The Nature of Landscape Photography
I wanna talk a little bit about the power in nature and how that affects our pictures and us personally, and it includes the influences we have, getting to know the landscape, which is really important. At some point, you have to bond with it, and then of course, the nature of the nature, which I'll explain later. So this is a picture I took years ago. It was my first trip across country from Santa Barbera to Maine, and it took it out of the, I think I was looking right through the windshield of the car I was in, but the moment I took it, I realized that a whole bunch of memories flooded back in my head, and I realized that what I was doing was carrying on what I had learned to do. So, it was just one of those moments that I'll never forget because I grew up seeing things like this, had no idea how to portray them or convey them or really I didn't understand them because I was just seeing them. So, this is the first picture that had meaning about what it was that influenced me on that ...
first trip, and another one that has an interesting story is this picture is taken by my father, David, and we were out. He was working on a project for the Westward Expansion Museum, which is under the St. Louis Arch, and these were a series of murals he did on the Lewis and Clark Adventure or Trail. This is Missouri River Breaks, which is one of these obscure places, way out in the middle of nowhere. I had no clue where we were at the time. Well, a couple of things I remember, one was the mosquitoes. It was hot and I had to go walk up to the camper. We had a little, if you've ever seen an Alaskan Camper, it goes up and down, that's what we traveled in. So, I had a bunk on the top, and I just remember all night batting the mosquitoes, pulling the sheet over my head. It was one or the other, get a mosquito bite or be hot, and it was just a constant battle. In addition to that, I remember this moonrise. So I look back and I think that was the first moonrise that I actually remembered. So those are triggers that I think you have to acknowledge because at some point, it affected the way I see a moonrise now and what I want to portray as a photographer. So it also did a couple of other things. All those travels when I was young gave me the idea of the Westward Expanse or the Grand Vast Expanse of the West, and that's something that not every kid gets to see, not every person gets to see, but it is tremendous how big and vast the Western Expanse can be. If you head on out to Nevada, go across Highway 50, I guarantee you will see an expanse, if any of you've ever done that. A lot of sage too. Then, because of that, it keyed something in me to wanna go explore, and that's the ingredient that you have to have in order to get something that is going to make a difference to become that artist in the end, at least I believe. So that was a trigger, as well as then being original. This is kind of the order of things that I attribute to the way that I approach landscape photography. This picture is actually kind of funny. This was taken above, those are the Fisher Towers, which is in Utah, and now if you go to that spot, all the reeds along the river have grown up so high that you really can't see the reflection of the towers in the river. To get to this particular place, I know my father had had to talk to a rancher and the rancher had some little road, and he said, yeah you can go try it out there. I have no idea if you can make it. So it was one of those exploratory scouting missions, but it was something that my father had had in his head that he needed to line this up, the geometry of where the river lined up with the Fisher Towers and the La Sal Mountains. So all of that came together, fortunately, on a piece of property that the rancher was able to share. So, that gives us the impression or at least me that it's always going to be greener on the other side. That's one of the things that leads me as I go on looking through all these crazy, different places and probably getting into more trouble than not, but you really have to think that. You have to believe that there's something better around the corner because that's what's gonna give you the enticement to go. That's what encouraged me to start surfing. I live in Santa Barbara, California, and I went into surfing and I went into snow-skiing combined with mountaineering, as well, I did a lot of rock climbing early on. It got me motivated to climb, and finally photograph. So it was kind of a big inspiration in my life, and that was because of the nature and my connection with it. The good thing is that as I've mentioned, my parents were a big integral part in allowing me to participate in that. They didn't get in the way. Of course, they wanted me to go to school and learn, but on the other hand, they really wanted me to be motivated and allow nature to influence me. It's hard to sit still when you're a kid and watch things, and nowadays, we have time lapses to speed nature up, but in the end, you really have to wanna bond on your own with a specific place, and that's where I think the key to nature photography is. However, it doesn't have to all be by yourself, and one of the things that I enjoy doing, and I always have enjoyed doing is including friends, going on climbs with friends as well, and in some cases, models who become friends. So the wilderness is really, as I've said, to be shared. You don't have to be alone. If you're a social being and you wanna share these things when you're there, that's great, and not only that, but it makes for great pictures as well. When you go out and you go photograph, I think a lot of times, we're given even more inspiration and incentive when we're with friends. I've always had a great time because I've had friends that were interested in climbing that were also interested in photography. So we had like interests. Speaking of climbing, there were a bunch of things that I learned from climbing. You could say that climbing is just because it's there, but it's really a lot more than that. At least it was for me, and climbing taught me a lot of things about (laughs) believe it or not, organization. We had to organize everything so that we would eat while we went all the way up the mountain, and this is actually a picture taken on Rainier, the