People sometimes have the mistaken perception that professional landscape photographers wander about the landscape waiting for divine inspiration to strike. Then when "it" happens, we simply raise our cameras and capture ephemeral magic with a single click. If only it were so....
This image represents a very calculated search for fall color isolated against raging water. In this case the water was Tenaya Creek in Yosemite, and it was raging because just a couple of days earlier Yosemite had received six inches of rain, enough to temporarily transform its autumn trickle to full spring flow. With overcast sky to moderate the light, conditions were ideal for just such a shot.
When I found this branch jutting over the rushing creek, there was no question I'd found what I was looking for, but I'm afraid my work was far from done. If you were to look at my desktop as I browse my images from that morning, you'd see not a single divinely inspired frame, but a dozen or so very similar frames as I tried to find the perfect combination of composition, depth, and motion. This was not a machine-gun, fire-as-many-frames-as-possible-hoping-something-works approach. Rather, it was organized and calculated to give me options to select from at home where I could examine my images on my large monitor.
The advent of digital marked a paradigm shift in photography: In the film days each click of the shutter cost money and was rarely taken lightly; with digital photography each shutter click increases the return on the photographer's investment. While most former film shooters retain their healthy respect for each frame, I'm afraid many new digital photographers have adopted a machine-gun approach that severely limits their photographic growth.
But it doesn't need to be this way. The economies of scale inherent to digital photography are a huge advantage to the photographer who shoots every frame with a purpose. In other words, when you think about each click, the more images you take, the more improvement you'll see. No longer does a successful image need to be defined as one that works, it can simply be an image that advances your skill.
So anyway, as I worked on this frame, my first couple of captures were to refine my composition: I knew I wanted these leaves against the water, but it was important that they be completely against the water and not merged with the surrounding rocks. And speaking of the surrounding rocks, another essential consideration was ensuring that I cut them off (on the sides of the frame) in a way that didn't distract or draw the viewer's eye out of the frame. I also had to be careful to balance the frame, give the leaves room, and avoid distractions (twigs, branches, or rocks) jutting in from the sides.
After two or three frames I knew I had my composition, but there were two big variables I couldn't completely manage with my eye: the motion of the water and the depth of field. So (with my composition frozen on a tripod!) I systematically adjusted my ISO, aperture, and shutter speed to find the right combination of motion and depth, taking care to cover a complete range of variables. I reviewed each frame in my LCD to narrow my possibilities, but it wasn't until I was home that I determined this one gave me the best results. I decided that more background detail distracted from the primary subject (the leaves), but more softness started eased too much texture in the rocks.
Of course these decisions are subjective; another photographer (you, for example) might have made entirely different choices. But right or wrong (however you define it), not only are these the decisions that make photography art, making them and seeing the result is one of my greatest pleasures in photography.
* Website: Eloquent Images
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