Partly Sunny, 31 Degrees, Light Easterly Winds.
A lovely raft of thin clouds formed a rumpled quilt overhead this morning. There were many small patches of blue poking through the quilting and the sun shone through weakly and intermittently. Temperatures still cling stubbornly to winter but with the attractive clouds and the sun, it was a pleasant morning for walking.
With the pretty broken cloud cover overhead, I decided to shoot tree branches again today. You may be wondering why I appear to be obsessed with these branches, but I love the incredibly variable designs they create and the wide variety of shapes and color they take on, depending on species. I’ve been attracted to the idea of branches printed in large format and set off against beautiful creamy watercolor paper.
You may be noting a trend toward obsession with a couple of subjects over the previous week or two. I think this is typical of artistic process. We get ahold of an idea that speaks to us and we pursue it doggedly to whatever conclusion we come to. Something in me loves both the bark and the branches and I’m going to pursue them until I either have something wonderful, or I conclude that the ideas just don’t work.
The latter is a distinct possibility with this or any artistic idea, but you’ve got to follow your instincts or you never get to something that really speaks to and of you. With luck, it will also speak to others but, oddly enough, that isn’t as important as finding something that speaks to the artist themselves. The public can’t be relied on to like or understand what you’re after. Just look at Van Gogh. He never sold a painting in his life and now his paintings are the most valuable in the world.
It’s also true that there’s not a lot else happening in the woods until the leaves start to come out and wildflowers start to appear. I’ve shot the few scenic spots on this walk a lot, and it just doesn’t offer enough variety to spend a lot of time shooting it any more. I almost always take at least a shot or two because the change in seasons will be apparent in the shots. This time of year is just not the most scenic.
I had a nice little surprise this morning as I was walking down the trail that parallels the dirt road. A big tom turkey (a wild one of course) was strutting down the road in plain view. He was a beauty, with his dark wings, red wattle, and prominent comb. There were no hens with him, at least not that I could see.
He cooperated by walking right down the road past me, but I didn’t have a terribly long lens on and there was a fair amount of brush between us. I hope I have something that at least gives an impression of him, but I know I won’t have any clear shots.
Surprisingly, Jamie, who was walking right in front of me, never saw the turkey. He relies much more on his nose than his eyes and the turkey was downwind of us and therefore invisible to him. Of course he also has a much lower viewpoint than I do, so the turkey would have been less visible to him. I’ve noticed this before. He will miss a rabbit that runs across the trail in front of us, but he can smell that a dog has passed hours before, something that I find amazing.
Today I carried with me my extension tubes in order to test them a bit before any shoots or wildflowers appear. There won’t be a lot of flowers in these woods. There is a patch of Lily of the Valley that I know of, but not much else. There’s not even a lot of common flowers like Queen Anne’s Lace or Corn Flowers or Devil’s Paint Brush. There’s not a lot of meadow here and it gets mown just enough to cut down the wildflowers. I will photograph those common wildflowers in nearby locations just for the fun of it, and to keep this blog interesting.
An extension tube is a simple ring of plastic or metal that goes between your lens and your camera body. They contain no glass, so they don’t degrade or darken your images. They are usually sold in sets of varying thickness.
An extension tube is a cheap way to make very close up photographs without buying expensive lenses or degrading your image quality. With an extension tube you can focus anywhere from inches from a subject to virtually touching it. With a long lens you can stand feet away from your subject and have a small subject fill the frame.
They’re fantastic tools for getting interesting imagery of small subjects. Their only problem is that they generally cause a very shallow depth of field. Sometimes this can work and sometimes it’s a problem. If you use a tripod, you can do focus stacking to increase depth of field but I find this to be a pain in the neck. I just try to work with the depth of field and enjoy the effects it generates.
I took a few shots with an extension tube to get a feel for what it’s like again. I had no good subject matter, but I’ll post a shot or two so you can get an idea. I’ll go into a little more depth on using extension tubes in a later post. Without a doubt, I would recommend that you pick up a set for your camera. It opens up a whole new world.
As I think more about what I am, and what I anticipate, photographing I’m less and less sure that this project will yield what I would call fine art. This may be what the owners of the gallery are feeling and I understand it. I’m mostly anticipating documenting the change in the seasons and all of the little things that catch the eye throughout the year. Little of that feels like it’s going to yield capital a Art.
I think the branches and maybe the bark stuff have potential, but I’m not sure about that. Pretty pictures of leaves and flowers and nice, but not extraordinary, pictures of woods remain more literal and documentary than a good gallery is going to be looking for. Art involves either highly distinctive images, subtexts to an image that take it farther, or ideas in an image that go beyond the subject. Or at least that’s what I think and what I think the gallery owners think. That’s a lot of thinking and speculating, but that’s my sense of things.
Thinking farther ahead, I’m not sure I’m at all unhappy about making less than “Art”. I like documenting. I like getting really close to nature. I like wandering the woods, seeing what captures my heart and mind. I think it was the pursuit only of images that I thought might sell in a gallery that snuffed out my interest in photography years ago.
I was constantly passing up photographs that I knew weren’t good enough for sale. Eventually, you don’t want to photograph any more. You lose the simple pleasure of curiosity and exploration and that’s artistic or photographic death.
Right now, if I take a lot of pretty photographs that I can’t sell that’s okay with me. I wish I could make some money while I’m at this, but I can’t think about that or I’ll be back where I was: traveling around the state, getting up before dawn and trying to capture beautiful moments in beautiful places.
Of course even that is not what a good gallery wants. The photograph has to be really original, beautifully composed and lit, and suggestive of deeper meanings. Right now, I don’t want to do that. I just love being in the woods and watching the seasons evolve, observing nature closely and challenging my ability to see freshly on a daily basis for an entire year of daily photography.
I also really enjoy writing about the process. I have no idea whether what I have to say is or might be of interest to anyone other than myself, but somehow I have the feeling that this is a worthwhile undertaking—sort of like photographing bark or tree branches.
Enough for today. I’m eager to see the branch pictures. I’m hoping there are some good things there.