Scientist, Educator, Photographic Artist. How many different ways can a camera ‘see’ a scene? What is really in front of our eyes? What influence does color have on the way I see something? Can I communicate to the viewer through my photographs and composites? Can I express humor to my viewers?
I am a curious person and I love exploring both these scenes and the ideas that present themselves. In addition to capturing ‘what is’ with my camera, I use painting and compositing techniques to create images of ‘what is not’. I can infuse humor, emotion and new ideas into my images. This exploration of compositing new views from old ones helps me understand the old view in a new way. Although my photography is a personal exploration of my world, it is my hope that people who choose to view my photos will be inspired to pause and take a closer look at the interesting textures, light, colors and ideas in their own everyday worlds.
I was fortunate in many ways for a visit this year to North Carolina’s Outer Banks (OBX). First and foremost was just being able to make the trip, and second, was having some family join us there after we all “quarantined and tested” prior. It had been nearly a year since we had seen them, and it was a joyful time to spend together despite the mostly inclement weather. Photographically, although there were plenty of clouds and wind, along with a storm or two (feeling the effects of a hurricane), photo opportunities were plentiful. We were blessed with two beautiful sunrises with one actually being on the spectacular scale, a decent sunset, and some time spent among the dunes and estuarial forests searching for sand pattern abstracts and details. There was even some fog! So there were plenty of clouds and a wide variety in the atmospherics to add drama to many of the photos that might otherwise have been on the dull side.
The first morning there, as I looked out over the ocean, things looked pretty grim, with plenty of clouds and poor prospects. Fully prepared, with waders on, and the tripod firmly planted in the surf, I began taking shots just to get into the rhythm of the waves, gradually lowering the ISO as the sky lightened to keep the shutter speed reasonably long to drag the movement of the surf through the frame. Too long a shutter speed just creates blobs of white surf, while too short a speed eliminates any of the surf streaks I was after. A polarizer is always on the lens to help keep the shutter speeds long enough later as the sky brightens even more, and have some control over the reflections and the appearance of the sky if needed. And as is usually the case, to keep the sky and surf in better tonal alignment, a two-stop, hard-edged, split ND filter was used as well. As the time approached for the actual sunrise, lower clouds that hung along the horizon, drifted off revealing higher level clouds that began to brighten with the sun’s glow. The curtain of clouds can be seen in the image above on the right side of the frame as they drifted off. Just imagine the image at the top with a cloudless sky; probably dull enough to leave the camera in the bag, or even sleep in!!
Most photographers in North Carolina’s Triangle area and far beyond, know Chris Richman as a judge for juried exhibitions and critique sessions of our work, but few may be acquainted with her imagination and exacting skills in her own photography. With her extensive credentials and awards (listed below), it is difficult to separate her much sought after expertise as an instructor and educator, from the idea that she also has a body of work that clearly illustrates a creative spirit that begins with an idea, rather than tripping the shutter. Many of us understand how processing in Photoshop can become complicated with many separate layers; but when we realize that some of Chris’ work involves a mind-blowing 1400 layers, we might begin to comprehend the depth of her creativity and organizational skills.
Apart from these creations, which will be the focus of this Showcase, she also has another body of “conventional” work that is extraordinarily creative as well, and we hope that she will also touch on a few examples of those during her talk this coming Friday, December 4th, at her Live Zoom Reception beginning at 7pm EST. To get a greater understanding of her work, her imagination and passion, as well as a chance to speak with her about her work, members of local photo organizations will be supplied, through their particular facebook pages, with the necessary information to join the reception through Zoom. If you are not a member of a local photo organization, reservations to attend the reception can be requested through Chris’ web site using the link below, and information will be supplied through your email. I encourage everyone to visit her web site for a ride through the work of this true visionary.
Credentials: Master of Photography, Master Artist and Craftsman degrees from the Professional Photographers of America Certified Professional Photographer PPNC Fellowship Degree PPA Judge In Training
Awards: NC Press Association (2nd in Sports) Carolina Nature Photography Association (Best in Show, First, Second, Third over the years) Cary Photographic Artists annual exhibition (HM) Professional Imaging Group of Eastern North Carolina (HM) Professional Photographers of North Carolina (2018 & 2019 Photographer of the Year, numerous merit and loan images with 1st, 2nd, 3rd, HM and Judges Choice awards) Professional Photographers of America (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 Photographer of the Year)
If only this sky appeared at some point during the recent trip to the Blue Ridge Parkway, I would have been content. But as mentioned last week, nothing even came close. Even though I tried to coax my son to go out to photograph the previous evening for a sunset that looked promising, there was no way he wanted to leave the house then. So we missed the opportunity to use the sky in a photo other than the one below taken from in front of our house. But on this day, the very next, he got out of his Covid pj’s and got dressed to go out after dinner.
