So not really, but still, is a female hummingbird not a superhero? Faster than a speeding…..well lots of things; able to to fly backwards, strong enough to migrate thousands of miles, fiercer than a barn cat.
I’ve been following the afternoon antics of a couple hummers that frequent our bee balm flowers. Since I’ve had time to observe these magnificent birds, I am also able to preset the exposure parameters, pre-visualize compositions, and set focusing to maximize success.
There’s something very magical about hummingbirds. They seem unreal. Working to create images of them and then doing so successfully, doesn’t change that feeling.
In this image I wanted to convey a strong sense of the magic of the hummingbird; her speed, her beauty, her agility.
Animals have always had symbolic meaning for people. Many cultures and individuals still consider the sighting of certain animals as highly significant events. One of the most cherished of sightings is of a bird that is thought to represent many of life’s best experiences – joy, love, peace, overcoming adversity, the fulfilling of dreams. What bird can signify so much all by itself? Well, its the amazing little hummingbird!
And no wonder, right? It’s incredible flight ability, it’s diminutive size, it’s great power and resilience to migrate enormous distances, all make for the things of myth and legend. It’s both magnificently delicate and fierce at the same time.
We have always had a few plants which attract hummingbirds to our farm. This year my wife Lin made sure we had Bee Balm as well. Beautiful red flowers are hard to resist, especially for the hummers doing their tour around the farm.
I read during afternoon coffee time on our front porch which puts me in view of the Bee Balm. I had established that the hummers visit the plant around that time. In addition to my coffee mug and Kindle, I’ll have my camera with a long telephoto lens attached. I prefocus, preset the exposure, and previsualize compositions. Hummingbirds are fast and don’t typically hang around for long. My last quick decisions have to happen on the fly (sorry), but the result was marvelous. I hope you like it too.
I am very much a morning person. In fact, I love the beginnings of things in general — the periods where the potential is the most exciting. Dewy mornings are my favorite. With sunlight refracting through the water drops and blasting in all directions, it can actually be a bit visually overwhelming. It really is exciting work. The water drops can be clinging to a leaf, a flower petal, or a spider web. In each case the form of the drop will be different, but equally gorgeous.
Getting in close to nature like this, exploring these very small landscapes, is an endless journey of esthetic pleasure. I make images that express the fulfillment I get from these unique experiences.
exploring these very small landscapes, is an endless journey of esthetic pleasure
To make this type of image I prefer an Olympus Micro-Four-thirds camera with an Olympus 60mm F2.8 macro lens. Its small, light, and importantly, easy to maneuver without hitting parts of the plant or web I’m working with. I composed this image in order to have the large round light refractions behind the web create a visual harmony with the water drops.
When I first started exploring my vision through the medium of photography, it was the genre of macro-photography that drew me in. I really enjoyed the fact that I could explore the natural world an inch-and-a-half at a time. This ability was especially meaningful as I lived in the city without much natural area around me.
My interest in macro imagery continued through my college years where my photography coursework included two semesters of independent study. In both of these semesters my projects revolved around using close-up techniques. In graduate school, I was able to take a class on macro-photography specializing in flash usage. This gave me a unique skill to balance daylight and artificial light for very small subjects, an ability that can be crucial to the success of an image.
My preference with most macro images however is to use natural light. Reflected, direct, or refracted, I find natural light the most interesting and most esthetically pleasing.
In this image of a backlit grass with crab-spider, I was vey conscious of the way the light outlined everything, creating rim light. What I found especially exciting was the light refractions associated with the silk strand that the spider was producing. The light made the very thin strand visible and created a rainbow of colors. To achieve the angle and perspective necessary to make this image, I had to work hand-held – quite the challenge. Looks to me like a spider wielding a lightsaber, maybe this is a Jedi spider?
When making any image, I am consciously and also subconsciously aware of my surroundings and how they make me feel. This means that there are many forces at work which impact the way I make an image. All of the sensations I experience in the moment play a roll in how I represent my world visually. Spring is a rather overwhelming time of year. There is so much life bursting forward! There is so much color and song and new found warmth. It all becomes part of a highly sensual, highly emotive, and highly stimulating event.
