Fall 2011 Photo Tour Results — Postcard From the Lake
A funny thing happened on the way to the Internet. Originally I wasn’t planning to work up this image, or if I did I thought I’d be unlikely to post it. Well, I did work it up, and posted it; and it leads to a little story.
I captured the photo above on our recent Fall 2011 Photo Tour in the Canadian Rockies, one morning when the group took up Alan Ernst’s idea to hike down to the outlet of Bow Lake. The first post of tour photo results shows what Alan came up with at that location, along with his thinking on how he wanted to approach things photographically. In Alan’s description, he refers to “the postcard shot”, which — at this location — I could loosely define as a straight-up composition of Crowfoot Mountain, with the morning light reflecting in the calm lake. It would be taken with a wide angle to show a lot of the mountain, and formatted in a typical horizontal orientation like you might see on a postcard in any Rockies gift shop. In other words, something much like the photo above.
I really liked Alan’s thinking and approach to the scene: how he instead used a longer focal length lens to pull out non-postcard compositions. He concentrated on looking for snippets of the scenery that highlighted small details, perhaps an interplay of light & shadow, or a certain graphic shape. I thought that was a diverse and interesting way to approach the scene. I like to recommend things like this to photographers, both as exercises in creative seeing, and as ways to build out a broader portfolio of work from locations visited. It’s always useful to look for ways to go beyond the obvious.
Now, as photographers, one of the traps we can fall into is to be in a creative rut, just cranking out more examples of what we’ve done before. Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with repeating successful patterns in a commercial context, because you want to spend a lot of time producing things that you know will be successfully marketable. But in a purely creative context, often just repeating the same thing over & over again can lead to a certain staleness, sticking with a level of safety that can produce work that may be “nice” or “good”, but isn’t “great”. For that reason, artists frequently feel the need (or are encouraged by others) to innovate, to “think outside of the box”, to try new things, to push out of the comfort zone, to seek achievement by risking failure, and so on.
There’s nothing wrong with this, and it’s something I do incorporate into my own creative process. My recent post Focus Fumble for Fading Fall Flame is an example of something I came up with while trying something different, and the result there was personally satisfying. But part of the issue with this mindset is that, if the pendulum swings too far in the opposite direction, an artist may become dissatisfied with anything that seems too familiar and isn’t novel. It’s like becoming addicted to sugar or an adrenaline rush — the only interesting things are the ones that have some kind of extra kick to them. But this can be a false creativity. Not everything new is good, and not everything creative is novel. There can be a lot of good opportunity in approaching familiar subjects and using comfortable styles, too.
So, as I said, I almost didn’t bother with my own postcard shot from our group’s time on the shore of Bow Lake. But here’s the thing — I had actually captured this composition in the field, along with several others; at some level I liked what I was seeing out there. Thinking back, I captured the photograph because the air was crisp, the light was bright & clear, and the lake was calm & reflective. All obviously pleasing elements to see and experience. From the necessity standpoint, I had gone down the trail to the shore with minimal gear, taking only a wider angle zoom lens. So I had to “shoot what I brung”.
In the end, I gave the “postcard” image a second look. Because it was “nice”, I decided to go ahead and work it up, then posted it to some photo sharing sites and online galleries. An interesting thing happened immediately. On the 500px.com site, which I’ve begun using relatively recently, the photo quickly began to accumulate some views and was picked up by the site’s editorial team as a feature in their daily set of fresh images. It’s not a show-stopper like some of the stunning work posted there, but it was like getting a nice postcard, myself. 🙂 I was gratified to be in the company of other interesting work that day, especially with an image that originally I wasn’t even going to put out there!
This reinforced something I’ve always known, and that is that there’s nothing at all wrong with photographs that are just plain “nice”. They don’t have to be edgy, or “out there”, or breaking some kind of incredible new ground in subject material or style. They don’t have to be feverishly creative inspirations, or blow peoples’ minds with something never seen before. While I photograph driven by my own creative motivation, any photograph succeeds ultimately because of what the viewers bring to seeing the image — their memories & experiences, their hopes & dreams, what they like or don’t like. If a photograph works for viewers, then hey — I’m happy with that!
I’ll still try to be creative, and I’ll still look for new ways to photograph the familiar scenes & subjects, because it’s fun and challenging to try to see, capture and express things in new ways. But I’ll probably always take the comfortable, familiar compositions as well. Why? Sometimes it’s nice just to get a simple postcard from the lake.
Follow this link to see another take I’ve done with my “postcard” photograph.
Postcards — tired clichés or a nice treat on a given day? Post your thoughts…