Posts Tagged ‘creative vision’

Photograph Light, not “Things”

Monday, May 29th, 2017

 

When I started studying photography seriously, I was a slow learner when it came to light. I spent too much time photographing things instead of light—photographing birds, barns, and trees until it got boring. The result was too many average shots of things I no longer wanted in my portfolio. And then came the epiphany–these things looked a lot better, and sold a lot better when they were photographed in good light.

In the image below I am not photographing a mule deer I’m photographing the light, and the mule deer makes for a nice addition as a subject. If I wanted just another mule deer shot, I could have taken 500 subpar images, but instead I anticipated its movement and framed a shot of nice light; then I waited for the deer to walk into those bands of light. That makes for a far better image.

A spot-lit deer in Joseph, Oregon. spring. USA. Wild

I also have tons of barn images from the Palouse, some in nice light and many in flat light. The barns are just “things.” I no longer want to take images of things to document the area, I want to photograph light. The barn image below works because of beautiful foreground light, the glancing light on the barn; the bands of light in the background and the speckled light in the clouds which tie the scene together for a more interesting image. I’m not photographing a barn anymore, but composing with the light that surrounds it.

A barn in the Palouse region of Washington after harvest time. USA.

A simple image like the tables and chairs below is all about light and what it’s doing. This photo was taken in 10a.m. light (not the best time for stellar rays), but the way in which the shadows were cast to create form and interest in the image was what moved me to pull out my camera. Again, I’m not photographing “things” (the tables and chairs), but light.

Light and shadow on tables and chairs at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California. USA

I’ve also included a recent image from Patagonia of light on a glacier. I was at this location for hours and studied the glacier and the light on the glacier. There was bounce light, rim lighting, back-lighting, side-lighting, and glacial calving too. I tried different things, but nothing grabbed me until I noticed the fleeting rim light along the glacier as the sun set over a distant ridge. I composed a shot I thought would work compositionally and waited for the light to work its magic. The image below is what I liked. I took another shot about three seconds later, but two-thirds of the light had already disappeared. Six seconds earlier and the light was too bright, but the image below caught the light just right.

The last of the rim light on a glacier in Los Glaciares National Park in Chile.

Get your mind off of photographing “things;” photography is all about light and how it creates better images. By doing this, you will become a better photographer.

American Dreamscapes – Book Review by David Cobb

Monday, November 28th, 2016

American Dreamscapes – Book Review

By David Cobb

 

American Dreamscapes Stolen Car II

American Dreamscapes Stolen Car II

I’ve been friends with Christian Heeb for a number of years. An immigrant from Switzerland, Heeb first got his photographic start in the U.S. photographing the Native American. His wonderment in the American myth of the Wild West led him to a variety of places including the desert southwest, the Rocky Mountains, the Sierra Nevada range, and Route 66 among others. During his career—which includes over 200 published books—his assignments have taken him to every corner of the states and also around the world. His newest venture isn’t for a U.S. or German publisher however, but a personal project titled American Dreamscapes.

 

American Dreamscapes is the American dream not as interpreted by Horatio Alger, but maybe one closer to the vision of film director Quentin Tarantino. Coming of age in Switzerland, Heeb’s photography has certainly been influenced by fellow countryman Robert Frank; but Heeb also has influences in the surreal imagery of Gregory Crewdson, and the more voyeuristic photos of David Drebin. His settings also remind me of the more banal locations of photographer Stephen Shore.

American Dreamscapes / Bunny Man III

American Dreamscapes / Bunny Man III

Many photographers of the lost America like Anthony Hernandez, Lewis Baltz, and Robert Adams show the blight of American expansion and decay, and those who have been left behind or forgotten. Heeb photographs the edge of American life in a Hopperesque way: from the wayward hotel to the diner, with guns, girls, cars, and sex being common themes. This is the dark side of “when America was great again,” and this is the America that would give Dorothea Lange nightmares.

 

USA,Midwest, Minnesota, St.Paul, Mickey's Diner, American Dreamscapes / Mickey's Diner

USA,Midwest, Minnesota, St.Paul, Mickey’s Diner, American Dreamscapes / Mickey’s Diner

These people are not only on the fringe of society, but also on the fringe of daybreak. These are the hours when the neon glows brightly, and the hours when folks are desperate enough to commit a crime as seen in his images “The Hold Up” or “Stolen Car.” His models pose with cold distant looks, disconnected from each other and reality. In the photo “The Fun Center,” they’re having anything but fun. These people inhabit a lurid world, and they’re all trying to hang on to make it through another day.

