About a week ago, I posted a question on social media asking if anyone had a question that they wanted to ask about my photography. In all honesty, I was expecting a comment or two, but nothing like what I got. There were a lot of great suggestions as to what to write about, but I picked a few that seemed to go together to get this series started. The questions were: “What started my passion?” “How do I reveal myself through my photography?” and “What triggers my inspirations?” I felt that these really got to the core of why I am the photographer that I am. I will come back to the other questions later on in this series, but for now, lets jump in with these.
As I mentioned, if you look closely at my photography you are more than likely able to get a feel for my mood at the time I shot the image. I’ve been noticing over the years that as I look back over my pictures from previous treks, I’m taken right back to where I was, emotionally, at the time. It only stands to reason that the photographer brings a good bit of themselves to the photograph that they capture. I am drawn to certain subjects depending on my mood, and I enjoy shooting in certain conditions more depending on my current mindset. The time driving and hiking to the locations also gives me introspection time so that I’m really in tune with what is going on in my head.
I’ll go ahead and stretch out on this nifty couch for a little while, while you sit over in your easy chair taking notes about what I’m talking about. I’m a complex kind of guy, so it might take more than an hour appointment to peel back these layers.
In all seriousness, art, no matter what kind, comes from the soul of the artist. It is an expression of the inner self. Photographers are no different. When I am looking for a scene, different things appeal to me at different times. Since I am largely an introvert (there my wife goes laughing at me again for minimizing this quality), I find that many of my images are almost moody in their appearance. I’ve tried to break that mold a time or two, but it never really comes off as convincing. Deep tones, and saturated images are my hallmark, and they come naturally for me. It is not that I am depressed, but rather I do a lot of internal contemplation. My thoughts are rarely well lit in my head. I don’t have fleeting thoughts that are easily understood as if fully lit by the sun. I like to really explore my thoughts thoroughly, as I try to do with my photography.
When it comes to talking about how my images reveal who I am, this one is probably the best example to discuss. When you look at it, it really looks like a pretty simple image taken at sunset. However, it actually describes who I am very well, and I’m thinking that some of the feelings in this will appeal to others who share some of the same thoughts.
First of all, I shot this one day after work, which meant that I was driving the two hours to the Blue Ridge Parkway after spending a day at work. I was going to be away from my family for the entire day and evening to go on this trek. I was looking forward to the trip and what pictures I might get, but at the same time was feeling like I was abandoning them at home. The light and the shadows show that inner struggle and dichotomy for the whole trip to the mountains.
If you continue looking at the light and dark, you can see that the warm light is only representing about a third of the image, while the shadowed portions extend the other two thirds. This is where I’m sure that many will have this shared experience so that this image will speak to them. We all try to put our best foot forward in life and present the best “me” that we can. That is the part that is in the light for all to see, but it is only a small portion of who we really are inside. That is where our own self doubts and insecurities are located. This is the part that we hide from others, and we deal with internally. Yes, this is what makes up the most of us, but it is not what is seen by others.
While I was shooting this image, I was among a large group of folks that were there enjoying the same scene that I was. I was the only one there with a large camera bag and “professional” equipment though. I was moving around setting up shots with my long lens mounted to a tripod. Seriously, I looked the part of a professional photographer and that was what everyone saw (In reality, nobody was paying me any mind). In my head I was trying to get a composition that worked that didn’t include all of the people that were scattered across the foreground I was wanting to use. I was getting frustrated because the scene that I had come up here to get wasn’t panning out, and I had missed out on family time at home. I was worried that it was all for nought and I would come home with nothing to show for my extra time away (about 6 hours, on top of the 9 hours I was at work). I was feeling pretty much like I had failed them and myself. I was internally existing in the shadows of this image, while everyone was seeing the bright side of me as the confident photographer.
The vast majority of my images reveal different parts of who I am, and I can pick each and every one of them apart. The way I see it, by capturing emotions, rather than just an image, I have the chance to connect with a much broader audience because those emotions can be shared experiences, and will prompt somebody to be drawn to an image even if they can’t identify why. It is also a really great opportunity for me to look back on different phases of my life and see where I was emotionally at the time. My photography is basically a tracker of my mental health in a way.
So how do I find the images that I shoot? What inspires me to pull the camera out? That is usually a twofold process. The first deals with previsualization and represents the planning stage. I’ll usually pick something that I want to shoot which I am familiar with and have been waiting for the proper conditions to develop to photograph. As I see what conditions are setting up in the extended forecast, I will start to work out which location will work best for those conditions. I will consider the locations and compositions for days before I actually arrive at the scene. The resulting images are usually well composed and executed, but fall under “normal” photography for me. After that comes the fun part. This is where I start to connect with the area I’m in and start to feel inspired to create other images. I look for images outside of what I planned for. These are the ones that are usually more inspired, and I am more satisfied with overall. This is where my inner being really comes out.
