Burning Questions: About Creating My Photographs

March 16, 2022

Recently I asked the people who follow my Facebook Page to ask me anything they liked about my work. The questions broke down into one of about three groups, so to make it more readable, I'm going to break it down into a few different posts.

The sun sets behind a field of sunflowers.

Aroostook Sunset

The sun sets behind a field of sunflowers on a summer evening in Aroostook County, Maine.

What inspires you to make such beautiful photographs?

It's well known that being out in nature has a positive effect on our moods. I'm no exception. Getting out for a walk or a hike, or to watch the sunrise or sunset just makes me feel better. I first began photographing when I was out, just for me, to try and hold onto that feeling a little longer. It turns out, studies show that having landscape prints on your walls have the same positive effect that being in nature does. I imagine looking at the photos I take, and editing them, seeing them on a screen, has a similar effect. So I guess you could say I just keep chasing that calm, tranquil feeling I get being out there.

Sunset on Rodeo Beach, California.

Sunset on Rodeo Beach

Two sea stacks frame the setting sun on Rodeo Beach in Golden Gate National Recreation Area in California.

But also, in sharing my work on social media, I've found many people don't get to see the things I've seen. Maybe they're working, or stuck at home, or otherwise unable to get outside as much. I found I enjoyed sharing these scenes with others, and hopefully being a bright part of their day, if only for a minute. As time went on, I not only wanted to capture these scenes for me, but also for those that I know follow what I do. It makes me happy to be able to do that.

I expanded a bit more on this question in a previous post about why I photograph.


Sunset in Arches National Park.

The Garden of Eden at Dusk

The sky glows from the sunset over a bristlecone pine in the Garden of Eden area of Arches National Park in Moab, Utah.

What do you feel and think when you find that photo in that moment ?

Well, I'll be honest and say there are times when I'm out photographing that I'm completely unsure if I made any worthwhile photos. Like anything else, some days are just harder than others. Some days I feel good and think I got something I'm happy with, and then wind up getting the images on my computer and not really liking them all that much. That said, each of these next four photographs are times when I knew as soon as I clicked the shutter, that I had a photograph I was proud of.

Pemaquid Point Lighthouse stands above the snow-covered rocky Maine coastline.

Newfallen Snow at Pemaquid Point

A blanket of fresh snow covers the rocky shores near Pemaquid Point lighthouse on a cold January morning.

"Newfallen Snow at Pemaquid Point" was taken right after a fresh snow. It was predicted to snow several inches overnight, so I decided sunrise with fresh snow might be good. I hadn't photographed Pemaquid Point in the snow, so I made the drive to the lighthouse and found no one else had been there yet. It was just before dawn. I parked my car and walked in a wide circle down the rocks, careful not to slip, but also careful not to leave any footprints where they might be in any photos I took. I began working from a distance before I moved closer to the lighthouse. This was the very first image I took that morning and I knew immediately it was what I'd hoped to capture. The warm glow on the horizon, soft light on the rocky ridges that make up the coastline there, covered with fresh snow, and the lighthouse beacon ablaze. If I could have directed everything to be that way I don't think I could have done better than what I captured that morning.

West Quoddy Head lighthouse stands in the background as flowers grow in the foreground.

Tall White Asters at West Quoddy Head

Tall white asters grow in a meadow near West Quoddy Head lighthouse, in Quoddy Head State Park in Lubec, Maine.

While "Newfallen Snow" was the first shot I took that morning, "Tall White Asters at West Quoddy Head", above, was the last photo captured on THAT particular morning. I was in Lubec, Maine, with my wife, a quick little getaway, and decided to get up and photograph sunrise at Quoddy Head State Park. I hiked the coastal trail to Gulliver's Hole, and then to Green Point, and got some nice images, but nothing that blew me away. After sunrise, I hiked back to the lighthouse where the parking area was and decided to take a few shots of the lighthouse since there were some nice clouds in the sky.

