Welcome to the Essential Light Photography Blog By Jim Sabiston

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Canyon, Then and Now

Over the years, photographers will tend to build up a rather formidable collection of old images. It is typical for me to select something like five or ten images out of every hundred as 'portfolio' quality after a backpacking weekend. A typical dawn shoot will return two or three potential keepers out of fifty to seventy-five shots. So what happens with all the others?

At least half the images are tossed into the 'bit bucket'. These are the images with clear defects or are backup duplicates of the keeper shots. The remaining inventory are likely to be of interest for one reason or another and I am loath to toss an image with at least some potential. One of the advantages of inexpensive storage is that it very easy to set aside these less-than-perfect images for later review. Unfortunately, the near constant influx of new image files makes it all to easy to forget what one has buried behind the metaphorical cobwebs. This is especially the case when the new work peaks my interest such that the old files barely get a thought, much less a revisit. I was reminded recently of the importance of not being so dismissive of the older images.

One of the things we tend to forget is that we are constantly changing as individuals. Our days and weeks and months and years of cumulative experience change us. Not only our appearance as we age, but also our opinions and how we perceive the world around us. The person who views the world at the age of fifty the same as he or she did at twenty has wasted thirty years. What once may have been of little or no interest, may suddenly provide a newfound insight. Such it is with old images. Those older photographs which tugged at some tendril of interest, but never quite pulled you in, may prove to be jewels in the rough. So, when time and circumstances permit, I will occasionally browse through the thousands of old image files looking for surprises.

Last week I happened to find myself in the directory housing my collection of RAW files from my traverse of the Grand Canyon two years ago. A series of images from this week-long trip inside the Canyon open the Terra Gallery on the Essential Light Photography web site. I had another hundred or so images saved in the archived folder. While perusing them, I found four that peaked my interest. At the time I was in the Grand Canyon, I had not yet developed a working understanding of the power of black and white images. The Grand Canyon itself tends to call for color images to convey the striking imagery in all its incredible beauty. My initial portfolio images follow this line of perception. During this recent perusal, it became clear that something had changed.

I had taken what I consider my first successful black and white image, 'Sunken Forest Pathway I', about eight months before the Grand Canyon trip, but the connection to black and white had not quite solidified yet, and didn't for some time. But my interest and understanding of monochromatic images has continued to grow. This became apparent as I perused the image files and mentally considered virtually every one as a monochrome. I picked several promising files and ran them through the conversion process to evaluate them. Several ended up being returned untouched, but four ended up in the portfolio. One was a revisit to one of my favorites from the Canyon trip, the dead cedar we found on Cedar Ridge during our descent into the Canyon. The high contrast conversion gave this old favorite a completely different - and fascinating – personality.

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The next three were images that I had passed over the first time as they did not work for me at the time. Converted to back and white, they found new life. One was a companion to the original Cedar Ridge image:

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Next was a view of the bottom of Clear Creek Canyon, just north of the campsite at the start of the route to Cheyava Falls:

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Last was one of those small detail shots that seem rather out of place in the grandeur of the Canyon, but remind me of the endless fascinating little details to be found within:

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I will be making more time to wander through more of my older archives looking for more surprises. My new eyes may well discover more gems buried within the dross.

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