Vernal Impulse

“One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.”
-William Wordsworth

Spring hangs in the air, and I can feel the vernal impulse rousing me. The forest has come alive with the chatter of birds and a thousand upon thousand leaves emerging from unclad branches, an explosion of verdure that, if you stand still enough, you might swear you can almost hear. The drone of insects foretells lazier days ahead, not so distant now that the world has shed its winter skin.

Colors such as emerald, sage, vert, malachite, verdigris, beryl, verdant, aquamarine, chartreuse, lime, kelly, glaucous, and viridian gain true expression, elevated for some time above mere throaty contrivances, before summer quiets their voices under the monochrome tyranny of green. The forest is clad in evanescent hues, if only for a moment.

Spring and nature photography were made for each other. The essence of photography is to capture that which is fleeting and ephemeral, and few things are more impermanent than the vernal season. Ever changing from one instant to the next, if you but blink you might miss something vital.

Not content to stand upon the shore of a rushing spring flow, I immerse myself in its waters, precariously balanced against the vigor of a dozen spring rains, one false step from being swept downstream. The water has a rhythm, a pulse, a heartbeat that accords to the symphony of the season. I attune myself to the melody, in order to discern the guiding words spoken by leaf and stone.

I can feel the vernal impulse rousing me from my winter seat. Time to venture forth into the wild and see where it leads.

"Vernal Impulse" - Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

"Vernal Impulse" – Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

About the image: I spent all last week photographing the spring bloom in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. I became obsessed with finding a compelling stream image photographed in mixed light. To me, the spring forests truly come alive on a sunny day, when bright light filters through the canopy, setting each leaf afire with a glowing halo. My quest became somewhat myopic, and I virtually ignored all other photographic opportunities as I explored the rain-swollen rivers of the park. More often than not, I would don a pair of fishing waders and get into the water, sometimes as much as chest deep. I had to be careful to avoid being swept downstream, and the water wreaked havoc on my tripod. I was looking for the right combination of composition and light to capture the essence of spring.

Finally, after almost a week of shooting, I found what I was looking for. I waded into the middle of a stream to stand on a rock, part of a pair cleaved by heaving waters. The flow between the rocks was simply too deep and fast for me to enter, so I resisted the urge to plunge in and use the rushing water as a leading line passing beneath me. This turned out to be a good thing, for as I assessed my compositional opportunities from my perch on the boulder, I realized that I had something that would work. The rocks anchor the scene, whereas the powerful diagonal flow of the water creates an irresistible leading line, pushing the eye from the lower right into the center of the image. Using a wide-angle lens, I carefully composed to ensure that the distant hillside, aglow with sunset light, provided a necessary left-side counterpoint to the dominant prow-shaped rock on the right. My hope was that the two elements, placed in opposition diagonally, would harmoniously unite the composition and draw the viewer into the scene. The sunlit foliage in the background gave me the mixed light I wanted, and added a colorful reflection to the water.


Technical details: Canon 5D Mark II camera, 14-24mm lens (@14mm), polarizer filter, ISO 100, f/13, 1.6 seconds.

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  1. Shenandoah Spring Workshop
  2. Jordan Stream, Acadia National Park

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