Dark Places

Recently a friend said she appreciated that I “allowed the dark places to stay dark” in a photograph of rocks and sand. That comment struck a chord; I had been thinking about inviting more darkness into my photography.

The urge to photograph a particular thing or place erupts from a myriad of sources, some of which are unknown to me. But one reason I make photographs is to share a place, a moment, a detail or an impression with others.

One way of conceptualizing the process of photography, for me anyway, is that I am making maps of my world as I photograph it. Here is the tree, here, the rough bark, over there, the repeating pattern of a fern and there, its reflection or shadow.Β  A curve, a shade of green, a shape, a texture….I notice the details as well as the whole scene, and I want to share it all. I want to faithfully record all the bits of data, the way a map does.

 

1. Photograph as map. Little is left to the imagination; you won’t get lost here.

Maps present the facts in an evenhanded way, shedding enough light across the surface so that every important detail can be read. I’ve always loved maps and in photography I often gravitate towards brightness, preferring well-illuminated images.

But what about the dark places, what about the shadows? Especially in winter with its clouds, low sun and short days, darkness comes into the foreground. Why fight it? In this data-heavy world maybe it makes sense to allow more darkness to manifest, if only to balance the plethora of visual information.

Dark places don’t appear on maps, not anymore. But like the blank places on old maps that elicited so many questions, darkness can play an important role in photographs. So I’m acquiescing to darkness, trying to refrain from lifting out the shadows. Here’s a group of photos that invites darkness in.

 

2. On a late October afternoon lingering rays of sunlight illuminate a clump of ferns at the edge of an algae-coated wetland. The deep blue areas are reflections of a bright, clear autumn sky.

 

3. Same day, same location.

 

4. After a gentle snowfall the pale coating on logs and leaves does little to lighten a dark corner of the lake.

 

5. Freezing rain left an assortment of water droplets and ice pellets on the slender twigs of a Snowberry bush (Symphoricarpos albus).

 

6. Rain begins to fall on a lake at dusk. The sun has set, and what little is left of the light is mesmerizing. It’s getting really cold but….just a few more photos. You know how it is.

 

7. After sunset on a mid-winter day, all is dark except for a bog in the middle of the lake.

 

8. Deep shadows fall across a wetland in a forest, on an October afternoon.

 

9. The Yellow pond lily leaves are curling up and turning brown, but the Douglas fir trees won’t give up their color. The lake must have risen long ago and killed the trees. They still stand tall.

 

10. A late summer view of the same lake.

 

11. Another day, a different angle, in black and white.

 

I’m going to try to keep the importance of darkness in mind. Of course I would never abandon the light. Below there are more photos from the same location, which is a shallow lake surrounded by forest, called Little Cranberry Lake. The photographs represent eight different walks around the lake, between August 2018 and February 2019. I’ve come to love the trails in this preserve. Walking the trails in sunny and overcast weather, in the rain or just after a snowfall, there’s always something new to see.

 

12. The same photograph as #11, processed differently.

 

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13. Trails at Little Cranberry Lake are rocky and full of roots.

 

14. A favorite spot on one trail by the lake cuts underneath a vertical cliff where Redcedar trees enjoy the constant moisture.

 

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15. Reflections in the lake in late November, when the grasses were fading.

 

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16. On the same day, a light rain began to fall. The water was absolutely still.

 

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17. In a third photo of reflections made the same day, a moss-covered log supports an array ofΒ  plants.

 

18. A glorious September sky is reflected near the edge of the lake.

 

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19. This isn’t spring green – the photograph was made in the middle of January. The edges of this shallow lake provide no end of reflections to study.

 

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20. Here are the same greens, on land now, also in January.

 

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21. Bracken fern decays beautifully, turning various shades of yellow, gold, orange and brown. This is from a September walk.

