Situational Photography

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Wednesday, April 8, 2020

There really wasn’t much at all to this trek, and it wasn’t planned at all.  I just took advantage of the situation that presented itself to me.  I have been surprised and pleased over the last week to see my print sales actually picking up again after a very slow few months.  It just so happened that one of my sales was close enough that I decided to save the client a little money in shipping and do a delivery of the print myself.  It wasn’t too far from home and I was quite frankly ready to get out of the house for a few minutes.  I wasn’t really expecting to do any photography, but just in case I passed something that struck my fancy, I took my camera along for the ride.  It had been nearly a month since the camera has been in the back of the 4Runner so that was pretty exciting all by itself.  My destination was the town of Cool Springs, NC.  I hadn’t been to this particular area so I didn’t know if there would be anything at all to shoot there or not, but it was very possibly going to be better than my back yard was.

Since these blogs are archived and can be read years down the road, I need to mention that this all happened during the course of the COVID-19 virus and social distancing/quarantining state of the year which is becoming a rather significant event for the history books.  Of course, this is on everyone’s mind across the world and we, as a global community, are being affected by it.  Personally, I am not one to get all excited about things like this as they are a normal course of events for the world.  At the same time though, this particular event has garnered a lot of attention and the focus has been on the spread of the virus.  Social Distancing has become the norm, or at least that concept is trying to get traction.  The recommendation is for 6ft separation between people, and to avoid leaving your home unless you are an essential employee at a business.  In my 46 years of life, this is a first and I am taking note of these trends, as everyone is.

The point of this blog entry isn’t to recap the state of the world right now, but it is to give a little background to my creative process through this.  For me, photography has always been about much more than just capturing a picture.  Just about anyone with a camera can take a picture.  My goal with photography is to capture an emotion or feeling and have it translated to a visual representation.  What that means in practice is my photographs usually represent the things that are going through my mind at the time.  Certain scenes will present themselves and catch my attention based on how I’m feeling at that particular time.  This accounts for some of the variety in types of photos that I am drawn to through the year.  The image that I will be sharing here today is a great example of how my thoughts can turn up in a photograph.

When I was almost at my destination I was driving through the town of Cool Springs and happened to pass an elementary school.  With it being a Wednesday in the middle of the day it still struck me as odd for the school to be completely empty, but what really caught my eye was the field across the street.  The first thing that I saw was a sizable tree with new foliage growing on the limbs.  The leaves were still filling out so the structure of the tree remained visible.  The light greens of the season looked great against the blue sky.  There was also a fence below the tree that I liked for a lower frame for the image.  As I drove past it, I could see a distant valley just below the horizon.  I figured that there was a photograph to be had here, and I decided to come back after dropping the print off when the sun had moved a little further down in the sky providing a bit more light on the side of the tree.

In order to give just a little more time for the sun to drop down, I did a little exploring after I made the delivery to see what else I could find out in this area.  There were a couple of locations that caught my eye and imagination, but none of them were lit correctly so I just made some mental notes for another time.  When I was pretty sure that the sun had dropped enough to give me the image that I was after, I returned to the school and pulled in the parking lot.  Before I got my gear out, I stepped out of the truck and started to look for the best place to make the shot.  The size of the tree as well as the proximity to the fence dictated that I shoot the scene from the opposite side of the road.  From here I was interested in lining up the fence so that it didn’t interrupt the trunk of the tree too badly, while allowing the valley behind the tree to have separation from the low branch of the tree.  I considered vertical as well as horizontal compositions for this and what to include with the tree.  There was definitely a photograph to be had here, so I went back to the truck and grabbed the camera.

Social Distancing“, Canon 5D Mk3, 16-35mm f/2.8L Mk2, No Filters

I found the spot that I had worked out a minute earlier and set the tripod up.  I full extended it and set it up on a slight ridge right next the fence of the school. I was needing a good deal of altitude to get the elements to relate correctly in the scene.  I went ahead and fit the wide angle lens on the camera because every composition I was looking at would need that lens.  The composition that I started with placed the tree in the right half of the image with the distant valley to the right of that tree.  Since the tree had a slight curve to the left, I gave the image room to breathe to the left which enabled me to include another prominent tree in the field.  This second tree was recessed much further back, but it provided a nice framing element on the left side for balance.  The fence was utilized at the bottom as a foreground element and visual anchor.  The composition worked well, but the lighting was still very harsh considering the time of day.  There were clouds moving overhead so the sun was in and out.  For a while after setting up the shot, the sun was hidden which through the tree into shadow.  I used this time to fine tune the exposure for the clouds which would remain the same and would be my brightest element in the picture.

