Close-up Photographer of the Year (CUPOTY), is an international competition now in its third year. It has drawn some of the best image makers in the world, and the results have been marvelous. This year’s competition – CUPOTY 03, set a new standard with around 10,000 submissions! The Shortlisted images were announced this past Wednesday. Being Shortlisted is the goal of every image maker entering this prestigious event. A Shortlisted image is one that is recognized to be in the top echelon of the genre. You can see the Shortlisted images on the CUPOTY website – HERE. Throughout several categories you will find stunning imagery with artistic merit as well as craftsmanship.
I was very pleased to be recognized in this year’s competition by having three images make the shortlist; two in the Insects category and one in the Intimate Landscapes category (I have also made the Shortlist in CUPOTY 02, and CUPOTY Color, both last year). I’d like to tell you about each one of this year’s Shortlisted images (I’ll do it in separate posts).
The first image is of a leafhopper on the stem of a plant with Dahlia flowers in the background. It is an image about color and form more than anything else. I didn’t make the image to inform about what a leafhopper looks like. Rather I wanted to use the brilliant colors of the leafhopper as a foundation for an image which is about the impact it had on me. The repetition of color between the insect and its background was exciting. I composed the solid green line of the stem, broken by the colorful form of the leafhopper, against the brilliant Dahlia flower reds because that combination elicited the greatest response in me. Ultimately, my goal is to have an esthetic experience, and this image fulfilled that goal. I am especially interested in esthetic experiences that can take place in everyday settings, in this case the gardens of our farm. Through this imagery I hope that others will find these everyday esthetic experiences in their own spaces.
I used an Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera with an Olympus 60mm M Zuiko lens at f8 and 1/100th sec. at ISO 800. I use Olympus often for close-up/macro work because its small size allows me to get into niches where a larger camera-lens combination would be awkward. The system is great for this type of work.
Having had three images Shortlisted in this international competition was very rewarding. The first two images I shared were in the Insects category, this one was in the Intimate Landscape category. I have been working on a body of images exploring the esthetics of shape and line for some time. Over the last few winters, ice formations have caught my attention especially. Being able to create on our own property (a small 7+ acre farm with a creek running through), has been a great asset.
I find composing the complex geometry of ice very exciting, but also challenging. I am drawn to the abstractness of the formations, but organizing those abstract forms into a thing that is new, is the goal. This is not a picture of ice as much as it is of triangular shapes, curved line, circles. This type of imagery is what gets me out of the studio….
The second of my three images which achieved Short-listing in this international competition was also made on our farm property. Another of my “backyard” images. Made earlier this year in March, it was a warm early spring day. Colonies of ants on our walkway had become very active, congregating in large numbers. As the sun was setting, I became fascinated by a large group of ants and grabbed my Olympus camera and Laowa 50mm f2.8 macro lens.
With the sun behind the ants, light reflected off their exoskeletons, and out-of-focus highlights became glowing circles. I held the camera on the ground at very close range trying not to have my hand touch the ants. Using the rear LCD to compose and focus, I watched as the ants battled each other in a way that reminded me of a Game of Thrones episode. It was intense and fierce. I wanted to convey a sense of extreme fighting by creating a layered composition with the heap of ant bodies in the middle layer. It was such a melee that I felt the image needed a few individuals clearly isolated in order to make sense of it all. I used a shallow depth of field and selective focusing to achieve the isolation of the ants on the right. The stone on which the fighting was happening was elevated above the ground level so that I was able to compose from a position at ant eye-level. This made for a more intense view.
I felt this image was quite unique and was very pleased that it received recognition in this prestigious competition.
I don’t travel much, never have. This has been the case partly because it’s expensive, partly because it requires time, and mostly because I’ve never felt the need or great desire. I’ve always preferred to get to know my surroundings as well as I could, deeply, thoroughly. I always found great satisfaction in achieving familiarity with the area in which I lived. The more I have explored my local area, the greater the esthetic and emotional relationship I have developed with it. As a result, I think my work has been more authentic, more honest, and better.
My work has never been about location. I have always strived to create images that have a universal message, unconstrained by geography. And while many locations have tell-tale signs that give away something about where they were made, I try not to have that information be what is important.
Pennsylvania is a beautiful state, it is where I’ve lived most of my life (a short stint in Delaware being the only exception). It is a state with a good deal of natural area, especially woods. So come fall, I believe Pennsylvania can hold its own for color and splendor against any state.
This image was made near Ricketts Glen State Park, a favorite location of mine. I drove past this stand of Birch and two miles on had to turn around and give it some attention. As soon as I past it my mind began to work out images so that there was no choice. I was working that day with some light gear, an Olympus OM-D E-M5 with the Olympus 12-40mm f2.8. This is my choice of format when I really don’t want the tools to get in the way.
This image really pulls together a variety of thoughts for me. There have been three overarching themes to my creative thinking: mindfulness, wabi-sabi, and everyday esthetics. You can even think of them as being three different wheel-barrels of concepts because each is filled with so much to think about.
For me it all comes down to experiencing the everyday visual world with an openness to seeing beauty and then creating with authenticity. My challenge is to not predetermine what I should create, or judge before I allow myself to explore.