 

22. A pair of mushrooms rises between the dead fronds of a Sword fern. There’s plenty of moisture in this bed of moss.

 

23. I hope this is a slick of algae or bacteria on the wetland, not oil.

 

24. Light, wet snow on lichens makes a kind of miniature winter wonderland.

 

25. A honeysuckle (Lonicera sp.) plant and a Snowberry bush seem to shiver in the fresh snow.

 

26. An infrared treatment in black and white gives the impression of snow. The photo was taken in February but on this day no snow fell.

***

Little Cranberry Lake is part of a collection of about 2800 acres of protected forest land on Fidalgo Island. Purchased in 1919 by a local power company, the forest was logged by the company for income for 60 or 70 years. In the late 1980’s local residents began to document how the practice of clearcutting was destroying the forest. A Friends of the Forest group coalesced and made their voices heard, along with residents who wanted trails, not logging in the island’s forests. Clearcutting ended in 1989, and now the Anacortes Community Forest Lands (ACFL) are permanently preserved and managed for recreational use.

 


79 comments

  1. Light or its absence seems to be what photography is all about. Love these selections where you played so well with the given light.

    Favorites- 10 (love reflections, no doubt about it and the simplicity) and 15 & 16 for the same reasons and the clouds on water in 18
    21 for the color and patterns
    and those sweet perky mushrooms in 22
    and 23, 24 1n3 25 just because πŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I already knew that I love dark paintings and photos, those old Dutch night scenes and interiors, with lots of lovely gloomth and moodiness, Whistler’s “nocturnes,” etc. and by the time I saw #6 and #8, great settings for a mystery, I’d decided these would be my favorites. But 18, 19 & 21 are just wonderful, those clouds in 18 are really dreamlike and an amazing photo, and 16 is mesmerizing, with just the reflections and those two tiny circular ripples, to show it’s still water and not a void . And I really like the otherworldly effect of the white silhouettes in the background in your final shot, and come to think of it, the lichens in #24 also might be from another planet. Where did you say you were from again?? πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gloomth, huh? Yes, those paintings are really beautiful, thank you for reminding me of them. It’s a great place to walk and look and study the quiet, shallow lake. I had fun with the last photo and didn’t know that an infrared treatment in Silver Efex would have that effect on the background. You just have to try, and experiment. Thanks for being a thoughtful, articulate person here – it means a lot. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Haha! Star Wars >>> “Lynn, Lynn, welcome to the Dark Side …” Well, you know me, what else am I going to say???

    And the thought of photos as maps – “I notice the details as well as the whole scene, and I want to share it all. ” – is not something I do >>> although you may well be able to find instances where I’ve done this, though whether I intended it I simply won’t know. As always, we are all different.

    I very much like 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 16, 17, 18, 25, 26. But 10 and 23 are ohhhh!

    Interesting: Don McCullin, a famous war photographer, lives near here, down near the Levels, and as he gets older – he’s in his 80s now – he says that he finds himself printing his pictures – which now include many Somerset landscapes – darker and darker. A πŸ™‚

    Liked by 3 people

    • You are on my mind when I think about this subject – the dark places, not photos as maps – so thank you for that. Your “difference” has been an opportunity for me to see another way and think about it. I don’t look to change who I am, as you know, but to keep growing. You like #23 too, that’s interesting… #10 and a few others are photos I’ve been holding on to, waiting for the post that they wanted to be in to come around. I’ll find more at this location for sure. That’s quite interesting, about Mr. McCullin. I read a good interview on the Aperture website.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh I don’t think I could leave the dark places! I’m always pulling out the shadows to see what’s there. Very occasionally I’ll leave the dark places. This post encourages me to experiment more. There are so many favourites I can’t name them all, but will just pick out number 23.
    Alison

