Some people are amazed to learn that I still enjoy getting out to photograph wildflowers. Well, the greater truth is that I just enjoy getting out to photograph – anything. It fuels my soul, and as long as I can walk and hold a camera that’s where you’ll find me, out in the field working the subject, whatever it may be.
As spring gives way to summer, the mountains around Seattle, melt out to reveal wonderful meadows of wildflowers. Mt Rainier is perhaps one of my favorite destinations for wildflowers and so many can be found just a short walk from the parking lot. For those familiar with the area I like to head to Paradise, drive past the main parking lots and down the hill maybe half a mile, parking where the road crosses Edith Creek. From there you hike up towards the mountain and the wildflowers will soon surround you with a rushing creek and smooth boulders to work with. Hiking maybe a mile will afford beautiful views of Mt. Rainier filling the foreground with flowers.
When you head out to photograph wildflowers one’s first instinct is to often isolate a perfect blossom at a 45 degree angle (any lower and your knees might get dirty!) and go home happy. I call this the trophy shot, it looks just like the image on the packet at the wildflower seed store – we all have them, myself included, so get that shot (I will) and then open your mind to more creative possibilities.
When I have lead workshops to Mt. Rainier in the past I’ll let the students know that we have “arrived” at our destination for the next hour and they will politely line up on the trail and begin to photograph the first flower they see, usually right from the very direction they had approached it. After all, that’s why we’re here, no? No. We’re here to stretch our creative imaginations, to see in new ways, and uncover new possibilities. Consider how you approach the flower as you would any subject. Over the years I have critiqued so many photos and the answer is all too often the same, get lower and get closer.
My approach is generally to first walk through the area and get familiar with the myriad of options, perspectives, background possibilities, subtle differences in lighting. I’ll look at the subject from all sides possible before choosing a location to begin. Remember, recolonizing, fragile, easily accessible meadows like those of Mt. Rainier don’t allow for venturing off established trails. So please be aware of your surroundings, trail markers and warning signs.
Initially, I will photograph the larger scene with a wide angle lens (16-35, always with a polarizer adding a 2 stop hard ND filter as needed) helping to establish a sense of location. This can be useful later when trying to remember where I was when the image was taken, perhaps a hold-over from shooting slides when it could be three months before I would see any results from the days’ efforts. The wide angle lens allows me to include the surrounding plants, trees, terrain and mountains leaving the to flowers become a pattern of color in the lower foreground. I’ll look for leading lines in the pattern, gentle curves, a way for the viewer to interact with the image as they move through the foreground, middle ground and background – an old, well established formula from view cameras that still works today.
As I move in closer, I continue shooting with the wide angle lens, allowing first, a group of flowers and then individual blossoms to dominate the frame. This gives me the ability to still tell the story of location and environment through the greater composition. When people first purchase a wide angle lens they see it as an opportunity to get a greater view of the distant vista, to include the mountain and the surrounding hills – and are all too disappointed with the results. It’s not until they begin to see the wide angle as a tool for getting in close to the subject, I’m talking within inches – not feet, do they begin to see the possibilities.
Once satisfied, I’ll switch to my 70-200 lens and look to limit the composition to just the flowers themselves. Here I begin looking for those ubiquitous patterns in nature, patters of petals filling the frame, of alternating colors, lines and form, positive and negative space. Ultimately zooming from the wide end up to 200 mm abstracting the subject as I bring the viewer to see the flower in a unique way. I’ll then put on extension tubes which allow me to focus even closer. As you abstract the elements of the flower, digital photography now allows you to “rack focus” with a middle ground f-stop, say f11, shooting several images as you move the shallow depth of field marching towards the back of the composition, knowing later you will combine them into one image with a sharp focus throughout.
What about wind and movement? Use it! Sure you can purchase a “Plant Clamp” to hold the flower steady in a light breeze but why not use the movement to your advantage just as you would with flowing water in a stream. Try longer shutter speeds to abstract the flowers to a wash of color. Even introduce your own movement by intentionally panning with the camera up, down or sideways during the exposure. You may be surprised by the results, perhaps pleased even.
Working the subject I will be changing my location, moving in closer, shooting from the side as well as directly overhead – ultimately I may even spread the legs of my tripod to where it is less than 12 inches off the ground and be lying on my side in the dirt – why? Because it’s about unique perspectives. Flowers aren’t usually photographed from directly overhead nor do most people bother to look at them from the ‘flowers’ perspective. Great images are generally not made at a comfortable standing height having just walked up to your subject.
