Posted by: kerryl29 | May 13, 2019

A Return to the Mundane

On several occasions during the nearly ten years that I’ve been writing this blog I’ve ruminated on the significance of going through the process of learning how to photograph the landscape in a locale that (mostly) eschews grand landscapes and forces the novice photographer to focus his/her attention on the intimate.  The past few weeks have provided a refresher course that has served to validate the maxim that the Upper Midwest of the United States serves as a true taskmaster in the art of “landscape seeing.”

Otter Creek, Baxter’s Hollow Preserve, Sauk County, Wisconsin

In the last entry, I displayed the results of my recent experiences–frustrating and satisfying–in Indiana and Illinois.  Partly as a function of those brief experiences in the field this spring, I headed up to Wisconsin for a couple of days last week, on a bit of a whim.  I spent my time in the Baraboo Hills region of the state, about an hour north of Madison, and not quite three hours northwest of my base in northeast Illinois.  (I had been in the area to photograph briefly once before, but that was 12 years ago in October.)

McGilvra Woods State Natural Area, Wisconsin

I found myself in a fairly familiar environment:  natural areas that were heavily wooded and filled with visual “clutter,” small streams with some canyon-ish areas reminiscent of Starved Rock (Illinois), Turkey Run (Indiana) and Hocking Hills (Ohio).

Skillet Creek, Pewits Nest State Natural Area, Wisconsin

Backlit Tree, Devil’s Lake State Park, Wisconsin

I’ll relate the specific experience of my brief Wisconsin trip during future entries, but I want to focus my attention in this post on the broader lesson of acting on the familiar.  With a few exceptions, the vast majority of my time in the field over the two days I was in the Baraboo Hills was spent wandering around places completely devoid of mind-blowing visual stimuli, in light I frequently hear derided as flat.  Due to the second straight year of delayed bloom due to a cold early spring punctuated by copious amounts of rain, it was early in the leaf-out/blooming season in central Wisconsin during my time there.

East Bluff Trail View, Devil’s Lake State Park, Wisconsin

And yet…

Thought I’ve kind of poisoned the well by using the word “mundane” in the title of this post, I repeatedly saw the subtle, captivating beauty of this landscape emerge from the visual chaos.  This should be no surprise, as I’ve been through this exercise too many times to count, at this point.  And yet, somehow, it never ceases to amaze me.  When photographing in locations like these I simultaneously feel as though I’ve “done this a thousand times before” and a remarkable freshness, as though I’ve discovered something entirely new.

Parphrey’s Glen Creek, Parphrey’s Glen State Natural Area, Wisconsin

It was only two days, but it served as a great antidote to the malaise that had so concerned me after my less-than-entirely satisfactory experience at McCormick’s Creek just a couple of weeks prior.  It never hurts to receive a direct, no-nonsense reminder of why I photograph the landscape in the first place.

Rural Sunset, Sauk County, Wisconsin

Posted by: kerryl29 | May 6, 2019

Enjoy the Ride

For a variety of banal reasons that I won’t bother detailing, I didn’t go out with the camera following late November’s foray to Starved Rock State Park until last week.  Due to a favorable (read: cloudy) forecast on both Monday and Tuesday of the final week of April, I made the approximately 160-mile round trip from my base in Indianapolis to McCormick’s Creek State Park, just outside the tiny town of Spencer, Indiana, in the south-central part of the state.  I’ve been to the park a couple of times before, but not in quite some time (5 1/2 years, to be exact).

McCormick’s Creek Waterfall, McCormick’s Creek State Park, Indiana

So I drove to McCormick’s Creek on the morning of April 27, expecting to have a full day in which to photograph the creek, its waterfall, and the surrounding woods filled with spring wildflowers…and, instead, I got a day almost entirely filled with sun.  Hazy sun, admittedly, during much of the day, but sun nonetheless.  I got, maybe, 25 minutes of even light.  If anything, I’m being overly generous.

McCormick’s Creek Waterfall, McCormick’s Creek State Park, Indiana

After spending that 25 minutes down at creek level, snagging a few different compositions including the waterfall, the sun popped out.  And it was never overcast again during the remainder of the day.  Having traipsed across the creek, hard against the side wall of the canyon, I set up and produced the image you see below, just seconds before the scene was blasted by open sunlight.

McCormick’s Creek Waterfall, McCormick’s Creek State Park, Indiana

While I hung around for several more hours and scouted other areas of the park, the image you see above was the final one of the day.  At mid-afternoon, highly frustrated as the skies grew clearer and clearer, I called it quits and drove home.

The forecast for the next day–which I verified early the following morning–was even more emphatically calling for cloudy skies so I made the drive back to the park the next day, eager to make good on all the scenes I’d scouted the day before.  And while there was sun on the drive to McCormick’s Creek that next day, I could see a heavy cloud bank slowly drifting in from the west.  By the time I reached the park entrance, the cloud bank was covering the sky and I began to take part in what I expected would be a fine day of photography.