This image was made in a garden in Colonial Williamsburg, a location where my wife and I exhibit our art during the spring. We use the trip as a way to connect with our fans in Virginia and to create new works about the joyfulness of the season of regeneration.
All of the sensations I experience in the moment play a roll in how I represent my world visually.
For this image I was using a very odd lens not made for photography. It is actually a movie projector lens which I purchased from a Russian metalsmith in the Bronx who makes adapters for these types of “alternative” lenses. I incorporate the effect this lens allows me to create with my personal esthetic in order to create differently expressive images. I can see, and therefore control, the effect through the viewfinder which allows me to have a new experience while creating. That really is a main point to the art for me – new experiences.
My first foray into the medium of photography was in making close-up images, technically called “macro photography.” Growing up in a city, even in rather suburban-like Northeast Philly, I had access to limited nature. My interest in nature drove my image making anyway. Because of this, I had to find my inspiration in very small areas (square feet instead of square miles). A macro lens allowed me to make images within a field of view of inches. At that level of exploration, everything becomes interesting and new.
Since that time, the content of my images has expanded to include every scale of nature (wildlife, landscape, even the universe!). Now I live on a farm (very un-city like). And, I find myself looking to explore again at the macro level. I find that I can express as much in the space of a few inches as I can in a landscape depicting a few acres.
Images of the macro kind are made with the same thoughts and feelings as any other type of image. I still deal with experiences, metaphors, color, line, shape, texture, light — just in a smaller area.
Above is an example of an image I made a while ago at Longwood Gardens (just outside of Philly). It is a minimalistic piece with strong color. The color content is harmonious more than complementary. The yellow against the red is very powerful. Keeping the brighter yellow as a small part of the image, I feel, keeps the image balanced.
“Just as you say that a body feels warm to the hand, so you might say that it feels red to what you see with” ~ Virgil C. Aldrich.
Artistic growth. It is not something planned, it happens organically as experience and knowledge are gained. When I first started working with a camera, my primary intent was to record what I saw. It was a rather literal representation that guided my purpose. I’ve been working with a camera for 40 years though and have long understood that photography is not just a literal medium. It is a selective, abstracting, very plastic medium when so desired.
When one looks at the world with artistic vision, with the need to express feeling, and personal values, the medium of expression is of little relevance. I find myself less interested in the typical photographic renderings based on sublime locations and extraordinary events. If an image elicits a response of “luck”, “right-place, right-time”, or “where did you get that?” I wonder if I am creating something personal enough. While, there are certainly times and places which drive me to make images, I hope that those images are more than recordings. I want them to be about something bigger than the content in the frame.
While any selective process has an element of personal meaning to it, I acknowledge that my response to an event or place can be guided by a desire to impress others or for financial gain. As an artist who must live off the work he does, I accept that my motivation is from more than one thing. But also, as an artist, I have to create images consistent with what drove me to be a full time artist. Right now, that work is rather different than when I started, and even different than what I was creating 5 years ago. If I were still creating the same pictures that I was 30-40 years ago (or even five years ago), I would be stating that my life and experiences have led me nowhere new, that I have not grown, or changed in any way. And that would not be true.
Much of my new work is done on the 7 1/2 acres of farmland my artist wife and I own, or in my studio within the farmhouse. Here the aesthetic experiences are simple but no less profound. As in other locations where I have worked for many years, I see more deeply with increased submersion. On or near the farm, I have daily, seasonal, and yearly interaction with nature and it is here that my most authentic work is now done.
My approach to the medium of photography is as an artist. Because of this, I try not to have preconceived notions about how photography “should” be done and think instead only of the imagery I want to create. I do however work within the medium to create images that are best rendered as a photograph, not in a contrived way in order to make it look falsely like another medium.
My approach means that the images I create are conceived to be made primarily in the
field through the use of traditional photographic methods, i.e., camera and lens. For an impressionistic image like the one above (titled Opus 1), I used an old 120mm f1.9 Carl Zeiss Jena film projector lens which had been fitted with an adapter giving it an M42 mount. With that mount, I was able to then add an additional adapter to allow it’s use on a Fuji digital interchangeable lens camera.
