Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Don't Fight Mother Nature

When out photographing, I have always found working with the prevailing conditions to be a far better idea than stubbornly resisting what is going on around me. Let me be more specific by using an example. If I were to go out with the idea of photographing wildflowers and find that it is a windy day, I am much more likely to return with interesting images if I decide to shoot using long shutter speeds in order to create abstract images than if I decided to 'fight Mother Nature' and insist on trying to get tack sharp images using fast shutter speeds and waiting (and waiting and waiting) for the wind to die down briefly. Sure, I might come back with a sharp image or two after the fight, but I would not have enjoyed myself, would have a feeling of frustration, and would have robbed myself of the opportunity to have tried something new.

Nonetheless, I recently found myself 'fighting Mother Nature' without really knowing that's what I was doing. When I finally realized that I was resisting what nature was giving me I had a much more enjoyable time and came away with a reasonable image or two. Let me explain..... In a park near my house there is a group of three trees. They are special trees, though I don't know what species they are. They are quite short, but have an aged appearance with contorted and twisted limbs. Truth be told, I don't have a very good 'relationship' with these trees. I find them fascinating and intriguing......even a bit mysterious. For a year or two I have intermittently gone to see the trees with my camera but have never taken a single photograph of them! I have never been able to compose an image that I liked despite my feeling that there should be a hundred fascinating images among their twisted and contorted limbs. There has always been a bad background I can't eliminate (the trees are right near a busy street) or the composition doesn't really express what the trees make me feel etc. Sometimes, in situations like this, you are defeated before you even try......having tried so many times you go in with a losing attitude and an adversarial position (yes, I know those trees can't really think....but why won't they let me take their picture???).

Well, on Friday I went back again. There was snow on the ground and I thought that perhaps I could somehow use that as a 'clean' background. Of course, it turned out to be a bright day, something that is a rarity during a Pittsburgh winter (November through March is mostly gray.....if you don't have seasonal affective disorder before you move here you rapidly develop it). Because the sun was shining, there were strong shadows on the snow. I was trying to compose images of the twisted limbs, but every time I thought I was getting something interesting the trees' shadows would clutter the background.

After continuing to circle the trees in order to try to get an interesting composition without a distracting shadow in the background, it occurred to me that I was fighting this way too hard. Why not accept the fact that the sun was there and that unless I came back another time the shadows were simply not going away? Why not work with 'Mama' and use what 'she' was giving me? Why not try to incorporate the shadows into the composition? In fact, why not make the shadow the main subject of the image since, over time, I had been having so much difficulty making an image with the trees themselves as the main subject?

So that is exactly what I did! Once I started accepting the shadows as part of the image instead of trying to eliminate them, compositions became much easier.

Shadow Tree
Copyright Howard Grill

Is this an 'award winning' image?? I think not, but it is the only composition that I felt intrigued enough with to actually make me want to push the shutter button.

After liking the way my prior HDR bare tree image looked, I decided to use the same treatment for this image. The contrast range, given the bright snow and dark tree, lent itself to making an HDR composite of 6 images which was then converted to black and white and toned using SilverEfex Pro.