north side. We did this climb back a bunch of years ago. It's off Liberty Ridge, if you know Mount Rainier. It's one of the climbs on the north side. So it doesn't look too organized, but believe it or not, you have to have everything in order to get up that mountain and over it because it's that big. We actually ended up, and talk about determination, one of my climbing partners on the trip, we had climbed Mount Hood, lost his crampons on the slopes of Mount Hood, but of course, he didn't realize it until we were all over on the side of Mount Rainier, (laughs) on Paradise. So randomly, we're standing there on Paradise, which is on the other side of the mountain, and we had to drive around and start the climb the next morning. So somebody was walking by and I just randomly said, "Hey, you don't happen to have a spare "pair of crampons, do you," kind of jokingly, and it happened to be woman ranger, and she looked up and said, "Well, you know what, "maybe my boyfriend does." (laughs) So we followed her around to her cabin, she pulled out a pair of crampons, gave him the crampons, we were a little late, but we drove all the way around to the Carbon River Glacier, which is way down in the bottom of this canyon at about 2,000 feet, and the rest of the two days, we spent climbing 12,000 vertical feet to the top of Mount Rainier. So I know that there's quite a bit of determination in all of us to get that done. It also affected me because we're all afraid of certain things, whether it's failure or the risk of travel or the risk of a rock falling on our head. That's a very real risk when you're talking about mountain climbing. So one of the things that always happens when you climb is you look at these risks as more of a calculated risk, and there are certain climbs that you can go on where the calculated risk is irrelevant, it's just crazy. Well, I learned quickly how to pick routes so that it wasn't an absolutely crazy route, but even so, this was one of the shots I took on that trip. This is late in the afternoon and we were camped down below up at the base of the final climb and this enormous avalanche came off the side of the mountain, and it made me realize that we were actually quite smart about where we put our tent 'cause some other climbers were way up the hill and they were gonna get a head start in the morning, but that avalanche came down and stopped about 100 yards from their tent, which is why we kept our camp where it was, so calculated risks. It also is a good lesson for me in focus because when you're climbing, you really have to pay attention. If you slip, you really truly may die. It keeps everything in very clear focus. A couple of lessons that I learned from very important people, VIPs. One was my father and I think he taught me more than anything about the eye and what you see, and that's the essence in addition to why we're here and finding your eye will come up next but essentially, he had a very clear idea about what he wanted to photograph, and just watching him over the years, he didn't really say this but it just happened as I would watch and observe what he was doing. He kind of had a vision of this incredibly intricate world that lived right at your feet and he wanted to show that with the mountains and the environment in the background. So he would create a near-far look, and that was his so-called signature style, which he carried with him throughout his career, and he used a 4 x 5 camera, which had the ability to capture that similar to what we use today, maybe a tilt-shift lens. My mother, she taught me a lot about scale, and the reason this happened is she was a graphic designer and she met my father at a place called Art Center College of Design in LA, and they created many, many books. So what my mother's job was to put these books together and lay them out so that there was some interest in addition to the pictures. She couldn't take away from the pictures, but it's the scale of the size of the pictures and where they go according to the page and the layout. That's all very important as we get to composition later on. You'll see how that makes a big difference. What school taught me, well I think the most important lesson about school was how to be critiqued, and it was a good thing I was a climber because, like I said, I could manage the fear, (laughs) the fear of failure, and truly, every week, we had critiques, and that's something that you have to be real about this. If you turn in a picture or show somebody a picture and you show it to the right person, they're gonna say, aw, it's beautiful, that's nice, but you show it to somebody that really can discern it or that doesn't like you maybe and they might tell you the truth. Hopefully, they like you and they tell you the truth, and that's the hard part, but a good critique is the best. What I taught myself, well that was really digital because when I went to school it was all film. The equipment was different. I learned a trade, like I mentioned earlier, and then of course the trade changed. That included quite a bit of work and quite a bit of time and experimentation. I don't even think that if you know color spaces, people hadn't even thought of color spaces at that time. What was SRBG, Adobe RGB? All that stuff was being invented just recently, and then of course, what nature taught me. The most important, and that is sometimes you just have to sit still, put the camera down, close your eyes and listen. Believe it or not, we get so used to running through things, being in our normal pace, especially in the city, that this will make a big difference. I'm not saying you're gonna find your greatest pictures this way, but there are times when I've been out and I have to literally stop and close my eyes and just listen to what's going on. Put that equipment down. Don't even think about it. Just try to concentrate on what's happening around you and sometimes, those little noises will make a difference in getting your attention to focus on something that you didn't even know was there. I love this picture. This was taken in the back country, in the mountains right behind Santa Barbera. It's some UCSB students up watching the full lunar eclipse, and this is a time when cell phones are just great because at least they're there. I think maybe 5, 10 years