There are benefits to these planned images. I have a chance to wait for conditions to be right, and I’ve had the opportunity to think about the composition that I want to use. On the other hand, when I get there, I find that I’m forcing an image based on a vision I had at a different time, with a different mindset. I’m shooting inside of the box. When I am hunting images that I have no preconceived notion of, I find myself drawn to those images that really reflect how I’m feeling that day. Those are much more satisfying for me, and occasionally, the only reason I go out in the mornings. If I don’t have a previsualized location in mind, but have the desire to go shoot, I’ll just pick an area and start driving around, or hiking as the case may be. This is my chance to shoot outside of the box.
|Sunshine Beneath the Clouds|
So what do I look for when hunting images? It can be rather complex so we’ll look at a couple of examples. In this image, you can tell that it was a dreary day. I was actually in a really good mood, so much of the wonderful rural scenery didn’t appeal to me, and I didn’t bother to photograph much of it. It just seemed too dark for my current mood. However, in the middle of this cloudy, rainy day, I found this bright yellow bug on the side of the road. My happy mood connected with the bright colors here and I decided that I wanted to shoot this scene.
While the car was nice, it was really the color, and the happy vibes that I get from looking at a VW Bug that made me want to shoot it. The darkness around it (it was actually raining at the time) really made the yellow pop, and my happiness flowed through the picture. I’ll even go a step further. I was really hopeful at this point for a good image and shot the car from the rear which I don’t typically do. The result of this composition is the car looking off into the distance which adds to the hope shown in the image. Had I been feeling a different way, I would have shot this scene much differently, and might have actually stored it for a later time as I do with a lot of scenes that I come across at the wrong time. Of course, all of this is on a very subconscious level while I’m out exploring. It is more of an emotional connection to a scene than anything cerebral.
|Breaching the Surface|
There are also times when I am not feeling all that happy, but the conditions I am in are bright and cheery. That was the situation for this shot. I was not having a good morning despite being on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The clouds had broken up, and I wasn’t really wanting bright images. I was looking for more moody captures which is admittedly difficult in these conditions. While at Price Lake, I looked down and saw the reflections in the water with a rock poking through the surface. The blue sky was toned down, and I liked the abstract nature of the scene. It fit with my introspective mood for the day. I framed it up and applied just enough polarization to darken just a portion of the water at the rock before releasing the shutter. There is a lot said by this image, at least to me. It totally fit with how I was feeling that day and I can remember my thoughts at the time. Today, I’m in a different place mentally, and I doubt very seriously that I would have even seen this scene unfolding. I would have been too concentrated on the overall landscape to have looked at this section of 3-4 square feet.
Speaking of an overall landscape, I’ve mentioned that part of the fun of photography is bringing order to the chaos that surrounds us. That feeds into my OCD tendencies (There goes Toni again snickering at my minimizing of this). There are many times that my head is so full of thoughts and clutter that the only thing that really appeals to me in the landscape is something that can take center stage. The example here was shot on an anniversary trip a few months ago. There had been issues with our cabin that lead us to get a different cabin. The weather was terrible with fog and rain. I was sorting out things that we wanted to do while in the mountains, and I was finding it hard to concentrate on photography at all. The drive was nice, but I just couldn’t get in tune with anything that I was seeing. Nothing was tripping my creative trigger.
That changed as I passed by this large tree that stood out in the fog. It would have caught my eye on any day, but I connected with it because it stood apart from the noise in the background. Despite the rain, I wanted to shoot it because it really spoke to me and helped level me. Thanks to an umbrella that Toni had, I was able to get the shot in the middle of a pretty good rain. It turned out to be the best image from the time we spent in the mountains. There were lots of other opportunities, but nothing really connected with me on the right level. This one tree inspired my creative side because it spoke to my emotional side. That is where my best images come from, and that makes total sense to me.
My passion for photography started at an early age and progressed through a lot of unrelated paths before culminating in a hobby that turned into so much more. I’ve found that the art of creating pictures is therapeutic for me and has allowed me to self medicate my PTSD. It does open up my emotions which can make them raw at times, but those emotions do come out in the images that are captured. My best images are a direct result when the physical world connects with my inner spiritual world. Once those two forces meet, there is a force that develops which allows me to capture the scene as my heart and soul wants.
Thank you for letting me share this part of my life with you. I hope that it allows you to understand my photography better as well as the guy shooting the pictures. Let me know what you think of this feature and I’ll come back at another time to answer some more of the questions that have been posed.