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  5. A couple of days ago I posted ‘Low Tide’, a landscape shot of a small lake with a low water level. It was a bright, sunny day, and I took the shot from in between the trees and bushes, that surrounded the lake. The sun was behind me and caused a shadow of that vegetation in front of me. You could say that I was in the dark, capturing the light. A fellow-blogger replied: ‘As if the light invites you to step out of the dark’. And that nailed the meaning of the shot. I wasn’t in a very joyful mood, that day, and I remember that I was walking back and forth to get ‘the dark and the light’ in the right proportions to express my feelings. (by the way, I don’t ‘know’ these things when I’m out there, shooting…) So, to contribute to your post, I think I can say that for me ‘Dark’ is a ‘Lightroom-slide’ that controls the amount of sadness, loneliness, melancholy, drama, even death in a shot.. Your shots 11 an 12 illustrate this pretty good, (although the fact that 11 is a B&W and 12 a color-shot also has quite some impact): in 11 ‘the dark’ brings out the pale, naked poles more strongly, which gives the shot a more heavy mood (kind of tree-cemetry-feel… but as you know, I’m certainly not neutral in this..), while in 12 the poles are much more a natural part of the forest behind them. Curious what Dark will bring you… Fine series, as always. I also like 18; and you can wake me up any time for a 19 πŸ™‚ (At last: brilliant name for the app ‘Lightroom’, where photo’s used to come from the ‘Darkroom’) See you, Lynn.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for this reading of the post. I decided not to include the psychological approach because it’s such a huge topic, but obviously it’s there, and it can be a rich avenue to go down. I’m struck by the way you sum up the difference between #11 & #12. Cool! And the phrase, “Dark is a Lightroom slide” – oh, I think we could have fun with that.
      You went further with your analysis of #11 & #12, which is so interesting. Yes, the trees in the water are not isolated in the second image, they join the forest. In the first one they’re exposed to the elements and alone, but there is such beauty in that, too, don’t you think?
      I didn’t even think about Lightroom vs. darkroom – I can be very dense sometimes. Thanks Harrie, for this engrossing comment.

      Liked by 1 person

      • There sure is beauty in that too. I even prefer 11 because, for me, it has more meaning. 12 Is more about the forest and 11 about dead trees, standing alone together in the water. And that image, in a symbolical way, can resonate with ‘something inside’ you; as if there is some sort of recognition… And with that recognition, the shot starts telling something about ‘who you are’…. So, may be.., photography can be ‘making a map of who you are’..

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  6. Wow, Lynn, this is awesome photography. What you do is highly inspiring. Glad you “found” my blog and commented so I found you as well, but this is the way it works some times πŸ™‚ You live in a beautiful area, and privileged to be able to visit the PNW frequently. Last summer I took the whole family and they just loved it! Glad to have found you as a “window” into the PNW! Looking forward to see more! Marcus

    Liked by 1 person

    • Such a generous comment, Marcus, thank you. How wonderful it must have been to bring your family along last year….and knowing that you’re familiar with the PNW makes your remarks about these photos even more valuable. Feel free to jump into the archived posts if you have a minute sometime. πŸ™‚ But I have a feeling you’re pretty busy!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Will sure check out more of your beautiful and inspiring photography. Lynn πŸ™‚ Being in the Rose City this and next week it seems we are sharing the same bad weather now πŸ™‚ ! Still thinking about a quick trip to the coast on Saturday though…that’s what weekends are for πŸ™‚ Marcus

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    • An interesting idea…I’m not familiar enough with Tarot to think along those lines but I appreciate your ideas. Metaphorical systems can teach us so much, and it’s good to exercise the brain by thinking of an image that way. Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

    • That makes sense, about stage lighting….interesting. Thanks so much for commenting Don, and yes, the Friends saved a lot of land, wonderful land, all towards the middle of the island. Apparently most residents weren’t aware of the clearcutting until they made a racket about it.

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  7. One of my frustrations with cameras that set automatic exposures is they balance the light and dark so that it’s tougher to capture the amazing glow of items that emerge from darkness. I’ve always loved those intense contrasts and the mystery of shadow and light. I’m so glad to see your take on exploring this. Beautiful and thoughtful choices in this batch of ‘dark’ photos. I also especially love the macro view of light snow. I hadn’t thought to get that close. I did some macro snow several years back when it froze into an ice storm and had huge crystals, but I love this view of crystals and droplets of wet snow.

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    • See if your camera has a spot metering choice. Once I started using that, it changed everything. Your photos from a few years ago sound really cool. Hopefully you’re out there again today, that is, if you can get out the front door! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      • Working from home today, and unfortunately that will take my daylight hours. But I have plenty more to consider and share from the walks in the snow I’ve taken so far. At the moment, visibility is poor with a fine but thick powdery snow falling. Maybe I’ll take a quick break and capture a few with that soft misty veil.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Without darkness there is no light and that underlines the effect of it very much. 5, 8 and 25 are very poetic! So tender and magical! I love them very much. The reflection pictures are fantastic too. Again I like the rhythm of the trees, cutting the photos like a pattern of stripes or lines. The small “islands” are beautiful. I think they would go together wonderfully with the giant stone I want to have for my balcony πŸ˜‰ Lovely. The fern is a real “highlight” and the mushrooms are tiny models for sketching, aren’t they πŸ™‚ The last picture is brilliant too. A fantastic effect and I like the perspective. It tickles my mind πŸ™‚ Thank you Lynn for this great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Almuth….poetic is a quality I like, and you pointed right to it. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t have water, giant stones and islands on your balcony. πŸ™‚ The mushrooms would be nice as a watercolor – that sprinkle of orange on the caps – I’m happy to have tickled your mind. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Beautiful post, Lynn. I also enjoyed your conversation with Harri. There’s no doubt that the final image is personal weather your intention is to document a subject or interpret a subject. I’m fortunate that I photograph for the Museum, using documentary-style lighting, subject placement, etc. With many subjects, after I have finished shooting the required photos, I try to shoot a personal interpretation of an object if I feel a connection to it. I can’t spend a lot of time on it because I try to be as efficient as possible with my time, but I feel it has been appreciated. Also, because I shoot so much documentary shots for the Museum, I don’t feel I have to carry it over into my personal work. Your shots #19 and #23 are especially nice.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Harrie gave us many nuggets to chew on, it’s a gift. πŸ™‚ As for intention, mine is not particularly conscious, for better or worse. The last image evolved as I worked on it – I could see it in black and white but the rest happened while experimenting. Your museum process is interesting….it’s such a different task, photographing as a job vs. photographing for oneself, and your solution to the potential frustration of photographing for someone else seems perfect – stay another minute with the subject and shift gears towards your own feelings. Then you point to the positive side of shooting for others, which is also very interesting. I guess you’re able to get documentation out of your system! I haven’t thought all this through as much as I could, so my theories about what I’m doing may be off. That’s another reason I really appreciate your sharing your thoughts here. Thank you!

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  10. It’s funny this came up because I had just been having a very similar conversation with myself. I enjoy other peoples low key and moody dark photos but when it comes to my own images I had hardly ever had a predominance of darkness. Something I have been trying to work on….

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s nice, a bit of synchronicity. Your thoughts sound similar to mine on the subject. I looked a lot at one particular blogger’s images (Adrian at FATman). He often “goes dark” and I thought about that a lot…what is it about, why does it work, etc. This give and take in the comments section is valuable. Thank you, Howard.

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  11. I loved going to the Dark Side with you, Lynn. You’ve embraced the dark elements so well and I am especially appreciative of 4, 5, and 11 for their contrasts, subtlety and mood. And your images of the brakcen fern and honeysuckle are gorgeous. Your contemplation on the process of creating an image or series of images is refreshing and valuable. Terrific work and post. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • πŸ™‚ You single out monochrome images, that makes sense – I know you are very interested in black and white or desaturated images, so I’m glad you think those ones work. And the Honeysuckle isn’t necessarily such a likeable photo so I’m glad that one works for you too. πŸ™‚ As I said above to Ken, I haven’t thought it through as much as I could, but it was a start. The comments section can be a nice place to keep the ideas going. Thank you, Jane!

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      • I think about this a lot when making photographs. I love that you are discussing intention, mood, inspiration….these are some of the aspects of creativity that are so important to me in the flow of a day of shooting.

