Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Walking at Beaver Point. 1. Light and shadow

Beaver Point
Saltspring Island is an amalgam of three separate islands that were squished together as they were carried on the Pacific plate from farther south and smeared onto the continent of North America. All a long time ago, even in geological terms, but the island still shows this in its many deep bays and prominent headlands. Beaver Point, in Ruckle Provincial Park, is one of these headlands with Ganges and Fulford Harbours on either side. It is just down the road from where we live. A familiar place, where I worked as a Park Ranger for many years. During a recent cold snap I went walking and photographing along the rocky shores.

Cold weather for us on the coast means frigid continental air has flooded out across the strait and holds the Pacific systems at bay for a while. Brilliant sun, blue skies and a bitter north wind. Photographing in these conditions involves harsh light, reflections off the sea and black shadows. No point in trying to avoid this light, better to use it to best advantage. The camera does not have anything like the capacity that the human eye has to handle this extreme range between dark and light. I must expose for the light areas and accept dark impenetrable shadows. I must look too for elements within the landscape that will show this to advantage.
I walk past the field of sheep with their new lambs and head directly for the sea shore. Ahead, through the black silhouettes of the trees, the sun reflects off the choppy sea. All is brilliant blue and silver dancing light. While I take my photographs, it is the shadows that are calling to me. Even as one light-drenched image after another pops into the camera, - rocky shores, arbutus trunks, frozen fresh water seeps and flashing waves - , I keep stopping to make images with those powerful intrusive shadows. These are not necessarily the prettiest images, - there is something vaguely threatening about them -, but it is these that are influencing me today. My last photo as I walk the road up the hill and out of the park again is of the curve of road, with its yellow line and a small slice of grassy verge. Across the road are cast the soft shadows of tree tops. Soft, because the trees are high up and they cast out-of-focus darker grey patterns on the grey road surface. I walked through this pattern on my way down the hill an hour and a half before, but it is only now after my shadow training that I can see this subtle thing. A great photo? Well, it is almost nothing at all really, perhaps only me and another shadow specialist will grasp what is happening here, at this moment, on a cold, bright, winter`s day.

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