Don’t wait for the sunny day to go out and look for wildflowers. For images of the flowers themselves your best bet is an overcast day with even lighting. While a sunny day is great for a picnic, and the flowers are beautiful to look at, the shadows caused by the direct sun put too much contrast in the image and where flowers are the only subject the results will be disappointing. Overcast days, even rainy days are some of my favorite for flower photography, good thing I live in Seattle.
10X10X10Tieton Call for Entries – Closes June 18
Make something that is 10X10X10 and submit it to this very fun event in Mighty Tieton.
This is the 3rd Annual event and is a lot of fun.
The annual Might Tieton 10X10X10 show is calling for entries.
Traveling the world I have visited cultures from remote tropical jungles to arid African savannas where living a simple existence is dictated by the lack of natural resources. The people simply must pull a substance living out of the land to survive, a way of life that does not come by choice but by necessity. In between seminars in NY and Philadelphia, I had the opportunity to photograph the Amish of Lancaster County, an interesting contrast to see a culture living a simple existence surrounded by all manner of modern conveniences and technology while doing without all of these trappings not because they have to, but because they choose to.
Photographer and friend Tim Mateer acted as my guide over a couple days; a Mennonite himself, he was able to provide insight into this unique culture that dates back to 1693 when a group branched off from the church in Switzerland led by Jakob Ammann. Those following Jakob became known as Amish and in the 1720s several groups migrated to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania where their decedents still live today. While many think of this as “where the Amish live” separate communities can be found in over half the states in the US and even in Canada. And they are anything but a leftover dying breed, having an average of 7 children they are among the fastest growing populations today with numbers now exceeding 250,000. As they only marry within their faith genetic disorders are high despite their own efforts to marry into different, unrelated communities.
While the Amish live and work on their own farms they share the same public roads and do not try and hide themselves. To the contrary I found them to be quite friendly; the majority greeting me with a wave and a smile as I photographed them passing by. While in general they may prefer to be left to themselves in this area of the country they have become accustomed to tourists and our curious nature.
The Amish prohibition against being photographed isn’t exactly cut and dry. Though you won’t likely find an Amish person photographing or even painting a portrait of themselves adherence to and interpretation of biblical tenants varies wildly from one community to the next. Some are more relaxed, while others, the “old order Amish” are the strictest with prohibition of all things “worldly”. I suspect those I was interacting with were of the former, more relaxed communities of Amish though refusing to accept assistance from the outside or plugging into the electrical grid seem to be universal tenants.
The motivation behind their simple way of life comes from a strict and literal interpretation of the bible where it says one is not to be “conformed to the world”. In general they operate their own schools and educate their children through the 8th grade, young unmarried women teaching the children, this was determined sufficient for success in their way of life. Most are farmers though they are also well known for fine hand crafted furniture and quilts as well.
While the dress code varies among communities, in general they wear very plain clothes of solid colors, long dresses for the women, trousers and wide brimmed hats for the men. Within the community they believe everyone is equal and one individual should not stand out or be elevated above the rest. Women will not cut their hair wearing it in a bun under a prayer cap and the men’s long beards (they won’t shave their beard once married) are a sign of adult hood and maturity though mustaches were historically associated with the military and are forbidden.
The Amish are well known for their horse drawn buggies and wagons. They have begrudgingly compromised with the modern world agreeing in some places to place electric lights and reflectors for safety though they must be provided to them by local municipalities. With careful study of the buggies you can tell one community (generally 20-40 families) from another as there will be little variation, all being equal after all.
I found the Amish children to be just delightful and I smiled to see them being allowed to be just that, children. Granted I was just getting a glimpse but I what I saw were happy kids playing, goofing around, going fishing on the creek banks all smiles and innocence. I had to wonder to myself how different children in my own neighborhood might be if they spent more time outdoors being entertained by nature and their own imaginations as opposed to the internet, video games and TV.
I don’t pretend to know the Amish from my brief encounter and have neither judgment nor intimate knowledge of their ways of life. That said, a little fresh air and sunshine and working with one’s hands would no doubt do us all a little good in our over saturated technology driven lives. Now excuse me as I return to my Mac and work on some more images in Lightroom, gotta get them ready for the next presentation on the big screen and transfer some files for the Las Vegas gallery.
The public is invited to a reception to celebrate the release of Johsel Namkung / A Retrospective, the latest publication from Cosgrove Editions. If you love nature, this is a must see book!
When: Saturday, May 26th from 3 – 6 PM
Where: Walker Ames Room, Kane Hall,2nd Floor,UW Campus
Johsel Namkung has long been considered a Master of Landscape Photography. His entire exhibition at the Seattle Asian Art Museum in 2006 is now part of SAM’s permanent collection. At 93 years of age, this book represents the culmination of Johsel’s life in photography.
