I am not an interstate person. Interstates make me sleepy. So even if there is something interesting on the side of the road (which is rare along an interstate), I often miss it. Or can't find an appropriate place to pull off to photograph it.
Backroads are my preferred way to go. There is so much more to see. Still, it's easy to just drive by without stopping to investigate or take a photograph. You have to be determined and proactive. You must leave some flex time in your schedule. You should not be in a car with an impatient driver or one who is alarmed by a sudden outburst with instructions to pull over, back there. Better yet, drive yourself.
I had driven past this wonderful old church in Middle Georgia several times on my way to Amelia Island. One day, I finally stopped. That was when I noticed the front door was slightly ajar, so I could take a peek inside (where I discovered it is still occasionally used, despite its deteriorated condition). Later, when I researched this church, I learned that it was built in the late 1800s by freed slaves and their descendants.
Take the backroads from time to time. Build in some flexibility and don't be in such a rush to reach your destination. Let your sense of curiosity lead the way.
When your time for travel photography is limited, how do you make the most of it? Do you shift into high gear and pack in as much as possible? Go to fewer places, spending more quality time at each? Pack away the big camera and instead shoot on the go with your cell phone? Or set the camera aside and simply enjoy the trip?
Any of these are viable and valuable options depending on the purpose of your trip and your photographic goals.
Working photography into my recent trip to San Antonio was more challenging than I had expected. I was there to be with Alan; shooting was secondary and limited to three afternoons. It turned out we were staying a good distance from town, and there was a lot of traffic and construction between our hotel and my intended destinations. (Not to mention that I was really tired of being in the car after the two-day drive to get there.) We also had some dark, rainy skies.
Though I did get out and drive around a bit each day, only one afternoon proved fruitful for photography. Rather than pack in a lot, I decided to just go see one or two of the Spanish missions (which were only five minutes apart). This took the pressure off, allowing me to enjoy the missions more thoroughly. I could wander indoors, walk around the perimeter of the buildings, listen to stories the guide was telling, let others pass without feeling impatient, and sit on a bench to observe the light more closely. When it was time to meet Alan and his group for dinner, I was relaxed and ready to go.
Paring down the equipment for this trip helped, too. Unburdened by a lot of heavy gear and too many lens options, I could more easily focus on seeing. Shooting handheld doesn’t work for every subject or location, but it was just fine on this occasion.
Think through your own challenges from recent trips. Are there ways you might alter your approach to travel photography to make an upcoming trip more relaxing or to more easily focus on the types of images you’d like to create? Do you need less gear or more specialized gear? Do you need to alter your schedule to be able to photograph in better light? Do you need to get away by yourself for a day to explore? We all have different approaches to travel and photographing when we travel. Take some time to figure out what works for you.
I’m packing again, this time for a short trip to San Antonio with Alan, who will be in meetings much of the time. In addition to our time together, I’ll have a few days for exploring on my own. It will be my first time in San Antonio, so there are important historic sites to see. But rather than just photograph the iconic, as every tourist does, I really hope to capture the intimate, as well. I'd love to bring home images that convey my own experience and way of seeing.
For me, this usually means getting off the beaten path—taking back roads instead of interstates; wandering down side streets and through residential areas rather than through the shopping district; shooting in early morning before most people are out and about and again in the evening when they are having dinner or have called it a day. There are certain subjects I’m always drawn to: vernacular architecture, local colors and textures, and small vignettes that give a sense of place. And I have a special interest in the terrain, bodies of water and plants that help define a region. But I’m also seeking interesting ways to capture moments—the changing light and weather, the way a place makes me feel. I want the images to have my mark on them—to show my way of seeing the world around me.
Part of the planning process involves researching the places I might visit. And part of it involves packing the right gear. On this trip, for instance, I’m planning to shoot primarily handheld with a 50mm lens (though I’m packing my tripod and a bit of other gear in the car “just in case”). I want the freedom to travel light, explore on foot and feel more responsive—to follow my intuition once I get a general sense of the place. No doubt, I’ll also use my camera phone.
