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Category Archives: Landscape

As evinced by the absence of new posts these past few months, things have been busy.  I finally went out today to spend some time behind the lens as the weather turned unseasonably warm.  Upon returning home and reviewing the photographs I made on the hike, I discovered that this last one is the 4,000th shot I have made with the Canon 450D.  Remarkably, tomorrow marks three years to the day since I purchased the camera.  I realize that 4,000 shots is nothing for a professional photographer.  So what?  I shoot for myself, for the joy of connecting with what I see and experience in nature.  I have averaged better than 1,300 a year, and a few of the photographs have even been pretty good.  I probably shot less than 1,300 photos on chrome over the seven years that I was working with a Canon A-1 and Velvia.  It has been a good three years.

My family and I journeyed west in August to Yellowstone National Park, among other places.  What I experienced was nearly two weeks of perpetual awe, both of what we saw beyond the car and what we shared within it.  There is such wonder to behold on this little planet we call home.  How fortunate I am to be able to participate with camera in hand.

What is my photographic style?  This is a question that often arises in discussion among photographers, although it is perhaps even more common within nature photographers as they seek to better understand their own work and the motivations behind it.  It has been said that a photographer does not decide upon a style; it discovers you.  This is a topic upon which I have devoted some thought as of late.  What have I learned?

– I most enjoy nature photography when it extends my interaction with the natural environment, whether by focusing my attention, keeping my longer in the field, or showing me things I missed as I review the frames.

– I am a believer in the importance of previsualization, but have found that my passion wanes when I go out to capture shots to check off a list instead of going out to interact with the natural world and ideally returning with photographs resultant of that experience.

– I love the technology.

– As a friend and fellow photog pointed out last year, I tend to view the environment (or at least compose my shots) in a very geometric manner.

– Ultimately, my passion to observe nature with gratitude, awe, and study guides my developing style.  I do not think the awe can be ignored.

As much as I would like to dedicate significant time to shooting on a regular basis, this is not currently realistic given my familial and professional responsibilities.  What I have instead attempted to do these past months is take advantage of fleeting winter moments by having my camera at the ready.  This has primarily materialized in my developing an increased awareness of morning sky conditions.  I might not have ready access to my own proverbial Listening Point; yet, nature often provides her visual bounty if only we wait and watch.

I have the seemingly rare good fortune to live the life I truly wish to live.  This is largely true across both the personal and professional arenas.  Some days really exemplify such wonder via environmental events.  Shortly before the first of the new year, my wife and I returned to Schlitz Audobon Nature Center in the northern suburbs of Milwaukee to hike one of my old haunts from the days when I lived on the East Side.  Although it was deep into December, the thermometer had reached nearly 50F.  What resulted was a beautiful and slightly surrealistic hike.

I recently purchased a new wide-angle lens to replace my previous primary lens, and have been very pleased with the initial results.  The new lens is so sharp and has such better control of chromatic aberrations compared with its predecessor in my camera bag.  Needless to say, I am pleased.  This recent equipment upgrade has also motivated my thinking about sharpness in photography.  I realize this is a topic to with I (too) often return.  However, this time I have been pondering the historical treatment of sharpness in nature photography.

I began in nature photography about 7 years ago, when John Shaw’s print books were still relatively new and Galen Rowell’s death was still felt by many in the photographic community.  I read many of these gentlemen’s books, as well as the works of a number of other gifted and knowledgeable nature photographers.  Never do I remember anyone giving significant attention to the concept of sharpness beyond:  (a) use a tripod, (b) use the sharpest lens you can afford, and (c) use the finest-grained film (i.e., Fuji Velvia).  Indeed, since (a) and (c) were often given as assumptions, the written discussions often appeared to focus on lens choice.  I do not think anyone today would seriously argue with this point that the lens is the ultimate arbiter of image quality.

What was entirely absent from the discussion was which camera was sharper than the others.  Everyone seemed to shoot one of a few choices of chrome, be it on 35mm or large format.  The issue was how steady one could keep the camera and on how well they could focus (hyperfocal distance not withstanding).  Diffraction was something understood to be a tradeoff with depth-of-field.

Today, the landscape is different.  The molecular composition of film offered amazing potential sharpness in the emulsion.  This was not true of the original digital sensors.  Digital sensors were more obviously limited in their sharpness than was film up until the past year or two with the 20+MP cameras.  There are therefore now more issues to consider when debating sharpness.

Yet, at the end of the day in the real world, color is still color.

As I continue to study and practice the art of nature photography, I find myself increasingly aware of the importance of form and color in my work.  The manner in which the various visual elements of a photograph flow across the frame.  The real colors of a real landscape or closeup, unfettered by digital manipulation or the overuse of filters.

I am not inherently drawn prairie.  Nonetheless, having now lived in Minnesota for more than a decade, I have begun to develop an interest in experiencing and photographing this biome.  I had my first chance to do so while camping this weekend at Minneopa State Park.  The weather was cool and breezy, with sufficient cloud cover to prevent the sun from relentlessly beating down upon my head.  It was a lovely experience, to include an opportunity to see the Minnesota River up close.

I have previously enumerated the photography websites I frequent.  Earlier today I came across a free web-dependent application written by Stephen Trainor entitled The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE).  The visual interface allows for truly impressive depth when it comes to considering the solar and lunar ephemerides upon a topographical map.  I have wanted to make a sunset photograph from that point for several years, but have found the shooting of it (especially at night) to be more productive than shooting from it.

I plan to utilize TPE to help me previsualize a sunset shot for later this summer.  Here is a screenshot of that location for today’s date:

Notice the colored lines representing sunrise (yellow), sunset (orange), moonrise (light blue), and moonset (dark blue).  Clicking on the “Twilight” button will provide times for civil, nautical, and astronomical twilight.  I must admit that the amalgamation of nature photographer and amateur astronomer in me enjoys playing with these tools just to observe the potential changes on the landscape.

It has been some time since I last posted, much longer than I had intended.  The past few weeks have been taken by teaching, attending a brief professional conference, and then spending a glorious full week in a cabin on the Gunflint Trail among the northwoods of Minnesota.

The Gunflint Trail is a small, 57-mile highway that stretches from Grand Marais on the northwest shore of Lake Superior up through a relative sliver of woods surrounded by the protected wilderness of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA).  The proximity of this jewel of the National Wilderness Preservation System results in a sense of wildness and quiet along the Gunflint.  It also presents an exceptional location for nature photography.

I will have more to write about my week on the Gunflint in the days ahead.  For now, I shall begin by saying that one of my favorite experiences on the Gunflint is the evenings.