Nov 202019
 

Dear Bubbles

I get questions all the time via email, on social media, and during my photography workshops. About anything and everything. I love questions, especially ones that make everyone think.

For whatever reason, the Universe exploded with a greater quantity of inquiries than normal last week. I joked after answering a string of them, “You know, wouldn’t it be hilarious if I started a ‘Dear Bubbles’ advice column?” After I stopped giggling–and I turned off my prefrontal cortex–my next thought was, “Why not?!”

With that, I am excited to introduce my newest endeavor, “Dear Bubbles!” It’ll be an advice column for you, by you. You ask questions about photography, art, and the creative life. Each Wednesday, I’ll shoot out an answer (maybe even a bubbly one!) to a featured question.

For example, Laurie asked, “Why is it the more I learn the worse my photos get?” Awesome question! Have you ever felt this way? I have! You can see my response–the first Dear Bubbles conversation ever!–at www.dearbubbles.com.

So, what’s on your mind? What are you struggling with or curious about? How can I help with your photography? Anything goes! If I can somehow make things a little easier on you, if we can learn and laugh together in this journey, awesome sauce. That’s my hope! The world and outdoor photography industry could use more positive energy, more bubbles, right? Right!

Hit me up with your questions either here in the Comments below or via my email at cms@cms-photo.com. Then keep an eye on www.dearbubbles.com on Wednesdays! You never know what might bubble up…

~Bubbles

Aug 142019
 
Walk the Line

“Walk the Line” in Death Valley, CA || Prints available–click on photo to order yours!

The question “Does every photograph have to have meaning?” came up in one of my Death Valley photography workshops earlier this year. In the flurry of excitement in the workshop’s final hours, I didn’t get the chance to clarify the context of the question with the inquirer, but I assumed there was a flavor of “Why can’t I make an image just because I think it’s beautiful?” behind it. I’ve been noodling on the notion ever since–so much so that I decided to pen an article about it summarizing my thoughts.

If you’d like to hear some of my musings about this topic, check out my latest article with On Landscape, titled “Meaning: You Get to Decide.”

A reasonable subscription (which helps On Landscape pay a fair wage to contributors for their work and keeps their site free of advertising) is required to read the full article. You’ll get access to not only this piece, though, but also additional fabulous insights from talented photographers like Guy Tal, Rafael Rojas, Tim Parkin, Alister Benn, and many others. I routinely find inspirational ideas to improve my work through this online publication.

So what do you think? Does every photograph have to have meaning? Do all of your photographs carry specific meaning? I’d love to hear your answers, so leave a comment below!

Jun 222016
 

Amy Minton was one of three students on the “Winter in Acadia: A Creative Photography Retreat” held on the scenic Schoodic Peninsula in Acadia National Park, Maine, from February 7-13, 2016.  This blog post features her thoughts and images from her experience.  If you have enjoyed seeing Acadia through her eyes, please leave her a comment on her post!  More of Amy’s work can be viewed on her website at www.amymintonphotography.com.

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Winter is a beautiful time of the year and offers many opportunities for outdoor photo shoots.  My camera, however, hibernates in winter.  Well, at least that was the case before I participated in Colleen’s workshop, “Winter in Acadia:  A Creative Photography Retreat,” this past February.   By the end of the workshop, I was very happy that I took my camera out of hibernation and returned to Acadia National Park.  Now, not only do I possess confidence to shoot outdoors in winter (and in fact have done so – post-workshop), but also I learned about the creative process and its influence on my photography as well as history, geology, and wildlife within and around Acadia National Park.

Blueberry Hill

This image was made on a very chilly morning (-17 wind chill), which may be the reason why I wanted to create an image with this lone tree located near the Blueberry Hill Parking Area.  To me, loneliness feels “cold,” and at the time, despite being appropriately dressed for the winter conditions, I was cold.  So, while standing there, I imagined that this tree was also feeling alone during the cold sunrise as it looked out toward the other trees on Schoodic Island.  I wondered if the tree longed to join the other trees on the island, or maybe it wanted to invite the trees to join him on Schoodic Peninsula, a.k.a. “the quiet side of Acadia.”

 

Otter Cliff

Face of Otter Cliff.   I usually don’t think of a title for an image when at a location, but while at Boulder Beach (Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island) the snow and ice coating the rocks at Otter Cliff appeared to reveal a face.  At time, I wondered if it was only during the winter season that the face is exposed.  If so, then add it to one more experience of the unique beauty of Acadia National Park in winter.

