Water can be many things in a photograph. It can be a mirror. A ribbon. A frame. Water can be soft, inviting or a threat. It can be the subject of the photograph or a simple compositional element. Water is a wonderful blank canvas upon which you, the photographer, are allowed to paint your masterpiece.
In the above image, water plays a role that is very different from the norm. Often, water’s textured surface is the featured quality in a photograph. Roaring rapids, the silky smooth surface of a quiet lake or the feathery curves of a waterfall are what we’re used to seeing in a photo. In this image, water is a medium through which we’re viewing the alien universe of ocean life.
The scene begs the question, who’s watching who? The obvious answer would be that enthralled tourists are watching the scene playing out before them. But put yourself in the mind of a tuna, sea turtle or shark and ask yourself, would you be enjoying the human show on display beyond the glass walls of the tank? Would you wonder if those strange looking bipeds were brought in for your enjoyment?
Here, we see water as both mirror and medium. This image was captured on a chill December morning. Setting up along the bank of the Merced River, I repeatedly checked the viewfinder of my Nikon D90 only to see that I would not be able to encompass both El Capitan and the river in a single frame. I was shooting with my widest lens, a Tokina 12-24mm, which delivers the equivalent of an 18mm ultra-wide angle view at its shortest focal length.
I wanted to capture both the river and the massive rock formation, but how? It was at this point that I noticed the reflected image of El Capitan on the still Merced waters. After some experimentation, I settled on the above framing. It frames both the river and iconic El Cap. The grasses, ice and rock along the river’s edge offer a wonderful contrast to the massive form of the stone temple on the other side. And in using the glassy surface to present an inverted image of El Cap, we see this ancient stone monument in a very different context. He is both imposing and delicate, awesome and fragile, immediate and dreamlike.
Water can be many things in a photograph. What role will she play in your next image? Get out and shoot!
Bill Ferris | October 2013