Shaky Assumptions 

Here’s my theory. We constantly make stuff up based on shaky assumptions and thin evidence. It even happens in photography.

Good images tell stories or that’s what I’ve been told. But I don’t think that’s the whole err … story

I often look at photos and imagine stories around them. With just a thin slice of the movie before me, all of us can get pretty adept at filling in the rest of the details. In fact, we are so good, that it is sometimes hard to separate the facts from all the crazy stuff we are pretty sure is true.

For example, the coyote above might look like it had been successful on a hunt. While the coyote thoroughly enjoyed the meal, the “kill” was actually some roadkill I watched the coyote pick up. Does that make the photo seem less worthy?

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I see you and I don’t like the looks of you!!

During the same encounter, I photographed this vicious snarl that had me scrambling for the safety of my truck. Except it wasn’t a snarl. It was a satisfied yawn after a nice meal of roadkill while I watched from a safe distance. Do those teeth look less impressive now that you know?

I am not a fan of intentionally deceiving people because I don’t like it when it happens to me. That’s why I won’t ever pretend a zoo animal was taken in the wild or add moons or backgrounds to my photos. But I will try to take photos that lend themselves  to a story or let people imagine. Who am I to get in the way of that? Besides, it’s fun.

Even a simple photo of a buck elk could raise some questions. Was the photo taken in spring or fall, morning or evening – does any of that matter? Is he looking at me or the coyote off in the distance? That’s quite a difference! Or is it?

Now what if I made up the part of about the coyote eating roadkill and yawning? Would you be more interested if I scrambled back into the truck?

You may be confused about which descriptions of my photos in this post are actually true. That deception is entirely intentional on my part. Does it matter?

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I see you and I don’t have a clue what to make of you. I get that a lot by the way.



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Latest Comments

  1. Jocelyne says:

    A good post, I like your thoughts on that. I know it’s not always what we imagine but I prefer to imagine than to know all the real facts.
    It happens sometimes when I look at photos like these, I will try to imagine what’s the real story behind the photo.
    Once again some really great photos.

    Like

  2. Cindy says:

    Wonderful photos!

    Like

  3. Steve Gingold says:

    I think it often depends on the original intent of the capture. If one is making an image as a documentation of reality then, yes, it matters. If one is creating some art then possibly no. If one is entering a contest then yes. If one is creating a picture of wildlife, or other nature subjects in our case, then it is open to interpretation. It all comes down to the picture standing on its own. Although the capturing of a contented coyote chowing down on roadkill may not be quite as challenging as tracking through the woods and meadows to find the elusive critter and make a great image, you still had to do everything required to get these nice images.
    I think things have become more difficult in this matter with the combination of game farms and Photoshop separately and together. The farms, I say this having never visited one, have created the illusion of wilderness for photographers to get seemingly natural shots. Photoshop has enabled folks to create situations that have never really existed. Although two different things, either separately or together they have given the photography world a sense of fakery that makes many suspicious. We now almost have to label our work to dispel that suspicion…or complete the facade. And then there are those who have accepted the creation of unreality as art and make some inspirational visions.
    In all this my position is clear…I stand firmly balanced atop the fence. 🙂

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      As you might have guessed, sitting on the fence is not generally the position I find comfortable. However, your point by point assessment of our current world was spot on and I couldn’t really disagree with anything. Darn! My photos are part documentation and part art with a code that I spelled out at https://krahnpix.com/wild-photos-and-the-tales-they-tell/. I think it is important for the viewers to understand the photographer’s own guidelines so they look at the photo through that lens. That avoids the worst problem when a viewer has her code, the photographer has a different one resulting in the viewer feeling deceived. I feel it too when I see these wonderful wild wolf shots and then find out later they were essentially shooting wolf pets on a game farm. Auch!

      It certainly is a suspicious world as you described it but I think honesty on everyone’s part goes a long way to bridging the gap.

      Like

  4. Jeff | Planet Bell says:

    I’d like the story better if you were lost in the woods, hungry, stole the meal right away from the coyote, then he growled at you, and the elk was looking at you thinking, ‘Dude, that guy is bad ass!”

