Sep 032015
 
What Lies Within Counts

“What Lies Within Counts” || Abstract, close-up view of a dandelion seed head from City of Rocks National Reserve, Idaho (Prints available – click on photo to order yours!)

Sometimes while photographing, we arrive at a grand scene offering so much beauty that causes us to – rightfully so – feel quickly overwhelmed.  To overcome this unsettling sensation, I tap into mindfulness techniques as a way to become more aware and connected with our surroundings (as some of you have experienced while participating in my photo workshops).

When I intentionally slow myself down to express curiosity and gratitude for my surroundings, the process oftentimes leads to a “flash of perception” experience, or in other words, a moment where I say, “WOW, look at THAT!”  When I catch myself saying this (especially if I say it aloud while alone!), I know instantly it is my cue to break out the camera gear and start creating a photograph.

Without further exploration and definition, though, the “THAT” is difficult to bottle up and stuff into a rectangular frame successfully.  To help provide additional guidance to my compositions, I will frequently title my image before I snap the shutter.  If I have trouble condensing my thoughts into a short title, I will simply talk through what I am seeing, focusing on the shapes, colors, lines, forms, etc. grabbing my attention.  As I outline my thoughts, I pay close attention to the words and concepts I can express photographically.

In May 2015, at the Moab Photography Symposium, a frequent attendee and fine photographer introduced me (and eventually the entire audience) to his favorite way to connect what he sees with what he feels – a haiku – a technique he learned from famous photographer Eddie Soloway.  Using the traditional haiku form of three lines (the first and last lines requiring five syllables and the second, seven), a photographer describes what you see in the first two lines and then how you feel about it in the final line.

Having a great interest in poetry myself and having created haikus before in a different context, I immediately gravitated towards this new idea so relevant to photographers trying to understand their surroundings and ultimately, express their thoughts in pixels.  I’ve not only incorporated this process more regularly into my own photographic pursuits, but I now also offer it to my students during my photography workshops as another option for expressing what we observe.  In fact, I put the practice to recent use on my photographic outing last week.

While hiking one afternoon among the gigantic granite spires in City of Rocks National Reserve in southern Idaho, I came upon a meadow full of summer blooms – rabbit brush, yellow salsify, asters, and more – interspersed among the junipers and sage brush.  I spent a few minutes simply admiring summer’s abundance – and my fortunate opportunity to see it.  After observing for awhile, I noticed a small dandelion seed head off on its own in a small clearing in the middle of the busyness. I walked over to inspect more closely.

Joy in the Little Things

“Joy in the Little Things” || Abstract macro view of a yellow salisfy seed from the Henry Mountains in southern Utah (Prints available – click on photo to order yours!)

Having recently photographed a similar, but much larger subject – the yellow salsify seed head – in the Henry Mountains this past July (see photo “Joy in the Little Things”  on the right) and again along the very trail I was hiking before reaching this meadow, I knew I wanted to get my lens as close as possible to study the intricate details of this smaller, but equally exciting, specimen.  To do so, I grabbed my 100mm macro lens and two 12mm extension tubes.

As I set up around the fluff ball, I started to think about how I would title my frame by considering why I picked out this exact subject.  Certainly, the intriguing shapes and structure contrasting the softness interested me.  But, there was more to it than just the visual appeal…

I came up with “What Lies Within Counts” to reference not only the dandelion within the larger context of its existence in the field and it’s relevance to life in general, but also the heart-like shape I saw (which is the shape of the out-of-focus bracts of the dandelion) that offset the bright white radiating shapes.

Immediately thereafter, in almost in a whimsical song, a haiku started to develop in my head, with the title of my photograph becoming the last line of the haiku:

Look Closely (A Haiku)
A busy field sways,
Veils one dandelion’s grace –
What lies within counts.

