The Story of a Single Shot

I am a walker.  I mean that in the sense that I’m not a runner.  I go out and tear up several miles at a time.  I average a 14-minute mile.  It is not a stroll.  What the hell does this have to do with photography?  Well one of my normal walking routes takes me by a stream that runs through my neighborhood and out into several others.  Over one of the bridges I’m allowed a view down into a part where it gets rather spready.  As spring progresses the vegetation gets more varied and lush.  Part of that lushness are skunk cabbages.  An inglorious name for a really rather nice plant.

So you’d be expecting skunk cabbage pictures right about now.

You’d be wrong.

Fast forward a couple of days and you can find me at one of my favorite spots; the Musquash Conservation area.  It’s so close to my house that it’s like an extension of my (rather puny) back yard.  I know the trails well and just off of one of them lies a smallish brook.  In the afternoon the sun angles down rather nicely into said brook.

Ah…now for the skunk cabbage shots, right?

No.

In fact there are skunk cabbages in that smallish brook and I noticed them.  Noticed them proper.  However they weren’t lit in any way that would be considered in the least photogenic, but these things were –

Unfurl

Now an uninitiated person might think these are skunk cabbages, but they are not, they just like hanging around with skunk cabbages.  Must be the conversation.  At the time I was photographing them, I had no idea what they were, but I do now.  But since I didn’t then I’ll just get on with telling you how much I squished around in this smallish brook trying to find just the right composition and treatment for these impostor cabbages.

I tried initially doing some test shots with the camera off tripod.  I find it a useful and time saving technique when I’m only trying to find how best to pull various elements of a photo together.  Time saving was key in this session because the sun has a nasty way of getting behind trees or clouds or very tall people and ruining my light.  Angled sunlight is tricky enough as it is without a capricious sun getting in on the act.

So, there – that’s the best angle…low down, main plant in large proportion to the plants behind it.  They must be rendered out of focus, but recognizable.  So important to theme and leading imagination without dictating imagination.  Camera on tripod now.  Damn, legs are too tall.  Must get lower down.  Is the water running into my boot?  Never mind that, what’s the sun doing?  Are those clouds?  Ok, tripod is lower.  Oh crap now it’s pivoting on the center column.  Raise center column.

What about that dead tree straddling the smallish brook?  Is it too intimidating?  Is it too dark?  Can I see the light behind it from underneath?  Where are the tips of the leaves of my main plant?  Where’s that sun?  Click.  Damn, the autofocus is confused.  It thinks I want the smallish brook in focus.  Switch to manual.  Ah that’s better.  But are the leaves really sharp?  Hit ok to enlarge Live View.  Nope, not quite sharp.  Adjust.  There.  Click.

Take a few more shots at different focal points, focal lengths, angles and apertures just to be safe.

Many hours later, when I get home I start reviewing to my relief I did get what I want.  Sort of.  Kick up the clarity a notch or two and the blacks.  Damn that dead tree is rather dark and overwhelming.  Let’s crop some.  It’s a start.   But what’s this?  The adjustment brush in Lightroom.  Aha.  That should do the trick.  Feather at 90%.  Brush around.  Ooops, too much.  Undo adjustment brush.  Choose new brush and lightly feather again.  Change exposure.  Ah.  That’s the sauce.

Impostor

Just look at the breathtaking crispness of the foreground plant to the background supporting cast.  The clean lines contrast nicely with the messy forest floor.  The reflecty parts in the water and the deep shadows under the log really stretch the tonal range to the max.  The light beyond the log and the moss in front of the two main plants; how’s that for depth?

Yes.  I am getting above myself, but dammit, I really planned this shot.  I worked on it.  I worked it.  I improved it.  It’s deliberate.  Isn’t that what I’ve been reciting to myself over and over like a mantra?  Be deliberate.  Make choices.  Slow down.  Plan.

I even think it might be working.

So that’s the story of a single shot.  If anyone ever says to me again that my camera takes good picture I’m going to hit them with it.

Oh, and I suppose you still want to know what this impostor cabbage is.  I suspect it to be False hellebore.  A kind of poisonous lily.  But I won’t know until it blooms or the leaves fully unfurl.  And I have plans for when that happens.

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