Tree Stories

•March 29, 2016 • Leave a Comment

It’s a trail I haven’t hiked in maybe 5 years. The last time I hiked it I didn’t find it very interesting. I’ve decided to hike it this morning for two reasons. I think the trees might make a good backdrop for some photos of my wife that I want to take and I had a plan for small series that I wanted to enter into a magazine.

I start climbing up the trail looking left and right waiting to get inspired, but nothing happens. I could turn left and get to a meadow that I wanted to check out, but fearing I’m making a mistake, I continue on. Finally there’s a tree with an interesting background that might work. I spend some time on it trying to get something but not being terribly excited I continue on.

Something else looks interesting and I try to make a photo of that. And, as I continue on, I stop worrying about my success or failure in my choice of this trail. And then the miraculous happens.

As I continue down the trail every tree I see is getting my attention and they all want to tell me something. Every tree and group of trees I see is telling me their stories. I look and listen and somehow intuitively choose which ones to tell to you.

I take my time walking up the trail listening as best I can and taking it all in. What a joy it is to spend this time with them photographing their stories.

I don’t think I’m talking about anthropomorphism. The trees don’t speak in sentences in a language I can translate to English. But I do believe that they are speaking with me and after having to listen to my own, and a host of other’s human stories, it’s a real pleasure to be here and just listen to them.

I Confess.

•March 21, 2016 • 2 Comments

I came of age in the 60s and 70s, the sex, drugs, rock & roll generation, and I did my best to participate in all of it. I had a friend who became addicted to heroin; another friend who took too much acid; but I emerged pretty much intact because I assumed I didn’t have an addictive personality.

Ha. I’m Successaholic. I crave any indication of success, whether it’s praise, sales, acknowledgements, even likes on Facebook. I confess, I posted my last photo to Facebook 40 minutes ago.

I used to have my own software company. I was writing utility programs for Microsoft Windows just when Windows became popular. I had my programs reviewed in all the big photo magazines. I won a few awards. I had my own company with a couple of employees and it still wasn’t enough. I was still hungry. Those of you who are like me know it’s never enough.

Some addicts give up alcohol; some give up drugs. What do I need to give up? I love being out by myself and taking photographs. I love processing them on the computer, even if no one else ever sees them. I don’t have to give that up. I suppose I could not show them anywhere, but I don’t see that solving anything plus the income I make from photo sales pays for cameras, printers and such.

What can be given up is the mistaken belief that outside of some money, success can really give me anything. Success can’t touch the things in life that really matter. And, when you close your eyes to go to sleep at night, you can’t take anything with you. If you try, you won’t be able to fall asleep.

So the way I deal with my successaholism is to go inside and see where the hunger is really satisfied. That doesn’t say that sometimes it still doesn’t grab me and turn my head around.

Familiarity and Innocence

•March 14, 2016 • Leave a Comment

When I lived in California, I used to photograph a lot of trees. Oaks, cottonwoods, bays, redwoods, I had a lot to choose from.

The forests near where I live now in Boulder Colorado are mostly pine. Pine trees are beautiful, but I never found them interesting to photograph. They were just too regular—not enough interesting shapes and variations.

I think one of the best things that can happen to us as artists as well as human beings is to be humbled by becoming aware of our closed-down attitudes.

I had the occasion for such a humbling just a couple of weeks ago when I decided to hike on this trail I had largely ignored for the last few years. It’s the Mesa trail in Boulder and it runs south from Chautauqua through these lovely pine forests and grasses.

The humbling was immediate and painless as I was taken in by this magical walk under these exquisite trees. There was nothing regular and boring about them. Everywhere I turned was simplicity, quiet and beauty.

Making photographs is a interesting artistic pursuit. It requires some degree of mechanical skill and some knowledge of lighting and composition and even knowledge of one’s subject matter. But it also requires a lot of not-knowing.

To experience the forest like I did, I had to see it as if I were seeing it for the first time. I had to drop my concept of the way pine trees looked and the way pine trees have been photographed and just see them as beautiful alive colors and shapes. The interesting thing in this experience was that my familiarity with the trail and the area contributed with my being able to look past initial impressions and see deeper into things.

A combination of familiarity and innocence.

All I Need is this Wood.

•March 7, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I get out of bed before sunrise to go out and take photos. My mind is full of feelings and thoughts of the past week, of Donald Trump, of dying bees, of dying species, of suffering refugees…

Lucky my chosen hike is a short drive away, and within 15 minutes I’m climbing up a wooded trail illuminated by the rising sun. The red sky makes the canyon walls very red and the tree trunks reflect some of that glow.

My mind quiets, my being opens and I’m filled with the joy of the trees, the orange sky, orange canyon and just being alive.

There isn’t even a question posed, just the certainty, “I choose this.”

Yes, there is real suffering in the world, real craziness and apparent evil. But there is also this sublime, beautiful and quiet wood. All is right with the world.

We are an arrogant, greedy and power hungry species and our mantra is more, more, more. I don’t know if we will wake up in time to save ourselves, but if I want a reason to live, to rejoice even, all I need is this wood.

