Sometimes projects come about in quiet, roundabout ways. This one first came into existence after I read an article in Outdoor Photographer a couple of months back. It planted the seeds with the usual, “Hey, I can do that” thought. Unlike many such ideas, this one took root. I actually started fostering it, working with it, and pretty soon I had a collection of images that was too large to be just an exercise. It had become a project.
The article that started this all was about photographer Scott Mansfield, who shoots black & white landscapes. But they aren’t your usual landscapes; they contain a lot of “subtle drama,” which was a good choice of words (and title for the article). The images don’t jump out and attack you the way some B&W shots can; rather, they kind of whisper to you and invite you to look closer and look longer.
I was particularly impressed with Mansfield’s forest scenes, a subject that I’ve often admired but always found difficult to capture. In my own experience, attempts at forest scenes have three possible outcomes, only one of which is success. The others are either an inability to see the forest for the trees, or a cluttered mess of a photo with no discernible subject of flow. It can be very frustrating.
Mansfield pulls it off with a quiet grace that I admire. I’m not entirely sure what his technique is, but I m certain that it is, at least in part, dependant on the light. Mansfield prefers overcast, fog, and stormy days – and I can understand why. The light is perfect on those days, soft and very diffused, which all but removes the otherwise impossible contrasts between sunlight and forest-canopy shade. Plus, if you’re able to reach a good vantage point, a stormy sky adds a lot of drama to a landscape.
So what does all this mean, in terms of my own work? I think most importantly, it means that I’ve slowed down and put some real concentration into making these images. Many of these images are taken under the forest canopy, where it’s already shaded. I’m shooting on overcast days, at closed-down apertures, so I’m squarely in tripod territory – someplace I don’t often go. I’m making sure I work slow, considering my tripod placements and compositions, changing position and lenses to find the mix I like best. I’m shooting at different apertures, trying narrow DOF and wide DOF until I get the result that meets my mental image.
Since I’m shooting RAW, the images are all in color and I’m making the conversion to black & white in ACR. And I’m being more conscious in my post-processing as well, reigning in my tendency for high-contrast images in order to preserve a more subtle look, a wider range of gray tones that mirrors the softer, subtle lighting that exists in the field…er, woods.
The good news is that I feel that it’s been worthwhile, that I’ve been successful in my attempts at making inspiration into reality. I believe that you know a project is good and worthy when it’s easy to do it; not necessarily that the project itself is easy to accomplish, but rather that it’s easy to go out and work at it, when the work is, in itself, pleasing. And I’m sure that I’ll continue working on it. It’s a work in progress and I’m not sure how it will end, or if it will.