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Nov 30, 2016
The simplicity of a single leaf yet to fall, blazing orange in the early evening light. A long, straight road heading into the heart of evening. A lone bison against fiery clouds. Winter’s first blast against the straight walls of a country church. Visual eloquence. Nature being itself. Time churning, seasons turning. Each vision an echo of the reminder we all see this time of year. The seasons of growing, of life, have come to an end and winter has begun to reign on the high plains.
What if a photograph, or a series of photographs could capture that mood of transition? Recently a co-worker loaned me a DVD of longtime National Geographic photographer DeWitt Jones talking about his experience. One of his tips was simple, yet profound. Ask yourself, “What in the scene in front of you is good?” Once you’ve pinpointed that, then work to eliminate all the things that would distract from that one good thing you want to capture.
This isn’t easy to accomplish. Our world tends to be very complicated and full of things to see and do, and we are tempted to capture it all in one fell swoop. I’m as guilty as the next person. That is one of the reasons I wanted to try the simplicity idea. My tool of choice became the telephoto lens. Most photographers tend to think of the long lens as a sport or wildlife lens. However, it can also work wonders in isolating the detail of a leaf against an abstract background. Keeping your aperture low also helps the blur, or “bokah,” of the background stay pleasantly out of focus and less distracting.
I use a 100-400mm lens whenever I can. Sometimes I’ll even add a 1.4 extender, which gets me even closer to the subject. This set-up is also great for capturing birds. By November, most of the summer species have fled for warmer weather, but colorful and lively birds can still be found. While walking the trails of the Sioux Falls Outdoor Campus the day after our first snow, I was intrigued to watch a flock of finches, field sparrows and dark-eyed juncos expertly pick and eat the seeds out of the tall grass and dried out sunflower heads. A small, downy woodpecker flew out to a nearby tree while I stood there trying capture the simple beauty of these busy little bursts of life liven up a cold November day. Simple beauty sometimes happens where you least expect it. That’s the fun of trying new techniques and attempting to take images in a new way.
On Thanksgiving Day, after our feast, Dad and I went for a drive to catch the sunset. It had been cloudy and generally dreary for a few days, and the break on the western horizon gave evidence that the sun might make an appearance. The day was as still as you can get in the vast expanse of rural Dewey County. We drove to an abandoned church north and east of Firesteel and waited. When the sun burst out and the colors came alive, coyotes howled to the north and the sky began to make magic. The sun proceeded to paint the clouds various shades for 20 minutes until the light was gone. That simple beauty may have been brief but it will remain with me for a long time to come.
Christian Begeman grew up in Isabel and now lives in Sioux Falls. When he's not working at Midcontinent Communications he is often on the road photographing South Dakota’s prettiest spots. Follow Begeman on his blog.