by Suzanne Rose
That shot can serve as a daily touchstone to a happy moment, a talisman for future travel or a reminder of your creative self.
It becomes your screen saver on your computer or your Smartphone, a print you have matted and framed and hanging in a prominent place in your home. Or, for the even more ambitious, it can become a gift for your fellow travelers, family and friends.
The temperament of the water between Northport Pier and Washington Island, notoriously called Death’s Door, has been nothing but cooperative every time I’ve crossed.
The six-mile expanse has a history of being brutal and unforgiving due to sudden high winds and tempestuous currents.
Today, little danger remains in crossing these deep waters of Lake Michigan on the Washington Island Ferry. If anything, as the ferry’s engines churn loudly with great industrial strength, the 30-minute ferry ride feels languid, even on rough days.
It’s an August evening and I’m heading back on the last Friday night ferry. Being on the vessel sparks my imagination and dissolves all ties to land as the shores recede into the distance. I can’t help but be excited by the cacophony of the engine’s roar, by finding my “sea legs,” listening to the cries of the many gulls overhead and feeling the rush of wind whipping my hair. All my senses have a heightened clarity to navigate in this nautical environment.
As an artist, creating a photograph to echo my emotional experience is foremost on my mind. My formal training immediately makes a short list of images I’ll need to tell the story. But because the crossing is short and I’d like to enjoy it without a camera held to my face on the entire passage, I refrain from taking an endless series of shots. Instead, I decide to walk the perimeters of the ship on the upper decks in search of just one great, defining shot.
I’m practicing something I had learned early on as a film photographer, when I had only 12 shots per roll: patience.
Minor White, a Zen philosopher and master photographer professed, “I’m always mentally photographing everything, as practice.” This approach not only eliminates the constant collection of mediocre images, it also allows a traveler to enjoy the moment.
The temperature drops as we reach the middle point of the voyage, where the summer air—warm from the land—cools on the open water. I decide to head back to my car to grab a jacket.
As I weave in and out of tightly parked vehicles on the parking deck, with my teeth chattering, I reach my vehicle and just grab my favorite Woolrich blanket lying on the backseat and wrap up in it, Buddhist-monk style.
It was a long day and I’m happy to be heading home. I lean against the warmth of my VW, reviewing my escape to the island that had been full of meeting friends, hiking about, eating delicious food and indulging in extremely good coffee. As I watch the horizon warmly glow through the cutout window of the steel hull, there, right in front of me, I find my shot: a frame within a frame.
French novelist Marcel Proust once said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but having new eyes.”
The goal to make something that is more than merely a record of “your having been there” is ultimately the best intention for travel photography. Adopting this plan of action invites a creative mindset and thoughtful image making.
Expressing or interpreting the experience of a place into a photograph is a much harder process. Using the framework of a “frame within a frame” introduces a unique viewpoint that can be used again and again without ever becoming stale.
With eyes on the look-out for the “frame within a frame opportunity,” I guarantee you’ll feel creatively energized.
Here are some tips I’ve found that can make an entire trip a success with just one shot.
Think Inside the Box
When referring to a “frame within a frame” the word frame does not refer to a picture frame that hangs on a wall but rather referring to the external borders of the photo itself. The frame composed in the parameters of the photo is a frame found in the setting. A doorway, window or any type of opening will suffice, including low-lying branches.
Framing is a powerful visual tool that not only tells a more complex story of place, it is a method to draw attention to what you would like your viewer to ultimately enjoy.
When developing a new personal style, it takes equal parts practice, patience and serendipity. The image rarely finds you, you must actively seek it out.
Never pass a porthole or door again without checking out its potential!
Once you have the frame, pair it with something of importance to frame. It can be anything from a lovely view to an iconic lighthouse. Door County’s potential is endless.
The sheer act of determining what is placed within the frame and what is left out—the organization of space—is one of the most important tasks of taking pictures.
The choice of elements to include or exclude in the frame is key and can be worked out by exploring a variety of options. Shifting the composition slightly to the right or left, stepping forward to simplify or stepping back to add more complexity or opting to silhouette the frame to feature the view through the frame can all be options in discovering the best organization for success.
The point of view or placement of the horizon can have a dramatic impact on the image as well. Bending down or finding a perch to stand upon can make all the difference.
The positive synergy of components will clearly be evident when you review the shots on the playback screen or scroll through photos on your camera roll.
Since we are no longer limited to a roll with 12 frames, shoot a number of versions until you nail it.
Trust that a single image is waiting for you to find. Challenge yourself to make powerful and meaningful compositions on your travels.
When Robert Louis Stevenson said, “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive,” he was speaking to our flawed human nature of setting expectations. Just let the destination be what it is—not greater or less than your aspirations—and enjoy “the getting there” as much as the endpoint.
And, as was my case during my Washington Island adventure, the leaving can be just as sweet, as well.
Visit www.suzannerose.com for upcoming photography workshops.