With the title and haiku as my guides, I tested a number of different compositions to fulfill these notions.  I eventually settled on placing the dandelion bracts as off-centered as possible to create a sense of asymmetrical balance while keeping the flower itself centered in the frame to allow for a natural vignette to occur (which is simply the edge of the flower appearing against the ground, blurred by a wide f/2.8 aperture setting).  Because of a substantial, but irregular breeze, I bumped my ISO to 800, which yielded a fast enough shutter speed (1/500th of a second) to help freeze the dandelion as it swayed in the meadow.

In addition to waiting for the breeze to calm momentarily, I also waited for a cloud to pass in front of the sun to turn the harsh, contrasty mid-day light into more pleasing, softer diffused light.

As I packed up, I still noodled on the title and tagline of the haiku as it related to photography.  In order to make our personally meaningful nature photographs, I certainly believe “what lies inside [the photographer] counts.”  By paying attention to our individual backgrounds, experience, knowledge, and interests – all the things that drive you to you say “WOW, look at THAT!” – leads to more consistent success and satisfaction in the image making process.

Just remember to look closely not just at your subjects, but at yourself as you do so…

Jan 032015
 

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Happy New Year, everyone!  Here’s hoping your 2015 has started off with a bang and ends up being your best year yet!

Almost every time I ask my Dad casually, “How’s it going?” he responds immediately with delight, “Living the dream!”  And I always nod back in agreement, “Yes, Dad, we sure are!” As we flip the calendar to another year and begin to reflect on all that was, I can’t help but smile about all that is: I’m living my dream.

At the risk of sounding like a skipping CD player, 2014 goes into the books as my most successful, most productive, and most thrilling year to date (I know, I know, I say this every year…but it’s true!!).  In my 7th year as a full time freelance photographer and writer, I increased focus on the places and subjects I love most, fulfilled aspirations for writing another book (and donating to a great cause), established new editorial connections, and thoroughly enjoyed reconnecting with dear friends while meeting amazing new people in a multitude of speaking engagements and photography workshops.

I recognize, with certainty, that I would not be able to life this phenomenally fulfilling life if it were not for your continued support. Words can hardly express how grateful I am not just today, but rather every day, for your help, encouragement, friendship, and laughs along this journey.  Thank you!

In celebration of the close of 2014, I’d like to share my favorite 15 photographs from last year.  Here goes, in chronological order:

1. “Ethereal Decay,” Mono Lake Tufa State Preserve, California (January 1, 2014)
As so many photographs I had previously seen of Mono Lake promised, my first visit to see the tufas here did not disappoint.  Given my ever-growing passion (obsession?) for bubbles, I was more drawn to the air bubbles rising from decaying algae along the shoreline than the iconic rock formations!

Ethereal Decay

“Ethereal Decay,” Mono Lake Tufa State Preserve, California (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

2. “Rock On!” near Page, Arizona (January 9, 2014)
Of all the rock formations in the desert southwest, I have an affinity for the cracked brown Dakota Group sandstone found around the Page area in Arizona and southern Utah.  Although I had made an image of these rocks near Studhorse Point with my large format 4×5 camera years ago, I continued to develop visualizations for new compositions in this special spot.  After multiple attempts, all the elements came together on a cold morning in January, resulting in this image I call “Rock On!”

“Rock On,” near Page, Arizona (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

3. “Sailors Delight at West Pond Cove,” Schoodic Peninsula, Acadia National Park, Maine (February 12, 2014)
After getting a delicious taste of winter in Acadia National Park as the park’s first winter Artist-in-Residence (my third residency) in February 2013, I could not wait to pack all the clothes in my closet and return to experience the snow and ice again.  During my fortunate second winter visit in February 2014, West Pond Cove quickly became one of my favorite places to photograph the fleeting ice at low tide at sunset.

