Growing up in Oregon, it is difficult not to love the outdoors. The state of Oregon is one of the most geographically unique and diverse places in the world. The state is divided into two distinct regions – The western section is classified as a Marine Temperate zone, bordered by the Pacific Ocean, characterized by deep, lush forests and productive farmland, stereotyped by the rain. The eastern section a Continental Steppe, filled with sagebrush, juniper trees, huge basalt flows, and dry lakes. The Cascade Mountains, the boundary between these regions, forms a wall with an average elevation of 5,000 ft. with several of its’ glaciated peaks reaching 9,000 to 11,000 ft. above sea level. To top all of this off, the mighty Columbia River has cut its’ way through this amazing land. Just about any kind of landscape or environment can be experienced here.
In the Beginning…
There always seemed to be photography around while I was a child. My parents typically had a camera with us when we traveled. In my early teens, my dad would occasionally buy me a few rolls of film and let me use his 35 mm camera. I usually would try taking photos of the moon through my small telescope, time-lapse photos of the city lights or stars, or “special effects” photos of my model toys. In high-school, I took a photography class and learned the basics of developing and printing. Still, the subjects were rather mundane – family, friends, bicycle and auto racing.
My grandparents had a coffee table with the obligatory photography books on it – we were fortunate that Ray Atkeson’s “Oregon” had been recently printed . First printed in 1968, “Oregon” was the first large format photographic book with color plates on our state and it was a trend-setting book in regional publishing. I can remember looking through “Oregon” and later “Oregon II” (1974) while at my grandparents home. In 1988, twenty years after the release of “Oregon”, I met Ray Atkeson and was able to spend a little time with him. He was very willing to answer all my novice questions. He had an enthusiasm about sharing his knowledge of photography that I hope to carry on myself. It is a memory that I will always treasure.
Ansel Adams and the Range of Light
Looking through some old Popular Photography magazines during the mid-eighties, I read an article on Ansel Adams. In the 1930’s, Adams set a new standard for all photographers, regardless of style or format. I was amazed at the range and vision of his photographs. I rushed out to find one of his books. “Yosemite and the Range of Light” was the first of many Adams books I read. It was the first major monograph of Adams’ work and included 50 illustrations from his photographs printed in the finest half-tone process of the time. I was soon introduced to the Adams’s Zone System for film development and his fine-art printing through Adams’ other books. I immediately stopped trying to find the best method for push-processing high speed films and did an 180 degree turn and began using slow-speed, fine-grained 35 mm films like Agfa Pan 25 and Kodak Technical Pan.
I began to create images rather than merely record scenes, to capture images in my mind, and place them onto paper for others to see. They were certainly Adams inspired – everyone has to start somewhere. I’ve never been good at drawing or painting, and I did not have the interest to continue my musical studies, so photography seemed like the needed artistic outlet.
As an environmental chemist, I appreciate how landscape photography is multi-disciplinary. I recognize how landscape photography is able to combine several disciplines and interests of mine – chemistry, physics, geography, geology, astronomy, and the environment – into one activity. Landscape photography utilizes both the analytical skills of the scientist and the passion and design of the artist. It requires one to learn how a camera “sees” the world, how contrast and light interplay, and how colors are recorded on color or black and white film.
It is the artist’s eye, however, that ultimately creates great landscape photographs. As I began to photography seriously in the mid-1980s, I chose to use large format cameras for my landscape work. The larger imaging area, the upside-down image on the ground-glass, the requirement to use a tripod – I believe that all of these factors help me make stronger, more interesting, and more contemplative photographs. Also, I find I am much more selective as to what I will photograph when using a large-format camera due to the time and effort required to set it up. It had better be an interesting image if one is going to spend 15 minutes or more to take a picture. Snapshots are rarely taken with large format cameras.
