Exposed: Risking the Winnowing

Exposed: Risking the Winnowing

exposed winnowing

This was not an easy photo for me. My first inclination is not to shoot directly into the sun. The day before, I shot some similar images but with the sun behind me. They came out flat and lifeless. I had been watching Amy Vitale shoot for the past week and there were several times I thought to myself, “That will never come out”, because she was shooting in direct light or some of the harshest light you can imagine. Yet every time, her images were spectacular. It dawned on me that I was limiting myself, I was playing it safe. One of my biggest struggles is getting out of my safety zone. Stepping out of the box that I make for myself. I’m sure I’m not alone with that, I bet you have your own boxes that you’ve drawn around yourself, your photography and your techniques. Not to say I’ve never shot into the sun. I mean, everyone shoots sunsets, silhouettes and such. But this was none of the above. This was midmorning at around eight o’clock. The sun had been up for at least two hours, maybe longer.

When I arrived at the scene, David duChemin and another photographer were already shooting it. I knew it would not be a unique shot. I also knew that David’s would be incredible, and of course I was right, check out his images HERE. But does that mean that I don’t shoot it? Maybe, sometimes. But this time I thought I could make this different than theirs, my image.

So, after watching this man winnow for a while, I was able to observe the particles of chaff in the air and the sun glinting off of them. I knew that’s what I wanted. I shot several images standing, but I could not seem to get what I wanted. The angle of the sun just wasn’t right. So I laid down.

You might not know, that when a farmer is winnowing he uses the wind. We were downwind and as a result, became covered completely with barley dust and dirt. Barley chaff went down my shirt, up my sleeve, in my ear, in my mouth and everywhere on my camera. Maybe you are thinking, “Were you afraid of the dust and grime that would get on your camera?” The fact is, my camera is a tool, it’s designed to be abused to a certain extent. If it can’t take dust in the field, or a certain amount of rain then it’s a pretty poor excuse for a professional camera. I was certainly aware of the dust, and as soon as I left, I borrowed a friend’s brush to dust off the camera. I certainly didn’t change lenses at that moment.

So there I am, lying down, dust flying, trying to time my shutter to the apex of the man’s toss and lined up the tossed barley with the sun. I think I shot something like 15 to 20 shots. A few are okay, but I think this one was what I was looking for.

Maybe, the moral of this story is don’t be afraid to risk. I risked my gear and I risk making an image that everybody else was making. But my gear survived and I think I got an image that is uniquely mine. Go out and risk a little today.

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  1. Amber

    That is truly amazing.What did you expose for in this image? It's gorgeous, very creative Matt and so much skill to get that exact moment!

  2. Amber

    That is truly amazing.

    What did you expose for in this image? It's gorgeous, very creative Matt and so much skill to get that exact moment!

  3. Jeffrey Chapman

    The barley looks like it's glowing or even exploding. Definitely worth the risk.

  4. garyschapman

    You know the saying for athletes, “No pain, no gain.” I am beginning to learn, “No risk, no gain. No fear, no gain.” We have to break free of our inertia to do the same old thing. Nice shot, Matt.

  5. Luiz Ramos

    Beautiful shot.
    Risk a litlle everyday!
    Luiz Ramos

  6. Jigar Champaneria

    Lovely photo. I think it captures the essential element of this activity. Even though it's a still photo, the man's motion is caught so well. The backlighting just helps it all the more. I can't say that I'm privileged enough to travel the world to photograph, but even in couples or family portraits, I've tried to find interesting angles and lighting situations which…though they may not put my camera at risk, certainly force me into odd spots or really tough lighting situations. I've never gotten the perfect shot in these situations, but I've learned something every time. Backlighting is something I've come to love and I use it much more often now that I have some practice under my belt. Thanks for sharing your thought process on this..and of course your lovely photo!

  7. Matt Brandon

    “No risk, no gain. No fear, no gain.” You've nailed it. Our inertia can make us very, well… inert at times and we become completely stale. But breaking out of it scares the crap out of me.

  8. Matt Brandon

    If you've learned something, then the act of shooting it made it worthwhile. We don't have to walk away with a great or even a good image to have made the shot worthwhile.

  9. Matt Brandon

    Thanks Ian- It's a Zen like concept. Know something so well that it becomes second nature. When you're that failure with the concept, then you can break the rule.

  10. keithtalley

    This shot is better than the pics on Davids link. Sorry, David. In my humble opinion anyway.

  11. mattsahib

    Well, fortunately it's not a competition. David is a good friend, a colleague and mentor there is no way I would ever want to be pitted against him in any sort of competitive way. The man is an amazing photographer and a genius with the camera.

  12. Matt Brandon

    I just updated my Ladakh Gallery. You will find the yak images I spoke of there.

  13. Matt Brandon

    I certainly did shoot from the side and the light was ok. But nothing amazing. It was fine for documenting, but did just didn't have the great light on the chaff and the long shadows I was looking for. Yes, I have more, but none worth sharing. I do have a nice shot of a yak being walked down a road with a nice lens flare.

  14. Jeffrey

    Hi Matt,

    Thanks for sharing the beautiful photograph. I wonder about your feelings when you came and saw the two others photographing the scene, at least one other a well known professional. If the location this is an annual harvest that is known for giving good light and shots, do you think that you could comment further on 'getting out of the box' as it applies to photographers and their inclination to gather in concentration at known 'hunting grounds'? Certain places remind me of this: various locations throughout the southwest USA, one of the urban bridges in Burma, and others. These locations attract not only tourists in this regard, but professionals as well. I think there are some dangers in how such a scene (i.e. a concentrated gathering of foreign photographers) affects locals in foreign cultures, but also in creating cases where it is simply impossible for one to shoot a photograph that is not cliche.



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