Sailor's Delight at West Pond Cove, Schoodic Peninsula, Acadia National Park, Maine

“Sailor’s Delight at West Pond Cove,” Schoodic Peninsula, Acadia National Park, Maine (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

4. “A Frozen Universe,” Mount Desert Island, Acadia National Park, Maine (February 28, 2014)
To celebrate the anniversary of my personal Independence Day (also known as my escape from Corporate America and the start of my 7th year as a full-time freelance photographer and writer), I snowshoed to the summit of Cadillac Mountain.  Expecting epic winter views at the top, I packed my wide-angle and telephoto lenses, leaving my macro lens behind in an attempt to lighten my load for the 8-plus mile round-trip haul.  When I made it to the summit, I was shocked to see a Mecca of ice bubbles in the parking lot!  I needed my macro lens!  GAH!  Fortunately, I remembered to pack my extension tubes, which I used on my 24-105mm lens to create this composition.

A Frozen Universe

“A Frozen Universe,” Mount Desert Island, Acadia National Park, Maine (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

5. “A Single Triumph of Summer,” Tohono Chul Park, Tucson, Arizona (April 24, 2014)
Arizona’s spring wildflower bloom panned out to be a bit of a bust, but with what little rain we did get, the cactus enjoyed and put on a beautiful show.  Thanks to the recommendations from a couple of volunteers at Tohono Chul Park, I found this regal, night-blooming echinopsis cactus showing off in the early morning light.

A Single Triumph of Summer

“A Single Triumph of Summer,” Tohono Chul Park, Tucson, Arizona (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

6. “Sequential Erosion,” Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado (June 13, 2014)
After completing a presentation/book signing tour through Colorado this summer, my parents and I decided to stop at the Grand Sand Dunes National Park for our first visit.  Although we only had a short amount of time to enjoy the park, we learned enough about it to know we’ll be back soon.  I wanted to make an image that shared the expansive nature of this landscape, so I chose to create a panoramic image stitched from 11 vertical frames.

Sequential Erosion

“Sequential Erosion,” Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

7. “The Storm Within,” Toroweap Overlook, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona (July 1, 2014)
My first (and very short) visit to Toroweap Overlook on the north rim of the Grand Canyon did not go exactly according to plan. In fact, it ended up costing me an additional $281 and four beers!  (Read about the entire adventure on my blog post, “My $281 (and Four Beer) Trip to Toroweap.”)  Following a nerve-wracking drive, I finally reached the rim with five minutes to spare before sundown and hastily composed this scene.  The trip – and scenery – was certainly unforgettable.

The Storm Within

“The Storm Within,” Toroweap Overlook, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

8. “Where the Winds Blow,” Carl G. Washburne Memorial State Park, Oregon (July 8, 2014)
In 2014, I had the great fortune of spending a month’s worth of time (over multiple trips) in my beloved state of Oregon.  Although the summer months draw hoards of visitors to the entire scenic coastline, gale force winds and threatening skies kept beachcombers away from this stretch of beach, leaving me to enjoy the windswept, ephemeral sand patterns in the late afternoon in joyous solitude.

Where the Wind Blows

“Where the Wind Blows,” Carl G. Washburne Memorial State Park, Oregon (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

9. “Psychedelic Sunset Surprise,” Sparks Lake, Oregon (July 20, 2014)
En route home from my 22-day summer Pacific Northwest tour, I stopped at Sparks Lake to camp overnight.  Going into late afternoon, the thick clouds indicated sunset might be a grey one.  But for a few minutes after sunset, the sky surprisingly exploded into magical color.

Psychedelic Sunset Surprise

“Psychedelic Sunset Surprise,” Sparks Lake, Oregon (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

10. “What’s SUP, Mom?” Frenchman Bay, Maine (August 6, 2014)
During my August visit to Acadia National Park, I convinced my Mom to take a formal lesson with me from Acadia Stand Up Paddle Boarding in Frenchman Bay near Bar Harbor.  I slung my camera (secured tightly in a EWA waterproof bag) over my shoulder, in case a photogenic moment occurred during our lesson (and my Mom’s first time atop a board).  Thanks to a clearing storm, we paddled across the perfectly still and serene sea beneath rainbows and moody skies.  With much pride for my Mom’s infectious adventurous spirit, I couldn’t resist snapping this peaceful moment of her soaking in her experience.

What's SUP, Mom?

