Photographing Trees in Winter

It’s harder than I thought.

This somewhat surprises me. They are just trees, silent and aloof, moving only when wind passes through. We see them every time we go outside. When I approach they don’t flee but pose tall and proud.

The challenge, I found, is photographing them in a way that transfers the mood I felt in their presence to the viewed photograph on screen or in print. How to transfer mood? This isn’t unique to trees as this is the essence of photography, inviting the viewer into the experience. However, the trees don’t usually have the same wow factor as a sunset, mountain, or waterfall, for example. For me, there is more of a challenge to evoke emotional reaction with an object we view as more mundane.

How to transfer the mood of trees?

Let’s briefly take a look at the following photos and see if they speak for themselves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASnow has recently fallen in the woods with dozens upon dozens of red pines. It blankets the ground, clothes the branches of all trees. But the quiet is striking. I pause my boot crunching steps and observe. Dark trunks contrast mightily against the white glare. The woods seem to contain a slight fog, but it’s the snowfall muting the landscape.

Fallen Tree
Fallen Giant

Nearby, a massive tree has taken over the ground, its limbs sprawling among the still standing community. In a grove with so many standing trees, a fallen giant is notable.

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Peaceful Winter

A stream curves through the woods, leading to a beautifully white-coated tree with dark, thin and young trunks. The power of the stream with the quiet woods is a powerfully peaceful spot.

Winter Pillars (2)
White Pillars

Tremendous contrast on these “white pillars” in a small, composed bunch. They withstand the winter conditions beautifully.

Winter Pillars
White Pillar Grove

A wider look at the grove of white trees, with a fallen comrade beneath them and some color splashing subtly behind.

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Fallen

In pine alley, one small oak kneels.

Through the trees

A bit more abstract, the white path weaves through the young growth.

These pictures are a result of four outings specifically photographing trees. So tell me, after viewing the pictures above, how did I do? Did you feel the mood of any place, or were they easy to scroll past?

Are People More Interested in What’s New, Rather Than What’s Better?

I recently read a business article with the title, Being Different Beats Being Better. It followed up with a quote:

“Everyone is interested in what’s new. Few people are interested in what’s better. Who cares about a marginally better product or service? That’s the problem with most businesses and even people. We compete with each other for the same market.”

In the photography world specifically, is this true? Here are some of my contemplative thoughts that are general. There are exceptions all the time that I realize.

On Social Media, I’d Say Absolutely.

My primary context is Instagram & Facebook. Posts that first captured a blizzard’s wrath, the fall of an iconic rock, the Superbowl in Minnesota, the Minnesota State Fair, the Eclipse, to name a few, have caught fire on social media and traditional media outlets. I would argue that the first picture from events are more popular than the better ones (subjective but go with me here) that follow later. People both want to be on the edge of news as well as see who’s there recording and capturing the news. I’d say people are more excited about the initial shot than follow-ups unless the latter are incredible.

Art Shows

Because I have now have an art season under my belt, with over a dozen shows to my name, I’ve seen lots of the competition. Without dragging my ego or meek sides of me into this discussion, I’ve wondered how the consumer feels about seven to ten photographers with similar images. Do they see with “new glasses” or “good, better, best glasses?” Just between these two aspects, which has a greater impact on them buying:  “Oh, I’ve never seen this (scene, location, angle, view) before” or “Her work is the best out of the lot.”

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I’m obviously leaving out emotional attachment which is maybe the greatest reason for buying a photograph for a wall. But I think this blog’s title is an important one that shapes marketing, releasing work, and even photographing in the field. Someone’s values may have them release shots as soon as possible because they know the market has an appetite and the shot will be picked up. Someone else may defy this to get a shot they imagine and will spend days or even years getting it right before releasing it. Does either approach bring in more sales than the other? Or drive the market’s acceptance deeper?

I’m still thinking through this for my own application and conclusions. How about you?

