Lately I’ve been doing a lot of contemplating about my photographic vision and artistic consciousness. I feel I’ve reached a distinct turning point in the way I see and photograph and while it’s something that has been working in my subconscious for years, it all clicked over into something more mentally tangible during a visit to southern Utah back in May of 2017.
When I started out on this journey I did so by emulating those that I held in high regard. I saw scenes as a whole and didn’t know how to find my own voice.. or what that even meant. I learned how to be technically proficient with a camera and in post-processing which resulted in immediate gratification. I took a shot, I processed the photo, it looked nice, and that filled me up with little insight as to why it did so. As time went on, I fell into habits of composing scenes and discovered the types of scenes that compelled me to photograph them as well as scenes that didn’t, but I still grasped for answers to the questions ‘What makes my work MINE?’ and “Why do I photograph the things that I do and shy away from the things that I don’t?’.
I honed my landscape and nature photography skills in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. It’s an area of immense beauty that lends itself well to wide angle shots: majestic waterfalls, gentle streams, lush forests, and rugged coastline. It’s a place that begs you to fit as much as you can into the frame and, in my opinion, it’s very easy to make a pretty photo here. But at some point that wasn’t enough for me. I became creatively bored with the area and somewhat disconnected from the style of photos I was capturing with most of them sitting untouched on my hard drive. Photographing these scenes became formulaic for me. I’m a very introspective person and my constant quest for the answers to those previous questions caused my consciousness to evolve and discover while I still went through the same motions of creating a photograph. The heart was still there in my photos and the reasons for photographing were still present, but I felt dissatisfied. My vision and habits hadn’t changed or evolved along with my consciousness.
When I went to southern Utah I was photographically overwhelmed with the landscape and felt incredibly out of place. As beautiful as the desert is, it was challenging for me to create a compelling photo while using the tried and true tactics that I was used to using in the Pacific Northwest. The desert can be a messy place. The wide open land felt jumbled and haphazard in my viewfinder. The scenes I captured at first didn’t feel harmonic. I was disappointed with myself and struggled to find a way to connect to the land. It wasn’t until I spent a sunny day relaxing near a river where I started to think differently. I spent the majority of the day shooting out of focus photos in harsh light composing in my viewfinder with shapes and colors. I needed to think smaller there. I needed to look for patterns in tones, colors, and shapes instead of looking at scenes as a whole. I spent the rest of that trip with that in mind and came out with some photos I’m very excited to process and release. Images that are more of a design in concept. Simple compositions using texture, light, tones, and shapes as the central element as opposed to wide open vistas intended to shock and awe. Standing in that river and shooting shimmering leaves against the blue sky and standing grass along the river didn’t necessarily result in me creating portfolio worthy images, but it was a mental breakthrough for me. It put me on a path that I’ve been on since that day and it’s one that has resulted in a lot of experimentation and bad photos, but also a lot of reward that has carried over into my work since then.
As I look back at my releases from this year which, as of the day I write this, has only been four photos, I notice that only one had been taken this year… in January. Much of the work I’ve been creating since then is, to me, very different from the rest of my portfolio and when I finally (heh) start to release it, I’m sure that distinction will be apparent. The result is work that is more often nuanced in presentation but is much more in line with my creative vision and consciousness. Instead of heading into locations with a scene in mind or with methodical approaches, I can connect, look deeper, and impulsively respond to the scene and the way it interacts with the light. I finally feel more connected to my work and I’m able to approach my photography in a more intimate way than I have historically and that, to me, feels like a brand new pair of shoes.
There’s no doubt that the total solar eclipse happening on August 21, 2017 is a spectacular event. The near once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see such a sight is very intriguing, enough so that with Oregon being the first state (and in my opinion one of the most beautiful) for the eclipse to be witnessed, the population of the state is expected to grow by one million visitors which will mostly congregate along the path of totality. The Oregon Coast, Bend, and many small towns along the way are expecting a week of traffic congestion, massively inflated lodging costs, and crowd sizes that have never been experienced. Hospitals are expecting major increases in emergency visits and are rescheduling medical procedures in order to prepare. Ice will be in short supply, rental car companies are scrambling to have enough cars on hand, and there’s even a shortage of porta-potties. Needless to say, campgrounds and hotels have long been booked full and if you’re looking to fly by the seat of your pants to view the eclipse you’re likely to experience plenty of frustration in your endeavor. The hype around the whole ordeal has brought the question ‘Are you going to photograph the eclipse?’ to myself and likely every other landscape/nature photographer dozens of times over the past year.