    That top photo, but the way, is superb. Those eyes and the coyote in the green grass is just beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. sheketechad says:

    Coyote photo # 2 shows the soon felt results of eating poorly chosen roadkill, while the masterful elk photo has captured the disdaining condescension of a vegetarian upon viewing the whole roadkill/retching experience unfold. There! 😀 (and they are all excellent shots to boot)

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      You put it all together in one great story. Well done. I especially like the condescension part – I feel it! Maybe I need to consult with you before my next post. Glad you enjoyed the photos.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Dalo 2013 says:

    The yawn that looks like a roar or vicious snarl…yes, one of my favorite photos and always leads to a good story 🙂
    “We constantly make stuff up based on shaky assumptions and thin evidence…” Amen… Enjoy the coming weekend!

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      Fascinating how photos and stories can be so intricately entwined. Lots of fun to be had there. When you repeat the quote back to me it doesn’t sound half bad – I should act like I’m not surprised it guess:) You have a great weekend as well.

      Like

  7. donna213 says:

    On GWGT I did a post similar on gardens. It was on including enough context so as not to confuse or mislead what is going on in the image. By framing, I made Niagara Falls look like it was all natural and I just happened upon it out in the wilderness. When one has an animal like in your post, the words are unnecessary I think, unless of course you were scrambling back to the truck. Can’t really still photograph that unless doing a short, shaky movie. I agree with Stefano. I see coyotes more along the highway grabbing roadkill than I ever see one in a field. The photos of your coyote are captivating and it does not matter what it was doing when.

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    • Lyle Krahn says:

      I agree with you but my I so love the idea of scrambling back to the truck that I am having a hard time giving up on that fiction! Stefano is right. It’s a tough world out there and you grab lunch wherever you can find it.

      Like

  8. Stefano says:

    Outstanding shots, Lyle! Of course “background details” do not matter: coyotes are also scavengers, so your capturing one with its roadkill prey in its mouth is not an inch less impressive than it would be if it had hunt its prey down. 🙂 Wonderful work as always.

    Like

  9. Girl Gone Expat says:

    I definitely like the version where you scramble back into the truck best;) I don’t mind not knowing the full truth about the picture, leaving a little something to imagination! 🙂 What I don’t like is editing to make it something it definitely was not (like the example you mentioned pretending a zoo animal is actually a picture from the wild).
    Very nice pictures as usual:)

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      I like that version better as well. My imagination also leaves some things to the imagination as well!

      There is almost an unwritten code in wildlife photography that isn’t easy to describe but I sure know it when I see it.

      Like

  10. Michelle at The Green Study says:

    I like this post and thinking about how perspective and the lens with which we view anything can drastically change a story or a picture or an idea.

    Like

  11. toughlittlebirds says:

    Well, *I* want to know which is true because I want to know if coyotes really do raise up their back fur like that when they are yawning! 🙂 Great photos.

    Like

  12. Carol Dunnigan says:

    You’re totally right. Stuff to think about for sure. I’d like to think that the viewer should make up their own mind. Sometimes it ruins it when the truth is told. LOL 🙂 Either way, they’re pieces of art to be viewed and appreciated. (Wow that was pretty deep of me!)

    Like

  13. Cornel Ap. says:

    When I firs saw the coyote above I thought he was enjoying his meal after a long and hard hunting.
    In the second photo, as Stephen G. Hipperson said above, it’s more likely to be throwing up. Or maybe he was laughing because you was in a hurry and didn’t find your camera’s right settings?
    And your last photo is beautiful and it doesn’t matter when it was taken.

    Like

  14. Phil Lanoue says:

    Outstanding images! And like I always say, you have to talk for the animals if you want to tell their story, even if part of it is our story. How often is what we ‘think’ the animal might be saying if it could talk are we right? I bet quite often, so that’s what we can go with.

    Like

  15. Scott Marshall says:

    So Im reading through the blog and nodding in agreement looking at the coyote and thinking these are nice (what a horrible word btw) then we scroll to the Buck Elk and the jaw drops – it has the wow factor such wonderful light and detail especially around the head

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      I was at a northern park and had been out all day and didn’t really get much. I decided I had to go out after supper and encountered the bull elk. Like usual, I increase my odds by going out. Glad you enjoyed it.

      Like

      • Scott Marshall says:

        Your increased the odds by going out comment is on the button – I have been lazy recently when tired and produced the Gone with the Wind excuse “tomorrow is another day” to stay indoors – but if there’s a hint of something you need to get out there that’s the difference between getting shots and catching the peach that gives you the buzz

        Liked by 1 person

  16. Stephen G. Hipperson says:

    I would suggest the ‘snarly’ picture doesn’t look like a snarl – it looks as if it’s more likely to be throwing up!
    But I understand your question.
    All photographs are an impression of a subject based upon the editing (both at shooting and post) of the photographer. A photograph with no comment placed in front of you will extract your interpretation based on your own experience and expectation. If the photographer adds words about the picture, you will modify your interpretation accordingly. If the photographer takes a picture of a zoo animal and enters it into a competition whose subject is wild animals, the photographer at least didn’t read the rules and at worst is a cheat and a liar.
    On the other hand, photography is about deception – for instance, there may have been a wire fence 20 metres behind your coyote, it wouldn’t mean it was necessarily a captive animal in reality, but the picture would be better without the fence, because it isn’t a captive animal and you don’t want to give that false impression, so you choose your framing/editing accordingly. I’ve taken pictures of the occasional bird where I have had to restrict my field of view, because any wider would bring in some man structure – on the other hand it might be the very picture to take to show wildlife in ‘man’s world’.
    I was taking some snaps of daffodils earlier in the week – I wouldn’t use any of them because in every shot there’s an out of focus brick wall or a fence.
    Take a picture of a ball thrown into the air – does the picture show a ball going up or down?.
    🙂

    Like

    • Steve Boer says:

      Exactly what I thought (your first sentence), he looks like he’s coughing up a hairball!

      Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      Who knows if the snarl was real? It happened really quick and I didn’t see anything come up but it could have. But it’s all about the dentures!

      You make excellent points about the impression left by editing and deception. I mentioned in a previous post how photography is the art of deleting parts of the scene in front of us. Each part of the scene would leave a different impression. Like you, I am regularly cropping out roads and signs of humans to make it seem more wild. Now that I think about it, if I had the time, it would be interesting to take the same scene with an animal and portray it different ways by cropping the scene differently. Each is true and deceptive at the same time yet there still is a code for me on what is proper.

      I appreciate your thotful comments.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Patrizia M. says:

    Splendide foto!!
    Interessante quello che hai scritto, penso comunque che sia meglio dire sempre la verità sulla foto scattata e non fare credere di aver fatto, per esempio, un safari pericoloso. Poi comunque un po’ di mistero fa sempre bene, così chi guarda le foto può anche fantasticare.
    Quello che tu hai detto del ringhio che poi è uno sbadiglio del coyote, non mi fa cambiare idea, resta sempre una splendida foto 🙂
    Ciao, Patrizia

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      Penso che ci sarà sempre certo mistero intorno foto anche con una spiegazione – che fa parte del loro fascino. Penso che alcune foto sono meglio in piedi insieme e altri sono ancora più interessante se c’è una storia dietro. Ora, se solo avessi la saggezza di capire la differenza!

      Sono contento che ti piace ancora il mio coyote indipendentemente da quello che è successo.

      Like

  18. Lavinia Ross says:

    An interesting question, Lyle. A friend of mine brought this up with me some years ago when she sent me a picture she had seen of a soldier in a war zone with a rosary hanging off of his gun. She was perplexed and wanted to know what I thought it meant. Another friend of hers, a minister, had been outraged by the photo, seeing it as a desecration of the rosary and all it meant to them. I looked at the photo for a while, and this is what I gleaned from it. Photos are a snapshot in time. Period. We don’t always know the circumstances around the captured moment. Perhaps this soldier was just asking for protection, to just come home alive? We’ll never know. She did not send an article to accompany it, or any other information. Much interpretation is left to our own thoughts and experiences in life when we look at photography, or art in general. Aside from all that, your photos are works of art, as always. They capture your spirit, no matter where, or what the circumstances under which they were taken.

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      Your description of that photo as a snapshot in time is one of the big reasons that I enjoy photography. There is always an element of mystery as to what happened just before, just after and what the animals or people were thinking. Sometimes we never know or have different interpretations than others and I embrace that. For me that adds appeal.

      I have tried dabbling in video but it is such a different medium and misses so many of the elements I like. I will leave that to others.

      Thotful and interesting comments as usual. I appreciate that.

      Like

  19. Susan Portnoy says:

    Great photos!
    It is interesting how when you snap the shutter can make all the difference in the world. I touched upon this topic but in a slightly different way awhile back.
    http://theinsatiabletraveler.com/2014/07/21/the-drama-of-a-lions-yawn-and-why-its-like-brangelina/

    Like

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