My photography essentials, part 3
Dawn, Puna Coast, Hawaii
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III
A couple of weeks ago the editors at “Outdoor Photographer” magazine asked me (and a few other pros) to contribute to an upcoming article on photography essentials, and it occurs to me that my blog readers might be interested to read my answers. Here’s how I answered the third of their three questions:
What three things contribute to keeping you inspired, energized and creative on your shoots and why does each keep you inspired, energized and creative?
- When I’m photographing a particularly beautiful moment—such as a moonrise over Yosemite, lightning and a rainbow at the Grand Canyon, or the Milky Way I force myself to turn off my photographer brain and for a few minutes just become a regular human who might be witnessing the most beautiful thing happening on Earth at that moment. The sense of appreciation and marvel is a vital connection to my subjects that fuels my photography.
- Throughout the year I plan excursions that keep me motivated: Each spring I’m recharged by drives through the Sierra foothills and its rolling green hills, studded with poppies and oak trees and cut by brimming creeks and rivers, that just beg to be photographed. My calendar is loaded with the days I’ll find a crescent moon dangling in the amber/blue transition separating night and day. And nothing exhilarates me more than a dark sky dotted with stars. Since so much of my photography time is spent guiding others to my favorite locations (at my favorite times), these personal trips establish an essential balance in my life.
- And most of all, I’m inspired by viewing the work of other photographers:
- Ansel Adams is an obvious inspiration—not only was he a great photographer, Adams navigated uncharted territory to pave the way for all who followed. I chuckle when other photographers defend their captures with, “That’s the way it really looked,” because Adams’ absolute connection with his camera’s reality, and the synergy between his capture and processing, proved that duplicating human (visual) reality is absolutely not a nature photographer’s goal.
- Galen Rowell is another inspiration, for his understanding of light, his obsessive inquisitiveness, and his willingness to explore photography’s physical and mental boundaries. Rowell possessed a synergy between his brain’s creative and logical capabilities—an ability to understand, anticipate, and calculate, combined with an instinctive ability to turn all that off and simply create. From him I learned to follow the light to the exclusion of all distractions, no matter how tempting.
- David Muench, was an influence long before I entertained thoughts of becoming a photographer. I have memories dating back to my childhood of paging through Muench’s massive coffee-table books and being awed by the beautiful scenes he’d witnessed. At the time I had no idea of how much skill those images required—I just thought he was incredibly lucky to have been there to see it. Of course now I appreciate Muench’s unique ability to see and manage the front-to-back aspect of a scene to create the illusion of depth, an approach I’m now convinced was made easier for me by a lifetime of exposure to those images.
- Charles Cramer’s meticulous compositions extract beauty from simple scenes and subtle light and can transfix me for hours. Each of Cramer’s images feel to me like personal discoveries, as if he’s uncovered nature’s true beauty while everyone else’s camera was pointed in the other direction. Browse his galleries and note how many images use indirect light and no sky. More than any other photographer, Charles Cramer’s images inspire me to grab my camera and run outside.
About this image
On every visit to Hawaii’s Big Island I visit this unnamed beach on the Puna coast south of Hilo. I’ve photographed it in a variety of dramatic conditions: colorful sunrises and sunsets, crashing surf, rainbows, but this nearly monochrome image beneath heavy gray clouds is my favorite.
In addition to the color and light, the scene varies greatly with the tide and surf. This morning, finding pillows of basalt cradling still pools that reflected the morning sky, I dropped low and moved close with a wide lens to fill my foreground. Working in shadowless, pre-sunrise light, I used a long exposure to smooth the water and create a serenity to more closely matched my state of mind.