Wednesday, December 17, 2014

At Little Qualicum Falls: failing is really a sign of success?

It is just a few days after a series of heavy rainstorms hit our west coast of Canada and I am anxious to see if that has translated into spectacular falls and rapids at this provincial park on Vancouver Island. Too late, the water flow is already back to 'normal' for this time of year as I trek the trails with my camera. Today I have chosen to use my new telephoto lens and so the feel of my compositions are quite different. Rather than struggle to find some 'air' in my photos I am zooming in this time, going deeper, seeking the detail that can express the whole rather than taking the broader view.

Taking lots of photographs regularly keeps me up to speed, but also prone to using familiar compositional formulas. And yet if I wish to move my practice forward I need to think carefully and be creative. Today I take plenty of 'big water' images, that is the most obvious thing happening right now, but try to slide some more nuanced things in as well, taking advantage of my long lens. It is always surprising to me how difficult original thinking in photography can be: perhaps it is the very simplicity of tripping the shutter, the second's worth of planning needed, that encourages only minimal thought.

One approach I use regularly is to thing in terms of contrasts: in shape, colour, texture, tone, line and subject matter. I know that placing white frothy water against dark canyon walls, contrasting large green mossy slopes with triangles of white water enhances the qualities of both and can speak strongly of this time and place, but that really has to be my starting point today if I wish to break new ground. I begin to notice the trees along the banks, the lines of the branches, the way they echo or bend against the flow lines of the river. I am making images that are about relationships within the whole frame rather than simply snatching 'things' out there. The tree in the foreground is integrated with the background, or one might say the positive and negative spaces work with each other to create a unified statement. And painters have been doing this for a long time too so even that is a pretty standard compositional device and should be available to every photographer as part of his 'bag of tricks'. Can I get beyond this today or does the powerful subject matter trump all?

In the end I have a set of strong images, partly because of the subject matter and also because I have used my skills well; but as for new ideas... I will have to wait and see; sometimes the germ of an idea only grows and emerges more fully developed at a later time. I must remember that breaking new ground is remarkably difficult and that failing is the best teacher in the end. Knowing that one has not reached the possible that lies at the edge of thought is the most valuable lesson and that self satisfaction is the most dangerous feeling for a creative person, no matter what one is working on.

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