I have a question from Leslie this week:
What do you find hardest to photograph and why?
Years ago, I would have responded: trees in the garden. As a magazine editor, I would send out stock photo requests for trees and, almost always, was disappointed by how few submissions we received. So I started photographing trees myself and quickly learned how challenging they can be—primarily due to their size and scale, but also because houses, shrubs, benches and cars often surrounded them, particularly in the residential landscape. You can't fit them in the viewfinder without including everything else. But over the years, I found ways to photograph trees beyond capturing the whole tree, and they eventually became one of my favorite subjects. Sometimes, just the hint of a tree is enough. Or a series of detail shots tell you more than a single image of the entire tree.
When I first began photographing Amelia Island, the ocean eluded me. It was so broad, flat and expansive. Also, hadn't everyone already photographed the ocean? How could I possibly capture anything new? After a lot of trial and error and exploring the challenge in my journal, I found that the key for me was focusing more on the way the ocean made me feel than how it looked. So I moved in close and slowed down, shooting long exposures that show the simultaneous coming and going of the tide.
Which leads me to my greatest current challenge: How to move beyond realism to capture the way other aspects of the landscape make me feel—to create images that are more expressive and personal in nature? How to move beyond the subject to capture a mood? For me, a lot of that has to do with simplifying compositions and really exploring what compels me about a subject. Light and weather play a key role in creating mood.
And I’m finding that what I do before and after taking photographs are important pieces of the puzzle as well. Right now, I’m trying to become more aware of both my dreams and daydreams that have to do with plants, nature and the landscape. I'm contemplating symbolism in the natural world and my own connection with the earth, sea and sky. I’m also thinking about the final presentation of images: Will they be color, desaturated color, black and white, or toned? Should they be viewed small or large? As prints, in a book, covered in beeswax on a wood panel or as an element in a collage? For one who comes from an editorial background, this is a different way of thinking and of telling stories that I find challenging, creative and exciting.
I guess what I’ve learned is that when a subject both intrigues and challenges me, I just need to dive in—to explore and shoot it in as many ways as possible, to look at it from different perspectives, and to journal about the challenge, as well. That typically means taking a lot of bad photos in the process, but those breakthrough moments make it all worthwhile.
Thanks for asking, Leslie. If you have a question, please drop me a line. I always enjoy hearing from readers!