I have chosen to photograph things as they are in their natural setting. I do not dig up a waterfall, for instance, drag it into the studio, position it carefully against a muslin backdrop, adjust the lighting and take the picture. I travel to the waterfall and take what nature gives me. Or wait until nature gives me something different, like an overcast sky, or fog. Waiting on fog is a tiresome thing unless you live in Washington state or England. I do not recommend waiting on fog. Waiting on clouds is taxing enough.
In this, I am envious of my studio colleagues with their lights and backdrops, and my artist chums who work with charcoal and oils and watercolors and take a clump of calla lilies and arrange them to their satisfaction before sketching and painting away—or who go into the wilds and paint the dogwood tree without the cars parked at the curb, without even the curb. I’m stuck with hydrangeas or day lilies growing against a whitewashed brick house, gawky and ungainly, waving in the breeze, with bright spots of sunshine in the background and nothing to do but bear it.
It takes a lot of looking to be able to see. So I troop around, looking for hydrangeas or day lilies to my liking. Making do. I don’t, after all, “take what nature gives me.” I find what I’m looking for. I search out pleasing arrangements—but make them as surely as my studio photographer and artist friends make theirs. I make them, not by snipping and placing, but by walking around, looking, waiting. By placing my tripod in unlikely positions and contorting my body into unbreathable twists. By zooming in with the lens, and blurring the background with the aperture, and stopping all movement with shutter speed. I control as much as I can to produce what I want. I look until I see a way of crafting an image I like.
I am very much crafting an image. I am not at all “taking what’s there.” I am taking what I like from what’s there, or using what’s there to create what I like. But, the selection, the cropping, the arrangement, the production, and the outcome are the result of the imposition of my will—my vision—upon the scene. I use the camera to make a picture that is pleasing to me, by how I place the camera amid the flowers, not how I place the flowers in the studio. And then I take it to the computer.
My computer is my darkroom. Ansel Adams said, “Good photographs are made, not taken” (or words to that effect). Adams was a fair enough photographer but he was an absolute master in the darkroom. Every photograph was a production, a creation, as much as a painting by Degas or Picasso. Adams worked hard to get the result he liked. So do I. My studio friends get a result they like. There you are. Different approaches. Satisfying results. Controlling what we can control all the way, because there aren’t many straight-up images—photographs—that are worth viewing. We fiddle with them all. I have a polarizing filter and a warming filter attached to my lens. I don’t take a straight-up photo. Even point and shoot cameras give you what they have been programed to think is a well-exposed image. Even point and shoot cameras make the best image their computer brain is capable of making.