Transition

For the past several months I’ve been feeling a certain restlessness about my creative process. I photograph a lot of surf and landscapes but rarely people. I started to seriously ask myself why that is. Then I thought back to my last trip into Yosemite Valley. Yes always stunning. But there I was standing in El Capitan Meadow fully aware that the scene in front of me has been done. Hell, I’ve done this subject before: climbers on El Capitan. So I’m purposely thinking, what do I do different here? Inspiration arrived but it left me really thinking about what I’m doing and why. 

Headlamps from climbers on El Capitan

Aside from the surf photography that I enjoy so much I usually try to capture these pristine natural scenes. Often I’ll either crop out evidence of human activity either in camera or in post. I know why most of the time; for me it’s overhead power lines and aircraft contrails. Yuck. But does that mean remove all human things? I had to really think about that. 

 An acquaintance recently sent me a box of CD-ROMs from the LensWork series. I happened to be listening to an interview with Larry Wiese. He was describing how he was preparing to show his portfolio at a very nice gallery. He was all ready to show his traditional landscape work when he had an epiphany (and probably an anxiety attack) about what he was doing and why. The interview CD was titled Transition. It was like he was speaking directly to me. I devoured that interview, then I listened to it again. 

Essentially he realized that he was producing fine art landscapes not because it was what he loved doing, but I think because others expected him to produce landscapes. He wasn’t excited about it anymore. He excused himself from his meeting, packed up his portfolio, and reconsidered pretty much everything. This made me think about that last Yosemite visit specifically. He mentioned that he had visited Yosemite twice. He researched all the photography topics for the area and pretty much planned on how to copy the work of the masters before him. And so what? What made it his own work? He decided that landscapes were a starting point for him and now it was time to expand his creative process.

I started photographing different subject matter and processing them in different styles. I don’t photograph wildlife much. So I spent a few hours doing exactly that. 

Wild life photography at Waddell Beach, Santa Cruz County, CA
Long-billed Curlews (I think…) at Waddell Beach.

I started incorporating more people into the photographs as the sun was setting. I’ve often thought that a photo of the sunset alone wasn’t enough. It needs an interesting foreground. What I usually avoid though was people in the scene. This time I really thought about that. Why? Adding people gives the viewer a reason to connect. A sense of scale. An emotion.

I recruited this group of friends to be the subject. I gave it to them as a gift. 

Today was a very rainy day in Santa Cruz. Honestly a pretty miserable day to even consider landscapes but I wanted to explore. I did some street photography which is very rare for me. I processed the photo differently from how I usually would by incorporating some color grading. 

Veterans Memorial, Santa Cruz street photography
Veterans Memorial. Santa Cruz, California

I had another idea incorporating a very wide angle and the patterns in the sidewalk along Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz. I expanded on the idea by blending three exposures, 2 that were fairly long exposures and a third that was over 240 seconds. Processing the image was well outside my typical style and I’m glad I explored the ideas. Pattern, time, color, and definitely not how you would see the scene with your own eyes. 

Wide angles, patterns, and long exposures along Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA.
Long exposures and wide angles in downtown Santa Cruz on a rainy day.

I pushed the idea a little further. I don’t photograph architecture. There’s probably a simple reason for that: I live in a rural area and there’s just not a lot of that. Even in the more urban areas there’s nothing really resembling a skyscraper as such. I thought about that for a while. 

I spotted this window across from a reasonably high vantage point (that’s a fancy way of saying “parking garage”). A few things struck me as unique here. It’s a brick facade. Nobody would dream of building entirely with brick knowing that our state’s geology is the rough equivalent of Jell-O pudding. The water draining from the downspout caught my eye. The basketball shoe in the window pane and the warm glow from inside inspired me. I setup my tripod and fitted my Canon 5d Mk III with a 70-200mm telephoto to isolate this subject. 

Initially I imagined this as black and white but instead I went with a very different approach. With what I’ll just loosely call “a lot” of masking I brought down exposure of the brick wall while carefully adding contrast to the window. I desaturated the wall itself while adding some split toning to the window. This added some blue to the light tones and warmer colors to the mids and darks tones. Then selective sharpening and vignette. I was very happy with the result.  

What’s next?

I’m going to keep exploring. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not giving up on traditional landscapes. The truth is that I love the adventures and the effort. People or man-made objects will almost certainly be more prominent elements. Portraiture has always been an interest but I have a lot of thoughts on that topic that I want to be very careful about. Self portraits will probably happen more often at the suggestion of somebody I admire

Author: Sean McLean

Photographer from Santa Cruz, California. Sharing thoughts and photographs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.