Years of taking snapshots without any real training and not paying attention to the great lessons in Kodak’s numerous books led me to continual frustration about my photographs. Why didn’t the picture look the way I remembered the scene? Why were my photographs flat and bland, nothing like the wonderful pictures I’d see in galleries or in the Kodak books? I just wasn’t getting it and not really taking the time to understand and apply what I should have been learning.
Then one day it clicked. Not all the lessons or techniques, but the idea of intention as a photographic tool. Intention – to determine what a thing should be beforehand.
We’d visited a gallery in Carmel, CA and saw a picture of McWay Falls in Big Sur – a huge landscape of startling detail and rich color encompassing ocean, rock, sand and forest. It was fascinating – how did the photographer create such a shot? I was fortunate enough to talk with him later and ask that question. Turns out he visited that spot many times over months of duration, looking for just the right combination of light, sky, tide – hundreds of photographs until he got the one he wanted. Not just the right one, but the one he already saw in his mind. His action finally matched his intent and creative vision for the scene.
The photographer is Robert Knight, and you can see his photograph of McWay Falls here.
Now I realized what I was missing – I didn’t know what I wanted. Well, I kinda knew what I wanted but wouldn’t take the time and effort needed to translate it from in-my-mind to on-the-print. But it was a start. I realized why I was just taking snapshots and had a good sense of what I needed to do in order to start taking photographs. That education continues to this day.
Fortunately, I was in Big Sur a few years after talking with Robert. I visited McWay Falls as part of a photography workshop and we planned our visit there to have the best possibility of good light and tide. We arrived to find the scene wonderful and we took our time to compose and take pictures. Here’s my scene from that day:
It’s still not what I see in my mind when I think of this place, but much to my satisfaction it’s not a snapshot either. To improve it I also have to go back, wait for the sun to be lower in the sky with warmer colors. Find a day with bigger waves crashing into the cove. Compose the light and shadows just so in order to convey the depth of the scene. And hopefully, capture an image that lets the viewer hear the waves, feel the wind, and marvel at the waterfall that winds down from the coastal range through redwoods to launch itself in a graceful curve to end 80 feet below on a secluded beach in Big Sur.