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Friday, June 1, 2007

Finding Passion (In Nature Photography)

What does it take to create images that go beyond what everyone else has?

So my nature photography strove to be accurate and true. I had studied plant and soil science in college, then worked as a naturalist. My photographs represented a naturalist and scientist point of view—good to show off details, but not so much about passion.

When we moved to Los Angeles about 14 years ago, I was struck by the passions of those involved in the photo and film industries here. These weren’t nature photographers, but they cared deeply about their work and they put passion into it.

Certainly not all movies or L.A. photography has passion in it. Some are, to be frank, beautifully done, but empty—vacuous pandering to the latest trend or fad. But the best work, especially movies, showed a passion for the image and the expression of that work that simply hadn’t been part of my life. Magazines like American Cinematographer told how photographers dug deeply into the stories they were telling in order to find expressive ways of communicating through the medium.

I wanted some of that, but I struggled with my own "rules" of photography. I continued to try to make my work "better," but that often just meant mastering the technology and techniques better. Because I had done that work, though, my knowledge of the technology and techniques served me well to become editor of Outdoor Photographer and be part of the Werner Publishing Photography Group (Outdoor Photographer, PCPhoto, Digital Photo Pro and HDVideoPro magazines).

Here, I’ve seen some of the truly great photographers working today, photographers whose passion for nature photography shows through in their images: David Muench, Art Wolfe, the late Galen Rowell, Dewitt Jones, Frans Lanting and so many more. But it’s interesting to me that some of the really strong and most evocative work shows up in the commercial photography of Digital Photo Pro and now HDVideoPro.

Digital photography has strongly influenced a lot of these photographers. They have pushed the limits of the medium, not to fool anyone, but to make their photographs more expressive and more passionate.

But this month’s column isn’t about digital technologies. I’ve discovered, however, that digital cameras consistently bring many photographers new joy and passion for photography because of the immediacy of working with the image, both from reviewing and interacting with it on the LCD and the ability to make prints so quickly.

Two challenges face nature photographers like me who are interested in getting more passion into their work: the idea of nature as a sacred, inviolate subject to be photographed simply as it is and the strong influence of some of the greats of nature photography.


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