Seeing & Looking
Observation, light and editing are the where we live and work as photographers. Strolling through a damp, grassy field by the Peace River, I saw mangroves reflected in the dew drops suspended in blades of grass. In the sky above, slender cirrus clouds hung like translucent wings. I paused along the edge of a posse of white mangroves and realized I did not remember seeing any of the area I just passed by.
I was not hearing the soundscape either. I turned round, went back, and this time I walked along slowly and tuned out the inner dialogue. Details in the mangrove forest began to appear visually. I heard a soft buzzing. A patch of yellow hues came into view. Paper wasps were making building a six inch wide, umbrella-shaped nest on a tree branch a few feet above ground. Since they are a pollinator and feed on garden pests, paper wasps are beneficial; almost every pest insect on Earth has a wasp that feeds on it. A good buzz, indeed.
The wasps were calm and drying off from that morning's dewdrops. It seemed safe to photograph them close up. They are known to sting only when territory is threatened, and as I moved the lens very slowly, light from the sunrise lit their soporific bodies.
Observation. Light. Editing (OLE). To understand these three elements, let's borrow a metaphor from musical performance. Editing is like practicing a song multiple times to embody the timing and dynamics of the notes and phrasing. Light is like the melody. Observation is timing, rhythm and rest. OLE is getting all of it working together. Editing photographs is not about making them perfect, but the process making them express your message. Light has been my sidekick since my childhood; I love thinking about its qualities, direction and moods. Editing and light flow smoothly for me. Observation takes concentration and dedicated practice. Sometimes our art comes not from arriving, but in being almost there.
To look deeply takes practice letting go of my rabbit mind. Easter Sunday came along to remind me to let it go and pay attention to this land.
* Paper wasps have variable black facial patterns that signal their fighting ability. Wasps with more irregular black spots on their faces win more fights and are avoided by rivals, compared with wasps with fewer irregular black spots. These facial signals help reduce the costs of conflict, ensuring that wimpy wasps don’t waste time battling really strong rivals they are unlikely to beat. Like karate belt colors, facial patterns of wasps are like a biological “ornament” that shows the wasps fighting status. Wasps with elaborate ornaments are a greater social and sexual threat than those with less elaborate ornaments (Elizabeth Tibbetts, PhD, Dept of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Univ. of MIchigan).
Photos and Writings by Jim Austin Jimages
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