Monthly Archives: February 2013

The Story Behind the Image “Diptych, Touch the Earth, Touch the Sky,” Part 3 – Think Creatively!

Diptych, Touch the Earth, Touch the Sky

Here is part 3 of the story behind my image, “Diptych, Touch the Earth, Touch the Sky,” shown above.


Well, on one level, there’s not much to tell, really.  When I saw the two images “Touch the Earth” and “Touch the Sky” that I had taken separately, I knew I had to put them together in a diptych.  I cropped each image square (because I prefer the proportions of equal-sized panels in diptychs, triptychs, and the like), increased the overall contrast of the combined image a little, and voila – not much work at all.


But on another level, I think this image has a lot to say.  First, while I think the individual images “Touch the Earth” and “Touch the Sky” that I used to make this diptych are strong images that stand well on their own, I also think the diptych is more than the sum of these two parts.  I believe that putting these two images together, in this format, makes a statement that is unique to itself and independent from the component images.  For example, there is a new composition to consider:  the form of the trees creates a symmetry across the two panels, and the whites and blacks of the foregrounds and backgrounds are analogous, but reversed, in the two panels.  The subject matter, too, invites a comparison and contrast that is not available in the individual images alone, for example a consideration of the sky and earth motifs within and between the individual panels, and the relationship of the trees to each.  Of course, I also hope the image simply is pleasing to look at!


Second, I think there is much to consider on the subject of framing.  As a photographer, my guess is that well over half of the photography I see is presented in a horizontal 3:2 aspect ratio (I believe this is the typical aspect ratio of 35 mm film).  Much of the remainder is in a vertical 3:2 aspect ratio.  It is much rarer that I see square aspect ratios, panoramic aspect ratios, or other kinds of aspect ratios, and it is even rarer that I see diptychs, triptychs, or presentations having multiple panels.


I wonder why this is?  Since it is relatively easy to capture an image with a camera, it seems to me that photographers are uniquely positioned to create works that push the dimensions of traditional framing, be it by experimenting with aspect ratios, panels, or the like.  Moreover, I might suggest that, given how ubiquitous the horizontal 3:2 aspect ratio is, images presented in alternative formats add an extra element that contributes to making the image more interesting.  This is not to say that a bad image presented in a non-traditional framing will become good, nor that a good image in a horizontal 3:2 aspect ratio is bad.  I’m saying only that the framing is an important component in the composition of photographic images, and that it can be used with a high degree of creativity to add to the impact of the image.


Here’s another example of this principle.  I don’t print many 8.5×11 images for display.  Why?  It’s not because 8.5×11 is too small.  Indeed, one of my personal favorite formats to print in are small, 5×5 square images.  No, it’s because all day long, in the course of handling ordinary business, I look at document after document printed on 8.5×11 paper.  I’m sure this is the case for most people.  To me, an image printed on 8.5×11 paper loses a little bit of appeal, just because I see the 8.5×11 format all the time.  It’s just so ordinary.


Is there a takeaway here?  If so, maybe it’s just to think creatively about presenting your images.  Why not start with the framing?


Edit:  I forgot to bring up in my original post, but meant to, that I believe Brooks Jensen at Lenswork Daily makes a similar point here, worth checking out!


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The Story Behind “Diptych, Touch the Earth, Touch the Sky,” Part 2 – Hiding in Plain Sight

Touch the Earth

This tree is hiding in plain sight.


It stands just off the side of the road on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, and I passed by it several times a week, dozens of times in all, over the course of several weeks last summer.


I should probably explain, and remind you that this is part 2 of the story behind my image “Diptych, Touch the Earth, Touch the Sky,” currently appearing on my Home Page.


Over this past summer, I decided that I needed regular field practice for my camera technique, more than just the occasional weekend or evening that I had been getting out with my camera.  As it happens, I live fairly close to Rocky Mountain National Park.  During the summer, the days are long enough that it is possible for me to drive up to the park after work and have one to two hours of daylight – indeed, prime golden hour sunset sidelight – to shoot.  From my front door, I can be at the top of Trail Ridge Road – around 12,000 feet – in about 45 minutes on a good day.  And so for several weeks during the longest days of the summer, I would spend two, three, or four days a week in the park.


On the way up Trail Ridge Road, there is a stretch of a mile or two at the treeline where there are these fantastic, gnarled, windswept trees set against backdrops of hard, solid rock or perched on top of sky-hugging ridge lines.  They have white, bleached trunks and, when the light bounces around just right up there, take on their own glow as the sun lights them up on its way down.  They are fantastic.


But here’s the thing.


Despite the fact that Trail Ridge Road is highly traveled by volumes of camera-toting tourists in the summer, I hardly ever saw anyone stopping to photograph them.  Maybe they were too excited to move on and get to the wide open tundras and spectacular mountain views up the road.  Or maybe they just didn’t see them the way I did.  The few times I did see other people stop to photograph these trees, I think it was because they saw me photographing them first and then wanted to photograph what I was photographing.


As I said, this particular tree was hiding in plain sight, probably not more than twenty yards from the side of the road.  Passed by hundreds or more people every day during the high season in the park.  And hardly noticed by most of them.  But I noticed it.  If you’re a photographer, or even if you’re not, take the time to notice your surroundings, and don’t be afraid to follow and explore whatever catches your eye.


And of course, this image became the second panel of my eventual diptych.  Next time, Part 3 of the story behind my image “Diptych, Touch the Earth, Touch the Sky.”


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The Story Behind “Diptych, Touch the Earth, Touch the Sky” Part 1 – Always Stop

Touch the Sky

This is the story, in three parts, of how I created the image “Diptych, Touch the Earth, Touch the Sky,” currently appearing on my Home page.


It begins with the image in this blog post called, naturally enough, “Touch the Sky.”  In general, I try not to have preconceived ideas about what I’m going to shoot.  This image was an exception.  For a long time, I had a mental picture of a bare, skeletal tree against a background of full, billowy clouds.  I would keep an eye out for the right kinds of trees and the right kinds of clouds.  Sometimes I would see great trees but no clouds, sometimes I would see great clouds but no trees.


Then one day, I was driving down the highway on my way to accomplish an errand, when I saw a thin line of clouds on the horizon, full and billowy, just like I had imagined.  As luck would have it, I also happened to be driving by a location where I knew there was a tree, bare and skeletal, that I thought might make the composition I wanted.


I almost didn’t stop.  When I have my mind set on something, I like to see it through.  And I wanted to complete the errand I was on my way to do.


But of course I did stop.  I did capture this image.  I no longer have any idea what the errand was or why it seemed so important.  But I do remember capturing this image.  I remember thinking how I would use my long telephoto lens to compress the perspective, placing the tree right up against those clouds.  I remember pacing the scene back and forth to get just the right perspective of the tree against the clouds.  I remember how that line of clouds was so thin that I could fill the frame with them only so much, and no more, or else I would get the bright blue sky creeping in from above or below.


Photography has been a great teacher of many things for me.  One of them is the synchronicity between opportunity and action.  When the right opportunity comes along, you have to act on it.  Moments are fleeting, and when they are gone, they are gone.  When you see a moment coming together for you, an opportunity that demands your action, always stop for it.


Next time, Part 2 of the story behind my image, “Diptych, Touch the Earth, Touch the Sky.”


P.S.  I learned the “Always Stop” lesson from one of my favorite photographers, Cole Thompson, who wrote a great blog about it here.  Please check it out if you have the chance, with my apologies to Cole for appropriating the phrase he coined for my blog!


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