I have photographed Fort Clinch on Amelia Island around a dozen times. I’m fascinated by the light and architecture—the many tunnels, windows, doorways, arched ceilings and worn, handmade bricks. I usually go with my tripod, camera and one or two zoom lenses on lightly overcast (preferred) or sunny days.
Earlier this week, I was on the island and it started raining. I ditched my plans, grabbed my camera and drove to the fort. No tripod, no zoom lenses, no filters. Just a 50mm lens and an umbrella. The rain tapered, but it was still wet, drizzly and moody.
Shooting in different weather wasn’t my only motive for returning. I wanted to try looking at the fort in new ways. Handholding allowed me to be more playful. The 50mm lens required me to zoom with my feet—physically moving closer to or farther away from my subject.
I noticed some things had changed at the fort. Furniture had been rearranged; some windows had been opened while others had been closed; the pantry was open in the kitchen; white barriers had been randomly placed along an exterior staircase (above); a different (interpretive) soldier was on duty.
When you find a subject or location you like to photograph, keep going back. See what has changed. Capture different moods by photographing in different seasons or light. Push yourself creatively by focusing on something different, using a different lens, or experimenting with a different technique each time you go. Be open to the serendipitous—the interaction of people or animals with a place or each other. One time think broad views; another time think intimate details. Look for opportunities to tell different stories about or reinterpret a place.
Is there somewhere close to your home or a place you travel to often that you could photograph regularly? Why not start building a portfolio of images about that place? If you do, I'd love to hear about your experience.
photograph what you love
Sometimes we need to be reminded of the obvious: When it comes to choosing photographic subjects, focus on what interests you most.
Let’s take travel photography. When you go to a new place, what do you tend to photograph? The same tourist sites and views that everyone else photographs? If you are fighting tourists with selfie sticks, you’re probably not at the right place to capture something original. By all means, see the sights. But if photography is your goal, then perhaps you need to get off the beaten track and look at things with a fresh eye. And one of the best ways to do that is by focusing on what you love.
Fascinated by people? Then seek out interesting individuals to connect with and photograph. Go beyond shooting discreetly with a long lens; show authentic interest in them and ask permission to make a photograph. Love art or artisan crafts? Seek out local artists, craft fairs or street artists. Gardens? Visit the public and historic gardens; do a bit of research on local garden styles or notable designers; learn to recognize the plants that help give a place a sense of place. Architecture? Seek out historic structures, vernacular architecture and details.
I have an interest in the intimate landscape—the moods, patterns, colors and textures of a place, as well as the flora and fauna found there. Whether traveling or working from home, I’m always collecting things I find interesting to photograph in the studio. I love taking a deep dive into these subjects, being surrounded by them, working with them. With any luck, that passion comes through in my photographs.
What do you love? What do you spend your time thinking about? What do you seek out when you travel or surround yourself with when at home? What do you read books about? Talk about? Get excited about? Might one of these be the focus of your next photographic project?
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?
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.
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 I have wanted to visit Badlands National Park for many years, it was actually Custer State Park that most delighted me during a much-too-short visit to South Dakota with my husband earlier this week. That’s not to say I was disappointed in Badlands; it's just to point out the uniqueness of Custer State Park. At more than 71,000 acres, it is among the largest state parks in the country and easily rivals many national parks in beauty and wildlife viewing opportunities. Located in the Black Hills, it is just a stone’s throw from Mount Rushmore National Memorial, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Wind Cave National Parkand many other destinations.
Four primary roads provide access to the park. The most popular is the Wildlife Loop Road (18 miles), which winds through lush, rolling hills with excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. We saw prairie dogs, pronghorns, deer, coyote, bighorn sheep and a herd of buffalo. (Not to mention the “wild” burros that poke their heads in tourists' cars looking for food.) If we had been there during prime viewing hours (closer to dawn and dusk), we may have also seen elk and mountain goats.