I started with some shots of some particularly nice redbud trees that I’d spotted.

Redbud Serenade, McCormick’s Creek State Park, Indiana

From there, just steps away, I hastened to photograph a scene dominated by a heavily blossomed dogwood.

Dogwood Forest, McCormick’s Creek State Park, Indiana

I made my way back to the waterfall area.  Several families, with a bunch of children were down there, enjoying the creek.  I satisfied myself with a shot of the falls from just below the canyon rim.

McCormick’s Creek Waterfall, McCormick’s Creek State Park, Indiana

I figured I’d come back and check the falls out again later in the day, when there might be fewer people around.  I was in no hurry.  I moved along to check out a spot on the creek, maybe 1/4 mile above the falls, that I’d taken note of the previous afternoon.  After poking around a bit, I finally found a composition I liked and set up…and suddenly found myself casting a shadow.  The sun was out!  I took a good look at the sky and the clouds had mostly drifted away.  There were still some in the sky but there was as much blue visible as gray and white.  I waited, and after about 20 minutes, a cloud drifted in front of the sun, giving me the even light I wanted.

McCormick’s Creek, McCormick’s Creek State Park, Indiana

Mere seconds after I completed a four-image sequence to obtain a focus stack for the above image, the sun popped back out and…you know what’s coming…I never saw even light again that day.  I hung around for another two or three hours and by the time I left there was scarcely a cloud in the sky.

As frustrated as I’d been the previous day, that didn’t hold a candle to how I felt as I drove back home on that second afternoon.  In fact, I honestly don’t ever remember feeling as discouraged after a photo outing as I did on that Tuesday.  I’ve been the victim of less-than-ideal weather conditions countless times over the years without ever becoming anywhere near this despondent.  Maybe it was because the forecast had been so abjectly wrong, and two days in a row at that.  Maybe it was because of how long the trip had been and I had made it on consecutive days.  Maybe it was something else, but whatever was going on, it was gnawing at me.

What kept creeping into my mind was that time in the field with my camera has always been one of contentedness, particularly in settings like the one at McCormick’s Creek.  And here I was, not only not feeling contented…I was 180 degrees away from that sensation.  I have enough things to deal with on a regular basis that are naturally aggravating; the last thing I need was to be annoyed by the one thing that’s usually the antidote to aggravation.

To make matters worse, the next day brought almost perfect conditions for the kind of shooting I wanted to do at McCormick’s Creek.  Overcast, all day long, and no wind to boot.  And…I had absolutely no desire to go back there….or go anywhere else for that matter.

*                                          *                                                   *

Despite my concerns, the funk didn’t last all that long.  I was back in northeast Illinois the following week and found myself really looking forward to getting out with the camera.  The opportunities were extremely limited due to other commitments (and a lot of rainy weather), but finally, on May 1, I found myself with a couple of hours to check out the Morton Arboretum for the first time this spring.  Massive rains had caused a lot of flooding in the area and one side of the Arb was completely closed off as a result.  There was standing water in a lot of unusual places on the side of the property that was accessible, but I found the unique look visually stimulating and squeezed about as much light as I could out of the place that evening.

Crowley Marsh Reflections, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

East Side Reflections, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Crowley Marsh Reflections, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

East Side Reflections, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Shortly before it got dark, I wandered into a part of the East Woods that has one of the nicer displays of Virginia Bluebells that I’ve seen, and while I was probably a few days early for the peak bloom, I was still motivated to work the area.

Bluebell Forest, East Side Woods, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Bluebell Forest, East Side Woods, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

Bluebell Forest, East Side Woods, Morton Arboretum, DuPage County, Illinois

It had been a brief session, but I took careful note of my feelings as I wrapped up that day–it had been too brief.  The funk was undeniably over.

By far the most satisfying part of the photo process is the journey–specifically, the time I’m in the field, trying to tease out shots.  The destination (i.e. seeing the end result, after processing the digital flies) is always nice, but it’s the trip itself that makes the endeavor worthwhile for me and, somehow, I usually experience this sensation most emphatically when I’m in a relatively mundane place.  The last two weeks, with their downs and ups, have been a good reminder of why I engage in this craft in the first place.

Posted by: kerryl29 | April 29, 2019

You Can’t Win if You Don’t Play

Back in the film era, there was an adage—really, something between a saying and a mantra—that went like this:  f/8 and be there.  It was, in essence, a statement that suggested that, when it came to getting “the shot,” the technicals were a whole lot less important than being in position when the opportunity arose.  (The “f/8” part referred to the presumed optimal aperture setting for most situations and most lenses.)

