One of the greatest challenges that most photographers face –and I am certainly no exception– is finding a way to trim down a potential image to its most basic elements while still retaining enough appealing information that it doesn't lose its intrigue. I refer to this as developing a "photographic narrative." I believe that really strong images should always tell some type of story and at least provide a jumping-off point that will spark the viewers imagination. You want to "dangle a carrot" for the viewer so that you might prompt him/her to ponder about an image time and time again. A great and famous example of this would be the Mona Lisa. Why is this painting still be adored hundreds of years after it was created? I personally don't believe it has as much to do with the quality of the painting as with the fact that folks are drawn into the narrative that Da Vinci cleverly –and surely knowingly– injected into the painting with Mona Lisa's famous smile. We all want to know what she is smiling about, right?
A couple of nights ago I went out for a walk just before sunset. A nice rain had just passed through and a low mist had begun to hang over the field. I was just about to come in for the night when I noticed something odd surrounding the post of one of the old bluebird boxes nearby. As I came closer, I immediately recognized that the odd shape was in fact a black rat snake (my third encounter this spring) that had tightly coiled its body around the post and was working its way up to the nest box (the birds had just fledged). I ran inside to grab my camera gear and came back out with a a great determination to illustate the story of the snake and the box; predator and prey. I photographed the scene with a 20mm wide-angle lens from above, below and straight on. That didn't work. The sky was too washed out and the angle too severe. Next I tried zooming in and shooting from afar but still nothing was working. Meanwhile, the sun was quickly setting and the snake was getting tired of being gawked at. How could I show this powerful predator inching its way for what it hoped might be an evening meal? Then it occurred to me that I should just focus on the form of the animal. The bluebird house was a nice addition but it only served to distract the me from the crux of the shot. By now the snake was fairly calm, and it was fairly cool outside, so I moved within a couple of feet and carefully composed the shot. I became excited as I looked through the view-finder at the snake. It was easy to imagine that it was a piece of sculpture. The field looked great, the reflected sunset on the snake's dew-covered scales appeared iridescent, while the post now became an anchor within the image. It also would provide something for viewers to question and wonder about. I was reminded of my new mantras "Cut out the clutter" and "Create a Narrative." In the end, I may not have created anything like the Mona Lisa but for me, I know that I created a better image by having the willingness to focus in on what really mattered and develop a narrative.