 

Wildlife

The harbor seals in this image were spotted resting, presumably on a rocky outcropping exposed at low tide, in Wonsquak Harbor.  I am sharing this image because it represents one of the many forms of wildlife that was seen during my photo adventure.   In addition to the harbor seals, I watched a seagull drop, while in flight, drop a mussel onto the road in order to crack the protective shell, and then, gain access to the mussel inside (I had never seen that before).  There were also a variety of mammal and bird tracks in the snow, but the “coolest” tracks, in my opinion, were the river otter tracks.  Despite not actually seeing the river otter(s) (unlike the workshop participants the week before my group), I thought it was amazing to see the paw prints in the snow and then see where the otter slid on it’s belly on top of the snow.  It still makes me smile when I think about that river otter running along the snow and then sliding on its belly before he reached the waters edge and began to forage for food.  I suspect the river otter made a game of it along his way.

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Would you like to experience and photograph Acadia in the winter while learning how to express yourself more creatively?  Join Colleen on her next “Winter in Acadia: A Creative Photography Retreat” from February 12-18, 2017!  Learn more and register for this unforgettable, small group (max 6) workshop at cms-photo.com/Workshops/2017WinterinAcadia.html.

Jun 222016
 

Dixie Pearson was one of three students on the “Winter in Acadia: A Creative Photography Retreat” held on the scenic Schoodic Peninsula in Acadia National Park, Maine, from February 7-13, 2016.  This blog post features her thoughts and images from her experience.  If you have enjoyed seeing Acadia through her eyes, please leave her a comment on her post!  More of Dixie’s work can be viewed on her website at dixiegirl.smugmug.com.

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Winter in Acadia gave me the opportunity to be truly alone with the landscape.   Through Colleen’s excellent guidance, I was able to “turn off” my thoughts, and listen to my surroundings.

I learned to make mindful observations of the landscape. Here are just a few of my observations:

  • The crashing of the waves and the whistling of the wind during our first day of shooting at Schoodic Point.
  • The snow and ice forming “ice pillows” over rocks at Duck Brook.
  • The myriad ice formations, rising and breaking around us at West Pond Cove.
  • The sound of the pebbles, like tiny bamboo xylophones, tumbling in the surf as each wave recedes at Boulder Beach.

Here are 3 of my images, with accompanying haikus, from our trip:

the icy brook flows
forever echoing change
possibilities

Duck Brook

 

tree on craggy shore
arms raised in supplication
granite sky warning

Boulder Beach

 

veiled light revealing
the sun’s fickle winter gaze
how I see has changed

Sunrise, Blueberry Hill

What an incredible opportunity it was to capture such an amazing place in winter. I can truly say that it was well worth braving the elements~just dress warmly and enjoy!

Thank you!

Dixie Pearson

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Would you like to experience and photograph Acadia in the winter while learning how to express yourself more creatively?  Join Colleen on her next “Winter in Acadia: A Creative Photography Retreat” from February 12-18, 2017!  Learn more and register for this unforgettable, small group (max 6) workshop at cms-photo.com/Workshops/2017WinterinAcadia.html.

Jun 202016
 

Rebecca Wilks was one of three students on the “Winter in Acadia: A Creative Photography Retreat” held on the scenic Schoodic Peninsula in Acadia National Park, Maine, from February 7-13, 2016.  This blog post features her thoughts and images from her experience.  If you have enjoyed seeing Acadia through her eyes, please leave her a comment on her post!  More of Rebecca’s work can be viewed on her website www.skylineimages.net and her blog at theviewfromtheskyline.blogspot.com.

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Another fabulous workshop with Colleen Miniuk-Sperry has come to an end too soon.  I’d been to (and Around) Acadia National Park with her twice before, but never in the winter.  Of course our little group knew we couldn’t predict what the weather would bring in February for safe travels or for photography.  We were fortunate.  Temps were well above freezing the week before and after our time there, but we saw wind chill temps below minus 20.  Yes, we were slow-moving, sometimes uncomfortable and occasionally whiny.  We were fortunate though, since the colder temps are much more conducive to photographing snow and ice, which we did with joy.

Colleen has asked each of us to contribute a few favorite images with our thoughts.

