One of my favorite summer treats is the smoothie I whip up for lunch on hot days. I grab whatever fruit is available, toss it in my Vitamix with a little macadamia milk and ice, and let it rip. Each smoothie tastes different, but it’s always delicious.
Why am I sharing food prep tips in a photo blog? Because I can think of no better analogy for the Sony Kando event I experienced this week in Sun Valley, Idaho. Though Kando is truly indescribable, I’ll attempt the impossible and explain that it’s Sony’s gift to the creative photographers and videographers who share their love for Sony products with the world (that’s my definition, not Sony’s). Each year Sony takes a couple hundred of these Creatives, tosses them together at Kando, mixes in a variety of creative, social, and educational opportunities (and food!), and presses Blend. The result is a concoction that’s distinctly different from anything that preceded it, but always delicious. Just like my smoothies.
Kando is a Japanese word without a perfect English equivalent, but as near as I can tell it is the feeling of intense pleasure and excitement that happens when we encounter something truly exceptional. I’ve attended each of the four in-person Kando gatherings—Kando 1.0, just north of Santa Barbara; 2.0 at Asilomar near Carmel; 3.0 in Bend, Oregon; and this year’s 4.0 in Sun Valley, Idaho—enough to know that the event is aptly named. There are fundamental similarities between each one: the multi-day structure, the positive energy, and it is populated by many of the same people (blended each year with a liberal sprinkling of new faces)—yet somehow each event feels different in its own stimulating way.
Creativity is always on display at Kando, but this year I think the creativity was on steroids. The mix of Sony Creatives, as always, included a cadre of established photographers/videographers with a massive body of work (many of whom you’d recognize by name, or if not by name, by their work), infused with a liberal dose of young social media “influencers” with 6- and 7-digit followers. Still-photography, video, and even audio were well represented.
Some of the Creatives taught classes or participated in panels discussing their creative process and insights, and everyone shared by example. We were all encouraged to shoot and share throughout the week, with opportunities ranging from models, action, elaborate sets, and field trips available both day and night. At any given instant, it seemed half the Creatives would be creating, and the other half was watching. And I can’t begin to express how much fun it is to watch creative people do their thing.
For me Kando’s greatest lesson is the reminder that creative opportunities are infinite, and we’re limited only by our ability to see them. To say I was in awe of the creativity surrounding me would be an understatement. But I don’t think there was a single person present who wasn’t in awe of the creativity surrounding all of us.
So, fresh off my Kando week with my creative juices still flowing, I’m reaching into the archives for and image from one of my most memorable shoots in recent years. I chose this image for several reasons: in the context of creativity, there’s my recent post about finding unique takes on this solitary tree; then there’s my recent post about fog; and (especially) because a couple of weeks ago I discovered that, for some reason I’m unable to explain, and despite having shared this image many times since its capture in 2019, I’ve never written about it or the shoot—a blatant violation of my personal rule to never share an image without writing something on its capture and/or inspiration.
And in the spirit of full disclosure, my original Wanaka Tree Fog image had some minor flaws that (though not necessarily visible to anyone else) always bugged me, so I reprocessed it. And when I went back to the original raw file, I found another frame captured just a minute or so later that was compositionally very similar, but just a little cleaner to my eye.
This was the first of two New Zealand winter workshops Don Smith and I did in June 2019. The prior evening our group had enjoyed what was probably the best sunset we’ve ever had in New Zealand. We went to bed basking in the glory of that shoot, and woke to dense fog that obscured everything beyond 100 yards.
Since this was a sunrise, and the tree was easy walking distance from our hotel, we’d instructed the group to meet us out there 40 minutes before sunrise. Walking out in the dark, Don and I ran into one workshop participant who told us it was too foggy and he was going back to bed. We tried to convince him that the fog created a spectacular opportunity for something unique, but his mind was made up. At the tree, a couple of others in the group were already shooting, and a few more joined us soon, but I can’t remember whether anyone else was turned away by the fog.
Despite the darkness, it was obvious that something special was happening and I started shooting as soon as I could get set up. To give you an idea of how dark it was when we started, today’s image is a 30-second exposure at f/8 and ISO 100.
As special as the scene was, given its static nature, my biggest concern was finding a sufficient variety of unique takes. The conditions pretty much wiped out the go-to creative tools I use to vary a composition: the air and water was completely still, removing motion as a tool; the lack of any background and my distance from the tree eliminated any depth-of-field opportunities; though the morning brightened slowly, the light was completely uniform and shadowless; and the fog completely obliterated the visibility beyond 100 yards, so it did little good to move around to juxtapose the tree against different backgrounds.
Looking the images in Lightroom’s grid view, I count 38 frames over a 40 minute span this morning. And while I have very little specific memory of most of them, just looking at this history I can see what my mindset was.
The first two frames I captured in rapid fire (well, as rapid as 30-second exposures can be) the instant I hit the lakeshore. I remember being so excited by what was in front of me, I just shot to make sure I had something in case the fog lifted.
The next set of frames, and the bulk of my images from this morning, started about 3 minutes later. I know after comparing the tree in the two sets, that I realized the angle at the first spot was poor and the tree was noticeably compressed. To fix this, I moved along the lakeshore until I had the best possible angle on the tree’s distinctive low, sweeping branch (now gone).
Once I was here and confident that I’d captured something nice, I slowed down and started really working the scene. Each of the 36 images I captured after moving into the better position was distinct from the rest of the images (no duplicates). Of this 36, 20 were horizontal and 16 were vertical. I also varied my focal length and framing, sometimes going wider, other times tighter.
In nearly every frame, the tree is centered on the horizontal axis, and sometimes on the vertical axis too (smack-dab in the middle of the frame). This was because there wasn’t really anything to balance the frame horizontally if I put the tree off-center. But just to cover myself, toward the end I did take a couple of horizontal frames with the tree left and right of center.
I had the most fun playing with my polarizer, emphasizing the reflection in some frames, and revealing the submerged foreground rocks in others. As you can see, I went with one with the rocks visible, but revisiting the images now, I can see others I’d like to process, including one that’s all reflection and no rocks.
Circling back to Kando and this whole creativity thing, I feel like my creativity pales in comparison to some of what I saw last week. But I also know that my own creative process that I tried to share a small part of here, is very personal, and that it serves my objective to share Nature’s beauty and (I hope) inspire others to appreciate Nature as much as I do. But whatever gets your creative juices flowing, I can tell you absolutely that being around other creative people is good for the soul and a great place to start.
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I love this blog; so interesting to hear how you experimented with the foggy tree scene. Also jealous of your Kando experience. Sounds awesome. Happy for you! Cathy Kelly
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Thank, Cathy. Yeah, it was pretty awesome. I’m hoping the Sony reopens Kando to the public next year.