Iron Mountain Road (18 miles) is a narrow, winding road that features one-lane tunnels chiseled through stone, sharp switchbacks, a series of pigtail-loop bridges and stunning views of Mount Rushmore (including one perfectly framed by a tunnel). Needles Highway (14 miles) offers a spectacular drive through a spruce and pine forest, and alongside spires and domes of granite. We drove through a narrow, stone passageway just wide enough for a single car and stopped for a while at Sylvan Lake, set against a backdrop of granite boulders rising up out of the water. The Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway bisects the park and connects the scenic drives.
Sections of the park burned last December in the Legion Lake Fire, but are recovering nicely. If anything, the red, singed branches of ponderosa pines are striking against a new flush of green grass (it has that complementary color thing going for it) and it is fascinating to see the regeneration process. Dead timber is being cleared in some areas of the park, which should help prevent further forest fires.
The diversity of scenery and wildlife in Custer State Park is a photographer’s dream. I’d love to go back and spend a week in the park, staying in one of the lodges or cabins. This would make it much easier to explore the park photographically and to be in the right place for sunrise and sunset. I'd also like to rent one of those kayaks on Sylvan Lake for a closer look at those boulders (though I'm not sure I want to dip more than a toe or two into the chilly water).
I was also pleasantly surprised by Rapid City, just an hour away from the park. It is a wonderful small city with the historic Hotel Alex Johnson, excellent restaurants, art galleries and unique shops. My favorite was Prairie Edge—a combination Sioux trading post, antique store, regional bookstore, art gallery, Pendleton shop and more. Tucked away on the top floor was a bead library—a collection of thousands of beautifully displayed jars filled with colorful beads used by Native Americans to decorate their ceremonial clothing and accessories.
Have you visited a new place recently? What were your first impressions? What did you discover when you dug a little deeper? How might you photograph it if you were to return?
We're wrapping up our weeklong workshop, Photographing the Cultural Landscape: Santa Fe and Northern New Mexico. It has been a busy week with lots of time spent exploring "the city different," surrounding backroads and several National Historical Monuments. Earlier in the week, we stopped by San Francisco de Asis--the mission made famous by Georgia O'Keeffe, Ansel Adams and others. The beauty of its form never ceases to amaze me.
With the workshop in session, this week's post will be a short one. I just wanted to share an image and thank everyone who came out to the opening of A Bowing Acquaintance With Plants last week at the Quinlan Visual Arts Center. Your support means a great deal to me!
If you’re wondering if it rained or not on this week’s photo workshop on Amelia Island, the answer is yes. We made little raincoats out of plastic bags and rubber bands for our cameras but, fortunately, did not need them. For the most part, we managed to stay dry.
Like all good landscape photographers, we obsessed over weather reports, spent much time searching the sky for breaks in the heavy cloud cover, and juggled our schedule accordingly. The breaks did come and, one morning, we even had beautiful “O’Keeffe clouds.” We had tornado watches, winds upwards of 50 mph, and temperatures ranging from the low 40s to mid-80s. We pulled on and peeled off layers of clothing as needed, and celebrated our two days of overcast skies that allowed us to work in an extra photo shoot or two.
We are out for a sunrise shoot this morning and wrapping up our workshop tomorrow. Everyone will be heading home with some great images to show for their efforts. I’ll share some of those next week. In the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy this photograph I made last night at a pier.
Creative opportunities come in many shapes and forms, not just in art. For me, one of the most satisfying of those is teaching. My workshops are as much about exploring the creative process and developing a personal vision as they are about photography. I especially enjoy the five-day intensive format—workshops in which you have an opportunity to take a deeper dive into a subject. There is something very magical about this format that you just can't experience in a one-day or weekend workshop (though they, too, have their place). With a weeklong workshop, you have time to learn, practice and get feedback on new skills; to develop your eye and explore your personal vision; to bond with and learn from classmates; and to take your work to the next level.
I have set the dates for my winter/spring workshops and hope to announce my summer/fall workshops soon. Here's what's on tap so far:
NATURE REVEALED: Photographing Plants and Nature in the Studio
January 28 - February 2
Why put your camera away just because it's cold outside? You can photograph flowers, seedpods, shells and other items collected from nature year round in the studio. In this workshop we’ll explore easy ways to setup a small studio in your home; working with natural light, continuous studio lights and other creative lighting techniques; locating and using backdrops and props; arranging still life settings and more. We'll also discuss collecting and preserving materials throughout the year to photograph later in the studio. This is a small workshop for no more than six students, held in my own studio, with access to my props, materials and equipment. In addition to my own botanical and nature collections, we'll bring in fresh flowers to photograph. In addition to group instructions, there will be plenty of time for one-on-one support and daily image reviews. There is a logical progression to the introduction of studio and still life photography skills, but creativity, personal expression and work on a personal project are encouraged. Come prepared to play!
THE INTIMATE LANDSCAPE: Amelia and the Southern Sea Islands
Fernandina Beach, Florida
Explore your personal creative vision amidst quiet beaches, expansive marshes, shady maritime forests with windswept oaks, a charming Victorian town and unique historic sites such as Fort Clinch and Kingsley Plantation. Discover new ways to connect more intimately with the landscape and capture a sense of place. Amelia Island, our base for the week, is the northernmost barrier island among Florida’s Atlantic Coast. Along with Big Talbot, Little Talbot and Fort George Islands, it forms the southernmost of the Sea Islands that run from the Santee River in South Carolina to the St. John’s River near Jacksonville. We'll shoot each morning and late afternoon/evening, with image reviews and classroom discussions mid-day. [Note: Only a couple of spaces remain in this workshop. All rooms must be booked at the Amelia Seaside Inn before January 15. If you are interested, sign up now!]
Tap your creative potential and explore your personal vision in Santa Fe—the country’s most unique city—and the surrounding high desert of New Mexico. Experience the richness of Native American, Hispanic and Anglo culture; explore the ruins of historic Puebloan communities that date back to 100-1600 AD; discover the magical light in slot canyons formed by wind and water; and delight in the colorful hillsides and adobe structures that drew O’Keeffe and other artists to the high country. With Santa Fe as our base, you’ll have ample opportunity to roam the streets of America’s oldest capital city. Home to hundreds of art galleries, inspiration abounds. We’ll visit photography galleries, feast on southwestern cuisine, and photograph both iconic and lesser-known natural and historic sites. [Note: This workshop is full. I am exploring the possibility of adding a September workshop in Santa Fe, so please drop me a line if you are interested.]
I would love to see you at a workshop in 2018. And if you know someone else who might be interested, I hope you will share this email with them. Thank you for your continued support and interest.
What others are saying about the workshops:
"Thanks again for all your efforts last week. You have an uncanny skill to tune into individuals very quickly and to offer insightful comments and observations. Of course, your teaching skills and approach are fabulous. We were all amazed at your boundless energy and enthusiasm as well as your personal attention to everyone and details, large and small." - Janet Bly
"Thank you for another fabulous workshop. Your workshops and teaching make me a better photographer and artist. The combination of technical information combined with a focus on the creative process elevates my skills and approach to photography. I returned home with a revitalized sense of seeing. I am seeing images I did not see before, and I have a heightened confidence to photograph in the studio. Moreover, I felt freedom and inspiration within the environment that you created for our workshop group. We thrived under your direction! Thank you so much!" - Ruth McCully
"The workshop was without a doubt one of the best things I've ever done for myself. This opened up a whole new level of thought and ideas with me which is exactly what I was hoping for. Your direction and teaching skills were just great. What I liked most was how chill you are with everyone and how your patience never waned." - Lori Carroll
Landscape photographers obsess over the weather: What is the forecast? Will there be fog in the morning? Or clouds for sunset? Will the rain hold off a few more hours? We also check things like first and last light, tide schedules and phases of the moon.
During my recent Maine workshop, our greatest concern was the light at sunrise, which was around 4:50 a.m. We loved morning light, but none of us wanted to rise at that hour if it was going to be overcast. We could shoot overcast at 7 or 8 a.m.
After the workshop, I spent a few days exploring the Maine coast and Acadia National Park with a friend. We puzzled over where to be at sunset and after dark. A bit of online research pointed toward Jordan Pond, Cadillac Mountain and Dyce Head Lighthouse as potential locations. Jordon Pond was perfect. Not only was the setting right, but we had beautiful clouds and color, and a lone paddler provided a moment of serendipity just as we were about to call it a wrap. Afterward, we headed up Cadillac Mountain to photograph the stars and Milky Way.
Our next night was more challenging. We started at Dyce Head Lighthouse. Although it is a unique lighthouse, it was difficult to get a good angle at sunset and the shoreline was crowded with people. So we set off to search for another location, keeping an eye on the sun, which was quickly dropping in the sky. We stopped at two harbors, neither of which proved very fruitful, and then headed to Pretty Marsh to see if the marsh truly was pretty. As it turned out, Google Maps took us to Pretty Marsh Picnic Area, which was deep in the woods near a bay. We never saw the marsh. Finally, we just pulled off at a nice spot along the road, where the mosquitoes were both ravenous and undeterred by our repellent. We got a few decent shots, but nothing to write home about. Sometimes, that's just how it goes.
Occasionally, you have those wonderfully serendipitous moments when chasing the light. More often than not, however, you increase your chances of getting a good shot by staying put and exploring a place more fully--responding to whatever light happens to be there. That was the case with our first night, before we reached Acadia. We drove out to Stonington for dinner. The clouds weren't particularly impressive, but we explored the wharf for a couple of hours and worked with what we had. I ended up with some of my favorite shots of the trip there.
What is your approach to photographing a place? What is your favorite light and favorite time of day to shoot? Have you, too, had those serendipitous moments?
This time last week, Alan and I were on our way to Chaco Canyon. We did not make it.
After driving 70 miles on a beautiful, but mostly deserted, paved road from Grants, New Mexico, we turned north onto 20 miles of unpaved road for the final leg to the park. Fourteen miles in, the right rear tire blew. Alan worked quickly and we were on our way with the skinny spare in no time. Less than 10 minutes later, we heard another pop and that familiar thump, thump, thump. This time, it was the left rear tire. Flat as a pancake. And no more spares.
We had not seen another soul since turning onto this road, did not have cell service and calculated that we were roughly six miles from the nearest land line, which would be at the Chaco ranger station. We emptied my camera bag of everything except my camera, filled the empty space with bottled water, and set off hiking. At one point, we encountered a pinto horse roaming free and, for a brief moment, wondered if we had stumbled upon an alternate form of transportation. But it was only a brief moment, as I had neither riding skills nor an apple to entice the horse.
It was a beautiful day and there was something magical about having this rugged landscape to ourselves. There was also something adventurous about abandoning the car and our belongings and hiking through the desert. Still, I was thankful when, a mile or so into our hike, a single bar appeared on Alan's cell phone (quite remarkable considering our location). If he stood in one place, the signal was just strong enough to call the rental car company, which arranged for a tow truck.
We hiked back to the car and waited. Two hours later, right on time, the truck showed up. We rode in the cab the next two hours to Gallop (for the nearest tire store), with the car on the flatbed behind us. Another two hours at the tire store (they don't change tires as quickly as Alan) and we were on our way once more. Since we had blown most of the day (in addition to the two tires) and had limited faith in our rental car (which also had transmission issues), we reluctantly took the highway to Santa Fe, where we had reservations for the rest of the week. Chaco would have to wait for another day. At least we had time to observe, enjoy and contemplate the landscape, and I took a few photographs to commemorate the occasion.
In his book, Landscape: Photographs of Time and Place, Ferdinand Protzman notes that "landscape is a triangulation involving three mysterious variables: time, place and people." When we photograph the landscape, thinking of place is a given and time is typically an important element as well. But the third element, people, is not always so obvious. Consider the photograph above: You don't see any people; the place is desolate. In fact, that was sort of the point of the photograph. There is the road, of course, a clear sign of human intervention. But whether or not there are people or signs of their impact on a landscape, there is still a human element: the photographer. Each photographer, when photographing a landscape, decides what elements to include and exclude from a composition, what perspective to chose, what mood to create and much more. Through a photograph, we get a glimpse of the person behind the camera. Likewise, there is the individual viewing the photograph, with his or her own interpretation and emotional response.
Try looking at some of your own landscape photographs. What human elements are included? What are you attempting to say about the landscape? And what do the images say about you?
One of the participants in my recent workshop, Amelia and the Southern Sea Islands, created this wonderful video of our time together on the islands. Many thanks to the multi-talented Sara Gray for her vision, video footage, production skills and generosity. Thanks, too, to the workshop participants for sharing a few of their images from the week for inclusion. They were a fun and talented bunch whose company I thoroughly enjoyed and whose desire to look at things in new ways through the lens of a camera was inspiring.
Video produced by Sara Gray Creative.
Badlands are just that: Bad lands to live in or travel through. And yet, they are some of the most beautiful and fascinating lands to explore and photograph.
Characterized by rugged, exposed terrain in which there is little water, little or no vegetation and extreme temperatures, badlands feature colorful mesas, canyons, ravines, gullies, buttes and other unusual rock formations such as hoodoos and spires. Many of the most notable badlands can be found throughout the western United States, as well as in Canada and Europe.
One of my favorites is a relatively small area—the Bisti (pronounced Bis-tie) Badlands, which is the western section of the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness in northwestern New Mexico. Like other badlands, it features colorful land formations created over millions of years of accumulation of various sediments which have then been eroded by wind and water. You’ll see all shades of white, red, brown, gray, orange, black and even purple representing coal, silt, shale, mudstone and sandstone. Roughly 70 million years ago, this land was a river delta along the edge of an inland sea, more akin to a rain forest environment than the high desert that it is today. It lies more than 6,000 feet above sea level—a desert of fossils and petrified logs, with few living plants and animals, though I did encounter a rattlesnake poised to strike before I even left the parking lot. (Fortunately, it was the only one I saw and my unusual reaction must have surprised it just long enough for me to escape—running, hopping and cursing across the parking lot. I’m not usually prone to such drama, but had not quite recovered emotionally from a copperhead bite just a couple of years before. To this day, I still jump at the sight of an unidentified stick.)
The best time to visit the Bisti Badlands is spring or fall, which, of course, means I went in August. Temperatures exceeded 100 degrees and, other than my travel companion, there wasn’t another soul in sight. I traveled with a young friend, who gets around a lot faster than I do—particularly when I have a camera and tripod in tow. In this heat, we were forced to limit our time to a few hours of exploring—not nearly long enough to see some of the most unique formations such as the “cracked eggs” which were located farther away. Of course, that gives me incentive to return in cooler weather, which I am eager to do.
There are no trails through the Bisti Badlands—just mounds, mesas, boulders, ravines, pillars, pedestals and hoodoos. It is easy to get confused. Although you can see the parking lot from atop the mesas, finding your way back to your car can be a challenge as you wander into the maze-like ravines, which are often steep and winding. GPS tracking helped us retrace our footsteps and I recently stumbled across GPS directions for a 4-plus-hour hike through Bisti that covers most of the highlights (though I have not followed it). If you are serious about taking landscape photographs, plan on spending the day. And no matter how long you are there, be sure to carry plenty of water. This is the high desert, where it can be extremely hot and dry during the day and bitter cold at night. There are no facilities, water sources or even trash cans at the parking area, which is located two miles down a gravel road. And although you can pick up GPS, the odds of getting a cell signal are slim, so don't travel alone. Besides, you need someone to see this with you—to share in the excitement of discovery and be equally amazed by the otherworldly nature of the place.
