Photographic reality: Framing infinity

Snow and Autumn Leaves, Yosemite


“Photography’s gift isn’t the ability to reproduce reality, it’s the ability to expand it.”

(The second installment of my series on photographic reality.)

If you’ve ever tried to point out to someone a small detail in nature that pleases you, perhaps you’ve experienced a conversation like this:

You: “Look at that!”

Friend: “What?”

You: “Those leaves—look at the frost on those leaves.”

Friend: “What leaves?”

You: “There on the log—with the snow.”

Friend: “Those dead ones? Yeah, cool. Man, I can’t believe I ate all those fries at lunch.”

You: “Whatever.” Sigh.

It’s really great to enjoy nature, to take in all of its infinite, three dimensional, multi-sensory splendor: its smells, sounds, depth, and motion. But all this input is a lot to process, and because everybody interacts with the world a little differently, each person is drawn to different things—what moves you might be overlooked by others. If only there were some way to show others what you see. Hmmm….

Unlike us humans, a still camera experiences the world in single-sensory, discrete frames. Rather than being a disadvantage, a camera’s “limitations” provide an opportunity to isolate whatever aspects of a scene that moves you, and to remove extraneous elements that distract. In other words, the camera’s field of vision, determined by you, has finite boundaries that make a frame in which you can organize relationships and eliminate distractions through careful selection of your lens’s distance (or focal length) and direction.

The golden leaves in the above image were three among thousands dotting the forest floor on this November morning near Cathedral Beach in Yosemite. I wanted to juxtapose fall and winter, and reveal the leaves’ frosty fringe. A wide frame would have more closely represented the entirety of the scene as I experienced it, but without something to anchor the frame, I knew viewers’ eyes would wander and they’d be unsure of my intent.

So I put on my 100mm macro lens and moved closer, finding this trio of leaves on a log, surrounded by patches of snow. I started by positioning myself so none of the leaves merged—that each stood by itself, balanced in the frame. Framing the leaves tightly eliminated the rest of the world, giving you no choice but to only look at what I wanted you to see. F14 and careful focusing gave me enough depth of field to make the leaves and log sharp with the background distractions blurred to insignificance.

Up next: See the light

6 Comments on “Photographic reality: Framing infinity

  1. Pingback: Photographic reality « Eloquent Nature by Gary Hart

  2. Your insightful essays are as helpful and motivating as your inspiring images. Thanks for sharing your thoughts as well as your photos.

  3. I love your perspective!!! 🙂 especially about the conversation 🙂 I’ve had that one a few times with my kids, who have just learned that when we go on a family hike that I’m going to take lots of photos of “the grass and leaves.” Thanks for highlighting the details, and thanks for helping us photograph them better.

  4. I can totally relate to the leaves part. Whenever I’m with my friends I’m always the last one because I’m looking and enjoying every one of my surroundings and photographing. I guess us creatives see things differently than the normal person. Wonderful read!

  5. Pingback: Photographic reality: The missing dimension « Eloquent Nature by Gary Hart

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