“What’s SUP, Mom?” Frenchman Bay, Maine

 

11. “The Network,” Schoodic Point, Acadia National Park, Maine (August 8, 2014)
Thanks to a nomination by my good friend and amazing photographer, Floris van Breugel, I participated in the “Black and White Challenge” that ran wild on Facebook this year.  In preparing for the five-day project, I dug up various color photographs I thought might be more successful with a monochromatic treatment, including this one of a spider’s web at Schoodic Point.  To read how I created this image and why I chose to convert it to black and white, head to my recent my blog post, “Day 3:  The Black and White Challenge:  The Network.”

The Network

“The Network,” Schoodic Point, Acadia National Park, Maine (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

12. “Schoodic Serenity,” Schoodic Peninsula, Acadia National Park, Maine (August 8, 2014)
I could stand along the Acadian coastline for all of eternity and never tire of the awe and wonder this magical place offers.  Sometimes it’s stormy and fiesty; sometimes it’s quiet and tranquil.  But every time – including this past August – my soul sings in the reverie.

Schoodic Serenity

“Schoodic Serenity,” Schoodic Peninsula, Acadia National Park, Maine (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

13. “What Lies Ahead?” Mount Desert Island, Acadia National Park, Maine (October 17, 2014)
Thankfully, no government shutdown (like in October 2013) prevented me from helping not one, but two, photography workshop groups enjoy and photograph the autumnal beauty of Acadia National Park this past October!  I created this image of the boardwalk on the Jesup Trail during the second trip (read more about it on my blog post, “Persistence Pays Off:  October 2014 CMS Photography’s Acadia Workshop“).

What Lies Ahead

“What Lies Ahead,” Mount Desert Island, Acadia National Park, Maine (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

14. “Mud Tetris,” Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah (October 25, 2014)
Immediately after my three-week stay in Acadia, I headed to southern Utah to connect with my good friends Guy Tal, Bruce Hucko, and Michael Gordon for a few days in the desert.  I also had the fortunate chance to meet and spend time with Charles Cramer and Dan Mitchell on the same outing.  In between the many laughs, we explored some of the magnificent canyons found in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  And I’m pretty sure between the six of us, we photographed every inch of cracked mud along the way!  When I saw this collection on the side of a sandstone wall, I immediately thought it looked like the blocks from the video game “Tetris.”  After snapping a few frames, at Bruce’s urging, Bruce and I switched cameras and challenged each other to change something about the others composition.  He zoomed my arrangement out a little wider than I had originally composed – and I liked it!  So Bruce gets a little extra credit for helping me perfect my vision.

Mud Tetris

“Mud Tetris,” Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

15. “Winter Greetings” Cape Lookout State Park, Oregon (December 19, 2014)
I snuck in a few extra days along the Oregon coast before visiting with my in-laws in Montana for the holidays.  For four straight days, it relentlessly poured (as it’s prone to do during winter in Oregon).  I became so accustomed to the rain tap dancing on top of my camper that when all went suddenly silent in the early morning hours of day 3, I rushed out of bed and headed to the coast with my camera in hand to Cape Lookout.   The storm surge prevented me from walking along the beach, but I found a trail that hugged the coast that provided outstanding views of ephemeral waterfalls pouring into the stormy seas.

Winter Greetings

“Winter Greetings,” Cape Lookout State Park, Oregon (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

 

For additional inspiration to kick off the year, head over to Jim Goldstein’s annual blog project where he’s posted his traditional and ever-growing list of other photographers’ own favorites and best from 2014.  This is my third year participating – see my collections from 2012 and 2013.

As the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote above suggests, my wish for you is that every day you’re on this planet – in photography and in life – is the best day of your year.

Keep shooting!
~Colleen

 

Nov 052013
 
Another World

“Another World,” Eben’s Head Trail in Acadia National Park, Isle au Haut, Maine (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

NOTE:  This blog entry will appear in our new book, Photographing Acadia National Park:  The Essential Guide to When, Where, & How as “Behind the Photo #12:  Looking for Answers.”  In addition to this post, I’m featuring 11 additional behind-the-scenes stories from my experiences in the park.  If you’d like to pre-order a copy, head over to our Indiegogo campaign at www.indiegogo.com/projects/photographing-acadia-national-park-book until November 30, 2013.  Thanks for your interest and support!

