Crozet Calendar Clinic: Robin Miksad

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April Winner: Beaver Creek Reservoir by Robin Miksad

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.

Based on number of entries for the annual Crozet Calendar photo contest, Beaver Creek Reservoir is the most popular location for photography in western Albemarle County. Only the various orchards can compare. But they are spread out across the foothills of the county. The reservoir is concentrated into a classic composition of water, forested shores and distant mountains that practically shouts out, “Take my picture!”

And successful photographs have been made of the reservoir from many angles. But what would it be like to actually live beside the water? The author of this month’s featured photograph, Robin Miksad, knows.

“I have the privilege of living on the shore of Beaver Creek Reservoir with my husband, Dick, of 51 years. It is our very great pleasure to watch the many moods of this body of water.

“Sometimes low hanging fog obscures all or part of the water and sometimes mist rises in mysterious tendrils from the surface under a bright sunny sky. Ominous black clouds may gather in the west, rolling ever closer and looming large—the accompanying curtain of rain marking the edge of the system.

“The varying depths of the reservoir and the sinuous shape of its edges create interesting water patterns distinctly visible in certain wind conditions and when the water freezes in certain places but not others. Ducks may stand side by side on the edge of the ice clearly marking the edge of them, or swim furiously in circles to stave off the formation of more ice.

“Other times in calm weather, we are mesmerized by the flat, glass-like water, perfectly reflecting sky clouds and the trees as well as slow-moving sailboats. Summer and winter, we watch patient fishermen and women and know there really are fish to catch since we see the county stocking the reservoir. Spring and fall, we love watching the Western crew practicing in their long, thin shells/boats, hearing “whack-whack” of the oars and the encouragement of their coach. Then there’s the happy sounds of recreational boaters, with the occasional “accidental” plunge in the water. Mostly on 100° days.

“Naturally, the wind plays an important part in these scenarios: blowing gently or fiercely; constantly or intermittently; steadily or erratically. Or any combination of these possibilities. When the wind blows hard and gusty, the trees wave and bend before its force and the rain is gathered and tossed in great splashes, or is forced to travel horizontally. When the wind blows gently, the trees and shrubs sway languidly. Motions of the trees, leaves, and rain, if any, follow the direction and tempo of the wind.

“But best of all is the effect the wind has on the surface of the reservoir. The wind can rush across the surface, usually from west to east, dappling, twirling, and churning the water surface. The multitude of facets thus created change moment by moment, like patterns in a kaleidoscope change with the slightest twist of the tube, making the reflected sunlight glint, sparkle and twinkle.

“On the bright, sunny April day that I took this picture, I hardly noticed the nearby flowering trees. I was drawn to the rapidly changing patterns on the water’s surface—amazed that the usually placid surface could be so active and on such a sunny day. First, I took pictures of this water phenomenon from a west-facing vantage, and then moved to the east-facing site, where I decided the light and shadows were more clearly emphasizing the jumbled wave shapes.”

Though remarkably expansive, Robin’s photograph radiates intimacy. It seems to be the view of someone standing in a yard-like setting. The intimacy is further enhanced by the subject (wind-blown water) being framed by the setting (trees).

Yet Robin says she hardly noticed the flowering trees. How can that be explained? Easily. Compelling subject matter—like the dramatically wind-streaked water—concentrates the attention of even experienced photographers. Everything else is incidental.

The result is content—even prominent content—appearing in images that the photographer wasn’t conscious of in the moment. “This was about wind-blown water. Where did those trees come from?” They came from Robin feeling their presence and subconsciously including them in the composition.

For it’s the trees, lawn and sky that give context, depth and color to the actual subject, the remarkably roiled water. Seen by itself that rippling water would be interesting. But would it make a deep and involving photograph?

In this regard I’m reminded of legendary photojournalist Robert Capa’s famous assertion that, “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” But is that true for the rest of us? I think not. So, I respectfully revise Capa: “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re too close.”

Do what Robin has done—step back and frame the subject. 

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