May 162018
 

Photo courtesy of Guy Tal

Recently, I had a blast chatting about landscape photography, creativity, and more with photographer Matt Payne on his F-Stop Collaborate and Listen podcast. (Anyone else dancing to “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice right now? Oh, 90s music was so awesome…)

To read the introduction to our conversation, visit www.mattpaynephotography.com/blog/2018/5/conversation-with-colleen-miniuk-sperry-on-f-stop-collaborate-and-listen.

To jump straight into the podcast, have a listen at:

I hope you gain some inspiration and new ideas for your photographic journey through our exchange!

Many thanks Matt for the opportunity to talk with you. Keep up the great work inspiring the landscape photography world through your podcasts.

Mar 282018
 
Fogged in Obscurities

“Fogged in Obscurities” || Prints available from my website at www.cms-photo.com

Someone recently asked me if I used the app that forecasts when Mother Nature will produce “epic light” to make sure I get the “perfect shot.” Apparently, it helps you decide whether you should photograph at sunrise or sunset. I laughed, “I don’t need an app to help me decide if I should sit on the couch or go outside. I don’t care what the weather is doing–or what time it is–I’m going outside! And I’m taking my camera!”

Don’t get me wrong, I like me some pretty color at sunrise and sunset. But if the only time you photograph the landscape is during fiery light at dawn and dusk, you are selling yourself short in your photography. Way short. Does your creativity work only during those times? Do you only have something to “say” during those hours? No, of course not!

A meaningful visual expression comes from within. It originates from our knowledge, perceptions, and emotions and extends from our ability to interpret the landscapes we see in any and all conditions we experience. It incorporates, but does not depend, on external factors such as light, weather, topography, etc.

Light and weather just “is.” It’s not inherently good or bad. Those are judgments we assign based on our expectations, which are often unreasonable and detrimental to our photography pursuits. Each variation of light we might encounter carries different perceptions and meaning. For example, direct light carries more energy, creates contrast, and grabs attention. Diffused light creates the appearance of more saturated colors and can evoke subdued, stormy, and ethereal moods. It’s up to us as photographers to understand these nuances of light and make the most of the hand Mother Nature deals us every time we go outside with a camera—regardless of what’s happening in the sky.

As Alfred Steiglitz said, “Wherever there is light, one can photograph.” I made the above photograph, which I titled “Fogged in Obscurities“  at 10:23 a. m. EST.

While wandering along Ocean Path in Acadia National Park, Maine, this past February, a heavy blanket of fog hugged the shoreline. (For those who know the joke, this was definitely a “wet fog,” not a “dry fog”… :D ). Waves roared into the granite cliffs. I sat down to wonder.

As I watched the scene unfold, I contemplated the story of that rock sitting on top of the ledge some 30-feet above the ocean. How did it get there? Erosion, wind, waves, or otherwise? What has that pair of intertwined evergreen trees “seen” over the course of their lives? How does it feel to be that boulder in the water getting pounded by the storm waves every few seconds? Each of these objects had a piece of the story to tell about this scene–but none were giving away their secrets.

I knew while visualizing my composition that I wanted to show the relationship between these three key elements, the unknowable story, but importance of each to complete the narrative (at least, the one in my head). The fog only enhanced the mystery…something a bright, cheery sunrise or sunset with pinks, reds, oranges, and purples in the sky could not deliver.

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If you’re interested in learning more about the value and uses of natural light, pick up a copy of my 76-page “Seeing the Light in Outdoor Photography” instructional eBook at www.thepocketinstructor.com.

Mar 232018
 
Face to Face

“Face to Face” || Prints available from my website at www.cms-photo.com.

When you were a child, did you look up at the clouds and see shapes, objects, and maybe even faces? “It looks just like a dragon!” or “Whoa! There’s Snoopy!” Maybe you still do this? I do!

If you wish to be more expressive with your photography, I’d encourage you to see EVERYTHING—not just clouds, but trees, water, rocks, flowers—through this imaginative lens. When you spot something photogenic—landscape, macro, or something in between—ask yourself, “What else is it?”

Let your mind wander with free associations without judging them. You answers will bring your knowledge and perceptions to the forefront and will help you establish an individual meaningful connection with the natural elements that excite you. You’ll transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.

“A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.” ~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Mar 072018
 

A Frozen Universe
Are you feeling stuck with your photography? Are you frustrated with always trying to “get THE shot?” Are you looking for ways to be more creative with your work?