Earthshadow, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

We’re now more than a decade into a mature digital age of photography, but the meaning behind the phrase still applies today, even if we’ve effectively left the analog age of film in the rearview mirror.  In fact, if anything, the technical nuances of photography have become less and less of an impediment to the successful image making process with each passing year.  The key has always been recognizing a good photo opportunity and being in position to take advantage of it.

(It seems obvious—and perhaps it is—but I can’t tell you how many photographers I know who routinely miss potentially great chances simply because they didn’t feel like getting up early.)

Sunrise, Bear Rocks Preserve, Dolly Sods Wilderness, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

I relived this experience on numerous occasions during my 2014 autumn trip to the Canadian Rockies.  Time and again, after identifying a possible combination of subject and light, I put myself in the presence of the subject and hoped for the light.  Sometimes it came and sometimes it didn’t, but when it did…I was there to take advantage of it.  I wasn’t necessarily shooting with an aperture of f/8, but the principle remained.

Sunrise, Waterfowl Lakes, Banff National Park, Alberta

Case in point: on September 27, 2014 I got up more than an hour before sunrise.  My goal was to shoot at daybreak at Patricia Lake, in Jasper National Park.  The problem? Well, there were several.  The first was that I hadn’t had the opportunity to scout the location.  I had arrived at Jasper after dark the night before.  I’d never set eyes on Patricia Lake—I wasn’t even truly familiar with the route to get there, and I was going to have to find my way in the dark of the pre-dawn morning.  I was also going to have to try to find a pleasing composition in less than ideal light.  The other issue was the weather forecast—it was expected to be a mostly cloudy morning.  Cloud cover was projected at 80-90% at sunrise.  I knew all of this the night before.

The “easy” thing to do would have been to sleep in.  I could scout the location in the light of day and come back, well-armed (so to speak) the next morning when the conditions were expected to be better.  After all, I’d be on site for the next four days.

Of course, you know I didn’t sleep in.  But if it sounds as though I’m patting myself on the back, or puffing my chest out, I’m not.  (If anything, this is a lot closer to an admission of insanity than bragging.)  The forecast wasn’t for pouring down rain (there was, in fact, essentially no chance of precipitation).

I found my way to the lake, wandered down to the shore and, in the gray of dawn, found what looked like a good spot, and waited.  It didn’t look promising.  As the light came up, I saw a bank of low clouds covering up Pyramid Mountain.  But I hung around, just to see if something good might happen.

Shortly after sunrise, I was rewarded.  For about 15 minutes, a gap in the cloud bank revealed the peak, bathed in beautiful light.  For about two of those minutes, the clouds lit up.

Pyramid Mountain from Patricia Lake at Sunrise, Jasper National Park, Alberta

I’ve been through enough experiences to know that special things can happen even when the odds are long.  I didn’t fly 2000 miles to “sleep in.”  This is what you do when the photograph really matters to you—as it did to me on this day:  you give yourself a chance.

F/8 and be there.

East Beckwith Mountain at Sunset, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Posted by: kerryl29 | April 22, 2019

Photography at the Seaside

Though I’ve lived in the American Midwest for 47 years, I spent my earliest formative time on the East Coast and, for a month for three consecutive summers, I spent time with my grandparents, who rented a place just steps from the beach in Rockaway, New York.  As a function, I’ve always had great affinity for the ocean.  As an adult, I’ve transferred that fondness to my photography.  Over the past 15 years I’ve photographed on the Atlantic coast in Maine, Maryland and Florida and on the Pacific coast in Washington, Oregon and California.  I’ve found these locations to have a number of similarities and at least as many differences and, over the years, have discovered a number of things about seaside photography that I’d like to share.

Photographing at the seaside can be among the most satisfying experiences you’ll ever have, but it will help if you keep a few things in mind.

Monument Cove Evening, Acadia National Park, Maine

Physical Considerations

While different seaside locations contain many different elements, there are some universal aspects to any beach location–saltwater and sand are among them.  And, as luck would have it, photographic equipment–cameras, lenses and tripods, etc.–isn’t fond of either.  As a result, precautions should be taken.  When combined with wind–and seaside locales are frequently, breezy–sand (and salt) can get into everything.  Therefore, lens changing should be minimized and lens caps should be maximized.  And cameras, lenses–and tripods–should be wiped down at the end of every seaside photo session.  In fact, I bring a towel with me whenever I’m photographing near the ocean, and I also bring an ample amount of fresh water with me.  I carefully wipe down all of my gear with a soft cloth and I use the towel and fresh water to wipe down the tripod legs to get rid of all beach residue.

Pacific Coast, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Sunrise, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

I also have a set of UV filters that I don’t ordinarily use…unless I’m at the seaside.  In fact, even astride the ocean, I don’t typically use the filters…unless there’s a lot of wind, as there was when I was on the southern Oregon coast a few years ago.  The stiff north wind was incessant and sprayed salt and sand all over the place and rather than go through the problem of trying to protect the front element of whatever lens I had mounted at any given time, the filters saved me a lot of trouble.

