Each month a prize-winning photograph from the archives of the Crozet Calendar will be published together with a story from the photographer of how the image was made and commentary by Sam Abell about the merits of the photograph.
In 1977 the legendary Austrian photographer Ernst Haas saw a selection of my photographs. They were images drawn from a yearlong assignment on “Canoeing in America.” He cordially expressed appreciation for the work, then said, “Beware of reflections. They too soon make us geniuses.”
I knew what he meant. Photographs based only on reflections are not hard to make and offer an easy appeal to the viewer. And there were a few too many reflection photos in the canoeing series. But I can’t say I’ve taken his good advice. As a photographer, it’s hard to turn my back on an interesting reflection. And I’d worked hard to make the canoeing photographs more than simple mirrors of the world.
But I haven’t forgotten what Haas said and it’s made me curious about how and why reflections work, and don’t work, in a photograph. All of that came to mind when Diane Harner’s fine reflection-dominant photograph was chosen as the Crozet calendar picture for October a couple of years ago.
In recalling the circumstances surrounding the making of her image, Diane remembered the specific qualities of the reflective water in the pond she lives above.
“The photograph of the heron on the edge of a reflective pond was taken from my back deck. I am always looking out the windows at the views and tracking what is going on—with a camera close by. It was a sunny afternoon. I looked out and was struck by the light and the moving clouds reflecting on the lake. Then a heron happened into the view, so I grabbed the camera and took a series of pictures.”
A quick test for a photograph dependent on one compelling element, like the heron, is to cover that element with your thumb. Without the heron is this still a worthy photograph? Is the basic structure, color, texture, sense of space and harmony of the underlying composition strong? Does the picture still work?
The answer is yes. The reason why is that Diane saw the setting first and was stopped by it. The heron came into a composition she was staring at.
But why had the setting stopped her?
“I’m not a trained artist or photographer, but have an innate eye for color, composition and balance. I am one of the few people who can see more gradations of color than 90-plus percent of the population, and I have a wide visual field. I must have inherited this from my Dad. One day when we were out hiking, he said, ‘See that fox walking by the tree line?’ It was a football field’s distance away!
“My Dad was a photographer. Not trained, but just interested in capturing unusual sites, people and family memories. He always had a camera with him. As an only child, I followed suit after I left home, starting mainly with trips. I still have my first 1960s Kodak Brownie camera!”
Aspects of Diane’s story closely resemble my own. My dad was an avid amateur photographer and from an early age I could sort out the visual elements of the world around me—like eye-catching reflections. My first camera was a Brownie. By my teenage years I was the photographer on family trips.
Speaking about how she engages with photography now, Diane added, “I have a Nikon Coolpix P900, but I also always have my iPhone 7 with me and ready when something catches my eye. It takes great pictures! Most of my photographs are just happening to be in the right place at the right time. There are a few places I keep my eye on to visit for lighting or atmospheric effects. I like to go to Mint Springs, Sugar Hollow and Beaver Creek.”