I returned to Myakka State Park last week for another attempt at photographing the flora recovery in an area of the park that burned last winter. I’m happy to report that I was not harassed by poisonous snakes or packs of wild hogs this time, but neither was I very satisfied with my images, so I’ll probably make a third trip at the end of the week.
What originally drew me to the area was the contrast and texture. As you’d expect after a forest fire (this one was probably planned), the ground and the trunks of trees were black with ash, but the new plant growth was a bright yellow-green. There was also great texture in the burnt trunks of the palmettos; they reminded me of basking alligators.
Unfortunately, it was still very difficult for me to find a clean composition. There were so many burnt branches and leaves crossing in front of my subjects, it was like always having power lines running through my pictures. I tried to simplify, focusing in on smaller details rather than the larger patterns that I was seeing, and although I had a little success, I was left with the feeling that I was missing out on the larger landscape that I had come for.
Despite the fact that I haven’t been particularly happy with my photos, the shoots have been very valuable. They’ve been a great reminder of the fact that good photos are not taken, they are made. If photography were nothing more than going to a beautiful place and pressing the shutter button, then we’d all be great photographers. Unfortunately, it’s a little more complicated than that: we need to find a subject, find graphical elements that enhance it, simplify (remove elements that detract), compose, recompose, correct exposure, and keep working the subject until we get what we’re after.
I can’t remember the number of times that I’ve been in a beautiful location with beautiful lighting, and struggled to find a good composition, and said to myself in frustration, “Look at this place, this is incredible… if you were really a good photographer, you WOULD be able to make something out of this!” If you find yourself in that situation, then let me offer this advice: First, stop it. Don’t focus on yourself; re-focus your attention on what’s in front of you, and remember the basic elements of composition that you’ve learned. Second, no matter how good a photographer is, nobody sees the perfect photo instantly… at least, not all the time. Finding an interesting, non-cliche image requires working a location for different angles and maybe different ideas. Also remember that if you weren’t a good photographer, you’d probably already have been satisfied with a mediocre picture. So, keep taking pictures! It will only make you a better photographer.