Wind & Surf black & white, Whaleshead Viewpoint, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

China Creek Beach from Spruce Creek Viewpoint, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

I’ve found it extremely helpful to have the appropriate footwear when photographing near the ocean.  It makes it much easier to saunter through the shallows and wet sand when your feet are appropriately covered.  I’ve hauled my rubber boots from coast to coast and have been relieved that I did.

Piping Plovers, Bahia Honda State Park, Bahia Honda Key, Florida

Second Beach Black & White, Olympic National Park, Washington

I’ve seen some crashing surf at the seaside on a number of occasions and have been privy firsthand to the potential danger of being unfamiliar with the daily tide tables and underestimating the impact of sneaker waves.  The photographer underestimates the ocean at his/her peril.

Aesthetic Considerations

One of the things that denotes the experience of photographing the ocean is that the scene is inherently dynamic.  Not only are the light and the sky and the tide always changing, the ocean itself is literally always moving.  It’s one of the most captivating things about being at the seaside.

Otter Cliffs Sunrise, Acadia National Park, Maine

The dynamism of the ocean makes it interesting to experiment with different shutter speeds.  As a result, it’s always a good idea to have a polarizing filter and a neutral density filter at your disposal when photographing seaside, as they’ll  maximize your ability to experiment with creative effects.

Off Shore Rocks from Cape View Loop black & white, Oregon

Rocks & Surf Black & White, Otter Point State Recreation Area, Oregon

In some respects, the same basic set of considerations for any landscape photography location applies to a beach setting.  Subject, light, composition…these are the things that make up photographic decisions for every scene.  But there are some specifics surrounding these elements that are worth noting for seaside photography.

Atlantic Afternoon, Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland

Earthshadow, Myers Beach, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

Because most beach settings imply relative openness, the matter of “good light” is reminiscent of most open locales.  That is to say, usually–there are always exceptions–harsh light conditions at the seaside are typically very harsh and cloudy skies typically beg for a monochromatic treatment.  The color oceanscape loves the golden hour.

Ruby Beach Surf Black & White, Olympic National Park, Washington

Sunset, Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint, Oregon

China Creek Beach from North Island Viewpoint Black & White, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

Sunrise, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

At some seaside locations–this is true of most locations on the Pacific Coast of North America and some, mostly to the north, of the Atlantic Coast–the possibility of photographing from overlooks or from the beach itself–is present.  To the extent possible, I advocate doing both, but I’ve usually found that the lower perspective (i.e. beach level) offers more compositional choices.

Wilson Creek Beach at Sunset, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Sunset, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

China Creek at Sunset, China Creek Beach, Samuel H. Boardman State Park, Oregon

The number and variety of elements at each seaside location will vary, of course, but can go a long way to give a specific sense of place.  Most of the Pacific beaches I’ve visited, for instance, are marked by offshore rocks, islands and/or seastacks.  The beaches on the Maine coast are noted for their own, distinct rocky edifices.  The Pacific beaches were more likely to be dotted with driftwood and tidepools.  Regardless of the specifics, I’ve found that intimate images can, in their own way, be every bit as representative as grand landscapes.

Driftwood & Beach Stones, Ruby Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington

Beach Stones, Little Hunters Beach, Acadia National Park, Maine

Seashells, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Schoodic Peninsula Black & White, Acadia National Park, Maine

Sinewy Beach Stones, Myers Beach, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

Sea Star Pair, Rialto Beach, Olympic National Park, Washington

In Sum

The ever-changing seaside awaits, irrespective of the specific location.  Go forth and find some memorable images.

Bandon Beach at Sunset, Oregon

Posted by: kerryl29 | April 15, 2019

A Photographic False Choice

While recently perusing a nature photography message board I read the latest iteration of the “how much does gear determine how good your images are” debate.  The dialogue typically goes something like this.  Someone makes a statement that essentially states “it’s the photographer, not the camera.”  Someone else counters that the the gear actually has a lot to do with it, and in so doing cites all the features added to cameras (and lenses) in recent decades that have helped photographers improve their imagery, including:  autofocus (and the refinement thereof), autoexposure (and the refinement thereof), image stabilization, and a plethora of digital era developments (instant feedback, usable high ISO performance, the ability to change ISO shot-by-shot, in-camera HDR, etc.).

Sunset, Cannon Beach, Oregon

Given how long this discussion has been going on (i.e. seemingly forever), it seems clear to me that, to the extent that no consensus has been reached, it’s function of people more or less talking past one another.  I say that because it’s obvious, at least to me, that both sides are correct, depending upon how the question itself is posed and interpreted.

