As a landscape photographer, you are always at the mercy of nature and its unpredictability, especially when it comes to weather. It is able to completely transform the mood and feel of a place, even when you think you have seen it all. I enjoy this challenge as it reminds me of my days as a performing musician, and improvising was a skill I practiced endlessly in order to gain confidence and improve my musical abilities.
I do the same in photography, trying to adapt my way of seeing so that I’m not looking for the same types of images, but instead allowing myself to be open to new ideas in unfamiliar situations. So often it’s easy to fall into a routine in terms of composition, color choices, or favoring certain techniques or visual cues. For me it always comes down to how a place feels, what is it about it that intrigues me and what do I want to say or convey in the image to others. While I might usually like high contrast, skies with lots of interesting clouds, and exciting colors, working with what you have at any given moment, and adapting the right mental attitude about the situation is key for me, and more important than the camera I’m using or how many lenses I have available.
I’ve been asked what is my favorite lens, and I honestly don’t have one. First, it depends on the situation and what I’m trying to accomplish, and second, my favorite is the one I have on the camera the moment something exciting and dramatic is happening in front of me. I could say my standard lens is my Canon 17-40mm wide angle, but I often find myself improvising when either I don’t have time to change the lens, or only brought one with me (which I often do more than I care to admit).
This was the case when I made this image, having only brought my 70-200mm zoom lens on a hike up to the summit of Mt Beacon on a rainy, foggy morning. I do this as an exercise in order to really get to know a particular lens, and also to focus more on “seeing” and less on the gear and its tendency to get in the way. When I found this scene, I wished I had brought a wider lens, but realized I would have to improvise and compose a much “tighter” view of the trees, which I think is what makes the image stronger. Had I used a wider lens, perhaps it would have been too ambiguous, often a sign of a weak image.
One of the phrases I repeat to students in my workshops is “if you can’t state what an image is about in a single phrase or sentence, then it’s too busy”. I first heard about this idea from a great book by Brenda Tharp, and it has stuck with me ever since, always in the back of my mind when I’m photographing. It was certainly on my mind this particular morning, and I tried to apply it as I worked to get just the right balance of trees, ground, and fog.
Mysterious yet familiar, this is what I felt and tried to capture, opposing ideas, yet so clear to me that moment.