Making Visual Sense of Chaos

Fresh water creeks are round about my favourite thing in the world; however, as stunning as they are it's difficult to take photographs of them that convey their beauty. I have not worked at it very much at all, but I had a go at it again this Summer on a short camping trip to Tamborine Mountain. Technical issues aside, how does one compose an image of such chaotic elements that is descriptive and also pleasing to the eye?

Often images turn out looking like a jumble of rocks, flora and water that fail to describe the scene with elegance. In situ, the grandeur of the environment is experienced in three dimensions all around the observer, but a photograph is a two dimensional image with a limited frame. How can the photographer approach this subject?

Of course light is paramount and you can’t guarantee perfect lighting conditions. Extreme exposure latitude is certainly a very difficult aspect of photographing natural environments. If there is dappled shade and spots of full sunlight, a picture of balanced tones can’t be produced.

A long focal length lens fails to convey the breadth of a scene and flattens perspective, so a wider lens is an obvious choice. But still the frame limits that experience off ‘surround vision’. Like any photographic situation, the photographer consciously chooses the composition, according to her eye, to communicate aspects of the subject she feels are important. In this picture I have used a wide lens and chosen an unusual angle to try to communicate a sense of how the environment surrounds the observer.

An easy way to produce pleasing images is to reduce the number of elements in the frame and focus on a simple detail, such as a floating leaf, or a rock with water washing over it. It’s much harder to shoot a wider scene of a jumble of forms to produce a pleasing image from which visual sense can be easily made. Here is an example of a composition that relies mostly on a single element of focus.

I think I have achieved a photographically sound picture that is also well-composed with this image. (The one at the top.) ‘Good’ composition is mostly a feel thing for me. Whilst I know some composition rules, I think there are many things that can work.

So there are just a few thoughts about photographing creeks! I hope to spend more time exploring and understanding this subject.