Strong connections to musical lyrics, religious hymns, and poems, associated with botanical portraits are the emotional connections brought together in this series of images created by the talented artist Barbara S. Guin in this month’s First Friday Showcase. Artistry is paramount in these works that are a small sampling of her rich themes that include landscapes and encaustic renderings of her work as well. She has widely exhibited throughout the area, her work has been published in the award winning Carolina Nature Photographers magazine Camera in the Wild, and is included in both private and corporate collections. If you would like to meet the artist and hear about her photography, there will be a LiveZoom Reception held on the First Friday, November 6th at 7pm (eastern). Reservations are required and available through her web site here.
To see more of her wide range of work, it can be viewed on the web at these locations:
Does it matter if you gathered your gear together, ventured out in the darkness before dawn, drove to a location, and never took the camera out of the bag? In landscape photography, it probably happens more often than you would think. There can be many reasons you were uninspired that particular day, and there’s probably no need to list them all here, but several immediately come to mind: uncooperative conditions, unexpected impediments, unable to reach a desired location (locked gates), or even just a simple lack of inspiration without the need or desire to take a photograph that day. So, if all you’ve gotten out of your excursion is something similar to the image above, you can always explore possibilities with some older work that may have been languishing in your library. Work them like a painter, changing coloration, textures or anything you wish… create!! I’m sure most of those who read this will have far more experience and software to do these explorations, but even so, I gave it a shot the other day when there were no new images to process… only older work that may have sparked an interest in giving it a try.
When it was created in 1978, the Pinelands National Reserve was the first National Reserve in the nation. It is immense. At 1.1 million acres, it occupies about 22% of New Jersey’s land area and is the largest body of open space on the Mid-Atlantic seaboard between Richmond, VA and Boston, MA.
The first visit there was in 1993 after scouring maps and finding that it was interlaced with a web of secondary gravel roads. After about a two hour drive, I arrived while still mostly dark, hoping for a glorious sunrise over Lake Oswego. But the sunrise was a bust and it remained generally cloudy all day. But the overcast turned out to be a blessing since it was like a giant light box overhead, making for easy, low contrast images. What I did not know however, was that only through luck, I happened to time the visit in autumn as the understory turned into a sea of scarlet blueberry bushes! An amazing sight. I drove around on these dirt roads, stopping whenever I saw a possible composition, with nothing specific in mind. It turned out to be a great day for photography with the image above one of my favorite from that day. It was an area that had recently seen a wildfire with blackened pine trunks that sprouted some new green growth to really set off the red of the blueberry bushes. Making sure everything was in focus was a breeze since the manual focus lenses had barrel markings when using hyper-focal distances to set the focus ring. Since the singular thin trunk was pretty close to the camera, I focused on it, set my fingernail on the barrel, and rotated the ring until it lined up with f/16 or f/22, and seeing the infinity mark within the same f-stop on the opposite side, I knew everything would be sharp. The polarizing filter made a world of difference in cutting out the glare from the red leaves so the color would really pop.
It was a wonderful day spent in the quiet of the Pinelands. Until I loaded up the gear in the car to head home. Turning the key to start the engine turned over all right, but it never started; the engine just kept turning. Many tries later, it always had the same result. The car just wouldn’t start. It was getting later in the afternoon and I was far from any civilization. What to do? I put on the backpack with the camera gear, grabbed the tripod and starting hiking several miles to where I had passed the National Blueberry Research Center (which may not even exist anymore). Luckily, when I knocked on the door, someone answered, and I was able to use their telephone to get a tow truck to the Research Center, and from there directed him to where the car was located.
To make a long story short, we got the car to the Honda dealership that night and the tow truck driver dropped me off at a hotel for the overnight. The car only needed a new distributor cap for the repair, so nothing major, but for them to get to it would take most of the day. So I rented a car and continued my exploration of the Pinelands, until the car was ready. A bit more of an adventure than I had bargained for.