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  12. I’d have to say, generally speaking, I like darker compositions more than the eye blinding high key stuff. It seems more dramatic, more moody, more likely to have interesting contrasts. But as you’ve shown, the lighter, warmer side is nice too. I especially like the reflective waters, how rare to have them perfectly still.

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    • Those are good points Dave, thanks for talking about what appeals to you. Our subjective responses are always interesting. That lake is still a lot of the time, maybe because it’s in a depression and surrounded by forest, and it’s shallow. I’m looking forward to doing more there.

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  13. I intended to add (!) that ‘dark’ is obviously not an absolute value and the challenge is deciding how much and what you need to reveal. These images address the varying situations quite beautifully.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a good point, Louis, thank you. Revealing just enough is the challenge sometimes, right? It’s been good for me to allow more darkness and leave more to the imagination. It’s always a work in progress, isn’t it?

      Liked by 1 person

  14. When I made my first foray into the east Texas piney woods, I was completely at a loss. I may even have mentioned here what a strange experience it was to move from open prairies into an environment where light doesn’t suffuse the entire scene, but comes in slants and patches. Eventually, I thought to try spot metering, as you mentioned above, and that did help. Of course, it would have helped if there had been real sunlight, too — it rained nearly the whole time I was there.

    I especially was drawn to #16. The single drop, combined with what appears to be a natural bonsai, is absolutely entrancing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • When I first moved here the general darkness really threw me. It was winter too, with no snow to bring extra light. It took a while before I got used to it. It was a good lesson in every place having its own light, its own feeling. I’m happy you like #16 – I was so pleased that I was able to photograph pretty much what I saw that time! πŸ˜‰ I’m hoping for more reflections at that lake but we’ve had a lot of snow and spring is coming, with all the rain. The water will be higher and I’m not sure how many of the logs and whatnot will still show. That’s what keeps us happy, right? The not knowing is intriguing.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I do admire the dark places and spaces here Lynn! With today’s software it is easy to get caught up in wanting to bring out all the detail in the shadows but braver to go with it, as you have done here. This is an excellent collection and theme for a post.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That is such a good point, Denise – the software kind of leads us there, doesn’t it? And maybe just the prevalence of so much data in general makes us gravitate towards thinking that’s the right way to lean. Thanks for being here and for adding your thoughts, and what a nice compliment, too. πŸ™‚

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  16. Amazing how much power and strength lie in the darkness. Thanks so much for shining a light on the subject πŸ™‚

    That said, I’m surprised there’s no photographic equivalent of John Cage’s piano piece, 4’33” — or is there?

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  17. I like the way you talk about the dark places, and of course I like that you show them. My favorite photograph here is #10, for the bright green vegetation surrounded by dark, and for the reflections. You would know whether my thinking that #16 has a Zen feeling to it is appropriate or not, but in my limited experience, it does. Love it, so maybe this is my favorite. Oh, but I really really like #21. Maybe it is my favorite. Those colors and crisp fern-frond shapes, with the rock backdrop just so! In #23 it’s not oil. Oil would not be in the little pieces that you see here; it would ooze together around the leaf. Oh! Now I’m looking at #24β€”it’s like a fairy land! Oh, this one has got to be my favorite. So glad you have Little Cranberry Lake to make so many favoritesβ€”and all the rest.

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  18. I’m glad I have this place too, and thanks for all the feedback, and for always thinking the next good one is your favorite. #10 has a kind of green that I remember seeing a lot of near where you are now. #16 – safe to say! πŸ˜‰ And #21 was one I was happy with – it was a pretty little spot by the trail that caught my eye. I’m glad it’s not oil in #23 – so it’s something biological, another film of some kind. Interesting. It did occur after lots of dry weather and little rain. And it’s nice that you get the fairyland effect in the lichen photo because that’s what I saw, but I thought the outcome wasn’t quite what I wanted. I’ll have more opportunities to photograph lichens with water drops on them no doubt!

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