Looking for Answers

“There’s more than one right answer.” ~DeWitt Jones

Gaelic Storm–a Celtic band which makes toe-tapping, knee-slapping music I enjoy tremendously–produced a song titled, “Don’t Go for the One.”  The lyrics tell of a gentleman going to buy snails to impress his house guests, but gets talked into having a single beer at the bar.  One brew becomes two, three, four, and what was supposed to have been a quick chat turns into an all-night event.  As the title and chorus hilariously suggests, one should not expect to enjoy only one beverage with your friends.

While it may seem like a stretch, this philosophy can apply to photography as well.  Don’t go for the one photograph!

Very rarely am I fortunate enough to get everything to come together perfectly in a first frame.  Even after I have spent ample time observing, analyzing, and visualizing an intriguing subject to define a clear vision, more often than not, I will also explore the scene through recording a series of frames with my camera.

Assuming the lighting conditions are not changing quickly, I contemplate an abundance of “what if” scenarios to determine how I will accomplish recording my visual message before snapping the shutter.  What if I only included this section of the scene?  What if I positioned my camera lower to the ground?  What if I used side light instead of backlight?  What if, what if, what if?  I continue tapping into this iterative evaluative process as I begin photographing, as it helps me refine what my eye is seeing and how to share that through a photograph.

Not only does this process enable me to achieve my creative vision, but it also helps me fully appreciate the subject from a variety of perspectives and find the many right answers a scene possesses, as Dewitt Jones’ quote suggests.  If I have spent the time and money to travel 3,000 miles (4,828 km) from Arizona, hopped on a passenger-only ferry to the remote Isle au Haut, biked six miles along a bumpy, single track dirt road, and then walked a mile uphill with a heavy camera backpack to get to a location, you can be sure I am not going to snap only one photo and head home.  Instead, I want to challenge myself to see how many right answers I can discover.

On the first day of our visit to Isle au Haut, my parents and I ventured to the Eben’s Head Trail well before sunset to allow extra time for wandering and discovering along the unfamiliar trail.  After a short meander through the forest, we emerged on the rocky coast and scrambled to the top of Eben’s Head, where a breathtaking 180-degree panoramic view of the isle’s western shoreline and open waters of Isle au Haut Bay greeted us.  We noticed the receding tide leaving behind small tide pools on the volcanic ledges surrounding the cobble beach directly north of our perch.  Eager for a closer look at the momentary glimpse into the typically hidden ocean world, we hiked the short distance to the seashore.

After only a few seconds of exploring, the fine, hair-like seaweed floating in the tide pools fascinated me.  A few steps ahead on the black boulders, my mom, Jacque, spotted a slightly larger saltwater puddle and called to me, “Hey Colleen, you have to see these bubbles!”

When I gazed into her find, I did not just see tangles of seaweed and floating bubbles.  The scene immediately transported me to outer space, where planets swirled in a distant galaxy.  I knew I had to create an image of precisely that subject!

I walked around the small pool to begin the visualization process, first noticing how the backlight from the late afternoon created a dark backdrop in the deep pool.  Then, I settled on a vertical orientation based on the bubbles’ arrangement.  I knew I needed to keep my lens (positioned to look down upon the scene) parallel to the surface of the water so that the face of the bubbles and the top layer of seaweed remained in focus.  A small aperture on my 100mm macro lens would provide the depth of field necessary for my tight composition.  I needed to remember to twirl my polarizer to get just enough reflected light on the water, but not so much that it overshadowed the primary scene.

With this vision in mind, after diligently setting up my composition and exposure, I snapped the frame and immediately reviewed the image on the back of my camera’s LCD.  Shockingly, on the first try, I managed to record an image that matched my vision–a right answer!