I’ll be blunt. I have zero interest partaking in the madness that is about to descend upon the area. I’ve always been an introvert and the older I get, the more I am falling into those tendencies. I have sat in traffic on the Columbia River Scenic Highway the sides of the road lined with parked cars for miles. I’ve been on the coast during typical holidays and endured the party and tailgating atmosphere. The traffic, noise, crowds, and logistics required to view the eclipse in totality is enough of a turn-off that I’ve long resigned the idea of it.
But beyond everything I just mentioned lies a more personal reason. My photography isn’t driven by specific moments in time. It’s not about natural phenomena or colorful beginnings and endings of days. I’m not necessarily compelled to chase extreme weather conditions. I’m not driven to create photographs for the sake of sharing something pretty. Creating photographs is, for me, an urge. A need to connect with my environment on a more intimate level than I would have otherwise and the requirement of closing the loop on the experience, tying it in to a certain aspect of my life whether it be a milestone, an experience, or an emotion.
Each photograph I share is a moment when I felt internally compelled to trip my shutter. I may know the reason why when I did so, but most times the answer is revealed to me in the future.
I am not internally moved by this event and as such I will be viewing a partial eclipse from the middle of the street in Portland with my girlfriend by my side, and that’s enough to give me a more rewarding hour than I would have experienced had I partaken in the festivities.
If you have made the decision to head out for the event, please consider the following:
More hazard and total eclipse viewing info can be found at: http://www.oregon.gov/oem/hazardsprep/Pages/2017-Total-Solar-Eclipse.aspx
Do you have plans to view the eclipse or do you have anything to add to the list of things to consider? Please let me know in the comments!
As the calendar year of 2016 comes to a close, a lot of people like to look back on that particular chunk of time to reflect on their experiences and set new goals for the coming year. I suppose I’m not much different. While my goals are my goals regardless of which digit ends a string of a human-constructed way to keep track of the days, I can’t help but think of the ways I’ve changed in the past ~365 of them. At the same time I remind myself that when I wake up on January 1, 2017, life is happening and time is passing the same way it always has been and that I need to keep pushing towards those goals day to day no matter what. Carpe diem and all that stuff, though I’m not perfect at that either.
While 2016 wasn’t my most productive year in terms of the number of photos I’ve released, I feel I’ve made profound strides in my artistic consciousness. When I first started photographing.. at all.. I just knew that I liked using a camera. I used my camera to take photos of anything that caught my interest, even if I didn’t know why they caught my interest in the first place. I just knew that I had a higher consciousness of my surroundings when I photographed them. Fast forward to 2013 when I decided to throw myself into the world of nature and landscape photography. Living in Oregon has strengthened my relationship with nature in many ways. I think the most important way my relationship has evolved has been around the therapeutic qualities of escaping to the natural world. It’s no secret that Oregon and the Pacific Northwest of the United States has an absurd amount of natural beauty which is not only extremely diverse, but also very accessible. Escaping to the forest for a quick hike, drive, or even just sitting next to a waterfall in the dark became frequent routines that were most always accompanied by my camera. The more time I spent in nature, the more the outings turned into a photographic agenda and less about the miles and the elevation gain. Both tug on my heart strings and fill my soul, but photography slows me down and gets me more immersed in my environment.
The following six images were released in 2016, though not all were captured then. I sincerely hope that you take the time to click through each one (just click on the photo itself) and read the stories that accompany them, as I intend the photos to be experienced with the writings. Hopefully I am able to convey the importance of nature in my life through these photos and words. If not, I still have it for me, and that’s what it’s all about.
