This month’s image shows the abundant density of vegetation that covers this glorious Chilean park while highlighting one of nature’s great miracles—trees that grow from tiny seeds through rocks against impossible odds and pounding Patagonia winds.
My group had 1 short trail-mile left before reaching our destination for the next two nights—Cabañas Cuernos. I was bringing up the rear. No one had noticed this gem of wild wonder emerging from the rock. In fact, I almost missed it too. It blended into the rock and the dense vegetation around it. I backpedalled to confirm what I thought my periphery had seen. It was!
I called out to Kathy who was immediately in front of me. The others were just out of earshot in hot pursuit of the dry cabin, warm showers, even a backcountry hot tub that awaited us from the windswept drizzly day of hiking and photography. Kathy now saw it too. She smiled from ear to ear.
For the next half hour, we climbed rocks on and off the trail, lay on our bellies, and moved all around to get the perspective that might show off the greatness of this natural bonsai tree miracle. The infamous Cuernos Paine with its sharp lines and dark, contrasting, sedimentary rock layers loomed in the background.
Years ago, when I was just getting started in my career, a well-respected European photo editor told me something I’ve never forgotten.
“Paul, success in photography is not about pictures; it’s about ideas.”
I’ve never forgotten his words. Literally thousands, if not millions of people can take great pictures. That’s one of the glories of modern technology. If a person aims their little metal machine in the right direction, they’re going to—at the very least—accurately render what they see in front of them. If they’re repeatedly at really impressive postcard destinations, then people will ooh and awe them for autographs.
But my European friend would say they are only trying to record and sell what they see. This is fine, but thousands of others are doing the same thing.
So what’s this about ideas?
“Kathy, let’s stop for a minute and consider what it is you feel when you look at this scene.” I am always on alert to explain this concept to my clients when the unique teachable moment presents itself.
It was the tree’s resilience, independence, isolation, and fierce tenacity that spoke the loudest. These were the ideas we wanted to communicate. It was beyond what we saw. Considering all the environmental factors of temperature, moisture, wind-speed, and even the smell in the air… it’s what we felt.
“What if we position the tree against open space—alone, but anchored visually between Cuernos Paine and its nearby wall of granite?” We agreed this might do it.
Together, Kathy and I shot over 300 images of this tree (I alone shot 233). It was glorious. We were in the zone. Appreciating the beauty in that unique way that only photographers and John Muirian philosophers can. But there was still something of the atmosphere that was not being communicated in the images. Texture.
The small tree was still being lost (visually) in the density of the textural vegetation leading up to it. This is because we were shooting at the classic landscape aperture of f/22. (think: small opening, small amount of light, large depth-of-field).
Photography is about breaking conventions. You can shoot a portrait like a landscape or a landscape like a portrait (in terms of depth-of-field, or "how much is in focus"). That’s what we’ve done here by shooting the scene with a 50mm lens @ f/1.4 as if it was a model in a studio. The viewers eye is drawn across the image from the bottom corners up to the top left-center where it lands upon this natural wonder.
Did we communicate the ideas we hoped to in this image? Does this image say something else to you? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.
Have a great March!
NOTE: We’ll be returning to Patagonia in March 2013 to venture again into the wildest places on earth. For more information, stay tuned HERE.