Posted by: kerryl29 | November 12, 2014

Thematic Interruption: The Elements of Style

Please forgive this brief intermission from the day-to-day reporting of my trip to the Canadian Rockies.  Every so often I have something I want to say beyond the chronological posting of images; this is one of those occasions and it will certainly happen at least one or two more times before I wrap up the trip.  The next post will be Day 5–my first full day at Jasper National Park.

In the more than five years that I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve discussed what it’s like to photograph landscapes in the American Midwest.  I’ll save everyone the unpleasant task of rereading the entirety of that description.  Suffice to say, the American Midwest is filled with various forms of development–commercial, residential and agricultural.  The areas of undeveloped landscape are largely flat, relatively cluttered woodlands and wetlands.  There are exceptions to this rather mundane generalization, but photographing effectively in this environment, in my view, requires particular attention to lighting conditions and the willingness to open one’s eyes to relatively narrow fields of vision.  Again, there are exceptions, but “grand landscapes” are comparatively few and far between.

Autumn Leaves, Devils Lake State Park, Wisconsin

Autumn Leaves, Devils Lake State Park, Wisconsin

Fallen Aspen Leaves, Wildland Trail, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Fallen Aspen Leaves, Wildland Trail, Jasper National Park, Alberta

It goes without saying, then, that the Midwestern landscape bears little resemblance to that of the Canadian Rockies.  There are no snow-capped mountain peaks reflected in alpine lakes; no glaciers; few wild rivers and massive, thundering waterfalls.  In short, photographing n the Midwest is an entirely different experience from doing so in the Canadian Rockies.

Right?

Above Upper Cataract Falls, Cataract Falls State Recreation Area, Indiana

Above Upper Cataract Falls, Cataract Falls State Recreation Area, Indiana

River Rapids, Athabasca River, Jasper National Park, Alberta

River Rapids, Athabasca River, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Well, yes and no.  The “yes” part is pretty obvious.  It’s virtually impossible to ignore the aforementioned grand landscape opportunities that the Canadian Rockies present, especially for someone who’s new to the area.  I’m not sure that it’s possible to have an aesthetically sensible bone in one’s body and not gaze in wonder at those towering peaks, prodigious waterfalls and all the rest of the description presented above.  I trust that I’ve demonstrated this principle, to at least a small degree, in the posts covering the first four days of my trip.

Aspen Twins, Hillsdale Meadows, Banff National Park, Alberta

Aspen Twins, Hillsdale Meadows, Banff National Park, Alberta

Big Twin Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Big Twin Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

But the “no” part…that’s the counterpoint provided by the pairs of images that accompany this essay.  Despite all of the obvious differences, it is possible to present the Canadian Rockies region in a manner that is more…let’s say typical…of a style endemic to the occasionally frustrated Midwest-based landscape photographer: a bit more subtle; more detail-oriented; more intimate; more graphically oriented; more founded on patterns and forms.

These are the elements that, for better or worse, I naturally bring with me, wherever I go, it seems.  They come with years and years of cutting my teeth in locations where focusing on these principles feels somehow necessary.  It’s reached the point, clearly, where it’s not even a conscious thing for me anymore (if it ever was); how else to explain taking a trip to the Canadian Rockies and coming up with so many images that–at least superficially–are similar in style and composition to those made in the Midwest?

Fall Forest Floor, Morton Arboretum, Illinois

Fall Forest Floor, Morton Arboretum, Illinois

Aspen Forest Floor, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Aspen Forest Floor, Jasper National Park, Alberta

It’s not as though I was consciously looking for images like these; they just naturally caught my eye…as they do almost literally every time I’m out in the field in my home region.  It’s an arguable point, but I don’t think the tendency to indulge my apparently embedded inclination to “see” images like this cost me any great opportunities to engage in the grand landscape opportunities for which the Canadian Rockies are so well known.  While I haven’t included any such images as part of this post, you’ve seen plenty of them in the earlier installments of the series (Day 1; Day 2; Day 3; Day 4) and you’ll surely see many, many more if you continue to follow along as I present the daily posts from the remainder of the trip.

Aspen Forest, Muleshoe Picnic Area, Banff National Park, Alberta

Aspen Forest, Muleshoe Picnic Area, Banff National Park, Alberta

Birch Trees in Autumn Dress, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Birch Trees in Autumn Dress, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

But you’ll also continue to see images of the sort that populate this post, because I have many, many more of them.  (In fact, I’ve posted a number of other such images during the already linked earlier posts.)  As I stated above, I seldom was specifically looking for “Midwest-like” images during my time in the Rockies.  There were one or two occasions when, during periods of overcast, I wandered into a wooded area in search of aspen intimates, for instance.  But the vast majority of the time, the types of shots you see here were obtained when I was off on a grand landscape hunt and something decidedly less grand caught my eye.

Oconaluftee River Reflections, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

Oconaluftee River Reflections, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina

Reflections, Maligne River, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Reflections, Maligne River, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Art is an inherently personal, revealing exercise.  We’re always showing a little bit of ourselves through our aesthetic creations.  We reveal ourselves, to a greater or lesser extent, by the subjects we work with or depict; by the light we choose to use or eschew; and most intimately, I think, by the compositions we take control of and present.