Trillium Ravine Preserve, Berrien County, Michigan

During the nearly 10 years that I’ve written this blog, when I’ve attended to matters pertaining to the art and craft of photography (as opposed to, say, relating my experiences on photo trips and that sort of thing), I’ve spent more time talking about the art of the endeavor than the craft.  It’s not that there haven’t been craft-related posts–there certainly have.  But I haven’t spent a great deal of time discussing technique.  That’s not to imply that the technical side of things isn’t important to successful photography; I simply prefer to talk about aesthetics.

Mooselookmeguntic Lake at Sunset from Height of Land Overlook, Franklin County, Maine

But both the aesthetic and the technical sides of photography, like any visual art form, are significant.  (And yes, protests to the contrary from the cognoscenti notwithstanding, photography is a form of visual art.)  And it’s my contention that the degree to which your photographic interest tends to focus more–not exclusively, just predominantly–on left-brained or right-brained aspects of things, the more likely you are to emphasize the role of gear over the photographer or vice versa.  And this makes perfect sense, if you think about it.

Two Jack Lake Sunrise, Banff National Park, Alberta

Advancement in photographic equipment has primarily improved–or made it easier to master–the technical or craft aspects of photography:  getting the exposure right, obtaining sharp images, maximizing depth of field, and so forth.  I say “primarily” because there are ways that technical advances can enhance creativity, such as being able to instantly see the results of experimenting with different shutter speeds and aperture settings, for instance.  And to the greater extent that one’s photographic oeuvre is underlaid by comparatively stiff technical requirements, the more one is likely to–properly–credit gear improvements with one’s perceived success.

Merced River, Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, California

But for the most part, gear improvements have had very little effect on the artistic part of photography for me…but keep in mind when reading that statement the kind of photography I (mostly) engage in:  landscape photography.  The practice of landscape photography is mostly about seeing and, with few exceptions, the advancement in gear over the years hasn’t improved my ability to see in the field.  Now equipment improvements have, in some very important ways, helped me realize my vision.  But aiding the ability to see itself?  I don’t believe so.  That has come (to the extent it has come at all) from copious time in the field and personal development, not from the advancement of photographic gear.  I do believe I “see” better now that I’m using a D800 series camera than I was when I was using a 35 mm film camera 20 years ago, but I don’t think the cameras themselves have anything to do with it.

Spruce Knob Sunrise, Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

So what’s more important, the camera or the person behind it?  Both, for different reasons and in differing amounts, depending on the photographic style under consideration.  Give me a 35 mm film camera today and I’ll make better images with it than I did 20 years ago.  But I’ll still make better images today with a D800 series camera than I would with a 35 mm film camera.  Both I and my equipment have improved over the years.  And I think that’s reflected both aesthetically (me) and technically (my camera).

Clingman’s Dome Sunset, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina

Posted by: kerryl29 | April 8, 2019

The Story Behind the Image: Mother and Child Reunion

I spent a couple of weeks in the Pacific Northwest in July, 2009, just a couple of months before this blog debuted.  Just two weeks or so past the summer solstice, given how far north Olympic National Park is located, there were many, many hours of daylight.  During my time based in Port Angeles, at the base of the winding road that climbs all the way from sea level to Hurricane Ridge (more than 5200 feet above sea level), I awoke at 3 AM to make the drive up to the Ridge in time for sunrise.  This was the beginning of some exceptionally long days in the field throughout the entire two-week period, but that’s a story for another day.

On those mornings when I was at Hurricane Ridge, after sunrise I spent some time exploring and photographing many of the seemingly infinite beautiful scenes accessible in the Olympic high country, from the various trails to the vistas visible from Obstruction Point Road.  On one morning I hung around the not-yet-open Visitor’s Center, which is adjacent to a large parking lot right at the ridge.  The visitor’s center is surrounded by open, rolling meadows that are filled with purple lupine in the summer months.  The other thing one routinely sees at and around the visitors center is Columbia Black Tail Deer, in copious numbers.  These deer are so accustomed to being around people that they take little notice of human presence and can frequently be seen strolling through the parking lot, to the pleasure of many visitors.

In any event, on this particular morning, I was in the process of sizing up some distant intimate landscapes in the very nice early morning light, using my telephoto lens.  I was standing on a paved walkway astride a fence, several hundred feet to the left of the visitor’s center building, with the meadow 20-30 feet below my position.  Between frames I glanced into the meadow and saw a doe, slowly meandering around (and nibbling on) some of the clumps of lupine.  In spots, the wild grass was extremely tall, and when the doe waded into this area, she was up to the base of her neck.

I paused, stood to the side of my tripod and simply watched this idyllic scene for a few moments.  While I was doing so, I noticed a kind of rustling in one of the clumps of high grass and saw a tiny head peek up, then disappear.  And then, a fawn literally bounded out of the high grass and began to prance around the meadow.  I was dumbfounded–and delighted–by this display.  And then I regained some semblance of my bearings, enough to realize that this was a splendid photo opp, taking place right in front of me.