Taken: November 9 2015 •••• Released; March 9, 2016
I had always been entranced by this perspective of Elowah Falls but was never able to capture a shot that I was pleased with until this day, after dozens of times visiting this location. I paid a lot of attention to contrasts while processing this photo. Warm vs cool, soft vs sharp, and light vs shadows. My favorite aspect of the image is the composition. You’ll notice many lines radiating from the edges to the center. Which, while convenient, don’t lead you to the main focal point of the falls themselves. Making sure that the ampitheater of the falls was brighter and more contrasted from the scene with a slightly cooler tone helps the eye land there in the end. And no.. I did not place those leaves there. 🙂
Taken: April 5, 2016 •••• Released: April 13, 2016
Smith Rock has always been a bit of a ‘while whale’ for me. Not that I mind that because I absolutely love the place. Every sense is tapped into while I’m there.. and in a way that I don’t get at other locations. I don’t know why. The smell of sagebrush and juniper is one of my favorite smells in nature. It gives me a sense of comfort in the way that home does, though I grew up nowhere near that scent. While I always love heading to Smith Rock, the trip on this day had a very specific purpose: Capture an image that I could use to promote an upcoming workshop to this location. I was ready to announce my workshop but was bothered that I had no image of Smith Rock that I liked, even though I had been there many times. Luckily, this part of the job is never a chore. I met up with a good friend at this cliffside viewpoint and came away with a shot that not only could I use to market a workshop, but one that I felt connected to. You’ll notice the radiating lines in this composition as well, but luckily this time leading directly to the distant spires lit by the twilight afterglow. This is a single exposure and lots of time was spent getting the brightness of the canyon to feel darker than the rest of the scene but still retain good color and detail. I have a problem with going too dark in my twilight shots on first draft.. so finding the balance of tones that feels just right took some time.
Taken June 3, 2016 •••• Released June 14, 2016
Captured on my first trip to a place I had been wanting to see for over a decade, as well as my first multi-day distant trip with my eight-year-old son Elliott. This is one of the photos that I really hope you read the story for. It’s one of the most memorable and important photos to me and I’ll likely always tear up when I recall this experience. This is two shots: one for the foreground and a higher quality and sharper focused shot for the sky. A pretty simple photo compositionally, so getting the colors exactly where I wanted them was what I really focused on. Elliott and I are lit by ambient light from a nearby trailer. Outside of the trailer were numerous objects that were casting shadows on the ground around us, so I spent a lot of time correcting those so that they playa looked evenly lit. I also focused a lot on color correcting the sky which contained airglow and some dinginess in the raw file.
Taken: April 22, 2016 •••• Released June 27, 2016
For years I have passed this waterfall in the quest for the harder to reach falls upstream… which in hindsight is pretty silly considering this one is not much of a detour. As it was an overcast day there’s not a lot going on with this one in terms of light, but I absolutely love this composition, particularly the patch of flowers on top of the rock lining up perfectly with the waterfall behind it. You’ll also notice the radiating lines of the composition that leads directly to those flowers. Nearly every line in the image points to those flowers. I spent A LOT of time on this composition in the field, making sure that the waterfall was PERFECTLY centered over the flowers, which at the same time making sure that there was just the right amount of midground. If I was too high there was too much midground. If I was too low it seemingly went straight from foreground to background. I also had to pay attention to the streams on either side and make sure that their outflow was placed perfectly in the frame. Not too close to the bottom and not too close to either side. I went with a darker mood here and used dodging and burning to help bring out some of the radiating lines of the composition.
Taken: July 29, 2016 •••• Released: August 25, 2016
This is my first ever released photo of Multnomah Falls and is yet another shot where I highly encourage you to click through the photo and view it with the story. What I love about this photo is the way it looks like the moss is cradling the falls. I tried to emphasize that and get some dimension in the photo with dodging and burning. Another favorite aspect is the water texture. The falls were flowing pretty light so it wasn’t just a big wash of water, but rather many smaller cascades where the falls were gently hitting the wall. I used dodging and burning to bring out some of those streams as well. And yet another favorite thing about this photo is that it feels wild and unique and is not immediately recognizable as Multnomah Falls.