 

American Dreamscapes is a limited-edition book which may be purchased in both print and digital versions from the Christian Heeb website. The book is in the dual languages of English and German.

Here is a link to download your digital copy here at his web site.

dreamscapes-720jpeg

Outside the Box: Advice for Making Risky Creative Decisions

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

 

“The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”Neil Gaiman

Exhibiting any creative work entails some amount of risk. Anyone who has a reason to show their work to others has a reason to care about how well it is received. No creative photographer is ever entirely immune to fretting over that simple question that begs for consideration before the release of a new photograph: “Will they like it?” Even if all that is at stake is a feeling of accomplishment, the risk is real, especially for those photographs that we hold dearest.

The higher levels of risk involve decisions that take us outside our norms, whether they are departures from the conventions of a genre as a whole or simply from those of one’s own oeuvre. A risky decision might entail working in a certain type of light, featuring an obscure location, composing in an unconventional fashion, employing a new post-processing treatment, or any number of other decisions that might place us outside our comfort zones. The further we step out on a limb, the more unnerving it can be, so having a strong will is important for taking those steps. What follows is advice for making risky creative decisions with confidence, some thoughts to keep in mind when you feel as though you may be flying without a net.

Onward and Upward

Risk is essential to creative work. Taking risks is how we make progress, how we manage to put something of our own selves into our photographs, and how we can get that special taste of satisfaction for having done so. It is all too easy to fall into habits that seem to work well and that feel safe, and sometimes those habits can become limiting. Of course, there is a lot to be said for reaching a point of some consistency as an artist. Establishing what we like is crucial to self-expression, so consistency in a portfolio usually indicates a certain level of creative maturity. Nonetheless, if consistency drifts into habitual repetition, it ceases to be self-expression; at that point, it’s just rehashing. When you find yourself at a crossroads wondering if you should play it safe or take a risk on something, just remember that the latter option is likely to be more rewarding in the long run. Even if you deem it a failure at first, your decision may be a first step towards a development that you never could have imagined at the outset.

Sweet Emotion by Erin Babnik

Making a risky decision can feel like standing on the edge of a chasm, contemplating a jump. When I chose to use a fast shutter speed for this photo of a waterfall in the Graian Alps, I actually felt a considerable amount of anxiety about it, since smoothed out water is the norm for such subjects, even in my own output. I also took a risk in choosing a location that I had never seen photographed before, although I am more comfortable with that sort of risk because it is not unusual for me. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed shooting and processing this photo; despite the challenges involved, it was one of those rare images that seemed to pour right out of me with the greatest of ease, and that gave me the confidence to release it.

Move Towards, Not Away

Probably the strongest reason to make any unusual creative decision is because of a compulsion to do it. If we are genuinely drawn to an idea or are at least curious to see the results, then we are responding to an inner urge, following our own instincts. The opposite situation would be to make a decision to do something unusual for the mere sake of novelty, fixating on what we want to avoid instead of on what we find interesting. Creativity is the pursuit of ideas and the application of them, not a simple rejection of what came before. If a risky decision holds distinct appeal, then at least you know that you’re following your own nose when you carry it out, and that is usually reason enough to do it.

Goodwater by Erin Babnik

So-called “quiet” photos are inherently risky, since it is typically the more dramatic scenes that tend to draw the greatest responses. A small encrustation of salt makes a humble subject, but I had my own firm reasons for producing this photo of one.

Be in it for the Long Haul

When a photograph departs from some kind of norm, a portion of your audience may not ‘get’ it. Accept that familiarity is appealing to most people, and that not everyone who typically enjoys your photographs will cheer you on enthusiastically down whatever trail you may blaze. Even if your experiments do not result in immediate encouragement, there could be momentum building, and if that is the case, then you will only ever realize it if you stay the course. Regardless, doing something unconventional is gutsy, and that point in itself should provide a certain degree of satisfaction and motivation. Knowing that you are being true to yourself is a source of real power that can continue to propel you forward.

Moondance by Erin Babnik

I have photographed this particular Joshua tree on many occasions and have led numerous workshop participants to it so that they could enjoy it too. My go-to vantage point is from a different angle, from which the tree looks like a native American dreamcatcher, and my typical compositional scheme is utterly different, featuring long shadows as leading lines and a more traditional division of space. A bout of insomnia caused me to approach this tree at an unusual time and to have different ideas about it, producing a photo that is one of my all-time personal favorites.

