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A Beautiful Cacophony
The other day I was out hiking on the frozen creek bottom at the Wolsfeld Woods Scientific and Natural Area when I came upon this scene. The day was one of those thick, gray days that we occasionally get here in Minnesota in winter. I was out shooting for the December assignment for the Photo Union League, a group I participate in that meets at the Mpls Photo Center. The assignment this month was the beautiful mundane. I figured I would challenge myself to make black and white images in the Big Woods on a dull, gray Minnesota winter day.
When I came upon this scene, what struck me was the seeming impossibility of it. It appeared that the tree branches were emerging from some underworld, as if in a surrealist's line drawing of some crazy scene that couldn't possibly exist in nature. But there it was right in front of me. If you told me that you thought there was just too much going on in this image for you, I'd just have to nod my head and say, yup, there sure is a lot going on. But to me, this image captures a feeling of a place at a specific time. I could go back to this same spot later in winter when more of the branches and undergrowth are covered in snow and I might not find this scene nearly as compellling. I'm sure I will be back here before winter is gone, so we'll just have to wait and see.
Compositionally, what I strive for in an image like this is first a feeling of place. I try to balance the visual weight of the various elements within the frame so that there is the right balance of tension and calm. That's about the best way I can describe it. Typically I do not go for symmetry. As I like to say, symmetry is overrated. I have stopped believing that everything within the frame must be completely contained within the frame. The tricky part is deciding what should be contained within the frame completely, what should be in the frame but can exit the frame, where it should exit the frame, and what should be completely outside the frame.
While I'm at it, I should take a moment to wax a little techie and sing the praises of my Nikon D800 camera and Nikon's 28mm f/1.8G lens. This combination has become my favorite camera and lens combination when I go out shooting in the Big Woods. The detail captured in the D800's 36 megapixel images is stunning. Take a look deep into the image above in the upper-middle where those trees are way in the background and you'll get a sense for what I mean. In addiiton, the dynamic range on the D800 is simply amazing. Taken together, this ability to capture such amazing detail with such a wide dynamic range helps me capture the feeling of a place in a way that I can't match with my other gear.
With that, I'll leave you with another black and white image from this day.
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