Photo Journal: Spring Trees, Smoky Mountains

Olympus E-M1, f/5.6 @ 1/400sec, 50mm, ISO 640, no filters 

It’s been a busy spring so far with workshops in the Smoky Mountains and the Hudson Valley, and I leave to Moab, Utah tomorrow for another workshop in the southwest. My time for writing has been in short supply. But I do have a new series of articles coming up very soon addressing composition, printing, books I’m reading, and other useful information I hope inspires you in your photography.

I also want to thank those who have purchased my latest book, Insights from the Creative Path, the response has been amazing, it has sold well here and on, and I am extremely grateful for your support.

Spring Trees

I made this image on my recent trip to the Great Smoky Mountains, and I think it’s a good example of capturing mood and mystery in a photograph. There are several elements that contribute to this including the fog, the diffuse warm colored light, and the lack of detail in the darkest shadows which also happen to be strongest compositional elements in the image – the trees. The visual goal is not to bring attention to the trees, but to use them as rhythmic elements that move the viewers eye through the image, and hopefully create a sense of curiosity, and an appreciation of the moment as I experienced it.

Direction of light is one of the key components of any image, and I always seem to gravitate to backlighting simply because it often creates drama and a sense of movement. Shadows become counterpoints to the highlights, and it’s the interplay of the two that I enjoy. Ultimately I want the viewer to ask certain questions.

What does it feel like to be in a place like this? What does it sound like? How did it make me feel? All of these can be partially answered to varying degrees with the way in which an image is captured and interpreted. The ultimate question I always ask of myself and my students is: “What is the image about?” For me the image is about the stoic-like quality of trees, and of nature in general. It’s not so much about an actual subject, but about the experience of being in a place.

Capturing that successfully is incredibly difficult because we are so eager to label an image by its subject matter or location. But that’s what I look for in the images I make, a sense of detachment from the subjects and places, and visceral connection to emotion and experience. I don’t often succeed, but the only way to even come close is by immersing myself in those things that inspire me to continue to try.

That’s where the real motivation for creative risk comes from, and it’s the only thing that will keep you inspired after you feel like you’ve exhausted the possibilities of a subject. Don’t photograph locations, instead turn the camera on yourself and see if you can show us what excites you about the world.

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13 x 19 printed on Canson Rag Photographique with Epson 3880

Please share your comments and feedback – I’m always eager to learn something new from your thoughts or perspective.

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Observations On The Making of Images


I’ve just returned from the Great Smoky Mountains where I had the privilege of leading a 5-day workshop. It was a great learning experience for all, and we enjoyed great camaraderie and a shared passion for nature and the art of photography.

I’ve been noticing some trends over the past year or two that were very evident to me last week and thought would be worth sharing and exploring further.

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The Mirrorless Age

The first is the transition from conventional DSLRs to mirrorless cameras. On this particular workshop, half of the students were using mirrorless exclusively, and another student decided to make the switch as soon as the workshop was over. Size and weight savings for equal image quality were mentioned as being the primary reasons for making the switch. Based on my experience teaching printing workshops, most photographers who print their work are using either a 13” or 17” printer, so resolution is not an issue with a 16 or 18 MP sensor. And I’ve comfortably made 20” x 30” prints from my Olympus E-M1.

One student carried five prime lenses plus a body in a shoulder bag that weighed less than my Canon 70-200mm L lens. It’s hard to argue against that when your primary reason for photographing is having fun – even at the extremely serious or semi-pro level. And as a user of various mirrorless cameras myself, I can attest to the amazing image quality they can produce given proper camera technique and good lenses.

I was asked several times when and how I decide to use one format over another, and it really depends on my goals for whatever project I’m working on, NOT how much image quality I want or need. Do I need to generate large prints from the images? Am I hiking 4 or 5 miles to a location? Do I have access to batteries and/or electricity for chargers? Any combination of these answers will determine which is the best format for me to use, not how I want to be perceived. Yes I am a full time professional, but that doesn’t imply anything in terms of the tools I use, nor should it in my opinion.

My goal as a working fine art photographer is to make the best images possible that fulfill my vision. The format and gear I use helps me achieve that, not the other way around. In fact, I’m considering purchasing a large format film camera specifically for the ability to make very large prints in addition to the creative approach a camera like that demands. But I won’t be selling any of my digital cameras soon. That’s a decision driven by my creative goals, not commercial or public perceptions. But I also like to have fun.

Bottom line – use what works best for you, what delivers the most enjoyment from your creative pursuits with a camera, and forget all the rest. Forget the naysayers, the critics, the magazines, and the marketing pundits who suggest you need a particular “something” to be a “serious” photographer, or worst “compete” against others.

