Tuesday, May 21, 2013
The Digital Landscape
Russ Bishop photographs nature’s most extreme beauty using today’s most advanced image-capture tools. He’s among the cadre of photographers leading the way technologically and aesthetically.
"One stormy day at Picture Lake in the North Cascades," he says, "there was a fairly strong wind and no hope for sun. Several photographers joined me off and on. Throughout the hours, I stood at this location, all of us eyeing the vibrant fireweed on the shore, but none with the faith that conditions would improve. I have to admit that I began feeling like it might be a wasted effort as well, but I knew it would be well worth my time if the clouds parted even for a moment. They say luck favors the prepared, and I was ready when that moment arrived. Late in the day, the sky opened up without warning, and the wind dropped just enough for me to make two images of the still flowers that were so critical to the composition. Then, after only a minute or two, the sun vanished and it rained the rest of the day.
"Patience is definitely an important part of my workflow," he continues. "With nature, it's always hard to know just when that special light will reward us, and no two days are ever the same. But from a light and weather standpoint, I've often found that setting up a strong composition, then simply remaining at a scene through the entire event—whether that's a sunrise, sunset or passing storm—has provided me with finer images than if I had been moving quickly from one location to another. I always try to scout an area during the less photogenic mid-day hours and work out my framing if possible, so that when the quality light is changing fast, my setup in simple. In a sense, I let the light come to me rather than chasing it. I'd rather make one or two great images than end up with a whole series of okay shots. This is the 4x5 experience kicking in."
Bishop's preparation involves simple homework. He considers this part and parcel with another classic photographic technique: previsualization.
"For me," he says, "previsualization refers to researching an area in advance to understand the topography, referencing sun angles or moon positions, if relevant, and making an image in my mind's eye of what I hope to accomplish at the scene. Sometimes this is very specific, including lens type and shooting angles, and other times it's only a general idea. To really understand a place, I'll study the special qualities of the landscape using Google Maps and guidebooks, and reference what other photographers have done. Then, once I leave the office, I bury that information subliminally so that I can arrive at a scene with a fresh perspective—as if seeing it through a child's eyes. It really is a duality of being confident in your craft and preparation so that you can let go of the technical side and remain open to all the artistic possibilities."
As much as preparation is crucial, Bishop is careful not to be creatively closed to new possibilities as nature presents them, because nature always presents them.
"I always allow for the unexpected and remain open to new visual possibilities," he says. "This requires a completely different mind-set, but the rewards are equally gratifying. The image of sunset at Canyon de Chelly was a classic example of expecting the unexpected. The day had been overcast and drab, not what I was hoping for, but perfect for a cool hike down to White House Ruin. I had planned to photograph the last light of the day from the rim at Spider Rock, but as I climbed the final switchbacks and reached the car, it looked as though sunset was going to be a no-show. Still, I reminded myself that luck favors the prepared and that dinner could wait. Shortly before sunset, as I stood at the Spider Rock overlook with two other couples and no photographers, a small opening in the clouds to the west began to glow. And for the next five minutes, we were rewarded with one of the most magnificent sunsets I've ever seen."
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