One morning along East Schoodic Drive I was following the trail of a fox in the deep snow.  I looked up and was struck by the graphic quality of evergreen trees with ice plastered to their trunks on one side.  As Colleen often encourages students to do, I pondered what attracted me to the scene.  There’s a literal narrative here about the strength of the storm the night before, but also universal truths about perseverance and the fresh start that comes with the dawn.  Oh, and I think it’s pretty.

We drove twice to Mount Desert Island, where the larger and more visited (though not so much in the winter) part of the park lies.  My favorite shots there were at Duck Brook, where fanciful ice formations resembling pillows, chandeliers, and sea creatures had formed above a retreating flood.  The texture of the ice fascinates me still.

Somehow on this trip, I often found myself shooting in the opposite direction from my friends.  Here’s an example along Park Loop Road.  They were making lovely images of a snow-covered Boulder Beach, but I was captivated by the coast in the other direction with their curves echoed by the high tide line and mountains as well as the sense of power in the waves.

I can’t wait for a chance to do it again.

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Would you like to experience and photograph Acadia in the winter while learning how to express yourself more creatively?  Join Colleen on her next “Winter in Acadia: A Creative Photography Retreat” from February 12-18, 2017!  Learn more and register for this unforgettable, small group (max 6) workshop at cms-photo.com/Workshops/2017WinterinAcadia.html.

Oct 242013
 

Reserve your copy of our new guidebook, Photographing Acadia National Park:  The Essential Guide to When, Where, and How through my new Indiegogo campaign at www.indiegogo.com/projects/photographing-acadia-national-park-book.

Now through November 30, 2014, not only can you pre-order one or more books at discounted price (which won’t be available after the campaign concludes), but you can also purchase prints from Acadia for your home at a special price, get your name listed in the book forever, and even reserve an all-inclusive 4-day photography workshop extravaganza with yours truly as your guide in Acadia National Park!

The money raised during this campaign will help me bare the cost burden of printing the book (I’m not just the author and photographer, I’m also the publisher!). In addition, I am proudly donating 10% of this book’s profits to the Schoodic Education Adventure residential program, an unsurpassed educational opportunity for children to learn about science and nature in Acadia National Park.  Finally, I also donate 10% of the profit back to the National Park Service for every photograph purchased from Acadia National Park.

So not only will your contribution get you a helpful guide and help me produce this book – my dream – but also together we can make a difference for our future generations!

So don’t delay – pre-order your copy today!  We’ll ship you the first books hot off the truck in early February 2014 when it arrives!  For more information about this guide, please visit the book’s website at photographingacadia.com.

And then help us spread the word by sharing this newsletter and/or the Indiegogo campaign link (www.indiegogo.com/projects/photographing-acadia-national-park-book) with your family, friends, and camera clubs!  We’ve started a Referral Contest, where I’ll award the person who refers the most amount of funders (# of people) with a FREE 16″x24″ ready to hang metal print of the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse.

To participate:

  1. Log in to your Indiegogo account.
  2. Cut & paste the URL in the “Share This Campaign” section to share your the personalized link on your social media (e.g. Facebook, G+, LinkedIn, Twitter), email, and websites.
  3. Track your referrals – when someone clicks on your shared link and contributes to this campaign, they will appear in your referrals (under My Profile beneath your name when you login)

I’ll share the top three contenders each week until the campaign closes to keep you informed of the status.

Thank you for your support!

Sep 252013
 
AHWP Womens Retreat_Silly

In accordance with tradition on all of my photography workshops, our group poses for a “silly” group photo on the shoreline of the Colorado River in Glen Canyon.

This past weekend, 17 enthusiastic women embarked on a remarkable four-day photographic journey to Page, Arizona on the third Arizona Highways Photography Workshops(AHPW), “Women’s Photography Retreat.”  Offered in a different location each year, this year our group marveled not only at classic locations like Horseshoe Bend and Lower Antelope Canyon, but also lesser-known spots like the depths of Glen Canyon on the Colorado River from a jumbo raft and the geological “teepees” of Little Cut.

AHPW_WPR_Everyones Own Vision

Everyone following their own vision while rafting down the Colorado River in Glen Canyon, Arizona.

