Wednesday, September 29, 2010

It's the little things

The best laid plans in nature photography don't always work out. OK, they rarely work out.

But whether the grand landscape is hidden in fog or if you just have a little extra time, there's always something to photograph: the little details.

I call them patterns of nature, but often they're more natural designs than patterns. You can find them anywhere. The bark of a tree. The texture of a rock. The path of the water in a small creek. All of these can be subjects for great images. Just look around.

I was on a training climb a couple weeks ago and brought my camera even though it was mid-afternoon on a clear day — not the stereotypical "ideal" time for photography. I didn't plan on making any images that day. I just wanted to get used to climbing with the weight.

But I got distracted. I usually do. This time, it was the sunlight shining down through big maple leaves. The leaves were bright green. The backlighting made their veins stand out. The rest of the forest canopy was in the shade, so the leaves photographed as if they were on a black background with a few circles of blue sky here and there.

I probably spent 15 minutes with my camera pointed directly overhead photographing those leaves in ever-changing light. I haven't edited images from that session yet, but I'll have to share them with you sometime.

The image above is from a few years ago. I was working along the Carbon River in Mount Rainier National Park. I got some images of volcanic rocks and hiked out to a large waterfall. The lighting wasn't anything special so I started heading home.

Then the sun came through the clouds. I stopped at an overpass where a small creek was running below. I hiked down and quickly discovered that the entire creek wasn't photogenic. There were big concrete supports and a drainage culvert.

But the sun was shining on one tiny portion that curved between two rocks. It was a gorgeous curve that I could make run from nearly one corner of the frame to another. And every so often a little water would splash up, catch the sunlight and sparkle.

They were two little details — a curve and the sparkles — but they captured the beauty of the water far better than any wide shot of a creek or waterfall ever could.

If you ever find yourself saying, "I love how that water sparkles," or "I really like the way that branch curves," stop! Take pictures – even if the rest of the scene doesn't catch your fancy.

You know how some people say you can tell a lot about a person by just looking into their eyes? Sometimes you can capture the essence of a scene by zooming in on its sparkle.

(My new photography book tracing the cycle of water is about to be released. Learn more by becoming a Facebook fan.)

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