ago without cell phone cameras, they wouldn't have the encouragement to go up to a place like this and watch it, but now with cell phones, you can come up and get a great shot and share it instantly. I think it's truly a good incentive. Cell phones and social media are not all that bad. As far as sitting still, this is an example. I was out on the coast of Santa Cruz and it was kind of a clear night. There wasn't a whole lot of clouds atmosphere. It wasn't very exciting. So I was getting a little frustrated, couldn't find a picture, tried all of the compositional rules, thinking about my equipment, putting on different lenses, just couldn't find anything. So I sat down. I kind of stumbled into that place to sit, and as I was sitting there, I realized, there's some birds flying around out there and not only just a couple but a lot of birds. So as I kept watching, I realized that this was kind of unusual because I've seen birds flying by in the ocean and then all of a sudden, I kept watching and I realized, wow, that's a big flock of birds. So I put on the long lens. I have a micro 4/3 camera as a separate additional camera, which has a 300 to 600 lens, believe it or not. So that's how I got the shot. So I ended up getting this great little video of the flock of birds from, I don't know where. I don't know where all these birds come from but they're migrating north. There's a little otter. He's eating something and then of course, right at the end, there's a tiny little green flash. It's kind of small but you get that little bit of green flash. So it all happened because I was just literally listening to the birds, and I realized there was something out there besides what I was trying to find. Speaking of that, I think that's one of the lessons that learned from watching wildlife. I now take people to Africa and on safari. I have learned more about the wilderness and wild animals than ever before, and one of the things that stands out to me or stood out, especially at the time, was how their life depends on finding food. So they are keen on observing, and this is a female cheetah, and with her son, and she's sitting up on a termite mound, and she's out looking for some food. That's literally all she's doing, and she does in different termite mounds, going from one mound to the next. Well, sometimes, there's a tree. So she's climbing the tree. Again, she's trying to find something out there because what she's looking for is really something that's in the grass. You can't see it from grass level. In this case, it's a hyena. Sometimes, it's an impala. Whatever it is, she's up getting the highest view she can get so she can find these things. Well, what's happened recently is in the Mara, as trucks come around, if this was a termite mound right here, she's standing on it, trucks will come up and park around her to observe her and watch. It's called a siting, and it's a fascinating time, and this particular female cheetah realized that as she's sitting on the termite mound, these darn Jeeps are getting in her way. So she's just gonna go run up and jump on top of the truck. Now this is the son and he's kind of looking down and wondering what the heck is going on in there, and it's one of our photographer participants sitting there going, oh please, be nice. (laughs) I'm really good, but actually, they're so keen on what's going on, they don't even care about you. They came into your space at that time, so it's a setting that is very scary, and I'm not sure it will continue. I don't think the guides, and we've had long discussions about this, the guides should probably not continue doing this 'cause you never know what's gonna happen. It's ironic though because when you're observing wildlife you don't wanna get in their way and change their habits, but there's no way around it. In this case, if you're watching them, she's actually taking advantage of you and getting in your way, if you will, to get her job done or their job done in this case. Then once they realize they haven't seen anything, it's just off and away they go running. I love this picture 'cause I don't get a shot of a cheetah strapped to the side of a safari vehicle that often. (audience laughs) It's not just Africa though. I've been in many places where I'm sitting still, either waiting or I'm tired from climbing and that's when you see the wildlife. This was a mountain goat, came up literally, I was taking pictures waiting for the rain to go by and he just laid down right on top of that rock. I think it was his territory, but he really wasn't scared of me. So the nature of the nature in landscape photography, just for a minute, let me share a couple of concepts that I know you're probably familiar with but there is that old factor of adversity. You're gonna be out in inclement weather, different places, who knows what you're gonna see, who knows what you're gonna experience. That's really all part of it, and the truth is is that, sometimes, it's a test. It's a test of our patience. It's a test of our ability to have some sort of vision of what might happen, and I've seen people literally just break down. They've been out in the weather for two or three days, they've saved up their money to go photograph to a special place, and that happens, and it's quite frustrating. So at some point, you have to ask yourself, is this something that is valuable to me and is it that valuable so that I'll put up with all of this adversity? Some people just aren't made for it, truly. It's not for everybody. This is actually me climbing up a hill, taken by a friend. It's just a lot of work to get out to some of these places, and the landscapes are big and the trails are rough, but, in the end, all that work makes it worthwhile. Don't mess with the thorns. I know it's kind of gruesome. (laughs) I took this picture years ago of an art director who followed me to get out to a certain beach in the Bahamas and I had actually known that these plants had jiggers and thorns, but apparently he didn't. So he didn't avoid the thorns, but essentially, you never know what you're going to get into. Really, in order to do this, you've got to love it, and you've got to have some kind of idea of what you're gonna get because you could be sitting there for days. As I talk, there's many times where you're gonna be out