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Seeing in the Field, Part II

The introduction to this series of collaborative entries was posted in mid-August; the initial series post, where Tom’s image was dissected for it’s in-the-field cues, can be viewed here.

This time around, it’s my image that we’re working with; Tom will be asking the questions that form the skeleton of the dialogue that succeeds the scene setting aspect of the post.  The goal, again, is to try to determine what it was about the scene that caught the photographer’s attention and encouraged him to photograph the subject in the presented manner.

As always, we encourage remarks and questions.  Please post them in the comments section below.

Setting the Scene

Kerry:  When I was in the Smokies this past April I decided to explore a trail that I’d never hiked previously.  The Middle Prong Trail emanates from the end of the road at Tremont and extends for miles into the back country.  I wandered along it, ultimately, for a couple of miles before finally turning around and heading back.  I knew that the trail paralleled a tributary of the Little River, but that’s about all I knew about it.

For about half a mile the trail runs along a bluff, well above creek level.  You can see the rushing water below you and to the left (as you hike up-trail), but there’s a tremendous amount of scattered foliage and snags that eliminates most clear views.  Eventually, I heard what sounded like a waterfall and came upon what I later determined was Lynn Camp Prong Falls.  The waterfall is visible from the trail, but I didn’t much care for the composition from bluff level, so I decided to investigate more closely.  I had to do some scrambling down a hillside and over some boulders to get down to creek level, and I found myself at the base of a gusher of a waterfall with a gradual drop of about 35 feet.  The power of the falls was impressive, but from the bottom I couldn’t find anything in the way of a composition that I found appealing, so I decided to climb up the rather steep rock facing on the right-hand side of the waterfall to see if I could find a workable comp.  (I should note that it was a partly to mostly cloudy day, with the sun disappearing from view for occasional lengthy stretches of time).

The position was a bit precarious, but I found a spot with a much more compelling–to me–perspective.

Lynn Camp Prong Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee Image Copyright Kerry Mark Leibowitz, All Rights Reserved

From this spot, the water had split into several discrete flows that ultimately rejoined in the crescendo that poured into the creek that is Lynn Camp Prong.  This amounted to looking downstream, which is a perspective I usually eschew when photographing moving water, but there was something particularly evocative about it, I thought, in this instance.  In addition to maintaining a discernible contiguous line through the frame–which was very much on my mind as I positioned myself–I felt this view demonstrated the power of the cataract–perhaps not as emphatically as a spot at the bottom or the side might have done–without losing the sense of depth that was only available from atop the falls.

Obviously the waterfall was the center of interest; that was revealed from up on the trail.  But the exercise ultimately became a quest to find a way to reveal the subject in a manner that I found at least somewhat aesthetically and compositionally pleasing while still revealing the true character of the place.  Whether I accomplished that goal is in the eye of the beholder.

The Dialogue

Tom:  The main element, to my eye anyway, is the sinuous stretch of running water at the center third of the frame. That flow makes an abrupt turn away from the viewer at the lower left. Water always follows its path, so this works as illustration of the topography of the rock. Did this apparent incongruity influence your composition?

Kerry:  I was definitely influenced by the path of the flow, though not necessarily by any incongruity caused by it.  I liked the way the path of the water helps to naturally encourage the eye to zigzag through the frame.

Tom:  A secondary element is the presence of what appears to be lichen on the rock. Quite a bit of it, in fact. Since it usually grows in dry places, its presence within the flow of water suggests that this falls is dry most of the time. Is this correct? If so, then the flow of water here is an unusual event.

Kerry:  The main part of the waterfall–the part that’s represented in the image by the particularly powerful area of flow toward the top-center of the frame–is never dry.  But the part in the foreground is only wet when the water level of Lynn Camp Prong is particularly high–as it was this spring (these were the highest water levels I’ve ever seen in the Smokies, a function of an especially wet winter and early spring).

By the way, lichen is ubiquitous in the Smokies; it’s all over rocks and trees throughout pretty much every section of the park.

Tom: I agree with you about downstream views of falls generally not working all that well. They tend to have a past tense “been there, done that” quality. However, would a wider downstream view have provided the viewer with a denouement to the drama of the cataract, or do you feel that all of the important elements available were included?

Kerry:  I don’t think a wider downriver view would have even been possible.  The creek bends roughly 90 degrees behind the large boulder you see in the upper left-hand quadrant of the frame.  To the extent this shot works, I think it’s a function of the rather unique perspective that’s afforded here; you’re perched nearly at the top of this particularly waterfall tier (there are several distinct tiers above this one).


Kerry:  Sometimes, some fairly prosaic matters can impact how something is shot.  It was the waterfall that initially attracted me to this scene, obviously.  But I found the initial, straight forward perspectives unappealing.  I might have shot a head-on, upstream shot of Lynn Camp Prong Falls, but I couldn’t find an appealing perspective from alongside the creek and, possibly critically, since I was on an extended hike, I didn’t have my knee-high waterproof boots with me, making the investigation of (possibly) intriguing spots in the water impossible.  You can’t tell by glancing at the above image, but the waterfall had kind of a right-to-left flow, when looking at it from below, so I would have to get quite wet to get most of the falls in a shot from below.  The inability to explore in-the-creek shots surely played a role in my decision to climb up to the top of the cataract.

Next in the series:  Attempts to Identify Common Themes

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 Hi, my name is Kerry Leibowitz.  I’m a Midwest-based (I split my time between the Chicago and Indianapolis areas) photographer with a particular propensity for the landscape.  

You can read my other blog posts at my website Lightscapes Nature Photography Blog and see my photo galleries at Lightscapes Nature Photography

The entire contents of my web site, images and text, are the copyrighted property of Kerry Leibowitz and may not be duplicated or reproduced in any form without express consent.  Image rights may be purchased; please contact me to make arrangements.  Images may not be hot linked.

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