I'm home from a wonderful week in Arizona, visiting my mom at her cabin in the mountains outside Payson. This was vacation for me, and though I brought my camera, it stayed in the bag in the back of the car for the entire trip--I didn't take a single picture. It wasn't as if there was nothing photo-worthy--my wife and I hiked mountain creeks, watched a spectacular sunset from atop the Mogollon Rim, and even detoured to see the red rocks of Sedona on the drive home.
But as much as I love taking pictures of these scenes (I do!), I also appreciate the opportunity to "merely" bask worry-free in nature's magnificence. These trips are an opportunity to recharge, to experience nature for what it is to me, rather than worrying about how to interpret it for others. After many years of frustration, I realized that trying to mix photography and vacation is a recipe for frustration that detracts from both.
So what does this have to do with a tropical flower in a Hawaiian jungle? Everything. Successful photography starts with the ability to recognize compelling elements and communicate their personal significance. It's the time I spend without my camera that best tunes me to nature's resonant rhythms and intimacies.
As with my previous image of Akaka Fall, I knew attempting to capture the entire scene would have shrunk everything into virtual insignificance. So I scanned my surroundings to identify the elements made the scene special: the verdant foliage, dense canopy, delicate blooms, and dangling vines that shout jungle! I decided to focus on this vine, isolating its gravity-defying white blooms (can anybody identify them?) against the canvas of the surrounding jungle.
The trick was making the flowers stand out against the busy surroundings without losing the jungle context. A telephoto enabled me to isolate the blooms and compress the scene; I dialed an aperture that blurred the background without completely eliminating it. For maximum contrast I exposed for the flowers, making the jungle a little dark. These choices made the flowers stand out against the confusion of growth, retaining just enough background detail to convey the scene's essence.
This might be a good place to suggest that images like this lack the "wow" appeal of a brilliant sunset or plummeting waterfall, but to me they're no less compelling, and in fact it may just be the missing jolt that gives them staying power. A few years ago I wrote an essay on the "ooooh" and "ahhhh" of nature photography, where I offered that it's the ooooh that pulls you toward an image, but it's the ahhhh that holds you. The two can be mutually exclusive: Much like the ultimate ooooh, a roller coaster, the thrill of a spectacular landscape is immediate and intense, but also fades fast; to sustain, a successful image needs to soothe as well as stimulate.
* Website: Eloquent Images
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