How do you prepare for a trip? What kind of gear do you pack for vacation travel when you need to balance family time with photography time? What are your strategies for moving beyond picture-postcard images to making more personal travel photographs?
sharing images in new ways
Do you ever get the urge to do something different? I’m not talking about dramatic life or career changes, here. Just changes that shake up your routine, change your way of seeing, or result in new work that feels fresh.
One of the ways I’m addressing that urge right now is by playing around with paired images: diptychs, triptychs and short, visual stories of five to eight images. It’s sort of like writing haiku when you’re used to writing novels, so it requires a different way of thinking. It's fun looking for relationships between images that not only hold them together, but also result in a sum that is greater than its parts—images that tell not only their own stories, but also help shed light on each other; images that, perhaps, feel more poetic when paired.
Here is a diptych from Great Cranberry Island. The boulder was shaped by the ocean's waves and, in addition to their physical relationship, I loved the waves of blue in the rock.
What about you? Do you ever pair images to create a diptych or triptych? Printing a number of individual images first is a great way to play with pairings, as it allows you to shuffle them around on a table. It can be done on the computer screen, too, but for some reason, it’s just not the same. Why not give it a try and see what happens?
No matter where we are in our creative journey, there is always room for growth. Lately, I've been mulling over how one grows as a photographer—both in terms of my own path and the ways in which I can help students along theirs.
How do I know whether I've "found my groove" or have become complacent? How can I push beyond my comfort zone to explore new territory, both technically and creatively? How do I know if it’s time to take my work in a bold new direction? I have far more questions about this subject than I do answers, but I thought I’d share a few of the things I’ve been doing lately to explore those questions.
JOURNALING. A journal is a wonderful place to acknowledge the questions and explore thoughts around them without censure or judgement. I can also write down the random ideas that come to me in the process, hoping that somewhere among them is a nugget of an idea worth exploring further.
READING.I’m reading about the creative process, alternative photographic processes, artists' lives, nature and landscape. I’m reading artist statements, interviews and introductions to photo books, trying to glean insight into the creative process and inspirations of others.
WATCHING.I’ve stumbled across so many wonderful video interviews with photographers and other artists lately. Each one has something unique and insightful to share, which gives me food for thought and journaling. Or sometimes I see a technique I want to try. (This week, for instance, I learned about free lensing. It’s where you remove your lens from your camera and hold it by hand when shooting. Who knew?)
LEARNING. I love taking workshops as much as I do teaching them. Right now I’m taking an online course that pushes me to think in new ways. I watch something on Creative Live, Lynda.com or LensWork a couple of times of week; the topics vary widely. I’m also watching JulieAnne Kost’s videos on advanced Photoshop techniques, trying to push through a few new barriers.
PRINTING.By printing my images, I can see them more clearly and experience them in a different way. In particular, I love laying out the prints on a table and rearranging them, finding new relationships between them. As a result, I’m playing around with diptychs, triptychs and visual short stories.
SHOOTING.I am trying to photograph something new each week. A new subject, approach, something. Most of it is rough; after all, new techniques take practice. But some of it is intriguing or shows promise and I even managed to get a few shots (like the one above) that I like along the way.
And finally, I think about photography whenever I can, which is most of the time (and which is maybe too much, but it's just how I am) and try to look at things with fresh eyes. At some point, I will take a break from this intense focus and settle back into my work. Hopefully, when I do, I will bring new ideas and energy to my process.
How do you grow as a photographer (or in other creative fields)? How do you know when it’s time to stretch and grow again? In what ways do you most need to grow right now?
One of the key concepts in creativity is that of combining seemingly unrelated ideas to come up with new ideas or looking to other fields for strategies that might work in our own.
In photography, this can be as simple as approaching one field of photography like you might another. For instance, a landscape photographer can benefit from thinking like a portrait photographer. After all, every place, whether a bustling city or a remote patch of desert, has its own personality and unique characteristics. This can inform the elements and composition, the angle of view and the kind of light in which we photograph the landscape.
When I photograph plants, I often bring them into the studio and set them up much as one might for a portrait session. I spend time studying each plant carefully, looking for unique characteristics or gestures that give it personality. And that’s what I emphasize through lighting, composition and depth of field.