There's a little perch on the cliff that provides a great angle and I immediately went there. I made a few photos, and decided to go back to my motel, and my sleeping bride. As I entered a small field just back from the cliff, I saw this small group of white flowers. I almost kept going, feeling the first hunger pangs for breakfast. Instead, I put down my camera backpack, set up my tripod nice and low, and mounted a wide angle lens to emphasize the flowers in the foreground. I made a few frames and double checked to make sure everything was in sharp focus. Satisfied that it was, I packed my camera bag up and went to join my wife.

A dinghy sits in the mud in Barney's Cove near Jonesport, Maine, at dusk.

Dusk in Barney's Cove

The sky glows with the last light of a summer day as a dinghy sits in the mud at low tide in Barney's Cove in Jonesport, Maine.

"Dusk in Barney's Cove" is a strange case of me seeing the photograph in my head long before I laid eyes on the scene. I was once again in Lubec, exploring the Bold Coast with Kristen Wilkinson. We decided to head down to Jonesport for the evening to explore the harbor there. I love the working fishing harbors in Maine and I had in my head an image of a rowboat with the low, dramatic light of sunset. We'd been exploring the various docks and piers, and headed back to the car as the light faded. We rounded a bend and as we passed an old shack, this boat sitting in the mud of low tide came into view. I let out a yelp and jumped down into the mud. The light was fading so quickly I didn't even set up my tripod. I handheld the camera for the entire series of photographs and raised the ISO (the camera's sensitivity to light) to make sure I got the shot I wanted.

So to sum it up, it's a feeling of excitement when I see a scene that really speaks to me, that just asks to be photographed. There's this rush that goes through me as I work, knowing I'm getting exactly what I hoped I would.


The sun rises over a rocky beach.

Sunrise

Limited Edition

The sun peeks through a break in the clouds as it crosses the horizon on rocky beach in Montauk Point, New York. The light was magical for about two minutes on this cold December morning, and then the clouds moved and it was gone.

"Sunrise" is a Limited Edition of 100 prints.

Outside of just having an eye for it, what did you do that you feel took your shots to the “next level”?

While some just have an eye for art or photography, you can train yourself to "see" an image before you take it. Once you start seeing the world through a viewfinder, it becomes easier to envision photos before pressing the button, which means that when you do press the button, you're making deliberate decisions, and not just winging it.

The sun rises over the rocky coastline of Ogunquit, Maine along a path known as Marginal Way.

December Sunrise in Ogunquit

The sun rises over the Atlantic Ocean near Marginal Way in Ogunquit, Maine. Marginal Way is a 1.25 mile cliff walk that winds along the ocean in Ogunquit, Maine. It begins near the sandy 3 mile stretch of Ogunquit Beach and finishes in Perkins Cove.

One thing that I did to elevate my game was to begin using neutral density filters. These allow me to manipulate the light the camera is seeing, allowing me to use slower shutter speeds to allow blurred movement, giving a more painted feel to rushing water, or to moving clouds in the sky. Suddenly, I didn't have to settle for whatever shutter speed matched the light that was available. If it was bright, I could still use a longer exposure and get more creative with what I was capturing. The use of neutral density filters changed everything for me.

Rolling green hills with blue skies and puffy clouds overhead on a sunny day.

Afternoon Bliss in the Palouse

The rolling hills of the Palouse bathe in the warm spring sunshine as cumulonimbus clouds pass overhead near Colfax, Washington.

Another thing that raised the quality of my work was learning new techniques for processing images. I capture everything as a raw file, meaning no processing is done prior to what I do to it. Cameras have the ability to process the files according to predetermined settings, programmed by a software engineer that works for the camera company. In other words, it's a one-size-fits-all type of thing. But one size doesn't fit all. And these settings have a tendency to add too much contrast, resulting in a loss of highlight and shadow detail. My processing workflow allows me to maintain detail, and selectively lighten or darken (dodging and burning) areas to achieve the level of contrast I want. The better I get at this, the better my photos have gotten as well.

So that's part one of my Q&A. I'll post part 2 early next week. Stay tuned!