Saturday Evening Post #173: Nature Doesn’t Make Long Speeches

So says Lao Tzi. Tao Te Ching Chapter 23

Photos tell a story. One frame at time.  We don’t get the backstory.  We might never grasp the ongoing drama. There is no character development in a single photo.

Photographers and their photos are sold into a slavey of having to make the point of the subject, decisively and distinctly.

Henri-Cartier Bresson (HCB) spoke and taught the concept of “The Decisive Moment”.  And thousand of acres of trees have been cut down to  turn into paper, countless websites have come and gone explaining the author’s concept of HCB’s small statement.  So much so that photographers have pondered when is the right time to press the shutter, what should and shouldn’t be included, and how does that all support the vision I had of the scene at that moment.

Fred Archer and Ansel Adams, created  “Pre-visualization” (sic) and although it applied to their ‘Zone System”, it too has gone into the photo-psyche as a necessary tool to learn to make good photos.

Many current photographs, the ones made on handfones bound for Instagram (so 2020ish), or TikTok, are made with no knowledge of the Decisive Moment or Pre-visualisation, the audience doesn’t care.

The Zone System was at its base, and this is not the blog to explore all that in some detail, was to understand or predict in the final print how dark the dark areas would be, how light the light areas and where the mid-tones might fall.  Not a panacea for “Will I or will I not press the shutter.” Nor the countless articles and lectures given to explain it

The single image offers us some visual challenges. One way to imply the story for our viewers is contrast.
Oh yes, I’ve got one of those sliders in my Photoshop program, push it one way and it all goes murky grey, push the other and it washes out the whites and clogs up the blacks.
Contrast is a bit more than just a slider solution.

Dark tones create a sombre mood. Light tones give us bright excitement, and the mid-tones carry the bulk of the detail and content.

With colour, we can also contrast one colour against another. Blue on yellow perhaps. Those who’ve seen Spielberg’s Schindler’s List will know the significance of a red coat.

A different type of contrast is ideas, or points of difference.  Large round shape against small rectangular. Wet against dry. Moving verses stationary. It provides visual pull that lets the viewer explore the frame. Scale or juxtaposition are part of the visual contrast.

Perhaps  dead trees in a wilderness with some soft green shoots poking through the parched ground?

I’d seen this Black-shouldered Kite approaching, and as it flew by the dark trees, its light shape and form became more than just the bird in flight.  Once back in the digital space on the computer I loaded up the trusty “Nik Silver FX Pro” and just like in the old days of choosing a filter to modify a colour tone, I worked the darkness back into the trees and also picked out the lighter area with a different filter.  Time to add a little extra density and contrast by matching a film type and adding a little grain to give some texture.

Whether pre-visualised or at the decisive moment, the contrast helps to infer—if not enhance —the shape and form of the bird.


12 thoughts on “Saturday Evening Post #173: Nature Doesn’t Make Long Speeches

  1. Well presented and written. You’re absolutely spot on (pun intended) regarding the story in one shot. Pulling out one page from a novel that still provides context to the rest of the story. Great read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Miguel, thanks for the comment, yes, I agree, infact at one point in the missive I was going to extoll the virtues of writers being able to develop page after page character, setting and situation. It is such a worthy comparison.


  2. A fascinating discussion, David. The thought process that goes into the making of and image from click to final product is amazing when we stop to consider it.
    A fine result with the B-s K!


  3. Thank you David for a most interesting and informative dissertation on photography. As an amateur with an interest in photography, I gained a new perspective and learnt a great deal. I particularly like the sharply delineated front outline, the range of tones on the upper primaries, and the texture on the underbody and underwings. A striking image. Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Greeting RegentParrot, thanks for dropping by. There is always some more to learn. Either about the birds, their behaviour or our involvement. I think that is what makes for a fascinating hobby. I don’t put that many mono converts here, but just occasionally the image will demand some special treatment and I enjoy the push and pull of moving the tones around.


  4. Very interesting discussion on the advantages of colour to create texture and contrast David. Love the contrast in the Black-shouldered Kite. Just for the record the little girl wore a red coat, which was such a brilliant new trend of contrast in its time, and quite a unique way of communicating a message in the photo as in movie. Your images often display this artistic talent, which moves photography into the art form. I was blessed to be able to see the 2021 Nature Photographer of the Year exhibition with my grandsons, and I saw much of what you were saying here there. It is well worth a look when it comes to Melbourne.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Ashley, Correct, I was recalling of the top off my head.
      I have never watched the movie start to finish. Borrowed a copy, and it took me several weeks to take it in small sections. i think I went through several boxes of tissues, so its not one that I have much chance of recalling details.
      Albeit I have read Thomas Keneally’s book a couple of times.
      Thanks for the heads up on the exhibition. I wonder how excellent the work that was rejected was!

      Stay Safe

      Liked by 1 person

  5. There is no doubt that colour captured incorrectly can distract. I often try to see in black n white(zone system) but need more practice. However I often feel the tug towards mono(although I often taint it, remove the distraction, then add the mood back with a tint). I took an image of a flock of birds a while back and recall my minds eye just saw streaks of white n black. Try as I did in post pro on my return I couldn’t render that minds eye again. The brain is a funny thing.
    I watch Shindlers list when I’m feeling arrogant or ungrateful or realise I’ve been too busy to help others, brings me back to earth. Love the scene where the old guy is forced to make those hinges and the problems that arise. So much in just that one scene. The red coat also often haunts me.
    Love the form on that bird jumping out from the criss cross backdrop and I’m sure I’ve never noticed those under wing dots as much as in this shot. Battle of Britain esque, as the Spit wheels away after a triumphant hit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. G,day,
      It’s rare that I shoot for mono these days. I do occasionally play with the mono setting in-camera. Some filters in there to make good contrasts.
      But for birds, I am a colour tragic.
      Which is why Silver EFx works for me.
      Know the problem of what I saw v what I got. When I was a young budding neophyte, my mentor’s friday challenge involved flood water running around an inundated tree trunk. I can still use words to describe the sparkle and form of the swirling water.
      No matter how I printed, or cropped or dodged and burned, it was flat, lifeless and disappointing. So much so that to this day, I have been known to walk past that tree and wonder what went wrong and what might have been. I have a long memory.!!!

      I’d finished some work with the local Jewish Museum when the film was released, and having spoken to so many survivors and righteous gentiles from the era, I never could get my heart into watching more than about 10 minutes. One of those movies I wished I’d never watched. Along with Saving Private Ryan and the recent Battle of Long Tan “Danger Close”

      Yeah worked hard on the wing details. It is mostly a combo or red/yellow filtration. I don’t think it really worked till I chose a film stock (Ilford Pan F) to get the better seperation



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