Posted by: kerryl29 | October 28, 2013

Seeing in the Field, Part II

The introduction to this series of collaborative entries was posted in mid-August; the initial series post, where Tom’s image was dissected for it’s in-the-field cues, can be viewed here.

This time around, it’s my image that we’re working with; Tom will be asking the questions that form the skeleton of the dialogue that succeeds the scene setting aspect of the post.  The goal, again, is to try to determine what it was about the scene that caught the photographer’s attention and encouraged him to photograph the subject in the presented manner.

As always, we encourage remarks and questions.  Please post them in the comments section below.

Setting the Scene

Kerry:  When I was in the Smokies this past April I decided to explore a trail that I’d never hiked previously.  The Middle Prong Trail emanates from the end of the road at Tremont and extends for miles into the back country.  I wandered along it, ultimately, for a couple of miles before finally turning around and heading back.  I knew that the trail paralleled a tributary of the Little River, but that’s about all I knew about it.

For about half a mile the trail runs along a bluff, well above creek level.  You can see the rushing water below you and to the left (as you hike up-trail), but there’s a tremendous amount of scattered foliage and snags that eliminates most clear views.  Eventually, I heard what sounded like a waterfall and came upon what I later determined was Lynn Camp Prong Falls.  The waterfall is visible from the trail, but I didn’t much care for the composition from bluff level, so I decided to investigate more closely.  I had to do some scrambling down a hillside and over some boulders to get down to creek level, and I found myself at the base of a gusher of a waterfall with a gradual drop of about 35 feet.  The power of the falls was impressive, but from the bottom I couldn’t find anything in the way of a composition that I found appealing, so I decided to climb up the rather steep rock facing on the right-hand side of the waterfall to see if I could find a workable comp.  (I should note that it was a partly to mostly cloudy day, with the sun disappearing from view for occasional lengthy stretches of time).

The position was a bit precarious, but I found a spot with a much more compelling–to me–perspective.

Lynn Camp Prong Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee Image Copyright Kerry Mark Leibowitz, All Rights Reserved

Lynn Camp Prong Falls, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
Image Copyright Kerry Mark Leibowitz, All Rights Reserved

From this spot, the water had split into several discrete flows that ultimately rejoined in the crescendo that poured into the creek that is Lynn Camp Prong.  This amounted to looking downstream, which is a perspective I usually eschew when photographing moving water, but there was something particularly evocative about it, I thought, in this instance.  In addition to maintaining a discernible contiguous line through the frame–which was very much on my mind as I positioned myself–I felt this view demonstrated the power of the cataract–perhaps not as emphatically as a spot at the bottom or the side might have done–without losing the sense of depth that was only available from atop the falls.

Obviously the waterfall was the center of interest; that was revealed from up on the trail.  But the exercise ultimately became a quest to find a way to reveal the subject in a manner that I found at least somewhat aesthetically and compositionally pleasing while still revealing the true character of the place.  Whether I accomplished that goal is in the eye of the beholder.

The Dialogue

Tom:  The main element, to my eye anyway, is the sinuous stretch of running water at the center third of the frame. That flow makes an abrupt turn away from the viewer at the lower left. Water always follows its path, so this works as illustration of the topography of the rock. Did this apparent incongruity influence your composition?

Kerry:  I was definitely influenced by the path of the flow, though not necessarily by any incongruity caused by it.  I liked the way the path of the water helps to naturally encourage the eye to zigzag through the frame.

Tom:  A secondary element is the presence of what appears to be lichen on the rock. Quite a bit of it, in fact. Since it usually grows in dry places, its presence within the flow of water suggests that this falls is dry most of the time. Is this correct? If so, then the flow of water here is an unusual event.

Kerry:  The main part of the waterfall–the part that’s represented in the image by the particularly powerful area of flow toward the top-center of the frame–is never dry.  But the part in the foreground is only wet when the water level of Lynn Camp Prong is particularly high–as it was this spring (these were the highest water levels I’ve ever seen in the Smokies, a function of an especially wet winter and early spring).

By the way, lichen is ubiquitous in the Smokies; it’s all over rocks and trees throughout pretty much every section of the park.

Tom: I agree with you about downstream views of falls generally not working all that well. They tend to have a past tense “been there, done that” quality. However, would a wider downstream view have provided the viewer with a denouement to the drama of the cataract, or do you feel that all of the important elements available were included?

Kerry:  I don’t think a wider downriver view would have even been possible.  The creek bends roughly 90 degrees behind the large boulder you see in the upper left-hand quadrant of the frame.  To the extent this shot works, I think it’s a function of the rather unique perspective that’s afforded here; you’re perched nearly at the top of this particularly waterfall tier (there are several distinct tiers above this one).


Kerry:  Sometimes, some fairly prosaic matters can impact how something is shot.  It was the waterfall that initially attracted me to this scene, obviously.  But I found the initial, straight forward perspectives unappealing.  I might have shot a head-on, upstream shot of Lynn Camp Prong Falls, but I couldn’t find an appealing perspective from alongside the creek and, possibly critically, since I was on an extended hike, I didn’t have my knee-high waterproof boots with me, making the investigation of (possibly) intriguing spots in the water impossible.  You can’t tell by glancing at the above image, but the waterfall had kind of a right-to-left flow, when looking at it from below, so I would have to get quite wet to get most of the falls in a shot from below.  The inability to explore in-the-creek shots surely played a role in my decision to climb up to the top of the cataract.