Looking at the exposure, I was really needing to use an ND Grad to control the sky, but with the tree needing all of the exposure that I could give it, I couldn’t afford to lose any light across the sky.  I could have added contrast to the sky which would have helped by using a polarizer, but when shooting with a wide angle lens, that will usually give some undesirable results in the sky due to uneven polarization.  In short, there were no filters that were going to help this exposure any, so I didn’t bother mounting anything on the lens.  This was going to be a rather simple shot if I could get the lighting to work out to bring a little emphasis on the tree.  For that I had to wait.

The light finally did break through and I got the lighting on the tree that I was after for a few brief seconds.  I took advantage of those moments and got several images that I was relatively happy with.  From here, I flipped the camera on its side and started to shoot some vertical images of the tree as an isolated part of the landscape.  They looked ok in the LCD, but I was not overly optimistic about the composition.  It just seemed too basic, and I was liking how the shadows were looking on the field too much to avoid including them.  I turned the camera back to horizontal orientation and framed a shot that placed the tree over on the left side of the image and allowed the frame to trail off to the right.  This one actually looked really good in the camera with the way that the clouds were looking, but the landscape was off balance with the valley being so close to the tree.  If I were to have moved the valley to the right for balance, I would have lost the separation of the tree with the field.  That separation was much more important to me.  I knew that the better balance was my original composition and since the lighting was looking a little better, I panned over to the left and reframed that original image.

I shot several more of this composition under different lighting until I was pretty sure that I had what I wanted.  I had shot 32 images of this scene as the clouds moved around and figured out of all of that I had at least one image that was worth keeping.  I packed up my gear and started back with my exploring of the area.  I drove for quite a while but didn’t really find anything that suited me.  It looked like those 32 images were going to be it for the day so I headed home.  Normally I would have started to process the images from the day at this point, but since I was expecting to have only one image, I thought it might be better to wait until the next day to look at it with fresh eyes.  I was a little disappointed with my first day out in quite a while and I didn’t want that to influence my choices during the editing process.

When I got up the next morning and started to look at the images, I still wasn’t overly excited about them, but found a handful that I thought would work.  As I figured, the vertical composition was a failure because there was just no story to it.  The two basic horizontal ones worked better, but the one that I liked the most was with the main tree to the right and the smaller tree to the left.  As I whittled those down, I ended up processing one from the original group and one from the second group.  After comparing them both, I went with one of my earlier images because the sunlight on the field was ever so slightly softer and just fit the image much better. The clouds were also positioned slightly better in the earlier image.  As I finished the editing process I started to think about what appealed to me with this composition which is part of my learning process.  The answer started fairly basic and mirrored what I have said in this blog about why I set the picture up the way that I did.  However, after some consideration, I started to evaluate it on a deeper level to see why I liked this composition.

As with my adventure into the back yard, the theme of this image turned out to be another take on the current state of affairs.  Now you see why I wanted to include that bit of depressing information at the beginning of this entry.  I realized that this picture actually brought many shared experiences and made a pleasing and happy visual out of them.  Most obviously, you have the single tree which is distanced from the other supporting tree.  This was where the title came from.  You also have a crowd of trees over to the left under the thickest part of the clouds.  Over the main tree, the clouds are breaking up and showing less particles in the air.  The fence represents the restrictions that we have been asked to implement while the valley in the background is the freedom that we all had just a few weeks ago.  The fresh greens of the field not only show the season that this image was created in, but helps to give hope and a sense of renewal.  Ironically, I have been reading reports from around the globe that pollution is down and nature is actually renewing itself at a healthy pace.  I think that is represented in this image with the crisp blue sky and the vivid greens of Spring.

I don’t normally get into this type of evaluation of my images here in the blog, but the vast majority of my images I can dissect like this.  I just thought it was important to go through this for this image since I have a feeling that many of you will sense a connection with the scene and might not know why.  The creation of this image was a very subconscious thing as I didn’t put these elements together at the time.  However, there was a reason that this composition told the story that I was after.  After looking at it and examining it, I managed to figure out that connection and wanted to share it.

I do hope that you have enjoyed this rather in-depth look  at a single image and how it came to be.  It wasn’t a grand trek, but it was nice to get out and seen an area that I haven’t been before.  It was also very nice to meet some new clients in the process.  Remember, any of the photographs that I post here are able to be done as prints and I encourage you to contact me with any questions pertaining to options available.  My store here is just a starting point and only represents a few basic choices for your print.  I am able to go much larger than the 13×19″ size as well as being able to produce canvas and metal prints.  There are just so many options that it is really difficult to have them represented online.  Plus, options outside of what is listed here are considered special order and can be tailored to your desires.  I’m either a phone call or email away if you have any questions about what type of print is best for you.

Until next time…