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Adrift, Merced River, Yosemite

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 22 January 2010 in Landscape & Rural and Portfolio.

The Three Ps of Nature Photography

This is the second entry of a three-part series on the mental approach to photography.

Preparation, Persistence, and ...

An unfortunate truth of landscape photography is that things don't always happen exactly as we hope, when we hope. For example, performing due preparation, we identify a scene with great potential and take all the necessary steps to put ourselves in place for what we think will be the best conditions for photographing it, only to be disappointed by unexpected weather or thwarted by an unanticipated swarm of oblivious photographers in our scene. Or you find a composition that lacks one element (a shaft of light or just the right cock of the head from that grazing buck) for perfection.

It's easy to be discouraged by these failures, to forget the potential and move on to more cooperative opportunities. But nobody said this is supposed to be easy, and in fact the best images are the unique images that everyone else found to be too much trouble. Some suggest that the second P should be "patience," and while I agree that patience is a huge part of photography, I like "persistence" because it is patience with a dash of stubbornness. And it's stubbornness, that fierce resolve to refuse defeat, that has resulted in successes I had no reasonable expectation of achieving.

Does persistence guarantee success? Of course not. But it does give me a better shot at success than would walking away from something that might be special. And the more disappointments I have, the greater the thrill when something great happens.

I spied the scene for today's image while walking the banks of the Merced one fall afternoon. The elements had aligned almost perfectly: a quiet bend in the river reflecting Half Dome framed by beautiful fall color and the complementary blue sky. But I thought the lower part of the frame needed something to break up the flat sky. As I stood there contemplating the scene a leaf drifted by and I thought a leaf in the empty part of the frame would be exactly what I need. (I realize placing a leaf here with Photoshop would be a piece of cake, but since I photograph first for the thrill of discovery, manipulation like that is absolutely out of the question for me.)

So I set up my tripod, composed my shot, and set my exposure. Then I waited. And waited. For the next 90 minutes I watched perfect leaves float by above and below my frame, and one painfully scruffy leaf spin right across the heart of the fame. As I waited I became very familiar with the currents and eddies in my small corner of the river and got pretty good at spying leaves upstream and anticipating their route. I honestly felt I was engaged in a battle of wills with Mother Nature, and when she finally realized I wasn't going to relent, she gave in and delivered this perfect, heart-shaped leaf. Dinner was particularly good that night.

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

Vitor Martins from Lisboa, Portugal

This a beauttiful water painting with very nice tones. The idea of the leaf was fantastic and realy breaks the flat blue giving the image a nice balance. Your story in the text is great an nicely told.

22 Jan 2010 9:15am

Elora from Genoa, Italy

Again, simplicity and elegance. great job!

22 Jan 2010 11:56am

Julie from Easton, United States

Your patience really paid off in this shot! Simple yet stunning!

22 Jan 2010 5:03pm

Barbara Kile from Ft. Worth, United States

I love the blues and golds in this image - and the floating leaf, of course, that happened to match your color scheme! :-)

22 Jan 2010 6:07pm

MEC from Setúbal, Portugal

Fantastic image!

22 Jan 2010 8:15pm

john4jack from Corvallis, Oregon, United States

Mystical and magnetic.

22 Jan 2010 8:17pm

LauraS from Chico, United States

Very lovely reflections and color.

23 Jan 2010 1:00am

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

Not only is this a wonderful and sweet photograph, your story is great! I very much appreciate the fact that you'd rather wait for the perfect shot, than to create it in Photoshop, or drop leaves in the water yourself! I think that may be why your images are so special; I can feel the love and respect that you have for nature in them. And maybe by waiting, watching and noticing the currents and small ways of floating leaves, you come away with so much more than a beautiful photograph when it's all said and done....

23 Jan 2010 5:32pm

@Tracy: Thanks, Tracy. Your words are always appreciated--you just seem to know exactly the right thing to say. :) My whole approach to photography is fueled by the thrill of capture and I just don't understand how people get pleasure from post-processing manipulation. For the record, I'm not opposed to post-processing (one of the things I love about digital is the way it gives color photographers access to control only B&W photographers with darkrooms had before), but it needs to be in the context of the original capture. As you've no doubt heard me say, I want my creativity to be in the capture, not the computer. The goal should be to highlight nature's beauty, not alter it.

Self-Indulgence from Chicagoland, United States

Love the composition. That leaf in the forefront.. the perfect detail.

24 Jan 2010 3:29am

DarkElf from Perth, Australia

very interesting photo and story as well! quite an intriguing contrast between the sharp leaf and blurred out reflections - nice work and idea!

24 Jan 2010 4:53am

Scott F. Schilling from San Martin, United States

Thanks for reminding me of the P's! Wonderful composition and light - the leaf in the lower portion helps to anchor the image for me - without it I would be lost! Have a fantastic week in the Death Valley and Eastern Sierra - you should have some incredible light with the potential for some clouds!

24 Jan 2010 6:01am

@Scott F. Schilling: Thanks, Scott. Fingers crossed on the conditions in DV. It looks promising, but they're gotten quite a bit of rain in the last week and the roads there don't really handle rain much. Regardless, it's such an amazing place we're sure to get lots of great stuff.

Dulcie from Danville, CA, United States

A beautiful abstract in luminous colors...then there is that one perfect leaf ! Brilliant !

24 Jan 2010 8:01am