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Friday, 15 January 2016 12:34

The Eyes of the Gingerbread Man

On my way from Las Vegas, New Mexico to Amarillo, Texas I crossed the Llano Estacado from west to east as a fierce thunderstorm blew in from the North. I had come through the edge of the storm and knew there was both lightning and hail associated with the cell; so I decided my best tactic was to outrun it, but its beauty was too great to ignore. So I would drive as quickly as I could to get far enough ahead so that I could stop, grab my gear, and compose an image or two before the rain began to overtake me again. This game of cat and mouse went on for about 40 miles until it began to be so dark my shutter speeds were becoming longer than I wanted. This was the final image, taken just as the sun began to slip below the horizon. In the end I felt like the Gingerbread Man, but with the hope that I might actually get away from something seemingly determined to devour me. I decided that the story of the storm was best told through wide-angle landscape eyes, so I used a focal length of 27mm to give me the angle-of-view I wanted. I was far enough away from the elements of my image that f/11 gave me depth-of-field. As you can see, the wind was blowing the grasses in the foreground, but a shutter speed of 1.0 second managed to provide some detail in them. At ISO 100 these settings gave me an overall slightly darker-than-medium exposure. A Llano Estacado storm through the Gingerbread Man's eyes.

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  • Comment Link Donald McGowan Wednesday, 20 January 2016 20:45 posted by Donald McGowan

    Hi Ray,
    It's good to hear from you. Thanks very much for joining us. Your observations are always thoughtful and appreciated. I think that the way I consider how (what amount) to include sky in an image is to ask myself what is the significance of the sky overall in my image: a lot, very little, or somewhere in between. When I determine how much that is, I then try to consider what amount of other elements - especially the below-horizon ground - will achieve balance with the amount of sky I have determined. In this image I wanted the dark mass of the cloud to be obvious well above the portion where the color of the reflected light was showing, and I wanted to reveal some sense of the extremes of the mass by including the edges. With that much sky, I felt that a fairly small, but nonetheless obvious, amount of landscape/foreground would give me the balance I wanted. Not very scientific to be sure, but hopefully emotionally evocative. Thanks, again. Be well.

  • Comment Link Ray Foote Tuesday, 19 January 2016 13:44 posted by Ray Foote

    Don, this should be a textbook example of how to make the sky THE subject. Unless the sky is truly powerful (visually), I generally include very little of it in the frame. But you gave it center stage and controlled the exposure so carefully that it just rolls off the screen and into our understanding of your account here. Wonderful colors, and terrific drama. Thanks!

  • Comment Link Donald McGowan Sunday, 17 January 2016 20:32 posted by Donald McGowan

    Hi Nancy T., Joani, and Warren. Thank you all for joining this conversation. Nancy T., I find your description to be most intriguing. You have seen the grasses as unbending and thus willful in the face of the storm, and my experience of them was as bending and thus persevering because of their willingness to be bent. In either case, they did persevere. It seemed that the land was yielding in the face of the storm, but because of its willingness to yield, it was assured that it would endure. It's that old story of Yin and Yang which always seems to express the drama of both the struggle and the calm. I appreciate your noting that the edges of the storm are shown. I did want to illustrate that there was a beginning and a conclusion, even to a power so fierce as the storm could amass. Joani, I am really touched by your description and your expression that you could derive that much feeling from this image. I am honored to have created such an evocation. Thank you. Warren, your words are a story that is so complete and fulfilling in every respect; and I am honored by your sharing them with us. I appreciate that you wanted to enlarge the image to see the images within that might not be so apparent in the wide-angle angle of view. As I stood there in the on-rushing wind looking across the plains at that farmstead I kept wondering how it had been for that family for all of those years and through all of the other storms that must have crossed this part of the llanos with them present. Somehow, I came away feeling that they must be a fiercely determined, yet humble group of people; secure in their steadfastness, but aware of their insignificance. It was an amazing awareness to consider. Thank you all for contributing so much depth and breadth to this discussion with your observations. Be well.

  • Comment Link Nancy Tripp Sunday, 17 January 2016 13:08 posted by Nancy Tripp

    Your wide angle captured a powerful story of the sky vs the earth. You captured just enough of the grasses to show how it is standing tall against the storm daring it to "bring it on". The grasses and the horizon are unbending while the storm has a soft c-curve, pink colors and light in the corner that shows it is not so bad and does not go on to infinity.

    I am glad you chose not to ignore the storm. That must have been a GREAT time playing cat and mouse! Thanks for sharing.

  • Comment Link Joani Sunday, 17 January 2016 12:45 posted by Joani

    Like going to a museum, and feeling the storm through a painting!

