Monday, January 12, 2009

Glacial Chill

RALPH WALDO EMERSON: "I — this thought which is called I, — is the mould into which the world is poured like melted wax. The mould is invisible, but the world betrays the shape of the mould."

PHOTOGRAPHER'S DIARY: The last three days have been a scramble, a possibly photo-worthy bit of weather. It is the kind of scramble from which lessons should be learned. Time to take stock of things I've learned and learned again - part 1:

1.  What looks like a weak dusting of sleet down in my valley can be a whole other thing across the hilltops. Valley sleet coated the ground while the hilltops became a crystal wonderland. Because I didn't see it out my window, I almost missed it.
2.  I'd never shot an ice storm.  I didn't know that I'd never shot an ice storm, and I hadn't thought much about how to shoot an ice storm, but there I was in an ice storm. The entire orchard was encrusted. Most of Thursday the light was even and diffused, and there were often lovely skyscapes if I could only get the trees into the right position or the sky into the right position. And then occasionally the sun would break through and the crystalized trees would glisten. Sometimes the glistening lasted as long as 30 seconds, but where does one stand? At such moments every step changed the landscape, so completely was it refracted through the ice, ...and then the sun was back in hiding.  Making it worse was my mounting panic that the ice would melt before I had a chance to discover this new world. The only way to begin is to begin.
3. One of my first thoughts was, "At what scale does the event make visual impact?"  Everything from grass blades to finger-size limbs was encased in ice. Larger limbs were saddled in ice. It was a medium-size ice storm, not a limb-breaker. Observed up close the ice made lenses like snakes slithering along branches and tendrils. It encased seed pods, and dolloped growth nodes. The lenses changed as the light changed.  Observed far off the strongest effect was in places where closely packed limbs, delicately etched with ice, appeared as glistening textures.  Light was even more transformational here.  In the middle were orchard-scapes of various scopes where ice-encrusted boughs reflected light as if they were on freshly painted canvas, still wet and glistening.  I find it very difficult to scope at three scales simultaneously. The only way to begin is to choose.
4.  I also tried to assess how quickly the weather was changing? It wasn't only that it might get warm and melt the ice, but that the clouds were moving quickly. Shooting from a tripod requires set-up time. Shooting at the clouds requires 3 or 4 photographs at different exposure settings for HDR. Once I set my tripod, how long do I sit and wait for the sun to peek back through, and when do I turn to what's looking good right now?  Were sun-producing breaks becoming more frequent or were they disappearing? I tried to do it all; I shot hand-held; By leaving the tripod ballasted and in place I preserved a second angle, a likely composition should the sun return.  Alas, there were so many settings to undo when I rushed back to the tripod, that I missed the shot.
5. The first plan isn't always the best. However a bird in hand is worth two across the orchard. In the end, it's always a crap shoot.