Appreciation of subtlety

Human subtlety will never devise an invention more beautiful, more simple or more direct than does nature because in her inventions nothing is lacking, and nothing is superfluous. – Leonardo da Vinci

Haven Hill fall color photo

Subtlety in late fall tones at Haven Hill Lake, Highland Recreation Area, Michigan

About 4 years ago, I became interested in Scotch Whisky, after sharing a bottle with this guy on the boat we stayed on in Katmai National Park.   As I learned more about Scotch, and in particular the Single Malts, it became pretty clear that this drink can be quite complex and full of subtleties.   One of my favorite commentators is Ralfy, over at, who has my admiration in being able to pick out these subtle flavors that come from the balance and marriage of the spirit and the barrels it is aged in.   To this day, I don’t know how he picks up the various notes and flavors he remarks on.  Clearly something that comes with much more experience than I have.

I see parallels in appreciation of Scotch with photography, just like there are parallels with so many other things we experience… music, wine, painting, cinema, etc.   Many of the distilleries are always trying to perfect these delicate characteristics.  At the same time, many other regions of the world, that don’t have as stringent laws bounding them to what their spirit can consist of, can tend to drift into the opposite territory, embracing gimmick or trends that are anything but subtle.   I am sure you can all think of examples of this when it comes to photography.

But, just like in my experience with Scotch, there are benefits in going to each end of the spectrum just so you can experience for yourself where your personal preferences rest.   I think this takes awhile, takes some aging, and the experience is only intensified when you learn to appreciate those small nuances.


  1. I’ve never had much experience with Scotch but I don’t mind a sip of something to warm the body and soul at times. Is there a certain brand or type of Scotch that’s your favorite, Mark?

    This Haven Hill Lake photo is lovely and I do love late fall tones….actually I just mentioned that in a post. It looks like a place one could just sit and observe…if it’s not too COLD! :-)
    Earl recently posted..The last of the leaves this fallMy Profile

    • Earl, it is kind of hard for me to pick just one favorite… Kinda like asking me to pick a favorite photo. :-). But lately Balvenie Doublewood, GlenMorangie Quinta Ruban, and Aberlauer Abundah seem to hold the top spots. Thanks for the remarks on the photo!

  2. You are quite right about the importance of subtleties. Catching the nuances and intricacies of the matter, be it scotch, music or a photograph is where revelations come from. I had two uncles who were exceptional at doing just that with wine. They could tell you the grape, the region as well as all the subtle flavours of a particular wine just from a few sips. It was always fun to hear them talk about their favourite wines, as if they were talking about dear friends.

    By the way, your photo is beautiful.
    Cedric Canard recently posted..In the stillness of beingMy Profile

    • Thanks for your thoughts here Cedric – I see it related to your post about slowing down and appreciating what is in front of us. I am also impressed by the people that can do this with wine. I can appreciate some of the differences and subtle flavors, but never to the extent I see them described on the bottle. :-)

  3. The combination of the yellow leaves and blue tones (in the trunks and reflections) is lovely and subtle – an excellent image. I haven’t had any single malt scotch in quite a while – I remember enjoying Glenfiddich and Glenmorangie. In recent years, cognac has been my spirit of choice, when I have the yen for one. Here’s to you!
    Tom Whelan recently posted..Wood SorrelMy Profile

    • Thanks for the comments Tom. You know, I don’t think I have ever had Cognac. Probably worth a try at some point, any recommendations?

  4. I cannot remember ever having a nip of scotch. Butterscotch yes but nothing that would warm the spirit. But I do think the substitution of wine for scotch still makes an apt comparison.
    This year I found the subtlety of just a bit of remaining foliage to be more pleasing than the overload of a mountainside…but it may just be sour grapes as we did not have a riotous autumn bloom this year.
    Steve Gingold recently posted..11.11.2013 Porter’s Keystone Bridge-Gate 30, Quabbin ReduxMy Profile

    • Ach. I neglected to say how much I enjoy this image, Mark. The muted and sparse colors of the larger woods is a nice and subtle complement for the brilliant yellow birch(?).
      Steve Gingold recently posted..11.11.2013 Porter’s Keystone Bridge-Gate 30, Quabbin ReduxMy Profile

      • Thanks Steve. I have read similar comments about the colors this year in various regions. I suppose locally I haven’t noticed as much – and you would think if it was local color – I would be most in tune with this year vs others. But I think I just went out and dealt with what nature offered to me without thinking about it much. So much for being attentive on my part! :-)

  5. Great analogy Mark. Letting your palette explore all the textures and flavors is exactly how I like to view photography. Lovely photo too.

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