The Nevada Wier Experience

Allison McLean took Nevada Wier’s class last fall and sent us an account of the experience and what she learned.

Photographing on the Move, with Nevada Wier
The Art Wolfe Digital Photography Center, October 2008
by Allison McLean


Thursday, October 2, 2008

I’ve just finished the first day of my first photography workshop. I’m tired and my brain is full, but I’m more excited about photography than ever, and can’t wait to see what the next three days have to hold.

The instructor, Nevada Wier, has been a travel photographer for decades, and has shot for magazines such as National Geographic, Smithsonian and Geo. She began by telling us a bit about her background – she’s self-taught in photography and learned early on to ask herself, “Why do I like that image?” She talked about how a successful photo needs any two of these four elements – Color, Light, Action, and Pattern/Composition (CLAP), then discussed several of her own shots in this context.

As I imagine is true of any pro, she has mastered all types of shots and their concomitant gear requirements, but her preference is to shoot handheld with a 20mm lens. She likes shooting this way for the “airy” look and the way a lot of context gets included, but also because “It’s hard”! As she spoke this morning, I was impressed by the various parameters she’s put on her shooting – they’re all there to keep her eye fresh and prevent her from giving in to inertia, or “Photo Enemy #1”. Here are the “personal disciplines” she mentioned:
• handheld whenever possible
• prefers 20mm lens
• crops only in camera
By shooting mostly handheld, she’s mobile and light, and because she uses a 20mm lens and crops in camera, she needs to move in very close to her subject – “so close I’m practically drooling on them.” She says, “Everything in the image matters”, and that’s why you can’t have extraneous junk in the shot but must MOVE to frame!

As we students were to discover, it’s one thing to hear about the difficulties in using these techniques and another thing entirely to actually try one’s hand at them! Our late afternoon assignment was to head to Pike Place Market and take wide-angle shots of people in their work environment. The first thing I realized was, Oh, yeah, I do have a wide-angle lens (a 24-85mm zoom) – I just never use it as a wide angle! After all, it’s much easier to get “close enough” and then just zoom, right? For shooting people, I normally keep my 70-200mm lens on and zoom away like the furtive little people-watcher I am. No such luck when you’re using the widest angle you’ve got: to make the composition look right, you’re going to have to introduce yourself to your subject and then get close and personal. Any discomfort I felt at the time is outweighed by the images I got, though, and the gift of suddenly having a fun new technique in my skill kit.

Quote of the day
“The point of this class is to utilize the whole frame.”
– Nevada Wier

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