We had a great first run of the Hudson River School photo workshop this week, and the weather truly cooperated with great light, dramatic clouds, and constantly changing conditions. I much prefer unpredictable weather over stable forecasts, especially on workshops even if it means there’s more risk of rain. It teaches students so much more about awareness of light, working in changing conditions, and dispels the myth that the only great light is at sunrise or sunset. I see so many photographers leave a location after the so called “golden light” time frame, and miss out on great opportunities to capture unique images.
In addition to shooting in some of my favorite locations in the Hudson Valley, much of the workshop was focused on the paintings of the Hudson River School, and how to look at and learn from their interpretations of the landscape. Their use of light and shadow is something we studied and discussed in-depth, and then applied in the field on later shoots. In addition to other compositional concepts, it was the drama and emotion the painters conveyed that really made an impression on students. A highlight was our tour of Olana, the home and studio of Frederic Church, one of the major painters of the movement. Seeing his original paintings in person was great, and definitely provided lots of fresh ideas to all the students.
I thoroughly enjoyed exposing students to the many ways we can learn from painters, and they left the workshop with renewed interest to visit their local landscapes with a different perspective. That for me is really special, because it means we can indeed photograph great landscapes anywhere, not only at an iconic location. Ordinary and mundane subjects become interesting when our frame of mind is open rather than closed. Approaching photography with this way means there’s the potential of interpretation, and not merely capturing a vista. There’s room for the photographer to express his or her vision and way of seeing. When you’re intimately familiar with a landscape, you can connect so much better because it means so much more, like an old friend. That friend for me is the Hudson Valley, but it can be any place that makes you feel special on the inside.
That same connection is what made the painters of the Hudson River School unique. Their passion for the landscape motivated them to hike miles and miles, recording their emotional experiences to the new wilderness of America during the 1800s. We can do the same today. All it takes is commitment to your vision, and the patience to let nature show her true gifts. Taking a workshop where everyone is seeking the same meaning in their work also helps tremendously.
A big thank you to all the students who attended and made it a success. I’ll post some of their photos soon.
Look for an extended and more ambitious version of the workshop in 2015!
My son Bryce getting an early start in landscape photography…and assisting his Dad.