Access is via gravel Road 7297, approximately 35-40 miles south of Farmington on NM 371. Look for the sign and follow the road approximately two miles to the parking lot. Although this area receives very little rain, the roads may be impassable when it does or during the snowmelt, so keep an eye on the weather. Remember, these are called badlands for a reason.
While unpacking, I came across my copy of The View Project: Seventy Photographers Reflect on Meaning and Perception. It was a book and traveling exhibition curated by photographer Joyce Tenneson. I was fortunate to have a photograph included. The book and exhibit featured views that have special meaning to the contributors. Each photographer was asked to reflect briefly on his or her chosen image.
In reading the book again, I was struck by both the diversity of responses and common themes that emerged. One of those themes had to do with the places we go to, again and again. It might be home or a favorite summer place, a special view that captures our attention along a road we travel often, or a particular environment that speaks to us—snow-capped mountains, the open desert, a quiet lake or a rustling stream.
For me, such a place is the edge of the sea. As I noted in the book, “Here, the simultaneous ebb and flow of water against the shore reminds me that life is constantly changing. Yet the gentle waves lapping at my bare feet assure me that change is good and should be embraced.”
Photographing the ocean at sunset each day is a lot like collecting shells on the beach. No two days are alike. The waves change in rhythm and intensity; the colors reflected in the water vary based on the weather; the shoreline is always shifting and covered in different gifts that wash ashore—some days shells, other days driftwood and seaweed, occasionally very little except pristine sand.
What kind of place draws you again and again? In what way does it speak to you and why? How does it make you feel? How might you capture that view in a photograph, painting, words or other creative form of expression?
Wide, sandy beaches with rolling dunes, shady hammocks with Spanish-moss draped oaks, expansive marshes with softly swaying cordgrass—this is where you’ll spend your time if you join me for Amelia and the Southern Sea Islands, a field workshop in which you’ll learn to photograph the intimate landscape.
Amelia is the northernmost barrier island on Florida’s Atlantic Coast. Along with Big Talbot, Little Talbot and Fort George Islands, it forms the southernmost of the Sea Islands that run from the Santee River in South Carolina to the St. John’s River near Jacksonville. In addition to exploring the marshes, dunes, beaches and maritime forests, we’ll photograph several historic sites including Fort Clinch, Kingsley Plantation and the old storefronts and Victorian homes lining downtown Fernandina Beach. We’ll also take a cruise up the river to Cumberland Island, where we hope to catch glimpses of wild horses, dolphins, river otters and migrating birds.
Amelia Island is a very special place for me. It’s where I go for personal creative retreats—where I can reconnect with nature, as well as with my own thoughts and feelings. It’s a place where I can slow down, relax and be more present in the moment—where I can truly take time to see more deeply. I have been photographing Amelia and the surrounding islands for the past 10 years—capturing the “fingerprints” that give the island character and visual impressions that are more about the way being on the island makes me feel. And now I am excited about the opportunity to share these unique places and special moments with a small group of up to eight students during a weeklong photography workshop.
Scheduled for next spring (March 19-25), the workshop will be based at the Seaside Amelia Inn, a small boutique hotel with comfortable, contemporary furnishings just steps from the beach, a stone’s throw from Fort Clinch State Park and only a few minutes from dozens of great restaurants in historic downtown Fernandina Beach. We’ll go on at least two shoots each day, capturing both morning and evening light. Mid-day, we’ll head to the classroom for discussions and image reviews. I’m intentionally limiting the class size so that each participant gets ample one-on-one instruction, support and feedback.
Although I saw far more trees in Arizona than expected (the mountains were covered in Ponderosa pines and Douglas firs), the two forests I explored with my camera had none.
Petrified Forest National Park doesn’t look like a forest at all—though it was long ago. Today it is considered badlands and the only elements rising from this expansive landscape are buttes and mesas. And contrary to their name, the petrified trees scattered across the land aren’t even wood. They are three-dimensional fossils of trees that grew here in the Late Triassic Period, more than 225 million years ago. They formed as sediment filled the decaying cavities in ancient trees, most of which is now hard, dense quartz. And though these stone logs look as if they were neatly sawn into sections, they actually snapped under the pressure of the shifting earth that covered them.