Be Honest with Yourself

It is possible to convince ourselves that our accidents are happy ones, especially if we put a lot of effort into a photograph that ultimately missed a mark in some regard. If a photograph has some quality that is unusual simply because misfortune struck, then it should undergo special scrutiny. Sometimes the results of happenstance will be genuinely appealing and will inspire further experimentation along the same lines, but otherwise we need to let go. We should never allow a rescue mentality to convince us that an unsatisfactory photo is a bold act of creativity.

Thick Skin by Erin Babnik

Abstract photos are the least likely of any type of nature photo to generate a lot of interest. Ironically, this one turned out to be one of my most popular images, but I expected just the opposite before releasing it. My reasons for sharing it were many, but the expectation of success was not one of them.

Tomorrow is Another Day

Keeping perspective is important. No matter what you produce today, even if it amounts to the biggest feather in your cap, the next blank canvas awaits you. What ultimately matters most is the process of creation, which for a nature photographer means experiencing the outdoors, having responses to those experiences, and expressing those responses through the medium of photography. Everything that follows is peripheral and should not be allowed to derail the process. As the saying goes, just keep on keeping on—and above all, remember to have fun.

How do you handle risky decisions? Is there anything that you like to keep in mind to make them any easier? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

 

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Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Slovenia, traveling and photographing extensively from home bases in both locations. Make sure to bookmark Erin’s site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on FacebookTwitter and 500px.

For the Love of Ghost Towns

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

Ghost Town Overview

There are a number of reasons I’m drawn to photographing ghost towns. Perhaps it’s something to do for a change of pace, maybe it’s photographing the history of a bygone era, or possibly it’s my fascination with dystopian literature. But mostly it’s just fun. I’ve photographed ghost towns from Alaska to Mexico. Most of them exist from the boom-and-bust of the mining era, while others are from the days of Manifest Destiny gone awry; leftovers from a time when Americans thought if we moved to arid lands for cultivation then the rain would follow.

Tinder Box

The ruins these people left behind are in different states of disrepair. Some are preserved as parks, some are not and are left to crumble, and others are resurrected as artist colonies for an affordable place to work and live. Whatever their state, there is always something to explore and photograph.

I’ve explored and photographed the well-known ghost towns (i.e. Bodie) to the little-known towns (i.e.) Farlin. Hell, I even did a ghost town long-distance walk across the Yukon and Northwest Territories on the 221 mile (355km) Canol Heritage Trail, and followed a World War II oil pipeline through the wilderness. The walk past little-used and abandoned autos, pump-house towns, and work stations was fascinating. Additionally, I walked the 33-mile (53km) Chilkoot Trail from Dyea, Alaska to Bennett, British Columbia that follows a land of artifacts and relics from the Klondike Gold Rush. But you don’t need to walk long distances for most ghost towns; they’re on maps and a good AWD vehicle will get you to most of them. Just remember that the majority of ghost towns are at a higher elevation and not lowland valleys, so you might need to wait until summer for access.

Brookman Cabin

Upon arriving for the first time, I like to get that establishing shot. Maybe it’s an overview of the entire town from a nearby highpoint, or possibly it’s a shot of one of the more prominent buildings in town like the mine itself. If the light is not right, I’ll come back to that establishing image as the light improves, but at least I’ve found what represents the town as a whole. Once I have the establishing shot, I begin to look for the intimate. Ghost towns are known for what’s left behind. It could be a table setting, an old poster still on the wall, or implements hanging from the ceiling, but I look for those things that might tell more of the story of the place I’m photographing.

Bottles & Blades

Wash Basin

Ghost towns usually have plenty of texture and plenty of rust that can create interesting patterns of shape and color. I look at the old boards for details of pattern and rusted old cars with peeling paint can offer a myriad of abstract compositions too. If artists are moving into the area, look for the weird. Near a Nevada ghost town I photographed, there was a whole field of cars planted in the ground grill first. The exposed sections of the autos were covered with graffiti art exploring life, politics, and the exotic.

Heart Car

American Rust

Since this is a ghost town, also look for the creepy. I had one ghost town all to myself in the middle of Montana. I walked into an old abandoned hotel to look around and then heard something upstairs. When I walked upstairs I just saw a long hallway of light and dark, and thought to myself, “I’m not going down there.” But I did try to capture in a photo the way I felt at the time.

Spectral Hall

Also when you’re visiting a ghost town look for the cemetery; there is always one nearby. Some can be quaint, others historic, and still others a bit spooky. Any way you capture them, the images can be interesting and will also help tell the story of place. Ghost towns are also a great place for night photography, and light painting the old buildings while photographing the stars overhead can make for a fun evening shoot. If you’re photographing at night, use common sense and leave the steel wool at home. Sparks from these efforts can level a whole town, and enough historic relics from California to Florida have already been lost to photographer’s fire.