Taken: October 16th, 2014 •••• Released: November 30th, 2016
This is my fourth photo from my 2014 Crater Lake Artist-in-Residence appointment. It took me a while to feel like this photo was one that I wanted to put in my portfolio. Maybe because up until this year.. I wasn’t comfortable with the quietness of it. I was still more prone to release shots that were more bold. But it always spoke to me. I remember taking this photo and being in love with the light on the water and the shadows of the trees being cast. Sometimes it takes certain things in life to finally get me to connect to a photo and that was the case with this one. This photo didn’t take much. While it’s fairly monochromatic in color, I did pay attention to the warm vs cool contrast of the light and the water and took care to make sure that the shadows had detail.. but not overwhelmingly so. I spent a lot of time making sure that the colors and luminosity of everything were exactly how I wanted which, due to the large amount of small details in this photo, were nearly thrown out the door with web sharpening. I did a lot of work on the web sharpened file to rebalance many parts of the photo so that it matched my final full resolution version.
•I am a lot more selective about what I shoot. I don’t force an image or shoot just for the sake of shooting so much anymore. I only shoot if I feel internally compelled to.
•I am a lot more selective about what I release. I admit that when I first started I was more prone to releasing photos which I thought had a better chance of getting broad attention. Lately it’s been more about my connection to the particular photo. It’s about the memory and the moment combined with a higher value on light and composition than on ‘wow’ factor.
•I am more aware of WHY I photograph the things I do and why I don’t photograph the things I don’t.
•I’m more in touch with myself as an artist. I originally had a hard time even considering myself a photographer let alone an ‘artist’. Now I have a deeper draw to images that MOVE me. There are a lot of pretty photos out there, but the ones where I can feel the soul in the photo are the ones that capture my interest the most.
•Finding ways to overcome my creative droughts. I’ve had some pretty long ones lately which is part of the reason for my low output.
•Make more of an effort to just get out there in nature.. even without a camera.
•Explore more destinations outside of Oregon/PNW/USA.
•Go higher, deeper, and farther, for longer.
•Continue to hone my artistic consciousness.
•Read more, write more, think more.
•Continue to simplify my life and use that simplification to create more memories and experiences.
•Be more grateful for more things.
•Smile more, laugh more, love more.
These goals are always a work in progress and I’m not sure if many of them even have a bar which I will reach and claim that I have achieved that particular goal. They say it’s about progress.. not perfection. As long as I am moving forward I’ll consider myself to be in a good spot.
I’m planning and hoping for a more successful future. I appreciate everyone who has supported me: family, friends, and clients. This whole venture is very personal to me and a dream of mine. Thank you, sincerely, for supporting my dream.
The Pacific Northwest, USA is a grand place with astounding diversity of natural beauty within a day’s drive. In fact, one can shoot the desert, mountains, lush forests, and rugged coastline in a single day if they tried hard enough. It’s no surprise that this area of the country is a destination for landscape and nature photographers from all over the world.
The iconic locations are plentiful and photographs of these places even more-so. It’s easy to walk up to the scene and place your tripod in the optimal position, thus framing the scene perfectly in your viewfinder. Unfortunately, there’s little doubt that your scene was captured by many before you. If you want to come away with something different, you have to think differently. And sometimes, things can get awkward.
Here’s a short video I made about getting yourself into awkward places in order to get a unique perspective on an often photographed scene:
I am often getting myself into awkward positions. Here’s proof:
I encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone. Go farther, wade deeper, and duck into places that might not seem obvious. Sometimes getting a unique shot means thinking outside the box in terms of where you go and how you set up.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve done to get a shot? Post it in the comments if you got a keeper!
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This blog post is a little overdue for me. I’ve had it written but wanted to take some more time to reflect on the experience.
In some ways it’s hard for me to convey through words. But I’ll try.
My residency at Crater Lake ended on Friday, October 17th. During the last few days and especially since arriving back in Portland, I’ve done a lot of thinking about my experience. I’m going to break my thoughts down into these categories and write a little bit about each one: Creative Drive and Emotional Connection.
