Rocks and Huckleberry, Dolly Sods Wilderness, West Virginia.
Hi everyone and welcome to today’s post. Last week was quite busy. I made a quick photography trip into the West Virginia highlands with my shooting buddy, Mark Muse, and zipped up to New York to attend the PDN Photo PLus Expo. Both trips were exciting and fun but on different levels. Mark has been trying to get me up to the WV mountains for quite some time and quite honestly I have been somewhat resistant. Sometimes you can get into a mode of sameness which amounts to nothing more than excepting that which is more comfortable. I have spent the majority of my recent photography time in the west shooting slot canyons, deserts, and shorelines. These are subjects I love and which I have developed an affinity for shooting. My biggest complaint to Mark was West Virginia has too many trees. Now this may seem odd to all of you because after all, isn’t all landscape photography viable in all its varied forms? The fact is that I find many western landscapes, of the type I shoot, easier to isolate. By this I mean that I am able to distill the view into a series of images that simplify the subject matter. Foreground, middle ground, and background all seemed to fall easily in to place. And of course there was no end to repeating shapes, leading lines, and other compositional elements. Subject matter here on the east coast, however, just seemed to elude me. Too many trees, too much complexity, and too much noise.
There is a complexity to Mark’s work that I have always admired. He takes these complex scenes and dials into them revealing the microscopic structure of the landscape-the trees, branches, stems, twigs, and leaves. They are a marvel of detail and subtlety. I love the images but at the same time hate them. Now before you think this harsh, my hate comes from my own internal roadblocks, my own inability to allow myself to see what Mark was seeing. I could see it in his finished work but with a camera in my hand, walking the landscape, the view was noise, not unlike the static of a TV set when the picture goes out.
The solution to this problem was easy. Just keep shooting what I like, and find comfortable, and my world will be fine. But the world, at least my world, does not work this way. Seeking the comfortable and avoiding the difficult will stifle growth. To continue to grow as photographers we must except new challenges. We must go into the landscapes we fear and confront them. Before I go further there are other things to consider. My “way” of shooting, and Mark’s way, are both outgrowths of our collective experiences, gleaned throughout our lives. Pretty heavy, I know, but it is true. What and how I see are different than Mark’s, and in fact, different than all the other photographers shooting today. Everyone one of us is drawn to different aspects of what we shoot. The patterns, textures, colors, light, compositional elements, compositional style, capture methods, processing methods, etc inform the what, how, where, and when of what we shoot. What I am getting at here is difficult to describe. The challenge for me was to not shoot what Mark shoots because that is not me. The challenge was to find my own voice, utilizing my experiential experiences, and vision, all in a landscape where I often wander with eyes wide open, like a deer in headlights, never taking the camera out of my pack.
Today’s image is one of many I took on my recent sojourn into the unknown. And guess what. The fear of the unknown is irrational. I did find much of the landscape daunting but this is a result of my unfamiliarity with my shooting locations. I don’t like everything I shot but I did break down some barriers of my preconceptions and find some compelling images and compositions I could appreciate. This image was taken at Dolly Sods, a wilderness area located at 4000 feet above sea level, on the Allegheny Front. It is a sub-alpine landscape of spruce forests, bogs and wetlands, and rock outcrops. Bear Rocks, located on the northern end, was our second stop during the shooting trip. To say that I only loved the place would not do it justice. It was fantastic. We had beautiful light, dappled and hazy, almost arctic like, with high cirrus clouds. It was complex and noisy but I found structure in the fantastic rocks that could anchor my compositions. Study this image and you can see many of the elements I talk about in my blog posts. I found many successful images that evening and I know that I missed quite a few. But that will draw me back. Yes fear of the unknown is irrational.
Technical Details: This image was shot with a Nikon D3x and a Nikkor 17-35mm at 17mm. The image was exposed at ISO 100 at f11 for 1/2 of a second. A 3-stop Singh-Ray, soft edge, split neutral density was used to balance the sky and foreground exposure. The RAW image was processed in Lightroom and finished in Photoshop.