With an openness to the world, I don’t know what images I will make, what pictures will result. And, in many ways that makes the process so much more exciting. As with most of my work in the last year and a half, this image was made on our farm (in this case, by the milk house).
It is not uncommon for artists who work in any medium, to reconsider, reimagine, reevaluate, and/or rework, an older art piece. I’ve had time over the last year to fully explore images in my oeuvre. I think this kind of self-reflection is important for artists. Evaluating previous work gives an artist a way of tracking their growth. But it also allows for making changes that better represent their present esthetic, take advantage of new skills, new philosophies, changes in experience. And frankly, it’s just plain fun to do.
The image accompanying this post was made with an earlier digital camera and before I had established a work flow that I was really comfortable with. Move forward to the present and I have developed a number of new skills which allow for me to develop this image to my evolved tastes and address technical challenges more fully. Most importantly, I have a stronger style, and more developed sense of likes. Also, I have years more time looking at art, the world, and my own work. I see things differently both figuratively and literally.
One of the things about this image that really jumped out at me this time is how much the grasses on the left mirror the shape and form of the dragonfly on the right. Was that something I realized subconsciously when I originally made the image? Maybe. But now it’s very apparent to me and has really enhanced my appreciation for the picture. It is only one example of many in which I have made a new discovery in my own work.
I find myself drawn to ice in a way that is similar to my attraction to art-glass. There are many elements to ice that make it fun to work with. The natural forms it develops as a result of melting, wind, and other physical forces, is wonderful. The way ice reflects, refracts, and otherwise transforms light, is a never ending inspiration.
When exploring icicles visually, I look at form and light, but also background. Backgrounds are key to me in much of my work and as icicles are transparent, or at least translucent, the background becomes an even bigger consideration.
In this image I found myself annoyed by a distraction in the background. I had become very attracted to the form of two icicles hanging from our milk house roof, but there was a car in the way. Since I could approach these icicles closely, my first thought was to use a macro lens, but that stupid car…….
Then I thought about turning that problematic background into an esthetic solution. I changed lenses to a long telephoto and backed up. With my Olympus 100-400mm set at 400mm (equiv. of 800mm), I was able to isolate the icicles and also diffuse the background to just tones of color. The 800mm equivalent focal length allowed me to select the background precisely, and draw it forward into the image. The blue-gray color is from the body of a Toyota Odyssey, and the red is from the taillight.
This winter has certainly been full of snow, a real change from last winter. With all of the white stuff falling from the sky, I have renewed my Winter Bird Project started a few years back. In this effort, I have been working to create images which speak to the character of winter, and to the birds which spend that winter, at least partially, on our farm.
The project requires a lot of time watching and learning the various species behaviors. This year, we seem to have a larger number of Sparrows. In this image which I have titled “Winter Sprout,” a Song Sparrow peeks its head above the rim of a planter during a snow fall as if checking if spring may be near. The birds which stay locally during the winter will, by necessity, explore every nook for potential food.
I enjoy observing the behavior of the birds, all of them, but some just seem to have more interesting gestures than others. This Song Sparrow certainly caught my attention. It is hard not to ascribe some human motivation to its behavior.
Now available as a Limited Edition giclee in the Bird Gallery of my website – Here.
I grew up in the city with cats. Now I live on a farm, with cats. Lots of cats actually. They were here before us and will probably be here after we are gone. They are a part of the land here. There are the cats that call Shady Grove Farm home, and others that just wander through.
Cats are fascinating creatures and for someone like myself with a degree in animal behavior, they may be even more fascinating. They are also beautiful and affectionate (at least a few of them). The cats are a part of our lives here. All of this is the subject of my first book — Barn Cats of Shady Grove Farm.
The book is an obvious extension of my art and just the beginning of a new endeavor, Shady Grove Farm Publications. More books under this new label will come from both myself and my wife, fiber artist, Linda Doucette.
The soft cover edition I have just released is 52 pages and chock full of wonderful imagery of cats and our farm. Available at my website now in two choices: you may order the book alone (Here), or a book/print package (HERE) which includes a Limited Edition 5×7 print of the cover image matted to 8×10. The soft cover edition is limited to 500 and will be signed and numbered by me inside.
Winter is the most unique season of the year I think. The cold, snow, and ice change the landscape in a way that is just visually distinct from the other seasons. While I don’t particularly like the cold, at least extreme cold, I do enjoy the simplification of nature that happens during winter.
One of the unique aspects of the cold period is the creation of ice. Whether it’s the freezing of pond, creek or lake, or the formation of icicles, ice has many properties that I find visually fascinating.
After a heavy snow, the melt water drips and freezes on our old house and forms icicles along a number of roof lines. I become engaged with the repetition of form of a row of icicles. Their linearity can be very harmonious.
But these ice sculptures are not static, they are fluid, literally fluid. When the sun hits them and the solid becomes a liquid, the drops form and create a constant patter on the surfaces they land. It has a regular beat to it. Also though, I find the circular drop shape a wonderful contrast to the straight line shape of the icicle.
In this image I wanted to juxtapose the round drop with the linear source. I needed a very fast shutter speed and some good timing. The deep blue sky background allows the drop to stand out. I also used long telephoto lens to isolate the icicles and drop (Olympus 100-400mm lens on an OMD E-M1X).