I shot a lot of interesting photographs right from our window on the second floor when we lived in Salem, Oregon about a decade ago. We were among the first tenants of a brand new apartment complex that bordered open farmland at the edge of the city, just across the Willamette River from Salem, proper.
From that elevated perch I could look out across the land at different terrain, during different seasons, at different times of day, and with different weather conditions. And this generated a surprisingly wide variety of images focusing on an equally wide variety of subjects.
This particular shot was taken as I watched a lone avian cutting lazy circles in the winter sky above the leafless trees. I imagined myself there, above it all and, until one landed, free from cares or worries, drifting on the invisible currents, suspended in a moment of Zen and in harmony with the world.
Compositionally, this image was framed to contrast the liberated bird with the spikey branches just below, illustrating the temporary peace in which it revels with the harsh environment to which it must return. I intentionally left a lot of “negative space” in the top half of the photograph to indicate the boundless realms of freedom through which we might soar, if we dare.
This photograph was taken with a first generation digital camera back in 2003 or so during one of our first backpacking trips to Yosemite. As I recall, we were hiking up the Mist Trail, which is a series of steps cut into solid rock that leads up up past Vernal Falls to Nevada Falls through showers of water vapor as the falls hit the boulders below – very slippery!
When my daughter was two years old, I carried her on my shoulders all the way up the steep grade to the top of Vernal Falls. These day’s she’d have to carry me!
Though the resolution of the original image isn’t great, I still include this picture in my collection of “best photographs” because I find the composition compelling. Notice the dynamics of all the diagonals, from the two trees in the lower left to the cleft in the rock toward the right. The all converge toward the peak.
Then, the top half of the frame is dark rock and dark sky, while the bottom is light. This would normally make the dark portion heavier in feel, and the overall shot would seem top-heavy, if not for the pyramid shape of the monolith itself, which counteracts that by establishing a base that diminishes in weight until the peak is reached.
The colors are as they were in the original shot – off toward the blue due to the early generation digital technology. But it creates a slate-blue, slight cold feel that I find compelling, so I have left that as is. In fact, I’ve found that every camera has its own idiosyncrasies, and you can play to them for artistic effect.
This was taken in a February some years back during a birthday trip to Yosemite that Teresa had arranged for me. Alas, I had been very sick with the flu right up until we arrived. So, rather than do our usual thing of exploring the trails (or taking section hikes of the John Muir Trail for several days in the backcountry) we decided to just stay at the lodge and walk slowly around the valley floor as I had energy to do it while recovering.
I didn’t expect to find anything to capture that hadn’t already been done. The best I saw was a few deer grazing by some leafless trees. And then I looked up and saw this.
It often happens that way – I’ll just be strolling along in town, the wild, or my own home and suddenly there’s this potential for a shot that just jumps out at me. So, as is my usual method, I started at the scene for a couple of moments, then started walking around from side to side and closer and farther, sizing up where the most dynamic arrangement of angles, foreground, and background came into conjunction.
Only then to I lift up my camera to finalize the composition by deciding what to frame in, and what to frame out.
When I returned home, I post-processed the digital image to get the best contrast and clarity until I had achieved the result you see here..
Oh, and as for the trip, it was absolutely wonderful, including the food at Yosemite Lodge, except for one thing. It was beginning to snow when we left, and I asked Teresa to take the high road out of the valley for more snow. Naturally, we skidded off the road in a slow slide and she spent half an hour trying to get us out of the ditch before we regained the path. I couldn’t help because I was still recovering. I loved it, for the adventure, but every time that trip or this image comes up, she still ribs me about that drive out.
Here’s the story behind the photo… I’m big on pareidolia – seeing faces in everyday objects. And as a photographer, I like to document them when they pop up. In this case, I was twisting the mop using it’s mechanism for wringing it out. When I checked it to see if it was dry enough, I saw the face, and considering I was mopping the bathroom floor at the time, its expression seemed quite appropriate. So, I set the mop in front of the camera at the best angle to make the face predominant and then framed to include the cat litter box in the background, providing motivation for the mop’s mood. I shot about 8 or 9 slight variations of angle until I captured the most potent one on the very last framing, which isn’t always the case. Sometimes the first shot in a series is the best because it possesses the strongest energy when the idea is fresh. In the end, its just another face in the wall. 🙂
Though this is far from my best work, I’ve always had a soft spot the image, and even more for what it represents. This is a single, solid block of granite on the way to the Mist Trail that winds up from the Yosemite Valley Floor to Vernal Falls and then Nevada Falls beyond that, eventually to connect to the John Muir Trail.
This was the first backpacking trip to Yosemite for Teresa and me. I’d previously stayed there with my parents for a few days, and later brought my kids there the same way. But though I had a love of the outdoors and had hiked and camped in scouting, including one twenty mile hike with a sleepover in the woods under the stars, I’d never actually backpacked and neither had Teresa.
I had taken Teresa on her first ever to Yosemite, just the year prior, as I recall. She had always avoided going there because so many of her friends had told her how spectacular it was that she didn’t want to see the reality of it and be disappointed. But, she went with me, and as we came out of the tunnel that reveals that classic view of the valley topped by Half Dome, she cried because it was all real and more wonderful even than she had been told.
So, shortly thereafter, we began to plan our first excursion into the Yosemite backcountry for three or four days, and our route began with a climb up the Mist Trail, a visit the last porta-potty before entering the wilderness (the out house had solar lighting, strangely), and then we left civilization truly behind for the first time in our lives.
This picture represents to me that moment of the first taste of freedom and real independence, just us and nature and whatever gear and supplies we carried on our backs.
Compositionally, this isn’t much, but I am taken with the sense of size and upward thrust, partly due to the shape of this massive stone and amplified by the tilt of the pine trees, all reaching up to a point in the sky above the material plane. I like the color contrast as well, the rich blues and vivid greens against the slate grey monolith.
What to me is most surprising is that this image was taken on a second generation digital camera with 800×600 resolution. Later you’ll see some really remarkable shots taken with all kinds of cheesy cameras. Sometimes camera flaws and limitations can be used to artistic effect.
NOTE: This image and commentary are part of a new book I’m compiling of my best images that have stories attached.
You can find my existing published books of photographs, as well as my fiction an nonfiction on my author’s page on Amazon.
While living in Pine Mountain Club in the early 2000s, I was driving home from the dump (which had the best view in the valley) and spied this interesting scene of a chilled tree on a frozen landscape desperately reaching up toward a distant sun.