Next in the series:  Attempts to Identify Common Themes



  1. Beautiful!

  2. I like the focus on this small part of the falls on the side. Sometimes not having a great view of the main feature, so to speak, opens you up to seeing other things that you might have missed otherwise. Nice job finding the “other bits!”

    • Yup. Given the difficulty involved, I can’t say for certain whether I would have gone to the trouble of checking out the perspective you see here or not.

  3. Great shot! I like that it clearly illustrates the rule of thirds, but also breaks the guideline/tendency against downstream shots; a good blend of technique and breaking habits. I look forward to catching up on the rest of the dialogue posts…as soon as I get something to eat. (Sorry, the stomach trumps the intellect.)

    • Thanks. I must admit, I don’t shoot downstream very often, but–as is the case with essentially all guidelines–there are exceptions.

  4. I applaud the effort to work around the scene looking for an interesting angle, although the photographer’s safety should not be forgotten in such settings. I can recall a news article from a couple of years back of a 50’s something amateur photographer falling to his death in Queensland (Australia) in a river gorge, probably looking for that better angle. As a 50’s something male amateur photographer myself, I took that as a rather salutary lesson.

    For some reason, this image doesn’t quite appeal to me, and it’s taken a while to think why that is. I’ve concluded that it is the presence of three separate leading lines that seem to conflict with each other and fight for the viewer’s attention. My eyes don’t know what to follow. There is (1) the foreground water that leads in from right to left and then abruptly turns to the middle of the frame and then kind of disappears. There’s a lot of incoming water there and yet it seems to just stop mid-frame; (2) the more substantial body of water that emerges from nowhere mid-frame and then leads the eye out to the upper left; and then (3) there is the rock crevice itself that starts in the lower right corner and also peters out in the centre of the image and which probably caught my eye first before I realised that wasn’t maybe the key compositional element. And these three lines have right angles intersections which seems to compound my difficulties engaging with the image. You comment that ” In addition to maintaining a discernible contiguous line through the frame…” but I personally find myself struggling to maintain the contiguity of the lines I see (and to unify them). That’s art for you! Two people in a room and at least three opinions!

    It’s difficult of course to suggest alternatives as I am unaware of the topography and the limitations that were being imposed on the photographer. If I was able to, I might have tried for an image standing a few yards to the left of where this image was taken – but the rock could have dropped away/been too slippery and made that impossible. I recognise though that this would have converted the scene into more of an upstream shot which may be in conflict with what you artistically wanted to convey. Alternately, including more of the ponded water at the left hand base of the falls (as viewed in the photograph) may have been more satisfying as the lines might have resolved more uniformly towards the ponded water – this may have needed a slight shift to the right and a somewhat wider angle lens to achieve. But there may then have been too much non-descript rock in the lower half of the image. Hard one!

    There are moments where nature presents beautiful moments but access limitations/trees/shrubbery/man made structure, etc impose excessive restrictions on the ability to compose a successful still image. You end up just having to accept you simply enjoyed being there! And sometimes, vowing to go back another day better informed and having another crack at getting that ‘just right’ shot.

    I’d better get back to doing the tax return that I should be doing…

    • Thanks for weighing in, I appreciate it.

      I do want to remind everyone of the point of the exercise here: to try to explain what it was about the presented scene that caused the photographer to stop and photograph it (both in general and in its specific rendering). There’s no attempt being made to suggest that this is an artistic masterpiece. In fact, for what it’s worth, I don’t regard it as such. I like the image well enough, but I definitely don’t regard it as amongst my best work. The image was selected for presentation to help illustrate a point, not because of any perceived aesthetic reasons.

      Having said that, I do want to briefly address a couple of specifics.

      There is a contiguous line of water through the image. It is, admittedly, difficult if not impossible to see in this small version of the shot now that I look at it. But in the (much) larger version that I was working with, you can clearly see the channel of water that connects the flow from the near-ground right with the mid-ground gush. In fact, it’s the Z-like line of this water that was a good part of the appeal of the shot when I was in the field. The rest is the mirror-image character of the center of interest. The water line converges into a single entity from two distinct bits on the right, forms the Z, then diverges again near the bottom of the frame into the main splash pool and another bit that shoots off to the left. This effect probably shows up better in black & white (and, aesthetically speaking, I prefer the monochrome rendering of the shot), but that’s not only outside the scope of the main purpose of the exercise at hand, it actually clouds the practical application of the issue of “seeing in the field” (since I don’t see in monochrome).

      Also, as you surmised might be the case, shooting this scene several yards to the left of this perspective would have been physically impossible due to the lay of the land.

      In any event, those are my thoughts on the aspects of the image that you raised. Best of luck with the tax return.

  5. […] introduction to the series is here and Part I and Part II can be read via the corresponding […]

  6. Excellent!

  7. […] introduction to the series is here and Part I , Part II and Part III can be read via the corresponding […]

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