It’s Monday morning, and I’m just sitting around the house sipping some Folgers (we ran out of the good stuff, so I’m drinking the “camping coffee”) and getting ready to roll up my sleeves and do some work on my website. That is, of course, a lie: I can’t roll up my sleeves, because every since the cast was removed from my arm last Friday, I’ve been in a fairly involved (and expensive) elbow brace. The reality of my situation is slowly starting to sink in: Recuperating from tendon repair is a lengthy process, and I’m only now checking my blind spot while merging onto the road to recovery.
Yesterday I had a reminder of just how precarious my situation is after I tripped going up the stairs at my house and instinctively extended both arms to catch myself. The result was painful, but it did help to scare me straight, so to speak. I’m not a clumsy guy by any means, but at this point it wouldn’t take much to undo what took my orthopedic surgeon over an hour and several thousand dollars to accomplish in the first place.
Unfortunately, that means that, in the interest of not getting myself (or more specifically, my triceps tendon) into trouble, I probably won’t be taking many photos during the month of November. And I especially won’t be going out at night, when the infinitesimal risk of injury increases slightly. It’s just not worth the risk. I really feel pretty good, so it’s going to be difficult to be patient.
So instead, I’ll likely be going through old photos for most of the month. And this is one of them.
This is one of Crater Lake’s famous whitebark pines that rim the lake. As far as views go, it’s doing much better than about 99.9999% of the other trees in the world. Unfortunately, pine beetles, a fungus called blister rust, and a changing climate have taken their toll, and many of these trees are dying off. As you can see, this one’s dead. What you probably can’t see is that a good part of its root system is exposed, and this thing’s going to topple one of these days.
This tree’s been photographed a lot. I should probably capitalize that–this tree’s been photographed A LOT. I alone have spent more time with it than any one person should spend with a tree. Because of this fact, some photographers would stay away from this scene, stating that the act of photographing it can only result in an “unoriginal” photo. I, of course, disagree with that philosophy.
Right now, in Portland, a similar debate is unfolding around the famous Japanese maple at the Portland Japanese Garden. Its leaves are changing colors, and photographers are converging from all over the world and queuing up for a photo of it. The environment is a little circus-like, with long lines, bad behavior, and a whole lotta landscape photographers loudly “declaring” (mostly via social media) that they’d sooner spike their 14-24 f/2.8G lens like a football than be caught taking a photo of such a popular subject. Ironically, it wouldn’t take much of a portfolio review coupled with a quick Google image search to uncover any number of landscape photography clichés with their name attached to it.
You see, I definitely value originality when it comes to landscape photography, but I’m not sure I value it over beauty. There’s a reason that people are drawn to these trees. And it’s the same reason people enjoy butterflies, beer advertisements featuring models, and America’s national parks system: They’re beautiful, and people like beauty.
So how does a creative person who values originality and individualism express their unique vision of an over-shot subject? (Never mind that this question ignores the question of when exactly a landscape subject becomes “over-shot,” that’s a debate for another time.) To me, it’s easy–I work harder to find unique conditions (light, weather, etc), unique angles, and a unique way of post-processing the photo. I work harder to make the photo say something, to mean something. In short, I work harder.
Because saying that you’d never photograph a certain tree, a certain view, or something as ubiquitous as the Milky Way (and yes, the self-righteous declaration of “I’d never shoot the Milky Way!” is becoming a more common refrain) is easy. At best it’s a declaration of the limits of your vision as an artist. At worst it’s an admission of creative laziness.
I’m hard-pressed to think of something I would never photograph. I’m not sure if that’s a testament to my vivid imagination or the fact that I quit using hyperbolic words like “always” and “never” a long time ago. The pursuit of my vision probably won’t lead me to take a photo of a McDonald’s any time soon, but I can think of several scenarios in which I would take that photo. From a creative standpoint, nothing’s off limits. And nothing should be.
This was from two exposures, taken about 20 minutes apart. The first was to capture the landscape detail, including the quickly fading sunlight that was warming the white bark of the pine tree. The second was to capture the sky. Both photos were taken with the same focus, aperture, and ISO (100). Only the exposure time changed.
Part of the reason I was able to get so many stars in the second, “sky” shot, despite only waiting 20 minutes after the “land” shot was the nature of the southern sky when I took this photo. The bright “stars” on the right side of the sky are actually Saturn (top) and Mars (bottom). In the middle right, you can see part of the constellation Scorpius, with the star Antares. And in the rest of the sky is the galactic center of the Milky Way (albeit one that is washed out by so much ambient light), which has a number of other bright stars in it. In short, these stars appeared much more quickly during twilight than many of the other stars in the sky.