"Photography is the power of observation, not the application of technology."
- Ken Rockwell
We live in the woods. Not the deep woods, exactly, as our home is just a mile from the town square. But our house sits along the back edge of several acres, and there are 10 undeveloped acres behind us. We share these woods with deer, foxes, coyotes, owls, hawks, rabbits, snakes and other critters. Sometimes on summer nights, the noise made by cicadas, crickets and bullfrogs is almost deafening.
One of the joys of living in the woods is birdsong. In the morning, the birds sound so sweet and cheerful. By midday, their song takes on a more business-like tone. Late in the day, the nocturnal birds take over, and I hear the whippoorwills and owls. As much as I love the birds, I’ve never been very good at identifying them by their song. Just recently, I began using the Merlin Bird ID App from The Cornell Lab to improve my identification skills.
Last week, after finding several broken shells of American robin eggs around the property, I began searching for nests. Unsuccessful, I checked out the robin song on the Merlin app. Later that day, as I was walking to the garage, I heard the familiar tune directly overhead. About 10 feet up in the coral bark maple was a nest with a young, spotted robin sitting on the edge looking intently out at the world as if he were gathering up the courage for his first flight. The mother perched patiently next to him. I saw them several more times that day, but the young robin apparently took to the air, as the nest has since been empty.
This served as a reminder of how important it is to use senses other than vision to help us see. We can smell fragrant flowers in a garden and hot dogs at a county fair. We can explore the textures of objects with our sense of touch. We can hear birds, rushing water, children at play and wind rustling trees that signal potential photographic opportunities. And we can listen to the stories that people tell, which can give us insight into how to best capture their personality for a portrait.
Throughout the day, wherever you are, try closing your eyes for just a few moments. What do you hear or smell that contribute to your observations of the time or place? In what ways might you use your other senses to explore?