Using the capabilities of a digital camera and embracing a desire to experiment, William Neill is producing a body of unique images that go far beyond literal landscapes
By William Neill
Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California, 2006
Prior to working with the Singh-Ray Vari-ND, I'd often use a polarizer with the lens set to the smallest aperture to get the slowest possible shutter speed.
I had less options and control, especially in bright light, but I managed anyway. Here, I moved
the camera quickly with a horizontal motion while holding down the shutter speed. I picked out the area of most visual interest to me, in this case the receding ridges outlined by shadow and light. My panning motions were centered there, but only a few recorded the right composition I had seen since I was panning so quickly. This process was exhilarating, in part because of the aspect of chance! Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II, Canon EF 70-200mm ƒ/2.8L, ISO 100, exposed for 1/6 sec. at ƒ/32
Yellow Forest, Watchung Reservation, New Jersey, 2006
I found this forest scene in a local reserve in New Jersey. Using the Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter, I made up-and-down panning motions. I maneuvered my camera position to create the spaces between the trees. Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II, EF Canon 70-200mm ƒ/2.8L, ISO 100, exposed for 2 sec. at ƒ/10, Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter
Even when I use my camera set to its lowest ISO and the lens stopped way down, often there's still too much ambient light to permit a long enough exposure time. In that case, I use a Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter, with which I can adjust neutral density to reduce the light entering the camera by up to eight stops. This tool has greatly increased both my options in bright lighting conditions and in controlling the balance of aperture and shutter speed. For example, with my flower close-ups, I can still use a slow shutter speed even when using the widest apertures.
In most images, I make a few minor adjustments in Photoshop, including boosting contrast lost when a scene's brighter areas blur into darker ones. I output images with the 12-color, pigment-based Canon image PROGRAF iPF5000 and iPF8000 printers, which have 17- and 44-inch carriage widths, respectively. I usually print on Canon's Hahnemuhle Photo Rag, a watercolor-style paper. This paper is very effective at accentuating the painterly feel of these images.
The other night I watched an amazing DVD, Andy Goldsworthy's Rivers & Tides. If you're unfamiliar with his art, I highly recommend that you check out his books and this DVD. Goldsworthy is dedicated to connecting with nature, especially around his home in Scotland, and the DVD shows him at work and talking about his art.
I scribbled down some notes as I watched. His commentary made me realize, in a more concrete way, what I’m trying to do with my Impressions of Light series: remove the context and distill down to the essence to convey the energy of a subject or scene in a fresh way, much as snow simplifies the landscape.
For me, these images deflect the mind's tendency to dwell on the concrete issues of place and name when viewing a subject. The spirit of a place or an object can be more strongly conveyed.
I’m trying to stretch, but it’s only to find new ways to express what I’ve been trying to show all along—the beauty of nature. It may sound trite, but that’s still what motivates my photographic explorations. In order to both grow and survive creatively as an artist, I’ve found it’s important to push myself in new directions, in other words, to evolve. Success toward this goal can’t be achieved passively, but it must be sought out. I’ve tried to adhere to the concept that, as an artist, one should always question one’s own preconceived notions!