Unexpecting the Expected

November 19th, 2010 by Royce Howland
Golden & Rusted, Highway 11

Golden & Rusted, Highway 11

As I was going through my own results last month to start cataloging, I came again to a series I photographed involving an old truck along Highway 11. I’ve driven along this road many times and never recall taking note of this old relic before. This trip, I certainly wasn’t expecting to find something like this where I found it. Why did I see it? Mainly because I was keeping an eye out for patches of good fall color, and there were some small trees with golden foliage in nice light, right behind the rusting hulk. By themselves, the trees would not have been worth stopping for. They were too small and isolated in an otherwise drab corner of a large, empty field. However the contrast of the fall foliage and old truck seemed much more interesting, so I marked the location and returned to it when coming back down the road the other way.

When mentioning the truck to someone else who knew the road quite well, it was also not a spot that he had really seen or photographed before. What was different the day I went by?

I think part of the fun and challenge of being a photographer is to really see a scene — to strip away the obvious, which may or may not seem that photo worthy — and then visually interpret something interesting from among the layers that are revealed. But like anyone else, photographers can fall prey to that which is familiar and expected. When I’m familiar with something, I see what I expect to see in it. My perception of interesting photographic opportunities may become dulled by my own preconception that I know what’s there, and it’s not interesting.

I love photographing old abandoned relics, and can spend hours with a single one. But somehow I had never taken note of this one before. It took active looking for something else — fall color — for me to realize I’d been driving right on by something interesting for the last few years. So the lesson I take out of this is not just to expect the unexpected, but to also unexpect the expected — try to look at what is really there and then engage my interest and imagination to see the photographic possibilities in it. Good photographs can be found all over the place… as long as I’m not expecting that there’s nothing to see.

Learn more about Royce, his images and his workshops at Vivid Aspect Photography.

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