Seeing and Experience

•February 28, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Seeing and experience. These are the two qualities that we need in order to make good and unique photographs.

Seeing is most important. By seeing I mean seeing what’s in front of you and what’s around you without preconceptions or desires. I’ve talked about this in earlier posts and I’ll talk about it again and again. Seeing requires a quiet mind. There are different techniques to make our minds quiet and I don’t care if you use any of them. Just be quiet! One thing that works for me is to go out shooting early in the morning. I don’t have the day’s stories playing in my mind.

Being in nature helps a lot, too. Nature’s demands on us are just that we dress so that we’re comfortable and prepared for her challenges. If it’s windy or the desired sunrise doesn’t materialize, it isn’t personal so we can just accept it.

One thing that drops when the mind is quiet is our preconceptions of what makes a good photograph. We can also drop our desire to make a certain kind of photograph. Then, we can begin to see things in front of us for the first time. Colors and shapes, darkness and light, how one element relates to another. We begin to see beauty everywhere. Everything is in relation to everything else. We see emotions and relationships in things that we never noticed before.

Now that we’re seeing we can begin to contemplate capturing what we see into a photograph.

This is where experience comes in. Luckily for us there are plenty of cameras out there that will allow us to take a well exposed, in–focus image of what we see. But that’s only the beginning. Learning how to take what we see and make it into a compelling photograph is the result of our experience. Experience means shooting a lot. And a lot. Hey, it’s digital, it’s free. Experience means failing a lot. Experience means learning how to photograph trees, skies, mountains, people, sidewalks, what ever you want and having the image look like you expect it to. Luckily for most of us, we don’t have to rely on the vagaries of different film emulsions, but we still have to learn how best to capture different things. Experience means looking at light and learning what light works best for your images. Experience means working with different focal length lenses and learning whether telephoto, wide angle or something in between will give you what you want.

Experience means failing again and again till you hit on things that work for you. I’ve been photographing these trees off and on since I moved to Boulder 6 years ago and I think I’m finally learning how to capture what I’m seeing.

Seeing and experience–that’s mostly what you need. And of course, patience for your seeing and experience to bear fruit.

Get Quiet Enough to Hear Your Subject Speak to You

•February 22, 2016 • 2 Comments

As photographers we have a unique problem.  With most creations, it’s just the artist creating something from their own vision. With us, our own vision is not enough. We need subjects to photograph.

When I was living in New York City, I was fortunate enough to work for a number of different photographers. Some photographers knew exactly what they wanted and would choose models, locations and lighting to actualize their vision. They would pose the models very carefully to fit into what they were looking for.

Others like myself would get together models and a location, and then work on lighting with the view that the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. We would rely on some magic happening between the models, location and the photographer to produce something greater.

Those of us who photograph outside the confines of studios and models have similar approaches. Some of us wait for specific light, specific times when the sun or moon will be in a certain place. Some of us even go to very well known locations and attempt to produce something similar to what other artists have produced there before them.

Others, like me, go to particular locations hoping for a particular light or a particular subject, but once we get there we let our subjects speak to us. Letting the subject speak to us is an odd metaphor for nature photography, but we know exactly what it means in portrait photography. Some portraits capture an inner essence of the subject. Those are the ones we remember. Wildlife photography is similar. If you haven’t seen Nick Brandt’s photos, you owe it to yourself to check them out. Nick’s work stands out as such an example. My wife Emily photographs dogs for a local rescue organization. Whether she is conscious of it or not, she is having intimate conversations with her subjects.

Nature photography is no different. I’m out with my camera and tripod and I leave the rest of my life behind me. I’m just there, in a field, on a mountain, by a body of water, it doesn’t matter. I’m just there being quiet. The quieter I am, the more I can hear. Being quiet means dropping ideas of what I think will make a good photograph — dropping ideas of subject matter. The more I hear, the more I see.

If I’m lucky and get really quiet, the grass speaks to me, the trees speak to me. They tell me their stories. Some subjects are loud and some are quiet, but the more I hear the more I see.

If I’m lucky I start seeing relationships between things that I haven’t seen before. As the listener/observer I’m also part of the relationship. These relationships move me and sometimes I’m able to capture them in a photograph.

Whatever happens, my live is immeasurably enriched by the experience.

My Worship

•February 7, 2016 • 4 Comments

Lets start out right with it! I don’t worship art!

I said it. I’m a heretic in this crowd. I love making art. I love looking at, reading and listening to art, but I don’t believe art will save the world.

Making art and experiencing art takes us out of ourselves. Out of our Me’s and what we think we need to make ME happy. In that respect it temporarily removes us from what actually is causing us pain and discomfort. It might even get us in touch with that place where happiness exists.

Yes, real happiness is our true nature and sometimes, with some luck, art can help us touch that place.

There are teachers throughout time who have pointed us to this place and there are writings that try to get us to recognize it.

It’s these teachers and teachings that I revere.

You might say making art is my spiritual work. When I am out with a camera or even working at my computer and things are just flowing. I am in that place.

I worship that place.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 482 other followers