Although we were still at the house the night before, I happened to glimpse the pink sky out the front door and grabbed the camera (after switching to the 70-300mm lens), and managed just one shot before the light began to fade without any time to set up the tripod. Luckily I remembered to switch the image stabilization back on just before I tripped the shutter, and found the frames to be sharp. If I hadn’t remembered, I know the leaves on the trees would have been blurry because I have accepted the fact that I have lost the ability to hand hold shots without some sort of stabilization. Even with the IS on, I boosted the ISO to 400 because there was a polarizer in front of the lens as there usually is. But the slight additional noise was easily cancelled with a simple slider adjustment in Lightroom. The image was taken solely to record the sky and show my son what we had missed by not going down to the lake that evening. Maybe that made him more agreeable to go the following night.
So after dinner the following evening, he decided he would be willing go to the lake with our cameras by coming downstairs fully dressed and ready to go!! We managed to get there just as the sky was beginning to light up, and we knew we were in for a treat because several additional cars pulled over to witness something special. Other than the usual polarizer on the lens, I added the 2-stop hard edged split ND filter to keep the reflections from recording very dark. Lucky for us, the winds we completely calm to create the perfect reflections in the water, because many times, even the slightest breeze will create ripples that eliminate the mirror like effect. It was just a matter of getting there and have just enough time to get our gear set up before we lost the beautiful light.
It really is a gift to witness such a glorious sight, one of the best sunsets we’ve seen in a very long time, and were lucky to get there just in time.
As the name indicates, High Point State Park contains New Jersey’s highest elevation at a whopping 1803 feet above sea level. The scenery has some great views there, but I found that the angle of light was less than optimal at some of the overlooks, and the actual area is a bit barren for sunset photography. So on an afternoon visit there in autumn, I was more interested in some good side-lighting and fall color on the few lakes inside the park, rather than the actual sunset at the highest point.
After scouting a few of the lakes, I settled on Sawmill Lake because of the perfect lighting and great color on that particular day. I found a small rock outcropping with a few withering grasses, and some brilliant red huckleberry bushes that would provide some foreground interest as the lakeshore led further into the scene to a yellow leafed tree on the far side of the lake. The winds were completely calm providing good reflections in the water, and the polarizer fully saturated the colors throughout, while the 35mm (20mm on full frame) lens easily kept everything in focus.
But it was just the natural “lay of the land” that made the photograph so easy to compose. Every element within the frame worked in harmony with all the others. The tufts of yellow grasses in the water led deeper into the frame, as did the water’s edge. The red leaves of the huckleberries did the same, while the single bare branch on the right bends toward the distant trees as well. Even the shadows in the lower right and upper left corners seems to frame the light on the bushes in the foreground, and the far trees on the opposite side of the lake.
It just seemed that all the elements fell naturally into place just waiting to be discovered and photographed. I was happy that I was able to benefit from the natural arrangement there, but it doesn’t always happen in that way. Most times we have to struggle to find a reasonable composition and tweak tripod positioning and height just to make it work. And even then, maybe the light is lost, or was never there to begin with. That is why one of the icons of landscape photography, said:
“Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.“
That was one of those days when the photography was easy, yet knowing full well that it is not always so. Many times we struggle just to make a decent photo, or even worse, work really hard and come away with nothing. But we have to remember that it is not the effort we put forth for our images; in the end, it is only the image itself that speaks to the viewer.
The final morning of the trip turned out to be difficult because, like the previous sunset, there were no clouds, so sunrise was a bust. East Fork Overlook was again the choice that morning only because I have yet to witness one there that could be considered spectacular. In fact, it seems every time I go there, it is either totally clouded over, or completely empty of clouds. One of the very first sunrises I witnessed from the Blue Ridge Parkway was from the other go to sunrise spot, Pounding Mills Overlook, along with a herd of other photographers. It turned out to be one of the most memorable not just of that trip in 2013, but probably one of the best I’ve ever witnessed!
But as the sky lightened in the east without the benefit of any of the beautiful color as in 2013, and the color began to appear on the opposite hillside, several frames were taken of varying exposures in hopes combining a few to properly recreate the scene as it was. One frame was to be used for the sky and another for the forest and ridge lines as they flowed toward the horizon. Some additional “painting” was done to accentuate the directionality of the light on the trees.