I was reminded of this while listening to an interview by Chris Orwig with noted photographer Keith Carter. Carter has spent much of his life photographing the people and places of East Texas and approaches all of his subjects as portraits. It doesn’t matter whether they are people, dogs, houses, landscapes or objects. His work is insightful, engaging and often mysterious. It is filled with soul and magic, and he says that's because he gives his subject intense attention and respect. If you want a good example of portraiture concepts applied in non-traditional ways, spend some enjoyable time with his work.
What happens when you begin to think of the photographs you take as portraits? How does it change your way of seeing and relating to your subject?
Sometimes the hardest part of working on a new project or in a new space is just getting started. Knowing this, I assigned myself a warm-up exercise for my first day in the studio during my artist residency at the Heliker-LaHotan Foundation: Find multiples of some natural object and arrange it different ways.
Rocks made an easy choice; they were everywhere (including the windowsills in the studio and dresser in my bedroom). The rocks I loved most were found on a special beach on the backshore, which was covered in granite cobbles worn smooth by the ocean waves. Most were pink granite, but there were also all shades of gray, black and brown.
I photographed arranged rocks against black, then also photographed them against other backgrounds and in boxes, crates and tins of all sizes. Although I brought a very small bag of very small rocks home with me, I returned the remaining rocks and cobbles to the sea and windowsills. Perhaps they will inspire the next visiting artist, as well.
This simple exercise can be done anytime to kick start your creative juices. Just grab a handful of coins, a box of match sticks or a bag of marbles and spend 10 minutes arranging them in different ways. You could also work with random items on your desk, dresser or kitchen counter. Just move them around until the arrangement is pleasing, then do it again.
Digging up the backyard (amateur archaeologist at work) or bringing things home from the pond and woods ranked among my favorite childhood activities. While digging, I found a cow’s tooth, Civil War bullet and fragment of Indian pottery. All went into a special box. I collected beetles, bugs and butterflies, and rescued chipmunks, baby rabbits, garter snakes and birds (from what, I’m not quite sure). I even had a pet chicken that fell off the poultry truck, which I fed cornmeal purchased with my allowance.
They say we go full circle, returning to the things we love most throughout our lifetimes. So I suspect it is natural that I also collect natural objects on my walks and travels as an adult (though no more snakes these days). I gather seedpods and dried leaves from the garden; seek out lichen and wildflowers in the woods; and pick up shells and rocks on the beach. And then I bring them into the studio to display and photograph. Nature collections and cabinets of curiosities hold just as much fascination for me now as they did in my early years.
During my trip to Maine, I gathered urchin, mussel, clam and waved whelk shells along the shore. As I wandered through the woods, I found mosses, mushrooms, shelf lichen, spruce cones and curls of birch bark. On the backshore, I pondered which of the smooth granite cobbles I might be able to lug back on my bicycle and strapped seaweed to the handlebars. I stopped along the way to pick apples, blackberries, blueberries and rosehips (though I ate the berries as fast as I picked them).
Since I opted not to take photo backdrops to my artist residency on Great Cranberry Island, I rummaged through the studios and barn to see what I could find. There was paint on just about every surface (floors, tables, chairs, cardboard, palettes), along with some wonderful bowls in a former pottery studio and weathered crates in the barn. I put them all to good use for a series I’m calling The Naturalist’s Studio: Natural Objects as Works of Art. I found that having to find backdrops on site was a fun creative challenge. Limitations are good for stretching the imagination.
You can see a broader selection from the series in my photo gallery. It is an ongoing project that I'm continuing in my studio back home. Would love your feedback—both on the series and on the ways you impose limitations in your own creative work.
This summer, I unplugged for two months while I traveled, taught and attended an artist residency. I have not looked at facebook since mid-June, and haven’t missed it. I posted to instagram only sporadically until I headed home and even took a hiatus from writing this newsletter. For the most part, my access to both cell service and the internet was extremely limited and wasn’t available at all in my studio.