As I’ve mentioned countless times on this blog, I am not a wildlife photographer.  I sometimes find myself with the opportunity to take pictures of wildlife, but this is not my forte.  As evidence of this, when I was trying to photograph the deer on this morning, I kind of forgot–or neglected–to activate autofocus and ended up producing the images using manual focus (and manual exposure).

But the fawn was captivating as he (or she) bounced around the meadow with boundless energy.  The doe showed all the patience one could hope for from a mama deer.  Eventually, the fawn bounced its way over to mom and stopped long enough for me to produce the image you see below.

“Mother and Child Reunion,” Columbia Black Tail Doe and Fawn, Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park, Washington

Posted by: kerryl29 | April 1, 2019

Center of Interest

More than 20 years ago, when I was in the relatively early stages of becoming serious about landscape photography, I was given a copy of Joseph K. Lange’s How to Photograph Landscapes.  The book, which was published the same year it was gifted to me (1998), had a wealth of valuable technical and artistic information for the relative novice, which is what I was at the time.  One concept that stuck with me was the notion of employing what Lange termed a “center of interest” as a key compositional facet.

I quote from the book:

“The kind of artistic landscape photography that I advocate can be achieved only by evoking a strong emotional response from viewers.  An essential element of this kind of image is a strong center of interest.  A center of interest can be defined as the place in the photograph that the eye is drawn to and lingers.  There should be no other object of equal or nearly equal interest in the photograph to pull the eye away.”

From the time that I first read these words, I took this idea very seriously.  Center of interest.  When scanning a scene I had to find it, identify it, know what it was.  If I couldn’t do that, obviously there was no image to be made.  It wasn’t long before I stopped thinking about this concept consciously and, truth be told, I really don’t ever think about the center of interest consciously today.  But I do deal with the matter subconsciously, all the time.  And I’ve also come to realize that, at least in my view, the way center of interest was defined in the book is too narrow.

The quoted passage above implies that centers of interest are objects.  And, frequently, that’s so.

Freeland Farm Dawn, Tucker County, West Virginia

Earthshadow, Myers Beach, Pistol River State Park, Oregon

Pretzel and Lighthouse Arches, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Lower Falls, Enfield Glen, Robert H. Treman State Park, New York

Elliot Peak at Sunrise, David Thompson Country, Alberta

Barns, natural arches, waterfalls, mountain peaks…all classic “center of interest” objects.  But over time, I came to realize that while a center of interest can be an object, it need not be, at least not in the classic sense of the term.  As I attempted to demonstrate in my previous post, patterns can be a center of interest.

Birches, Halfmoon Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, Michigan

Prairie Trillium, Illinois Canyon, Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Breaking Waves Black & White, Otter Point State Recreation Site, Oregon

Bracken Fern Closeup, Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Birch Reflections Black & White, Boreal Forest Trail, Creamer’s Field Migratory Wildlife Refuge, Fairbanks Northstar Borough, Alaska

Colors can also be the center of interest in an image–not colorful objects per se, but colors themselves:

Spruce Knob Dawn, Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia

Water Abstract, Matthiessen State Park, Illinois

Color Riot, Hancock Overlook, Kancamagus Highway, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire


Tones, too, can serve as the center of interest.

Fern Closeup Black & White, Damnation Creek Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Virgin River Intimate black & white, Riverside Walk, Zion National Park, Utah

Atigun Pass Black & White, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Aspen Isolates Black & White, Lost Lake Road, Kebler Pass, Gunnison National Forest, Colorado

Textures can be the center of interest:

Blackwater Falls Abstract Black & White, Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

Eielson View, Denali National Park, Alaska

Tremont, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Lichen Wall, Acadia National Park, Maine

Light can be the center of interest:

October Light, Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, West Virginia

Golden Band, Ouray County Road 5, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Morning Glory, Lake Powell, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona

Backlit Tree, Newfound Gap Road, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Shapes can be the center of interest:

Totem Pole at Sunrise, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

Ice, Snow & Water Patterns Black & White, Eagle Creek Park, Indiana

Forest Floor Black & White, Damnation Creek Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Lines can be the center of interest:

Ridge Lines, Auxier Ridge Trail, Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky

Bridle Path, Turkey Run State Park, Indiana

Scrub Oak, Owl Creek Pass, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Highway 11, David Thompson Country, Alberta

You get the idea.  In fact, if you view some of these images, you may think that the category of the center of interest may be manifold…texture and pattern, for instance.  This raises the question of whether it’s possible to have multiple centers (plural) of interest within the same image.  Or is that an oxymoron?

