Essay 6 - Respond to the Flash, No Pun Intended
In this essay, I am going to share and describe how I select and ultimately photograph my landscape and nature subjects. It all starts with a lot of careful planning. I suspect if I looked at the total time that is involved to create a fine print that I am happy with, the two biggest segments of time would be planning and scouting.
Planning for me starts for me with the desire to explore an area for a particular reason. The reasons vary based on the location, and can also differ based on the time of year and current conditions. I understand how much time is invested in this phase, so I am careful to invest my time wisely. I buy books and read everything I can get my hands on about the area that I want to visit and explore. I am particularly interested in the natural history and culture of the area. I consider all of this to be part of my planning process. Many times, I may read about a place for months or more before I ever decide to visit. I never take my large format camera gear with me on my first visit, although I may use the camera on my phone to document some things of interest to me for later review.
I have evolved to a place where I apply this process even to far away destinations. I may travel one year and just hike, explore, and journal about my experiences and then come back home and read and learn more about what makes the place so special. The next visit I typically take a camera with me. Although, for locations that are reasonably close to me, I may visit a dozen or more times before I ever bring my gear.
Once I decide to move forward to visit the location in person, I use a variety of weather related planning tools to understand how the light interacts with the areas I am interested in photographing and then I take into account the time of year and current season. I am also very interested in cloud structure too. For example, there are places that I will only photograph in the winter when all the leaves have fallen off the tree's. I am a sucker for defoliated lone winter trees with a compelling foreground and background.
After I have completed my planning and scouting phases, I get to the creative part of my journey. When I explore an area, the first thing I do is sit still for a while and just relax. I literally close my eyes, listen to the ambient sounds and take in deep breaths and slowly exhale. I suppose this is a form of meditation. Then I take a daypack filled with water, food and other essentials and go experience the area. As I walk about, I am very calm and I would describe my temperament as almost dreamlike. I make sure to silence all electronic devices as to not get distracted during my experience. All of these actions help me connect with the area and start to form an impression of what makes it special.
Many times I get a "flash" as I am exploring. This flash is the magical part of my creative process. It is difficult to describe with words, but I will do my best. It almost feels like I am walking in slow motion and something within the landscape, or the landscape itself produces a flash in my vision. I instantly stop, close my eyes and replay that flash in my minds eye. It is this flash that I try and recreate in my final prints. I journal what the dominant elements are within each flash. Maybe it was light, forms, shapes, or a combination of many elements. Everything I do moving forward is about recreating the flash that I experienced. This includes my choice of lens, exposure of film, development, and of course my techniques in the darkroom when creating the print.