When shooting film (color transparencies, actually) whatever effect I wanted needed to be accomplished in the field and stored on the film in my camera. Digital capture opens a second avenue of creative possibility in post-processing. I choose to limit my post-processing to basic things like (slight) cropping, noise reduction, sharpening, cloning out flaws (like sensor dust), contrast adjustments, and dodging/burning. I readily (enthusiastically) admit that digital makes all this easier, but I avoid some of the creative post-processing effects like extreme saturation, selective blurring, adding elements (moon, rainbow, etc.), and even HDR. I'm not categorically opposed to the use of these things by others (as long as they're not abused and are reported honestly), they just don't appeal to me.

Barbara Kile from Ft. Worth, United States

Love the colors and what you say is true. I like to come away from a place with shots that are MINE, not just the 'documentary' shots that everyone else gets. This is wonderful color!

1 Aug 2009 1:25pm

@Barbara Kile: Thanks, Barbara. Yeah, I could never understand that whole shot collection mentality--that idea of seeing something somebody else did and setting out to duplicate it. I mean, somebody else's picture might be a good place to start, but it shouldn't be the goal.

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

Well said Gary! and your shot looks like a beautiful, colorful, kaleidoscope to me!

1 Aug 2009 1:45pm

Judy from Brooksville, Florida, United States

This is wonderfully colorful and, as you wrote, somewhat abstract.
In your last line you wrote, "your goal should be to limit your creativity to capture, and use post-processing for refinement and clean-up." I think you're meaning "to capture" exactly what your eyes see, am I correct?
In a shot like this I love to see what the camera's sensors actually focus on and how critical they are, putting some of the leaves closer to you and of course those farther away, into softer focus.

1 Aug 2009 4:08pm

@Judy: Thank you, Judy. Actually what I'm saying is exactly the opposite: The camera and the eye see the world differently, and I think it's impossible to capture what the eye saw with a camera. So I try to use my camera's differences (limited dynamic range, limited depth of focus, finite borders, two dimensions, and so on) to create something different from what my eye saw. Today's image is a perfect example. This is not what my eye saw as I stood there on the shore of Convict Lake. But it is a significant part of what made the scene beautiful. I want to use the way my camera sees the world to give my audience a fresh perspective of the natural world's beauty. Photoshop is for refining my camera's world, not altering it. Processing is an essential part of digital photography. In fact, without processing, there literally would be no image. Whether you're processing your own raw files, or letting your camera process your capture (and I promise you, in-camera jpeg files are processed by your camera) no digital image is possible without some kind of interpretation.

Stefan from Thiersee, Austria

Wonderful play with the colors, fine composition!

1 Aug 2009 4:57pm

john4jack from Corvallis, Oregon, United States

Exquisite!! Learning to see as the camera sees seems to be a major part of the battle.

1 Aug 2009 6:25pm

@john4jack: Thanks, Jack. In fact, I think embracing their camera's view of the world is the biggest obstacle for most aspiring photographers. It's a huge part of what I teach, and when people finally get it, it's like somebody flipped a switch that let the light pour through.

John Maslowski from Dallas, PA, United States

Lovely and elegant capture Gary. Beautiful colors and tones. The simplicity is definitely a strong point in this composition. Excellent job!

1 Aug 2009 8:48pm

Scott Schilling from San Martin, United States

Gary, wonderful complimentary colors and great forms! You have a great way of capturing the light and color of a huge scene and reducing it to it's simplest form! Very nice!

2 Aug 2009 12:08am

Marie LC from Voiron, France

La pdc les couleurs et le sujet sont magnifiques

2 Aug 2009 6:56am

dobbino from Cape Town, South Africa

Gary - thanks for the above clarification - I do appreciate it. I now understand fully, and share your sentiments.

2 Aug 2009 8:36am

Didier DE ZAN from somewhere, France

Beautifull colors beautiful shot

3 Aug 2009 5:14am

LM from France

C'est très beau. J'aime beaucoup les couleurs.

3 Aug 2009 7:43am

Judy from Brooksville, Florida, United States

Thank you, Gary. Your explanation for me clarifies your aim very well. Another lesson learned!

3 Aug 2009 9:41am

pernilla from Andonno, Italy

Wonderful composition and colours. The colours works so fine together.

3 Aug 2009 8:39pm