With the year being just a few days away from being half way over, I thought I would take another look through the photos I have taken so far. I wanted to see how I was progressing toward achieving my 2015 photography resolution, which was to improve the artistic quality of my photography. What I somewhat disappointingly found was I still had a large volume of images that, to me, were nothing more than documentary, snapshot-type of picture. The kind of pictures that someone might take just to say “I was at this location, and this is what I saw.” Certainly not the type of image I was striving to create when I came up with my resolution.
But as I continued my review, I made another pleasant discovery. Although it wasn’t something I had noticed at the time I was taking the picture, I found a number of images that I would not have made six months ago. Not because I would not have liked them, or the lighting was poor, or one of a thousand other excuses I often use to rationalize why I didn’t take a picture. Rather, I would not have taken these pictures because I simply would not have even seen them before. With this realization, I began to recognize that I was making progress, and I was starting to create the type of images I wanted to create. But, I wanted to know exactly what it was that had allowed me to get those pictures.
As I continued to look at photographs, it occurred to me that the difference between my “good” images and my “not as good” pictures came down how much time I spent at a location before I moved on. If I followed my usual photographic method – finding a location, setting up my equipment quickly, taking the first shot I saw, and then moving on – I typically ended up with a snapshot-quality picture. But, getting the better images only happened when I slowed this process way, way down, took the time to really explore the area, and not get myself wrapped up in getting to the next spot.
For me, the image above, taken at the edge of the Arkansas River on a cloudy morning, is a perfect example of the idea of slowing down the process and exploring an area. I had been here a couple of times before to shoot sunrises, and that was again my plan when I left the house that morning. What I had not counted on were thick clouds moving in overnight, but that was exactly what happened. After waiting and hoping for a small break in the clouds that never came, I began slowly walking around and eventually came upon this scene. There were several elements that drew my attention – the action of the water, the texture of the rocks, and the leading line created by the pier. Had I followed my usual pattern, I would have taken two or three shots and moved on. Instead, I stayed until I photographed the scene using different angles, different lenses and focal lengths, and different compositions.
After all of that, I realized I still wasn’t completely satisfied with what I saw on the back of my camera, so I kept exploring. That’s when I noticed the piece of driftwood lying at the edge of the water. The lapping water was dangerously close to washing the driftwood away, so I had to act swiftly. Quickly attaching my 14mm lens, I placed my tripod within about three feet of the driftwood and lowered my tripod to within just a few inches of the water. Using the smallest aperture on the lens, f/22, allowed the entire image, from foreground to background, to be in focus. It also required, given the low light conditions, a long shutter speed which allowed the water to appear smoother while also highlighting its movement.
Unfortunately, after only three or four shots, a slightly larger wave washed ashore, and the piece of driftwood floated off into the river. However, had I not slowed down to explore the area, I would have not been able to create what is one of my favorite images.
Settings: Canon 5D Mk II, 28mm, 1.3 sec, f/22