I recently wrote an article for Landscape Photography Magazine entitled, “What If”? You can see the article here. It’s really about being unafraid to try new things in your photography and to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Here is the text from the article, as well as more of the photos I shot for it.
Earlier this month I attended “Andrew Wyeth at 100”, a fabulous exhibit of his painting and drawings at the Farnsworth Museum. Wyeth’s work always inspires me, and this time was no exception. Many of the paintings were of winter scenes, Wyeth’s favorite season to capture. He said, “I prefer winter and fall, when you can feel the bone structure in the landscape.” I spent some time really looking at how he captured snow in the paintings. It wasn’t just empty areas of white, but an intricate part of the mood and story in the work.
I don’t make photographs as much in the winter as I do the other seasons here in Maine. I love to include natural backgrounds in my work, and a plain white snowy background just doesn’t usually interest me. It doesn’t provide the blur and distortion that I love. But the more I thought about the exhibit paintings, the more I felt inspired to move beyond my preconceptions and see how I could make the photos I love to make under snowy conditions. I stated asking myself, “What if…?” This is something that I always teach my students. I tell them to ask themselves, “What would happen if…” and then to go and try it. If there is a secret to the way I make photos, this is probably it. I am always willing to try new things, to be open to possibilities and to embrace the randomness they can provide.
I decided to keep my process simple, and headed out towards the beach with just one lens. I chose my Lensbaby Composer Pro 2 with the Sweet 50 optic, and the +4 macro diopter from the Lensbaby Macro Kit. This way I could shoot from up close to infinity.
Not having my usual subjects and backgrounds made me slow down and really look for things that interested me. I found trees with gorgeous bare branch lines, rose hips, dried blossoms, berries and leaves twisted with age. The leaves fascinated me, and I spend much of my time drawn to them. I paid particular attention to my backgrounds, and tried to include subject matter that I could blur and distort. I also tried to blur as much of my subjects as I could and still tell the story I wanted to tell, this is my favorite way to make photos.
I also photographed some amazing leaves and dried flowers with just a plain snowy background. I have avoided this is the past, because a plain white background won’t show any detail or Lensbaby effect. But what I learned from this experiment is that if the subject itself has enough depth and interest, blur on just the edges of the subject can be enough, and the way that blur fades into the white background is quite beautiful.
While I was shooting, a phrase kept coming into my head, and that was “What remains”… That was really what I was shooting. I was focused on the things that remained during the winter, the plants, branches and leaves that had hung on through snow and ice storms. Despite their fragility, I saw strength. Putting that into words starting me thinking about a new series of photos along this theme. I plan to make photographs of what remains at each season, what stands the test of time and weather and still perseveres.
Think about some of the preconceptions you have about your work. Whether it is subject, season or the type of photography you usually do, try something new to challenge yourself. Finding a theme can really energize your photography, and I am excited about the new ideas and directions I want to go with this. Had I not tried something out of my comfort zone, this new project would not be happening.
How does he do it? And he can still manage a smile!
Around the world spices are a normal part of everyday cooking, and in many parts of the world, Ethiopia included, a very hot and spicy red chili powder is as common as the salt that is found on the kitchen tables throughout America.
Walking into one spice grinding operation, the unmistakable scent of red chili’s led me into a small dark room whose air was filled with so much chili dust that not only did my eyes begin to tear up and burn, but the interior of my now sniffling and burning nose, felt to be the perfect place for a fire drill!
And yet, despite a working environment that would claim many victims, a lone young man was feeding hundreds of red chili’s into the grinding machines and he appeared to react as if the resulting chili powder was no more lethal than the welcomed scent of baby powder!
I on the other hand, continued with my near death experience, but just long enough to ask the young man to pose for a photo, covered of course in all of his red chili glory!
This room was extremely dark I might add, and as a result, I found myself using an ISO of 6400, and thus the somewhat grainy image.
Once outside in the fresh hot summer like air, I found a bottle of water and soon my throat was clear, my nose was no longer running and the tearing of my eyes had stopped.