The following year, I revisited the Pinelands on a similarly overcast day, and found a bleached, fallen snag among the red blueberries during my on foot explorations away from the car. For this shot, I used a wide angle 35mm (20mm in full frame) and with the inherent great depth of field, didn’t have to do much to get everything within the frame in sharp focus. Maneuvering the tripod was another matter. I wanted the left side branch to be fully in the red to stand out and not creep into the jumble of trees and trunks a short distance away, so had to adjust it left and right as well as up and down. In both photos, care was taken to keep any of the distracting sky from peaking through the trees in the distance, so for the most part, the camera had to be tilted down. Any distractions from the sky were years away from removal when I got Photoshop Essentials in 2012.
Small distractions like that were never acceptable. Quite often, I would show up for a sunrise and in the near darkness, some street light or other light would be on in the frame and I would opt not to take the shot. On other occasions, I remember a few fishing floats hanging from some branches overhanging a lake, and again, opted not to take the photo. Today, it would not be a problem at all, except to remember to fix it later in Photoshop. There were many times that I had to remove cigarette butts and other small pieces of garbage to clean up the scene, up to taking off my boots and wading into a lake to remove a tire under the water that was clearly seen after the polarizer was turned. Photoshop certainly makes things easier now, and also makes possible images that were skipped in the past.
Cabin Fever is setting in. Although not officially in lock down, with the continuing Virus, I am reluctant to go out shooting much, or to travel even short distances to do any photography where there are other people around. So having an assignment to take a photo responding to one I received by email of a flower in sharp focus, I decided to go in the backyard and photograph some azaleas with Intentional Camera Movements to create something painterly in camera. The one above was simply using very small circular movements of the camera while the shutter was open. I did wait until the late afternoon for the area to be in shade to even out the lighting, and add a blue cast since it was a clear sky day. And sometimes a mistake can make a world of difference. Zeroing on the flowers themselves, I didn’t notice the blank area toward the top of the frame, and repositioned myself so that wouldn’t happen again. But when I saw the image on the computer, it appeared that it might be some hazy or foggy sky, and actually liked it better than the ones only showing the flowers. A little cropping was necessary since extra room around the main subject should always be allowed for the movements of the camera to keep the focus on the main subject.
Faced with an overcast sky and breezy conditions, the composition above was just not possible to record in a “normal” way with the spring buds of a crabapple and the trunk in focus, since the branches spread out like an umbrella, and there was quite a bit of distance between the closest buds and the trunk. In order to narrow the angle of view, and eliminate any of the bright sky in the frame, the telephoto (210mm) was the necessary lens. But with its inherent shallow depth of field, an aperture of f/32 would be needed to keep the buds and trunk in focus, which in turn necessitated a very long exposure. And with the breezy conditions, the buds would not have been sharp with an exposure time of any length. So, what to do?
Try something different. Embrace the blur; something that would carry over years later with the switch to digital, utilizing Intentional Camera Movement (ICM). But the method here was different. By setting the aperture to wide open, the result would be a very narrow depth of field, and a still long exposure of one second. But if the speed were set to 1/15th of a second, 15 multiple exposures on the same frame of film would theoretically result in a properly exposed image. And each shutter release would be focused on a different spot of the subject, either the closest buds, the trunk, the background, or anywhere in between, blurring the rest of the scene. And of course, the process needed to be repeated for each bracketed exposure as well! This was the first time I used this method, and a week later after the film was processed, I was veryhappy with the results.
The following fall, on a gloomy, rainy day, the same technique was used to photograph this rain-soaked tree of brilliant red leaves with an unusual copper-toned trunk. I would find out later that it was a river maple, but have not seen another one since. After seeing the results of this photo, the intent was to create a series of one image for each season. However, like many well meant intentions, I never followed through. Now, with my particular brand of digital camera, there is a limit of only ten exposures, which would still produce the same basic result, but I would have to find that function buried somewhere in the digital abyss of menus.
Note – The medium format camera and lenses I used back then never seemed to have a problem with difraction, where the use of very small apertures, such as f/32 as mentioned above, created images that were a bit soft, and not as sharp as possible. In fact, I had never even heard of the term until several years after switching to digital. Maybe medium and larger formats are able to withstand smaller apertures like f/45 without any image degradation, while full frame and crop sensors cannot. Not sure on that one, but being aware of it is important.
