Leave Generalities Behind to Find Your Creative Voice
Recently I overheard some remarks regarding the rare snowfall we received over the Christmas
break. It was along the lines of "not enough snow for good snow pictures". Taking this remark to
heart, I realized that general statements about anything in photographic composition are probably not
Taking this statement apart, what does it really mean? Snow will impact an image about as many
ways as one might imagine. Simplistically, it is a reliable marker for winter. Seeing snow in any
image says winter, seeing light snow is truly an Arkansas winter. Looking deeper though, the
question must be examined in a broader context. How might snow impact an image? What images
are offered up by snowy conditions that are unique, and communicate unique messages in a photo?
What settings are impacted by snow, and how? (and on and on)
As a wildlife photographer, I can attest to the usefulness of snow. One great use of light snow is
tracking animals. Admittedly this is a pretty ordinary payoff, but one that makes tracking animals
much easier. Faint animal trails and tracks become evident with the lightest snow, perhaps even are
seen best with the lightest snow. If one wished to photograph animal trails in the woods, light snow
is an excellent resource. Light snow allows one to "tell the story".
Snow always adds more light, and changes the directions of light. Snow is a white reflector, also
providing fill light. Animals with dark undersides are actually better illuminated in snow or frost. A
light snow would be enough really, perhaps better.
In landscapes it takes very little snow to change the lighting dramatically. Snow will fill light shadows
in the dark areas of compositions. A small amount can provide a specular highlight. Snow can
change the dynamic range of a photo, making it either harder or easier to take. Any color against
white will be perceived darker, and on and on. Snow can change a lot of things. It is much more than
a pile of white stuff.
But the point of this little essay is not snow, it is generalities. As I write this I am listening to
Thelonious Monk. Imagine having a conversation with this master musician and asking how much
"b flat" is required to make a great tune. He would probably wonder what you had been smoking.
Why? Because the strength of a composition is not organized around a certain amount of this note
or that, it is about the entire gestalt, all the notes, all the rests, the melody, the rhythms, the dynamic
range, the voice of the instruments, their counter pointing, harmony (and on and on). Compositions
work as a whole (or not).
We photographers are composers. Outdoor photographers craft images with the "notes" we are
given. This is the essence of our art, and we will be judged only by the effectiveness of our final
compositions, not the individual "notes", and not adherence to the "rules". Generalities kill creative
expression by blocking careful thought about photo opportunities that always exist. When we move
past generalities only then can we hone our creative voice. This is the never ending path to mastery.
Trust Your Path:
"And if you can find out something
about the laws of your own growth
and vision as well as those of
photography you may be able to
relate the two, create an object
that has a life of its own, which
transcends craftsmanship. That
is a long road, and because it
must be your own road nobody
can teach it to you or find it for
you. There are no shortcuts, no
"It is part of the photographer's job
to see more intensely than most
people do. He must have and
keep in him something of the
receptiveness of the child who
looks at the world for the first time
or of the traveller who enters a