Tag Archives: Windy Ridge

My Work is Changing

Under the Windswept Sky Windy Ridge, Near Alma, Colorado, 2016

Under the Windswept Sky
Windy Ridge, Near Alma, Colorado, 2016

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes.  Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow.  Let reality be reality.  Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.

- Lao Tzu

My work is changing.

I didn’t really notice it myself until a friend pointed it out, but now I can see that my recent work looks different than my earlier work, at least to my (and my friend’s) eye.  It’s not a sudden break or dramatic shift from what I’ve done before, but more like a gradual change over time that you don’t notice while it’s happening but only after you’ve come a way and look back at where you were.

I can’t quite put my finger on what has changed.  I will say that I’ve become more aware of the emotional communication of what I make.  When I started in photography, the most direct way I connected with the work I was producing was in terms of its visual communication.  The message of the image was communicated primarily by my manipulation of visual elements such as lines and forms, brightness and contrast, etc.

I think I still work this way on a conscious level, but now I think I also am aware of what the image makes me feel like when I’m done with it.  Sometimes this feeling simply is what I was feeling when I captured the image in the field, and sometimes it is what I was feeling when I edited the image after capture, which can be quite different.  The point is that mere manipulation of visual elements is not enough, there has to be emotional content to the image as well.  Perhaps this always has been the case, and I simply now am more conscious of it than I used to be.

I’m very aware that I could have edited this image differently, to make it look perhaps more “pretty.”  But, without getting specific about it, I will say this edit more accurately reflects what I was feeling at the time I did the editing.

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Small Differences

Two Dancers, Windy Ridge, Near Alma, Colorado, 2015

Two Dancers
Windy Ridge, Near Alma, Colorado, 2015

I can’t count how many times I came close to tossing this image into the trash can.  It sat on my desk for months, never looking quite right to my eye.  Several times I picked it up with the intention of discarding it, but something always held me back.  There always was a nagging little voice telling me that there was something solid here, something worth keeping, even if I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at any given time.

Then one day, I discovered what my hangup was.  I really liked looking at the image from a distance, but not so much up close.  I realized that what I liked about the image was the forms and the lines of the trees and the distant mountains, but not the texture of the grasses and the bark.  When viewed from a distance, the forms and lines dominated the composition, which was why I liked it.  When viewed close up, the grass and bark textures were really noticeable, which is why I didn’t like it.

So, I used various tools in Photoshop (the dodge and burn tools, several curves layers with the effects selectively painted in on layer masks) to reduce the contrast in the grass and bark, mostly by burning down the highlights and midtones so that the overall tones mellowed out into a shadowy evenness.  Then, I slightly upped the global contrast in the image, which further emphasized the lines and forms of the trees and mountains as compared to the background sky.

You can see the prior version – the one that sat on my desk for months – below.  The differences are small, but to me are what made this image a keeper versus one that ended up in the trash.

20150725_1701-FOR-COMPARISON

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Breaking My Own Rules

Prophet Tree Windy Ridge, Near Alma, Colorado, 2015

Prophet Tree
Windy Ridge, Near Alma, Colorado, 2015

Not two weeks ago, I wrote a post describing how I generally prefer to use bland, non-creative titles for my images.

Well, just to prove myself a liar, here is an image I’m calling “Prophet Tree.”  I put it in the category of suggestive and creative titles because, of course, the tree is not literally a prophet – you have to use your imagination a little bit to make that connection.  But, I just couldn’t help myself.  When I was working on this image, I simply could not get the picture of the figure of a biblical or mythological prophet out of my mind.

Oh well.  If anyone is going to prove me a liar, I suppose it may as well be me.

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Outside, Looking In

Bristlecone Pine, Mosquito Range Windy Ridge, Near Alma, Colorado, 2014

Bristlecone Pine, Mosquito Range
Windy Ridge, Near Alma, Colorado, 2014

There’s a certain image of a landscape photographer that seems to be held in high regard these days.  This kind of landscape photographer is a person who immerses himself deeply into the wilderness, perhaps spending days or weeks at a time removed at great distances from civilization and insulated from all human contact.  A person who travels at great lengths and through epic hardships in order to reach places ordinary people can’t.  A person who communes so intimately with nature that he or she appreciates it on a level that normal people do not, and for whom a camera almost is secondary to the outdoor experience, such that any images made manage to be somehow both incidental to the outdoor experience and yet still attain virtue in a way that cannot be achieved by those among the crowded field of ordinary photography.

I’m not that person.

Yes, I enjoy being outside, but my backcountry skills are limited and my outdoor experiences mostly are confined to daytime trips.  Yes, I enjoy a good hike to get somewhere interesting, but most of my photography is done fairly close to my car.  Yes, I often get to locations away from crowds of people, but I don’t eschew the popular overlooks or the landmark destinations.

The problem is, landscape images made by the kind of photographers first described above seem to be treated with a kind of almost reverence that images made by other photographers don’t get.  There seems to be a link made between a person who commits a great deal of time and resources to being in the landscape, and the quality of the images that this person makes there.  It’s an extension of the idea that the photographer is more important than the photograph, an idea that usually is treated with disdain by most photographers I’ve met, but somehow seems subtly validated in the field of landscape photography.

I don’t begrudge those who choose to approach landscape photography in the manner first set forth above.  Really, I don’t.  But there seems to be a negative implication among those who do that those who don’t cannot make landscape photographs that are equally worthy, and I do have a problem with that.

Ultimately, landscape photography is more about the photography, and less about the landscape.  It’s more important to see the landscape through the eyes of an artist, not the eyes of a wilderness adventurer.  It’s more important to be knowledgeable about photographic techniques and equipment than about backcountry survival skills.  It’s more important to feel moved by the landscape on an emotional level regardless of the ability to move through it on a physical level.

I suspect my views on this are out of the mainstream.  I’m okay with that, even though sometimes it feels like I’m on the outside, looking in.  But being on the outside and looking in sometimes is not a bad place to be.  It tends to create a perspective that is less common, more unique when compared to that of the “in” perspective – a potentially powerful tool when applied with creativity and restraint.

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