Reeds & Lily Pads, Chain O'Lakes State Park, Illinois

Reeds & Lily Pads, Chain O’Lakes State Park, Illinois

Water Reeds, Beaver Lake, Jasper National Park, Alberta

Water Reeds, Beaver Lake, Jasper National Park, Alberta

I always like to “take what the landscape gives me,” rather than overtly imposing my personal will upon it.  And I think I’ve mostly succeeded in that endeavor over the years.  But I also like to allow a little bit of myself to permeate my imagery.  After all, it’s my view of the landscape that I’m trying to reveal through my photography.  I think that’s ultimately what’s happening here.  The grand landscape–the quintessential Canadian Rockies, if you will?  I’ve let that emerge (and I think you’ll increasingly see this as I continue to post the daily journal entries), as part of my intention to let the place reveal itself.  And the images like those accompanying this post?  That’s showing a little bit of what makes my imagery my imagery.

Next:  The Canadian Rockies, Day 5 – Patricia and Pyramid Lakes, Highway 93A and Mt. Edith Cavell

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Responses

  1. Wonderful idea for a post. Enjoyed the picture pairing.

    • Thanks very much!

  2. I enjoyed your article very much. That is why I like your work, you have an eye for light, design, colour, pattern and take a photo from perhaps a different view than the average photographer.I love the intimacy of wherever you take your photos, because of the light, pattern, etc. I have seen many “oh, just another mountain shot.” and taken quite a few too, to be honest. but it takes patience and skill to make a shot of the grand vista “sing” I like the teachings of Freeman Patterson who deliberately takes shots of the seemingly mundane and makes it a work of art by putting his stamp on it. Or Dan Jurak, an Alberta photographer who stays close to home and takes images that the back roads offer him and adds his imagination. All of you help me on my journey of learning how to “see”. I love the mountains, the plains and the woodlands for all they have to offer and none would be complete without those intimate close-up shots alongside the bigger view.

    • Thanks very much, Jane, for the kind words and for taking the time to leave such a thoughtful comment. I’ve read several of Freeman Patterson’s works and I’m not sure that there’s anyone out there more capable of translating rather ethereal matters into decipherable, actionable terms.

  3. Most excellent photos!

  4. Just a wonderful post, kerry. I loved the comparison images. Living in the Midwest presents one basic fact for photographers: finding something interesting to shoot can be a challenge. Also challenging is turning the mundane into something beautiful. It’s work!

    Thanks for sharing your view and journey.

    • Thanks, Sharon.

      Yes, no doubt it’s extremely challenging to shoot effectively in our part of the world, at least when it comes to the landscape. As I’ve noted in the past, people used to photographing in more traditionally “landscape rich” areas–such as the western half of the North American continent–often don’t appreciate this until and unless they head east and give it a try themselves…and then they typically “get it,” and then some. 🙂

  5. You’ve presented some intriguing stuff to chew on here. There’s much to be said for the pleasure of chasing after (or visiting) those grand scenic locations, but there’s compensation in knowing or discovering all the unique gems that can be found right there in one’s own “back yard” so to speak. Intimate knowledge of the home territory can often make up for what appears to be limited opportunities for the spectacular.
    Very nice post!

    • Thanks very much, Gunta. As I’ve mentioned here a number of times, I’ve always seen both advantages and disadvantages to shooting locally and remotely. I guess the thing to do is to try to revel in the advantages of whichever platform is chosen at a given time while mitigating the disadvantages of same. Easier said than done, of course. 🙂

  6. Love the bold joyful fall colors…You really captured the essence of fall.

  7. There is pattern, color, form, shape, and, above all, light everywhere. Anyone can see the beauty in the grand, iconic landscapes, but it takes a photographer’s sensibility and sensitivity to see it where others do not. You see it and elevate it to something special.

    • Thanks very much, Ellen, for the extremely kind words.

  8. Aspens are wonderful to look at and watch. And I really enjoyed your reeds photos.

    • Thanks–much appreciated!

  9. This is an insightful post with beautiful images, Kerry. I’d say you really knocked the ball out of the park with this one.

    • Thanks, Tom. I know that you understand exactly what I’m talking about, perhaps better than anyone else.

  10. Once again I have to say thank you! I feel that this post could have been written to me. Not only do I greatly admire your images and skills as a photographer, but also your willingness to answer questions and help others.

    I’ve been trying that tip that you gave me, about cloning an image to different exposures, then loading them into Photomatix, and it works very well. It works particularly well when a scene includes wildlife that can move between the shots in a traditional HDR image. So, thank you again!

    • Thanks for the kind remarks and I’m very glad to hear that you’re getting some mileage out of the faux HDR technique. It really does come in handy on any occasion when you have moving elements (e.g. blowing foliage, grasses, flowers, clouds, waves, etc.), when putting together a true HDR set of multiple exposures is essentially impossible.

  11. […] perfect light for working deep forest scenes and details (fitting in perfectly with the theme that I blogged about in my last post), so I decided to take advantage of it by moving the car down to the far end of Patricia Lake and […]

  12. […] is the kind of scene that conjures up some of the concepts that I mused upon a few posts back in this […]

  13. […] And yet, despite the pull of the ultrawide angle, I found that I was still able to see the landscape in a more detailed, intimate manner as well.  It’s a view I’ve become accustomed to over the years–a function of my copious experience shooting landscapes in tight, cluttered settings, I’ve opined. […]

  14. […] I’ve discussed a focus on detail-oriented landscape photography on this blog in the past.  And I’ve hinted that my experience learning the craft (or developing the art…or both) in settings where grand landscapes are rare has surely affected my tendency to discover and capture intimates, even when photographing in locations where grand landscapes are palpable. […]

  15. […] said it before, more than once:  I take my photographic proclivities–the perspectives, the “eye,” if you […]


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