Photo Cascadia Blog
Posts Tagged ‘photography’
American Dreamscapes – Book Review
By David Cobb
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.
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.
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.
I have to admit, I am a bit of a coffee nerd. I am pretty picky about my morning coffee. Also, if you don’t know me, I get really into the things that I love 🙂 I have tried pretty much all of the options for the outdoor coffee enthusiast so I thought I would share some of my findings.
The most simple and lightest weight option is instant coffee:
Instant coffee has come a long way since Folgers Crystals, but it still just doesn’t do it for me. I just can’t get over the slightly burt flavor and bitterness compared to coffee brewed with fresh beans.
I used to use a french press like this one:
It is called the GSI Outdoors Java Press . It only weighs 10oz and will make 30 oz of fresh pressed coffee. All you need is access to hot water which is fairly easy to come by if you have a camp stove. I have used this for many years and it has been my main source of morning coffee while camping or backpacking up until recently. For some reason, I have never really enjoyed french pressed coffee as much as the drip coffee I make at home every morning, and my wife hates it. It just seems too bitter and over extracted for my taste. I have tried everything too, including a more course grind, shorter brewing time, etc, and, I usually drink my espresso straight so I am used to a pretty strong product.
This year I set out to see what other options are out there. My first thought was to try and seek out a drip coffee maker that would run on 12 volts for use while camping in our [email protected] travel trailer. A quick search on Amazon revealed that this wasn’t the best option. There were few available and they all had pretty bad reviews. I also learned that, due to the large amount of current they draw, the only way to make coffee from a home drip coffee maker in the outdoors is to have a huge power inverter of a couple thousand watts, and a bunch of 12 volt battery’s. Needless to say, not an option either.
All this digging around lead me to a method of brewing coffee that I had heard of in past but never really tried. The “pour over” method. I guess I always thought it would make bitter coffee just like my french press. But, oh boy was I wrong. I have recently come to the conclusion that in my opinion this the best tasting and most compact method for making coffee in the outdoors and at home. This method of brewing coffee involves manually pouring water over the grinds though a filter and filter holder, allowing complete control over the brewing process and highlighting the unique character of the coffee. After some extensive research, I learned quite a bit about this technique. It is actually kind of an art form. Check out this YouTube video and you will see what I mean. Many of the products are Japanese and they even have brewing contests in Japan for this method of brewing coffee! The best thing about it is, it is cheap, portable, and very tasty. There are a couple of things that are very important keep in mind when brewing pour over coffee. The first is kind of obvious. Start with fresh quality coffee beans and clean tasting or filtered water. The next thing is the grind. It would be easiest just to forgo the grinder and buy pre ground beans, but freshness starts to suffer almost immediately. It is important to use some type of burr grinder. Hand burr grinders are fairly inexpensive and readily available on Amazon. They take a bit of elbow grease, but I don’t mind that too much. The first one I tried is the very popular Hario Skerton. At about $25 this produced pretty good results but its main flaw was that the burrs didn’t line up very well so the grind was somewhat inconsistent. Further research lead me to the Porlex JP-30:
This one is a little bit pricier at about $50, but the results were far superior to the Skerton. Its capacity is just enough for one generous 16 oz cup of pour over coffee. At 11oz, this is even an option to take backpacking if you are a real coffee nerd.
If you have access to a power inverter that is at least 200 watts wired directly to a 12v battery, and have the room, an electric burr grinder is also an option. I tried out two different burr grinders, first the $50 Cuisinart Supreme Grind Burr Mill, which was lacking in consistent grind and very noisy. The next grinder I tried out and am very happy with is the highly recommended Baratza Encore. At $129, this grinder is more expensive but well worth the extra money. It produces a very consistent grind, and is quite a bit more quiet than the Cuisinart. Build quality is also top notch.
Next, on to the coffee maker. For lightweight travel I use the very compact GSI Outdoors JavaDrip:
At $12.95 you can’t beat the price, and at 4.8oz it is extremely portable. For filters, I recommend #2 unbleached paper cones. This device sits directly over your favorite lightweight coffee mug. My mug of choice is the GSI Outdoors Infinity Backpacker Mug.