Normally my photographic experience originates internally. I feel that being connected to my subject at a profound level is an important aspect of my work. It’s an escape for me. It’s a chance to reconnect to my true self and to live life as it was meant to be lived. The photograph that comes out of the event is a byproduct and a ‘souvenir’ for my experience.
With the residency, I had an external influence in that I had a ‘goal’ to communicate the effects of climate change within the park through my art. Leading into the residency I thought a lot about this and how it would affect my portfolio, if at all. Do I ‘compromise’ on things that I would put in my portfolio because they fell within the parameters? Do I photograph things that don’t speak to me in a creative way? Do I just carry on with my photography as I normally would?
I struggled a lot with this during the first week as I was scouting and trying to find my zone. The week was dominated by cloudless skies and harsh light. While the weather was beautiful, warm, and sunny (I even came away with a tan), it was equally frustrating because, to me, harsh light on dirt and rocks isn’t the kind of photography that I do. There wouldn’t have been any feeling or soul behind my work. Regardless, I was able to use that week to decompress from life, relax, scout, and soak in the opportunity. I also did a lot of finger-crossing for more favorable conditions.
My scouting taught me numerous things about the park regarding composition. I still kept an eye out for light playing with the landscape in different ways and for that ‘just right’ stand of whitebark pines but, in the end, I used the overview of the residency to learn a lot about the ways the park is being affected. I better appreciated the aspects that are being compromised and decided that I was there to make my art. And I decided to make the kind of photography that I normally would. I just had to wait for the right moments.. for when it felt RIGHT.
My finger-crossing paid off as I was rewarded with some lovely photographic conditions during the second week. Having made the steep climb to a vantage I really wanted a shot from more than half a dozen times, I eventually stood on that peak as the weather moved around and through me. I don’t know what it is about watching the clouds move around me, the sun rise over a snow covered landscape, or many of the other amazing instances that photography has given me the opportunity to experience that moves my soul. Maybe it’s the ephemeralness of the moment and the reminder that life itself is fleeting. Maybe it’s feeling the raw energy of the earth and witnessing it in action. Whatever it is certainly puts me in my place. I’m ALWAYS grateful to spend time outdoors but it’s THESE moments that induce goosebumps the most.
I wanted to use the residency as an opportunity for me to really disconnect from things that have been frustrating me in my everyday life. To know that I was going to be out in nature uninhibited for two weeks was a very exciting thought for me and I counted down the days like a child before his birthday.
I got to spend a lot of time just sitting, thinking, and taking in the beauty. I felt guilty that first week that I wasn’t producing any work that I was feeling connected to but this experience was to be about more than that. It was to truly develop a profound connection and appreciation for the land that we aren’t taking care of. It was about bearing witness to a period of time in history and trying to communicate not what I saw, but what I felt, and to educate others on what we are losing. I’ll save that information for when I release the images I captured during the residency.
What I got a taste of is life as I want to live. My heart yearns for a more solid connection to nature. Less metal, concrete, and brick. More wood, rocks, and moss. My return to the city wasn’t seamless. The stresses and busyness happening around me solidified the disconnect that I felt at Crater Lake. It’s taught me that I belong in a more natural environment and moving forward I am going to be taking steps to make that a reality. I want to continue to live my life with things that fill me up. I want to create. I want to do things that make my heart sing and the goosebumps grow. I want to look back on my life and know that I did fulfilling things.
Here’s to the future.
I am discovering that Crater Lake is a challenging place for me to shoot. There are only a handful of different types of images that you can make here, debatable obviously, and you can make those in different ways: The lake framed in rocks, dirt, or trees. But I don’t want to come away with just another ho-hum Crater Lake image. That’s not what I go for. I like to capture my landscapes in different conditions. I want to do what others might shy away from. I want to work harder for my images and I want it to pay off with an original composition, rare conditions, and something that just speaks to me.