During our location visits and classroom sessions, we reviewed photography techniques like conveying time through slowing our shutter speeds, getting closer to our foreground subjects and maximizing our depth-of-field, and taking test shots at high ISO speeds to determine the proper settings for long exposures of the night sky.  We also held discussions about we can gain inspiration from learning about the history of women in photography as well as how women photographers may see differently.  In between, we swapped “interesting” life stories (some involving things like cats and microwaves…) and loads of belly-aching laughs.  But most importantly, this workshop is – and has always been – about empowering women to try new things by pushing the limits of what we think we’re capable of in both photography and life.

Although the entire experience was unforgettable, what will certainly go down as one of my favorite memories of my photography career is our hike and night photography session at the Toadstools hoodoos in Utah. To watch the women light paint, photograph the Milky Way, and then hike back in the dark under the full moon light – all experiences some had never had until this past weekend – was incredibly rewarding.

We set out about an hour and a half before sunset to allow ample time to wander among this geologically rich area.  After photographing the hoodoos bathed in direct sunlight at sundown, the group refueled during our picnic dinner before starting our night’s activities.

AHPW_WPR_Wiggle the Pickle

While waiting for the night sky to fall and the moon to rise, we ate a picnic dinner on the rocks. Somehow, this led to a suggestion to “wiggle your pickle.” And if you’re going to wiggle your pickle among a group of photographers, someone is bound to get “THE” shot of everyone wiggling their pickle!

Since many of the ladies had never photographed in the dark or painted with light, we began with a quick introductory session around one of the clusters of hoodoos.  In a line, we focused (figuratively and literally) on composing the frame before losing daylight.  As the sun fell well below the horizon, the entire group tested their exposure settings starting at ISO 1600, an f/8 aperture, and 30 seconds shutter speed – an arbitrary setting to serve as a starting point for how much light our camera would collect during that time frame.  Based on the histogram, we could add or subtract light accordingly to record our vision.

As soon as everyone dialed to the right settings and achieved sharp focus, I counted “1-2-3″ and everyone snapped the shutter at the same time.  During the exposure, I painted the hoodoos from the left side with about five to seven seconds of light from a strong LED flashlight.  After the exposure, we all reviewed our histogram to determine whether our cameras had collected enough ambient light and flash light.  Then, we’d repeat.

After a number of snaps, a large, unsightly shadow line revealed itself at the base of the tallest hoodoo.  Because the neighboring smaller hoodoo prevented the flash light from hitting the taller hoodoo, the light needed to originate from the front – not the side.  Because of the longer exposure, I could solve this minor problem by running into the frame with my flashlight while the group’s shutters were released.

On my first attempt, I painted the hoodoos from the side for a few seconds and then danced into the frame (“Like a gazelle!”), painting the tallest hoodoo at the base to eliminate the shadow.   A quick review of the photos indicated the tallest hoodoo had received an excessive amount of light, so we needed to repeat the process with less flash light time.

On the next attempt, one second I was painting the hoodoos as I had down countless times before.  The next second, I was chewing on sand.  By taking a slight deviation to the right in my path in order to distance myself and my flash from the hoodoos to achieve less light, my right foot dropped into a two-foot deep trench and my entire body fell forward into the higher ground on the opposite side.  Not wanting to ruin the entire group’s photo, I yelled, “I’m OK!  KEEP SHOOTING!!”

(The hilarity of this statement becomes more evident when you consider the entire group had released their shutter for 30 seconds, making any adjustments to their shot impossible.  What were they going to do then?  Change their ISO?!)

With the flash light still moving in my right hand, I used my left hand to pick myself up so that I could continue running across the frame to paint the shadow area with light.  After the exposure completed and many laughs about my tumble, “Keep shooting!” quickly became our trip’s motto.

And what a fitting rally cry this was not only for this trip and all the AHPW Women’s Photography Retreats, but also for life in general.  When something brings you down, hose yourself off, get up, and try again.  When something gets in your way, walk around it.  When something does not go the way you hoped, try something else.  No matter the situation or obstacle, personal growth and success comes when we keep going.  Keep trying.  And always KEEP SHOOTING!

~Colleen

P.S. If you or someone you know would like to join us on the next AHPW Women’s Photo Retreat in Verde Valley/Sedona in April 2014, visit the AHPW website at ahpw.org/workshops/2014/Sedona-Arizona-Womens-Photo-Retreat-2014-04-25/ for more information and to register.  This workshop sells out quickly, so if you’re interested, I’d consider registering as soon as possible to reserve your spot!

