Monday, December 26, 2011

The Thinking Side of Photography

Lately I have been meditating on my free February workshop presentation to the Harrison Camera Club. The topic is Wildlife, Wild Flowers & Wild Hairs. It is important to me not to be entirely serious. I am certain there is wisdom in stepping back from certainty and understanding that all things are "wiggly", the world is about verbs mostly and few nouns intrude. This includes all rules, mine included.

My core focus will be on "wild hairs". I think about photography a lot. I deconstruct, take apart, the creative process believing that careful thinking is the most important creative tool any photographer has. Put another way, "your head should always be attached" when you take photos. It is true that serendipitous photos come your way if you are hacking around, but you can get better results if you re-attach your head.

Here is a short list of my personal wild hairs about photography:

Pre-visualization & Light 
  • Great photos tell stories. To quote poet Muriel Rukeyser "The universe is made of stories, not atoms". Like stories, pictures range from haiku to novels. You will succeed the extent to which you tell a story. Does your photography evoke emotions? 
  • Equipment is not photography any more than brushes are painting. I really get fatigued over this confusion. My recommendation on equipment is that you should not buy before you hit a creative barrier in your actual picture taking.  The time may come when the lack of a certain lens will matter, or not. Toting 25 lenses mostly hurts your back, it does not expand your creativity in most cases. Often I take just one lens. Yup.
  • Composition is what matters most. How do you learn composition? Dig, study and shoot. Step outside your norms and make mistakes. Study composition in painting for landscapes and portraiture, study composition in flower arranging for wildflowers, etc. Take risks, try stuff. Etc.  If an image "speaks to you" figure out why and how it was taken. 
  • Learn to see light. Seriously. Many photographers simply don't see. Do you know your camera sees only 50% or so of the light of your eyes, meaning short tonal range? You can expose for the shadows or highlights, or take HDR's to capture the whole range in the scene. Understand that subtle differences in light will be amplified in your image.
  • Study Photography through Pre-Visualization. You can learn a lot by relaxing and thinking about light and composition for any subject. Forget the camera, use your imagination to identify what you seek in light, shadow, form, and organization of those forms.  For animal photography, what behaviors do you seek? For landscapes, what lighting, what forms and lines, placement of objects, and so on?  If you do pre-visualization exercises you will recognize an opportunity much better when it presents itself
Opportunities Must be Recognized 

This short list is only the beginning really, but it does cover the high spots. Each of the 5 points is a book in itself. My photo $150 one-on-one workshops get at these points (and others). 

Ansel Adams said that getting 5 good photos a year was a good average, any more was a very good year. That is the confession of a master who understood the points above (and more). 

Now is a good time to study. The challenge of working in the subtle tones of winter forces your hand as a photographer. Finding compositions in this context is always challenging, but you must believe there is a photo. Be thoughtful, make mistakes, learn. Greet the 2012 season with a new creative approach. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

12/11/11 December Overview

December has to be one of the biggest missed opportunities for photographers and elk watchers. This is the end of the rut, but there are big bulls around in all-bull herds and in late rut herds.

The picture below was taken this morning. It is always nice to get one of the big boys around water. In this case he was crossing one of the many creeks in Boxley Valley. This was taken shortly after he was aroused from bedding right next to Highway 43. The "black" patch on his back is from the ice that broke away from his hide -- it is surrounded by white frost. I like the reflection in delicately foggy water.

There are great pictures to be had. I have not been posting maps because there is also an elk hunt underway, or at least there was. I don't want to be a guide for the hunt.

This morning there were two herds on the valley. One by the Ponca Access, and a second down by the 43/21 intersection. Both are nice-sized herds.

The ends of the day remain the best time for elk photos. Other times you may see elk in this cold weather, but the light is flat and the herds are likely to be bedded down rather than moving. This morning I saw a creek crossing and a road crossing. There were only 3 other vehicles watching the elk -- a lot for December.  Come on down and you will probably have the place to yourself.

Late Rut/Post Rut Wall-Hanger -- Taken 12/11/11

Saturday, December 3, 2011

12/3/11 The Beast Returns in the South Valley

This morning I was pleasantly surprised to see the Boxley Beast with a big harem down by the Buffalo River in the south end.

In other areas of the valley viewing is much the same. Two bulls are still rutting. There are all bull herds by the intersection of Highway 43 and 21.

True to history, this morning I had the valley to myself. I got a picture of elk in the river, a nice close up or two of the Boxley Beast along the woods. Great opportunities and nobody is taking advantage of them.

This weekend will be cold and perhaps icy weather will make driving difficult, but if the trees ice, the photography can be amazing. Elk will love the icy weather.

Today's herd map is below:

Friday, December 2, 2011

12/1/11 Elk Viewing Good, Weekend Ahead

This is just about ideal weather for all day elk viewing. There is no question that mornings and evenings remain the best time for viewing, but the herds are less likely to run away the first time sun hits the fields.

Frost Blossoms Now Occur on Cold Mornings
They are Great Abstract Subjects
December 1 there were 3 herds of some size in the valley, with a tiny one mid valley.

The first Ponca field has been pretty good for few days now. The herd there is young animals, many of them yearlings. You can observe they are a bit small, and they can be very playful. These elk will spring around like baby goats. The small bull with them twirls fighting imaginary foes.

At the intersection of highway 43 and 21 there are two herds. One is all bulls, the second is a mixed herd that is another tail end of the rut herd.

So far as I can tell, there are still two bulls running cows in Boxley Valley. The rut is really winding down, but some breeding is still going on.

Remember to check Lost Valley when you visit. December has traditionally be the hot month for elk in Lost Valley. I have no idea why.