Without the ability to check email or make a post, I simply worked. Without the constant interruption, I could think more deeply about my work and push through barriers when I might normally be tempted to take a break and check email. When I did take a break, it was to take a nap (there was a bed in each studio) or wander along the shore to see what the retreating tide left behind—perhaps an urchin or waved whelk, almost always a bit of sea glass. These were much more productive breaks that allowed for creative incubation and left me feeling refreshed, and it made me realize how much I miss that in my daily life.
I’m back home and reconnected again, but trying to find ways to break this habit of always checking my phone. I’ve left it in the car when I might normally take it with me. I’m turning off alerts. And I’m seeking ways to put my creative work first when I get to the studio—waiting until late in the day to tend to business, correspondence and social media. I’d love to hear about ways you unplug or manage distractions like social media, emails and calls, and how it has made you more creative, productive or attentive.
What better way to spend a week in summer than exploring the Maine Coast, photographing water? We had a group that did just that in July. In addition to photographing the ocean, rivers and water gardens, they got their feet wet photographing fog and rain as well! Still water, moving water, reflections and recreational activities were all part of this class. Here are a few of the watery images captured by students:
Credit: Students of Photographing Water, a week-long workshop offered by Maine Media Workshops and taught by Lee Anne White, July 2018.
I like fog. I like fog a lot. It may even be my favorite weather for photography. There was a lot of fog on Great Cranberry Island, so I was a pretty happy camper. I was there for two weeks before I ever saw the view of Mount Desert Island and Cadillac Mountain. Mostly I had views of, well, fog. Sometimes, even when you love the weather, it's nice to have a change in conditions.
In landscape photography, we can’t control the weather or change the lighting conditions. We can research typical weather conditions for a place before we travel, but even weather forecasters struggle to predict what’s really going to happen. So we go prepared and work with what we have. We get up early for morning light, even if it turns out to be overcast. We head out to photograph at sunset, even if it turns to rain. After all, we never really know what we’re going to have until we get there. And in many places (such as the coast of Maine, I have discovered), the weather conditions can turn on a dime. Just when we least expect it, the clouds break and there is a rainbow. Or we have been shooting all day in bright sunshine and, yes, that wonderful fog begins to roll in.
In the end, we photograph the landscape under the conditions we are given. We work to master each type of light, learn to capture rain and fog in unique ways, and find other subjects to photograph when conditions are especially difficult. And if we keep going out—whether to the same places or new places—we do, eventually, get the light we are looking for. And when we do, it makes up for all those times we were out practicing and patiently waiting for a break in the weather.
We had a talented, enthusiastic and supportive group that gathered in Maine during July to explore botanical and garden photography. This was mostly a field workshop, with lots of time spent in lots of gardens--both public and private. Here are a few images highlighting the work of each student. Enjoy!
Spending quiet time in a secluded house by the sea has long been a dream of mine—a dream, no doubt, inspired by the writings of May Sarton, Rachel Carson, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Henry Beston and Joan Anderson. While it wasn’t a house and wasn’t entirely secluded, I have had the opportunity to work in a studio surrounded by tidal waters in recent weeks. And yes, it was pretty magical.
I begin the long trek home this morning. Between teaching at The Maine Media Workshops and doing an artist residency at The Heliker-LaHotan Foundation, I’ve spent much of the summer working outdoors in Maine. In particular, I have spent nearly four weeks exploring Great Cranberry Island, which is a ferry ride from Mount Desert Island and has great views of Cadillac Mountain and Acadia National Park when it’s not shrouded in fog. Special thanks to the Foundation for this unique and inspiring opportunity.
I worked in three different studios during my residency: a printmaker’s studio near the main house, a former pottery studio in a barn up the road in the woods, and the LaHotan painting studio on the water. I did not make any prints, pots or paintings, but I did learn a lot about natural light and studio design, and discovered the magic of skylights. And though I carried a small bag of studio lights along, I never had any reason to use them. The natural light was beautiful in these spaces.