  • Comment Link Warren Berry Sunday, 17 January 2016 11:16 posted by Warren Berry

    Beautiful! The colors gradually changing from red to blue made me want to enlarge the photograph to see if I could find the rest of the colors of the rainbow. When I zoomed in, all of the colors were there--even a little green on the right side, but when the picture is enlarged, there are other pictures within the main one. Enlarged it shows barns and farm buildings against the horizon. They sit there as a solitary group against the vastness of an ocean of grass and an infinitely stretched, overpowering sky--making me wonder how people could have settled and survived in a place so completely dominated by natural forces. It even hints at the story of how those people must feel. The contrast of the dark foreground and the sun-tipped grasses coupled with the darkening clouds caused a visceral reaction as I could almost feel the storm about to hit. I even felt my eyes widen a bit. The overpowering presence of the colors from the sky along with the depth created by dark hues on the ground are awe inspiring as they give the feeling that I am in the middle of a much larger space on the plains. Whether or not the viewer is a zoom or a wide angle, this photograph is simultaneously intricate and simple, giving the feelings of strength and interconnectedness between people and the peaceful, powerful faces and forces of nature.

  • Comment Link Donald McGowan Sunday, 17 January 2016 10:15 posted by Donald McGowan

    Hi Don, thanks so much for joining us. It's good to hear from you. I sure do hope to have you join us on the road in the coming year. I was answering Fred's question when your comment came in, and I think that somewhere in what I wrote to him is the response to your observations as well. You have described my sense of the visual weight of the cloud, my feeling toward the impressionism of the waving grass, and my sense of where to locate the edge of the frame. But most importantly, you have stated exactly the emotion I felt during the entire time I was involved with this amazing storm. It was pure awe in the most reverent sense of that word. Thank you, again, for being with us.

  • Comment Link Donald McGowan Sunday, 17 January 2016 10:05 posted by Donald McGowan

    Hey Fred; it's always good to hear from you. Thanks for joining me for this conversation. Your reluctance to manipulate the camera's controls just puts you in the same room with most other folks who own cameras, but that's a very long conversation for another day. However, I would like to spend some time with your primary question about composition because it is a very excellent one. For me, perhaps the overriding consideration with every image I create - in essence every time I release the shutter - is the emotional impact I hope to convey, first for myself and secondly for my viewer, in the image I am creating. I have no desire to convey visual impressions that have no feeling in them, and I believe most other folks feel the same, whether they are consciously aware of it or not. At this point in the game we have a lot of information that has been amassed over time as to how people respond psychologically/emotionally to various ways of composing images. These are not mere guesstimates, but information revealed from many, many formal and informal studies of the question. One of the things that has been learned is that when the horizon of an image is placed in the middle of the frame, the energy of that image tends to be experienced by viewers as quite static and not very dynamic, and there are reasons for this I will not talk about now. This, of course, is a general conclusion and certainly not absolute; but it seems to hold for most images most of the time. So before I conclude to place the horizon of my creation in the middle of the frame, I first have to overcome the objection I just described. If I can do that, then there may be a justifiable reason for the horizon to be thus placed.If I can't do that, then I probably need to be thinking in a different creative direction. One of the questions that I then ask is which part of the scene seems to have the greater visual impact: the part above the horizon or below the horizon. Whichever I conclude to be so is probably the part of the scene that will be given greater visual weight in my image. In this Image I felt that the greater impact lay in the sky and that the foreground grasses were more of a supporting element to anchor the sky visual. Then it becomes a matter of deciding how much foreground grass and how much sky is appropriate in order to achieve balance. In this case the foreground grasses were essentially as you see them from my feet to the horizon, but in the sky there was an on-going drama of clouds and reflected sunlight. I decided that I wanted to include as much of the sky drama as I could with only as much foreground as I thought appropriate to anchor the drama in the sky. The portion of the sky containing the most dramatic clouds and the most interesting color became the focus of my decision about how much of an angle-of-view to include and where to place the edge of the frame. Someone else could certainly have reached a different decision, and that would be their image. I hope that has been helpful for you.

  • Comment Link Don Newsom Sunday, 17 January 2016 10:00 posted by Don Newsom

    This image inspires in me a feeling of awe. My first thought upon seeing it was to consider cropping, because there is so much weighty blue cloud pressing down. But no, that's the main thing that creates the feeling. I also love the impressionistic effect of the waving grass; and the brightly lit bits of sky left and right are a touch of genius.

  • Comment Link Fred Applegate Sunday, 17 January 2016 08:32 posted by Fred Applegate


    Like! I hate to admit it, but I seldom adjust the camera settings when I snap a shot. I do know how, but just choosing a nice composition seems to satisfy my photo bug. So, looking at this week's image, what was in the foreground? Did you consider having the horizon be the same amount from the top of the image, emphasizing whatever was in the foreground, but still getting some nice colors from the sunset? If that makes sense........

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