In 2017 I’ll be returning to Montana to conduct a photographic loop of the western ghost town locales. I hope you can join me. You can click here for more information.

 Cemetery

Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

Hold Still Sally Mann Cover

 

Book Review by David Cobb

“Unless you photograph what you love, you are not going to make good art.” Sally Mann

Sally Mann photographed what she loved: her land, her husband, her children, herself; but where does her creativity come from?  In her new memoir Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs (2015 Little, Brown, and Company) Mann gives us insights into this world by exploring her life, family, friends, death, and sense of place. She never writes directly about her creativity in this memoir, but it exudes from the pages; like the oppressive humidity from one of her summer Virginia landscapes.

 

In the chapter ‘Hold Still,” Mann goes through the process by which she photographed her children, from the mundane to the disturbing. Her likes, dislikes, successes, and failures are all there to see. The images from this time period brought her celebrity status and with it controversy, and that fame and contention added a creative temperance to her psych. She sums up this thinking with a quote from writer Adam Gopnik, “When we hit pay dirt, we often find quicksand beneath it.”

 

Mann seems to credit her mother’s side of the family for not only her work ethic, but also her romanticism of the land, her love of place, and the land which she inhabits. If it’s her family and her own life on the land which built a foundation for her landscape images, perhaps it’s photographer Michael Miley and her artist friend Cy Twombly who helped shape and inspire her landscapes. She photographed Cy Twombly’s art studio in her early years and noticed by doing so her work “changed from documentary to evocative.” Mann’s landscapes aren’t the usual fare you might be used to seeing on the internet—they can be dark, moody, and claustrophobic, while also being timeless or by hearkening back to a bygone era.

 

Maybe her landscape images changed because of her father’s influence. His life-long fascination with death and his own stoic demise appears to influence her last chapter of creative energy. After a death on her land, she wondered how the land had changed for her with that incident and set about capturing it with images. She writes that “It’s not that we southerners are exactly in love with death, but there is no question that, given our history, we’re on a first-name basis with it.” For me, her photography at this time goes to another level. Before my workshop in Florida this year at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Garden, a professor sent me an email question about “how to capture kami (spirits) of the garden?” I could now point him to the ending chapters of this book as a guideline.

 

From the death on her own land, she travels to Civil War battlefields such as Antietam to represent the landscape and death that took place there over 150 years earlier. These chapters are well-covered in the documentary What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally Mann. The film also mentions the irony of her collodion process in the creation of these prints, and that collodion was also used to hold wounds together for the injured on the Civil War battlefield.

 

Her work changes from the metaphorical to the literal, as she photographs at the University of Tennessee’s Anthropology Research Facility known as the Body Farm. The program records decomposition and decay of the human corpse. Her work here for the New York Times Magazine added to her closing chapters and furthered her creative exploration of death.

 

Overall, Sally Mann’s Hold Still is an outstanding book on many levels. Intellectually interesting, whimsical, and humorous; and at times it carries the shock value of a who-done-it novel. Ultimately for me this memoir is about creativity, and it’s a look into the soul of an artist. By taking a page from Sally Mann, I wondered how those around me and the land I hold dear influences me and contribute to my artistic process–and that’s the kind of thinking that can help artistic creativity and growth.

 

 

The Two Essential Strategies of Effective Post-Processing

Monday, May 30th, 2016

 

Knowing how to use post-processing software is important for any creative photographer, but it is equally important to know what to do with that knowledge. No matter how proficient we are with our development tools, we still need to decide which direction to take an image for its final presentation. What follows is a guide for getting the most out of your image development by having clear strategies to guide the process. These strategies fall into two basic categories: directing attention and conveying character.

1) DIRECTING ATTENTION: Work with the composition, not against it.

Effective post-processing will emphasize the composition of a photograph by helping it to direct eye movement and to highlight points of visual interest. The first step to determining how to proceed with processing is to have a clear idea of how the eye should travel through the frame and which parts of the image are most important. Where is the main path that the eye should follow? Is there a primary point of interest? Are other points of interest playing a supporting role or are they competing for attention? Is anything drawing the eye out of the frame? With these questions answered, we can concentrate on a few approaches to addressing any concerns that they raise.

• Finesse the Light

The eye follows light, so it will be attracted to the most luminous parts of an image. Increasing or decreasing the luminance of an area selectively can help to bring it ‘forward’ or to push it ‘back’ in the hierarchy of visual interest. Likewise, a gradation of light can be very effective in transitioning the eye between zones.