As a film projector lens, it has no focusing mechanism, no aperture control, and no way to communicate with the camera. The M42 adapter on the lens has a built in helicoid which allows me to “focus” it buy turning the lens and causing it to be closer to or further away from the camera sensor. With no aperture, the lens is only usable at it’s f1.9 rating. This large aperture means lots of light gets in and depth of field is very thin. But for me that’s the whole point of using this big, hazy, scratched, and fungus growing, chunk of glass.
The lens is a beast and unruly on a camera, but I feel the rendering matches my aesthetic very well. As I continue to develop a view of the world which is more impressionistic, I find myself wanting to use this lens more and more. For the image above, I had been struggling with modern traditional lenses to isolate flowers in this meadow and simplify the background. The fall off of focus with this projector lens is very sudden and creates a unique type of bokeh that I have not achieved with any other lens.
Many people think that Opus 1 is a painting. I inform viewers that it is in fact a photograph, but one done in a painterly style. By painterly I do not mean the use of artificial brush strokes, but rather an emphasis on color and form instead of linear definition.
One of the most rewarding aspects about doing art festivals and fairs is the interaction I get to have with the buyers of my work. These interactions both provide me the satisfaction I seek as an artist and idea’s for how to progress with my art. Sometimes I get requests to print a particular image in a size, or in a way which I hadn’t initially intended.
I listen carefully to these requests and if I think the image will work in the form requested and I believe that the customer will be happy with the result, I will comply. Recently, I have received requests for several images which I offer as prints to be done on canvas in sizes ranging from 15×15 to 20×30. I hadn’t intended to have these works represented on canvas, nor in the sizes which were requested. But I listen carefully to requests and have come to trust that clients often see a presentation of an image that will be wonderful. Usually I can visualize their request and recognize that their ideas are great. Other times I need to see the finished piece before I am fully convinced.
If a request would take a work in a different direction than I intended, or require an alteration to the piece which I do not feel is consistent with my vision, I will just decline the offer. This occurrence is rare however. Mostly, the requests I receive are for a different substrate for the print (e.g., canvas instead of photographic paper), or a different size (e.g., 20×30 instead of 11×14). If I introduce a piece in which I intend only one representation, then I also have to decline special requests. Often however, I will introduce a new piece with flexibility regarding it’s edition composition and so can accommodate special requests. In these cases, I get to listen. And almost always, I like what I hear.
As an example, I recently introduced a new image which I titled Opus I. I printed this impressionistic and somewhat experimental piece as a 9.75″ x 13.75″ on a matte surface paper, matted to 16×20. I am now fulfilling requests made by two customers, one for a 16×24 canvas, the other a 20×30 canvas. Having just finished wrapping these pieces to ship, I can say with certainty that these two requests were well considered. The result was beyond my expectations. These two customers recognized that a larger presentation would bring forth the qualities of this image that pleased me most.
Opus I was made with a lens I am using for a series of botanicals. The lens is actually meant to be used on a projector, not a camera, but was adapted to work with a modern digital camera. I have been wanting to do more impressionistic works and this odd, heavy piece of glass has become one of my tools.
I’ll be in Rockville, Maryland this weekend participating in the A-RTS Rockville Arts Festival for the first time. It will also be my first show in the state of Maryland. Like many outdoor shows, there is a lot of physical labor involved and as this show has a Saturday morning set-up, it will be a bit of a grind. I’ve done these types of shows before though and they are part of my motivation to stay in some form of physical fitness. A regular routine consisting of yoga and light weight training is usually enough to keep me from getting hurt and from falling asleep during the show (lots of coffee doesn’t hurt).
The image of the hanging orchids below was made at Longwood Gardens, one of my favorite locations to work with flowers. This time of year though there are flowers growing everywhere and they all call out to me. I carried a Sony RX10 on this trip which was a pleasure to use and allowed me to work with a light weight, very versatile camera.
The image is available as an 11×14 archival print matted to 16×20 for $89 by emailing me at email@example.com.