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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Capturing The Land

Scenic master George Ward gives insight into his passion for photography and how he keeps his vision fresh

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Rhododendron and western hemlock, Redwood National Park, California
Toyo 4x5, Nikkor 180mm, Gitzo tripod, 8 sec. at ƒ/22
“I still can’t figure out what ‘shoot like a pro’ means,” he says. “But I understand the simple pleasure of being in nature at that special time of day.”

For budding nature photographers, Ward urges setting high standards based on images that are personally moving and taking the camera everywhere. Equipment matters, but expensive additions don’t guarantee beautiful imagery, and many stunning photos have come from relatively humble camera systems. His advice also includes taking pictures of everyday objects like houseplants or furniture because it builds a familiarity with depth of field, proper exposure and other critical photographic concepts. So when the time comes and you’re standing in the middle of a mountain range or along a coast with just a fleeting moment of magical light, timing and composition are the focus, not fumbling around with camera controls.

As skills evolve to include rendering scenes in HDR, panorama stitching and refining wildlife technique, coming back to those original pictorial ideals and technical standards is what refines a photographer’s interests, helps to define a specialty and develops one’s own style, he says. What also has served his career well are all of the times his photographs were rejected by various publications.

Tidy-tips, phacelia and moon at sunrise, Carrizo Plain National Monument, California
Arca-Swiss 4x5, Nikkor 180mm, Gitzo tripod, 2 sec. at ƒ/32
“Those times I got excited about a particular approach or technique, only to fail miserably, were very important,” says Ward. “Rejections always guided me toward being a better photographer. Getting published for the first time was important because it demonstrated results. I think there’s a beginning when you’re learning, which has its own special charm, and perfecting your craft. The circle completes itself and becomes a wheel, so to speak. You begin sharing your work more and more with the world. The learning always continues, but there’s a communication with society about what you’re passionate about and, through landscape photography, what we all stand to lose as a species if we aren’t more careful.”

The way images are shared, whether by selling art prints, gallery exhibits, print media or showcasing work on the web, doesn’t matter. What’s important is sharing and communicating, which he adds, “is just human nature.”

Film To Digital
By 2007, shooting film no longer made practical sense for Ward. The entire photo-buying world, outside of some galleries, had switched to digital workflows so he had to get with the program. He felt encouraged because, after all, optical principles hadn’t changed simply because light now fell on an electronic sensor instead of film emulsion. The weight of his backpack was halved. But more significantly, shooting digital allowed him to work more quickly in the field.


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