I like this method of brewing so much that I have invested in the iconic Chemex pour over coffee brewer for use at home:
At $40, this won’t break the bank and should last forever if the glass doesn’t break.
I you are a real nerd like me, you might want to invest in a gooseneck kettle like this one. This allows for more precision during the pour. It isn’t absolutely necessary, and is not really an option while backpacking, but can be used at home and for car camping. The last piece of equipment that isn’t totally necessary but I have found very helpful for determining coffee amounts is a cheap gram scale like this.
That is basically all the equipment this really needed to start brewing pour over coffee in the outdoors. The process is fairly simple and I have found it to be very satisfying.
-First, start with the proper amount of freshly ground coffee. I use about 30 grams for a 16oz cup. This is about 1/4 cup of beans. The grind should be medium to medium course, about the consistency of sea salt.
-Next, warm up to a boil 16oz plus a little extra for wetting the filter and warming the brewer and cup.
-Once your water has reached a boil, remove it from the stove and pour the extra into the empty filter to rinse and warm, leaving about 16oz behind.
-Pour the grinds into the filter and add enough water to soak the grinds and let them “bloom”.
-After about 30 seconds, start slowly pouring water in a circular motion over the grinds until all of the water is gone.
That is basically it! The whole process should take about 3 minutes from start to finish. If it takes longer, grind a bit courser, and if it is too quick try a finer grind. If you are a real nerd, for a more detailed description of the process check this out.
Hopefully you have found this helpful, and I highly recommend that you give the pour over method of brewing a try sometime.
I don’t pretend to be a wildlife photographer; I do enjoy photographing wildlife and observing the behavior of animals in their habitat. If wildlife wanders into my landscape image I enjoy including it, and when I photograph wildlife I prefer to include it as part of the environment as opposed to creating a portrait image. Including an animal in the scene gives the viewer a gauge by which to measure the grandeur of a landscape; creating a sense of scale. It also tells the story of their habitat and under what conditions they live, which is far more interesting to me than a portrait. Of course, some wildlife is small, so the landscape adjusts accordingly to maybe a handful of leaves or the grasses of a prairie and entry to the den.
If I plan on photographing wildlife in a landscape, I first increase the ISO of my camera to 400 at a minimum. In addition, consider opening the f-stop up to f11 or even f5.6 for more shutter speed. Obviously this will create a shallower depth-of-field, but photography is always about trade-offs so consider what’s best for the image before you shoot. By increasing the shutter speed, the animal’s movement won’t be blurred. Of course, if you want to capture the motion of an animal with image blur, then keep your ISO on a slow setting and just pan your camera with the animal to capture the sense of movement. (I find this works best between 1/15th of a second and 1/40th, depending on the animal’s speed.) Be careful when approaching an animal, since it is wild, unpredictable, and there is no need to cause it undo stress–all good reasons to keep your distance and capture it in its environment.
As a general rule it’s best to have the animal walking into the scene in order to create a suggested line of site, and to lead the viewer’s eye through the composition. A catch-light in the animal’s eye is also important since it suggests life. Keeping the eye sharp is key, so focus here first and then recompose if necessary. I also try and separate the elements; I may wait for the animals to spread out a bit or shoot before and after my subject is behind that tree and not while the tree overlaps my subject. I also wait until the animal has a clean background. I don’t need branches or sticks protruding from the back of my subject’s head, so I keep it clean and I keep it simple.
When it comes to wildlife photography ethics automatically come into play, and for me I think it’s best to be an observer and not a participator in the scene. I don’t want to stress an animal, I’ll never bait it, and I won’t call out to it for better eye contact. I figure wildlife already has it hard, and I’m not there to make it any harder on them. If an animal changes its course or behavior because of me, then I’ve failed in my approach. If you’re photographing in a group, keep your distance and don’t surround your subject. Always give it an outlet for escape, which will create less stress in the animal, better photographs, and probably more time with your subject. There are enough stupid photographer videos online already, and we don’t need to add to the collection.
