Thursday, December 30, 2010

Looking Back at my 2010 Photography

I recall about this time last year thinking that I would work harder on black-and-white photography in 2010. As it turned out, while I got a number of pretty good black-and-white pictures, I don't recall spending any serious time working at it. The annual resolution went the way of most other resolutions on the new year.

As it turns out I did have some successes in 2010. While we might imagine that we know what will be coming in the months ahead, this is pretty much guess work. It takes a while to get to know a place, and once known, most subjects require a few photo sessions before you really understand how to get the best image possible. Then there are seasons, weather, and everything else. Outdoor photography can be a pretty tough game. One must be long-suffering and patient.

A few things stand out to me in 2010.

Ozark Spiderwort at Broadwater Falls
2010 was a pretty good year for wildflowers. I got a number of new species this year and some decent photos of them. One of my core beliefs is that you never really "get" the picture. You get "a" picture and sometimes it is pretty good. I believe mostly we are "given" images of special moments that now and then are special enough to transcend that moment, to be something more. I was given a handful of pretty decent wildflower images, including some of brand new species. Some of them have turned out to be pretty good black and white photos.

River Crossing in 2010 Elk Rut
What about the elk?  Every new year in elk photography is different. I have been at it long enough now to witness the changes in patterns from year to year. I like to place my elk photos in context, in settings that are different, and different in terms of interpretations of elk as an abstract form. I think it matters to stretch past the obvious, to try to tell a story, and to introduce your subject to your audience in new ways. 2010 gave me some of those photos of elk. After a 125,000 plus images in uncountable shoots one might imagine that there would be little new to discover. This year I witnessed at least 8 river crossings with dozens of images. One or two on my all time list. I found new ways to interpret elk, have new ideas for 2011.

Baby Mink Playing at Cove Creek
Other animals gave up an image now and then. The most memorable had to be the most unexpected. I was working at the computer and got burned out so I grabbed my go-to lens and camera and took off on a wild hair to a pool along Cove Creek near Erbie (no plan, just an impulse). When I arrived, I found a mink with 5 kits (cubs?) in the pool swimming all over the place. I don't think I got a lot of great images, but I was treated to baby mink that came right up to me, so close I had to back off to get the picture. I won't claim any great pictures in this case, but a great experience. Honestly that matters to me most.

Solitary Sandpiper Wading the Buffalo
I had the good fortune of having a doe cross in front of me during an elk river crossing. I saw on three occasions a family of otter feeding at the Ponca Access. Another favorite experience was a migrating group of Solitary Sandpipers roosting along the river during the rut. They allowed me to photograph them and seemed pretty unconcerned about my presence. I had only before seen these birds at some distance so this was a treat. I got one image I like a great deal.

Doe Wading the Buffalo River
Then there are those pictures I saw, and never got. The two most memorable were of wading elk, and both happened the same day during the early rut.  I was checking my usual spots when I came down a small bank to the river and saw the Boxley Beast, a magnificent bull, in perfect reflection in front of a river snag that I have photographed alone. The mirror of the river pool was absolutely still, and perfect. It was a lifetime shot, but the bull bolted out of the river before I could take one frame. Shortly later, I saw the bull he replaced licking his wounds, wading a pool with only his head and antlers showing. He traced a "V" in still water -- an amazing image, but I could not find a shooting lane.

Kids Playing in the Buffalo
Maybe the biggest miss of the year was a group of black panthers on my road. I was heading down to the Boxley Valley at dawn, rounded a corner and there was a black mass in the middle of the road. Two animals bolted immediately into the brush, a third stayed in the road long enough to give me the profile, that long tail and body before he joined the others. This is something I thought I would never see. The big cats are timid, rare and nocturnal.

I would rate the year pretty good. Because I take photos for a living, quite a few come my way. That is the way it works, more work, more results. I lead a fortunate life. The misses don't bother me much, if photography was easy, I would lose interest quickly. The price of admission to photography is low, but paradoxically, that makes getting great pictures harder. The game shifts to outstanding moments, and plain hard work. I think you never master it.

The misses keep me coming back, I know I will get some of them. Then there are the pictures I can visualize, but have not yet witnessed. There are also the pictures that will be given that I cannot imagine. It's the misses and possibilities that make photography compelling. I look forward to every shoot with a sense of possibility, and the prospect of unexpected moments that might come my way.

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