Some caveats: While digital processing gives us remarkable and very selective control over luminance in an image, there are limits to what we can accomplish in affecting the quality of light in a scene. Very strong, directional light is the most difficult to finesse because its effects tend to be quite emphatic, while soft light is quite malleable, allowing for a high degree of discretion in post-processing. The suggestions above for adjusting luminance can only go so far—if the light in a photograph is working strongly against its composition, then that photo is probably a candidate for reshooting in different conditions.

• Adjust Colors

Colors can attract attention much like luminance does. Warmer colors ‘advance’ and draw the eye more than cool ones, which tend to recede in an image. Nonetheless, cool colors can demand a lot of attention if they are anomalies in an otherwise warm color palette. Selectively adjusting the hue or saturation of a feature can have a great effect on its presence in the frame, allowing you to control how much attention it demands.

• Take Charge of Textures and Forms

Features with greater dimensionality attract more attention, while flatter ones are less noticeable. Sometimes increasing the contrast of a feature will help to make it stand out better. Conversely, making an area “flatter” (that is, less dimensional) can help to take attention away from it. If a scene has an area of busy detail that detracts from the more interesting parts of the photograph, then reducing the contrast there could be beneficial to the overall image.

Forms that are very different from everything around them are also likely to attract attention. For example, a footprint in an area of smooth sand or a jet contrail in the sky may amount to an unfortunate distraction, in which case it may be a good idea to remove those features by cloning them out.

Flowers for Miles by Erin Babnik

Selective adjustment of luminosity directs attention to the path that the eye should follow and away from busy textures that could be distracting.

 

2) CONVEYING CHARACTER: Bring out the essence of the image.

Any compelling photograph has the potential to suggest certain qualities of character or mood over others. A scene may be cheerful, ominous, dreamy, surreal, whimsical, or any number of other possibilities. Identifying the essence of an image in these terms will provide a framework for processing decisions of a more creative nature. Once you have a good idea of the character or mood that you would like to express, there are a few categories of adjustments to consider that can be very useful in creating the final look of an image accordingly.

• Tailor the Overall Tonality

Most photographers agree that camera settings should target an exposure that will provide the most flexibility when it comes time to process the image. Working this way in the field may result in an initial tonality that differs from what will best express the mood that you have envisioned for the final photo, however. A cheerful feeling may require a brighter treatment, while darker tones tend to suggest a more “moody” character. Even the range of tones may need to be narrowed or expanded to hit the right note, as it were. For example, when giving an image an airy, high-key treatment, you may want to restrict the range of tones so that there are no absolute blacks in it.

Swept Away by Erin Babnik

I wanted a light, warm, airy, impressionistic feel for this image because those qualities are what the scene suggested to me when I experienced it. I removed some distracting blue hues from the top of the photo and avoided making the shadows very dark. There is no absolute black in the final image.

• Constrain the Color Palette

Colors can do a lot to express a certain character. A palette of earthy tones tends to provide a more mature, relaxing appearance, while more vibrant palettes can suggest high levels of energy or exuberance. Shifting certain hues within an image can get them to adhere better to the dominant color scheme, making the character of a final photograph more pronounced. Harmonious color palettes are not only more expressive but are more settling to the eye, so it is worthwhile to explore the possibilities for getting colors to harmonize and to set the right mood for the scene.

• Emphasize Ambience

Some processing treatments do more to establish a sense of ambience than anything else. Deliberately softening an image or making it more hazy can cause it to appear more dreamy, whereas increasing sharpness and clarity can lend a more gritty tone to the whole. Making light sources appear to glow by diffusing them versus hardening their edges can have a great effect on the tenor of a scene. Such treatments can be very subtle and yet still go a long way towards emphasizing the qualities of an image that make it particularly expressive.

Rhapsody in Blue by Erin Babnik

Constraining the color palette to an analogous scheme helped to emphasize the brooding mood set by the storm clouds. There was enough yellow in the raw file that I could have brought it out and produced a complementary scheme, which would have a more peppy mood than what I wanted to convey. I therefore cooled off the traces of warm hues in both the sand and the sky opening in order to ensure that they wouldn’t disrupt the overall feel of the image.

Considering how we might direct attention and what character we want to convey will give clear direction to our development process. Although there are endless options for editing images these days, they are all best employed in the service of a goal. Sometimes a round of experimentation is necessary to help define those goals, but once the direction is clear, all else will follow with more effective results. Do you ever struggle with the direction to take a photograph during its development? What strategies do you find most helpful in pointing the way forward?

