Sunset, Kirkjufellsfoss Iceland
Each landscape photograph captures one specific location with its geology, weather, quality of light ... feeling. Someone stood there, framed the moment, pulled the trigger. If the process goes well, the composition and post production will evoke the photographer's experience of that spot. And for me, each creative choice (and there are many) should enhance that sense of connection, of immersion in Nature.
That's why I travel to locations where the spirit of nature is thick and evocative. My images are (often) of "iconic" locations from the Southwest or Iceland to China -- or my own creative backyard, the California coast. But location and image capture are just the starting point. Like a good chef, I then make sure my design elements (ingredients), are sampled, blended into an intriguing image.
I don't create photo composites, throwing in visual elements that weren't there. I don't use the JPG file either, that version of the image is shaped by the camera maker's algorithms. I start with an untouched Raw file and pull out its secrets. This post prod alchemy is where I take each high def photograph and with Photoshop and Lightroom's painterly techniques, create a mixed genre art work. Each image becomes a kind of tone poem, a journety to a mythinc landscape.
Not everyone gets what my art pieces doing if they aren't attentive. But take the time and it's almost like you're seeing this scene with a pair of 3D glasses. At some level, the viewer feels themselves there at that waterfall in Iceland. In fact, these landscapes encourage the eye to explore that location more and more with every visit. Then over time, that Iceland waterfall works it's spell from the living room mantle or the child's bedroom. And the charm of that faraway spot seems to flow into the home.
Evening on the Arno, Florence
These photographic works are squarely in the landscape tradition of Ansel Adams and David Muench. Like them, I spend hours at the shot location, breathing the place in. Then out of that experience, I create classically composed images. Like Ansel Adams, I make subtle adjustments to the style and texture of the image in post production, to give the viewer the immersive sense of "being there" that I experienced.
The kind of approach uses visual elements to shape perception in much the way musical notes shape aural perception ... to deliver inner experience. We humans have a million years of being in Nature, it’s coded all over our DNA. And with the right artistic choices, we can trigger those archetypal associations that an ocean scape or mountain meadow provides.
The style of these works is my own, developed through years of exploration. The subtle painterly approach and heightened sense of visual depth have been called "plein air photography." And like landscape painting, it can provide an immersive realism that encourages the viewer to enter and explore that iconic location. The end result is an image that’s closer to how our two eyes experience reality than what the camera provided.
Each artist has their own influences; each a channel to that person’s inner creativity. Here are some of my core influences:
Travel DNA We traveled a lot as a family. My dad was an Army officer and both my parents were army brats. So every two years, we’d up and move to a new state (plus Taiwan and the UK). These days I tend to soak up my photo locations almost like a local photog would, learning locations over time, breathing that new overlook in, sharing an experience of nature. ... Good work if you can get it.
Math and Physics. I had a couple of great teachers in high school. They couldn't turn me into a scientist. But they showed me that the forces of physics underpin the physical world, geology, nature, color and light. And over the years I've gotten better at seeing these processes at work in the ocean waves or the settings on a camera or formal composition. Nature is perfect, orderly if we can see it whole. There's an art to nature, music ... and math.
Bierstadt painting, Hudson River School Chinese Pen and Ink Landscape
Landscape Painting as Awe Discovering the Hudson River School was important to me. I was in my teens with no thought of art or technique. But I loved those expansive images of America and their philosophy: that landscape can evoke awe. At about that time, I came across art books of ancient Chinese landscapes: those vast mountain places created by inky landscape wash over an empty canvas. I loved the fact that a Zen or Taoist painter could use a few spare brush strokes to evoke emptiness, inner silence. All that spoke to my interest in Eastern philosophy and meditation. Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell's research got me involved with visual archetypes, and how various spiritual traditions use art to evoke awareness and insight. ... And I started seeing engagement with nature in more spiritual terms.
The Theater Path Getting an MFA in Theater was what schooled me in the arts. Acting, directing, play writing, these are arts that have "levels to the game." And after a few years of learning theater as a vocabulary, a toolbox of skills, as technique, I was way more tuned into how artists bring a creative vision into the physical world.
Over time I found that many of these performance techniques could be replicated in photography. Actors and directors create an emotive reality through the "willing suspension of disbelief." But photos can also have subtext and a dramatic thread and artistic power. Each image carries human experience if the artist shapes the visual elements just so.
Post Production Technology Ansel Adams is famous for using the latest post techniques to darken or lighten parts of an image. These days, adjustment brushes in Photoshop can take Ansel to the n-th degree. And it's all done with digital adjustment brushes that use subtle algorithms to add texture, contrast, sharpness, color to an image. These tools can compensate for the camera’s limitations or shape mood or take us to another universe. Post work has become how the photographic artist define his or her style. "Oh, brave new world..."
William R Stone, 19th Century, British Tim Truby, Hof Sod Church, Iceland Portfolio
19th Century Painting My current exploration has been plein air landscape painting technique. I don't have the hand (or years it would take) to be a great painter. But I've become intrigued by how Turner and Monet used brush and paint to turn blank canvas into personal vision. The plein air classes I've done helped my understand how much of a painter's brushstroke process can be adapted to the current post prod software.
Iconic Locations Being out somewhere shooting Monument Valley, Kirkjufellsfoss, Grand Teton, Isle of Skye – that’s what it’s all about. If I’m going to create a sense of awe, I need to be in a place that inspires. And all the landscapes I photograph are spots that touch me. Some are Instagram favorites, some are no more than a road pull-off. But the act of breathing in a photo location, seeing the changing light and weather, capturing spirit of it within the frame, that’s the magic.