Finding a Hero for Your Composition

“A vivid thought brings the power to paint it, and in proportion to the depth of its source, is the force of its projection.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was not thrilled to go to the Morton Arboretum for the umpteenth time.  It was NOT spring, and it was NOT fall.  With all green everything, I expected to be unsuccessful in creating anything good.  What I discovered was that going to a familiar location and seeing it under a new set of weather conditions (and an expanded set of my own experiences since the last time I was there) can spark in me a new set of compositions.

I am in the process of preparing a talk on creating impactful photographic images from one’s own intuition and imagination, and so I paid particular attention to my own creative process on this outing.

Below is a sequence of images I created during this trip to Lake Marmo at the Morton Arboretum, along with observations of how my intuition and imagination led to each image.  I would be interested to know which images and/or observations you find most impactful and why.

Moody Marmo - Image 1

Image 1

For the first image above,  I was drawn to the brightest, most golden part of the scene – the trees at the west end of Lake Marmo.  They were bathing in the direct golden sunlight of a 7:00 AM sunrise.  Not a bad image, but I felt that the glowing trees in the distance were not interesting enough to be the leading presence in this scene.  I started walking west to get closer.

Moody Marmo - Image 2

Image 2

I stopped to take the image above of a stand of trees that were on the south side of the lake.  Here I am emphasizing the cloud-dappled pattern of the sky in the water taking up the bottom half of the image, and in the sky taking up the top eighth of the image.  The sun’s side-lighting glow on the trees adds warmth to the scene, like the glow of a hearth or the light on a ripe fruit.  It is a more shape-defining light, not the dimensionless direct lighting as in the first image.

Moody Marmo - Image 3

Image 3

The sky pattern reflection in the water was driving me to expand it even more and to look for a horizontal composition as in Image 3 above.  The sun had gone behind some clouds, cooling the colors.  The sky was still bright, but I was able to get this scene by merging two exposures in HDR.  This is a moodier, gloomier or more restful picture.  There are no warm colors in this image.  The clouds and their reflection take up the majority of the space, and the span of trees in the middle are silent, dark, waiting for a burst of warmer light.

Moody Marmo - Image 4

Image 4

Moody Marmo - Image 5

Image 5

These two images 4 and 5 above were taken from almost the same spot.  The sun was still hidden, and I was playing with trying to get something of interest in the bottom of the shot.  I often do this to give the audience the sense of standing there, witnessing from their feet forward what is in the space, how life at this instant is directly positioned on the edge of this water.  I like image 5 better than 4 because it shows a little more at my feet, and a golden or orange color enters the composition from the dried grass in the lower right of the frame.  There is also a rounder “glow-ier” look to the tree forms in the distance.  There are many layers in this image (I count 6!), letting the eye play deeper and deeper, seeing farther and farther.  My imagination loves this feeling of depth and spaciousness.

Moody Marmo - Image 6

Image 6

I was about ready to give up and head to another part of the arboretum, when I came through this little stretch of water next to a bridge (Always stop at bridges to check out the view!) that allowed me to get the reflection of this tree in the water in image 6.  Still, the image looked flat and cold as there was no direct sun, but THEN – there WAS!  It’s amazing to me how this tree with its white bark – looking like a faint white pole way in the distance in the image 1 above – is now the majestic, handsome / beautiful hero in this image.

So, my intuition and imagination led me around this lake, playing tag with the sun and clouds, looking for strong leading characters and supporting secondary staging and backgrounds, to come up with 3 or 4 pretty powerful images.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on which images you like — and why.

4 thoughts on “Finding a Hero for Your Composition

  1. My eye is drawn to image 2 and 6. In 2, the cloud reflection on the pond has such a strong sense of texture that draws me in to the next part of the image. The image is compositionally pleasing. Image 6, you captured the light on the tree so the tree pops and the colors glow in the light. It’s all about the light! Thank you for sharing these beautiful images and taking the reader along your travels about this pond.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comment Sarah. You’re right, it is all about the light. The sun and clouds play their own game, and it takes persistence, luck, and timing to be there when they work their magic.

      Keep Seeing Beauty!



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