Of cattails, algorithms, and contours

I had just finished chores, looked at the clock, and realized that I had an hour or so before the sun would drop behind the mountain, covering the farm in shadow. I grabbed my camera and walked along the stones which form the property line to the east. I walked the width of the pasture and over to the path which leads up the mountain and along the run. I had no time for cairns and little interest in getting my feet wet in any case. It was cold, there was snow in the air, and the wind was up. I kept to the trail. I was looking for signs of life among the rocks and downed trees. Any reveal of color would prove that life stirred beneath the thin layer of frozen soil. Only the faint pastel hues of green and yellow lichens and mosses were in evidence, so I turned for home. I walked passed the pond, it was iced over and covered by a thin layer of fresh snow. The surface looked cold, its uniform whiteness unbroken. I walked the perimeter, clockwise, and became aware of the remains of a few Cattails which poked broken stems through and above the solid surface. The low angle of the sun was casting shadows. When these connected with their opposites (how, by the way, does one correctly refer to that which casts a shadow?) they formed interesting geometries which I liked very much. I was aware that it had been quite cold lately … and that was good, as far as ice conditions were concerned. I was also aware that we had had rain and temperatures near 50ΒΊF as well … and that was not good, as far as ice conditions were concerned. I tried to recall the algorithm which could determine the thickness of the ice given the recent combined influences of precipitation, daily duration of minimum and maximum temperature, mineral content of the spring water which filled the pond, the resulting thickness of the ice and its ability to support my weight. While still contemplating where I had stored that information I stepped onto the surface, which seemed firm enough. As my mind ran through this set of calculations I tried to imagine a contour map of the bottom of the pond. I knew that the north end was quite shallow for some distance and that the remaining sides were very steep. I took another step toward the Cattails and listened carefully. Walking to the very center of the pond probably wasn’t a good idea. I was wearing my heavy coverall and boots, a combination which, I didn’t think, provided much in the way of flotation. I walked back to the near perimeter and proceeded. I was confident and felt that I could kneel to capture the images I wanted. I knew this would lower my center of gravity, but wasn’t sure whether this would also increase my risk of breaking through the icy surface. Having captured what I thought were some nice images I straightened up and continued walking … perhaps three or four feet out from the edge. When I reached the southern most point an alarm went off telling me that the topographic analysis had been completed and that I was, at that moment, standing at a point where the pond was deepest (14′) and the walls were most shear such that if I had fallen through I would have plunged, over my head, into very cold water. As if on egg shells I walked toward the edge. Why, if we walk tip-toed, do we think we exert less pressure on the substrate below? Although I do not know the answer to that question suffice it to say that I walked quickly and on tip-toes. Once I had secured the top of the berm it made me chuckle to think that during those brief moments when I thought there was some danger of my descending through the ice, my thoughts focused on how I would have quickly thrust the D600 high up over my head. I had a very good laugh imagining a picture of a D600 resting atop the layer of ice clutched by a pair of hands frozen solid, which were connected to me … submerged … doing my best to keep my camera dry!

23 thoughts on “Of cattails, algorithms, and contours

  1. I think I’ve seen this post. Not sure why I did not comment! These images look like it was full afternoon sun and not looming nightfall. Love the angles here. Very modern and contemporary. I would have been terrified to walk out onto a frozen pond not knowing if it was safe or not. I guess the lure of “the” image makes you throw caution to the wind. I was on the roof the other day shoveling off some snow. Brought my cell phone with me just in case!

      • I think I’d rather take the snow at this point. A bunch of rain saturating the snow pack we have here now would be a nightmare! I think we’ll be shoveling 6″ tomorrow and 6″ more on Monday. At least it will be spread out over time!

  2. Oh, Dave, sacrificing your all for a gorgeous image (well, all except the camera) … you are developing a serious artistic ethos πŸ™‚ I can’t help you with the word for the object which casts a shadow, though I do know the word for the opposite, the thing that does not cast a shadow. That would be ‘vampire.’ Lovely stark images. They are going up on the desktop, pushing a long running image of the mushrooms into the ‘desktop’ folder. Keep up the good work but do take care of yourself. That image of you in the ice is only funny because it didn’t happen!