The Petrified Forest NP features a 28-mile road that runs from one end of the park to the other, with a short side loop through Blue Mesa (not to be missed). In addition to the petrified logs, the colorful rock formations in Blue Mesa and the Painted Desert (located in the northern end of the park) were wonderful. The park museum features replicas of early dinosaurs found in the area and you can tour the restored Painted Desert Inn and other historic sites.
Next up were forests of cacti in the Saguaro National Parkand areas surrounding Phoenix and Tucson. Despite its very limited range, the Saguaro is perhaps the best known of all the cacti. The giant cactus, with “arms” that reach skyward as much as 50 feet, have become an iconic symbol of the American West, but you’ll only find them in certain regions of the Sonoran Desert. The average lifespan of a Saguaro is 125 to 150 years, though some live more than 200 years, and they don't begin producing “arms” until they are 50 to 70 years old. While the spines on a Saguaro may create “shade” for the cactus, they didn’t create much for me. On a hot Arizona day, I prefer the cool shade of soaring pines and firs.
If you get to Saguaro National Park, be sure to stop by the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which is a combination natural history museum, zoo and botanical garden focused on desert life. It is a unique museum in that it is located mostly outdoors and in the desert. It is almost hidden near the west park entrance, but it is truly a gem worth exploring.
What are your favorite national parks? Did you know the National Park Service is celebrating itsCentennialthis year?
This old truck, along with a lot of other old automobiles of varying condition, are scattered throughout the parking lot at the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona, located along the old Route 66. I stumbled across the motel just as the sun was setting last week. (Photo ©2016 Lee Anne White)
Holbrook, Arizona. I’ve never met anyone who told me it was their vacation destination or on their bucket list. But it was on mine, and not because I expected it to be exciting. In fact, I really didn't expect much at all. But my mom lived there for several years in her early teens before moving east to Georgia, and I felt it was important to see where she lived. She never said much about Holbrook until a few weeks ago when I told her I was going. Then the memories began flowing. Still, my expectations remained modest.
Indeed, Holbrook is a sleepy little town. Yet I was pleasantly surprised when I visited this past week. It had a charming main street district and was like stepping back in time—probably to the time that my mom lived there. Imagine traveling west along Route 66 in the '40s and '50s, and you’ll have a pretty good image of this town. I was delighted by the beautifully maintained Wigwam Motel and its antique auto collection and there are wonderful old buildings and signs throughout the town. I kept wishing I had more than just a short evening to explore with my camera phone.
The Wigwam Hotel was built in 1950 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. It consists of 15 concrete and steel teepees that stand 28 feet high. And yes, you can still "sleep in a wigwam."
The nearby Petrified Forest National Park and Painted Desert were also wonderful, and I didn’t allot enough time for fully exploring these natural wonders, either. When heading south toward Phoenix through the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, where my grandfather served as a forest ranger, I was caught off guard by the lushness of these high, snow-capped mountains—not what tends to come to mind when you think of Arizona.
As a photographer, I do my best to research a place before going there to shoot. I identify key locations, views or elements I wish to photograph and think about when and how I might best do that. When working with editors, I am often provided with shot lists. But in the end, I must respond to what is actually there and adapt to the the current light and weather. Often, my preconceived ideas have very little to do with reality.
If you ever find yourself heading west on I-40 through Arizona, hop off the interstate for an exit or two and drive through Holbrook. If you have time, stop by Joe & Aggie's Cafe (established 1943) for some huevos rancheros smothered in red sauce. If you’re lucky, Tammy will join you at your table and tell you all about Holbrook after she takes your order.
There are certain places that call to us—that feel more like home than home itself, that pique our sense of curiosity, or where we feel a deep sense of peace or connection. I feel this way about northern New Mexico. My mom grew up there, and I've always figured there must be some "southwest gene" she passed along to me. Or maybe it has to do with my imagination and the stories my grandfather told about his days as a forest ranger in the Jemez Mountains.