If you said yes to any of those three questions (or maybe all of them), then my newest article for On Landscape: “Finding Your Creative Voice” is just for you: https://www.onlandscape.co.uk/2018/03/finding-your-creative-voice/

It shares the story of how I transformed from a photographer who took pretty photographs of classic scenes into a visual artist with a distinctive creative voice (thanks in large part to the Acadia Artist-in-Residence program). It also provides the backstory of why, in my workshops and presentations, I emphasize playing like a 4th grader and running around declaring things like “LOOK AT THAT MUSHROOM!” (Or in my case, LOOK AT THOSE BUBBLES!!)

Along the way, it offers advice on how you too can “find” your own voice, specifically how to get new ideas, release expectations, and handle self-doubt. Hey, if this type-A, overanalytical ex-software engineer can do it, anyone can!

You’ll need a subscription to read the full article, but the inspirational content of this eMagazine is well worth the price. If you aren’t ready to commit to the annual fee, perhaps consider the bi-weekly or quarterly subscription as a taste. Fabulous, super creative photographers like Guy Tal, Rafael Rojas, Tim Parkin, Alister Benn, and others write for this online magazine. It has been–and is–a great source of ongoing inspiration for me and my photography. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed…learn more on their Subscription page: https://www.onlandscape.co.uk/subscribe

Enjoy!

(And a big thank you to the good folks at On Landscape for featuring my article!)

Jul 012016
 
Grand Serenity

“Grand Serenity” || The rising sun illuminates unnamed cliffs along the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon in the Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA (Prints available – click on the photo to order)

When I used to work as a project manager for Intel, I occasionally heard the advice from upper management, “Don’t confuse effort with results.”

Initially, it seemed like pretty harsh advice as my dedicated team worked 16 hours a day, 7 days a week to help bring a new software application to life for our internal customers.  Didn’t our managers (and customers) appreciate our tireless efforts?

Most of them did, yes; but it did not replace their expectations that the software application eventually had to function without “bugs” (flaws/issues), as designed and delivered on (or before) the date our team promised. Anyone who has been involved in software engineering knows this sometimes involves project teams displaying impressive feats of strength and willpower equivalent to Superman moving the Earth…

Although I left the corporate life behind over nine years ago, I see this playing out all too often in the outdoor photography world.  As photographers vie for attention on social media channels and elsewhere, this notion of traveling to unknown foreign lands, enduring unforgiving conditions, and torturing oneself to “get the shot” has overshadowed the value of an artist’s ability to observe, feel, and visually express their individual connection with the land.

Don’t get me wrong; as wondering and wandering photographers explore the Great Outdoors, fascinating adventure stories do tend to emerge. And sometimes you need to push and challenge yourself to experience a place to the fullest extent.  In fact, famous psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi suggests that the mental state of “flow”—when you feel like you are “in the zone,” and that leads to increased happiness and creativity—occurs when a person concentrates on an important and challenging activity that requires some level of skill.

But just because you walked 17 miles in Class 4 terrain on the side of a mountain while hobbling on a broken foot through the middle of the night in grizzly bear country during the worst summertime blizzard in recorded history does not automatically guarantee that you “nailed it.”

Don’t confuse effort with results.

Maybe you did.  Maybe this harrowing experience was so real, rich, and personal that you made a hundred images that were meaningful to you.  Awesome.  The expressive images you created resulted from you wholeheartedly feeling the fear of the darkness, the cold snowflakes seeping through your leg cast, and the wind burning exposed parts of your skin, though, not because you merely survived the grand adventure.

This personal and emotional connection with your journey and with your environment drives the creation of unique images—and you can accomplish this in your backyard under sunny skies, in Iceland under a glorious sunset, and everywhere in between.  It matters not where you are standing but rather how you make the most of what you are standing in front of by incorporating your skills, intimate knowledge, and background.

Maybe you didn’t bring home any images.  Awesome.  Was the experience meaningful to you?  Did you have fun?  Mission accomplished.

To drive the point home, I made the image above from our Fossil camp (river mile ~125.5) while on our raft trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.  Before dawn, I casually strolled about 100 yards on a gorgeous sandy horseshoe-shaped beach to reach this point on the river.  I waded across a small riffle and sat on a boulder waiting for the rising sun to illuminate the deep canyon walls in the distance.  I inhaled my surroundings.  I felt at peace and at home after four days on the river.  I felt like each new day unfolded exciting mysteries of geology, history, and adventure.  I felt the constant shifts between flat water and roaring rapids.

I intentionally composed to show this serenity, this mystery of light, and the balance of the two water energies.  Then I snapped my frame.

With a cup of delicious coffee in one hand (and cable release in the other, of course).  In 80-degree weather with a light cool breeze.  While still in my pajamas.  While waiting for our amazing guides to finish cooking up made-to-order Eggs Benedict for our group’s breakfast.  One can only imagine the immensity of the tragic conditions I endured.