In addition to studio work, I explored the island by bicycle each day—strapping my tripod to the rear bike carrier, stuffing bug spray and beach finds in the handlebar bag, and carrying my camera and lenses on my back. The island isn’t large, but offers surprising diversity in terms of shoreline, forest and bogs. I could not cover it all. I did photograph a beautiful private garden and a boatyard, but never quite got around to photographing much of the architecture, interiors or people who live on the island. The residents were kind and generous, allowing me access to their properties, and I so appreciated their coming to my artist talk and open studio events.
I’ll share more from this experience in the coming weeks and months as I return to my regular writing schedule. Thanks for your patience while I unplugged. I hope you’ve all had a wonderful summer.
As my time at the Heliker-LaHotan Foundation on Great Cranberry Island, Maine, comes to a close, I will be holding an Open Studio in the LaHotan Studio along the shore where I have been working. The event will be held this Thursday at 4:30pm. Drop by for a glass of wine and to see images of the island. In addition to landscapes, I will be debuting a new still-life series called The Naturalist's Studio: Natural Objects as Works of Art.
I'm heading to the Heliker-LaHotan Foundation's Artist Residency Program on Great Cranberry Island, Maine, this week. I will stay at the residency for four weeks and my initial focus will be exploring the island, journaling and giving an artist talk for the community. If you happen to live or be traveling near GCI (just off the coast of Acadia National Park and accessible by ferry), please join me this coming Thursday at 4pm at the Cranberry House.
I will also be leading a 3-day landscape/seascape photography workshop on the island from August 9-11. It's not too late to register!
Whether photographing a garden, an island, a national park, or region of the country, I’m always looking for what gives that place a unique sense of place. How can I transport the viewer to that location and capture something beyond the basic views every tourist takes? How can I utilize elements of content, composition and light to convey mood, share something about the terrain or climate, or convey a bit of history or culture? I want my images to convey something more, something deeper.
Instead of heading straight for the flowers in a garden or the straightforward views of places I visit, I find it helps to take a more intentional and creative approach and to think in layers. I start by noticing my first impressions, then dig more deeply and follow my sense of curiosity around the bend, and finally, take a closer look at the details that make a place both whole and different from other places.
I look for things like color, texture, vegetation and terrain. I also look at architectural styles and local building materials, and the ways in which they have weathered over time. And I think of the intimate details such as sand or stone patterns, flora and fauna, and areas of light and shadow as the fingerprints of place. The ways in which people have adapted to the land or adapted the land for their own use also give us clues about sense of place. And shooting in different weather can both create drama and share something about the climate and conditions.
I hope you enjoy your summer travels and bring home lots of good memories and photographs that help convey a sense of place to share with others. I’m off on my own travels, and will have limited access to internet or time for writing over the next two months, so you may not hear much from me. I will try to post images to instagram (@leeannewhite) from time to time, so I hope you’ll follow along.
Itineraries, maps and teaching notes are scattered across my studio table at the moment. Piles of photo gear are stacked around the room, waiting to be sorted into what goes and what stays. Preparing for a seven-week, 2,600-mile road trip that includes four workshops and an artist residency has me thinking about the trip planning process.
When it comes to planning photographic excursions—whether to shoot on assignment, teach a workshop, work on a personal project or simply explore a new place—I have found there is a delicate balance between planning and being open to experience, a balancing act that can be easily thwarted by inadequate preparation or excessive expectations.
We research destinations so that we are prepared, don’t miss what’s most important, and can use our time efficiently. Knowing when the sun rises and sets and where the best views might be at those times of day is especially important to a landscape photographer. When shooting along the coast, knowing the tide schedule and whether locations are best photographed at high tide or low tide is critical. In national parks, historic sites and botanical gardens, we need to know opening and closing times, as well as the rules regarding photography. When photographing on private land (such as for gardens and architecture), we need permission and property releases.
It is a terrible feeling to arrive somewhere for a limited amount on time and to have no idea where to get started, no feel for direction, no place to stay, no sense for where the best shots might be waiting. It is frustrating to discover that the museum we wanted to tour requires advance reservations, that the lighthouse we wanted to photograph is closed for renovation, or that it is peak black fly season in the woods where we planned to camp.
