Know Your Subject

Hold on to the Edge

It’s snowing in Colorado today, but the snow is not fooling me.  It’s spring, and summer is just around the corner.

Last summer was a turning point for my photography.  Part of the reason is because I made a commitment to spend several evenings a week photographing in Rocky Mountain National Park during the long light of the midsummer days.  The premise behind this exercise was that I needed practice for my field skills.  I got the practice I needed, but I got so much more as well.

One thing I learned is that there’s no substitute for getting to know your subject well.

Now, I do believe it’s possible to capture great images without any particular knowledge of your subject, simply by being open to seeing what’s around you and reacting to your opportunities as they develop.  Many of the images in my portfolio have come about this way, and I find there’s a spontaneity and freshness to images made under this approach.  But the converse approach is equally valid, I learned.  Getting to know your subject by spending quality time with it produces images with a more complex, nuanced feel, at least for me.

The image in this post, “Hold on to the Edge,” was produced after several weeks of spending several evenings a week in the Park.  I’m very familiar with the location at which this tree resides.  I’ve seen it under all kinds of lighting, weather, temperatures, and times of day.  Some days I passed it by with hardly a glance, some days I worked nearby photographing other things, and one day I decided to photograph it.

I think that it’s extremely unlikely that I would have made this particular interpretation of this tree without my background and familiarity with the location.  Not that a different interpretation would have been less valid, or produced a lesser image.  It just wouldn’t have been this particular image.  Knowing your subject makes a difference.

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