    • Hello there. Even without the three letters soon to be appended to your name (those would be P … H … D) I take your observations and comments quite seriously. [The ones pertaining to art and not those concerning personal safety.] If you say something is AOK … and, especially, if you reflect upon just why it is AOK I read your words as representing serious critique from someone who knows of what she speaks. Promise me you’ll also tell me when a particular image isn’t-so-good … how else will I learn? D

      • It is hard to critique. I can sense my own attractions (long low horizon lines) and my own repulsions (mmm?) but those are different for each person. If I try to get out of my own head and look up from my own navel, I would say that your images here fight a little bit between a sense of beautiful spareness and an almost “commercial empty” element of composition. Your ‘cat6’ balances towards the beautiful spareness, with the cattail still taking up significant space, and therefore attention, in the image but with plenty of negative space. The balance comes up to a lovely attenuated and spare something-ness. Compare that to ‘cat21’ wherein the cattail is far more to the side and higher. This would make an excellent backdrop to an announcement, or even as my wall paper, as that negative space really is empty and feels, to me, to be looking for something to fill it, like my desktop icons or the time and place of the party. That composition leans much more towards ‘nothing’ in that balance between ‘something’ and ‘nothing’. It becomes for me, an empty space, rather than a sparse space. I prefer the sparseness. Does that make sense? Unfortunately, writing about image composition can sound as pretentious and nonsensical as writing about wine tasting. I will go back to working on Chapter 1 again.

        • Cool. I see. I wish we could talk about more images … you have a great sense. Given that you know me pretty well (perhaps more so than I like to think) you can probably guess that Photo Seminars, Photo Courses, Photo Field Trips, Photo Lessons, On-Line Photo Coaching, Photo College, Photo University, Photo Books, Photo _______ (fill-in-the-blank) are absolutely, and totally, NOT MY STYLE. I’m not saying that they can’t work for certain people … but they are not for me (believe me). In any case, I wouldn’t want my images to be modeled after or in any way to mimic the work of others … and I think that’s what happens when someone tries to teach you to be a better photographer. I truly believe that one becomes a better photographer by taking lots and lots of images and seeing what works and what doesn’t. To a first approximation I know what’s good and what isn’t … but I need someone with a more trained artistic eye to critique what I’m doing. I believe I’m at a critical point now where I don’t simply want to take snapshots (ugh) … I really want to be creating art with my camera … but I’m not sure I know how. D

          • Ahh, you are absolutely right. Your best teacher is your own eye looking at your own work, and, if you are a bit frustrated with ‘taking snaps’ then you are ready for the next step. Try this … pull out a random selection of what you consider strong work (don’t over think the selection but a random grab bag of what is good enough for the blog). Lay them out physically (not just on a screen desktop) and sort them from ‘best’ to ‘worst’. Try to articulate why ‘yes’ on some but ‘less yes’ on others and take little notes around basic concepts such as contrast, size, repetition, color and it’s repetition, negative and positive space. Just notes to yourself. You might also try to draw correlations – just as I did with Cat21, realizing that it felt commercial to me because it reminded me of beautiful announcement paper. Then print them all in black and white and do the same sorting and note taking. Resist any urge to give a value judgement – don’t say ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but rather ‘strong contrast but unbalanced with the emptiness poised for filling’. Value judgements teach you nothing. But your own work is the best way to learn about your work. Go to the books maybe for some key language but work with your own images. If you like, pull out one that is intriguing you and send it to me with a few lines about what you like/don’t like. I’ve never tried an online critique but it might be good for both of us. I’ll send Joanna an email that might explain that last comment. Hugs to you both.

  3. I love these geometric shots David … beautifully limited palette, and lovely light. They remind me of the Forth Rail Bridge somehow πŸ™‚ I’m picturing you tiptoeing over the ice listening to its creaks and groans …

    • Yes indeed. I hate using this term as a verb … but I just Googled ‘Forth Rail Bridge’ … what a beautiful structure. Do you live near it? You are correct in observing that my Cattails look very much like your bridge. Thanks for appreciating the photos in these last two posts. I liked the snails in your last submission … you’ll have to tell me something about their origins. D

    • At the bottom of each post … if you scroll down to it’s end … there should be something which says ‘Like this,’ followed by a little box with a star … all you’ve got to do is to click this box and that will be registered as a ‘like’ and your gravatar will then be included along with those of others who similarly ‘liked’ the post. In addition you can, of course, comment as you have do regularly. So … you can ‘like’ AND ‘comment’ on individual posts. I use the number of ‘likes’ to gauge the degree to which folks are paying attention. People seem more likely to ‘like’ then they are to comment and so I watch those closely. D

  4. These images are really great – especially the last one. I think I like it best because the upper part of the snow is so perfectly white and hardly without texture. Now we could try to calculate the exact point of time from the shape of the shadows and the latitude and longitude of Pairodox Farm! “Why, if we walk tip-toed, do we think we exert less pressure on the substrate below?” Good question – I would say intuition fails us as pressure is weight over area and thus it is increased by reducing the contact area.

    • My description of the risk may perhaps be chalked up to hyperbole … the ice was pretty darn thick (truth be told). No worries. D PS: I would be interested to know whether or not you have been taking good advantage of the ‘like’ button?

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