I’ve settled on a couple of different shots I am going for. One is from the north side of Hillman Peak. I’m looking for a nice sunrise/set in the sky to match the majesty of the lake below. Another is from the very top of Hillman Peak with a glassy, calm lake and yes.. a nice sky to match. The third image I have in my mind is based more on Wizard Island and confining that in the composition with some kind of framing or isolation. Of course I will shoot other things that present themselves but these are the three that I’ve been chasing. I’ve done the scouting and have found the elements.. now I just have to wait for the conditions. That has been the most frustrating part. I don’t have a lot of luck with getting really nice sunsets or sunrises. Usually when I’m out to capture that specifically I get clear skies and that has pretty much been the case here. I have had one night where the sky absolutely went off but I was experimenting with shooting from a different place on the rim and the compositions just don’t appeal to me from that night. It was amazing to see the land and water bathed in a blood red light. Most other days have resulted in clear skies as the sun drops below the horizon.
I have hopes for tonight. It seems as though the conditions are going to be a lot better than I’ve had so far, and they’re calling for snow this week which, in fact, is why I picked the dates that I did for my residency: I chose as late as they would allow me so that I had a chance of being here for the first snow. So we’ll see how that goes. Either way it’ll be nice to finally get some weather systems moving through and causing interesting things to happen with the light.
Here are two videos I made. Nothing ground breaking. It’s been pretty uneventful lately while I just wait for the conditions to show up for my compositions.
Tonight will be spent on the top of Hillman Peak again. We’ll see how that goes. 🙂
It’s been a quiet couple of days. We ended up getting some nice light on Tuesday night, but I was ill positioned to the North of Llao Rock which offers unattractive compositions.
Wednesday I took a day off from shooting to get some provisions/gas, and mix up my scenery a bit. So I headed to Bend and met up with some friends at Sparks Lake before coming back to the park.
Thursday I spent scouting the south side and the top of Hillman Peak for compositions. I’m discovering that the west rim is really the best place for photography. Anything farther north or east renders Wizard Island very small/insignificant and there’s too much empty space caused by the lake on the sides. You could do a panoramic, but without the interest of Wizard Island every shot is going to look the same: A lake framed by trees, rocks, and dirt. From the south you can get better views of the island but it will intersect with the near western rim, and unless I have snow to help separate, it just doesn’t cut it for me.
I made a video talking about these things. I apologize for the wind. I didn’t realize it was that bad:
Getting to the top was a little sketchy on the crumbly ground and unstable rocks. The better approach to Hillman peak is from the west ridge through the White Bark Pine ‘forest’. Here’s a video I made of the top:
I did return for sunset but the lake had turned choppy and there wasn’t a cloud to be seen. My ‘shooting’ pack is a lot heavier than my scouting pack (has overnight supplies and ALL of my camera gear..) so it was worrysome traversing the ridges and having to do minimal climbing. But I did it and came back down while it was still daylight to investigate the white bark pines I had walked through.
Heading back out to do some more scouting. We’re supposed to have clouds tonight. 🙂
My name is TJ and I live in Portland, OR. Nature has always been an integral part of my life. Growing up in rural Southwestern Pennsylvania afforded me with trees to climb, vines to swing on, and forested trails to follow. In the winter my time was spent snowboarding every chance I could. I spent the majority of my free time outside. There’s nothing in my life that has brought me to my true center in the way that nature has. It’s meditation. It’s balance. It’s no surprise that I ended up in the Pacific Northwest, one of the most beautiful places in the world. My passion for the outdoors and for hiking is so readily accessible here. Now that I’m older and live in the city I find the need to find that balance.. that center.. much more important. Necessary. Photography is my means of experiencing nature in a much more intimate way. It envelops me in my true surroundings and appreciation of life. There's a difference between being in nature and being IN nature. Nothing gets me out of my funk faster than walking directly up a hidden, moss covered creek. Standing waist deep in rushing water simplifies existence. It dissipates stress and worries and washes them downstream. It leaves me covered in moss, mud, creek scum, and (hopefully not) poison oak, but I walk away clean. It might only be my heart and mind that are clean.. but to me... that's what the whole purpose is. Each of these images are moments in time where I was breathing, feeling… living. Don’t forget that it’s out there for all of us. Thanks for letting me share these moments with you. “And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair” - Kahlil Gibran