Background Switcher (Hidden)

Photography Tip: Get Down!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Back behind the barn, an old tree supports new barbed wire. I know without even looking for the bark that it’s a sassafras. We’ve got a lot of sassies in our woods. They are beloved by pileated woodpeckers for their tendency to go hollow, which was my first tip as to its identity. 

And in those hollow cores invariably dwell carpenter ants, the backbone of the big woodpecker’s diet. In life, they bear navy-blue drupes which feed bluebirds, thrushes, woodpeckers, cardinals, waxwings and doubtless many others. Their mitten-shaped leaves are highly aromatic, smelling of Big Buddy bubble gum when first crushed, segueing into a sweet spicy scent that finally collapses into fresh-cut grass. Their roots, boiled, make a lovely light root beer. I’m not sure the wood is good for much other than woodpeckers, but already the tree has many charms to recommend it.

I know that he has been here recently, the landowner, because of how fresh the cut vegetation still is. And here are the tracks of his tires in the mud.

 Yes, he was here only yesterday afternoon. I suppose one day I’ll run into him. Will I turn away before he sees me? Will I step into the white pines and study him for awhile before deciding? Will I tell him how much this old place means to me? Probably. I think we need to tell people we appreciate them. Places, too.


Here’s the welljack for the oil and gas well that once supplied the house with heat and the means to cook. Somebody’s planted crown vetch to cover the scars of the bulldozer that cleared the patch. Nasty plant, crown vetch, but oilguys don’t know or appreciate that. And the Soil Conservation Service is still giving it out to landowners as a quick groundcover. Duh. As a species, we are very slow learners.

Chet and I have enjoyed the farm, and we turn for home as the air begins to warm up. He pauses in the road to sniff a bunch of nascent chicory and I drop down low to capture the road running off over his bat ears. Mmmm. 

The phrase coined by a photographer unknown to me, and gleaned from someone else’s comment on a photo, comes to mind: “Don’t patronize your subject.” So many photos are taken from five feet up. Most people photograph their dogs looking straight down on them, so you get a huge head and a tiny body and no idea what the dog actually looks like. And no sense of how he sees his world. I get down with Chet and try to see him as another dog would see him, and see his world as he does, and he takes on a kind of majesty that is his rightful due.

 The same goes for flowers. A bug’s eye view is ever so much more satisfying, and it has the added bonus of giving you a slice of habitat and sky that really places the plant in space.

So get down on your knees, people, put your cameras on the ground and see how that changes everything.


even just reading your posts... changes everything!

You caught me thinking, after the last post, "Boy, I hope JZ gets to meet the person who takes such loving care of this property." I suspect whoever it is, he/she would be proud to read the stories you've posted and see the photos--landscape portraits, really-- you've shared with us, your loyal fans.

I love also that if ever I encounter a sassafras tree, I'll know it by name!

Posted by KH Macomber June 25, 2013 at 5:52 AM

I'm thinking of a blog called "These Old Knees"

It would be about all the things I can no longer do and the situations I would get into when there was no one around to help me get back up.

At least my camera has a flip our view screen so all I would need to do is bend over.

Gee, another blog, "This Old Back".

See you in September, knees and back allowing.

Yum! Delicious read. Thanks.

Oh, to have knees on which I could get down. Post-knee replacement, my left knee is SO stiff. I struggle to make it bend.
If Rondeau Ric does a blog called "These Old Knees" I'll be there to read it!

I come from a family of admirers of "belly flowers". Meaning one has to get right down on your belly to study, admire and photograph. Torn ACL not withstanding, I am going to see them on their level. So agree with getting habitat in the picture!

[Back to Top]