Pacific Ocean

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!

The Art of Simplicity

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and a photograph can certainly communicate a lot of information in a single image. But simple ideas are the easiest to communicate, and a simple image most effectively accomplishes that communication. In my artist statement, I write that I prefer simple, graphic compositions because I want my photographs to communicate something--an idea, a feeling, or a story. In a single photograph, complexity can get in the way of this goal, so I keep things as simple as I can. Take this photograph as an example.

Rock, Sea, and Sky, San Diego, CA

This is a photograph of a rock in the ocean at sunset. It’s as simple as that. The composition itself is uncomplicated because there is nothing else in the frame, but I have taken additional steps to simplify the photograph further. Unlike its appearance in this photograph, the ocean is naturally turbulent. The water and waves have a choppy appearance to our eyes. In my photograph I have eliminated this complexity by making a longer exposure. The water becomes smoothed out, and the scene appears much more calm. What I’ve done is create an abstraction. The water is a more abstract concept, and it does not distract the viewer with its natural, inherent complexity. This simplification allows the message of the photograph to come through in a clearer way.

Here is another example where I created a very simple composition and again used a longer exposure to simplify the complexity of the water in the ocean. The viewer’s attention is focused on the color and the feel of the photograph rather than being distracted by complex, choppy water.

Imperial Beach Pier at Sunrise, San Diego, CA

At a recent art festival in Palm Springs, I was speaking to a woman who commented on the simplicity of many of my photographs. She quickly followed up her comment by saying she meant it as a compliment. I assured her that I took it that way. I strive for simplicity in my work because my aim is to communicate a message or a feeling, or to tell a story with each photograph. For people to get it, it is best to keep it simple.