Thursday, November 3, 2011

Notes From the Field

While considering taking this project public I checked out popular photography blogs, which are full of tips and tricks for capturing better images whether on film or file. And of course there’s a lot of gearhead talk, ‘cause without gear you can’t take a photograph at all.

I realised that nothing I’d do would fit the template. The time honored craft of capturing images on large format film isn’t relevant to most of you. Neither is the gear used to do it. I could tell you how to use my light meter and a stop watch to guesstimate proper exposure for transparency film under moonlight or other such arcana, but that’s knowledge you’ll likely never use. So we’ll treat these notes as waysides along the road, making only periodic stops…

Tip ‘o the day #1: when shooting from a canoe, make sure you’ve brought two anchors for boat control because the quality of your tripod isn’t worth a damn when what you set it on moves even a little:

The first leg of this odyssey encompassed 16 consecutive working days in the field and traversed nearly 3,000 miles, all but 600 or so on two-lane blacktop and too many of those at or near full dark. The longest day ran 18 hours, the shortest ten. I wanted to see autumn through from early color to past peak and did. If the mission was to chase perfect light, I sometimes chased too much or anticipated poorly and missed things I ought to have captured. That was partly due to the added distraction of the blog and the ease of shooting with the toy Canon for blog content, which together presented a challenging workflow. I pushed on through, learned on the fly from my mistakes and won’t make the same ones again.

That would be tip ‘o the day #2: when you’re in the field and a thing doesn’t work as planned, change the plan because the gig is to capture the image. Once I adapted my approach to accommodate the increased workload, things went better.

I exposed 30 sheets of 4x5 (nearly 1/10th my total supply) and 38 rolls of 120mm transparency. I took chances. Some worked and some didn’t, which is what happens when you take chances in the field but you always should, especially if you’re shooting digital as there’s no economic barrier to restrain you. Let it fly and sort it out later. Whether working in difficult light, with nettlesome subject matter or some combination of both, daring is essential to creative growth. Always press forward with your particular vision, even when that means returning home with fewer usable images rather than more.

Knowing that looking at the world exclusively through a lens tends to obscure why I’m looking, I took a handful of hours off during those sixteen days. Left all the gear back at the motel and went out to enjoy the world. Turned out the most exquisite light encountered during the entire time occurred precisely then. For instance, I captured this only with the toy Canon. Not only is that unacceptable, it’s downright painful:

So tip ‘o the day #3 is the old Boy Scout motto: Be prepared. And if you’re not, then be content to suffer the laughter of the photo gods. From here on I haul everything everywhere always, even when on break.

The elusiveness of perfect light notwithstanding, I got what I shot: a ratio of better than 2 to 1 with the large format, something less with the Mamiya because with that I was profligate. I met good folk, shared stories, enjoyed a surprise visit from an otter, through which conversation he spoke and I listened. And on day two I lucked my way onto special a site I’ve coveted for near to a quarter of a century, securing an invitation to return throughout the coming seasons to document the place in full over the next year. And of course, I got this blog business off to a proper start. All told a fine and proper beginning for an odyssey.

Our first autumn in the field having been well and truly spent, we’ll move forward together into November -- in some locations merely a grey, unwelcome harbinger of bitter times to come but up north the hard face of early winter and no foolin’.

Now the waters run cold, the forest lays bare secrets previously hidden and long shadows enhance the landscape, offering ever more opportunity to capture perfect light…

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