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Canon 1DS Mk III,  1/40 sec @f/8, ISO 200, 150mm, no filters 

The creative process I engage in when I go out to make images is one of the most requested topics on this blog, so I’m happy to share as many experiences as I can. I’ve been super busy working on a few projects lately, so my time to get out has been limited. But I do visit a local marsh on the Hudson River regularly, especially during interesting weather conditions.  It’s a familar location I enjoy returning to again and again.

Winter is always an interesting time to photograph in nature, especially if you enjoy the cold weather—which I do, but my hands and feet, unfortunately, do not! But I do love the strange shapes and forms that occur when water freezes, whether a river, creek or waterfall. Changing tides, temperature fluctuations, and, of course, winter light come together to create an infinite variety of subject matter and opportunities. And for a familiar location, that means it changes how I see and perceive it as well – the origin of any personal interpretation.

This image was made during a recent sunrise visit to this marsh, and at first I was attracted to dramatic  clouds and color that were appearing in the sky overhead. My first instinct was to try and capture the overall landscape, the grand view, with a wide lens. But this particular marsh is a busy place, with lots of distracting elements like trees and wild brush.

I like to put my bag down when I get to a location and just walk around a bit to get an overall sense of a place. How does it feel? What’s going on right now that I can see with my eyes? What’s going inside my head?

This is usually when I pause to take a few deep breaths and let everything settle down, trying to focus and get into a flow.

Often when I’m not sure of where to start, this helps me notice the details and forget the big picture. That’s when I saw these strange ice formations on the waters surface, and as I changed angles, it reflected the beautiful light in the sky. I noticed the change in color from warm to cool, the contrast between the smooth surface of the water and the crystalline, almost broken glass look to the ice. The sound of cracking ice also echoed through the woods in an eerie sort of way. At that point I knew I didn’t have much time before the light faded, so that was the picture I was going to work on.

Framing was a matter of dividing the image diagonally with color, and getting the corners to work using both the ice and the negative space around them. I left in the tree reflections in the upper left to imply scale and add a little variation to the patterns. The most important aspect was to get the foreground as sharp as possible since it’s the texture of the ice that gives the image its depth.

I made about 7 or 8 images before the color in the sky disappeared, trying slightly different compositions, not to mention the ice was moving slowly moving away from me. In the end, it was the second image I liked the most. It best captured what I thought was the story of that morning at the marsh.

What was that story?

Maybe the stillness of the moment surrounded by so much change that happens without us really noticing it. Or maybe I wanted to capture the sound of cracking ice as the tide went through its daily rise and fall. Maybe it’s for the viewer to decide.


Original raw capture in Lightroom, non-adjusted. (click for larger version)


Adjustments in the Basic and Tone Curve panels (click for larger version)


Test print on Canson Infinity Photo Lustre Premium RC

I hope sharing my creative process in the field helps you in your photography. The most important thing to take away is the idea that we need to be receptive to nature before we can make images. Otherwise, it’s just about what we want versus what’s actually happening.

Comments or questions are always welcome – I always love to hear from you.

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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Awesome, thanks for sharing the process with us. I like the part in which you take a deep breath and ask yourself what is really around me and then follow the flow of creativity. I can relate to that as an important part of the process which you have reinforced for me.

    1. Chris – glad you found that helpful, it’s been something I’ve depended on for quite some time, but still have to remember to do regularly. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by nature, and feel like there will not be other opportunities.


  2. It’s always fun and illuminating to hear you talk about your pictures. Again, you demonstrate the value of restraint, e.g., the tone curve and sliders.

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