Rebecca Wilks

Rebecca Wilks; Photographer, Teacher, Yarnellian, Do-Gooder

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Beauty #3, The Small Things

Backlighted Rose
Loveliness is compelling indeed.  Colleen Miniuk-Sperry likes to talk about her "3 second rule," which requires that, having stopped to contemplate something for that long, a photographer should at least ponder whether there's an image to be made.  I'll go out on a limb to say that the thing that grabs us, whether consciously or not, is beauty.

Tarantula Reflected
Since a delightful weekend workshop photographing small things last month, I've been contemplating all this.  Nowhere is the value of paying close attention more evident than in macro (close-up) photography.  Sometimes a cursory glance at some of these subjects will fail to impress (or might even repel) us. A closer look is almost always worth the trouble and can be a source of great inspiration.

The reward is to "make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen." - Robert Bresson.

Exquisiteness not only gets my attention but arouses my curiosity.  Why does that beetle have fringe? What creates the purple crystals in that rock? What's the purpose of the wild coloring on that moth?  Our connection engages us. We want to learn more.

Backlighted Nautilus
"If you invest wisely in beauty, it will remain with you all the days of your life." -Frank Lloyd Wright.

More small things are in the Summer 2016 gallery on the website.

Other blogs in the Beauty Series:
     Beauty #1

Monday, August 8, 2016

Da Bears

Sow, Katmai National Park, AK

Ok, I'll admit it.  I was out on the tundra in Katmai National Park in search of brown bears and what really made me nervous was wading the rivers.  I knew I wouldn't die.  Probably.  But if I dunked with my camera gear on my back I might wish I were dead. I'm risk averse when it comes to gear, not unlike a mother bear with cubs.  Plus, my experience wading in fast current up to my butt is lacking.

No harm no foul.  I had lots of help from Chris Cornetet, our guide, and Stan Cunningham, the bear and photography expert who organized and led this trip.

There was plenty to see; foxes, eagles, ptarmigan, and quite a few more photobombing gulls than we wanted.  My husband was learning to fly fish so I got a sort of peripheral education about the fish biodiversity and there was a moment wading down a long chute when we were herding sockeye in front of us as we walked and they got thick enough that we couldn't see the bottom. 

Each day we set out in a seven passenger De Havilland Beaver. I remember having a conversation with a group of photographer friends once about the way modes of transportation can epitomize place; cable cars in San Francisco or gondolas in Venice.  Alaska's is airborne, specifically these 60-year-old lovingly maintained float planes. Alaska artist Jon Van Zyle says "flying feels as natural to Alaskans as driving does to most other people." During my first trip to Alaska I thought these flights would be no more than a means to an end, but I was mistaken.  I adored the overview of the landscape as well as the chance to see bears and moose from above.

Sow swimming, Katmai NP.  She seems to have porcupine quills in her nose.

The trip, though, was really all about bears.  I did a very similar expedition four years ago with Stan.  We had a great time, and the grizzlies seemed to be everywhere.  We spent a bit more time waiting and hoping during this trip, sometimes hanging out in the wind-battered wilderness waiting for hours and once in one of the infamous "bear jams" (think traffic jam, not toast topping) at Brooks Camp.  2 1/2 hours waiting to cross a bridge because a sow and cubs were sleeping close by.

A sequence of images of a boar fishing. Katmai NP, AK
There were moments, though, especially on day 4 after a three-mile jaunt through creeks (these watercourses would certainly be called RIVERS at home) and over tundra.  We found four adult bears fishing; charging through the creek after salmon and as if that weren't enough, a sow with two cubs downstream.  There was no cooling our heels on what we called "Tundra Tuesday," and we all came back to the lodge giddy with our photographic success.

Sow and two cubs, Katmai NP, AK
And there were more cubs! One day at Margot Creek we were standing in the water when a sow brought her two cubs and parked them on the beach while she swung around us, presumably to fish.  We had nowhere to go, and Stan explained that sows are particularly fearful of boars, who often kill cubs, and will drop off the young close enough to humans to discourage the big males.  I suppose getting between mom and babies is less dangerous when it's her choice, but our guide was vigilant and we were all more comfortable when they moved on.

More images from this adventure are at the end of the Summer 2016 Gallery on the website.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Take a picture; it’ll last longer

Kelp on a Sonoma County Beach
A study published last month in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology finds that photographing locations and events deepens our appreciation of them.  The Journal is not open access, but here’s an interesting summary in Neuroscience News.

Many of my photographer friends have expressed this thought in their own way.  Photography helps us engage with the world.  We enjoy things more when we pay close attention to them and the camera is a uniquely useful tool for that.

Emerald Bay (Lake Tahoe) Sunrise
This is especially true during a particularly vivid visual experience.  No doubt I would have enjoyed this sunrise over Emerald Bay (Lake Tahoe) last week without the camera, but seeing it through the lens made the experience more intense.  Then there’s the opportunity to relive it and share it with others.

Even more connection comes from close inspection, though.  There’s nothing like sitting quietly looking at what’s on the ground or standing with my nose to a tree to foster relationship.

I had a lovely conversation with Todd Pickering during last week’s Lake Tahoe Photo Workshop.  He was talking about photographing details and how these images can tell the story of a place.  Conventional wisdom says that a story is best told with a range of images from wide to close-up; the establishing shot, the mid-range, and the details. I like the challenge of giving the feel of a place with only a few details, though.  Here are a couple of trios of examples.  Can you begin to get a sense of the places from the details? I find them almost tactile in a way that grand landscapes often are not.  I’m inspired to make this a storytelling project on my next trip; stay tuned.

Details, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
Details, Barker Pass Road, California
Two side notes from the Journal article; Negative or stressful experiences tend to become more intense when photographed and, “Another instance where photo-taking did not appear to increase enjoyment was when taking photos interfered with the experience itself, such as having to handle bulky and unwieldy camera equipment.  Yes, I recognize that situation, but I'm not complaining,

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Beyond Puppy Love

Coleman Valley Road Sunset, Sonoma County CA

Somehow I’ve come to be identified among my photo friends with sunstars.  Some folks even tease me a bit about it.  Really, though, it’s often not the sunstars that I love so much as the backlight.  

For those of you who are not obsessive outdoor photographers, the direction of light has a vast influence on the character of images.  Backlight, as you have no doubt guessed, comes from behind the subject, more or less directly at the photographer.  This kind of light can be tricky to render well but offers stupendous rewards.  There can also be an opportunity to include a sunstar (sometimes called a starburst) if a bright light source is included in the frame.  I’ve written about the mechanics of making this happen in another post.

Orange Glow near Jenner CA
I popped off a comment in a social media post from Sonoma County last week, saying that I have a bit of a crush on backlight.  Now, near the end of a two-week road trip, I see that many of my favorite images from this trip are back-lighted.  This may, by now, have progressed beyond puppy love.

The Sonoma Coast was breathtaking.  I’m so grateful to Jerry Dodrill for sharing
the beauty of his home turf, for the opportunity to boondock in his backyard, and for the generous flow of ideas.  The humid air there creates an entirely different quality of light.

Sunrise over Lake Tahoe
After a brief overnight with a friend in Napa, I was on to Lake Tahoe, joining Instructors Jerry & Todd Pickering, and 15 or so other students for the Sierra Nevada College Summer Art Workshop in photography.

Thanks for stopping by.  May I suggest checking out summer in Northern California?

More from the road trip are in the Northern California 2016 Gallery on the website.

Mule Ear