Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The Colors of Winter

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: The first question I ask when I begin to compose a shot is, "What is it that caught my eye?" One might think the answer should be self-evident, but sometimes the attraction is more specific than my conscious mind knows - the blush of a berry bush beside the wall - the twists and turns of the path ahead - silhouettes suddenly made apparent through a momentary contrast - the dappled light hitting a cluster of leaves. Clearly identifying what catches my eye helps answer much that follows. It helps me decide what to leave in or cut out, where to stand, what lens to choose and how to tilt and focus. It keeps me on target or tells me to move on when favorable conditions change - the light shifts, or the snow melts from the leaf.

Normally, this is a question I ask as I look at a view spread before me, and I shoot a gazillion variations on the composition until I'm happy, and then I move on. What I've just realized about this essential question is that it needs to be asked, not only when I am drawn to a shot, but more broadly, when I find myself haunting a place. Lately, I've been walking two loops in The Hollow regularly. I should have realized that part of my attraction was to the colors: the straw of the fields, the blue of the hills textured by winter's tree skeletons, and the dark accents of nearby tree limbs and rock walls. The effect works best on overcast days when the colors become richest, and in that period after a snow fall when the forested hillsides still have a carpet of snow. A bit of mist, as here, can help too. As I walk my loop the panoramas shift; hillsides of trimmed hay or long grasses roll up behind each other, and new vistas resonate with the same colors: blue, straw, and charcoal brown. The Hollow seems to have just the right creases to hold the magic.

Often there's no shot there, just the spell cast by this blue and tan atmosphere and the quiet of The Hollow. The whole trick is to find in that passing panorama the compositions that hold the eye, make use of the full canvas, and recreate in the viewer something of what I felt there.