Now, with the aid of any number of software programs, images that are sharp can be processed to create the same results illustrated here, and have the best of both worlds, while the possibilities are almost limitless instead of only a singular result.
A while back, after what appeared to be a sunrise that would lack any energy, I opted to head to Raleigh instead of the lake to see what I could find of interest to photograph. Being a Sunday morning, it should be pretty void of people and thought it to be safe to wander the streets safely, avoiding any proximity to other folks who might be wandering about as well. The same conditions occurred on this day, and thought heading to North Carolina’s capital again might discover more things to photograph. Things did not begin encouraging as block after block was explored, and things looked bleak until I finally spotted an interesting color, so I headed in that direction
Just west of New Paltz, NY, The Shawangunks form a ridge line that overlooks part of the Hudson Valley. What makes them unique is the white quartzose rock that show many of the glacial markings carved during the last Ice Age over 10,000 years ago. Two of the gems of the area are the historic Mohonk Mountain House, and Minnewaska State Park. The park sits atop the ridge with a beautiful deep lake, and Awosting Falls as an added attraction. I visited the area a few times hiking and exploring, and again in the fall of 1994, found myself in Minnewaska for a late afternoon.
The problem faced in trying to get the shot above was two-fold. There was a band of clouds that looked to snuff out the side-lighting, and more importantly, the park closed before sunset. The closing necessitated parking the car outside the gate, and hiking uphill along the road to the lake to remain inside after the official closing! And it was not a short trek up the road.
I scouted almost completely around the lake, rock hopping along the ridge overlooking it and the Catskill Mountains far in the distance, until I finally came across a composition that nearly slapped me in the face. The line of glowing red huckleberries in a depression of the white rock led directly to a young pine seemingly growing right out of the rock, which overlooked the lake and the landscape beyond. I would have liked to position the tripod a bit further to the right to have the pine right in the notch of the tree line on the far side of the lake, but had run out of real estate. As it was, I was right on the very edge of a drop-off that probably wouldn’t have killed me, but I didn’t want to press my luck either. I remember rotating the polarizer on the lens and watched as the scene came alive in the viewfinder, and having to shade the front of the lens from the sun to avoid any glare since the clouds luckily held off blocking it. But the sum did drop behind the clouds a short time after, ending any more photography that afternoon.
After exposing the film in the usual brackets (1/2-stop on either side of “normal”), I then expanded the brackets to ensure I had a useable exposure, and then packed up to begin to make my way back to the car. But first, I had to gingerly pass the park ranger’s residence before I could reach the road, and enjoyed the downhill hike, satisfied that I may have gotten something special. But I wouldn’t know for sure until the film was process about a week or so later.
There was some discussion in a recent post about the usefulness of histograms in making informed judgements when metering scenes and the “best practice” of not having tonal values pushed up against either side of the histogram display. The intention was to illustrate how stretching those tonal values across the entire histogram, yet not touching either edge, might improve the overall information contained within a RAW file, which can then be adjusted to the photographer’s taste in a way that should produce better results in the final file or print. Points were made to keep values away from either side to maintain information that can be used during processing. If highlights are overexposed, there is no information to adjust (exposure, color, etc), it is just empty space in your photo. The same holds true for shadows, or dark values; if they are grossly underexposed, there is not much that can be done to recover them.
Retirement often draws us into the arts. Painting, writing, photographing. It is a time for reflection. Reflection within one’s soul. Yet, is it a time to branch out beyond one’s comfort zone or a time to come back full circle to the familiar, to one’s childhood? With camera in hand, I seem instinctively drawn towards certain subjects and not others. Why? What are the common threads in these seemingly disparate subjects?
As a photographer, some subjects captivate me while others leave me uninterested. Why is that? What could possibly be the commonality between winter trees in fog, rain or snow and long exposure images of old piers in water? Add to that, why an immense emotional draw to the beautiful simple souls of old Romania? What could possibly be that common thread? Somewhere within the being and through the lens of a photographer lies an answer.
