*Note: NO GOT spoilers in this post
I could barely see the patterned contours of the owl sitting within the fractured edges of a small cavity, likely chiseled into the thick skin of the large Aspen tree by the strong beak of a woodpecker. The nesting Eastern screech owl was about 150 meters away from me, barely visible amidst the dense forest that grows in Rondeau Provincial Park in Southern Ontario.
An Eastern screech owl (ESO) has always been high on my list of ‘species I want to photograph.’ While very rare in Alberta, they are commonly found in Southern Ontario, a fact that occupied a good chunk of my energy during the planning phase for my trip out east in May, 2019.
I was ecstatic to see my first ESO, but knew my photographic options were limited by the distance of my subject, so I did not rush to take photos. Instead, I crouched down on the cement pathway and reveled in the ‘newness’ of the moment.
After indulging myself with a few minutes of owl-induced elation, I raised my camera and fired a few shots. I was surprised to see a glimpse of potential for at least an okay ‘owl in environment’ shot staring back at me from my camera’s viewfinder.
Ideally, I would have been able to adjust my physical position in relation to the subject, the foundation of good photo composition. My options for movement, however, were limited. Getting physically closer was not an option without possibly disturbing the owl. All I could do was move slightly to the right or left of the path to change my position, and crouch or stand to change my angle of view.
I contemplated my options for teasing out a slightly better photo and could only come up with two – adding a 1.6 tele-converter to my lens for more ‘zoom’ and increasing the exposure slightly in an attempt to bring out more detail from the dark subject. Both have the potential to degrade the sharpness and quality of the photo, but I was still compelled to play a bit.
Luckily for me, the owl decided to open her eyes for a brief period during my experimentation, and while significantly cropped, I managed to capture an image that I like (after editing) and also resonated with more of my social media followers than I anticipated.
Weeks after posting the owl image, I found myself re-examining it, as I often do with photos. I was dividing my visual concentration between the TV screen that was playing an episode of Game of Thrones (I decided to re-watch after the season finale) and my laptop screen that displayed the photo.
I was suddenly struck by how the angular shape of the blurry tree on the left side of my owl image coincided with the beams of sharp, angular light which infused a number of my favorite scenes in GOT. While less dramatic, I could see the dynamics of visual composition employed by GOT mirrored in my photo:
- Highlights and shadows guiding the eye through the scene
- Imperfect symmetry created by the direction of defined, angular lines
- Layers of depth produced by layers of focus (depth of field)
- An adherence to the foundation of visual presentation, the rule of thirds
This realization inspired me to shift my focus while re-watching GOT and pay more attention to the background details and overall composition. The creative neurons in my brain ignited as I observed how every element of every scene informed a complex plot line, serving to highlight the characters, rather than distract from them, as contextual elements inadvertently have the power to do.
I realize there was some dissatisfaction among a huge fan base around the ending of the series, but there is no question GOT emulates the art of masterful visual story telling, even with the odd coffee cup or water bottle making it in to a couple of scenes.
GOT, of course, is a massively expensive and complicated production, created with technical film-making processes and advanced digital technology. However, every scene would have started with the very non-technical process of evaluating how best to accomplish a creative vision, similar to my evaluation of how to get a better ESO photo, but on a much grander scale.
This process occurs within the creative visionaries, not within the technology or equipment needed to articulate the vision. It is a purely human process.
I realize my owl photo is not even close to the same level of GOT in terms of visual magnificence. It really is not that ‘great’ of a photo in general. It is, however, an example of how visual story telling can be enhanced by maximizing creative potential within a set of boundaries.
With access to money, resources, thousands of people and advanced technology, it may seem like GOT producers had more creative options than I, but I suspect such complexity creates far greater constraints than I could even imagine.
When understood and acknowledged, boundaries can create a comfortable container to nurture artistic expression. I believe there is overwhelming power in recognizing the endless potential in even the strongest of constraints, of focusing on the ‘can dos’ rather than the ‘can’t dos.’
What a fascinating journey this has been for me. I never imagined my love of a TV series would merge with a photo of an owl and lead to a mind boggling examination the creative process.
I plan to continue this exploration, and hope to write more about it, so please stay tuned.
Until next time, continue loving life and everything wild 🙂