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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Stalking Landscapes


Legendary scenic master Tom Till describes how to use Native American wisdom to find and create dynamic and original images

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Another way to understand your subject/prey is the time-honored technique of scouting. I don't hear photographers talk too much about scouting these days, perhaps because visiting a location several times before actually starting to shoot burns up a lot of expensive fossil fuel. I scout virtually with The Photographer's Ephemeris. It's the next best thing to physical scouting, and it can save a lot of time and money and still provide you with a very good idea of what will happen at any given location at any time worldwide.

Shamanic stalkers are also good at waiting for the right moment and not giving up. The idea of the decisive moment is as important to stalkers and landscape and nature photographers as it was in the work of Cartier-Bresson. In shamanic language, this is called the Pounce or the Kill. I once had a photo tour client who said I was like an eagle—swooping in for the kill on a shot quickly and confidently. It was a nice compliment and, if true, more due to my years of experience than any innate talent. I do find, however, that many aspiring photographers are very blasé about this most important part of the process. I sometimes have to cajole clients to shoot when the light is peaking or remind them to look behind them when their camera is pointed in the wrong direction. When it comes time for the kill, a photographer in the field must become as sensitive to his or her environment as a big cat in the wild. Last winter, I waited for months for clouds that I wanted for a shot of Double Arch in Arches National Park, and when the time came I had only moments to shoot. It's often driven home to me that decisive moments are fleeting, often once-in-a-lifetime, unrepeatable affairs, and like a wild animal, you must be ready to strike when they come.

In the Southwest where I live, reminders of Native American culture and life are everywhere and are a part of our worldview. This heritage belongs to all Americans. Fortunately, our Native American brothers and sisters have been more than generous about sharing their passion for the landscape that has sustained them, and cultural philosophies that relate to all aspects of life, including photography. When it comes to landscapes and nature, their attitude is one of profound appreciation of beauty and deep respect for Mother Earth—no wonder they have so much to tell us about how to improve the art of outdoor photography.

You can see more of Tom Till's photography and sign up for his workshops at tomtillphotography.com.

Techniques Of Stalkers And Dreamers


Ait-Ben-Haddou, Saharan Desert, Morocco
In Native American traditions, those training with a shaman might be called either Stalkers or Dreamers, depending on their personality. Sometimes the techniques of Dreamers can work with stalking to achieve the action or result, in this case, a photograph you're seeking.

Richly envision things. I've found it beneficial to think about shots I can get whenever my mind is at rest. You might say I meditate about them. I also sometimes draw pictures of the shot I want to get like movie storyboards.

Imagine the many facets of a location at different times. Stalking and dreaming in photography might include the technique of envisioning a location under many different conditions. I think about how the places I visit will look during different seasons, with different sun angles, and with foregrounds of flowers or water that may exist at other times. I keep track of the moon to use it as a subject element whenever possible, and always determine the best time of day to shoot any location.

Previsualize the shot, but explore a location with an open mind. Essentially, Stalkers and Dreamers create scenarios in their heads, but may not take action immediately. Many photographers can improve their work by doing both. I like to walk through beautiful country without a camera or backpack and soak in the ambience of a place, especially during the middle of the day when I'm not shooting.

Be patient and let the scene materialize. Stalkers and Dreamers are patient observers who wait for circumstances to align themselves, sometimes waiting until the "prey" actually wants to offer itself. I've had the strange conviction at times that the subject wanted to be photographed. Ansel Adams himself has referred to this same bond between photographer and subject.

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