Sweeping Surf

Many of my photographs elicit a response from people when they see them. People are drawn to them for various reasons. Some of my photographs get less attention, however. This is one of those photographs.

Sweeping Surf, San Diego, CA

I know the story of this photograph and how it was made, so it has meaning to me. Most people don’t have much of a response to it, however. Usually they just pass over it. If they’re looking for an ocean scene and I show them this photograph, they usually say it’s not what they’re looking for. It’s not a typical beach scene or something you normally see in an ocean scene, which might be why people don’t respond to it as much. But one person did have a reaction to it this past weekend in Prescott, AZ, and it was great to find out that someone got something out of the photograph--and exactly what I intended.

I had an interesting time making the photograph. You can see I was at the edge of the water as the waves were coming in and going back out. When the water came in the sands shifted, and despite my solid, sturdy tripod it was impossible to make a long exposure to capture the water’s motion with my tripod moving in the sand. Of course the water was coming in different distances each time. I wanted to be as close as possible, but I did not want the water to overtake me. Several times after setting the tripod and preparing to make an exposure, I saw that the water was going to reach me on the next wave. I quickly picked up the tripod and backed away from the water as it chased me further onto the beach away from the ocean. This happened several times until finally I was able to capture what I wanted.

In this photograph I was trying to show the water sweeping back out to sea as the next wave was just breaking and coming in. I loved the repetitive motion of the water, and I wanted to convey both parts of the cycle--the coming in and the going out.

In Prescott this weekend, a customer was struck by this photograph. She loved it. She described it as having a meditative effect. I never thought of it that way, but I realized that she had gotten the message perfectly. The repetition of water coming in through the surf and sweeping back out to sea was exactly what I was photographing, and I understood how it could have a meditative effect for someone.

Sometimes I think I may have failed to tell a story or convey my intended message in a photograph because people don’t seem to respond to it. But then someone comes along who validates what I did in that photograph. It was great to know she got it, and I appreciated her interpretation of the meditative effects of the photograph. Let me know if you have a greater appreciation and understanding of this photograph now, too!

A Cliche Photograph: Should I Make It?

I consider this photograph a cliche. It’s a well-known composition, and I’ve seen it done many times. So my question is, as an artist, should I have made this photograph?

Pier in San Diego

First, why should I not have made this photograph? Well, it’s a very specific composition and is therefore not original. It’s one thing to go to the Grand Canyon and make photographs there. Of course that’s been done before, but every artist can find a unique perspective or way of presenting the Grand Canyon that is unique to that artist. The subject is enormous and offers many possibilities. The under-the-pier photograph is different because it doesn’t offer as much flexibility. The subject is a simple object. It’s a pier in the ocean. We’re standing underneath it. There’s not much more to it than that. In fact, its simplicity is one of the qualities that makes the composition so strong. So perhaps I am just copying what others have done when I make this photograph, and that might make it less legitimate.

On the other hand, this is my photograph. I made it. I did not go out specifically to make this image. I was on the beach and came across the pier and was inspired in the moment to make the photograph based in part on my internal database of ideas I have seen before. I selected the focal length and the details of the composition, how much of the pier to show and from what angle, etc. I chose to make it a long exposure. I also applied my own style of retouching to arrive at the final image shown here. So in reality I did have a lot of control over how the photograph was created and what the final outcome would be. This is definitely my photograph. Maybe the subject and general way in which I captured it are not original, but I applied my own style to the final image to make it my own.

Why did I make this photograph? Again, I did not go out specifically intending to create this photograph. If I had, I probably would have gone at a different time of day to get different lighting conditions. Instead, I simply found the pier and decided to do it. Why? Because it is an interesting subject and does make a good photograph. I wanted to see what I could do with this image. What might I bring to it that nobody else does? We can ask the same question of a musician playing someone else’s composition. Many other musicians might play that tune, but what is one particular musician’s interpretation going to be? What are they going to bring to the table that is unique to them? That’s how I see this photograph. It’s somebody else’s idea, but it’s my interpretation.

Incidentally, many people passed by while I was positioned under the pier with my tripod. On at least two occasions, I noticed someone pull out his iPhone and snap a picture of the pier from just off to the side of where I was. Would they have done that had I not been there with my tripod and camera?

So is this a photograph I would include in my portfolio? I’m not sure. It represents my capabilities and style as an artist. It just doesn’t fully represent my creative eye because I can’t be certain that I would have made this composition had I not seen others make it before. Does any of that matter? Again, I’m not sure, but at least I found it interesting to think and write about.