Hopefully these handful of tips will better help your photography and also the wildlife you’re there to photograph-enjoy and observe.
Most landscape photography is shot with a wide-angle lens to accent that leading line or capture that vibrant red sunrise. Using a telephoto lens to capture a landscape offers a different challenge and a different way of thinking. The goal now is less about distortion and more about compression to help create patterns or an interesting layering effect. Currently, about one-third of my landscape images are photographed with a telephoto lens.
A few tips to help create telephoto landscape images:
• If it’s windy stay low or find a wind break. As you zoom-in camera shake is accentuated, so to keep things steady cut down on your surface area and get low to create less wind resistance on your tripod and camera–wait for a lull in the wind before taking the shot. If that doesn’t work, use a wall, structure, tree, or something for a wind break. Hanging your pack or a weight from your tripod may help create stability.
• Use the zoom function and live view together for sharpness. If you have a live-view function on your camera it comes in handy for telephoto landscape photography. I check out my scene through the live view and then press the zoom feature to get a closer look and to manually adjust the sharpness. The live-view feature can also offer mirror lock-up which will help with camera shake. If your camera doesn’t automatically offer this feature, turn on the mirror lock-up function when photographing with a telephoto lens to avoid camera shake.
• Use a polarizer. Compressing a landscape image over a great distance will also compress all the dust, haze, or fog in the scene. This can produce atmosphere in your image and help to create mood, but chances are more likely it will just generate blur. To cut through this mass of miasma use a polarizer, this will also cut down on glare.
• Use a lens hood. When I’m using a telephoto lens for landscape photography, I’m often shooting into the light for a backlighting effect. Using a lens hood can go a long way towards cutting down on lens flare and unwanted glare.
• Use a tripod. This may be a no-brainer, but I’ll state the obvious. Handholding to take a telephoto image only accentuates camera shake, for the best and sharpest landscape photo use a tripod.
When using a telephoto lens, it’s our job as photographers to simplify an image down to its prime elements—and to pick out order from the chaos. I pay attention to the light, patterns, key features, and leading lines to help me look for subject matter. Overlap and layering helps create depth, and the compression of these features helps create form from this flatter telephoto perspective. When practicing telephoto landscape photography, it’s usually best to take the high ground. By looking across or down on the landscape you’ll be offered a better view from which to pick out your subjects and shoot. If my subject matter is without much depth, I’ll usually use an aperture setting around f8 or f11; but if there is depth to my landscape, then I’ll shoot from f16 to f32.
I hope these tips prove useful and inspire you to take out that “longer” lens when photographing a landscape.
I did a blog post a number of years back on abstract nature photography yet it’s been a long time and thought I would revisit this topic. I really enjoy this type of photography especially when you find hidden gems that others may not have seen or might have passed over many times before you. Often what ends up being the final photo doesn’t jump out at you without surveying a scene for potential compositions. Sometimes I dig in and strike it rich finding those gems and other times I come up empty handed which is part of the fun.
Rather than a lot of typing for this post I will let the video do most of the talking this time around. I am not normally the video tutorial kind of person yet I am getting myself to branch out into this type of work. Below is the video and three photos I discuss in greater detail. For each scene I show several compositions I took leading up to the final to help understand my thought process to build a compelling abstract or intimate nature photo.
Standing Tall – In cold wet forest of the Columbia River Gorge in early winter
Desert Lizard – In the dry cool desert Southwest in Fall inside Zion National Park
Final Flames of Fall – Above a forest in the Columbia River Gorge during the final days of fall
Video covering the three photos above in much more detail. Happy viewing!
