To Go for a Walk in the Woods
Nature Photography's Influence on Perspective
When I was in college…
…I fulfilled my work study in the Art Department’s Media Room. There I was surrounded by technology, old and new, that opened my eyes to the incredible world of filmography and photography. So when I took my New Media class, I was already familiar with the stunning and powerful Canon 7D that we checked out for the video art portion of the course.
And while I had that camera in my temporary possession, I couldn’t help but take a photography excursion into the less-frequented natural area of campus; the Norway Valley, conveniently located immediately to the south of my dorm.
I have always had a love for nature photography…
…though the tools at my disposal were rarely so sophisticated as a 7D. During high school, I found myself very lucky to receive a Canon PowerShot as a Christmas gift. Although today my iPhone can take a better photo, at the time the PowerShot had many features at which I marveled, and I wasted no time in taking full advantage of them.
One of my favorite places to take that humble camera was the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center. Preserved for the public by the son of the founder of Hormel Foods, the reserve boasted 520 acres of beautiful prairie, and deciduous and coniferous forest. There I found endless subject matter for photos, from flora and fauna to rivers and rocks.
Over time I honed my photography skills, taking many of my favorite images with my PowerShot at the nature center. But none so clearly capture my love of nature and nature photography as the photo I took in the Norway Valley during my sophomore year of college.
This is just a simple vine…
…but to me it speaks volumes of what nature truly is: complex, nuanced, subtle. This vine would rarely be noticed by most passing through on the path - it’s just a dormant vine wrapped around a large sapling. It is not particularly unique, either, for it is not the first vine to wrap itself around a tree. Yet when I saw it, I couldn’t help but stare at how perfectly it had encircled the slight tree trunk. I fell in love with its opposing colors - perhaps three years-worth of growth making for stark contrast to itself as well as to the bark of the tree. The smoothness of texture, the suppleness of its curves, held me in rapture. I could not leave this elegant little vine unphotographed.
It’s hard to beat what a Canon 7D kicks out…
…which is why I didn’t really do any editing on this image. Something did go sideways (literally) with the accelerometer in the camera, so I had to rotate the image 90º. Other than that, I didn’t really change anything - no levels, no curves, no exposure or contrast. No frills. The image shows the truth of how that vine and tree existed the day I took the picture.
Some would say this is madness, that any picture worth taking needs editing, but to me the truth is more important than appearance, and I could not edit the truth any better than the 7D did. If one has a handle on their camera’s settings, what is captured is as close to reality as one can get.
As much as I love the truth of photography…
…an aspect even more important to me is the detail.
I have seen great vistas, and pictures of great vistas, and I have admired and enjoyed both. But what I miss when I see landscapes is all the millions and billions and trillions of parts that are so important to making up the whole. That vista would not exist if it weren’t for every leaf, blade of grass, flower petal: every wrinkle in bark, crack in a rock, droplet of water; every tiny little thing that makes the natural world whole. Those are the details I want to see, to appreciate and admire.
For some reason, when I hold a camera, those details begin to pop out at me. There’s something about needing to capture a moment that gives me a sense of great intention, and that intention urges me to look very carefully at everything around me. So I start getting close to things; I start caring more about how everything works, no matter the size.
So when I go out to capture the essence of nature, I like to look at the most important parts; the small ones. I pull out that telephoto lens - with its magnificent magnification and delicate and dramatic depth of field - and go hunting for the details that make the world work. The right lens, the right angle, the right perspective, can amplify those little things so often overlooked. And because I am trying to see everything from a new angle, I see the whole world differently.
I do not doubt that everyone could use the refreshment of a new perspective once in a while, and nature photography is just the way to achieve that.