What are your reactions to this post’s title and other questions?

Do people care about finding top-notch work more than what’s the freshest thing?

 

 

 

When Iconic & Photogenic Locations Change

I knew the “Sea Stack”, formerly an arch in Tettegouche State Park, was popular among photographers and park visitors. But upon its collapse into Lake Superior during a storm over the weekend, I saw the impact its disappearance across the state.

All the Facebook photography groups I’m in were talking about it. My Instagram story feed was dominated by photographers sharing their shots of the stack in memory. Pioneer Press and KSTP media outlets picked up the story. Everyone fondly said:

Rest in Piece

Tettegouche

Credit to Mary Amerman

It made me remember the 24th Ave Bridge in Minneapolis and how it was destroyed before massive construction on highway 35W began. It supplied the premier, iconic view of the Minneapolis skyline.

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View from 24th Ave Bridge

I still wonder if a location has sprung up as the newest city vantage, the newest iconic view in the Twin Cities. I can’t put a finger on it and it may take time.

In the meantime, if you asked me what iconic locations remained, the very next one would easily be the Split Rock Lighthouse.

Split Rock Lighthouse Lighting Ceremony

Credit to J. Briol Images.

It’s difficult for me to find motivation to photograph these locations due to the high volume of shots I see here and I’d rather explore other areas of the parks or city. But there is no doubt that Minnesotans have their favorites. Time erodes all things and we’ll sure see more iconic changes as well as new ones spring up.

 

Photography: “The Shot” or the Story

Do a majority of photographers place more value on finding that one shot than focusing a story?

Does “the perfect shot” tell enough of the story?

Is there room for more story telling in photography from photos that aren’t as popular?

One of the podcasts I listen to is LensWork and I find that Brooks Jensen complements a lot of thoughts I have on photography which in turn, creates posts for my blog. This is one such post.

If you follow me on Instagram you may have seen that I post mini-collections of locations that I photograph. I’ll post “non-sexy” photos with “sexy” photos to reveal an immersive experience to my viewers. All the shots are interesting to me so I don’t just post arbitrarily. For me, it’s about exposing beauty both apparent and subtle, loud and silent, detailed and grand. I personally have a greater connection to the environment when I slow down and take it all in. And my observations then are expressed to the public.

Here is a mini-collection of photos from bluff country in southern Minnesota.

Whether you’re a viewer or a photographer, do you tend to be attracted to or focus on finding that sexy or perfect shot? My example today could be the featured image of the silhouetted barn. Or do you take in more? The collection above really shares the beauty of the area in a way one image cannot. This collection isn’t tight enough, or focuses enough on one specific location like Whitewater State Park, to allow me to say, if I remove one photograph, the story would be incomplete. However, this is a future goal in mind when I do “series photography” again. A goal, is to intimately connect four-to-six images in a way where if I removed one, the viewer would miss out on the story.

Think of the most famous or most liked photographer you know or follow. Do you only know their popular images or can you recall any of the other images that may surround the popular images?

I’ve barely scratched the surface with this topic and will likely post again but let me leave with you with a comparison that is in my mind.

If you listened to the linked podcast called The Rest of the Story, you’ll hear Brooks mention that “we live in the age of the orgasm. That we are only interested in the dessert. Only the headline matters but not the rest of the story.”

What if photography can be like listening to a concept album? There will likely be “orgasmic” tracks or your favorite tracks that you repeat over and over. But there are also layers, interludes, outros, soft and heavy tracks, different emotional pieces as the album progresses through the playlist. If listening carefully, we began to see more than a single hit but a piece of an entire performance. What if the same can be true with photography? Yes, the brilliant sunrise may be the most powerful image. But I’d like to think that the other images make that sunrise more powerful and then put together, are greater still.

I’d appreciate your input as I process this idea and think about it more in my work.

The Secret Location(s)

Should I always share photographed locations with others?

