The Creative Process: A Photo-Essay

What: A photography day-trip.
When: Saturday, October 13
Where: Glory Hole waterfall, Dismal Creek, Ozark Mountains of Arkansas

My husband, Dwight, is a photographer and he wanted to take a trip to the Ozarks this weekend to do some photography. This photo essay is about the creative process and how we can apply it to our writing process.

Plan for Creativity

Dwight planned this trip carefully. He had long wanted to see the Glory Hole waterfall. It’s a place where water has carved out an overhanging ledge, creating what is commonly called a rockhouse. But in the ceiling of this rockhouse was a five-foot hole. Normally the creek bed above fell through this Glory Hole into the cave created by the overhang. To get the right photo, we needed lots of rain to create a strong waterfall, and then, lots of sunlight to send a stream of light through that Glory Hole. It had rained Friday in the Ozarks and we hoped the trip would result in great photos.

Dwight planned for a waterfall shot; but he also brought along all his lenses and a tripod.

On the drive up Saturday morning, though, fog banks drifted over the Ozarks, at times limiting visibility to 100 feet. When we reached the parking for the Glory Hole hike, it was just a light fog. The guide book said that when we crossed a tributary to Dismal Creek, the water level here was a prediction of how well the waterfall would be running. And in spite of rain the day before and the current fog, there was only a trickle in the tiny creek.

Indeed, when we got to the Glory Hole, it was disappointing because the waterfall was a trickle and there was no sunlight to illuminate the water flowing into the cave below.

Glory Hole, Dismal Creek, Ozarks, as seen from below. Photo by Dwight Pattison, c. 2012 All Rights Reserved.

Turn Around

So, there we were a couple hours drive from home, an hour’s walk into the depths of the Ozarks–and conditions weren’t right. Fog obscured everything and the waterfall hadn’t cooperated.

But Dwight turned around and took this picture.

Looking down Dismal Creek from the Glory Hole. c. 2012 Dwight Pattison, All Rights Reserved. Click to see full size.

All it took was turning 180 degrees from where we stood. Sometimes, in the creative process, you just need to try the opposite of what you had intended.

Look Closely

Because Dwight had come prepared with all his lenses, we also stopped to look closely at what was around us. First, on the side of a tree was this snail. Dwight took out his close-up macro lens and the tripod to capture this snail in a larger than life-size photo. Likewise, we need to look deeply at our fictional subjects.

Snail on a mossy tree. c. 2012 Dwight Pattison, all rights reserved. Click to see full size.

Then, I turned around and saw this tiny garter snake at my feet. You can guage his size from the leaves around him. This photo is about life-size.
Garter snake, Dismal Creek. c. 2012 Dwight Pattison, all rights reserved. Click to see full size.

Revise as Many Times as it Takes

Finally, walking back out, we stopped to photography some golden lichens. As I sat and watched Dwight make his photos, I noticed a funnel spider web. These webs are ground level, often around a lot of foliage. While the spider waits for a meal, it sits at the base of its funnel-shaped web. It’s a common sight in the Ozarks, but I had never actually seen a spider at the base of the web. This time, even with the naked eye, the spider was visible. Would the macro lens be able to capture it with any detail?

Dwight spent the next 15 minutes taking photos of the funnel spider. He took a shot, looked at it on the digital display, then made an adjustment: f-stop, exposure time, with a tripod, without a tripod, manual focusing, auto focusing. He bracketed shots, choosing a -1, 0 and +1 setting to get it right. Finally, after 15 minutes, he was moving the tripod and the camera slipped and frightened the spider and it disappeared.

In some of the shots, the water droplets were blurred to a foggy white web; in some, the spider wasn’t in focus. But in the end, he got this shot with each water drop (from the fog) clear and the spider as clear and in focus as he could make it. The spider’s hole was less than the size of a dime.

As writers, we also need to remember that it takes time to get it right and we need to be willing to experiment with our fiction–until we get it right!

Funnel spider, Dismal Creek. c. 2012 Dwight Pattison, all rights reserved. Click to see it full size.

Final Edits can’t Correct Major Flaws

And finally, there were some minor edits when we got home on a photo-processing program. If the photos were already good, the final editing–minor corrections of color–would not have helped. Likewise, if the structure of our novels and stories isn’t right, an editor can’t help with minor edits. Take the time in the field–before you send in a story–to make it the best possible. Notice that there are only a few photos here, out of the dozens taken, that were deemed worthy of showing others. Here is the edited photo of Dismal Creek. The differences may be subtle to you, but to Dwight they are profound.

Dismal Creek, edited photo. c. 2012 Dwight Pattison, all rights reserved. Click to see full size.

Photography–like writing–is a creative process. You may not get the shots you planned, but if you look around and take advantage of the situation, you’ll end up with something worth sharing.

4 responses to “The Creative Process: A Photo-Essay”

  1. I enjoy all your posts, Darcy, but this was a nice way to illustrate (both with words and photos) the creative process. Thanks to Dwight, too, for the photos!

  2. Dwight is an amazing photographer. And your analogy is great food for thought! Thank you for sharing!

  3. Dwight is to be congratulated, his photos are stunning. He is an artist, as are you…and I. All the creative disciplines have so much in common, our journeys are similar, our lessons, and our rewards. There’s a reason they’re called “disciplines”- and on that note, I’m off to paint !