Landscape photographer Elliot Porter once said, “Sometimes you can tell a large story with a tiny subject”.
On the weekend I bundled up against the damp, windy cold and headed down to the frozen shore along the South Thompson River not far from my home. My intention was to photograph the Pritchard Bridge that spanned the river and I had hoped to see large chunks of ice jammed against the pillars.
I like photographing architecture, and any kind of structure, whether it is buildings, fences, and yes, bridges, is just plain fun for me. I look for how the light plays on stone, wood, metal, glass, and any other building material and how it creates shadows and features, like ice, that interact with the structure. However, to my disappointment, the large chunks of ice I had noticed a few days earlier were gone. The strong wind that constantly blew along the river valley must have cleared all the ice from around the bridge pillars.
I wandered along under the bridge looking for interesting angles. I had mounted my camera with a 16-85mm lens thinking that its wide view would give me an interesting perspective. My intention was to photograph the bridge in a fashion that would look good when converted to black and white. I looked for shadows and highlights that would create enough contrast to give depth and dimensionality to black and white images. Much of the time I see black and white images that have been changed to monotone without regard to the tonality of the subject. All I see are flat tones of black and white with no relationship to the actual colour quality of the full colour original. There are several programs that convert image files to black and white while keeping that tonality, PhotoShop among them, but my preference because of the control and finality is Silver Efex Pro from www.niksoftware.com.
I walked along the shore and crossed under the bridge looking for creative opportunities and trying to find interesting perspectives of the bridge. Eventually, however, what caught my eye were features protruding from the sand like posts and branches, and I began looking down and along the shore instead of up and that’s when I really started to take pictures that were working for me. There were shells, small bits of water worn wood, a half-buried rusty oil drum, fish skeletons and much more, like an overturned shoe in the sand. I changed lenses to an 18-200mm to have more focal length and a narrower view for ground level shots of posts and other revealed objects sticking up from the sand.
The light was perfect and its low angle created intriguing shadows that added definition to each of the subjects I selected as I walked along the sandy beach. Each small object, in Eliot Porter’s words, had its own “story” and I tried to show something in each that was more than just a snap shot of an object on the beach.
Often we forget that there is more in the landscape than majestic peaks and expanses of fields. I began by ignoring the “tiny subjects” thinking only the bridge would be worth photographing. If this was a garden, then I would immediately contemplate close-up photography and grab my macro lens, but it took me a while to realise how much more there was to photograph on that frozen river beach. Soon, I will be walking through the sand with my camera again, this time keeping my eye on the ground, and I will be dressed even warmer.