Rather than deciding on new subject matter to photograph, I tend to let it choose me. Over the years I have found that when I feel it’s time to move on to a different project, I unexpectedly stumble upon new material and take it from there. Once I make that initial discovery, I use the internet, maps, local inquiries, etc. to find possible locations to shoot, be it scrap metal heaps, fishing piers, etc.
Typically I’ll spend several days at one location, driving, walking, biking – to mentally edit the scenes. Several hours or days can go by without taking the camera out of my bag. Rather than hauling my heavy gear, I carry with me a piece of black mat board with a rectangular opening to visually frame a scene. (The idea for this “light weight camera” came from an Ansel Adams book I read a long time ago). If something strikes my eye, I make notes of the location and often include an assessment of the best time of day (or year) and the ideal atmospheric conditions (bright blue sky?, overcast?) to return, since the sun is usually my only light source. Other times I’ll come across an area that calls for immediate action and I’ll get to work then and there.
The camera is almost always mounted on a tripod and often I’ll make several exposures with subtle differences in composition – moving the tripod a few inches forward or back, left or right, or orienting it differently on the tripod head. If the scene lends itself to it, I will walk all around it, several times, testing various vantage points and studying how the composition changes with even the slightest change in framing.
In the days when I was shooting film (until around 2012), at the end of the trip, the rolls of film were shipped off to a lab for developing and low resolution scanning. After receiving back the processed transparencies, I spread them on my 8-foot light table. The light table allows me to view several different images all at once and arrange them in different ways. I now capture the images digitally, but in either case if I have several similar compositions of the same subject, I’ll pore over the images for hours, often repeating that process days later until I settle on the shot that best expresses what I am trying to communicate. Sometimes I conclude that I don’t yet have that final composition – often due to less than ideal lighting at the time of exposure – and will return to the location another time to re-shoot the subject, when the lighting or other factors are more suitable.
For the images recorded on film, the next step is obtaining a high resolution scan. The scan resolution is determined by the largest size that I intend to print. Many of the images in the Edge of Chaos and Thicket galleries are printed to 48×60” so consequently I have 300 MB scans made in order to maintain a very high level of detail and sharpness in that large print size.
The digital file is then opened in Photoshop where I tweak the contrast, brightness, etc. to finalize the digital image. I try to stay true to the colors that drew me to the site initially, but my philosophy is that the only “true colors” are the ones that best convey the message. After finishing the master digital file, I’ll make a copy re-sized to the dimensions I want to print and send it off to a lab for printing.
Many of the images on this site were originally recorded on film, mostly using a Pentax 6×7-cm camera using Pentax 55-mm, 75-mm and 105-mm lenses. The work in Structures: Tier I was done using a Nikon 35-mm film camera and a few of the photographs in the other galleries were taken using a Wista 4×5 view camera. Some images are on Kodachrome and Ektachrome film though the vast majority are recorded on Fuji Provia. High resolution scans are made on a Heidelberg Tango drum scanner. Most of the prints in the two Structures Galleries as well as those in Play Time are Ilfochromes (formerly Cibachrome), while the remaining are Light Jet prints on Fuji Crystal Glossy paper.
Over the past few years I have been pulled screaming and kicking into the world of digital capture and presently use a Nikon D800 camera.