Monday, January 20, 2014

Avoiding the Cliche

Some themes in the arts become so common as to become a cliche. Photos of the Statue of Liberty, Yellowstone Falls, and cute kittens are good examples. It is so easy to fall into that trap where you images are mere repetitions of others. It has been argued that it is easier to avoid a written cliche than a visual one.  After all,  a good thesaurus can rescue the writer, but there is no equivalent reference book for the musical or the visual arts. 

So, today when I went to Taughannock Falls, I hoped to escape repeating past images and ending up with trite results.  Earlier this winter I published a view of Taughannock Falls. I had done something new in that I was able to position the camera to capture a reflection of the falls in a pool of water near to the camera. No need to duplicate that; many reasons not to duplicate it, too. 

Once home today, I downloaded images and began to edit them.  Then I saw the truth.  Oh,  the  horror!  I recognized that the image (above right) was a cliche!  And, it was not as good as what I've done before.This was nothing more than a good exercise in editing. While possible, I had not found anything new in this image.

So, I went back to my computer to look for fresh vision.  At the lower part of the gorge was a pile of huge ice chunks washed down during a brief warm spell. They were scattered about below a smaller drop.  There was something new there.  I explored the compositions and found something that I found fresh.

Taughannock Falls will pretty much be available as a recognizable landmark in any season with a few changes in color and surrounding foilage or ice. In spring, this massive block of ice will be gone and not likely return in the same form. That large chunk of ice in the foreground is unique.

Could I find something new at the big falls?  A companion pointed out some maple trees near the trail at the falls. They still held onto a few rusty red leaves. The texture of the tree trunk and the skeleton of branches are in contrast to the smooth appearance of the snow and distant falls.  I found  a fresh way to present the big drop. 

I feel better presenting this image, but in looking at it I now realize it would be stronger if I had been able to put a person in the middle ground to create interest and a sense of scale.  So, today was a learning experience.

Try to learn something new each day. It keeps life interesting.

Paul Schmitt

Friday, January 10, 2014


When I teach workshops,  I encourage people to be ready for the unexpected.  This means studying your camera's many features and carrying a range of lenses. Both are key to quickly responding to some situation that is different than was planned.  Such was my experience yesterday.

I met a friend, and after some coffee and conversation, we headed to a nearby waterfall with the anticipation that we would do some landscape photography of the frozen ice shapes that this bitter cold spell has created. I had envisioned simple studies like the image at right. Nothing really special, but better than another day inside.

Well, we found something  unexpected and much more interesting.

Ice climbing! I don't claim to understand the fine points, but it is fascinating to watch them methodically test the ice as they work upwards using crampons on their boots and a pair of ice axes.

As the climbers alternated belaying and climbing, I noted that they worked a new route each time, facing different challenges.

Expecting the unexpected for us was having ice cleats to avoid slipping on the very slick ice, having a couple of lenses so we could get more than a wide angle view, and being aware that the massive buildup of ice still has running water beneath the exterior.  The running water  can undermine seemingly solid footing; I did get a slight wet boot when the crust gave way on me. During shooting, we had to keep aware of any falling ice since the climbers at times had to dislodge unstable bits before proceeding.

Thanks to Rob and Jeff for upgrading our outing from mundane to interesting.

You cannot find good photo subjects sitting inside and waiting for milder weather.

Paul Schmitt