However, it is also possible to go overboard with preparations—creating tight, overly aggressive schedules or developing expectations for what a place should look like (based on photographs we, no doubt, saw when making our plans). We fail to leave time to wander, relax, follow our sense of curiosity around the bend, and make discoveries of our own.
We must each find our own balance. When traveling on my own, I tend to keep plans fairly loose. I prefer road trips over air travel and believe getting there can be half the fun. When making plans for a group workshop, however, I nail down as many details as possible and have a working itinerary. Still, I leave plenty of flexibility in the schedule. This gets us off to a good start, but allows us to adapt to group interests and experience levels, as well as to changing weather or unexpected challenges. My goal is to be open to unexpected opportunities—knowing that adequate preparation helps make that possible, but having too many expectations is like wearing blinders.
I want to be like the woman in one of my recent workshops who declared, “I make U-turns.” If I’m traveling down a road something piques my interest, I want to be able to go back and check it out.
Although artists and writers need connections and benefit from collaboration in many ways, creating the work itself is generally a solitary act. And it requires shifting into a creative “zone” in which we are totally focused on our work, oblivious to our surroundings, schedules and other obligations. Sometimes, that’s easier said than done. Cell phones, the internet, appointments—they all get in the way.
Sometimes it is helpful to just get away from it all. To eliminate the distractions, reset, reflect and focus on the work. Artist residencies offer a way to do that, and it is one of the reasons they are so coveted. They offer a change of environment, a quiet place to work for an extended period, and various forms of support—usually housing and studio space, and occasionally other amenities such as meals, transportation or access to specialized equipment. Some offer a community of other artists with whom you can build relationships and share experiences with over meals; others are solo retreats. Most provide an opportunity at some point to share your work with their local community or offer greater visibility for your work in some way. But mostly, they offer a quiet place to work without interruptions.
I am doing my first artist residency this summer through the Heliker-LaHotan Foundationon Great Cranberry Island, Maine. Located just off the coast of Mount Desert Island and Acadia National Park, it is the largest of five islands in the Cranberry Isles, measuring roughly two miles long by one mile wide. It is accessible only by boat, and beyond a general store, café, library and local history museum, there are few amenities on the island. I do not expect to have cell phone service. Internet is likely only available at the library (though the island is in the process of adding a broadband system). But that's okay. There are rocky shorelines; a large, protected tidal pond; a log boardwalk through a bog; trails through a spruce-fir, birch and red maple forest; and excellent views of the sunset over the mountains of Acadia National Park.
I will be at the residency for four weeks following two weeks of teaching at the Maine Media Workshopsin Rockport. I will have both a place to stay and a private studio overlooking the water. While there, I will lead a three-day photography workshop on landscape and place. (You are invited; see details below.)
Preparing for a residency is an interesting process: How much to plan versus how much to leave open to the experience? Will I work on a current project that needs some deep attention, focus on a new project based on the island, or some combination of the two? What equipment and materials should I pack, knowing I have to get everything there by boat and will not have local access to additional supplies? Should I take my own backdrops or make do with what I can adapt? Take a small lighting kit for studio shots or rely on natural light? Should I post as I can about the experience while I'm there or totally disconnect? What needs to be taken care of at home before leaving on a seven-week journey (as I am also driving to Maine and back)? If I’ve learned anything about travel over the years, it is to prepare, but to be open to the unexpected and change of plans, so that is how I am approaching this adventure.
I will likely take a break from posting my newsletter and on social media while away, but I will keep you posted on preparations over the next few weeks and share my challenges, discoveries and experiences in some way when I return. I am extremely grateful to the Heliker-LaHotan Foundation for this opportunity to take a deep dive into my creative work and look forward to the journey.
Landscape and Place
A Photography Workshop on Great Cranberry Island, Maine
August 9-11, 2018
What is this thing we call landscape? What do we mean by place? And what elements in the landscape give a place a sense of place? How can we move beyond the obvious shots to photograph the true character of a landscape or the "fingerprints" of place? We'll explore these questions through discussions, image reviews and extensive in-the-field photography during a three-day workshop on Great Cranberry Island, Maine.
The workshop is sponsored by the Heliker-LaHotan Foundation. Details and registration information can be found on their website.