I moved up to the north shore over 10 years ago and the primary reason that we decided to come was the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. I loved not only Grand Marais, but I fell in love with the Gunflint Trail and canoe country so much that I wanted to be as close to it as I could. I was a canoeist and sea kayaker and then a photographer before moving here, but when I moved I didn’t realize that Lake Superior offered such great sea kayaking and photo opportunities. After living here, Lake Superior consumed my attention.
Yesterday, we went up the Gunflint Trail. Our excuse was to get lunch at Trail Center, but we stayed the entire day. And I remembered how much I love being up at the end of the trail. I didn’t want to leave after sunset.
Before sunset, I snowshoed in on an untouched, pristine powder-covered lake to this little tree. The wind was blowing from the sun, so facing the sunset felt brutal. The resulting photo of a tree against the snow at sunset was worth it. Snow is such a great simplifier. It removes the distractions from the landscape. The brush, twigs and ripples on the water disappear. Removing those extras makes a simpler photo. The simpler a photo is the stronger it becomes. The reason that happens is because when you simplify, there are fewer element competing for the viewer’s attention. With fewer elements, the photo more easily communicates what you as a photographer were trying to show the viewer — that’s what vision is. While photographers and photography teachers often wax platitudes and use cliches to try and describe vision, I think it’s simple: your vision is what you want to show the viewer. If you can simplify the scene to only include exactly what you wanted to show the viewer, it’s easier for them to figure it out. Next time you’re standing in front of a massive landscape trying to figure out what to take a picture of ask yourself, “What do I think is the coolest element of the scene?” Finding that cool element helps you identify your vision and then you simplify the composition to only include THE element that fulfills your vision. Any secondary elements that you include in your composition should accentuate the primary coolest element.