Sometimes it's not so much a place as a type of place. In her book, The Inward Garden, landscape architect Julie Moyer Messervy explores the concept of archetypal landscapes—the sea, cave, harbor, promontory, island, mountain and sky—and how we can recreate these types of spaces on a smaller scale in our homes and gardens.
We are each drawn to different types of spaces. While I love the coziness of a “cave” where I can curl up with my cat and a good book on a cold winter day, what calls to me most are mountains and hills that are open to the sky and broad views—places like the rolling hills of Northern California or Tuscany and the high desert of the American Southwest. Messervy suggests that these are often the spaces that we most enjoyed in childhood, though I had never experienced such a sense of opennes until I spent a summer working on Flathead Lake, just south of Glacier National Park in Montana, while in college. There is a reason they call this Big Sky Country. In such places, I feel carefree and energized. Imagine me standing there with my arms open wide to the world.
I visit these special spaces as often as I can and love to photograph them, as well. For a number of years, I have been working on a photographic series of southwestern landscapes that evoke a sense of mystery. Next week, I'm flying to Albuquerque and taking the scenic route over mountains and through desert to Tucson and beyond, shooting at several national monuments, national forests and botanical gardens along the way. That means I’m obsessing over the weather. It looks like I could encounter temperatures ranging from 20 to 85 degrees, so packing light is probably out of the question. Rain is unlikely, but snow is possible in higher elevations. I’m also checking the sunrise and sunset times for each location and researching each place I’ll visit for potential shooting opportunities. I’m gathering maps, reservations and itinerary notes. And, as always, I am wondering how best to pack without incurring extra baggage fees. (Cameras, tripod, laptop and hiking boots push those scales to their limit.)
But back to these archetypal landscapes: What kinds of spaces most appeal to you? How do they make you feel, and can you capture those feelings in your photographs?
How often do we pick up a camera in excitement and just start shooting—trying to capture a place, event or other subject—perhaps operating on autopilot, out of habit and experience? There is, of course, some value in this strategy when things are happening quickly. When it comes to more contemplative forms of photography, however, I believe we owe it to ourselves to slow down and ask two very simple, yet important questions:
What makes me want to photograph this subject?
How can I best convey that?
The more specific we can be with the answers, the better. “It’s beautiful,” isn’t nearly as helpful as, “I love how the fog creates a quiet, peaceful atmosphere,” or “I love the way the sunlight filters through the trees, making the leaves shimmer.” Knowing what excites us or compels us to take a photograph should guide our decisions regarding composition, lighting, shutter speed and depth of field. It may dictate whether the subject is best conveyed in color or black and white. And it impacts our choice of lens—as we may need to zoom in on one element of the composition with a telephoto lens, move within inches of our subject to convey details with a macro lens, or take in a broader view with a wide-angle lens.
Once we know exactly what it is that we want to share or convey with a photograph, it is much easier to consider our options and to edit out everything that is unnecessary. Perhaps different lighting or another angle would better call attention to what compels us. When photographing plants, for instance, the shape of a leaf, the gesture of a flower, a unique branching structure, or the fuzzy hairs on a stem may be what piqued our sense of curiosity. Backlighting would highlight those hairs; a dark or blurred background might make the leaf stand out; a light breeze and sense of movement could emphasize a flower's gentle sense of gesture; shooting in winter when a plant is leafless may best show off the branching structure.
Portrait photography is not my specialty, but the same approach applies. What is it that we find compelling about a person? Do they have striking features that should be emphasized? How might their unique personality be conveyed? Is soft lighting or strong, directional light more appropriate to set the mood? Is the surrounding environment important or is this more about what we see in their eyes and face?
No matter what the subject, it helps to clarify what you hope to convey. Figuring out how to convey that may take some time and exploration, and is where the real art comes in. So the next time you grab your camera, pause a moment and ask yourself what it is that intrigues or excites you about a subject. Then let the answer guide the way to new discoveries and more compelling images.