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!)

Jun 042013
 
Washed Up

“Moved by the Sea,” Cape Blanco State Park, Oregon (Prints available for purchase – click on photo to order!)

With the blissful freedom to choose “where ever I want to go” for my photographic outings, I normally select my photographic destinations based on a number of factors, including, but certainly not limited, to the specific visualizations I’ve developed for a location or subject, the anticipated weather, and seasonal considerations (e.g. wildflower blooms, fall colors).

With that in mind, I ventured to Redwoods National Park in northern California last week in hopes I’d catch the tail end of the rhododendron (affectionately referred to as “rhodies”) bloom.  A storm brewed off-shore in the days prior to my scheduled departure, and I kept my fingers crossed that photogenic inclement weather like light mist and fog would help me record images with vibrant pink blossoms offset by the towering, gi-normous redwood trees.

Over the course of three days, though, the dark stormy skies unleashed in unrelenting, non-stop downpours. The storm arrived onshore earlier than predicted.  On top of Mother Nature dumping buckets, the number of rhodies on the ground far, far exceeded the number of blooms remaining on their lanky branches.

After making the most of the few rhodies still intact and with 100% chance of rain forecasted for my fourth and final day, I decided to seek refuge in a drier place along the southern Oregon coast.  I had no final destination in mind for the evening and made the decision that I would start looking for a campsite around 5 pm, wherever my travels took me.

Under partially clearing skies, I arrived at a lovely forested spot in the Cape Blanco State Park just after my arbitrary deadline.  Mentally exhausted from my Redwoods trip, I thought a casual stroll along the beach at Cape Blanco would refocus my creative thoughts.  One whiff of the ocean breeze as I hiked down the steep hill to the shoreline was all it took to rejuvenate my soul. (Oh, how I love the ocean!).

From a distance, I spotted this long bull kelp resting on the shoreline. Likely a remnant of the last high tide, as I approached it, I wondered where the sea would take it the next high tide.  Where had it been before this evening?  Where would it go in the days ahead?   Would it remain here and dry out?  Like me at this moment, it had no set, pre-defined destination.  It went where ever the waves and winds took it.

Now connected with this wandering whip, I knew I needed to record an image of it.  Watching the next storm develop on the horizon, I set up my camera with my wide-angle lens.  One snap to confirm my composition and exposure revealed the need for some adjustments.  I repositioned my tripod to intentionally align the bull kelp with the parting line in the sky, placing it in the middle of the frame and breaking the “rule of thirds” on purpose.  I then needed to balance the exposure difference between the land and sky with a three-stop graduated neutral density filter.

Pleased with the results but wanting to see how different light would affect the outcome, I waited for sunset in hopes the sun would poke out one last time before disappearing.  The skies parted gloriously for a mere seven minutes about 8:30 pm (sunset officially occurred at 8:48 pm).  Though the beach received warm, glowing sidelight, the clouds’ shape had changed completely to a flat, even, overcast sky.  When comparing the two results, I preferred the earlier version which appears above.

As I trudged back up the hill to my campsite and considered how well my “casual stroll” along the beach turned out, I recalled one of my favorite Ansel Adams quotes: “Every man’s work is always a portrait of himself.”  Reflecting not just the serendipitous moment but also my experience during this particular photographic adventure, I decided to title this image, “Moved by the Sea.”

Tech info:  Canon 5DMII, 16-35mm at 16mm, ISO 50, f/22 at 1.3 seconds, three-stop graduated neutral density filter, basic post processing.

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!)

Feb 122013
 
Ice Hoodoos

Ice Hoodoos along Ocean Drive, Acadia National Park, Maine. Prints available – click on photograph to order!

Greeting from Acadia National Park!

As a part of my current Artist-in-Residency in Acadia National Park, I am excited to be presenting “Connecting With Nature Through the Lens” program at the next SERC Institute Brown Bag session on this Friday, February 15 from 11:30 am – 1 pm at Moore Auditorium. Free to the public, but donations – which benefit solely the SERC Institute – happily accepted at the door. I know it’s a bit of a commute for the Arizona folks, but hopefully those in the Northeast, specifically Maine, can attend!   For more information, visit http://www.sercinstitute.org/brown-bag-lunch-serc-connecting-nature-through-lens.

Though I’ll be sharing more photos of my phenomenal, still-in-progress four-week residency soon, this bizarre and spectacular sunrise landscape happened yesterday morning along Ocean Drive near Boulder Beach. The peak of the recent blizzard, “Nemo,” occurred almost simultaneously with a higher than normal high tide on Saturday, causing monster waves to pound the granite-lined coast and create a wall of spray almost up to Ocean Drive! This, combined with frigid temperatures well below freezing, plastered rocks and plant life alike with a coating of salt spray along this section of coastline, creating these amazing small desert hoodoo-like formations. As if that find wasn’t enough, the glorious sunrise was one of the most colorful I’ve seen in all my days in the park!

Technical information: Canon 5DMII, 16-35mm lens at 18mm, ISO 125, f/22 @ 1.6 seconds, 3-stop graduated neutral density filter, basic post-processing.

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