On Second Thought

Half a dozen years ago, I was driving home after a commissioned photo shoot in rural North Dakota when, many miles in front of me, I noticed a long line if distant and compelling clouds. They were moving fairly quickly from left to right so, if I wanted the peak of the clouds above the roadway, which I did, I had to move fast. I stopped (duh!), jumped out of the car and quickly set up the tripod and camera (which is why it is important to intimately know your gear) and, waiting a few seconds for an important cloud shadow to move further down the road, made this exposure. I knew I had something special.

080613 RoadCloudInitial cropped version of “Road to Eternity”

While I remember, clearly, what I was I was thinking when the shutter snapped, my motivations for processing and cropping are lost forever. What I do know is that I removed the top 40% of the frame. What I do not know is why.

I became reacquainted with this photograph while making image selections for a magazine submission (fingers crossed!). I have always liked it, but over the years it had lost some of its appeal. When I saw it in the files last week, I realized why. The crop. The crop was drastic and, while it served to emphasize the juxtaposition of the lyrical, textured clouds and the straight-edged road, it failed to include enough atmosphere. I call this image “Road to Eternity” or, alternatively, “Road to Infinity”, depending on my mood. However, the initial crop removed the bulk of the negative space, and with it the illusion (reality?) of “eternity” or “infinity.” The long, horizontal shape became more about the flatness and emptiness of the surrounding plains rather than the straight, seemingly endless, roadway receding into the clouds.

080613 RoadToEternity_NorthDakotaNewly uncropped version of “Road to Eternity”

So, I took another crack at it. This time I left the frame uncropped and gave a bit more presence to the foreground roadway. Now, with the added space at the top of the frame, it says “eternity” or “infinity”, depending on my mood, of course. It is a much more powerful and vast image and, I think, one which compels the viewer to think of things much greater than us.

I encourage everyone to revisit older images. Use your refined vision and improved techniques to present older work in a stronger light. Never be afraid to say you were wrong. It’s just one way we can prove that we are better than we were. And that is a very good thing.

13 thoughts on “On Second Thought”

  1. I like this post. It reminds me of something that works in relationships. Apologize when you make a mistake or are mistaken. Feel regret and sorrow.

    1. Hi Jim. I don’t really regret how I first treated the image as, at the time, it felt the right thing to do. Actually, it can be considered positive as I get to experience that image twice 🙂

  2. Big difference. For me, as an unexperienced photographer who is still learning (and sometimes struggling), it is also encouraging to see that other photographers don’t always get it right immediately. Apparently sometimes a little bit of distance can help to get a better view…

    1. Aukje, we ALL get it wrong. A lot. I think it’s the only way to improve and grow. I learn more from my mistakes than I do my successes.

  3. Yes, nice post, Chuck. I always enjoy hearing how people are thinking about their photographs and the ways they choose to present their visualizations.

    1. Me, too. A lot can be learned from the experiences and stories of other photographers, which is why I am such a big fan of the Edward Weston Daybooks.

  4. Jim, I love your analogy. I’m gonna steal that idea! 🙂

    Great post Chuck. No shame in reworking a strong image. I agree we tend to bring our ever evolving maturity (hopefully) to each iteration.

  5. John, I am a fiddler. If I see an older image, and have a few spare minutes, I usually open it up and change something. I cannot help it. It’s maybe a bit obsessive-compulsive on my part. I am sure I have opened an image, lightened a specific area, then reopened it at a later date and darkened that same, exact area. A horrible workflow 🙂

    But, as our skillset improves, our style evolves, and our vision gains clarity, it only makes sense that we would treat older photographs differently and, hopefully, produce more powerful results.

  6. Cool to see those different interpretations and the story behind them. Thanks for sharing, I always get a lot of insight when others share their working process.

  7. Perhaps the thing I enjoy most about art, be it painting, photography or some other visual art is that there really are no “mistakes”. There are interpretations and changing observations.

    The strongest artists of any kind learn from each previous work and apply that knowledge to the next piece; painting or photograph, etc.

    I’ve always believed there are no mistakes, only lessons. Thanks Chuck for your thoughts and insight, as always.

  8. I would pick the first one and after reading your review I know why. We people of the Red River Valley never tire of flatness or emptiness. 🙂 Looking forward to learning more insights in the upcoming Moab symposium.

  9. I have had the good fortune to have been acquainted with a few of Ansel Adams assistants. Through them I have seen many photographs that Ansel always tweaked through his lifetime.

    We should all revisit old work and play with them as you have done here. We grow and our artwork grows also, at least it should.

    Thanks for the post, it is a good lesson.

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