One of the things I like about living in north-central Pennsylvania is our four distinct seasons. And while I don’t particularly like the coldest weather we get here, I do like the visuals of leafless trees and the landscape covered in snow. This type of scene elicits a mood within me that tends to be rather sentimental, nostalgic, or cozy. The cold air outdoors can be countered by a fresh cup of Pike Place coffee or hot chocolate (a bit of peppermint Schnapps helps too). Maybe a favorite blanket, a fireplace, a comfortable chair come to mind as well.
So it’s not really the landscape itself which has a mood, it’s our response to a scene which is projected onto the landscape that elicits our feelings. When I am creating images outside in the winter I am working mostly by gut instinct. A combination of conscious and subconscious responses to the visual environment effected by the feeling of cold, the sounds around me, maybe the smell of a distant fire. I cannot, of course, put all of these sensations into my image, but they impact the creative process.
When the images are brought into my studio and viewed on a computer screen away from the conditions in which they were made, I can evaluate them at a different level. Without all of the sensory stimuli which were associated with the making of the images in the field, I can look at them with fresh eyes. Elements like contrast, tonality, texture, composition, visual impact, and even just how much I like the image, can be evaluated more consciously. My goal in this part of the process is to be authentic to my visual experience in the field and my aesthetic response to that image in the studio.
The image below was made a short walk from my studio. I was drawn to the texture of the trees and to the way they surrounded the small red building. The evergreen trees provide a visual color balance to the red and a color harmony with the blues in the shadowy parts of the woods. Strong diagonal lines throughout the image lead from the the upper left to the lower right and so to the red building as well. Most of this analysis takes place in the studio and not in the field, at least not consciously. But I am sure that the studio analysis of the image impacts my subconscious responses going forward when I am working in the moment.
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 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!
One of my favorite winter subjects are cardinals in snow or ice. The contrast of a male Northern Cardinal against a white backdrop is strong and dramatic. I am especially fond of birds as subjects anyway, so the fact that I’m drawn to these red beauties in winter is no surprise to people who know my work. However, cardinals are in some ways just a convenient carrier of the crimson color which I want in my otherwise monochromatic images. There are other sources of red though!
During our recent ice storm (not to be confused with are more recent 20″ snow storm), I incorporated red sumac into images predominately involving ice. The contrast here is also very effective and the sumac allowed me to compose with more red in the image than I typically am able when only dealing with cardinals.
Here I am working with a Nikon D800 and a Nikon AFS 28-300mm lens for compositional freedom.
It’s the Strawberry Festival at Peddler’s Village in Lahaska, PA this weekend! I will be set up in my gallery-on-the-go canopy both Saturday and Sunday. The forecast looks great! Oh, and did I mention there will be strawberries?
In this colorful image bellow of a brilliant red flower, I have isolated the stamen with emphasis on the bright yellow anther. This is one of the fun and creative ways I like to work with macro photography. Simple form and strong color can make for a dynamic image. Here I was using a Panasonic G2 with a Lensbaby attachment that allows me to use a Nikon 55mm micro lens.
This is one of my favorite birds and one that I never get tired of using in an image. I have made images of both the male and female in which the bird itself is a small part of the frame, yet still dominates it for attention. One such image is Fire and Ice, a male cardinal on a snag during a fairly heavy snowfall.
In Fire and Ice I played on the contrast of the red bird and cool colored background that translated to film. The bird is small in the frame and proves how powerful red is, and how emotional. I offer the image as an 6.5″x9.5″ print matted and mounted to 11″x14″. This time of year especially I receive comments that it would make a wonderful Christmas card, and someday, maybe I’ll do that.
It was a pleasant surprise then that I should receive interest in use of the image from a Rabbi in Virginia for the cover of Virginia Jewish Life magazine. They were looking for just such an image for their winter issue. After-all, Virginia does get snow and the cardinal is their state bird. The issue is now out and I think they did a great job combining my image with text. You can find the cover story here: