Tag Archives: tree

Don’t Be Distracted

Spring Leaves on Black Branches Washington, D.C., 2015

Spring Leaves on Black Branches
Washington, D.C., 2015

Want to know where this image was photographed?

It was photographed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  Just outside the front entrance of the National Gallery of Art.  With a nice view of the U.S. Capitol building a few blocks to the left, and the Washington Monument a little further down the Mall on the right, and any number of iconic monuments and views within easy walking distance in just about any direction.

You wouldn’t know that from looking at the image, would you?  I imagine the information in the image is sufficiently non-specific that it really could have been photographed just anywhere.

Truth be told, I was out with my camera that day with the intention of photographing those very monuments and views I just mentioned.  I was, in fact, on my way down the Mall to photograph the Washington Monument in the composition that I ended up using in the image from my previous post.

However, first I became distracted by some really interesting twisted-up trees lining the wall of the National Gallery.  I probably spent an hour making a slow circuit of the building, setting up my little travel tripod to photograph each of those trees in sequence (I haven’t posted any of those images yet, but they came out quite well and I hope to post them in the near future).

When I finished that up, I began to make my way toward the Washington Monument, but I became distracted by the composition made by the branches and leaves of this tree.  I studied it out for few minutes and was torn by indecision, because I already was late in getting to my intended destination at the monument before the afternoon light faded away into evening.  But, my inner voice was telling me there possibly was a good photograph here, so I (almost reluctantly) again set up my little travel tripod to make a few captures of this tree.

By the time that was done, I made my way down to the Washington Monument and, as expected, the light was pretty well gone by the time I arrived there.  I basically missed my opportunity for the photograph of the monument I wanted, but fortunately I was able to return the next day to pull it off.

If  you’ve read the title of this post, you might think my point is that having been distracted by the first set of trees at the National Gallery and then the second tree that is in the image of this post cost me the photograph I was after of the Washington Monument.

That’s actually not my point at all, it’s just the other way around.

If I had been too focused on getting to the Washington Monument, or had been distracted by all of those monuments and views I had come to photograph, I would have missed what I think turned out to be good images of this tree and those others I mentioned earlier.  You might say I was distracted from my intended goal by the photographs that I ended up pursuing, but I prefer to think I avoided the distraction of the photographs I had intended to pursue in order to obtain these that I actually saw.

In my experience, it’s usually not the photographs you intend to take that end up being the good ones, but rather the ones you actually see that you weren’t expecting and have the willpower to follow through on.

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Three Things to Know About Shooting in the Snow

Evening Light Snowstorm

Last week, in my previous post, I mentioned that spring is just around the corner.  I’m now ready to officially retract that statement.  After several days of more or less continuous snow following that post, which had finally mostly melted away as of yesterday, it’s snowing again here in northern Colorado.  My current estimate is that summer will arrive in about the middle of June.

Fortunately, it’s been remarked that bad weather equals good photography, and snow definitely qualifies.  I’ve been making a mini-project of practicing my winter weather photography skills.  Here are three things I’ve learned over the course of the last week about shooting in the snow:

  1. Wear warm gloves.
  2. Wear warm gloves.
  3. Good gosh almighty, wear warm gloves.

Selecting a good pair of gloves for photography has been surprisingly difficult.  If they’re light enough to work the camera, they’re generally too cold.  If they’re thick enough to stay warm, they’re too clumsy to handle the camera.  The one pair I own that seem both warm enough and light enough is made of fibers that seem to come off on the camera and lens when I handle them.  If anyone knows of gloves that stay warm, are easy to work with, and won’t shed any material, I would love to hear it.

In the meantime, here is “Evening Light Snowstorm,” taken by the side of Highway 257 in Weld County, Colorado, as the snow was falling and the light was fading at the end of the day.

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In Defense of Photographic Opportunism

Snowy Spring Pastoral, Loveland, Colorado

What the heck is photographic opportunism?  Well, mostly it’s a couple of ten-dollar words to describe a two-dollar concept, but let me explain.

Many of the photographers I admire are advocates of working in groups of images on a single concept or theme – a series, a portfolio, or whatever.  Probably the one who comes most immediately to mind in this regard is Brooks Jensen of Lenswork magazine.  The whole premise of Lenswork, after all, exactly is to publish these kinds of series and portfolios.  It can be a little intimidating, when so much good work done by so many great artists is being presented in this kind of format.

I love a good portfolio of photography, I really do.

I might even aspire to start working this way myself one day.

But that’s not where I am right now.  I’m an opportunistic photographer, and I take my images where I can get them.

There’s a pragmatic component to my thinking here.  Portfolios really take a substantial investment of time and effort to complete.  While I am dedicated to pursuing photography and committed to making time to practice it, it’s not my whole life.  The reality is I have a full-time day job as well as several other competing interests and priorities to handle.  While photography is important to me, most of the time it has to fit into the bigger schedule of my life and be pursued on a time-available basis.  This does not lend itself to portfolio-making.

