A Photo Is Not Like Reality
Subtle changes during editing can turn a photograph into something like a painting.
There is a spot along the South Prairie-Carbon River Road where the land is low enough to make a permanent wetland on both sides of the road. One of these ponds is visible from a bluff overlooking the valley. I have been thinking about taking a photograph there for more than a year, but conditions have not been right. In winter, the ponds are often frozen. If the wind blows, it disturbs the surface of the water and the reflections dissolve. In spring and summer, foliage blocks the view. And sometimes, if it is too warm, the water is diminished or muddy.
Finally, I had the right camera and lens, the right conditions, and took some photos from the overlook. This one was a favorite; it captures some aspects of Pacific Northwest forests that are, if not unique, strange and interesting:
The heavy moss on the trees glows at the edges when it catches a backlight. This is very difficult to capture in a photograph, since the backlight can be so strong that it overwhelms the camera sensor. In this case, the moss is backlit, but the sky is a heavy dark gray, so it’s not overwhelming.
Pacific Northwest forests may lose the leaves of deciduous trees, but there is still plenty of green color—farms, moss, evergreen trees. And many weeds and flowering plants stay green year-round.
The interior of the forest is spooky-looking when you have large evergreens overhead. The amount of light is minimal, and it can be quite a ghostly experience to stand in these forests. Add in all the strange shapes, strange light, strange textures, and you get a spooky photograph.
With all of that said, the choices available to make the photograph can make or break it. If I brightened the image above even a little to make the contents more clear, it ruins the mood. Here’s a brighter photograph of approximately the same same area to show what I mean; it just looks straggly to me:
There are a lot of considerations to take into account when you see something you want a good photograph of. Some of the them are personal: mood, texture, framing. Some of them are technical: balancing the exposure, capturing color correctly, etc. I often take 10 or 20 or more photographs of a scene to make sure that I understand what I’m looking at, how I feel about it, and finally what I want to say.