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Category Archives: Nature

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.

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.

One of the high points of every summer for me is the blossoming of the rose bushes in front of my house.  The bushes were planted long before my wife and I purchased the house a few years ago, and they provide much pleasure to our entire family throughout the warmest months of the Minnesota summers.  I made the photograph below shortly after a rain shower; it is an example of the beauty that often results immediately before or after inclement weather.  It is during such transitions that nature and light can confound into ephemeral wonder.

As a scientist, I seek to “know” the phenomena of my investigations in order to understand their workings.  There is an pleasure to discovering some bit of information, no matter how small, that was not previously known.  I experience a similar feeling when reading the literature related to my areas of academic interest.

As a nature photographer, I seek to “know” the subjects of my work on a more directly personal level.  My implicit goal is to recognize the subject of the lens on its own terms.  Doing so in the field fuels a sense of understanding much more affective than cognitive.

I can seek to know a flower, a mountain range, a prairie in different ways.  Each way brings with it a relevant delight.

I recently came across a quotation from Galen Rowell that resonates strongly with my own photographic ethos:

I’m exchanging molecules every 30 days with the natural world and in a spiritual sense I know I am a part of it and take my photographs from that emotional feeling within me, rather than from an emotional distance as a spectator.

This is a statement akin to the notion of biophilia, an inherent sense of connection with the natural elements of the Earth, expounded by E. O. Wilson.  Such an awareness is what largely motivates my photography.  As I have previously written, nature photography serves to enhance my interaction with nature by redirecting my attention away from the self and out toward the environment.  Through the lens, I am reminded that there is no such thing as the mundane.

Yet, there are times when I find it difficult to achieve a balance between observing through the lens, and simply experiencing the natural world without a goal to make a good photograph.  This is especially challenging when I am under a clear night sky distant from by the glow of urban lights.  Shall I attempt to make a photograph, or shall I simply gaze heavenward?  Perhaps the ideal is to learn to follow both paths at once.

The season is turning to spring in the more northern climes, and evidence abounds.  I do not know if I was more pleased on a recent walk to see the return of ducks, or simply the free water in which they swam.  Gone for another year is the ice that locked away so much of this land.

As the photo  illustrates, the precession of seasons does not quite move smoothly from the pristine white of snow to an explosion of vernal colors.  Meaningful change requires time.  Whether it be in a pool of water atop thawing ice, or within the thoughts and emotions of an individual, renewal is a process that often begins slowly before bursting forth with the potentiality of a future.

The end of winter is an interesting time of the year.  Not yet spring with its attendant return to life, there are nonetheless subtle signs of the pending vernal equinox.  One indicator is the presence of snow that has melted and refrozen.  Such snow can take on a special appearance as it again begins to sublimate in the morning light.

Ever since childhood, I have found those brief durations of dawn and dusk to be the most enigmatic of the day.  There is simply something special about the early morning as the stars fade into a deep blue sky and the colors of refracted sunlight begin to display overhead.  Even more moving to me is when the reverse happens in the evening, when after a potentially beautiful chromatic experience one is favored with the wonders of a starry night.  Galen Rowell wrote eloquently about the magic of the “golden hour”, that time when the sun is still just below the horizon, when colors are warm, when shadows are long.  I am grateful to witness such moments each and every one, and sometimes even think past the awe to pick up the camera.

I realize that these comments come long after the release of the movie.  However, having just seen Avatar for the second time, I now feel  more competent to evaluate my own perceptions of the movie and the reasons thereof.  I  admit that I very much enjoyed both viewings of the movie.  As a scientist and nature photographer, I am struck by the sheer beauty of both the imagery and the implicit philosophy we observe on the fictional moon of Pandora.  I also wonder whether some members of modern society have forgotten that such real beauty exists on our own Earth, and that it does not necessitate an interstellar voyage to be among it, even if only for a brief moment.