Monday, November 21, 2011
Until It Sings
Nature photography is a labor of love. It takes a lot of patience and serious type-A focus flowing through your veins to make the shot and sit satisfied with the result. I'm constantly reviewing old images and thinking of how I could have done them better. I'm never satisfied. I'm not sure if this is a character flaw or just a layer of callous that's built up from years of relationships with picky editors. When I first starting learning, a great mentor and friend of mine, Nancy Rotenberg, used to tell me to "shoot it 'till it sings." While this was a great motto, I really just used it as an excuse to indulge my compulsiveness. I'm becoming more and more self conscious of this as I'm in the field with friends and coworkers who sit and wait for me to finish photographing, but luckily, they're more patient than I am.
A couple weeks ago we found a healthy population of tadpoles swimming around in one of our equipment rinse tanks. I brought a few home to photograph different stages of their lives for a composite image. It was a fun project that I thought would take only an hour. The more I photographed, however, the pickier I got and the more I demanded from these little amphibians. Before I knew it, I spent 4 hours photographing 5 very uncooperative tadpoles and pollywogs. I worked every angle and wouldn't rest until I had all my bases covered.
After compiling the images, I was thrilled to see the genesis of this small afternoon project. What started out as one-dimensional photos, turned into a three-dimensional story about time and form. And for me, that's when it sings. But I still wasn't satisfied. It was killing me that the last frog wasn't a true adult. It crawled under my skin that the series could be better, and yet I published the photo knowing there was still room for improvement.
In art, this is a big no-no. We're only supposed to display our pieces, always showing our best face. I've never been comfortable with this idea, though. I appreciate the often slow and steady pace of creativity. Sometimes I just need to move on from a photo in order to come back and see it in its best light. Hitting the "publish" button often provides that necessary distance.
Tonight I found the missing piece to this image, sitting right outside my front door. As soon as I saw the Cuban tree frog adult, I grabbed my camera equipment and set up a studio knowing exactly what position I wanted of him for the final portrait. With a little help from Adam Chasey, frog-wrangler extraordinaire and most patient man alive, I got the photo I needed. Like a kid on Christmas morning I immediately uploaded the photos and began working on the finished piece.
I'm pretty happy with this one. My compulsiveness is at bay. At least for now. Well, until I start thinking about adding a clump of eggs at the bottom left.