Trust your instincts

Emergence, Half Dome from Olmsted Point, Yosemite

Emergence, Half Dome from Olmsted Point, Yosemite
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III
70-200L F4
3.2 seconds
F/16
ISO 400

This week I’ve spent some time going through past images that I just haven’t had time to get to. Unlike many of the images I uncover by returning to old shoots, this one from the final night of my October 2010 Eastern Sierra workshop wasn’t a surprise–the sky over Half Dome that night was magic, something I’ll never forget. Shortly after returning home I selected and processed one, but in conditions like that I always shoot enough variety of compositions that I knew there must be more there. While I have a general rule to only select one image of any scene from a single shoot, this is a perfect example of why I refuse to be bound by rules.

From the Clouds, Half Dome from Olmsted Point, Yosemite

From the Clouds, Half Dome from Olmsted Point, Yosemite
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III
24-105L F4
5 seconds
F/16
ISO 400

Comparing the two images from that night, what strikes me most isn’t the similarity, but the differences. Despite being captured less than a minute apart, they illustrate creative choices that underscore a point I keep hammering on: Photographers are under no obligation to reproduce human “reality” (because it can’t be done). Because photographic reality is an impossible moving target, my obligation as a photographer is to my camera’s reality. And if I do things right, I can use my camera’s reality to transcend visual reality and convey some of the emotion of the moment.

So, in the “Emergence” (tight vertical) composition, I chose to emphasize Half Dome’s power and nothing else. I centered Half Dome and exposed for its granite face, letting the swirling clouds darken and the foreground go completely black. The dark clouds above Half Dome cap the top of the scene–there’s really nowhere else for your eye to go than Half Dome.

Today’s “From the Clouds” composition is more about the moment’s grandeur. I widened the perspective considerably and brightened my exposure enough to encourage your eye to wander about the frame a bit. There’s no question as to where your eye will end up, it just takes a little longer to get there. In other words, expanding the perspective and providing more light invites you to leave and return to Half Dome at your leisure.

Did I consciously plot this that night? Nope. Honestly, I’m rarely this analytical when I shoot–I just don’t want my left (logical) brain to distract my right (creative) brain. But I do believe that if you cultivate (and trust!) your intuition, creative decisions like this will happen organically. (But learn metering and exposure until it becomes automatic!)

So while I had no conscious thought of how to control your experience of this scene, I’ve done this long enough to know that these creative choices don’t just happen by accident. Without getting into the divine intervention claims trumpeted by some photographers (label it what you will), I believe everyone can access untapped creative potential that takes them far beyond what can be accomplished with the conscious mind. And it starts with trust.

BTW—I prefer the first one (Emergence).

7 Comments on “Trust your instincts

  1. Love Olmsted Point and can’t wait to get back there again. 75% of the landscape pictures I shoot seem to be vertical shots, not sure why, so I’m drawn to your vertical shot, but that horizontal….WOW! Great, great pics!

  2. Both images are wonderful reminders of the power and diversity of nature. Nicely done! I think that as photographers/artists, we put ourselves on the line each time we publish an image, for we are sharing with others the memories and emotions which we developed at the location and moment.

  3. I really like them both but the sheer drama of “Emergence” gets me everytime!

  4. Well played Gary……both images are amazing. I find myself following your guide of looking for the image inside of the image….and it produces results,
    makes me want to join you again for the Yosemite workshop in the fall,
    gerry

  5. Pingback: Working A Scene – Making the Most of a Single Location « Nature's Best by Don Smith Photography

  6. Pingback: Favorite: Sunrise Mirror | Eloquent Nature by Gary Hart

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