Imagine, if you will, a journey down an avenue through corridors of towering redwoods. Between them the stars hang motionless in the sky, while streaking past beneath you fly the yellow dashes of the road. This is a road you think you know. But this night your journey will end in another destination, and what you find there is for you alone …
Would that I could lose myself in the world of that intro. I enjoyed the strange trip inside as I wrote, a dream that I didn’t want to fade. But really the tale is for the viewer to create within. We each have our own personal experiences that shape the stories that course through our thoughts as we look deeply into these or any images. What I shared in the introduction was a glimpse at the narrative in my own head around these images, with or without the crystal ball.
A reader asked last week, “What makes an image or photograph unique?” And the short answer was that there is no short answer, but perhaps a little discussion would be a place to start. A full discussion requires a lifetime, and much of it will be an internal dialog. Rather than trying to offer a cookbook for it, maybe I can give some tools for you to build on.
To what strange trip might this road lead? Safe travels, I hope. Humboldt County, California.
At the core of it is considering things from outside the box. Yes, there is always a box around the box, so just try to get out of the box you’re currently thinking within. Practice thinking and seeing in new ways. It would benefit anyone to understand the elements of design and the principles of design, and I recommend looking those up and thinking about them until you’re fairly familiar them. But don’t get stuck on them as absolutes because none of them is set in stone. Do what you will with them in your consciousness; what matters most is to let them steep in your subconscious. In a recipe do you have to use exactly a quarter teaspoon, or can you make it a dash or two? I say make it a dash. I get nervous if things have to be too precise. As with a chef who with enough experience stops worrying about precise measurements, the artist can also play by feel with the elements of design once they’ve been percolating in the subconscious long enough. Look them up and start them steeping.
What makes this image of the road interesting to you? As you look into this or any image that you like, it might be interesting to also consider the elements of design and notice how the elements are used. The more you think in terms of what is making the images you enjoy interesting, the more you will be able to use the same thought processes when you photograph.
The night I photographed this image I had been out stargazing near the Avenue of the Giants with a couple friends when the view from the overpass attracted us. I thought there must be a photo here someplace (I found two eventually), and thought, how do I make an image of an overpass interesting? I looked for the unusual. Nighttime is already full of unique light; what I needed was a unique perspective. I found it in an extremely low point of view made by setting my camera down on the road itself between the yellow lines.
Setting the camera on the road gave a fairly unique low angle. It was also quicker than using a tripod, and I didn’t want to spend more than a couple moments out there in the road. Always be safe: I had two friends to help look out, and it was after midnight on a weekday. There were no cars at all, except on the freeway below, so I felt it safe to set the camera down for a quick shot. The three of us would see a car approach long before it was close.
For additional unusual light, I used a flashlight to illuminate the near area of the overpass while the shutter was open. The headlights of cars traveling on US 101 beneath us cast their light up into the branches of the great Redwood trees. In the foreground all I really had were the two reflectors and the surface of the road itself. They were interesting, but were they enough? Maybe so, but I wanted to play with it. I created the crystal ball and added the hole in the road while thinking about something interesting and unusual I could do in the foreground.
Things are not always as they appear… nor do they need to be when it is a piece of art. Adding the crystal ball and hole in the road was a doodle, me playing around with the photo and then sort of liking it. I just felt the foreground needed something. You know?
So don’t worry: The Avenue is all clear. There was never a real hole in the road, nor did I use an actual crystal ball, though I have one that I photograph occasionally. I created both this hole in the road and the crystal ball in Photoshop.
Some people will prefer the image without the digital additions, and some will enjoy the hole and the crystal ball. It’s all OK. One has to be able to like what one likes. I enjoy the purity of the original, which is a single exposure in the camera, but I also enjoy the creative play in the other. If I were trying to represent the Avenue, I would choose the more normal one (if I may use the word). Part of art is the process, which is personal to the artist, and making the hole in the road and the crystal ball floating in it was thoroughly enjoyable for me.
Want to learn Photoshop? I will be teaching my Introduction to Photoshop class at College of the Redwoods’ main campus this coming Spring 2020. Called DM-70, it will be a Monday and Wednesday class from 8:30 AM to 11:40 a.m. It’s a three-unit, full semester course. Register for it now at College of the Redwoods, redwoods.edu .
*[Thank you, Rod Serling, for inspiring the format of the intro. I love it.]
To keep abreast of David Wilson’s most current photography or peer into its past, visit or contact him at his website mindscapefx.com or follow him on Instagram at @david_wilson_mfx .