A Moment In Isolation
I’ve found that learning to isolate crucial aspects of the scene is quintessential to capturing the desired image – building interest in the subject by excluding or minimizing the distracting elements in the frame. It is common for the novice to try and shoot the “Grand Landscape”, often the most challenging of all landscape subjects. They will typically use a wide-angle lens to capture everything in sight. This is often a mistake. The eye will pick out the elements that make a sunset or landscape interesting or pleasing, but when the same view is transferred to film it loses something in the translation. The skill of photographic seeing is being able to identify the real subject of the potential photograph and to isolate that. This is what I’ve found makes the most successful images. My goal is to capture the scene as my eyes see it – within the limitations imposed by the camera, lens, and film. To isolate, to compose, to capture the emotion, and to record a personal impression of the moment.
Getting to Know You
I often research places that I photograph by reading travel or hiking books, studying maps of the area, and looking for work by other photographers that have gone before. Sometimes this leaves some preconceived ideas of what will be found. These preconceived ideas can often be photographically dangerous – you may be looking for that one idea while other equally good images are getting away. So I try to have an open mind when going into a new area. I consider myself to be successful if I come away with one image that I like when traveling into a new area. I find my best photos are usually from areas with which I am familiar. It is kind of like being handed a new camera and expecting to create a great image – a familiar landscape will generally produce better photos than an unfamiliar one. I find myself returning to southern Utah, becoming intimately acquainted with several places there. Returning is like visiting an old friend and photographing there is more rewarding with every trip.
Discovering Mother Nature
I enjoy how landscape photography helps one to better appreciate the outdoors and the world around us. In todays world of instant gratification, nature photography forces one to slow down and observe what surrounds you. When out photographing, I am constantly looking for interesting subjects. These range from the “Grand Landscape” to what some call “Microcosms” – the small details of nature. I now see things that I would certainly have missed without having had a camera with me. While I know that the limits of lens and film will never match the intrinsic beauty of nature that the eye sees, I still enjoy the challenge of trying to capture some of these moments and sharing them with others.
A Challenge Accepted
The greatest challenge for the modern landscape photographer is to find new and exciting ways of presenting land forms that may have been already photographed – sometimes to death. Some photographers are compelled to travel to the ends of the earth and then to the top of it’s highest peaks in search of unique images, thus avoiding this difficult challenge. Others are content to look in their own backyards. I once had someone comment that the best one can hope for when photographing recognizable subjects (i.e. in Yosemite or the Tetons), is “interesting weather”. While this certainly does help sometimes, I think there is more to it than merely the weather. Several aspects must come together to make a successful landscape image – lighting, contrast, shape and form, perspective, composition, and view. It is capturing a unique moment, an instant that is congruous, balanced, and harmonious.
Nothing More, Nothing Less
None of the photographs presented on this web site have had the content digitally altered from the original scenes. I believe that nature and landscape photographers owe the viewer of their work a natural view of nature. These images should reflect the compositional elements of the actual scene.
In the 1990s, there was a line of greeting cards with some very beautiful nature shots published by a very famous magazine. The submission guideline from the publisher stated, “We are always looking for that special moment in time; one that can’t be readily duplicated.” Yet several of these cards have the Moon in places that were not physically possible. These images are certainly “one(s) that can’t be readily duplicated” – they represent “moments in time” that never existed! And while these interesting images were probably not created digitally (due to the age of the images), I believe this type of manipulation of the image cheats the viewer when presented as nature photography and should not be presented as such.
I do not want to place this blame on the technology of digital imaging, but I ask other nature and landscape photographers to present this genre of photography fairly and without deception. It is a disservice to trick the viewer by presenting synthetic images without proper identification and then represent it as ‘nature’. This can only compromise the integrity of the medium and the photographer.
Finally, I would like to thank those who helped me in this adventure – My wife Jeanne, without who much of this would not be possible. She unendingly supports my photographic endeavors and she shares my love of nature and traveling. My friend Phil, for being my unofficial photo-editor, past sherpa, and a fellow photography enthusiast. My friend Brian, for helping in the early day by loaning me enlargers and the first large format camera I used. My friend Ruth, for proofreading, offering much encouragement, and being my first benefactor. And finally, my parents, Dick and Letha, for their constant support in all my endeavors.
I hope that you have enjoyed viewing the photographs here as much as I have enjoyed taking them.