Making the connection

A while back I wrote about the power of constructive criticism when it comes to photography. At that time I didn’t say where I was receiving such great feedback, but in this post I will. First though, let’s get into where I went and why.

The Wisconsin river is right in my backyard, but just down the road is a little section of the Ice Age Trail – the Grandfather falls bit. Falls are a bit of a misnomer – it’s really a mile long section of river that drops by 90 feet or so. A long cascade with lots of rocks is really what it is, but Long Grandfather Cascade with Lots of Rocks isn’t so catchy. But I digress. I headed over there just as the leaves started turning and when there was some fog hanging around. You know how I feel about fog.

Just like in my trip to Michigan’s U.P. this summer, it began about the water, but it became about the rock. At least for some of it. What really happened was a reminder about intentions and emphasizing what the photo is about. That not every shot has to be talking about everything you can see with your eyes. That in order for an image to really work, it has to be clear what it’s about. Why you took it. What you want others to see.

There are subtleties that get lost to me sometimes in the process of taking and editing photos. I’d had these shots in the hard drive for a while before deciding to post one at the Nature Photographer’s Network – my relatively new, and much-loved community. I chose this one to share first –

All well and good until you read what I wrote in my post about intention – “I want to make apparent the state of the rock and the cause – the connection between water and granite. Does it work?”

To which an astute photographer named Bonnie responded – “I think the darkness of the pools of water in the foreground rocks is a bit too dark though. You lose the connection between the flowing water in the river and that in the eroded bowls. It may not have been possible, but if you could have moved so the foreground water was reflecting more of the sky I think that would have made a better connection.”

Bingo! Why couldn’t I see that? So I rummaged through the whole series, hoping that I’d gotten at least one decent shot with the polarizer turned so the reflection of the sky would come through. Success! I’m so glad I had the presence of mind to play with the polarizer for each composition.

That makes the connection. It is the better photo to show the fact that that rushing water behind created all the wonderful shapes and contours in the riverbed. That it was rainwater in bowls doesn’t matter – it’s the presence of that water there and the Grandfather falls in the background that makes the connection. By concentrating on different aspects of the scene, I can convey different bits of the story. Shifting the dominance to either the falls or the riverbed tells a different part of the story of the place. One about the river as a force through the ages and one about its present beauty and majesty. And the fog.

Now check out this shot, the first of the series I decided to process –

I really had no business trying to make that shot work. It isn’t about anything. It’s 50/50 % the water and the rocks and neither has a chance to dominate. Something needs to in order to be compelling. Here they are just competing. Trying to shout each other down and not being heard at all. Just compare it to the falls shot and the pools shot. They say something. That one…well, not so much. It also has a blocked feeling – there isn’t any flow or any line to follow to lead you into that foggy goodness. This B&W version is from a little further down and has better balance between the rock and the river and a better through line.

So that’s a little illustration on how much being part of a learning community like NPN has helped me work through an image to make it the best it can be. I knew the rocks were special and spent more time with them. Enjoy –

A few words about NPN. First and foremost it is about the craft of nature photography. Both field and processing techniques. No matter if you are a beginner or Ansel Adams’s little brother, it makes no difference. We are here to learn, to encourage, to critique and to make each other better. We don’t care about what kind of camera you shoot with or what kind of software you use to edit, although listing settings and processing techniques is key to give enough information to frame a critique. They are honest, fair and most importantly, polite. Some areas of the site are not visible to you unless you are a member, but the Showcase Galleries will give you some idea of the type of content we have.

The Showcase galleries are just for that – to show off and to share. These images are not critiqued, but that’s where the action is, let me tell you. Lots of lively and interesting discussion. Never rude or disruptive and we’re not competing for views, likes or shares. There are also repositories for articles, how-tos, coupons and deals, general discussion about gear or locations…even a resources area where members share books, videos and websites that have helped shape their photography. We have weekly Editor’s Picks in each category as well as Weekly Challenges that are really fun.

And let me address the elephant in the room – yes it costs money. I was a little dubious myself when I first happened upon NPN. What? A site that makes me pay to use it? What’s the deal? Well, the deal is that with sites that are free, you are the product. You are what is bought and sold. You don’t have to look any further than Facebook for that to be obvious. So yes, you have to pay to be a member, but the old adage you get what you pay for is true. I have paid to be a member and will do it again next year and probably for many years to come.

Start with a free-30-day trial and see for yourself. For those 30 days you get pretty much all the benefits and access of full members. I did it and I ponied up right away. It’s worth it for the community, the camaraderie and the counsel. Experts at every level. Viewpoints and perspectives that are widely different. Examples of excellent photography in just about every aspect of Nature Photography. Plus a non-nature category…where else could I post my love of abandonment?

So ok. Enough with the sales pitch. Toddle on over and say hi.

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