Informally, I’ve redefined the term “center of interest” loosely as:  the primary reason why an image is compelling.  Admittedly this is a far less structured definition than Lange used in his book, and is therefore probably less actionable–and thereby less useful to the relative novice.  Upon reflection, I’m grateful that Lange defined the term as he did because that narrower, more tangible approach was an important building block for me when considering the notion of composition.  But I’m glad that I have now allowed that definition to be broadened, for my own use, as doing so as opened up all sorts of creative paths that I might otherwise have neglected.

Posted by: kerryl29 | March 25, 2019


Few things catch my eye when I’m photographing more than patterns, and since the vast majority of the time I’m photographing natural subjects, the patterns I see and respond to are naturally occurring.  What’s particularly interesting about patterns in nature is the fact that they are revealed in so many different places and in such visually unique ways.

Dunes Abstract Black & White, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Merced River Reflections, Sierra National Forest, California

Aspen Forest, Celestine Lake Road, Jasper National Park, Alberta

While the subject matter is remarkably varied, the perspective needed to tease out the patterns is equally disparate.  I’ve used wide angle lenses, normal focal lengths, telephoto lenses and closeup/macro lenses to make pattern-based images.  Sometimes the pattern is revealed as far as the eye can see.  On other occasions, a much closer examination is called for.

Lily Pond Reflections, Kancamagus Highway, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

Forest Floor Intimate, Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Yosemite Valley in Fog from Tunnel View Black & White, Yosemite National Park, California

Autumn’s Tapestry, County Road 7, Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado

Banana Tree Leaf, White River Gardens, White River State Park, Indiana

As some of the above examples have already demonstrated, patterns and abstracts often fit together, hand-in-glove.  This isn’t always the case; it’s certainly possible to render a pattern in non-abstract form, but not infrequently the two genres often have nearly perfect overlap.

Pink Canyon, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

Driftwood Abstract Black & White, Humboldt Lagoons State Park, California

Elephant Ear Leaf, White River Gardens, White River State Park, Indiana

Enfield Creek Rapids Intimate Black & White, Robert H. Treman State Park, New York

Black & White Abstract, Atigun Pass, Dalton Highway, Brooks Range, Alaska

Toklat River Black & White, Polychrome Pass, Denali National Park, Alaska

Since patterns are often mostly a function of common and/or complementary shapes, the pattern can sometimes be best recognized when displayed in monochrome.

Beach Grass Trio Black & White, Little River State Beach, California

Hector Falls Intimate Black & White, Schuyler County, New York

Redwood Sorrel and Ferns Black & White, Coastal Trail, Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, California

Hemlock Hill Black & White, Morton Arboretum, Illinois

Surging Surf black & white, Monument Cove, Acadia National Park, Maine

Palmetto Closeup Black & White, Riverbend Park, Palm Beach County, Florida

Snowy Conifers Black & White, Eagle Creek Park, Marion County, Indiana

It may seem as though I go out specifically looking for patterns; I don’t, ever, really.  The pattern either reveals itself to me or it doesn’t.  But it remains remarkable to me how often the revelation happens.

Aspens Forever, Coal Bank Pass, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Dunes Geometry, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Sun-Kissed Aspens, Telluride Valley Floor, San Miguel County, Colorado

Aspen Leaves and Grasses, Preacher’s Point, David Thompson Country, Alberta

White Birch Forest, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Snowy Conifers, Red Mountain Pass, San Juan National Forest, Colorado

Given how many patterns I run across without even looking for them, I can’t help but wonder how many I’d discover if I was making an active attempt to find them.

My previous post referenced common landscape photography expectations in Arizona as the means to making a point about the potential for being blinded to opportunities by superficially familiar settings.   As a result, I thought the story of how the image contained at the climax of this entry was made would be timely.

Seven years ago I flew to Phoenix as the prelude to a photo tour of portions of northern Arizona–specifically, Monument Valley, Lower Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  I came in a day before the start of the tour and drove to Flagstaff for the evening, with the plan to drive to Monument Valley the following day.  I expected to arrive in Flagstaff by mid-afternoon, so when I was planning the trip I tried to find somewhere nearby that I could explore in the few hours of daylight I expected to have upon arrival.

Things played out more or less as anticipated.  My flight arrived in Phoenix a bit after noon, I picked up a rental car and began the roughly 2 1/2 hour drive to Flagstaff.  I drove through the saguaro-laden desert north of Phoenix and gradually began the slow, steady climb to Flagstaff (which is situated nearly 7000 feet above sea level; by comparison, Phoenix is a smidge over 1000 feet above sea-level).  Along the way, the vegetation changed dramatically, as the cacti were gradually replaced by tall pines.  About 50 miles outside of Flagstaff, the mostly clear skies I had encountered in Phoenix were replaced by clouds and the final half-hour or so of the drive was made through steady rain.

