In all my years of printing and teaching printing workshops, the single most important thing…
River Reflections, Hudson Valley (1/4sec, f/16, ISO 100, 19mm)
I’m up at 4:45am and out the door by 5 to arrive at the trailhead at Black Creek Preserve and hike the mile out to the shore of the Hudson. I can’t really stomach any food this early in the morning, so I drink as much water as possible, and stick a few granola bars in my backpack just in case.
I like to arrive at my chosen location at least 30 min before sunrise, so my target is 6am.This gives me time to adjust mentally and physically to the place and moment, always important when creativity has to feel free and uninhibited. I know this location well, so I don’t bother with a headlight, and just use the shadows on the trail to guide me. My eyes adjust to the darkness, and I notice the changing light minute by minute – something that always inspires me regardless of how often I have seen it.
Half way out on the trail, I look up and realize it is completely overcast, a sign that there may not be any light for sunrise. I’m under pressure because I also have an assignment to get some images for Scenic Hudson, and without any light, it will be very difficult to make the image I have in mind.
Should I continue, or turn back? Should I try another location where the light is not as critical? That’s when I realize I’m thinking, instead of just being, open to the moments as they happen, without my own judgements.
Through meditation I’ve become better at realizing when my thoughts become stronger than what is real, and with a deep breath, I come back to the woods around me, the beautiful shadows, the stillness of the air, and I continue towards the river.
The Hudson is almost surreal, like a sheet of glass, and I know it is a special morning regardless of what happens. Beauty is all around me, my senses totally absorbed in the serenity of nature. Then I notice it, the light breaking through the horizon, and minute by minute the sky is transformed in a way that creates anticipation – this is why I’m here.
Shapes, textures, shadows and highlights, reflections, color, warm and cool – so much to take in – experience and react to. I realize I have but a few moments to capture what I’m feeling, so I look for a composition that can somehow balance it all. On my knees I find a vantage point, and I setup my camera and tripod right in front of my eyes.
Quick tip – look for a composition without your camera on a tripod – this provides more freedom to get just the right perspective, and your not distracted with the tripod getting in the way. Once you find your vantage point, setup right there.
This was a difficult exposure, since the light was changing rapidly, and there was extreme dynamic range. BUT, I just loved the feel of the dark rocks and shadows around me as I looked out on the river – this is what I wanted to capture, and I think it is crucial to conveying emotion in the image. I could have used multiple exposures, or even HDR, but the mystery and drama would be missing, at least from my interpretation. As a photographer you must decide what your statement is, then use whatever technique gets you there – not the other way around.
I feel movement and drama, like a symphony, and I want to capture that in the image. So I look for lines that create that visually, from the lower left all the way up to the right- my eyes bounce from one layer to another, and I know this will create rhythm and interest, things I look for in my work. I expose for the highlights since I don’t want to blow out the clouds, and let the shadows fall where they may. Later I can use some fill-light in Lightroom to open them up- ISO 100 means I’m not too worried about noise.
A few minutes pass, the clouds roll back in, the mood is gone- and my work is done.
I share all of this because it is what I experience on almost every shoot where I come away with an image I am happy with. This is what moves me, what makes me excited about nature, and how I am fortunate to be alive. Maybe this is doesn’t resonate with you. That’s ok, but do yourself a favor. Find something that does if you want to make images that are worthwhile to you, and to your viewers.
Without the passion, you will have a difficult time staying motivated, creative, and fulfilled. With passion and practice, anything is possible, including making photographs you can be proud of. And anything else in life as well.