This the second of three images I made on my one day in the Flint Hills of Kansas. This post is written primarily for the landscape photographers who follow my blog, but anyone interested in the creative process might get something from this post. There were three key lessons I was reminded of in getting this image.
This shot was accomplished, first and foremost, by paying close attention to rapidly changing conditions. The “epic” snowstorm was coming quick, but had yet to arrive. Cloud cover was changing constantly. Travis and I were driving a dirt road out of Alta Vista, Kansas, Kansas Gazetteer in hand and chasing smoke on the horizon we thought would be a prairie fire. SIDEBAR: It was almost as cool as the guys on TV chasing tornadoes, almost…
Lesson 1: We were always on the lookout for a windmill shot with a mill that still operated and came across this one. As we passed it Travis said, “Alec, are the clouds starting to rise up and spread?” I pulled over and glanced, and winced. “Yep, with a polarizer we could pull out the contrast and detail in the clouds.” The lesson is that a polarizer will allow you detail and contrast that is not apparent to the naked eye.
Lesson 2: I tend towards significant drama in my black and whites and immediately began thinking in color to get a dramatic black and white. There are probably several good ways to do this, but my preference is to generate color schemes in the image the lend themselves to high contrast. With the a blue gold polarizer I get the benefit of polarization and separation of color that lends its self to contrast. The lesson is that to get really contrasty black and whites, you need to think in color first…
Lesson 3: Its easy to give up in the midst of overcast skies, dire weather reports, unfamiliar terrain. This image, and the entire day for that matter, reminds me why I love photography: the chase, the people I do it with (Travis), the people I get to meet along the way. Like Brian, who runs the grain elevator in Alta Vista, a hamlet of maybe 100 people. With his bright red hair and corn dust-infused beard and eyebrows, he granted us permission to shoot and entertained every one of my silly questions about grain elevator operations, the corn industry in that area, and on and on and on…or maybe it was the woman that owns Emma’s Cafe in Cottonwood Falls (though her name is not Emma…help Travis) who said, “we don’t have any menus, just order anything you want…except waffles. We don’t have a waffle iron either.” The lesson is understanding that a great image is less important than the process and the people, at least it is for me.
This is one lesson I can’t be reminded of often enough.