 

ErinBabnikWebLogoWhiteText

Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Slovenia, traveling and photographing extensively from home bases in both locations. Make sure to bookmark Erin’s site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on FacebookTwitter and 500px.

The “Cramming” or “Shoot-Through” Technique by David Cobb

Monday, February 8th, 2016

The spring wildflowers have started to pop in the Columbia River Gorge of Oregon, so I thought I’d take the time to explore a technique I often use for photographing spring wildflowers called “shoot-through” or “cramming.” I had used this technique for a number of years before I learned macro photographer Michael Brown coined the phrase “cram-it.” It’s fun, and it takes a bit of practice, so if you’re willing to give it a try here’s how to do it.

 

I often use a telephoto for this procedure, and employ this method when I want to eliminate distracting elements or when I want a wash of color throughout my image. I use a fairly wide-open aperture setting and find f2.8–f5.6 works best. I place my lens against a number of blossoms while selective focusing on a background flower. The front images are blurred and help obscure a number of distractions like twigs or branches. They also create a more ‘painterly’ feel to the photograph.

 Tulips Red & Yellow

I loved the color of these tulips on top of a rock, but couldn’t photograph them without including distracting parts of a nearby house. My solution was to lay my lens right in front of a bundle of red and orange flowers and then “shoot through” them. This added a nice wash of color across the stems, and also eliminated the distracting staircase and window of the house.

 Water Lilies

In a recent photo of water lilies taken on the Big Island of Hawaii, I was going for more of a Monet feel for the image. For this shot I used my Canon 70-200 telephoto lens, my Kenko Pro 1.4x teleconverter, and my Canon 500D close-up filter. I placed my lens right in front of a clump of grass and “shot through” it. The shallow depth-of-field gave me the softness I liked, but “cramming” with the grass lends an even softer look and captured the Monet feel I was after.

 

I’ve posted a couple of other examples of this technique below. You can find this tip and 99 others contained in my e-book 100 Tips to Improve Your Flower and Garden Photography.

Summer Wildflowers

Yellow Crocus

The Seven Virtues of a Landscape Photographer By Erin Babnik

Friday, September 4th, 2015

Requiem960

The landscape photographers who I most admire all seem to have a certain range of qualities in common, habits and characteristics that surely play a large role in enabling these photographers to produce compelling images on a regular basis. What follows is my attempt to identify what may be the seven most essential of those qualities and to explain why I think that they are important virtues for any landscape photographer to nurture. These virtues are Respect, Curiosity, Flexibility, Patience, Speed, Integrity, and Courage.

Respect

With nature as our subject, landscape photographers have a special duty to respect it. Common sense dictates that we should protect whatever is essential to our own goals, but respecting nature goes beyond conservation and advocacy, as important as they are. Developing a relationship with nature is like developing one with a person; the more effort that you make to get to know a person, the better able you are to empathize with that person and to deepen your bonds with each other. Respecting nature means viewing it as a partner rather than as a trophy or a realm to be conquered, and achieving this level of respect allows us to see and to understand nature in ways that not only lead to great personal experiences but ultimately benefit the creative process as well.

Curiosity

The curious photographer will venture farther, look more closely, and experiment more readily. Curiosity is the quality that causes us to find out how a location might appear from a different vantage point, during a different time of day, or in a different season. It is the quality that makes us find the smaller details of nature that can easily be overlooked. When we are out in the field or in the development process, curiosity will lead us to try different techniques and to ponder our stylistic decisions. Being intrigued by our surroundings and our own ideas is what leads to exploration, discovery, experimentation, and creative growth.

Flexibility

Nature is notoriously capricious, having change as its only constant. If you are willing to adjust to conditions and make the most of whatever nature gives you, then the world is your oyster. Being too fixated on a specific outcome can cause us to miss opportunities, so while it is extremely helpful to pre-visualize the potential of a location and a set of conditions, we should also be prepared to adapt or even abandon those ideas as other opportunities present themselves.

Patience

A photographer friend of mine once shared this dialogue that he had with a passing hiker while he was standing behind his tripod one day.

Hiker: “It looks like you’re waiting for something to happen.”

Photographer: “I am.”

Hiker: “Well, what, then?”

Photographer: “I don’t know. It hasn’t happened yet.”

Sometimes simply watching and waiting allows opportunities and ideas to come together in fruitful ways. It can be very rewarding to remain in one place for a while and see what surprises fast-moving weather might bring, what changes may take place between sets of waves, or how a forest might transform as mist or light shift around in it. While the temptation may be great to run around shooting as many compositions as possible, that approach often results in a lot of images that are missing something—missing that special confluence of time and place that results from letting the magic come to you and being ready for it when it does.