There’s a technical component here too.  My impression is that many portfolios are undertaken by very experienced photographers, perhaps as a challenge to themselves, or perhaps to generate excitement when making high-quality single images becomes routine or repetitive.  That’s not where my mindset is right now.  I still find a camera to be an intrinsically exciting way to interact with the world.  I enjoy having it with me as a way to visually experience and explore many different kinds of environments in many different expressive ways.  If photography is a learning curve, then I’m still on it, and being open to capturing different kinds of subject matter and making prints in different kinds of styles is an excellent way to develop your skills.

Finally, there’s a philosophical component at play as well.  I’ve heard it said that to make your mark as a photographer, you should become known for one style of image, one kind of subject matter, one approach to prints, etc.  I agree that being consistent in your output will make you known for that kind of work.  But I disagree that consistently generating the same kind of output is required to become known for your work.  Good work is good work.  Think of Picasso, probably one of the most widely recognized artists in history, and the great variety of styles and subject matter his work spanned over his career.

The image in this post, “Snowy Spring Pastoral,” embodies a lot of these themes.  It was very opportunistic, in the sense that we had a quick spring snowstorm here in Colorado last week.  I had no particular plan or objective other than getting out to capture some images of snow, which I don’t do very often.  It also definitely was a learning experience.  Working with wet equipment (kudos to the Canon 5D Mark ii, by the way), getting compositions and exposures right in a driving snow, all added up to expand old skills and develop new ones.  Finally, this image arguably also is a bit of a break from my other work.  The snowy subject matter lent itself to a more high-key treatment than I usually do, and my composition included a mix of the man-made (the fence, the telephone lines) and the natural (the tree, the snow) that I otherwise don’t tend towards as much with landscapes.

So am I troubled that I’m not producing portfolios of work on single subjects or themes?  Not at all, I’m an opportunistic photographer.  That’s just where I’m at right now.

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The Story Behind the Image “Diptych, Touch the Earth, Touch the Sky,” Part 3 – Think Creatively!

Diptych, Touch the Earth, Touch the Sky

Here is part 3 of the story behind my image, “Diptych, Touch the Earth, Touch the Sky,” shown above.


Well, on one level, there’s not much to tell, really.  When I saw the two images “Touch the Earth” and “Touch the Sky” that I had taken separately, I knew I had to put them together in a diptych.  I cropped each image square (because I prefer the proportions of equal-sized panels in diptychs, triptychs, and the like), increased the overall contrast of the combined image a little, and voila – not much work at all.


But on another level, I think this image has a lot to say.  First, while I think the individual images “Touch the Earth” and “Touch the Sky” that I used to make this diptych are strong images that stand well on their own, I also think the diptych is more than the sum of these two parts.  I believe that putting these two images together, in this format, makes a statement that is unique to itself and independent from the component images.  For example, there is a new composition to consider:  the form of the trees creates a symmetry across the two panels, and the whites and blacks of the foregrounds and backgrounds are analogous, but reversed, in the two panels.  The subject matter, too, invites a comparison and contrast that is not available in the individual images alone, for example a consideration of the sky and earth motifs within and between the individual panels, and the relationship of the trees to each.  Of course, I also hope the image simply is pleasing to look at!


Second, I think there is much to consider on the subject of framing.  As a photographer, my guess is that well over half of the photography I see is presented in a horizontal 3:2 aspect ratio (I believe this is the typical aspect ratio of 35 mm film).  Much of the remainder is in a vertical 3:2 aspect ratio.  It is much rarer that I see square aspect ratios, panoramic aspect ratios, or other kinds of aspect ratios, and it is even rarer that I see diptychs, triptychs, or presentations having multiple panels.


I wonder why this is?  Since it is relatively easy to capture an image with a camera, it seems to me that photographers are uniquely positioned to create works that push the dimensions of traditional framing, be it by experimenting with aspect ratios, panels, or the like.  Moreover, I might suggest that, given how ubiquitous the horizontal 3:2 aspect ratio is, images presented in alternative formats add an extra element that contributes to making the image more interesting.  This is not to say that a bad image presented in a non-traditional framing will become good, nor that a good image in a horizontal 3:2 aspect ratio is bad.  I’m saying only that the framing is an important component in the composition of photographic images, and that it can be used with a high degree of creativity to add to the impact of the image.


Here’s another example of this principle.  I don’t print many 8.5×11 images for display.  Why?  It’s not because 8.5×11 is too small.  Indeed, one of my personal favorite formats to print in are small, 5×5 square images.  No, it’s because all day long, in the course of handling ordinary business, I look at document after document printed on 8.5×11 paper.  I’m sure this is the case for most people.  To me, an image printed on 8.5×11 paper loses a little bit of appeal, just because I see the 8.5×11 format all the time.  It’s just so ordinary.


