Lessons Learned in the Field

There are probably a few of you out there who love all the snow we’ve been getting here in Westchester.  But if you’re like me you’ve become a little weary of the cold, the shoveling, the ice, etc.  The average seasonal snowfall for us is supposed to be about 25 inches and we’re more than double that amount right now.

Anyway, with this month more than half way done, it was time for me to go looking for my February image.  So off to Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, the county’s largest park and one of my most favorite spots for photography, just a few miles from my home.

Below are the three images I eventually took.  And liked.  I say “eventually” because things didn’t click right away, literally and figuratively.   Read on if you want to find out how I was finally able to wake up my visual point of view, almost in the blink of an eye.  

As I said, things didn’t start out well.  I hadn’t been out shooting in weeks. After parking near the Meadow, I trudged north through knee-deep snow toward the Cross River, which meanders roughly east and west, dividing the top quarter of the park from the rest of its 4300 acres.  I could sense my impatience growing with each step, and my gear bag felt much heavier than usual, swinging back and forth, further aggravating my shovel-worn back.  Looking around, it was just drab snow and more snow, dull trees and more trees.  Just wanted to get to the River where some interesting image was sure to await me.  Well long story short, I kept at it, but the river was mostly frozen and grey, the light was grey, no striking shadows, no peculiar patterns, no singular shapes.  Blah.

Two hours later I was back in the car, a bit crestfallen.  Not one image on my card. Sat there for a while, staring out into the Meadow whose smooth snow cover was dotted with a million sticks, stems and spikes poking out.  Brooding a little, but also searching in my head for a mental switch I knew was in there somewhere.

Hard to explain, but in a kind of Aha Moment I poked my camera through the car window, zeroed in on a few of those individual spikes, cropped with the zoom lens, composed and clicked the shutter.

Some photographic lecture somewhere in the past came slowly drifting forth – in bits and pieces, and then complete sentences. …familiarity keeps you from seeing things fresh by filling in details from previous experiences … distinguishing in your mind the names of objects from their shape and pattern imbues you with a “beginners” point of view.  Not having to assimilate from scratch all the thousands of visual images one confronts every day is a valuable adaptive quality in most instances.  Since you’ve seen a thousand trees, why not let the mind supply all the previous details – so you don't have to waste time examining this particular tree.  A kind of useful neural shortcut, but, unfortunately, one that interferes with really seeing things anew.

Made some depth of field adjustments and fiddled with the exposure and white balance to get detail in the highlights, but in five minutes, shooting from my car window, these images seemed to magically jump onto my camera’s sensor without effort.  Hope you like them.