The second day of the Blue Ridge Parkway trip began with heavy fog, but it began to break up just after daybreak, thereby blocking any possible color for sunrise, while any lingering atmospherics in the valley or nearby, was short lived. As it turned out, after it did dissipate, the skies cleared leaving the rest of the day under brilliant sunshine and blue skies, and had me searching for shade and rock walls that might have some interesting subjects and less harsh light.
I began the day at the East Fork Overlook, driving there in heavy fog and arriving while still dark. I watched as the sky brightened to see mostly fog, disappointed that there would be no color at sunrise, but began taking photos as it broke apart, drifting through the valley below, sometimes lit by the sun and obscuring the view of many areas. So it was a constant battle against a very changeable scene, swinging the 70-300mm lens from one spot to the next while having to bracket exposures quite a bit because of the wide tonal range between bright sunshine and dark shadows deep in the valley. The image above was one of the very few that illustrated both the sunlight and the quickly moving areas of fog.
Hesitancy has prevailed during these many months of Covid-19, and it prevented me from traveling last spring to visit the Blue Ridge Parkway during one of my favorite seasons. But I finally relented this fall, and a few weeks ago headed to the mountains with several face masks, rubber gloves and hand sanitizer, vowing to stay away from other people, and generally just keep to myself when doing anything. No casual conversations with other photographers, no hanging around McDonald’s for meals; simply staying as safe as I could. There was a constant unsettled feeling every time I stepped out of the confines of the car, even to the point of holding my breath as maskless motorcyclists roared by, even though I had a mask on! I suppose I may have been a bit over cautious, but my thoughts are it is easier to avoid contracting the disease than trying to recover from it, especially since I am among those at higher risk. So this short, three-day trip was different from any other trip, long or short, that I have ever taken in that the freedom to fully enjoy this wonderful season was stripped from the experience. Worry seemed to outweigh wonder.
The first image of what has become Botanical Notes was intended as a learning exercise during our Covid stay-at-home period. I was determined to keep a positive attitude about our restrictions, squash any despair, and utilize the time productively. Two of my goals were to tend my much-neglected flower beds and become more proficient in Photoshop.
After spending weeks keeping busy with photography webinars, attending online workshops, and nurturing my natural homebody tendencies working in the garden, I decided to try my hand at some indoor flower photography. I cut a branch of blooms from our Kwanzan cherry, made backgrounds, and experimented with lighting. The resulting image was pretty but it didn’t excite me or inspire me to try more.
Days later, I was admiring the falling pink blossoms of that same Kwanzan. It seemed so musical, the way they drifted and floated to the ground like snow. I often think of music when outdoors. The cicadas’ songs, starting on one side of our yard and rhythmically moving to the other before starting again, sound like a choir to me. I love hearing the wind announce itself before I actually feel it. As I watched the pink snow, the hymn Amazing Grace came to mind. I credit my grandparents with much of my plant knowledge and as I garden, I often hear them reminding me of tips like: hydrangeas like morning light or gardenias like nitrogen. Thinking of my grandmother’s favorite hymn was another backwards glimpse, reminding me of windy Easter Sundays in new church dresses. That memory brought me to the very tattered 1890’s hymnal that I have and the idea of trying my new Photoshop skills to composite music onto the cherry portrait. After some trial and error to get the music to “float” across the page, I finished an image I really liked. Now I was inspired!
Over the next few weeks, I photographed other flowers as they came into bloom. Some I paired with songs that I photographed from the hymnal. For others, I used another new Photoshop skill – brushes to stamp music notes in the background of my image. Although I was not conscious of it, as the mild days of our long spring eased into the heat of summer, my colors have become warmer and more vibrant.
In my photography, I often like more – more mood, more movement, more painterly effect, more drama, etc. Cloudy weather and fog are exciting backdrops for me. I experiment with a Lensbaby art lens and intentional camera movement. I enjoy using Photoshop plug-ins and textures to further my creative expression. Adding “more” to the flower portraits feels like a natural choice.
Although the images of this series were just created this year, I know that these pieces have been in the works all my life and I am grateful to the loved ones that silently inspired them. I can’t help but wonder what the past will bring me next!
Although a majority of my photography involves the landscape and some of the smaller detail within it, I have recently ventured into some very private encounters with other things that have garnered my attention in a singular moment. Most times it simply occurs to me that a particular object, or several objects, need to be memorialized in a way that clearly illustrates the interest that initiated the photograph. It’s when these things speak to me, I must listen and give them the pedestal they deserve. Just click on the photo above to go to the video.