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Making vs. Editing

The second trend I’ve been noticing is the obsession with over-analyzing every image made on the cameras LCD, and letting that guide the creative process. Every good writer will tell you that writing and editing are two completely different activities and require separate “hats” so to speak. When writing, the idea is to get the words onto the paper or screen, letting the creative process guide each sentence to the next. We often hear of writers, composers, poets, and painters just letting the ideas flow out uninterrupted, and before they know it, they have more material than they expected. That happens because it starts you down a path that leads to more insights and ideas.

When the writing stops, then and only then, does the editing hat go on, and you remove what doesn’t work, or rewrite from the original ideas. The creating is separated from the editing, providing the important space and freedom to experiment without the constant judging and criticism.

The same process should be used in photography, and, in fact, was the norm before digital cameras allowed us to see every image shot instantly on the beautiful, bright LCDs. As I remind my students often, the LCD should be used to check composition and get a sense of the creative direction you’re heading in. Don’t use it to make critical judgements about color, contrast, or even exposure. That’s what your eyes and the histogram is for. And don’t let it interrupt your vision. The more you keep your eyes on your surroundings, the more aware you become of changing light, mood, and your emotions. That can’t happen if you’re constantly engaged with the LCD trying to decide if the picture works. It interrupts the flow of seeing.

I suggest watching and waiting until you feel inspired by anything, then make an image or two and see where that leads. Make small adjustments, refine the composition, and try again. Keep your eyes on the subject, which increases your awareness to its form, its “gesture”, as Jay Maisel likes to say.

“What you’re shooting at doesn’t matter, the real question is: ‘Does it give you joy?’” – Jay Maisel

The camera has nothing to offer beyond a digital recording of the scene in front of the lens. You are the most important factor – the ingredient that makes the real difference and creates the magic that others potentially see in your pictures. That comes from letting the creative process happen uninterrupted, without criticism or judgement. When you’re in the field, let nature make as big an impact as possible. That’s hard to do when your attention is focused on your LCD.

Once you’re back home, away from the external stimulus of nature, then you can put on the editing hat and critique away. That’s how you learn both parts of successful photography – the creating and the editing. See what worked, and what didn’t, make notes, then go out and try again. If you have an approach that differs, and it works well for you, then great. If not, I suggest you give this a try – you may be pleasantly surprised.

Thanks once again to all the students who attended and help me keep doing what I love.

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May 2015 Free Desktop Wallpaper

The May 2015 Free Desktop Wallpaper is now available for download.

As always, come closer to nature in the Smoky Mountains.


1920 x 1200

1920 x 1080

1680 x 1050

1280 x 800


First determine your screen size. Your Current Resolution Is:

Then click on the link for the correct size. When the image opens in a new browser window, right click on the image and select “Set as Wallpaper” (on a Mac, select “Use Image as Desktop Picture”).

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New Book: Insights From the Creative Path – Find Meaning, Fulfill Your Vision

final-cover-3dI’m really excited to announce that my new book “Insights from the Creative Path: Find Meaning, Fulfill Your Vision” is finally out!

It’s a continuation of my first book, Insights from Beyond the Lens, where I take you further along the creative journey I’ve experienced as a landscape photographer. While it does offer some technical information, it’s more about the why than the how. That’s a question that is lacking in today’s world of photography, but can unlock so much of your creative potential.

It’s a book I’ve been working on for the past two years and composed mainly of blog posts I’ve written here. I didn’t just copy the articles, however, but re-wrote many of them, and organized them into themes to create a better narrative about the things I’m most passionate about; creativity, inspiration, and vision. It’s also about how you can start to apply those themes in the field.

In many ways it’s a book about more than just photography, it’s my attempt to distill what it means to integrate creativity into your life without division or separation. It’s a mindset that enables you to expand your vision regardless of whether you have a camera in your hand or not. In that sense, I hope it appeals not only to nature photographers, but anyone who wants to explore the creative path.


The book is available here on this website in PDF, Mobi, and iBooks formats, and also on


Buy the book on this site and also receive as a bonus – 3 Creative Guide Companion Guides that give you more resources to develop the most creative life possible.


I’m really excited about this book, and while sales are encouraging and helpful, my real goal is help you live a more fulfilled, creative life. If you’re passionate about photography or art in general, then creating meaningful work is really all that matters.

Thanks for your support and for continuing to motivate me to share my thoughts and ideas here on the blog.

Get Your Copy and the Bonus Guides Here

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