The rain had essentially stopped and it appeared to be clearing when I arrived in Flagstaff, though it was obvious that the rainstorm had blown through the city, as everything was soaking wet.  When I checked into my motel the desk clerk asked me how I’d liked driving through the rain.  I said it hadn’t bothered me (I’m used to driving in wet conditions), but that it had surprised me–I hadn’t really expected to encounter rain in Arizona, even though I knew it was the monsoon season.  The clerk pointed to a calendar.   “This is the 35th consecutive day of rain here,” he said.  That piece of information shocked me.  Monsoon season or not, five weeks of daily rain is a lot anywhere.

After checking in, I quickly made my way to the spot I’d selected, pre-trip, for exploration that evening:  Sunset Volcano Crater National Monument, which is only 15-20 minutes north of Flagstaff along US-89.  The entry road to the monument was effectively deserted, and arched around some tall stands of Ponderosa Pines.  I was looking through the windows on both sides of the car, when I caught site of something yellow to my right.  Peeking through the trees, I saw what looked like some kind of an open field.  The trees were too dense for me to tell from the vehicle, so I parked the car in a pull-out and made my way through the trunks; the forest floor was laden with pine needles and cones but I was still intrigued by the splash of color beyond.

As I moved closer, I could see that I was looking at a huge field of tall flowers.  Before I knew it I was standing amidst them…and what a surreal moment it was.  Here I was, in the “desert” state of Arizona, in late summer (this was in the second half of August), looking at one of the most impressive displays of wildflowers I’d ever seen anywhere.

I retreated to my car and retrieved my gear, then returned to the flower field.  Bees and other insects were buzzing around.  It had turned into a very pleasant early evening; the sky was partly cloudy, the humidity was nearly non-existent and the temperature was around 70 (F) degrees.  I made several images of the scene, one of which is below.

Sunflowers, Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, Arizona

This photograph has become one of my favorites, partly because of the mood it instills in me and partly because it serves as such a dramatic visual counterpoint to what pops into the minds of most people when they think of Arizona.  As someone who greatly enjoys seeing stereotypes explode, I can’t begin to convey how happy this makes me.

Posted by: kerryl29 | March 11, 2019

The Grass Is Always Greener (Sometimes, Literally)

I have a friend who has lived almost his entire life in the Phoenix, Arizona area.  For those of you unfamiliar with Phoenix, it’s located in a valley, smack in the middle of the Sonoran Desert.  It’s dry and often very hot in Phoenix, with an unsurprisingly dun-colored landscape.  This, in fact, describes much of the state of Arizona (though not all of it), at least in a technical sense.

Windstone Arch, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

My friend has taken an interest in my photography and has asked me to send him periodic samples of my work.  He has typically shown a particular affinity for my images which contain things like creeks, waterfalls, fields of flowers and trees lush with foliage.  See the pattern here? These are all things that are not in abundance in a desert environment.

Roaring Fork, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee (final version)

A number of years ago, when I told him that I was heading to Arizona for a week or so of photography, he expressed surprise, bordering on outright astonishment.  “Why would you want to come here?” he asked.  “It’s hot and dry.  The most interesting things are rocks and cacti.  I can’t imagine why anyone would want to take the time, and spend the money, to come here for landscape photography.”

Dawn, Point Imperial, Grand Canyon National Park – North Rim, Arizona

I explained that there was nothing unique about my desire to go to Arizona to photograph; people from all over the world travel to Arizona and the surrounding states of the American Southwest for photography—a concept he simply couldn’t wrap his mind around.  Why would people travel thousands of miles to come to a place that had “nothing”?  Why would I leave all of these inspiring ecosystems that he was seeing in my photos, native to the American Midwest, filled with water and greenery and trees with leaves that change color in the fall to go to such a bleak and barren place?

Oak Tree Splendor, Morton Arboretum, Illinois

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.  It’s a natural tendency to become habituated, to at least some degree, to that which is common to our own experience, regardless of what that is.  We’re inclined to take the familiar for granted.  Sometimes it requires the perspective of an outsider to reboot our own associations with places and things.  My friend has been in the desert all his life.  Where I see haunting, singular beauty, all he sees is monochromatic monotony.  Similarly, what I often regard as the cluttered, indistinct scenery of the Midwest is like Shangri-La to him.

“The Cavity,” Heart of the Dunes, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

I’ve always said that I spend my time living in a part of the world that is hardly among the planet’s garden spots for the kind of photography I like to engage in (i.e. landscape), and I firmly believe that to be true, but it’s always helpful to receive a reminder that there’s plenty of natural beauty out there, simply waiting for someone with the appropriate mindset to see it for what it is and reveal it.

Coneflower Morning, Nachusa Grasslands Preserve, Illinois

The moral of the story:  don’t settle for regarding the familiar as prosaic; you’ll be missing something grand if you do.

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