Dec 122014
 
The Network_BW

Day 3: “The Network.” Feathers, water droplets, and other materials float in a spider’s web on Schoodic Point on the Schoodic Peninsula in Acadia National Park, Maine (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

For Day 3 of 5 in the Facebook Black and White Challenge, I am excited to share a new abstract piece (above) titled, “The Network” from the Schoodic Point on the Schoodic Peninsula in Acadia National Park, Maine.

Amidst a whirlwind schedule of book signings and presentations in Acadia this past August, I managed to escape to Schoodic Point for an afternoon of revitalization and refreshment.  With no intentions or expectations of photographing, I simply strolled along the strikingly beautiful pink granite ledges at one of the park’s most scenic overlooks.

Having visited the point likely 60-70 times over the last four years, I continue to find scenes and things that amaze me–from the gi-normous waves explosively greeting the Maine coast to the way the granite and basalt dikes intertwine.  I never know from trip to trip whether the landscape or the smaller details will be the first to reach out and grab my soul.  Either way, Schoodic Point seems to speak to me every time I come to say hello.

On this particular visit, one minute I was watching the waves in quiet reverie.  The next minute, as I turned my head away and spotted a small spider web strung across the boulders, I lost my mind, “OH MY GAWD, HOW AMAZING IS THAT?!!”

I rushed to the granite overhang to investigate my flash of perception more closely.  With my camera still in my backpack, I approached this 3-foot by 1-foot area with curiosity, appreciation, and admiration.  Truth be told (and perhaps not surprisingly, given my “air bubble” obsession), I was first draw to the water droplets suspended in between the threads (on the top right in the photo below).  The longer I studied this arrangement, though, the more I connected with a large clump of unidentifiable material in between the feathers.  Was it decaying feathers?  Fur from an animal?  A dead animal?  When the creative flow hits, you do not ask many questions.  You go with the flow–which is exactly what I did as I set my equipment up to make an image.

The Network scene

The scene of the scene: a spider web strewn across the granite boulders at Schoodic Point. Had I picked my camera up and snapped immediately after having a flash of perception, this would have been the photographed that resulted. Instead of grabbing a camera, I investigated the scene and ask over and over, “What is it that I love about this scene.” This yielded a more focused, more meaningful image of the cluster of tangles in between the large three feathers on the left.

To get a closer perspective, I reversed the center column on tripod such that my camera dangled upside down.  With a macro and two extension tubes stacked, I knew my abilities to record anything but a ridiculously shallow depth of field would be tough.  So I positioned my lens parallel to my primary subject to maximize the appearance of focus across my frame. The setting sun grazed the boulders, so I placed my rain jacket across two of the tripod’s legs to help create a larger shadow (and block the wind) across my scene.

Given the coastal breeze, I made an “insurance shot” at ISO 640 using f/6.3 at 1/25th second.  I knew this frame would not render the depth of field I needed, but would allow me to freeze the moving web during the exposure.  I also knew it would yield a sufficient enough shot to give me the freedom to push my settings slower and try to expand my depth of field in additional frames without the risk of going home empty-handed (or with a bunch of blurry images on my memory card).

I dropped my ISO to 400 and stopped down to f/9, which resulted in a 1/4 second shutter speed.   With each lull in the wind, I snapped away on continuous shoot mode (a.k.a. “machine gun” mode) as the web danced in the afternoon winds.  After making a few series and reviewing the images on the camera’s LCD, I felt I had successfully recorded the photograph as I envisioned.  Here’s the original color photograph (post continues after photo):

The color original of "The Network"

The color original of “The Network” (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order yours!)

However, when I began editing my images at home in Arizona, I liked the end result; surprisingly, I did not love the end result.  The reason(s) why alluded me.  I mean, everything seemingly fell into place when I photographed the web: I had passion about my subject.  I took ample time to develop a visualization of what my end results would look like.  I filled the frame with my subject.  I arranged the various elements to achieve asymmetrical balance.  Conditions provided conducive lighting.  My depth of field rendered an adequate amount of sharpness for the subject while blurring the background.  It was close, but not perfect.  I set the image aside.

Oftentimes, it helps to create distance between you and a problem as this allows you to collect new ideas and gain fresh perspectives in order to solve them.  When Floris van Breugel nominated me for the Black and White Challenge in late October, this image immediately popped into my head.  The monochromatic direction gave me just the boost I needed – a new idea to try!