How does he do it? My translator said he grinds for 8-10 hours each day! Needless to say I met another person in my world travels whose daily existence is beyond admirable. He’ll keep grinding, and I’ll keep shooting. – Bryan Peterson
Nikon D500, Nikkor 18-300mm, F/7.1 @ 1/40 sec. 6400ISO.
This is one post in a series on how to create a sense of place.
CASE STUDY: TEATIME AT A CHARMING HOTEL
Next time you’re taking photos on holiday or during a celebration, include detail shots to flesh out your story. When added together with photos of people, detail shots help show the mood of your scene.
Have a look at the images in this case study:
front door of hotel, taken across flowers
hint of umbrellas and gingerbread railing of hotel
iron gate and hedge
bistro chairs on gravel
backs of bistro chairs with trimmed hedge
tea, teapot, and cutlery
knife and fork wrapped in paper napkin
cinnamon and sugar crepes on serving platter
Do you see how each image is taken close up and is framed tightly? This is what you’re looking to do with your detail shots.
Each of these images is like a single idea, and by combining several, a story is created.
TIPS TO GREAT DETAIL SHOTS:
Vary the camera angle in each shot. Shoot up, down, out, across, or through a subject.
Frame your subject tightly to omit clutter. Reveal part of the subject.
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Several months ago, right before the total solar eclipse, I was listening to a piece on CBS Sunday Morning. Btw, it’s one of the best programs on TV.
They were talking about the word Umbraphile which literally means a “shadow lover”, but when properly applied it means one who’s addicted to the “glory and majesty of total solar eclipses”; and will drop everything they are doing to see one…wherever it my be on the globe. I can tell you that I don’t go chasing eclipses, but I will admit to being a lover of the shadow; which, by the way, is a photographer’s best friend.
Umbraphillia is thought by many a smart college educated person to not only be an addiction, but an affliction as well. I guess that means me…YIKES!!
I am addicted to light and shadows (and proud of it), so much so that in my online classes “Stretching Your Frame of Mind” and “Stretching Your Frame of Mind II” , students learn beforehand exactly where shadows will fall any day of the week, anywhere in the world. Using a program called Sunpath, and coupling it with a hand bearing compass called a Morin 2000 not only do they learn where the shadows will fall, but which direction the light will be coming from, when it will be coming, how long it will be there, and when it will leave.
Once the interrelationship between light and shadow is established, a mood is set and the results can range from mysterious to downright scary. Shadows can affect how the viewer perceives and is a quick way to conjure up all kinds of emotions by giving a dramatic edge to your composition. Shadows can also be used as lines to move the viewer around your composition or as elements to point to a subject or one of your centers of interest.
Photographers usually don’t give shadows any consideration; in fact, to many they can be intimidating. Truth be told, they are leaving out a very important part of their imagery. Shadows can suggest what we can’t see in our reality. In fact, shadows help us to “celebrate the unseen”. Also, the next time you’re out shooting, don’t think/worry about shadows falling on people’s faces, as that creates not only visual interest, but visual tension as well; through the use of contrast.
In the above photo, I was standing right behind a barrier in Havana, Cuba when Obama drove by. I looked down and saw the shadows that to me told a story.
Here’s some ways to incorporate shadows:
1) Try making the shadow the main subject. It can tell a story on its own.
2) Try distorting the shadows.
3) Try to duplicate your silhouette with a shadow.
4) Try using a shadow to fill in an empty space in your composition. It can create interest in an otherwise boring area.
5) Try using the dark shadows to extend a dark subject. For example, the shadow coming from a tree.
6) Try using the late light from the ‘golden hour’ to reveal more about Texture, and form.
7) We know that Line can draw the viewer to the main subject. Try using shadows to do the same thing.
8) Just for fun, try turning your photo upside down, so the subject takes the place of the shadow, and vice verse.
Maybe I’ll start a new self-help organization and call it…shadow lovers anonymous!!!
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I wanted to drop a quick thank you and let you know how much I enjoyed the class. I was not really sure if I would enjoy doing timelapse to be honest but it was great fun and you certainly gave us a solid foundation. I will certainly be doing more and I look forward to seeing your work this year!