in a place and you're not gonna get what you thought, and no matter what you think, you certainly cannot change the weather. I've had many times where I'm sitting there, hoping that if I do the little dance, somehow the weather dance, the sun will come out, whatever it is, you just start going crazy because the weather will do that. It's a test of your patience. That's really one of the key elements is that you have to be able to find enough energy and enough inspiration somewhere so that you can deal with that. Then again, the nature of the photography itself, not just the nature of the nature. You have to accept that change, that adversity, every single day. This I've learned more through giving photography workshops than anything else because a lot of times, everybody wants a schedule, and we're used to in our lives going by those schedules. Of course, that just doesn't happen out there. So it's very difficult to break from that and deviate from those planned schedules, but it's all based on the weather. This is what we want when we go to the Caribbean and we all wanna see this great, sunny day, but this is what happens often. This can only be for an hour, like I said, it could be two days. I call it paying your dues. I think everybody has to. I've been fortunate over the years. My dad thinks somehow, I'm lucky. I would agree with him. I've been in places where photographers have been waiting a long time, and I show up and the weather gets good. I've also had the opposite. The weather's great, they caught the big fish, should've been here yesterday, and the weather is no good when I get there, but that's part of the fun. That's part of the adventure. So speaking of change, I mentioned earlier that I went from film to digital, and I know change is one of those things that we have a hard time with, and I actually had a very hard time with some of it, but definitely not the change from film to digital. I look at it as a cleansing. So this is a picture of me buried under all of my 4 x 5 transparencies and 2-1/4 transparencies. Basically, you can see the tape on the backs of those. I had some assistance in creating these, but what you have to do to create that transparency is first you have to take the picture. Then you have to get it processed, and then once you get it processed, you have to edit it, cut it into strips, and once you cut it into strips, then you have to mount it and tape it to the back of that cardboard mount. Then you hand-write a caption on the front of it or type it, once we got computers. So there's thousands and thousands of hours in creating these transparencies. My father did the same thing. I'm talking three million transparencies that he created over his career and hand-wrote on most of those captions. So of course, that's what I was gonna do. That's what my dad did. So when digital came around, it was like Hallelujah. (laughs) I don't need to do that. I don't need to create those transparencies anymore. Speaking of change, you guys recognize this mountain? It's been a while, but St. Helens. St. Helens erupted back in the day, and I was in, I think, high school and we went there though before it erupted. Basically, we rented a little boat from, I think his name was Truman.
Harry Truman, thank you, and he owned the lodge, which is just barely visible on the other side of the lake. I remember going into the little cabin, and I didn't know who he was, but he comes rocking out and along with him came four or five cats that jumped on the counter. There was nobody in the place. The cats were eating off food trays on the side of the counter, and it was just really kind of funky, but that's how he operated his business. So my dad asked him to rent a boat so that we could go all the way to the other side for him photograph this shot. So when I think about change, I always realize that sometimes you just don't have to change, and obviously he was a good example of that because everybody told him, you wanna leave now. The mountain is going to erupt and it's probably gonna bury you. Certainly it erupted, and he didn't leave, as you know. So he's still under that mountain somewhere. So that, I'll always remember as part of the factor that sometimes when we have the ability to know what we're doing and the confidence, we don't have to change. I'm not saying be buried by a volcano, but most of the time, you really wanna just deal with it and get out there because often times, in that adversity comes our best times and our best opportunities to take these pictures. When the weather is wet and wooly, those are the memorable times. Not always when it clears or when it starts coming in, but when it's really at the peak of it's nastiness. This is actually an on-camera flash hitting some snowballs. It's not ash from St. Helens. (audience laughing) I realized the sequence of that may have been confusing. So we wanna take advantage of this because if you're out there and if you're participating in all of this, then really what's gonna happen is that eventually you will see that luck, and that luck is what we want because then that kind of christens us, all the work that we've done, we've paid our dues, and then we get something that's quite special. The reason I bring it up and talk about luck is I went on a hiking trip with my sons and good friend up in Sitka last year, and we had really no particular plan. We wanted to cross the island to get from one side of the island, it's called Baranof Island to the other. It's about a three-day expedition and in the process, clouds came in really thick. So we couldn't go all the way across the island. We had to deviate to plan B. With all those clouds and fog, we thought, well, we're just not going to get anything. So we went up a different ridge, and over the course of the next 24 hours, when we weren't really specifically caring about what the weather was doing, because we had given up our plans to go across the island, then of course, right as the sun went down, the fog cleared, and I'll show you some other pictures of the same trip, but after the sun went down, both my friend and I like to think that we're quite up on when the moon cycles are occurring so that we can capture the full moon. We had no idea the moon was full that night. So, the moon came up and we enjoyed a very lucky evening.