I ask myself this question a lot. I think the answer is a ready no to always, though I often consider the reasons why.

Why share?

  1. Give others a chance to also experience beauty.
  2. To reveal excitement of a new location.
  3. Photographers should be expanding creativity, discovering new locations, and improving the art. Could become a niche.
  4. Because it’s a nice thing to do.

Why not share?

  1. More exposure, especially to a secluded spot, may lead to unacceptable disturbance of the land and nature if it grows in popularity.
  2. Simply because having a few secret places is nice to enjoy alone. I think there is a special quality about it, like a treasure I’ve personally uncovered and I don’t want intruded upon.
  3. To avoid competition in sales, fame, and fortune.

When I begin my podcast in 2019, this may be one of the initial topics I explore with fellow photographers in the area and pick their brain on what practices they hold and if they think it’s a good thing or not.

I think there is definitely a sense of pride and protectiveness that comes with secret spots and maybe some selfishness as well. But I can see others overwhelmingly willing to share to others because they want others to enjoy the same beauty they did.

What do you think?

My Backyard: Silverwood Park

I had never heard of this park before moving within walking distance just over a year ago. Nestled between St. Anthony and New Brighton, Silverwood Park has become my special treasure. I have no visited another location so frequently to photograph and explore. In fact, the park has served as training ground for all sorts of seasonal and subject shots.

Allow me to share some of my most memorable and significant photographic moments with you since I started shooting there October of 2017.

Silverwood Park

I started late in the month and many of the colors had faded. I tried looking everywhere which meant staring at the ground intently to see what might juxtapose or prove interesting. This really helped me with the creative process, relying on imagination. No leaves were placed outside of where they had fallen!

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November’s Leaf Tussle

I woke up one morning and saw the weather report indicate fog in the area. I rushed out the door and to the lake and was rewarded with snaking smoke trails over the lake and fog cover so massive it swallowed up everything in minutes.

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The Bridge & the Fog

It froze soon afterwards. I discovered a unique time to shoot, one that I am eager to capture again this winter freeze: the cold that builds up ice formations but isn’t hidden by the first snow. Maybe this lasts two weeks, maybe only a few days. Below was one such example, combined with one of the best sunsets of early winter.

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Ice Rocks

Then soon after, the ice melted some and the moon shimmered on its thin surface. Simply walking around at night afforded this creative shot.

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Golden Leaf

Since I’m mentioning leaves, November and early December can be tough months to photograph since autumn colors are gone and if snow hasn’t fallen. This forced me to try and be really creative. The below shot is one of my favorites. It’s almost as if the branches, completely bare, had thrown the leaves into their watery grave. You can see the drowned leaves and the two in the corner overlapping, as if in final embrace before their own descent.

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Leafy Grave

I discovered the method and practiced my first long-exposure shots last winter.  It was a really rewarding experience coming up with this shot. Afterwards, I remarked to myself, “I can do this!” And so I had another technique in my belt.

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Late Night Movement

Then spring came.

In the picture below, I had been facing west away from the sunrise shooting bright, young green leaves when the sun exploded into the woods. It absolutely light up everything, turning much of the youthful green into yellow flare. As soon as I saw what was happening, I rotated 180 degrees and zoomed in with my 100-300mm lens and captured the golden light. It was one of my favorite photography moments in 2018 and completely spontaneous.

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Golden Moment

My final shot was taken just a couple of weeks ago. The red was so rich and the flipped around leaf proved an interesting subject with its detail and moisture. It was a metaphor of how rich my photos had grown in a year. There is much to learn and improve upon, but I’ll always remember to be thankful for growth in this wonderful photography journey.

Caught in Red

Most of these photographs were simply the result of being outside with a camera, rather than planning the composition or shot or around weather. I just went outside a lot. I suppose that expresses the free spirit, random, and abstract part of my personality in some ways. Eager to see what the next season reveals!

It’s only been a year.