Yet again another year has flown by which brings time to look back on the past and what might lie ahead for the new year. Going strong for six years with no signs of letting up on the gas. We grew by a whopping 16.6% with Erin Babnik joining our crew. We continue united with our mission “learn, explore, create” as we intended from the beginning. Just like a rock concert I was at last week when the band said they would not be where they are without their fans, a similar statement could be said for all of you. A sincere Thank you to all of our subscribers and viewers to the newsletter, blog, social media and any other rock you lifted up to find us!
It’s always a good time looking back at the photos each of us from Photo Cascadia captured over the last year. Wherever the road took you in 2015 for your photography we hope you enjoy looking back at what it means to you while giving a chance to reflect on what life is all about and what matters most. Photographing what mother nature has to offer reminds us that we learn as much or more from simply being out and about than anything we could read or watch online. This quote says it best.
“Earth and sky, woods and fields, lakes and rivers, the mountain and the sea, are excellent schoolmasters, and teach some of us more than we can ever learn from books.”
– John Lubbock
As we wrap up the year and take a few weeks off from the blog we invite you to take a few minutes to view a few of our favorites from the team this past year. Slideshow is best viewed in HD. Happy Holidays and New Year!
“Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it.” –Soren Kierkegaard
Guy Tal is not most men; his photography is deliberate and so is his writing. In his new book More Than a Rock: Essays on Art, Creativity, Photography, Nature, and Life (2015 Rocky Nook Inc.), Tal conveys his thoughts of being an artist through a series of essays. If you’re familiar with his blog you’ll find Tal’s signature style of writing here; if you’re not familiar then get ready for your creative mind to expand. Tal is a deep thinker, intellectual, artist, and critic with the logic of a lawyer. Citing influences such as Alfred Stieglitz and Minor White, (perhaps he is photography’s new Minor White or art’s new John Ruskin) with some of his “artist as critic” themes. More Than a Rock isn’t a “how-to” book on photography with a list of tips and tricks – far from it. This is a book on photography learned through reading, thinking, creating, or osmosis.
His essays are broken into four parts: Art, Craft, Experiences, and Meditations–with the section on Art being the most interesting and well thought out. In his essay “Contemporary Oligarchy,” Tal sometimes takes on the Sisyphean task of dragging one-by-one (not pushing) those in the “landscape photography is not art” camp into the “landscape photography is art camp.” He writes that art’s elite is “placing too much power in the hands of the few, and so I believe the time is nigh for another (peaceful, intellectual, and creative) revolution.” I’m not sure what that revolution might entail, but it did inspire me to pick up Tom Wolfe’s The Painted Word and give that scathing satire of art a read.
Along the way, Tal refers to familiar master writers of the desert southwest such as Wallace Stegner, Joseph Wood Krutch, John Wesley Powell, Edward Abbey, and Charles Bowden. Tal lives in Utah’s Colorado Plateau, and like writers Wendell Berry or Rick Bass, his writing provides the reader with a lay of the land, a sense of place-home. He alludes to and quotes from some of the deep thinkers of the last two-centuries too, from Friedrich Nietzsche to Thomas Merton. Not something you encounter in most books about photography out there today. He’s also not a fan of the derivative, the trophy hunters, or those out to “get the shot.” In his essay “Finding the Needle,” Tal believes that next level of self-expression is much more complex than that. And whether you agree with him or not, you’ll admire his conviction.
During the reading of this well-written and beautifully photographed book, I thought more deliberately about what my photography, art, life, and purpose in this world means. I also thought more about my sense of place living in the Columbia River Gorge of Oregon, in that transitional land between the Pacific’s wetter clime and that of the high desert of the Great Basin. My photography takes me to a lot of different places, but I’m looking anew at that region I call “home.”
By David Cobb
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.
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.
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.
One of the presents for my birthday this year my wife and girls got me was a great hardback book by Ed Cooper “Soul of the Heights – 50 years Going to the Mountains”. If you have a love for being in the great outdoors especially in the Pacific Northwest and don’t know who Ed Cooper is, it’s worth your time to check out his work and stories. This is only one of several books he has. I am sure the others are a feast to read and view as well.
