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?
“The enjoyment of beauty is a kind of escape from, a going out from, the urgencies of place and time.” ~ Virgil C. Aldrich (American Philosopher, 1903-1998)
There was a point early in my career where I realized that the process of creation was no longer an option. The act of creating had became an escape from the everyday stresses of life. If I didn’t get into the field at least once a week, I went into a low level depression (withdrawal?). Being out in nature was a big part of what drove the creative process. The science is clear about the benefits of being in areas of woods, around water bodies; even just looking at pictures of nature lowers stress levels.
I have come to realize as well that beauty itself drives my creative process and can serve as an escape. One of the benefits of working in the arts is the ability to create things of beauty. I can create my own escape when I need it. In my farmhouse studio space I can explore subjects in detail at my own pace and experience a world of beauty all to myself. For me art is all about experiences.
The image above was the result of an exploration of a silk moth which I found on our farm earlier this spring. Discovering its intricate wing scale design was a joyful experience. It felt like I was looking at a mosaic of tiles when I viewed a section of wing close-up. For the period of time in which I created images I thought of nothing other than the wonderfulness of the color and pattern. With its rhythm of scales though, it was the curve of the wing that I was drawn to most.
Curves introduce a feeling of tension. While sensual in form, curves imply resistance. Straight is less tense while driving; a curved road requires more expenditure of energy to maneuver. A river that flows through an oxbow is constantly fighting the curves. Straightness implies a fight with gravity which is lost, or even a struggle with death no longer fought. Leo Stein (American art collector/critic, 1872 – 1947) remarked, “Tension in line can be observed if one will follow the outline of a vase and notice the force it takes to bend the line of a contour.” Curves to me speak to a life force, something I think art can convey uniquely.
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.
I am in the unusual position of writing a blog entry in late February with the windows open and still being slightly warm in my studio. It reached the mid 70’s today in north central PA. But it is still winter and the visual stimuli that excite me about winter are still forefront of my mind. It wasn’t that long ago that I made this image even though the temperatures suggest it should have been months ago.
I’ve always enjoyed the visual aesthetics of patterns in nature. I work with them not strictly out of a sense of design but because shapes convey emotions. The same way that human posture conveys feelings, so do the curves, lines, and geometries that are all around us. In some ice forms, those curves, lines, and shapes can be very complex. As an artist I am working to compose an image that expresses movement, joyfulness, tension, harmony.
This image was made along the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. Using a Nikon D810 and an quite old 28-105mm Nikkor lens in macro mode, I isolated a section of ice and grasses frozen into a geometry that I found quite stirring. A small aperture created the necessary depth of field. This depth had to balanced with a sufficient shutter speed to hand hold the camera during the exposure. Because of where I chose to compose this image, using a tripod was not practical.
I’m looking forward to this weekend. I will be exhibiting with the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen at Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia.
There will be new work! I have been creating images with a couple unique themes. I am excited about both new bodies of work. The first set of imagery is being done with a variety of antique lenses and plays with light and color as reflected off of the flowers that grow in meadows near my studio. The second set of imagery is being done with macro lenses and deals with light refraction off of water drops on plant leaves and petals. In future posts I will be speaking about these new bodies of work in more detail.
The image below is part of the first new body of work and was made with an antique Meyer Optik Gorlitz 135mm f3.5 lens (Exakta mount) that I purchased on eBay from an overseas seller. The lens, when used correctly, can render background elements with a very soft, etherial feeling. The out-of-focus highlights expand into spherical shapes that I find very pleasing. I used the lens on a Fuji XT-10 camera body with an adaptor that allows it to be used on the camera. Exposure is done in manual mode as is focusing, but the Fuji has a wonderful electronic viewfinder which allows me to precisely select the area I want to be sharp.
I seem to be especially conscious of red this winter and more specifically, sources of red other than cardinals. In this case, the red is from wild rose hips (?). Encased in ice, these round dots of red created an amazing contrast to the otherwise monochromatic brush.
This is an image I made while the freezing rain was still falling and so I had to be conscious of the potential harm to gear. For this reason I opted to use an Olympus OM-D EM-5 camera with the Olympus 60mm macro lens. Both camera and lens are weather-proof according to Olympus, and I have come to believe it!
I drove my daughter to school today because it was minus 1 degrees Fahrenheit outside. That’s about as cold as it gets in Bucks County, PA and a lot colder than normal. I don’t much like the cold, not this cold anyway. But I have it easy, heated car, heated home, and I can dress for the weather as needed. Not everyone can claim the same benefits and certainly animals need to find their own way to survive.
I feel that this image satisfies a number of visual interests of mine (e.g., texture, contrast, tonality) but also speaks to the idea of survival. Birds of course rely on their feathers for insulation and protection. Here is a lost feather against ice and snow where it blends in visually, but also creates an interesting contrast between cold (ice nd snow) and warm (feather insulation).
I made the image with low directional light from a setting sun on a lakeshore. This lighting both gave a bit of warm contrast to the cool toned shadows and emphasized the textural aspects of the snow/ice and the feather. I composed to create a bit of diagonal movement in the line of the shaft.
When I woke up the other day and saw the frost on car windshields, I was mesmerized by the soft, feathery patterns that had formed. I scoped out our two clunkers and my new van to see which vehicle offered me the best light and perspective opportunity. I selected the van. So I climbed in, closed the door and went to work (without leaving the driveway!). The windshield from the inside slopes strongly so I knew I wouldn’t be able to get a DSLR and lens to fit. I opted to go for my Canon G11 which is small, has a macro mode, and articulated screen (there’s no way I’d be able to position myself to see through a viewfinder).
I was working close and at an angle, so I closed down the aperture to f/8 and positioned the camera screen where the pattern and light intrigued me most. It was still a challenge though as I had to hold the camera in such a way that made my fingers activate controls I didn’t want. Still, as the sun reflected off the window of the house across the street, I was able to work in both warm and cool tones.
Soon after I started making pictures (over 30yrs ago), I quickly became enamored with “macro” photography (photography of small subjects working with specialized lenses which allow you to focus close to your subject). My first “serious” lens was a used Sigma macro lens. It allowed me to explore nature in a way that made even the yard of my Philadelphia apartment seem like a wilderness.
I continue to explore nature through this close-up photographic technique, although now I do it with a variety of close-focusing lenses and in natural areas rather more diverse than my Philly front yard. However, it is the visual simplicity that I can achieve with macro-photography that really keeps me going back to it.
In the case of the image below, a simple line (leaf edge) and the contrasting almost-perfect orb of dew create an image of simplicity and tension. I am drawn to water droplets as characters in my work. They appear as jewels on misty mornings, after a rain, or when the appropriate dew point and I intersect.
For this image I was working with a Canon 40D and a Canon EF 100mm f2.8 macro lens set at f2.8. I had a shutter speed of 1/640 and set the ISO to 400. I set the camera to Aperture Priority and metered in Pattern mode.