Wednesday, January 14, 2015

©Jack Graham

                                              “A good photograph is knowing where to stand.” ..Ansel Adams


You pack your vehicle the night before. You have studied the maps, GPS information etc to get you there. You have looked at some other images made in the location you are venturing to the next morning and are inspired to capture a scene in your own way. You go to bed and think of what might be. You awake, get ready and drove sometimes a long way to where you set out. You arrive and guess what? You’re planning and forethought is not what you see. Perhaps the weather is uncooperative and the forecast was wrong. Perhaps the wildflower bloom is late, or has already occurred. Now what? Having a sense of place can allow for some great imagery, just when you think things are not right.

As you arrive at the location that you planned to photograph, exactly, what are you thinking about?  Are you determining how the light might affect the image that perhaps you’d been planning for some time? Or do you have more of an opened mind to depict the scene as you see it on this occasion, in other words, making more than the best of a situation.

Often photographers have their mind set on how a certain location should look when they arrive to make the photograph. The have created in their mind, perhaps an iconic image of Half Dome or a famous lighthouse on the Maine coastline. So often Mother Nature drastically affects the results and ones best laid plans are negated.

A huge part of successful photography is a result of planning. However being flexible and constantly aware what you can do with a scene, taking the conditions you might not have planned for, into consideration can produce stunning images.

Different light, wind, weather, seasonal factors all can be used to your advantage when you are aware of them. Are there dramatic clouds that can be used as a formidable background? Are there wildflowers blooming that can be used as a foreground? Yes, the fog rolled in, but how can one use this fog as part of the image. These and more are things that should be going through your mind as you evaluate the entire situation before even setting up your tripod. I am constantly suggesting to fellow photographers to slow down and carefully evaluate the scene. Walking through the area can be extremely helpful in order to ascertain how you want to use the unexpected conditions in a positive manner to create your image.

After you have evaluated these factors, have put your mind in its right place, it’s time to get creative. Let your emotions form the feeling you want to convey in your photograph. Think about what you like about the location and how you want to depict the scene to the viewer. Remember, how you see the scene, and want to tell its story, it primary. The viewer of your image was not there, and does not have the same emotional attachment as you do. This is not to say you don’t take the viewer into consideration, but depicting the scene in the fashion you determine is your ultimate goal.

Always be aware of the unexpected. Perhaps a rainbow, or even lightning might appear out of nowhere. Think of these unexpected happenings as a bonus to your experience. Use as much or as little of these factors to add to your image.

More often than not nature photography is a compromise. Rarely, are the conditions the way we expected when we planned our day. Having the sense of place can make or deny the possibility of a stunning photograph.

On a recent trip to the southern Oregon Coast, the weather forecast for this morning was for partly cloudy conditions. Obviously this did not happen. The sea stacks against the threading sky made a formidable subject, so I first determined this might offer some possibilities. However, with just the sandy beach, even these monoliths were not enough. I needed a foreground. After walking around, I found an area where the tide, just beginning to come back in caused a nice pattern, and leading line into the image.

There are so many ways to add impact to a scene; one must investigate the location by walking around to find the right angle, the right foreground that makes the image work. I also know that because of the light, I decided that this scene would be processed as a Black & White image. Using a very slow shutter speed, I was able to slow down the water and enhance the leading line effect. And yes, the unexpected, but welcomed addition… there is a gull on the very top of the right sea stack.

                   Early Morning, Ridgefield National Wildlife reservation, Washington

It was a cold, damp morning here at the reservation and the heavy fog, though predicted was more than expected. The possibility of making some images here this morning looked bleak.
As I sat in my vehicle, I noticed a slight break in the fog and put my self into position, in the event something allowed the light from the sun to protrude through the heavy fog. For about 30 seconds it did just that. The whole valley lit up. I had to make a quick decision on o how I wanted to depict the scene. I changed my lens to a long telephoto and decided to only include about 1/3 of what I was seeing with my eyes. In the past I would have shot the wide landscape and felt that I captured the “trophy” shot. Here I decided to go for the close look and create more of an intimate scene.

Note that this image was taken in HDR. I combined three frames together using NIK Software’s HDR Pro. I am not a HDR photographer and really don’t care for the grunge look. However this image would have been impossible to capture the way it looks here without HDR.

                                Fall Leaves on the Forest Floor, Northern Ohio

Beauty in the wilderness can be easily discovered just by taking a walk and looking around. You may see vistas, grand landscapes but being aware of what’s right next to you is the key to a rewarding and complete photographic experience. The more you slow down and become aware of what’s around you, you’ll become in touch with the smaller aspects of the ecosystem around us. Your experience in the field will be rewarded with a varied array of images, not just the grand landscape,

These maple leaves had fallen the night before in a rainstorm in the hardwood forest in Ohio. I made this photograph just as they are, lying on the forest floor. Soon they would be covered in snow and ice.

                                                     Rainbow over Hunt’s Mesa, Arizona

Seeing and predicting light and potential is important for photographers to develop. In time, many photographers develop an innate sense that “Something might happen here today” and remain in an area until that potential leaves.

I was high up on Hunt’s Mesa, overlooking Monument Valley one afternoon. It was quite cool and very windy. Rain showers were coming through every few minutes. I know this light. I know if one such rain shower would pass by to my right, there would be a potential of a rainbow. Obviously this is what occurred. This rainbow was not accident. I know that conditions were there for a rainbow, and I was not disappointed. The weather was less than perfect, but having a sense of place made this image possible.

                                                     Sunrise, Whidbey Island, Washington

Whidbey Island, Washington is one of the most bucolic locations anywhere.  Located only a short ferry ride from busy downtown Seattle, you feel like you are in another world upon leaving the ferry. Places like this are where one can relax, and not worry about having to make copious quality images. I have found that when I see photographers pressuring themselves to produce photographs, they usually fail. I always stress that we as photographers must slow down, enjoy where we are and not create that need to shoot hundreds of images, looking for that one gem. On this morning, I actually only shot three to 4 frames of this subject. I enjoyed the serenity of the location, the sounds and smells of the harbor. Low and behold, this image worked just fine. Had the light not been so cooperative, or the wind picked up negating the reflective water, that would have been ok too. I was in a place like nowhere else that morning.


                                           Palouse Region, Eastern Washington,

Sometimes, the simplicity of a location can transfer into a powerful photograph. The image above is one such location. This single building, out in the middle of a wheat field tells the story of where it is. Had there been other buildings, tractors etc. competing with the subject this image would not have worked. Look for locations and be aware of the power that you can transmit in your photographs.

Having a sense of place, and awareness is primary in developing your style, and overall ability to make some wonderful images. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

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