Watch where you’re stepping

ISO 100, 50mm, 0.4 sec., f/8

Sometimes as a photographer I bemoan the lack of subject matter.  What I’m really saying is there’s no grand landscape to awe me or big cat padding quietly by my trail to excite me.  There’s no lack of subject matter – just a lack of insight.

Right there, under our feet, is plenty of subject matter.  All it requires is a change in perspective and curiosity about what makes something interesting.  Here’s a photographic challenge – put a stool anywhere, sit down for an hour, make six really interesting images of what you see within ten feet of where you’re sitting.

I was strolling along the beach, looking out over the water and wishing something interesting would happen.  Saw this piece of driftwood and thought I’d work on some foreground/background compositions.  Then I looked closely at the log and finally SAW how interesting it was, and how interesting it could be in black-and-white.

My personal challenge is dimensionality, offering images that give a sense of three dimensions from a two dimensional medium.  I think it’s the draw of black-and-white photography, whether film or digital.  So here’s a log a little over a foot in diameter, sitting on a pebbly beach with some bark and some smooth surfaces.  The lighting is soft – just the blue sky radiating down from the left.  Virtually no shadows but definite differences in tones across the scene.

Digital processing gives me almost all the tools I need to bring dimensionality to the composition.  Adjustments of contrast, exposure, local adjustments of detail, some blurring of unimportant elements and final sharpening of the log.  Looking at the result I can sense the texture of log, bark, pebbles.  Light edges against dark backgrounds define where in space the log exists.  Controlled shadows and highlights define the rings and irregular surface.  Tone adjustments ensure the bark’s nooks and crannies are visible.

It’s a great exercise in learning to see how small adjustments make significant impacts on perception, learning that will benefit any composition.  Is it a grand landscape or wild animal?  No, just time taken to see better and learn.  In our world where everything is being pressed toward simultaneous action I believe it’s important to stop, take the time to observe, take the time to learn, and apply a craft to bring a result that will outlast the next round of emails and tweets.


3 thoughts on “Watch where you’re stepping

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