Portraits and landscapes make up the majority of images we see. They’re also the most difficult to take. Why is that? I have a theory.
Portraits are difficult because it’s not easy to capture the essence of a person in a single frame. And when it comes to interacting with our fellow humans, most of us struggle with boundary issues.
As for landscapes, composing your shot means trying to create some semblance of order out of the chaos in front of you, while visualizing a fresh image of the natural world. “Succeeding at this,” said photographer Galen Rowell, “gives our lives new meaning.” Trouble is, we have this silly habit of cramming as much as possible into the viewfinder that often leaves the final image gasping for air and the viewer scratching his or her head in confusion. More is not always better.
That’s where simplicity steps in. Ask an experienced photographer (notice I didn’t say ‘professional’) what the the secret to making a striking portrait or landscape is, and–if she’s worth her salt–she’ll say, “You need to keep it simple.”
We all want to make amazing images, but how to do it? Here’s what Bryan Peterson, author of Understanding Exposure and Learning to See Creatively (books that I use in my photography classes) says:
“Photographs that demand the most attention involve commonplace subjects composted in the simplest way. They’re powerful because they are limited to a single theme or idea.”
Be inspired: Get “Learning to See Creatively” and open to any page.
In my 30+ years of making photographs (somewhere in the world, there’s a picture of a young Marion wearing a polka dot dress and clutching a Kodak Brownie Instamatic camera), I’ve come to respect the power of the single theme and the magic of being receptive to chance encounters in nature. To be receptive begins with being calm and quiet. Only then can intuition come through.
Last night I was walking along a trail that connects the greenhouse to the garden beds on the other side of the yard. The trail, a depression in the lawn created by wheelbarrows and Muck boots, winds along the top of the cliff above the ocean.
I paused for a moment to look out over the water. My eyes rested on a white, corn-puff cloud reflecting in the blue water. The vivid quality of the reflection surprised me because it’s unusual for the water’s surface not to be dimpled by boat traffic, diving gulls, sea lions on patrol, kayakers, and breezes (yes, the gentle ones that spawned The Perfect Storm).
Without hesitation, I pulled my iPhone out of my pocket, composed the shot and pressed the shutter button. My decision to not include the shoreline in the background or trees in the foreground was intentional. I continued on my garden trapline, inspecting newly-planted marigold and kale seedlings.
I was not alone on my little pilgrimage. From down the road, bald eagles shrieked and territorialized (is this a word?) from their spruce tree nest, their calls sounding more like squeaky doors than loaded threats. And from the base of our cliff, a group of passing sea lions let out great “puh-UFF” exhalations when they rose to the surface to breathe.
As I entered the front door, my phone buzzed with a message from my husband Marty, who was visiting his aunt a mile away. She’s fighting for her life, though from what illness, we do not know. Christian Scientists don’t speak of such things.
I sat on the bench, leaned back against the wall and pulled my iPhone from my tattered garden jacket. I scrolled to the water cloud photo. Just a cloud in a pool of blue. Simple shapes and color. A quiet calm, one that’s hard to describe, came over me. “It’ll be okay,” said The Voice.
~ Thanks for visiting.