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.