Ed does a superb job taking the reader through a journey of what it was like being one of the early climbers in Pacific Northwest, pioneering many routes. What drew me to his work before I even got the book is a photo of his I happen to see online taken decades ago. Growing up in Oregon on large property with forest and creek I have almost always preferred to spend my time outside. Although I did not get to experience a wider variety of outdoor areas until I was older I enjoy the time travel of Ed’s photos taking me back to when I was a kid (or before in many cases) on what some areas looked like since places can and do change whether by human impact or natural occurrence. Getting back to the photo I first saw it was Mount Saint Helens… before the eruption. I was a very young kid when the mountain blew yet I still remember standing on a ridge near the Columbia River Gorge watching it erupt. His before and after series of the mountain is a reminder of the power of Mother Nature and the power of what photos convey.
After seeing the Mount St Helens photo I started looking through more of his work which has been equally enjoyable. Beyond the photos in the book are stories that start to paint a picture of how much easier we have it today in many cases. By this I mean the advancement of gear and technology to lighten our backs. I decided it was becoming too much to lug my “large” DSLR and accessories for long hikes and backpacking. With the recent quality improvements coming in smaller packages I bought a mirror-less camera setup to lighten my load. Yet here is Ed many years earlier exploring places high up, covering long distances and carrying his 4×5 or 5×7 camera and equipment that is most certainly more weight and bulk than my backpacking setup at the scale crushing weight of 8 lbs. or for that matter less than even my DSLR setup. What I am getting at is giving credit to early photographers like Ed that went the extra mile with all the right equipment to get great photos in the earlier days of photography.
Back to the book. It’s stated in the forward how Ed Cooper is a cross between Ansel Adams and Galen Rowell. I would definitely agree and was thinking along these lines before I even read that part simply from going through his work online. I would say most people reading this post have either Ansel or Galen on their list of inspiring photographers, and if Ed isn’t already I would highly suggest adding him. The stories in the book cover peaks not only in the Pacific Northwest, others across North America include Yosemite Valley and Bugaboos in Canada to name just a couple of them.
Reading stories in this book and within his social media pages is a stark reminder of what increase in population has done to restrict our freedoms in many locations we love to visit. Many of his photos captured decades ago when we had less people enjoying outdoor adventures allowed greater flexibility with less rules and regulations where and when you can go. Today many outdoor places from parks to wilderness we visit are not a free-for-all. I certainly understand why we need to have most of these limitations in place yet makes one think how enjoyable it must have been for adventurers like Ed.
If you want to buy one of his books I would suggest buying it directly from him like my wife did. Doing this you can get a personally signed copy should you want one. Here are links to his social media where you can view more of his work and follow him for future posts.
Mini Interview – Although the primary purpose of this post is mentioning my thoughts around Ed’s book and work he was gracious enough to answer a few questions for me as well.
Adrian: I read that you have moved over to digital. Can you tell me when that was and what you feel the advantages or disadvantages it has compared to film?
Ed: I made the complete shift to digital (after experimenting with it for two years) in May of 2007. There are plus and minus features.
On the plus side It relieved me of the burden of carrying heavy packs and time consuming set-ups with a view camera, and it allowed me to shoot many more different images in a set period of time than was otherwise possible. It was also a lot less expensive. At $2.50 of more for each 4×5 film exposure, and my shooting at least 4 to 5 sheets of film at each subject, to make sure one of them was the perfect exposure, costs added up quickly (My record was about 130 sheets of 4×5 film in one day in the Tetons some years ago). Also, in order for art directors and others to view the images, we had to send them out by mail or courier, a time consuming process.
On the minus side, the digital image lacks the control features of a view camera. With swings and tilts you can correct for foreshortening without having to use features of advanced digital imaging and editing programs such as Photoshop. Further, using a view camera, the user has better control of depth of field, enabling one to bring both flowers close at hand and mountains in the distance in focus in the same image. And lastly, only the most expensive digital equipment available can match the resolution in a 4×5 film image. When I scan a 4×5 image at 2400 dpi I get an image size of about 280 MB. This is enough to make a print of 30×40 inches and still have it at about 300 dpi. A sharp image indeed!
