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Beauty In Nature’s “Flaws”

When shooting natural subjects, it is almost a truism that a good image includes a clean, damage free specimen and no “distracting” elements. In a landscape shot, whether “grand” or more intimate, this is usually a valid observation. Elements that are damaged, or do not belong, are nearly always a detracting feature from an otherwise acceptable image.

But sometimes there are elements that are part of nature that we may perceive “flaws,” not worthy of our photographic attention. I have often found myself drawn to such “flawed” subjects while in the field, and while there will undoubtedly be those who disagree, I think some of my better images are of those subjects.

If you think about it, beauty, and sometimes ugliness, are both an integral part of nature. Some pretty beautiful organisms start out in early life as a pretty “ugly” phenomena and often, at the end of their life cycle, they again become “ugly.” It is, of course, a matter of perception, and sometimes one person’s “ugly” is another’s “beauty.”

Copyright Andy Richards

In the laundry list of “dos and don’ts” often found in books and tutorials on flora close-up and macro imagery, is the admonition to always find a near-perfect specimen. This often means spending a fair amount of time looking. The Trillium, always a harbinger of Spring in northern hardwood forests, in its full splendor is (normally) a delicate, tri-leafed white flower (there are other color varieties – notably red), but the most commonly seen is white. As beautiful as it is, when it begins its inexorable wane, the White Trillium turns purple. This specimen, in my view, is more photogenic and beautiful than its “healthy” mature, white counterpart.

Before it becomes the pretty, fragrant, multifloral red rose, the plant starts out more like this immature rose. I was drawn to its simplicity and beauty, even while surrounded by many other fully blooming specimens.

Copyright Andy Richards


2 Responses

  1. Well, Andy, as one who began the downhill slide to an old, spent, used up, tired, exhausted “ugliness” more than two decades ago…I do agree with you. (I just hope I don’t wind up looking like that incredibly unattractive and winkled newborn that I once was).

    It’s amazing how great minds and great photographers think alike, isn’t it?

    I often challenge my photography students (workshops, classes, tutoring, and mentoring) with their preconceptions of light and landscape. Such false images from the depths of our internal memory banks and fantasies can be, and is, a real hindrance in the art of “Seeing” that which could be a great image. We all have our own ideas about what a regal oak or a delicate painted trillium or a flashy wake robin OUGHT to look like: they’re generally pristine with perfection.

    IMO, it is very rare to find such subjects in the natural world. More down to earth, it reminds me of so-called “trophy wives” who can spend unbelievable amounts of time applying the “trophy” part.

    They can and do occasionally exist, of course, but the search tends to reduce the process of nature (and landscape) photography to one of incessant pressure to find the “perfect” specimen. Thus removing the joy of the process of photography, and perhaps most important, accepting nature as it exists and using, or hiding as the case may necessitate, its flaws as visual elements in composition to present both “beauty and beast” creatively. Such a vision communicates both the wonder and reality of creation.

    A good post, my friend!

  2. Thanks Jim. I alway appreciate your perspective and sage observations about photography (and life) 🙂

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