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!)

Jan 162013
 

I have to spill the coffee beans…

This may be hard for some of you to believe, but…
I used to photograph food professionally. 

GASP!!

Not one to turn down a good challenge, I began shooting cuisine in late 2007 after seeing a stock call for “southwestern recipes” from a calendar company more famous for its landscape photography, and naively said, “Hmmm, that could be fun!”

For the three years that followed, fun it was as my husband, Craig, and I worked together to produce not one, not two, but three exclusive Southwest Cooking calendars.  In between developing new recipes and buying props for the calendars, I wrote restaurant reviews for a number of publications, including Arizona Highways magazine, who published my first restaurant article on one of our favorite spots in Arizona, The Cliff Dwellers Restaurant in Marble Canyon, called “Remote Possibilities.”  I also managed to collect a broad variety of commercial clients across Arizona to help with their advertising needs.

The food photography business was great on the pocketbook, but not so great for nurturing the soul of a nature lover – or for the booty, let’s be honest.  So in 2011, I stopped shooting alluring appetizers, enticing entrees, and delectable desserts to focus entirely on what I loved most, the Great Outdoors.

Though I’m no longer a shutterbug of sushi, I don’t regret spending those years getting a different flavor of photography.  In fact, I believe it’s made me a better nature photographer, as I still incorporate many of the techniques learned while photographing food during my outdoor escapades.  Specifically:

  1. Fleeting moments in nature disappear as quickly as fresh ice cream melts under hot lights.  For a single recipe featured in our calendars, we spent six to eight hours developing the recipe, arranging props, deciding on color schemes, and designing the set – “visualizing” – and only a few seconds photographing the final scene…which is about as long as most food looks edible in a studio setting.  Similarly, Mother Nature may only give us a few seconds to record “the” shot so prepare yourself for that special moment by drawing on paper or creating a picture in your mind of what you resulting photograph will look like – before snapping the shutter.
  2. If a photograph is truly worth 100o words, don’t use just 999 of them to convey your message.  During the extensive set designing process, we intentionally and precisely placed every single sesame seed, slice of lime, and sprinkle of cilantro in an exact location.  Before snapping the shutter, we studied every corner, the edges of the frame, and the visual relationship between the elements to ensure the scene appeared exactly as we wanted to convey exactly what we wanted.  Although changing moments in nature sometimes don’t allow a six to eight hour review of your composition, scan your frame before making the image to ensure you haven’t inadvertently included out of focus branches, overly lit areas on the edges of your frame, or anything else distracting from delivering a clear visual message.
  3. If the sesame seed doesn’t stay where you want when you move it, glue it.  Besides superglue, I’ve used glycerin, hairspray, soapy water, motor oil, mirrors, and a host of other hidden props to make a plate of food look presentable.  No matter your subject, once you have a clear vision, do whatever it takes to make it a reality (within legal and ethical boundaries, that is).  Put a shower cap over your lens to create an ethereal mood, hire a pilot to help you get an aerial perspective, or use a tongue-switch for hands-free operation of your camera while riding a bike (you’d be amazed at the stories you can tell about using a tongue switch!).  Being a persistent, creative problem solver pays off.  I’m currently imagining using the Cloud Machine to resolve my clear blue sky “dilemma.”
  4. Like a smooth, buttery Chardonnay, rocks, trees, and water don’t bite, so get closer.  If you think you’re close enough, if feasible, take two steps forward while keeping the same focal length of lens on your camera to eliminate extraneous details and keep your visual message clear.  Note:  Wildlife and people can bite so attach a teleconverter to a longer focal length lens instead of trying to get in their face.
  5. A normal-sized tostada looks more tantalizing on a tiny plate than on a big plate.  By tweaking proportions, we were able to draw attention to what seemed to be an abundant and attractive portion size.  When you aim to modify the relative size of natural objects, tap into the perspective distortion a wide-angle lens offers to make a bush or other object in the foreground look excessively large in comparison to its surroundings.  Or use a telephoto lens to compress two distant objects, making them seem closer together than they truly exist.

Have you recently tried photographing something outside your comfort zone?  What experiences and learnings have you had in photographing something other than the outdoors that eventually affected your nature photography?  We’d love to hear your stories and tips in the comments below!

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