make your heartbeat match
the beat of the universe, to
match your nature with Nature."
- Joseph Campbell (1904 - 1987)
- Joseph Albers (1888 - 1976)
Among the countless "rules" (or, more precisely, "rules of thumb") of photography, there are these three gems: (1) just because some "thing" or "place" is beautiful does not mean that it can be captured in a photograph; (2) how "good" a photograph is (whether judged by the photographer or viewer) has little or no correlation with how "hard" it was to get it; and - my personal favorite (and main focus of this short blog post; although all three apply) - (3) capturing "autumn colors" is among the hardest "simplest" things to do as a photographer.
I admit that #3 may not be at the top of most photographer's list of "rules to learn to forget" - I mean, how hard can it be to take a picture of fall colors?!? Point and shoot, right? - but it is near the top of mine! Indeed, combining #3 with #1, I have always simultaneously both looked forward to and dreaded the "peak color" weeks of autumn. I, like most everyone else, find autumn colors (particularly those in my northern Virginia neighborhood) stunningly beautiful. Yet, I have also always found it particularly difficult to capture the beauty of fall colors with my camera. Taking it "all in" with a panorama certainly makes a colorful photo, but is hardly a step beyond the "cliche" shot. On the other hand, while artfully focusing in on a colorful tree or leaf might result in a credible "fine art" print, this is also just as likely to fall far short of expressing the "Wow!" one feels while entranced by the preternatural sun strewn colors of autumn. In my 50+ years of doing photography, I have yet to take a single image that comes close to capturing what I feel when I am surrounded by autumn colors at their best.
And so, we come to aphorism #2, and use it to contextualize the image that appears at the top of this post. This photograph was taken during a hike my wife and I took last weekend at a local park. The small but beautiful - and easily accessible - Scott Runs waterfall appears at the end of the first leg of the trail, and is visible to your left just as you turn toward the Potomac river. Indeed, most pictures of the waterfall are of this "head on" view of the falls from a vantage point near where the trail runs into the river. While I have an obligatory image captured from this position ...
... it is the image shown at the top of this post that I prefer. Why? Not because it is the better of the two (truth be told, I think this one is the superior photograph!); but simply because it required great effort on my part - with considerable help by my wife (without whom I literally could not have captured this image). To get this shot, I needed to first walk "around" a rock/sand embankment (and away from the falls), climb over some steep rocks, wade in slightly-above-knee water, climb back onto the steep rocks (while reaching over them to grab my camera and tripod that my wife was diligently holding for me), and find a position that approximated my "visualized" vantage point. In my mind, at least, and solely because of first-hand experience with the effort that was involved, I imbue the resulting image (the one that appears at the top of this page) with something "special"; for me, it is a "better image" because of what I needed to do beyond "just turning a corner and pressing the shutter." In truth? It's a toss up; whichever of the two images is "best" is - and ought to be - entirely up to the viewer. Sadly, of course, and as always, neither image captures the awe I felt as I was bedazzled by Virginia's autumn colors!