But really, I should not confuse effort with results…

May 162013
 
Waves of Change

“Waves of Change,” Ecola State Park (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

Almost eight years ago to the day, Craig and I celebrated the end of our first temporary stay in Oregon by standing on the headland at Indian Beach at Ecola State Park just north of Cannon Beach.

Sunset at Indian Beach

“Sunset at Indian Beach” from 2005 (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

I remember that evening in 2005 so vividly, I can still feel the memory today:  The gentle ocean breeze.  The smell of the tide change.  The warmth of the setting sun.  Two of the photographs I captured that evening – with my Contax 645 medium format film camera – now rest above our bed in our Arizona home to serve as a daily reminder of one of our favorite places and moments along the Oregon coast.

Months ago, as we prepared for our second temporary stay in Oregon, a rush of thoughts overwhelmed my mind based on our first experience.  Where to go, when to go, what to see, who to see, and how to record such ample and different beauty in Oregon. As they say, “So many places to see, so little time.” The list of places to see and things I want to do became longer than a child’s Christmas list.

Sea Stack Sunset

“Sea Stack Sunset” from 2005 (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

Despite the seemingly endless new photographic opportunities this transition presented, I decided to start my photographic journey in Oregon in the same place I left off:  on the headland at Indian Beach at Ecola State Park.  It’s a place I’d been countless times before, and yet when I arrived on Tuesday morning, nothing, nothing, looked the same as 2005.

Upon coming to the realization that nothing, nothing, had remained the same, I smiled as big as the little girl who got everything she wished for on December 25.  In that instance, I mouthed the words as the wind whispered, “No man ever steps in same river twice, for it is not the same river and he’s not the same man.”  ~Heraclitus.

(Turns out Heraclitus’ quote applies to oceans and women too!)

I couldn’t have been happier to learn that in eight years, everything, everything, has changed.  Mother Nature altered the landscape such that I can no longer stand in the same place as I did before, thanks to landslides.   Those landslides pushed new rocks into the ocean, and each wave crashed a little differently on those new sea stacks.  It’s not possible for me to re-create the same compositions I did in 2005, even if I wanted to-I didn’t.

On top of significant natural changes and differing light/weather, I’m thankfully not the same person, photographer, artist that stood on that headland before.  I replaced my film camera long ago with two generations of digital cameras.  I now know what to do with a graduated neutral density filter.   I’ve embraced my love affair with the coast, despite living in the desert.  Endless experiences – conversations, readings, successes, failures, travels, and other inspirations – have challenged and changed my perspectives over time so that when I look at a scene I’ve seen before, I’m looking through an entirely different lens.

Ansel Adams summed it best:   “You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”

Hang On!

“Hang On!” Ecola State Park, Oregon (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

Whether we know it or not, as time passes, we and the world around us are constantly changing.  But, neither change nor creativity needs to be a passive activity.  If we seek to create new images in the same spots, we must change as a person.  Simply buying a new lens won’t cut it.  Oh sure, new gear can help execute new visions, but we need to start with new ideas and make different associations among the knowledge we already possess to see, and ultimately photograph, something new in places we’ve already been once or a hundred times.

Consciously and subconsciously, we can gain fresh thoughts everywhere and anytime, not just while photographing.  Some ideas how:

  • Reverse engineer photos you like to understand the process they used to achieve a specific result.  How’d they do it?  Then how would you do it differently?
  • Keep asking “what if.”  What if you used a different lens?  What if you climbed the hill for a more aerial perspective?  What if you saw the ocean as the desert, metaphorically speaking?
  • Devour books.  Not just photography books, but anything that tickles your passion and stimulates your brain.
  • Listen to music, watch movies, attend plays.  And then think about how you can incorporate the concepts and ideas you hear, see, and experience into your photography.
  • Talk with and exchange ideas with others.  Not just other photographers, but also those who know nothing about photography, who explore other activities and fields you enjoy, and think differently than you.  Surround yourself with people who know more than you.
  • Screw up.  Often.  Then learn from the experience to develop even more new ideas.
  • Engage with your environment.  An experience you have in one location can help trigger ideas in a different location.  Ride a bike, go for a hike, take a field-based class – whatever gets you closer to your subject.

So last Tuesday, I brought with me to Indian Beach all my experiences from spending 90+ days in Acadia National Park in Maine over the last four years, every critique I’ve conducted during all the photography workshops I teach, the entire process of writing a book about Arizona wildflowers, and more simply, even the songs I heard on the radio as I drove to Ecola State Park, among so many other things.  And as a result, my photographs look nothing, nothing, like they did in 2005.

What other tips do you have to see the same place with fresh eyes?

Spring Emergence

“Spring Emergence,” False lily-of-the-valley at Ecola State Park, Oregon (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)