Is there a takeaway here?  If so, maybe it’s just to think creatively about presenting your images.  Why not start with the framing?


Edit:  I forgot to bring up in my original post, but meant to, that I believe Brooks Jensen at Lenswork Daily makes a similar point here, worth checking out!


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The Story Behind “Diptych, Touch the Earth, Touch the Sky,” Part 2 – Hiding in Plain Sight

Touch the Earth

This tree is hiding in plain sight.


It stands just off the side of the road on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, and I passed by it several times a week, dozens of times in all, over the course of several weeks last summer.


I should probably explain, and remind you that this is part 2 of the story behind my image “Diptych, Touch the Earth, Touch the Sky,” currently appearing on my Home Page.


Over this past summer, I decided that I needed regular field practice for my camera technique, more than just the occasional weekend or evening that I had been getting out with my camera.  As it happens, I live fairly close to Rocky Mountain National Park.  During the summer, the days are long enough that it is possible for me to drive up to the park after work and have one to two hours of daylight – indeed, prime golden hour sunset sidelight – to shoot.  From my front door, I can be at the top of Trail Ridge Road – around 12,000 feet – in about 45 minutes on a good day.  And so for several weeks during the longest days of the summer, I would spend two, three, or four days a week in the park.


On the way up Trail Ridge Road, there is a stretch of a mile or two at the treeline where there are these fantastic, gnarled, windswept trees set against backdrops of hard, solid rock or perched on top of sky-hugging ridge lines.  They have white, bleached trunks and, when the light bounces around just right up there, take on their own glow as the sun lights them up on its way down.  They are fantastic.


But here’s the thing.


Despite the fact that Trail Ridge Road is highly traveled by volumes of camera-toting tourists in the summer, I hardly ever saw anyone stopping to photograph them.  Maybe they were too excited to move on and get to the wide open tundras and spectacular mountain views up the road.  Or maybe they just didn’t see them the way I did.  The few times I did see other people stop to photograph these trees, I think it was because they saw me photographing them first and then wanted to photograph what I was photographing.


As I said, this particular tree was hiding in plain sight, probably not more than twenty yards from the side of the road.  Passed by hundreds or more people every day during the high season in the park.  And hardly noticed by most of them.  But I noticed it.  If you’re a photographer, or even if you’re not, take the time to notice your surroundings, and don’t be afraid to follow and explore whatever catches your eye.


And of course, this image became the second panel of my eventual diptych.  Next time, Part 3 of the story behind my image “Diptych, Touch the Earth, Touch the Sky.”


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The Story Behind “Diptych, Touch the Earth, Touch the Sky” Part 1 – Always Stop

Touch the Sky

This is the story, in three parts, of how I created the image “Diptych, Touch the Earth, Touch the Sky,” currently appearing on my Home page.


It begins with the image in this blog post called, naturally enough, “Touch the Sky.”  In general, I try not to have preconceived ideas about what I’m going to shoot.  This image was an exception.  For a long time, I had a mental picture of a bare, skeletal tree against a background of full, billowy clouds.  I would keep an eye out for the right kinds of trees and the right kinds of clouds.  Sometimes I would see great trees but no clouds, sometimes I would see great clouds but no trees.


Then one day, I was driving down the highway on my way to accomplish an errand, when I saw a thin line of clouds on the horizon, full and billowy, just like I had imagined.  As luck would have it, I also happened to be driving by a location where I knew there was a tree, bare and skeletal, that I thought might make the composition I wanted.


I almost didn’t stop.  When I have my mind set on something, I like to see it through.  And I wanted to complete the errand I was on my way to do.


But of course I did stop.  I did capture this image.  I no longer have any idea what the errand was or why it seemed so important.  But I do remember capturing this image.  I remember thinking how I would use my long telephoto lens to compress the perspective, placing the tree right up against those clouds.  I remember pacing the scene back and forth to get just the right perspective of the tree against the clouds.  I remember how that line of clouds was so thin that I could fill the frame with them only so much, and no more, or else I would get the bright blue sky creeping in from above or below.


Photography has been a great teacher of many things for me.  One of them is the synchronicity between opportunity and action.  When the right opportunity comes along, you have to act on it.  Moments are fleeting, and when they are gone, they are gone.  When you see a moment coming together for you, an opportunity that demands your action, always stop for it.


Next time, Part 2 of the story behind my image, “Diptych, Touch the Earth, Touch the Sky.”


P.S.  I learned the “Always Stop” lesson from one of my favorite photographers, Cole Thompson, who wrote a great blog about it here.  Please check it out if you have the chance, with my apologies to Cole for appropriating the phrase he coined for my blog!


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