Still Learning To See


I’ve enjoyed working on silhouette photographs from my archives this week. They can be a powerful way to show relationships while also minimizing distractions. I made the photograph above at the Tate Modern museum in London and it still blows me away to see it. Liz and I went specifically to see a show but misread the time and arrived five minutes before the museum was to close. She went right to the museum shop and I went up on the balcony and, honestly, pouted. In the process, however, I looked out on the vast space toward the entry, late afternoon light flooding through the tall windows and streaking across the floor, and was stunned at the silhouettes and shadows I saw. I was speechless but was able to make a dozen exposures as people walked across the shadows.

The rest of these are set more in the natural world, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

Any who read this blog regularly or who live or have travelled in Central Vermont, know this striking silhouette well—the mountain known as Camel’s Hump, so obvious from nearly every place—here seen against the backdrop of a beautiful sunset sky. I once did a slide show for a local senior center and featured a number of images of the mountain from various locations, all to the delight of the “old folks” for whom Camel’s Hump had long been part of their lives. “I used to see that from my kitchen window.” or “On the way to the barn, it was always there.” I treasure that time with them and know full well what an important role this silhouette has played in my life for the 45 years we’ve lived here. It is always there greeting me when I come home.

The moon is so mysterious. Unlike the sun, it is always in different places at different times and in different shapes; sometimes not visible at all, at least when I’m awake, or “hidden” in a blue sky or lost in clouds or a storm. I usually keep track of the dates of the new moon and full moon and usually have a good idea of when and where to see it if conditions allow.

Often I’m delighted by a surprise viewing, as was the case with this full moon. My photo pal and I had spent a long day out with our cameras and on the long, winding drive home anticipated where we might see the full moon we knew would soon rise. When it peeked over the trees, we found a safe spot to stop and enjoyed this long view across a lake as it rose silhouetted in the hands of the conifers. This was a “blue” moon, meaning the second full moon in the calendar month, and I was grateful it revealed itself to us.

I had not often thought of silhouettes being closeups but this image certainly changed my mind. The winter buds of American Beech with their characteristic pointed shape were a delight to photograph against the bokeh of the sun and branches. As is often the case with my work, when I clicked the shutter I knew the potential was there for a wonderful image and, later, after a bit of processing, I was thrilled to have it be even better than I had hoped. Sometimes it all works out!
As I was looking through some of the 100,000+ images I have on my computer—crazy, eh?!?—it was fun to come across this and realize it was a silhouette but one of light against dark. It was a late afternoon in the midst of a storm and the snow covered branches were wonderfully silhouetted against the dark, snow-filled sky. Seeing this now I can almost feel the branches reaching out into the storm in the growing darkness, and am once again amazed by the scenes of life I’ve been privileged to photograph.
Cranes are magical birds. and fortunately Sandhill Cranes are common enough and numerous enough that I have enjoyed watching them in many places over my lifetime. These were seen in Southern Colorado they make a stop in their Fall migration. My friend, Rob, and I had been at Great Sand Dunes National Park and had extra time to drive to where the Cranes usually stopped.

We arrived ready to see hundreds of them and…not a single one. Luckily we encountered a fellow who pointed us to a spot a mile away and said, “They’ll be there in a half hour.” Well, he was right! We’d arrived a bit before sunset and they were just finishing up their eating in surrounding fields. As the sky began to glow with a magnificent sunset, the birds began to arrive and, literally there were hundreds, coming in to roost for the night. And even more than the glorious sight of them coming in waves but also their sounds—surreal and prime evil. You can hear it here at Cornell’s website. As the sky darkened we were treated to the last of an illusive crescent moon. An afternoon to treasure.

Another sunset! What would life be without them, this a fire in the winter sky and the perfect place to silhouette the bare trees. So often these spectacular shows only last a few minutes and that was the case with this one as well. But what a glorious way to end a day of being out on a walk with friends.

Another silhouette of trees but this against a huge Spring cloud, again right at sunset but without the brilliant color. Instead the “God beams,” or crepuscular rays as they are known in science, shooting up through the hazy sky as the sun sets. Sort of a double silhouette! Sights like this just take my breath away. Often I have to remind myself, after I make a photograph like this, to just put down the camera, take a couple deep breathes and be thankful.

Again, thank you for taking time to enjoy these silhouettes with me. May you find more in your week ahead.

This entry was published on April 3, 2022 at 8:42 pm and is filed under John Snell, John Snell Photographer, Leaves, Moon, Patterns, Photograph, Sunset, Trees, Vermont, Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

9 thoughts on “Silhouettes

  1. What a spectacular group of images…and what a gift you have given us in sharing them. Thanks John. You have inspired my week ahead!

  2. Cindy on said:

    Just reminds me, you never know what amazing, interesting thing you will see if you just go outside. But if you pay attention, you will see something cool. And every once in a while you’ll see something like these photos. Very nice! Thank you!

  3. Ben Hewitt on said:

    These are amazing

  4. Dale Dailey on said:

    John, Beautiful images, almost spiritual.

  5. Daryll Powell on said:

    As you know, John, /Silhouettes/ hangs on my bedroom wall. A remarkable
    photo. Thanks for posting these. They are all like short stories.

  6. Karen Snell Dailey on said:

    Splendid, John…both your pictures and your narratives. I’m grateful to you for your willingness to see life through your camera lens and to take the time to share your pictures and the mysteries they present to you…and then to each of us!

  7. Kate Conway on said:

    John, yet again beautiful images. I learned some new vocabulary as well! Bokeh~ I don’t think I’ve ever seen that word. So thank you on many accounts~love,

  8. Thanks all for your comments. I always feel like my photographs come alive when others see them and respond. You have and I appreciate it! More this weekend.

  9. KeziaFOB on said:

    The same word for every photographs: Stunning!

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