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Olympus E-M1 |  f/2.8 @1/400 sec, ISO 400, 180mm, no filters

On a recent hike along a creek, I was captivated by some great organic shapes and textures that had formed in certain frozen areas of the shoreline. I’ve been experimenting with pattern a lot lately, and this gave me a perfect opportunity to try and capture images in the winter that don’t say “winter.”

The challenge in making any good image is capturing interesting compositions that create motion. You can do that in many different ways of course, utilizing the basic design elements like line, color, perspective, and of course light. But when the subject matter lends itself to shapes and patterns, like the frozen surface of water does, it’s the perfect opportunity to practice keeping things simple! In this case I wanted the shapes and textures to become secondary to the overall design, and that helps to keep the viewer moving through the image.

This is a not an easy thing to do, because as I mentioned in my last photo journal, we gravitate towards things we can label. But it’s a great exercise in so many ways; learning to slow down, learning to explore a potential composition from many different angles, and most of all learning the art of simplicity.

This image in particular was a direct result of simply staying with an idea long enough to “see the bigger picture.” At first it was just the interesting lines, then I noticed the organic nature of the curves and how they created larger shapes that seemed to “move” within the frame. I tried both vertical and horizontal compositions, but it was placement of the dark spots that finally made me choose this particular arrangement. I simply chose the strongest arrangement to my eye— a diagonal.

This is an example of the gestalt principle of continuation, where our eyes will continue along an implied line—bottom left to top right. That anchors the image and provides the motion I spoke about earlier.

None of this is to suggest that you should like this image. I do, but that’s not the point, even for me. My personal goal is to try and see things differently whenever I go out, to continually question my initial approach, and see if there’s a composition  that’s  simpler and better. 

Better images result from your creative process, not from measuring your success rate. Far better to ask if you challenged yourself to see differently. The successes will take care of themselves.

Question yourself constantly. Are you defaulting to what’s worked in the past?

“Don’t try to be an artist all at once, be very much of a student. Be always searching, never settle to of something you’ve done before. Always be looking for the unexpected in nature—you can have no formulas for anything; search constantly.” – Charles W Hawthorne (Hawthorne on Painting)

RR Jr

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This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. I’ve always enjoyed that line from the Introduction to “Hawthorne on painting,” Robert. That quote and an earlier paragraph from that Introduction are prominently displayed in my photography journal:

    “Painting is a matter of impulse, it is a matter of getting out to nature and having some joy in registering it. If you are not going to get a thrill, how can you give someone else one? You must feel the beauty of the thing before you start. You cannot bring reason to bear on painting—the eye looks up and gets and impression and that is what you want to register. Good painting is an excitement, an aesthetic emotion—reasonable painting destroys emotion.”

    I think this paragraph captures one of the central ideas you convey in your blog

    1. Thanks for sharing Craig, always great to read your thoughts. that is a great quote as well – will add to my collection. I will have to memorize the phrase “reasonable photography!”

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