Speed

On the other side of the coin from patience is speed, the ability to respond quickly to opportunities and to think on your feet. After waiting patiently for a marvel of nature, you may find it finally arriving rather suddenly and, all too often, in a situation that requires a mad dash, a quick lens change, a host of revisions to camera settings, or all of the above. Being able to respond quickly to ephemera can often make the difference between a great shot and a great memory.

Integrity

Simply put, as creative photographers, it is important that we remain true to our own art. There comes a time after we reach a certain stage of creative development that we have the choice to do what most interests us, or else to do what we think will most interest other people. Naturally, any photographer who shares or shows their photographs cares about how they will be received, otherwise they would keep them to themselves, but caring about those opinions needn’t mean catering to them.

Courage

Landscape photographers often find themselves in wilderness areas, in foreign lands, in extreme weather, on the edges of cliffs, close to pounding surf, or even in all of these situations at once. The dangers of working outdoors are many, making it necessary to exercise caution and good sense, and when those requirements are met, to find the courage to proceed. Perhaps even more courage may be necessary for what follows, however. It can require great bravery to make creative decisions that are risky, to experiment with new ideas and locations, and to release the results to the world at large.

I could easily extend this list to include many more virtues, but these seven strike me as the ones that form a core set that many inspirational landscape photographers seem to have in common. What virtues would you add to this list? If any come to mind, you are very welcome to share them in the comments below.

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Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Slovenia, traveling and photographing extensively from home bases in both locations. Make sure to bookmark Erin’s site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and 500px.

Photographic Cross-Training by David Cobb

Monday, August 17th, 2015

Photographic Cross-Training

By David Cobb

Old Sign Modern Art

I like variety. When I shoot a variety of images it keeps me on my toes, keeps things fresh, and lets me be creative. If I only photographed landscapes I’d be bored. By changing things up and photographing not just landscapes, but also events, macro, details, people, wildlife, buildings, interiors, food, and in black-and-white I don’t get tired of photographing any one thing. Some might say by doing many things you never get good at one of them. I disagree. I think in photography improving one facet of your camerawork can only help another facet; it’s kind of like photographic cross-training. My detail images help my compositional skills as I photograph landscapes. By photographing small flowers with my macro lens, it’s not too much of a stretch to photograph food. Photographing people lets me be more creative and interact with my subject, (plus putting a person in a scene increases sales potential in an over-saturated landscape market). If I photograph an event, it makes me think quicker on my feet and that helps me set up and get the shot faster when working my landscapes and landscape photography—and lets me apply those skills to my macro and detail images.

Chairs & Tables BW

Fern Curl

Josef Koudelka is one of my photographic heroes, and he stated that he was first and foremost a photographer. Koudelka photographed the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, but he wasn’t a photo journalist; he photographed and travelled with gypsies for years, but he wasn’t a portrait or street photographer; he spent years photographing Roman ruins, but he wasn’t a historical photographer; the time spent photographing industrial waste and the workings of man didn’t make him an environmental photographer–he was simply just a photographer who resisted any codes or labels. And he succeeded in all areas.

Glacier Peak

I’m posting some photos I’ve shot over the past few months, as an example of the variety of images I’ve taken in my photographic cross-training.

Wacky Racers Suzy Doran Tonopah NV BW Painterly Reflections Lavender Field Home

HOW LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHS TELL STORIES

Monday, July 13th, 2015

By Erin Babnik

When a photograph depicts a person, it is likely to suggest storylines in a fairly straightforward manner. A single or predominant person appearing within a scene will read easily as the story’s protagonist, and details in the image will help to establish strands of the narrative. Even photographs that contain only hints of human activity may express stories with relative clarity; the inclusion of a vehicle, a tent, or a personal belonging of any sort can provide a host of clues for surmising the circumstances of a scene, the events that may have preceded them, and the events that are likely to follow. But what about photographs that present no indications of human presence or even any animals in relatable scenarios? How do they tell stories?

Whereas images with figures in them have the potential to narrate quite literally, those that display natural features exclusively tend to require more interpretation, a difference not unlike that between prose and poetry. Landscape photographs generally tell their stories with relative subtlety, ambiguity, open-endedness, and mystery, but they are nonetheless capable of narration. If we find nothing meaningful in a compelling landscape photograph, it is only because we haven’t considered the implications of what makes it hold our attention. As I hope to demonstrate with a single photograph, landscape images can communicate stories on at least three different levels: the natural, the personal, and the metaphorical.