Reflecting back over a lifetime, I was an only child for my first nine years. We summered on my grandparents’ farm in a tiny northern New England hamlet with incredible view of the White Mountains. The rest of the summer we stayed on a small island on a remote lake in Maine. The people inhabiting the little cluster of old worn homes in New England had few conveniences – no central heat or running water, other than from a spring. In neither place was there indoor plumbing. Cooking was on an old wood stove. Life was a very basic, uncomplicated life. Yet, doors were always open and welcoming. When not visiting the rural neighbors near the farm and when on the island, I was left on my own, alone, to absorb the peaceful, serene, stunning natural scenery everywhere.
As an adult, life took over. Thirty-five years of relentless hours and energy to succeed financially on my own in a career demanding my time 24/7. Four kids to raise, some as a single mother. Eventually a second marriage expanding the family to thirty-one. Finally, retirement. Taking a deep breath. Rediscovering a childhood passion. Photography. Travel. Reflection.
Six years into retirement, and suddenly, in the midst of grandparenting, travel, and photography comes a pandemic. Covid 19. Social distancing. Lots of time to reflect. Time to curate images from a large collection of photographs. Time to dig out that common thread from a seemingly disparate group of images including bare winter trees in snow, fog over the lake and its peninsulas, old piers and boats floating in water on a quiet lagoon and beautiful, simple people in an old remote eastern European village. What possibly knit these images together?
Romania. There, in this nearly untouched part of our world, was a sense of calm, of contentment amidst the bare minimum amenities of life, of joy at meeting strangers and welcoming them into a simply furnished, two room home. Life felt real, uncomplicated, unadorned. It was minimal. Even the light entering the one window was minimal. Simple, natural light to portray the real character of the compelling faces of these rural Romanian men and women. A simple scarf over the head, no makeup, and an apron to protect a dress that can’t be regularly washed. I was mesmerized. Yes, they have led hard lives by our standards yet, somehow, they seemed more at peace, more alive, more open than so many buried in lives of luxury. Life was slow. We were enveloped in peace and serenity emanating from these simple souls.
Greece. On the surface, it seemed as though my excitement of finding a single dead tree buried up to its branches in water had nothing to do with my newly found passion of shooting portraits of the rural elderly in minimal surroundings and light. I gazed out over a large quiet lagoon with nothing but remnants of an old pier – just rotting posts sticking up out of the water. But they called to me. I saw smooth water and simple posts. I set my camera to make an image with a very long exposure. As I clicked the shutter, a bird landed on a pier for a brief moment and then took off, resulting in a very ethereal ghost like image. Simple. Peaceful. Restful.
Therein lay a thread of what impels my photography – nostalgia for the less complicated, quieter early years – the real, the simple, the unadorned bringing peace to my soul. Instinctively, my images reflect that. Through photography, I return to the essence and comfort of a childhood – the genuineness and warmth of a people unfettered by an abundance of possessions, the beauty of just an old, abandoned wood pier surrounded by still water on a remote lake. Minimally mesmerizing. Simply serene.
For a photographer, fog is a welcome addition to any scene, but especially so among the trees of a forest. Fog, by its very nature, is a mysterious isolator. Within the silence enveloped in fog, there are effects of its presence that are in opposition to one another, for not only can the mist conceal objects at a distance, that very concealment can then reveal subjects that may otherwise go unnoticed among the chaos of the same forest without fog; and moment to moment, any specific scene is constantly changing, dependent on its density and distance. The mystery of what lies beyond the mist is a constant that permeates any photograph. These are the images that ask questions?
In the image above, a dense fog eliminated much of the clutter in the background, revealing in isolation, the delicate branches of the serviceberry and its buds neatly framed by the trunks on either side. Yet mere moments later the fog thinned, and the background, now more visible, swallowed the serviceberry.
Click Here to see the latest in the series of videos, Intimate Encounters — Fog.
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To view prior installments in the series, click on the links below.