I converted the image to black and white, and instantly my photograph became as creepy and weird and abstract as I saw on the granite ledges that August afternoon.  I originally believed the color background added to the chaos.  And in many ways, it does.  But when I dropped the color out, my vision for this scene finally came to life.  Now I love the end result!

Do you agree?  What differences do you see between the color and monochrome versions?  I’d enjoy hearing your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Since I have shared an image from Acadia National Park, I would like to nominate my good buddy, talented photographer, and best-selling author, Bob Thayer, to participate in the Black and White Challenge!  (If you have ever visited a gift shop near Acadia, you have no doubt seen his awesome books, “The Park Loop Road” and  “Acadia’s Carriage Roads.”)

On Monday, I’ll share Day 4′s photograph.  Have a great weekend, everyone!

~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!)

Nov 152012
 
The RCMP Musical Ride

The RCMP Musical Ride from the 2012 Calgary Stampede in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Prints available – click on photo to order!

I’d have to look it up in the rule books, but it’s potentially sacrilegious to visit Canada and NOT photograph the world-renowned Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).  Keeping this in mind as I prepared for my July 2012 visit to Alberta in support of the first Through Each Others Eyes Arizona-Alberta exchange, I naturally put photographing a Mountie in a flashy “Red Serge” uniform towards to the top of my shot list.

But it wasn’t just a portrait of these fine servicemen and women I was seeking.  No, no, the photograph needed to tell an intriguing story about the RCMP.  But what did that mean?  Hmmmm….

After some pre-trip research, different ideas danced in my head until we arrived at the Calgary Stampede Stadium in July 2012.  There, I had the honor of seeing my first RCMP Musical Ride during the 100th Anniversary of the Calgary Stampede, thanks to the efforts of our hosts and fellow photographers Peter Carroll, Royce Howland, and Kerry Smith.

To open this historic rodeo, thirty-plus RCMP members – each riding an elegant horse  – flawlessly moved through an artistically choreographed series of formations and traditional movements within the dirt arena.  With obviously much precision, skill, and teamwork, the galloping horses and straight-backed riders holding stately flags somehow didn’t get tangled!

As I clicked away with fast shutter speeds during the event, I couldn’t help but feel all my frames were too static.  And there was absolutely nothing static about what I was experiencing!

Hastily, I visualized a new approach, one that would allow me to record the impressive formations but yet include a distinct sense of motion.  Within seconds, I set my ISO to its slowest setting (ISO 50), spun my aperture dial to its smallest (f/36), and added a polarizing filter to the front of my 100-400mm lens to slow my shutter speed down as much as possible in the mid-day light.  The result was 1/10th of a second, which in my opinion seemed a little too fast to capture the sense of movement I desired for the scene.

I tried holding the camera still during the slower exposure while allowing the riders to create red streaks and patterns.  Didn’t like it.  I tried panning – a technique where you move the camera from left to right (or vice versa) – to help freeze the riders while blurring the background.  Didn’t like it.  I was quickly running out of tricks…and time!

Then, towards the end of the performance, the troop gathered into the “Dome” formation, where all the riders form a circle and then lower their flags into the center.  Keeping my settings the same, I focused on a single rider in the front with my lens zoomed all the way out, then physically pulled the lens back during the 1/10th of second exposure (referred to as a “zoom pull” or “lens pull.”  You can also recreate this effect in Adobe Photoshop under Filter/Blur/Radial Blur).

Luckily, the combination of the slow shutter speed and zoom pull technique allowed me to capture more energy AND enough structure to provide much-needed context in this more abstract view of the RCMP Musical Ride.  Though my visualizations evolved over time, I felt this perspective successfully told an intriguing story about the RCMP Musical Ride and decided to include this photograph as one of my 20 selected prints to display during the recent Through Each Others Eyes Exhibition at the Art Intersection Gallery in Gilbert, Arizona. (Exhibitions in Alberta, Canada coming your way in early 2013 – stay tuned for more details!)

Technical info:  Canon 5DMII, 100-400mm lens at 285mm zoom-pulled, f/36 @ 1/10th of a second, polarizer, basic post-processing.

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