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.
One of the things I really enjoy about living in this part of the country (north-central PA), is having four distinct seasons. So when I received an inquiry from a customer about doing a four-seasons arrangement with trees being prominent, I was very pleased. My client had already selected three pieces from my gallery on-line and wanted me to work up some options specifically for spring. After sending her several thumbnail images, she made her choice. But still a bit uncertain, she needed something else.
It always helps to be able to visualize an art arrangement on a wall, so I sent her a mock -up image of the pieces she selected. Not only did she have a better sense of how the selection would look together, she loved my specific arrangement. As an artist, it is rewarding to me that I can both create works that speak to people, and assist in how they will live with the art they purchase.
I sometimes feel transported back in time by the simplicity of the rural landscape around me. I can imagine that it is the middle of the Nineteenth Century with no wires, no automobiles, no cell towers. On a wintry day with snow on the ground, the landscape becomes even more stark. Working with the most modern of photographic tools, I still felt compelled to create a monochromatic piece suggestive of old glass-plate days and wonky lenses.
It’s always exciting and fun to have a new project for a client. This current request for a four seasons collection had me considering works depicting spring trees. The image making process for me is always intense, so each trip through my collection of images brings back memories and emotions.
This image was made in Bucks County, PA early in the morning from a position where I could place the sun behind the early spring buds. Their rich colors were emphasized by the the back lighting, a polarizing filter, and contrast development in Lightroom.
It’s kind of nice to be thinking about spring on a cold, windy winter day.
I am excited to introduce a new image and a new series. This new series is really a new category of art prints which will represent the majority of work I offer going forward. In this series which I have named “The 100”, prints will be limited to 100 total across all edition sizes. If I print in 1, 2 or 3 edition sizes, the total across all of them will be 100. For this new image, Black Bird, I am introducing it as a 9.75 x 13.75 print matted to 16×20 in an edition of 50. Therefore, all other edition sizes will number a total of 50 prints to reach 100.
Black Bird is an image I made early morning during a snow storm this month (it’s been that kind of spring!). Waking up to the snow, I immediately grabbed my preferred gear for tough weather and started driving the back roads around where I live in north-central Pennsylvania.
For this image I was drawn to the line of the trees and the way the snow was covering the branches almost as if the trees were “leafed-out” with white foliage. To me this piece has the feeling of an infra-red image, it is almost surreal. I keyed in on the small figure of a black bird on the top of the central tree and decided to make it the “center” of interest. The bird animates the image, providing a point of empathy, a vantage point that we can relate to. All wildlife allows this type of connection with a landscape, regardless of how small in the frame they are. It was also because of the small size of the bird in the image that I placed it centrally. The arrangement of trees is best in this configuration as well however. I work by gut instinct, intuitively, so I can react authentically and emotionally to a scene.
I used an Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with an Olympus 12-100mm lens. This weatherproof gear gives me great confidence to work in extreme conditions. It is small and light weight and feels very comfortable in my hands. The Olympus 12-100mm gives me a great range of compositional options especially when needing to work from a confined range.
A big part of the visual impact of an image is the focal point. The focal point is the specific location that the viewer is lead to by the photographer. That point may be achieved through selective focus, light contrast, color, or some compositional device. Sometimes, the focal “point” may be a focal plane, a slice of the image that is somehow accentuated and made therefore, most important.
I like the visual impact of altering the plane-of-focus in an image beyond the normal parallel and instead creating a plane that is rather diagonal. It imparts a bit of an altered state feeling. It can also impart a bit of a dreaminess. This dreamy state is partially due to the defusing of an area of the image that is usually part of the normal depth of field. I like too, that the result is a simplification of the scene so that the specific slice I want to draw attention to is the only area in focus.
To achieve my desired result, I use a Lensbaby adapter which allows me to use Nikon lenses on Micro-Four-Thirds cameras. In the image below I used a Nikon 28mm manual focus lens (quite old) on a Panasonic G2 camera and set the plane of focus off to the side and down. It was a spring evening after a rain and the woods were vibrant green and smelled wonderful.
One of my goals when selecting new photographic tools is to be able to do things that my current tools don’t allow or make too difficult. Last year I purchased a Nikon Coolpix P900 because I felt that its crazy 83x optical zoom lens which ranges from an equivalent 24-2000mm would allow me to compose almost any image I wanted. It also was said to have a pretty good image stabilization function which I knew would be necessary with 2000mm!
No camera can fill every niche, and the more any one camera claims to allow me to do, the lower the image quality tends to be. So I went into this purchase expecting the limitations of such a camera. Having worked with it just a bit now, I have confirmed my suspicions regarding its limitations but also what I hoped it to be – a go to camera when an image idea comes to me and there is no time or access to setting up “better” gear.
One of those “in the moment” ideas came to me during a recent evening and the Nikon P900 was the tool I selected to try to make the image I was visualizing. The moon was slowly coming over a ridge lined with trees. I wanted to compose a frame filling image of the moon with the silhouetted trees in front in a very flat, two-dimensional way. I ran inside for the camera and started composing. At 800 ISO I was able to get sufficient shutter speed to hand hold 2000mm I thought. But for extra security I found a post to lean on and stabilized myself further.
I took the meter reading off the moon to maximize my shutter speed and because I wanted the sky to go black. The image became a round, golden ball with some crater detail and bare winter trees silhouetted. Its the image I visualized in my head.
Prints in two sizes are available on my website – Here
Winter I believe, is the most unique of the seasons visually. Winter has a mood that is just totally different from Spring, Summer, or Fall. There is a starkness of course, but also a more spiritual essence. Maybe its the harshness of the season, the historical struggle associated with it that makes us look upon it with awe. Most of us survive winters quite effectively now which may make it easier to look upon it with a sense of beauty rather than dread.
We are still dealing with one of the harsher winters we’ have had in this part of Pennsylvania, and this past ice storm has impacted both family and friends (who are still without power!). I don’t mind saying though that this ice event has transformed the landscape in a way that I find as beautiful as any natural event I’ve ever witnessed.
I sometimes find subjects of great beauty the most difficult from which to create compelling imagery. I may be more satisfied by creating beauty from “ordinary” subjects. How does one interpret great beauty without representing the obvious. And when the whole landscape is encased in crystal, how do you allow yourself enough time in any one location when the rest of the world is calling you to it?
All I can do is try to relax, breath, stay in the moment, and dig deep within to determine what it is that I find so thrilling about light coming through ice, shaped around trees, and refracting every color of the rainbow! Alright, that sounds impossible……….maybe it is?
I asked a friend recently what her favorite season was, she answered – “fall.” In fact she had her seasons rated 1 thru 4 with great confidence. I’m a bit more complicated maybe. I like fall visually, the colors thrill me. But i think my favorite season emotionally is spring. I like the beginnings of things more than the ends. Fall makes me feel more like the end of something is coming.
Fall is a thrilling time for a visual person though and I welcome it even with its shorter days and with the knowledge that winter is close. When I have the opportunity to work with all that fall color, the only thing that can make things better is a reflection. The best way to achieve a reflection of fall colors is in water. Water bodies display the colors which they reflect back to us in shades which are slightly deeper. So if there are brightly colored leaves on those trees, the water reflection will be quite spectacular.
In this image below which was made in the Delaware Water Gap in PA during an especially magnificent fall, I composed tightly to just emphasize the reflection. The image takes on a rather impressionistic feel with just the reflection of color and line. I then cropped the image to a panoramic 7×14 (2:1 ratio) and inverted it so that the trees are “right-side up.” Inverting the image emphasizes the impressionistic elements I feel.
The image was made with a Canon 5D and a Canon EF 28-300mm L lens. I no longer have either the camera or the lens, but for several years this was my favorite landscape outfit.
The moon is a highly evocative subject whether it’s a sliver, a crescent, or full. It speaks to such a range of emotions from fear to romance. Trees have a similar effect on people, evocative as well, they speak to strength, loneliness, rebirth, and joyousness. Combined, these two elements of moon and trees, make for a pretty powerful visual and emotional effect.
In this image of a morning moon setting against a pre-dawn sky, I composed to place the moon off-center and behind branches. The exposure was made off of the sky and then decreased a bit to make sure I had detail in the moon. The trees are in silhouette but with a twist! Since there is snow on some of the branches, there is a dimensionality to the trees that is otherwise lacking in such an image.
The image was made with a Panasonic G2 and Panasonic 100-300mm lens at around 250mm (which is 500mm equivalent in 35mm terms).