Leave the Best to Your Photographic Creative Intuition

The more you know about photography, the more you want to learn.For this reason, even though I’ve been a professional photographer since 1984, I still like to take photography workshops.Last fall, I attended a workshop with Freeman Patterson.As an instructor, Patterson is famous for saving his most challenging assignments for the last class meeting.I remember being thankful that I wasn’t assigned to photograph “landscapes in bed sheets” or a raw egg.My assignment was bad enough–a plastic chair. The subject demands not only good technical skills but also creative imagination.We were really fortunate to have many talented photographers and imaginative storytellers in our workshop to inspire us.For example, Shirley Wildenbeest from London, Ontario, Canada was assigned “Leaves in or on the Water.”With her permission, I’d like to share her final presentation script and several of her images with you. The result was a magical blending of photographic imaging and imagination. Enjoy! 

Leaves in or on Water

Slide 1 – Leaves under Water.It’s a long fall from tree to earth.Not everyone makes it.Their remnants sink below the surface as a reminder to those who have yet to make the journey.But I’ve heard life does not have to end in a fall.I am determined to survive the descent and explore the world.This is the tale of my “out-of-tree” experience.

Slide 2 – Journey Alone.I did survive the fall; thus began my journey.I was alone, more alone than I’d ever been, and I was excited.

Slide 3

Slide 4

Slide 3 – Seeing the Shore.I floated along and, within no time, the water shallowed.It was eerie to see the skeletons of those who perished before me.

Slide 4 – Nearing the Shore.As I drifted toward shore, I got hung-up on a rock.This was fine.The rest did me good.

Slide 5 – Meeting Others.Soon, I was met by another traveler.We chatted briefly and he helped me off the rock.We were both eager to continue our separate journeys.As I moved away, I could see the shore in the distance.

Slide 6 – The Shore.As I drew closer, my concern began to mount.The shore was cluttered with bodies.This was not my destiny!My journey had just begun.I searched frantically for an alternative route.

Slide 7

Slide 9

Slide 7 – The Escape.I found one, luckily, and escaped.A narrow stream lead away from the carnage on the shore.It was narrow and crowded, but it worked.

Slide 8 – Freedom.Before too long, the stream widened and I found myself ejected into a pond. There, I was greeted by such a variety of leaves!I was alive and loving it!As I explored this new environment, I made my way to a rowdy inlet.

Slide 9 – New Friends. My approach was tentative; however, it needn’t have been.This lively, colorful crew welcomed me.I hung out for a while.

Slide 10

Slide 11

Slide 10 – Close Friends.Soon, I was drawn to my own kind.I became special friends with another maple.We got along fabulously.My new buddy and I decided to continue together.

Slide 11 – Split This Scene.We split this scene.Luckily, my buddy had friends, and we hitched a ride on a raft.

Slide 12 – Cold nights.The raft was great, but the nights were cold.

Slide 13 – Sunrise.The sun was welcomed with open arms. The warmth was wonderful; we always tried to catch some rays.I was reminded of hot summer days in the tree house. I didn’t miss them.

Slide 14 – Dock.After several days, we docked, left the raft, and continued on.”Buddy” had friends and knew leaves all over the place.We were invited to swim in a pool.

Slide 15 – Pool. Which we did.The swimming pool was great but crowded; I think I prefer open water.

Slide 16 – Apartment (1).Buddy’s friend invited us to his apartment.It was an exquisite place.The lighting was wonderful.

Slide 17 – Apartment (2a). We hung out there for a while.Then, we got invited to another party.

Slide 18 – Apartment (2b). This party was held in a very similar apartment.The place got so full that some of us moved to a smaller glass structure just to get some air. They called this smaller structure a “balcony.”We partied on, sharing leaf experiences.To my surprise, they said not all leaves float to earth.In far-off lands, some leaves are picked and bagged and placed in apartments just like this one.

Slide 19

Slide 21

Slide 19 – The Story of Other Apartments.I let myself imagine what this might be like… My buddies continued to tell me that the bagged leaves’ lives were different.As the bagged leaves hung out in their homes, they had “out-of-leaf” experiences.

Slide 20 – (The Story of Other Apartments continued) In this experience, their essence filled their apartment.Again, my imagination followed.My buddy said these apartments also had balconies, similar to the one we were on.

Slide 21 – (The Story of Other Apartments continued) He cautioned me, though, that should I ever enter one of these homes to never go on the balcony, for those who do never return.

How can we all learn something from this project?I asked Shirley to write down her thought process as she went through her assignment.First, Shirley used her imagination.She had difficulties and didn’t feel confident about doing this kind of a presentation at all, but she persevered.She needed to learn to trust in her intuitive senses to take the lead.(Sometimes, when we’re creating, we simply need to push our negatives out of the way and let the best, most creative sense within us take over.)

The Creative Process in Shirley’s Words

“When I got the assignment ‘Leaves in or on water,’ I wasn’t really thrilled….How was I to get fifteen to twenty-five decent, interesting shots of that subject? It did seem fitting, though.Here we were in October, surrounded by brilliant fall colors, and somehow I’d avoided shooting them all week.Even as the assignment was given to me, I immediately began to avoid the obvious and was struck with the thought of tealeaves and their swirls of amber color in a sun-lit pitcher.As we left the room, it was suggested that I try freezing some leaves in water.That thought intrigued me, too.So, I selected a few, varied leaves on my way back to the cabin.I put them on a plate, covered them in water, and stuck them in the freezer. Both of these ideas I viewed as fallbacks, to be used only if I couldn’t get the ‘expected’ result out there in the woods.In hindsight, I now question whether there really was an ‘expected result’ in this learning environment.

“The next morning, I began looking for the images I had in my head of what I wanted to shoot.Big mistake.The image was crisp, colorful leaves, floating serenely on the water, or perhaps, swirling in brook water.Of course, there were no leaves of this type to be found.At the edge of‘Kingston Creek.’ a large river by my standards, all the leaves were either below a foot of water or covered in mud.The few that remained floating were in a jumbled mass, and they were all yellow!I did my best at trying to create some shots of these leaves.I think my vision was still blocked by the images in my head.

“So, I tried to create the image I wanted.I plucked a soon-to-fall leaf from a nearby tree and set it afloat.(At the time, I was a little embarrassed at staging what should be [Oooh! “Should’s” are such nasty things!] a natural scene.)Off the leaf went, more quickly than I expected.I frantically tried to set up and capture a few shots before it left the limited close-up range of my camera.(I had also been stuck on close-ups all week.)As I was trying to block my shots to get the exposure correct, I snapped just a few shots before the leaf floated out of my viewfinder. As I watched it drift away, I wished it well on its journey. I think it was in that moment that the seed of an idea was planted, the idea of a leaf on a journey. That idea hung around, but it didn’t really influence the rest of my shooting.

”I made my way back through the woods to the lodge.Again, my vision was restricted by the image of what I wanted to see.None of the trees along the route, while brilliantly colored, seemed to have dropped their leaves in any appropriate water.There were leafless, muddy puddles along the way.Then I heard a gurgle coming from the ditch.It contained very little water but lots of leaves. About forty minutes later, I had captured a handful of shots.I had been focusing on a mini-waterfall and the leaves near the bottom. However, as I turned, I saw three leaves floating ever so peacefully in this tiny pool of water.As I continued to inch down and closer, all of a sudden, the water filled with not only the leaves, but also an orange reflection of the trees above.Here were these leaves, now floating in a pool of blue-and-orange water.

“That led to another idea.Leaves in or on water….I was convinced that a reflection of colorful trees on water would qualify.I spent the next disappointing hour around the two ponds trying to coax the sun and trees into position, so that I could get an amazing ‘reflection’ shot.It didn’t work.They were uncooperative.

“With two wet feet, and somewhat dejected, I decided to go back to the cabin, change my socks, and work with the gimmicks–ice and tea.I pulled the plate from the freezer and took it outside.I tried a couple of shots, but the ice was melting quite quickly in the warm fall sun.Soon, I threw it in some water in the ditch, snapped one parting shot, and left it.

“I went back to the cabin, grabbed a pitcher and a mug, and decided to head to the lodge for some tea bags.On route, there were these brilliant red leaves. I couldn’t resist.I shoved several handfuls into the pitcher, followed by water, and off I went again.I was pleased that I’d finally captured some more color.

“Finally, with only about forty minutes left before the deadline, I was starting the tea shots–my last resort.When I made my request for tea bags, without any hot water, the kitchen staff looked at me like I had two heads.However, they were very accommodating.(I’m sure they’ve had weirder requests over the years.)After filling the pitcher with cold water, back outside I went. I didn’t realize tea does not steep well in cold water.Soon, the pitcher and mug were in the sunlight, and only then did my final shoot begin. I survived another frantic moment as the amber swirls in my mind lasted only momentarily–prior to a more complete diffusion of color in the water.Oh well, at least the little bubbles collecting on the glass added a bit of interest.The morning ended there, and all the film was sent in for processing.

“When I got the slides back, the first step was easy–pull the shots that were in focus and properly exposed.That narrowed my selection down considerably. As I looked at what remained, including the shot of the leaf floating away, once again my ‘journey’ idea emerged.I shuffled the slides around and created a little story.It’s interesting how the story sequence ended up almost mirroring the sequence in which the photos were shot.I think this is only coincidence.I really wanted to use one or two of the tea images in the middle of the presentation, but I didn’t know how to incorporate them into the ‘journey’ idea.They seemed so out of place that I knew they needed to be at the end, and somehow, I had to make a leap of logic to get there.Then I realized that I’d inadvertently used the same pitcher in the tea shots and the colorful leaf shots.I decided to use that repetition, somehow, as my bridge.When the apartment idea came into my head, the leaf became more human.After that, raft riding, the emotions of fear and need for companionship, and socializing at a party seemed conceivable. Then, I worked backwards to make sure the story could include the fifteen to twenty slides required for the assignment.

“I never intended tell a story with this assignment, but at the end of the day, I felt connected to my leaf friend and felt obligated to speak the tale.I knew there were some slides that didn’t move me in any way.I was concerned that the audience would feel the same way, so I thought telling a little story might help ease their pain/boredom.I did a dry run with a classmate who helped me identify some rough spots where the audience might get lost and the logic leaps were weak.That led to a re-write, and on Saturday morning, I was ready.That some participants enjoyed the presentation and actually laughed was a real bonus for me….I don’t consider myself a comic or entertainer, by any stretch.I had such a blast taking the shots, and then creating the story, that was reward enough! It seems so rare that we just get to let go, be a kid, go with whatever is there, and just let it out.In reality, I was a little nervous at exposing myself that way to the group.At the end of the process, however, I was truly alive!”

One of the ways to challenge ourselves as photographers is to assign ourselves imaginative ways to photograph and present our photographs.It’s too easy to just take random photographs.Take the next step and pick out an object or a couple of words such as “freedom” or “friendship” to illustrate, and then write a script around a series of fifteen images of that subject or object.By verbalizing your thoughts about your images and putting them in a cohesive presentation, you open the door to your imagination.The results can be wonderful.Stretch yourself, and you’ll be surprised at how many different and creative ideas will soon be at your fingertips.

by Noella Ballenger

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.