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No Expectations

A dreary winter day seemed to hold little hope for a good day of photography. That certainly would have been true had I stayed inside.

ROCKY BEACH STUDY #5. Multi-colored stones are forced together by breaking waves at the sea's edge, offering an endless variety of shapes and colors for a nature abstract. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

It is much too easy to stay in the comfort of a warm house on a chilly winter day. It had been drizzling off and on for much of the past week, so going outside would mean putting on warm layers and rain gear. Still, I was getting a little stir-crazy and hadn't photographed for a while, so I put on a fleece and rain jacket, picked up my camera backpack and tripod, and headed outside.

The steely gray cloud cover made for flat, uninteresting light, so I had low expectations of finding anything to photograph. I turned the car into a wooded area I often visit, but it was so dark and dreary that I quickly left.

My next stop was the shore of a bay connected to the Salish Sea. The shallow water of the bay was slightly choppy with a muddy green color, and the gravels on the shore were gray and monotonous in both shape and size.

It was about an hour past high tide. In the intertidal zone the slowly receding seawater revealed larger rocks of varying shapes and sizes that — because they were wet — were also more colorful. The scene piqued my interest. It was fun for me to mentally arrange the rocks into various compositions, deciding what to include and what to exclude in a potential photograph.

Finding an promising area, I set my camera on the tripod, pointed the lens straight down, and began to compose. Before long, the clouds cleared. Initially welcome, the light from the low sun made the contrast too severe so I moved into the shadow of a large, weathered tree trunk that had washed up on the beach. In that even (but bluish) light of shade I concentrated on my compositions.

An hour flew by.

ROCKY BEACH STUDY #5. A deceptively simple and uncomplicated photograph that I made complicated and difficult. In these "abstract" scenes of nature, composition and framing are critical to making a photograph that works visually, so I spent a lot of time "tweaking" the composition. Where should the white rock be placed in the frame? Do the orangish rocks get included or cut off by the edges? Obviously, I believe those little decisions are part of the Art of photography — factors that are difficult to articulate but work together to make one image more pleasing than another.

To the non-photographer, it hardly seems possible that one could spend an hour photographing the same ten yards of beach. But there are many elements to consider when composing the photograph. Apart from the obvious issues of exposure and focus. there's the arrangement of shapes and colors in the frame. Is that rock too bright? Is that color balanced by others in the frame? Should that rock be smack in the center? Are distracting elements on the edges of the image?

Granted, some of that fine-tuning can be done at home, but I try to consider all those issues in the field. It is rewarding when I don't have to tweak my composition on the computer.

It is actually physically demanding to lean over a camera for an hour or more. And the mental energy spent composing is substantial. But I love the process. I left feeling refreshed by being in nature and optimistic about the image I exposed.



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