I create images mostly as an intuitive process. I react in the moment to a stimulus that attracts me and then work to make a picture that satisfies my response. I know when I’ve been successful when there’s almost a feeling of relief. Then I keep exploring to discover what else about my visual experience needs satisfying. Sometimes during the process, I talk to myself to achieve the result I want (it actually helps calm me down so that I can be analytical about camera settings).
Because I work intuitively (after 40 years of making images), I don’t do any real analysis of the images while in the field. Back in the studio however, I can spend as much time staring at the images as I please, or need. On a screen I can evaluate what about the images, and my intuition, worked. Then I determine what steps are needed in the development of the images to fully realize the emotion I was feeling.
I typically don’t venture out with any preconceived ideas about particular images I want to make. Generally, my motivation to go out is based on situational elements like, it’s cloudy, the leaves are colorful, I have time to explore.
Below is an analysis that I went through in the studio while developing this image.
Bringing this image into Lightroom and doing some basic developing of color, contrast, and shadow/highlights adjustments, I can then evaluate the image overall. After looking at it for a while, I can judge whether the image is balanced. Since we tend to look at images from left-to-right (the same way we read), I begin there. The left side (1) is heavy with trees, so the visual weight there needs to be balanced on the right. The red sumac leaves (2) progress lower left to upper right, drawing the eye in that direction, good. At point (3), the green leaves are brighter and encompass a larger part of the image, which also drives the viewer to the right. Lastly, the distant trees (4), draw the eye to the upper right, good again. Overall, I feel the image is well balanced and pleasing. This process of analysis serves as a kind of feedback loop which enhances my intuition next time in the field.
Today was the official ceremony for the international Bird Photographer of the Year competition. The ceremony was held in Bristol, England around 2:00 PM (EDT). This is considered the premier bird photography competition in the world which this year garnered almost 20,000 submissions.
A while ago I shared that I had been Short-Listed to be Bird Photographer of the year for each of three images I submitted. The Short List represents about the top 10% of submissions, but even a smaller percentage of photographers, so it’s a big honor to be on the list.
I can now share that I have received a Commendation in this years awards and so happily, I am in the 2022 Collection of Bird Photographer of the Year. A coffee-table book which publishes all of the selected work for this collection is now being shipped. This 7th collection of the top photographer’s images represents just over 1% of all the images submitted from around the world.
The image above is the one that is included in the 2022 Collection. Made right here on Shady Grove Farm as part of a winter bird project of mine; it will also be available as a Limited Edition print from my website – HERE.
When I was a kid, there was this popular joke – “What is black and white, and read all over?” Of course the answer is a newspaper. But visually, I also see black and white and “red all over” to be an exciting combination (no joke). Sure “read” and “red” are not the same, just homonyms, but it’s the thought that counts. In film days, there wasn’t an accessible way to create this relationship unless the scene really only had those three colors in them. In the digital darkroom however, creativity is queen.
I made the accompanying image in the fall of 2020. The pandemic was still in full swing; my shows all cancelled. Being outdoors became an even more important component of maintaining my creativity and mental well-being. Being outdoors allows me to be more introspective. And, introspection about all that was happening, it’s ramifications for us personally and for me creatively, was what I needed.
On this overcast, fall day, there was no one else at the local nature reserve near me. There was a feeling of isolation that seemed consistent with the overall isolation we were all experiencing. Yet, I was also experiencing a renewed activity. When I saw this large Maple providing what appeared as an umbrella of protection to a bench, I found it comforting. I found myself thinking that this would be a fine place to sit and look out over the lake, and then look within.
Back in the studio, looking at the image, I reduced the scene to three colors. This change made the scene rather surreal, but also seemingly appropriate to how I felt. Almost two years later, I now look at the image without the same level of trepidation I had then, but I like it just as much.
I am initially offering the print as a 10″x14″ which is matted to 16″x20″ available through my on-line gallery here. It is titled “Risorgimento.”
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.
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.
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.
As part of my overall effort to make the farm into an “outdoor studio,” I’ve spent much of the year getting to know the creatures that reside here with us. Because of travel restrictions, my wife and I have made great strides to improve the farm’s landscaping and gardens. We have a nicely diverse 7 1/2 acres of field, woods, wetland, and flower beds.
Among our many projects, we wanted to create a couple areas dedicated to birds. For this purpose, I allocated a couple pieces of white-picket fencing. These I placed in a back field overlooking a grassy wetland area where birds often naturally feed. It is also an area that I can watch from my second floor studio window.
My aesthetic goal for this series is to make photographs with visual simplicity, strong geometry, and expressiveness. Birds take on a variety of postures which we translate as body language. We do this naturally with other people as we try to gage someone’s mood. And while it is certainly an exercise in anthropomorphism to suggest that a birds body position always signifies their inner feelings, it is likely to be true at least some of the time. Even if it is never true, their posture certainly speaks to us which is all that really matters.
One of my favorite winer birds is the iconic “Snowbird” – the Dark-eyed Junco. This familiar, two-toned visitor is perfect for the type of minimalist winter imagery I want to make. The red berries add vibrance to an otherwise monochromatic scene. I composed in order that the Junco’s colors were in contrast with its background and yet still harmonious to the color palette of the image overall. Titles Snowbird, this image is available now as a Limited Edition print at my on-line gallery – HERE
For this series so far, I have been working entirely without a tripod, something that is rare for me. But the freedom to respond using a handheld lens has been very beneficial. In this case I am using an Olympus 100-400mm on an Olympus E-M1 X which I am finding to be a wonderful combination. I am still not happy wearing gloves though, so despite the cold, I am working bare-handed.
Ever on the lookout for fascinating mushrooms, we discovered a nice grouping growing inside a willow tree on our property. I worked this set during sunset but was not happy with the lighting. Somehow I wanted to create an image that felt more magical, more in line with mushroom’s mythical status.
On a dark, clear night, I set up a tripod and camera to make an image that would speak to the ancient belief in the spiritual essence of mushrooms. Using a small, narrow beam flashlight, I “light painted” the mushrooms to achieve an effect that they were giving off light and guarded by legendary fairies. Lots of trial and error, but ultimately I worked out a routine that achieved my vision.
Limited Edition prints may be purchased from my gallery on line Here. As part of my “The 100” Series, the regular edition will be limited to 100 prints with an allowance for Special Editions of 10 on different substrates.
This spring our barn was selected by a pair of Black Vultures as their nesting spot. Ultimately two eggs were laid and the incubating began. We checked on their progress regularly. One egg hatched, the other never did. Black Vultures mate for life and share in rearing the little ones. They are romantic birds engaging in a variety of courtship displays including one called “billing.” Billing is a behavior where the two birds touch beaks together which appears to strengthen the pair bond.
In our side yard, we have an old snag that is kind of a perfect perching tree. We’ve had Bald Eagles, various hawks, kestrel , pileated woodpeckers, and others use it to scan the fields. The snag is also a favorite spot for the vultures to hang out. One evening I spotted the two of them at the very top of the dead tree. They were silhouetted against a featureless sky. I ran outside with a camera and long lens and began to work at creating some minimalist images. When they starting “billing,” I recomposed to make sure their bodies didn’t overlap. I exposed to emphasize the silhouette.
I held off in printing the image because I suspected I would be able to combine it with another image in future. Last week I made that image; a wonderful large moon rising over the ridge across from our farm.
Moonstruck is now available as a Limited edition print in a variety of sizes and can be ordered as a canvas print as well (contact me for the canvas). Prints are available on my website HERE