I See a Story
Tug of WarSpectacular burning bush (Euonymus alatus) in all of its autumn glory, seemingly not wanting to be held back by the fence desperately attempting to stand its ground.
If we're being honest, all nature photographers likely struggle with this at one point or another. Whether the creative dry spell is due to lack of inspiration, fatigue, or persistently difficult conditions, there are times when it can be a challenge to find interesting subject matter.
It's especially frustrating when you've invested time and money to travel to a location only to find Mother Nature in a stubbornly uncooperative mood. Imagine a first-time visit to Grand Teton National Park with the mountains smoked in for the duration, precluding you from ever seeing them. That isn't just uncooperative - it's downright obstinate. And it happened last summer to a friend of mine.
What to do? Pack up the gear and forget about making any photographs?
Of course not.
You might not be able to make some of the images you had hoped for, but you can find subject matter anywhere. Shake off the disappointment and have a look around.
You might be able to make lemonade out of some very bitter lemons.
The photo at the top was made on a trip when the conditions were persistently poor. That autumn, my foliage shoot at Acadia National Park just happened to coincide with the arrival of the remnants of a slow-moving hurricane. It didn't just rain; the sky opened up and it poured buckets. The winds howled. This continued for the better part of two days.
I knew it was out there lurking; I'd been watching the forecast. But after having spent a few days fighting persistent rain in New Hampshire's White Mountains and pulling into Bar Harbor with old Hurricane Nate nipping at my heels, I thought, "You have got to be kidding me. Enough already."
I'll shoot in just about any type of conditions except heavy, driving precipitation. That's something I prefer to avoid. So while the drenching was underway it was either cool my heels and accomplish absolutely nothing or continue to prowl around and scout the area. I opted for the latter. Maybe I could find something new in a place that was already very familiar. I'd certainly never seen Mount Desert Island in that type of foul weather.
Hours later, I'll admit it wasn't going well. I hadn't seen anything. It was cold and clammy, I was wet and tired, and the light was fading. Time to call it a day. I turned the car around at Southwest Harbor and began to head back in the direction of Bar Harbor - but when I reached the little town of Somesville, Maine I saw something that screamed out at me to stop.
There on the edge of an expansive lawn was a long hedge of burning bush in full autumnal glory. It was fuchsia like I've never seen it. I found somewhere to stash the car and walked up for a closer look. There was a weathered white fence adjacent to and running the length of the hedge line.
The color knocked me over but how was I going to make a photo out of that?
Walking up and back, though, I began to see something more.
The fence looked almost as though it could collapse at any moment; it was propped up in a few places with slats. The shrubs pushed through, up, and over it. This was a tug of war. The fence was mounting a valiant defense but the burning bush had the upper hand. Who would prevail?
Mature trees nearby created a thick canopy overhead and blocked some of the rain, making it much easier to work. The foliage popped even more in the dampness and the cloud cover provided excellent flat light.
Is that the kind of image I thought I'd shoot that day? Absolutely not, but not every photograph has to be a "big landscape." Not every location needs to be exotic.
There can be beauty in more intimate scenes and in everyday objects.
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