Despite being pleased with my first snap, I continued exploring the scene for 45 more minutes.  After a number of frames, I picked out an odd reddish tint occurring across the image.  It was the reflection of my red jacket!  I experimented keeping the extra color in the frame by hovering over the scene.  I also eliminated it by stepping a short distance away from the scene and triggering the shutter with a cable release.  Contrasting with the rich greens and blues, the additional color made the scene look even more other-worldly–a second right answer!

I tried turning the camera to the left slightly and then to the right slightly, utilizing a Dutch tilt, to play with the composition as the bubbles appeared, disappeared, and then reappeared, changing the visual balance entirely from image to image – more right answers!

Then, I used extension tubes to allow me to get a closer perspective (see the time image titled, “Floating in Time,” at the bottom of this post).  I felt the broader perspective better conveyed my initial notion of “planets swirling in a distant galaxy,” but I enjoyed the results of this more intimate view–another right answer!

During the process, I felt my photographic message and my confidence strengthening with each additional frame.  Had I gone for “the one” and packed up after my first shot, I would have missed the chance to see all the possibilities this magical scene had in store!

Which of the two images presented here do you prefer?  Why? Remember, there are many right answers so share your thoughts in the Comments below!

Floating in Time

“Floating in Time,” Eben’s Head Trail in Acadia National Park, Isle au Haut, Maine (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

Apr 242013
 
Larsen_Emily_BehindtheImage

Photograph copyright Emily Larsen

I created these images, and put them together to represent one theme. I asked each model to tell me their favorite and least favorite physical feature. I then photographed these features and stacked them on top of each other to create one final image. I was very inspired by the portrait photographers that we learned about in my first semester and really wanted to give it a go. I used to be a sociology major, so I was interested in the sociological stand point I could get from photographing these students. I wanted these students to see the photographs I took and see that their “worst” feature could be beautiful as well as their “best” feature.  I put these images as high contrast and black & white because I feel like it captured the right emotions for the theme I was going for. I wanted the features to almost be abstracted because I think that is the best way to see uniqueness and beauty in something.

This particular set is of my best friend. He has struggled with body image and “fitting in” his whole life. When I thought of doing this project, I immediately thought of him. I thought that maybe I could help out, even in a small way. When I asked him what his best feature was, he had a hard time coming up with one; especially one that was unique and interesting to photograph. (His words, not mine). I eventually had to help him come up with a few ideas, all of which I photographed. I ended up showing him all the images, and he chose the one depicted here; his shoulders. I did mention the tan line to him, and he said that it reminded him of the fun he had over the summer, so I should leave it in there (even though it was the next spring, and the tan line had not yet faded). After settling on the best features image, we brainstormed the feature that he was most self-conscious of. I was surprised when the first thing he said was that he disliked his elbows the most. I had known him for a long time and known that he was self-conscious about many things, and he never mentioned his elbows before. I decided to only photograph this feature because it was something that surprised me and I had never photographed that part of the body before. In the end, he was very happy with the images, and I think I even may have helped him improve his self-esteem, even if it was just a little bit.

To shoot this, I used a Nikon D5000 DSLR camera with an 18-55mm lens. I used a black backdrop in the studio, with one hot light to create a strong side light. To illuminate the unlit side, I had a friend hold a white piece of cardboard as a reflector. I used 200 ISO, f/5.6, and a shutter speed of 1/250.

About the Photographer:
My name is Emily Larsen and I am a sophomore at Northern Arizona University studying a major in Visual Communications and a minor in Photography. I attended East Valley Institute of Technology in Mesa, AZ where I earned my cosmetology license and high school diploma at the same time. One day, I plan on doing hair and makeup fulltime, and designing and photographing my own work. I prefer to shoot detail and portrait photography, mostly in the artistic setting. I like to work with people and use creative light and techniques, like HDR, in my photography. I am inspired by macro and black and white photographers, and hope to one day be featured in a fashion/beauty magazine.

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction on our April 15 post at youcansleepwhenyouredead.com/wordpress/introducing-the-nau-photography-students-behind-the-image-guest-blogger-project.