Adrian: You have been photographing professionally for many decades, seeing it change and grow. Do you have any thoughts on what the future holds for photography?
Ed: Now, with digital cameras and smart phones, everybody is a photographer. This, of course, makes it much more difficult for someone to become a pro. The use of cams in vehicles, sports helmets, and even in drones has expanded the range of what is possible. I personally don’t like drones as it really invades one sense of privacy. Can you image being on a difficult climb in the backcountry and having one of these things coming with a few feet of you to check you out? They are also quite noisy. We had one buzz our house earlier this year, and if I had a shotgun handy I would have blown it out of the sky. Selfies have become the rage now. My wife and I were on a photo trip for almost 3 weeks this June, and a growing percentage of the photos we saw being taken were selfies, many with selfie sticks as long as 3 feet. One thing is for sure. More images are being taken, both in still and video fashion, and where it will end I do not know.
Adrian: I am sure it’s virtually impossible to pick one trip or photo as a favorite. That said what is one of your favorite photos and or adventures and why?
Ed: There are quite a few images I would pick as my best, but for purposes of this blog I will pick the cover photo of the book “Fifty Years Going to the Mountains”, the east face of Bugaboo Spire in the Bugaboos in Canada, taken August 16, 1964.. Much of my early work was in B&W, and I developed the ability to “see” in B&W. I could look at a scene and immediately vision it in B&W. This was taken from a nearby peak in the Bugaboos. Having climbed this peak several years earlier, I knew the best time of day to be there to get the result I had pictured in my mind at that time. I arrived at the summit of this nearby peak, carrying a 5×7 view camera, at the proper time, in early afternoon. I used infrared film with a red filter. The side lighting on the face from the opposite direction provided the “shine” or glowing effect. I, together with Art Gran, made the first ascent of this face in August on 1960.
By David M. Cobb
Over the years I’ve spent a great deal of time visiting art museums, searching out the European masters, the cubists, the impressionists, the Hudson River School, and others. But it wasn’t until I saw Edward Weston’s Pepper #30 that photography entered into the equation. Western art influenced my sense of design and light, and my schooling reinforced those Western perspectives of art.
Later in life other influences came into play, specifically art from Asia. A number of years ago a photographer suggested I read Empty and Full: The Language of Chinese Painting by Francois Cheng. That was the beginning of change for me. I now find myself seeking out Chinese reliefs and Japanese block prints when I roam art museums; their influence helps me incorporate Eastern perspectives into my work. My photography changes but that change can seem frustratingly slow, and sometimes I end up with more failures than successes. With my changing perceptions, the scenes that are more difficult to come by are the asymmetrical compositions—that sense of unbalance that “feels” odd to me. But I’m learning to adapt and must let all that go. There’s now more of a visual emphasis on negative space in many of my compositions, and with that comes an economy of line.
However, it is a struggle. My old eye fights with the new, and the old ways usually win. Some scenes play to my new eye easier than others; for instance a landscape with fog or a mountain shrouded in mist is easier to compose and capture in a new way. With a complex scene in a forest or a desert landscape, I tend to fall back on my western influences. Thoreau stated “simplify, simplify, simplify” and that is what I strive to do more often than not. My compositions succeed when I’m more open to change in my photography and when I’m compositionally deliberate as I reflect on my Eastern influence. With time, my hope is to make this an intuitive thought process.
Examples of current photographers who excel at capturing this Eastern aesthetic in their landscape photography are John Einarsen, Leping Zha, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Hiroshi Watanabe, and John Sexton. A photographer like John Paul Caponigro uses negative space extremely well, especially in his more surreal images. Symmetry and not asymmetry plays a larger part in his photography. His photos have a spiritual and even mystical sense to them (especially his celestial images), which connects well with the Eastern ideal and the land he photographs.
My struggle and creative journey will continue, but that’s part of the challenge and fun that comes from growth.