What Do You Photograph and Why?

Most photographs happen in one of a few different ways. Sometimes I go out to a particular kind of location with a particular creative idea in mind, a specific intent. The image below is an example of this approach.

 After years of driving through classic California landscapes (gnarled live oaks dotting bone-dry, golden, rolling hills), I decided to look for good locations and see if I could capture the light, the heat and the unique interplay between trees and hills. I spent several days working in a fairly wide area, and the resulting images became the core of a small show, En Plein Air.

 Of course, sometimes you go looking for one thing and find something else. While walking back to my truck after photographing a possible oaks/hills view, I noticed the interesting light filtering into this wooded hillside. This is a panograph made from three horizontal frames stacked on top of each other (with plenty of resolution for larger prints) that really captures the feel of the dappled shade under the oaks on a hot day.

And sometimes photographs happen just because you have a camera in your hand, whether walking through a distant city as a tourist or along a trail in the High Sierra. You never know what might catch your eye if you keep looking. This approach is random and results vary widely depending on the day, the light and how much time you have to investigate things and experiment, but the results are often fun and interesting. A couple of examples are shown below.

 The one on the left is a sort of abstract combination of wild greenery and a mix of old and contemporary architecture found in central Madrid. It’s hard to make sense of (not a requirement in my view) until you realize that the greenery was somehow growing vertically on a wall via some sort of suspended hydroponic system. Anyway, I thought it was an interesting juxtaposition of form, color and texture. The second started with this rock I found along a trail descending from Post Peak Pass in the southeast corner of Yosemite NP. A short hike below the pass the trail passes a tiny lakelet, and there I saw this blue-and-gold pattern half buried in the dirt. It was irregularly shaped, so I just got as close as I could and snapped one exposure. The dark spots in the corners show the edges of the rock.

When I got home I had hundreds of images to sort through, but I kept coming back to this one. I wished I had taken a wider view to see how it would look with a background, but then I experimented by creating a mirror image of the center section. The result is one of my favorite abstract images. The combination of the blue and white-flecked stone with the rust-colored fractures in a symmetrical pattern is almost mandala like and, to me,  hypnotic to look at.

So this is how the creative process starts. Some things you go looking for with a plan, other things you just stumble upon. Still others you discover only after spending hours sorting and editing images in the studio. And the images that I include in shows or fully develop as finished prints are the ones that I like, that I think are engaging, that say something coherent about the subject whatever it may be, even if it isn’t obvious what the subject is