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The photograph that I have chosen to use as an example shows a scene from the Mojave Desert, just after a rainstorm. The view presents a playa etched with wide mud cracks, lying beneath a dark, cloud-filled sky. Arcing across the darkness, a full rainbow springs from a mountain ridge at the left to open desert at the right. In the foreground, two especially wide cracks in the playa dominate the rain-splattered earth, each curving inward from either side of the frame and echoing the form of the rainbow above them. This simple description identifies the essential features of the photograph, but it omits any attempt at explanation or interpretation. Reducing a photo to its descriptive attributes misses out those qualities that make landscape photographs special as representatives of an art form that combines ‘found’ views with personal experiences and expression. Even though it may happen subconsciously, ideas about a landscape photograph will eventually come forward for the interested viewer, affecting the connection that the viewer will have with it. The following three categories explore some of the ways in which a photograph may convey those ideas and thereby suggest stories.

THE NATURAL LEVEL

Any nature photograph tells a story of creation, one about the natural processes that were at work in the formation of the geological features depicted. In the case of the desert playa, the bowl-shaped depression with its pattern of cracks sprawling across the surface evince the evaporation of a shallow lake that once existed in this location. What was originally muddy sediment of the lake’s bed has since contracted and cracked through the process of desiccation after the last of the water evaporated. The rainbow, as an indicator of both the sun and the rain, demonstrates the role that weather plays in affecting the topography of the area: rain created the lake, and then the sun caused it to vanish. These events are distinct chapters in a story that is perpetually in progress.

THE PERSONAL LEVEL

While a photograph may omit people within its frame, one person is always implied by its existence: the photographer. Behind every landscape image is a story of its making, even if that story never accompanies the image in any written form. Looking at the photograph of the desert scene, a viewer could guess much about the experience of the photographer at that moment: this person traveled to a remote area, hiked to a dried lakebed, probably got a bit wet from the rain, and then was treated to the spectacle of a full rainbow. Anyone who has visited a similar area or has witnessed similar conditions will be able to project additional details into the story based on personal experience, while others may embellish the narrative with details derived purely from a vivid imagination. The story could be envisioned as one of great adventure, of personal struggle, or of simple pleasures, but regardless of how well any of these ideas may match with the actual circumstances of the photograph’s creation, they still form part of its story for the viewer who imagines them. In this regard, the viewer mentally occupies the space of the photographer, and the two become elided as that implied individual who appears nowhere in the picture and yet serves as its protagonist.

THE METAPHORICAL LEVEL

The symbolic power of natural features allows them to suggest stories of a more timeless and universal quality. While symbolism can be very culturally relevant, the realities of nature provide experiences that people across the globe tend to share and to understand similarly. For example, a rainbow may have different spiritual or political connotations in different cultures, but most people will understand it as a phenomenon that occurs when a storm breaks and the sun begins to shine, so it is likely to register as something that marks the end of a difficult experience and as a herald of positive change. At the very least, a rainbow represents something highly ephemeral, a marvel that lasts a short while and is always fresh and new. In the photograph from the Mojave Desert, the rainbow appears in alignment with much older features, the cracks in the playa surface that resemble the rainbow’s form. For the viewer willing to ponder it, this coincidence may suggest a story of rebirth or renewal: the fractured past versus a bright future. Alternatively, it could suggest a happy symbiosis between old and young, an encapsulation of the cycle of life, or an epiphany revealing a connection between disparate ideas. Many more possibilities for interpretation exist, and any one of them may resonate without the need to go through any amount of deliberate analysis—sometimes we simply know that a photo is ‘speaking’ to us, without being fully conscious of what it’s saying.

Thinking about photographs as bearers of meaning may not be necessary for the creation or the enjoyment of them, but it can be very worthwhile in either case. For the photographer, giving some thought to the stories that a location may suggest can help with the creative process, both in the field and during image development. Interpretation can also help with the process of self-curation, since those images that seem to narrate most clearly are often the ones that hold the greatest visual interest. For the viewer, taking a moment to consider a photograph’s possible narratives will slow down the viewing process, allowing greater appreciation of what an image has to offer, which is infinitely more rewarding than having knee-jerk reactions while consuming images in rapid succession.

If you enjoyed reading about the possible implications of my desert photograph, you may be interested to hear the actual story of its making. I will share my experience of that morning in a post to my Facebook page on August 3, so I encourage you to follow me there and to look out for that post. In the meantime, please feel free to share your thoughts on this topic in the comments below.

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Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Slovenia, traveling and photographing extensively from home bases in both locations. Make sure to bookmark Erin’s site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and 500px.