Johsel Namkung / A Retrospective, includes 100 of Johsels best photographs, a third of which have never been exhibited. Published by Cosgrove Editions, the book comes in a standard hard cover edition plus two special editions: a Slipcase Edition of 250 signed and numbered copies, and a Deluxe Clamshell Box Edition of 100 signed and numbered copies that also includes a CD of vocal performances by Johsel, plus a 16 x 20 inch archival pigment print chosen from any photograph in the book.
The book is beautifully bound with Chinese Silk fabric, and printed with ultra high resolution technology as befits Johsel’s extremely detailed images. This oversize monograph is 13.5 inches high x 17.0 inches wide. It contains a Foreword by Art Wolfe, wildlife and nature photographer extraordinaire, a Foreword by Elizabeth Brown, former chief curator at the Henry Art Gallery, plus a portrait of Johsel by Northwest iconic photographer Mary Randlett.
Note that parking in the underground garage off of 15thAve N.E. at NE 41st Street is free on Saturday afternoon.
While not required, an RSVP would be most appreciated to firstname.lastname@example.org.
There is still time and there are still a few spots left on this incredible adventure, as shown in my TV series Travels to the Edge.
The Pantanal offers a wetland environment like no other on the planet. At 54,000 square miles you could hide the whole of the Florida Everglades in the center and never find them. It’s no secret that I love photographing wildlife and the Pantanal offers some of the best avian photography anywhere. While the Amazon rain forest may be larger, the Pantanal has a concentration of wildlife that allows you to see (and photograph) 100 times more birds and animals than you ever would in the Amazon. I chose the Pantanal for my TV show for this very reason.
You will have the chance to photograph capybaras and caimans and many of the 400 species of birds that live in the Pantanal. Nearly a quarter of these birds weighing in at over a pound (1.6kg) – which is a pretty big bird when you stop to think about it. We may even get to see Giant Otters (big as a grown man) and Giant Anteaters. If you’ve seen the episode of “Travels to the Edge” from this region you have some idea of what you’ll be in store for. But don’t worry, when it comes to the caimans, we’ll keep a respectful distance (this time).
Through traveling to photograph wildlife, I have been blessed with getting to know some of the most interesting and diverse cultures around the world. For this tour, I have scheduled visits to two working Brazilian ranches so we can get a taste of what it is like to pull a living from this land and call it home. To visit a country without getting to know the people is an incomplete story for me. There is so much to be learned from others who share this earth with us but have different perspectives and unique viewpoints. Seeing the challenges they face can bring a new perspective to our own lives.
And if you’re not hooked yet… on my previous trips I have stumbled across a very remote corner of the Pantanal where there is an incredible opportunity to see Jaguars in the wild. This particular group has become habituated to seeing people much like some of the lion troops you would see on safari in Africa and they no longer instinctively retreat and hide in the dense forest. It may take a while to swallow your heart back down from the middle of your throat, but seeing a Jaguar in the wild is a experience you will never forget.
I was out scouting a location for a future photo shoot when I found myself about to drive past the Weyerhaeuser corporate headquarters building here in Washington state. With some time to spare I pulled off and visited their beautiful bonsai gardens where they have 60 unique specimens from 6 different Pacific Rim nations, some were started as long ago as the 1950s.
When I’m out in the field I’m often drawn to compositions of graphic lines and form. You can find beauty in the patterns of nature just about anywhere you go, you just need to be open to seeing them. Bonsai is a collaboration between man and nature that celebrates this beauty. It is up to the individual artist’s imagination to shape the plants through very selective pruning, removing key limbs, creating a balance to the composition, even shaping the limbs directly either with copper wire or by suspending stones from the branches to weigh them down. Over time the plant will adopt this new shape even as the wire and stones are removed.
In this age that has so much slick art dominating the culture it’s nice to see imperfections. The bonsai is a living plant, it will never be absolutely perfect and it is forever growing and slowly changing. This is a very slow, methodical and thoughtful art form. I find peace and a feeling of zen when I have time to just sit back and admire these beautiful works of art. I was drawn in by all of them, whether the great redwood in miniature or the wabi sabi out of balance nature of the one that looked as if it was growing out of the discards from a giant egg. Serendipity played a hand in the timing of my visit as many of the deciduous varieties had yet to fully leaf out allowing the intricate design of their branches to be seen with just a hint of the color yet to come. It will come as no surprise that I have many bonsai trees in my own landscape.
What was intended as merely a scouting mission, I didn’t even have any formal camera gear with me, resulted in a wonderful opportunity to soak in some art and nature and fill my soul. A wonderful day for me is not always about the perfect light and equipment, the images shared here were simply shot on my iPhone. It was a great way to spend the morning, I highly recommend it.
For details on the Weyehaeuser bonsai gardens click here: