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“Additive Magic adds to something that is there, multiplies it or turns it into something new. Subtractive magic removes elements of physical reality” (Source: Sword of Truth Wiki)
Thanks to “The Big Bang Theory” and the power of the all-knowing wikis, I can confidently quote from a source about a fantasy novel series and not worry about revealing my inner geekdom to everyone. For the record, I don’t speak Klingon or Tolkien Elvish languages, though I would like to.
I can’t remember where I first read about this, but someone essentially presented the concept that painters are additive artists and photographers are subtractive artists. This idea that photography is subtractive magic really resonated with me and reminded me of the wizards’ additive and subtractive magical abilities in the Sword of Truth fantasy book series.
Art Is Magic
To me, art can be magical in its role of conveying emotions and ideas. So, I like to substitute the word “art” for the word “magic” in the above quote, to partly describe the artists’ process: “Additive art adds to something that is there, multiplies it or turns it into something new. Subtractive art removes elements of physical reality.”
An oil painter or watercolorist starts with a blank canvas and a scene before them and adds the elements they want to include to convey their vision as they paint. As a fine art photographer, I do almost the exact opposite. If I placed artists on a spectrum of “art magic” then painters and illustrators would be on the additive end and photographers and sculptors would be on the subtractive end. Graphic designers would fall somewhere in-between.
Most of my time in the field is spent composing an image in a way that isolates the idea /emotion /story that I am trying to convey from the distracting elements in the scene before me. I am more like a filter of the world’s art than a creator of original art. In essence, I let the scene pass through me and I distill it; stripping it of the unwanted and unnecessary elements to arrive at the essence of my vision.
In the field, I am always careful to minimize my impact on the environment around me while pursuing my subtractive vision. So, I try to position myself and my camera to avoid things like ungrounded tree limbs or branches from shrubs and ground cover intruding into the frame. From time-to-time, I might use my snowshoeing pole or tripod leg angled into the ground in such that it physically holds a branch out of frame. Or, I may shift my perspective lower so a distracting signpost is hidden behind a mound of snow or a beach dune.
During post processing, I may even physically remove (i.e. subtract) more features – such as telephone wires, signage, photo-bombers and cows jumping over the super moon. I can do this because I’m not bound to the ethical standards of a photojournalist and that gives me a lot of freedom to remove all evidence of the cow jumping over the moon.
Literally and Figuratively
Beside the literal, there is a figurative element to the subtractive nature of photography as well. For example, in my image above of the often photographed Bass Harbor Lighthouse, I didn’t need to remove any people from the frame because everyone was considerate and respectful of each other’s space. But, mentally it was a whole other story. If I had been alone, enjoying the serene nature of the sunset, then creating that image would have easy. But, the picture of all of the people on the rocks behind me tells the real story of that moment: tourists, photographers, and entire families with children playing on the rocks – along with all of the associated noise and ruckus you would imagine. I had to take a deep breath and work to isolate my mind from everything around me as I composed my shot and created my own internal serenity.
Fair warning though, sometimes this process of mental isolation can prevent you from seeing other moments develop. In my image “The Eye of the Tourist” for instance, I had my intended subjects in my viewfinder but didn’t realize I had personally become the subject of another photographer until the moment passed. Fortunately, I think, this resulted in a stronger image – but that isn’t always the case.
So, next time you are out there in the field composing an award-winning shot, you can think about how you are simply a filter of the world around you – using subtraction to create art. But, I may be completely wrong about this. You may actually be an additive artist since you are adding (pun intended) your unique and personal piece to the world’s collective art portfolio – and THAT is always a good thing because this world needs more artists.
~ Tom Gaitley
The small town of Hancock, New Hampshire, is a classic working New England village which is also a time machine into the past. By “working” I mean that it is more than just a New England show piece. Most of the buildings that line its Main Street are on the National Registry of Historic Places, and it has all the necessary prerequisites of a lovely New England
village: an iconic white Meeting House, a village green with the required war memorial and gazebo, and a classic old country inn. But a stroll down Hancock’s informal walkways reveals an active community with the emphasis on life and social interactions and it even has a 10-story tall radio telescope (I’ll let that settle in for a while). Hancock is located North of Peterborough, NH, at the intersection of routes 136 and 123. It is a bit of a drive from my home near the Vermont border, but I love exploring the town center and the countryside whenever I can. In my travels photographing throughout the Monadnock Region and Southern Vermont I feel I have come to know a great deal about my home territory, but whenever I choose to focus on an individual community I am always surprised by how much more there is to learn. That has certainly been true of my explorations around Hancock.
For more images of Hancock, check out my blog Hancock Photo Album.
Hancock was first settled in 1764 and was incorporated as a town separate from Peterborough in 1779. The town was named after John Hancock who was the first governor of Massachusetts and the president of the Continental Congress. He was also a successful business man, a notorious smuggler and the most attention seeking signer of the Declaration of Independence. Hancock owned over 1800 acres in Hancock, but otherwise devoted little attention to the town. Inexplicably, the village folk kept the name, although there were rumblings about a switch to “York.”
Hancock is a great place for New England photography in all seasons with opportunities both in its village center and the lovely surrounding countryside. Let’s explore.
The majority of the historic building in Hancock’s center are compactly arrayed along its Main Street.
Hancock Meeting House
The Hancock Meeting House was built in 1820 and has recently been undergoing extensive renovations. The tower has an original 1820 Paul Revere bell which weighs over 1000 lbs. and continues to toll hourly day and night. The Meeting House can be nicely pictured from across the town green, along the street or from across Norway Lake which sits at its back. Happily there are many angles that are not scarred by ugly wires. Some years ago the town voted to bury the wires in key locations. Thank you, thank you! You may still need to wait for parishioners or pesky workmen to move their vehicles for the classic perspectives, but that is the price of an active, vibrant community. The Meeting House tower has an original 1820 Paul Revere bell which weighs over 1000 lbs. and continues to toll hourly day and night.
Listen to the Hancock Meeting House’s Paul Revere Bell
Read about the caretaker of the Meeting House clock from Yankee Magazine.
The small village green is across the street from the Meeting House. The green features a classic gazebo and a war memorial with the names of residents who served in conflicts dating back to the French and Indian War. Photographically, angles can be found which include the features of the green with the Meeting House in the background and right now there is the bonus of a colorfully illuminated Christmas tree in the gazebo.
The Hancock Inn
The Hancock Inn is the oldest original inn operating in New Hampshire. It was opened in 1789 by Noah Wheeler and served travelers with food, accommodations and of course libations. Over the years the inn has seen over 15 owners and has been known as: the Fox Tavern, The Jefferson Tavern, Patten’s Tavern, the Hancock House, the Hancock Hotel, and the John Hancock Inn. Franklin Pierce, the only U.S. President from New Hampshire, was a good friend of one of the inn keepers and spent many nights at the Inn when he was a US Senator. The Inn’s history and tradition of hospitality is now warmly maintained by Jarvis and Marcia Coffin who bought the Hancock Inn in 2011, and have supervised a couple of important renovations. The inn
now is a wonderful mix of modern accommodations and classic old New England charm. Each room is uniquely decorated with period furnishings and many have unusual wall paintings and stenciling. In the Amos Porter room you can see the restored, full room mural (circa 1825) by the artist, inventor and journalist Rufus Porter. Whether in the dining room or tavern the inn offers wonderful food. On a recent visit I had an especially sumptuous Pumpkin Soup and I enjoyed meeting the owner’s Golden Retriever as he went on his evening rounds carefully searching for any treats that might have accidentally found their way to the floor.
The Hancock Inn is beautiful inside and out, but photographically it can be a challenge. The facade is often blocked by parked cars, but there is much to see in the details along the wonderful front porch. Don’t forget the inside as well. Time permitting, the friendly staff will be proud to take visitors on a tour of this wonderful example of traditional New England warmth and hospitality.
Across the road from the Inn is the Hancock Market. Locally owned, the market has a surprisingly broad selection of local products as well as all the other staples that you would expect in a classic New England country store. Of course, while you are there or at the Inn you should remember to pick up a few copies of my New England Reflections Calendar.
Fiddleheads Cafe is a great place for a quick snack or lunch. You can also pick up something to bring home for dinner. The Cafe displays local art on its walls. While I was getting caught up on Hancock for this article, I stopped by Fiddleheads and got signed on again for a show of my work starting on December 22 and continuing until January 19th, 2015. Just one more reason to visit.
To fully appreciate the special character of Hancock’s center, it is necessary to take the time to slowly stroll its Main Street. The houses, alone or in combinations, make wonderful subjects for photography. Almost all of the structures are on the National Registry of Historic Places and by concentrating on the classic buildings and their detail, the modern world can be made to melt away and you can step into New England’s classic past.
Pine Ridge a Cemetery
Pine Ridge Cemetery is located west of the Hancock Town Offices and is the oldest cemetery in the town. A stroll through the grounds reveals the stories of many of the town’s earliest settlers as well as many revolutionary and civil war veterans.
Hancock’s attractions go far beyond its Main Street. The town has abundant farm land and wild areas. It has a number of lakes and ponds including Nubanusit Lake to the west and Powder Mill Pond on the east. At just over 2,000 feet, Skatutakee Mountain is its highest point. Photographically Hancock is a great place in which to allow yourself to get lost as you wander down its many winding back roads, but for a more structured natural experience you can head to the Harris Center for Conservation Education.
The Harris Center
Since 1970 the Harris Center has been dedicated to environmental education, conservation research and land preservation. Every year their school-based educational program collaborates with schools throughout the Monadnock Region to provide environmental education experiences for students both in the classroom and in the natural world. The Center is also a local land trust which has been responsible for the conservation of over 21,000 acres as part of a 33,000 acre “Supersanctuary” of clustered protected land in 8 towns. The conservation lands provide critical wildlife habitat while a system of hiking trails promotes a sense of connection to the land for the members of the community. Come by the Harris Center’s headquarters for more information about their programs and to pick up trail maps.
County Covered Bridge
What’s a New England village without a covered bridge? The County Covered bridge was built in 1936 and connects the towns of Hancock and Greenfield across the Contoocook River.
The National Radio Astronomy Observatory
A Window on the Universe
As I was doing my research on Hancock, I came upon a reference to the town’s nearly 10-story tall radio telescope. What! Yes, Hancock is home to a giant radio telescope which is one of ten dishes scattered across the United States, stretching 5,000 miles from Hawaii to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The “Very Long Baseline Array” is the largest astronomical instrument in the world. When the signals from all ten telescopes are coordinated, it acts like a single dish nearly equivalent to the diameter of the earth and can focus on a point in space no larger than the size of a football sitting on the moon. The VLBA gives scientist the opportunity to study many aspects of the far reaches of our universe, including the nature of black holes and the process of planet formation in distant galaxies. Closer to home it helps to pinpoint the location and behavior of potentially threatening near earth asteroids, and the positions of the telescopes are so precisely known that they are used to monitor continental drift. All this from Hancock.
The telescope is located on land leased from the Sargent Camp in a small clearing in the woods off of Windy Row. The observatory is easily approachable down a short dirt road. On my first visit the station operator was leaving for the day, but he invited me into the fenced area for a closer look. At that time the dish was in its upright resting position, but on another visit I was able to watch it move as it oriented toward a new observational coordinate.
That’s Hancock, New Hampshire, a time machine which allows visitors to look back on our nation’s colonial past, but also provides a glimpse beyond to the origins of our Universe. What a deal! Drop by sometime and don’t forget to bring your camera.
The Very Long Baseline Array, National Radio Astronomy Observatory
~ Jeff Newcomer
Jeff is on Twitter if you’d like to follow along with him Follow @Foliage_Reports
Are you lucky or do you just consider yourself good?
The two are intertwined and very rarely am I one without the other. Being good means I have learned my craft and my camera, to the point I can create images that I plan on making. When I shot weddings I could look at a venue and see possibilities. I saw what I wanted the end result to be and my experience and technical capabilities allowed me to make the pictures that I saw in my mind’s eye.
Lucky versus being good in landscape photography
The reason for being in the right place at the right time is always a part of what we do. How many photographer bio’s or art pages states: “I never leave home without my camera” or something similar?
Does this mean you are just lucky?
You always bring a camera with you so you may be “lucky” or simply ready for the unexpected. This is an aspect of being good at what you do. Based on your experience you see the event [image] and you are prepared to take advantage of the situation.
Right Place, at the Right Time
To me this is 20% luck and 80% experience. Last summer, I ran a store in Salem (The 4 corners of New England) on the Pickering Wharf water front. Each day I would bring along my camera and 95% of the time it sat on a back table unused. But one day in early August I started to get mobile weather alerts about a line of heavy rain squalls moving down through Essex County.
I started to check my camera to make sure I had a CF card in there because the possibility for severe weather passing my way was good. As every “Good” photographer will tell you, Bad weather is an opportunity for great photos. Being on the waterfront and Salem’s tall ship, the Friendship tied up along Derby Wharf, I was hoping for some great elements.
Soon I was rewarded with ominous, dark thunderheads passing quickly over head. I locked my front door, walking over towards the ship. The winds were whipping pretty good and I took shelter in the leeward side of Captn’s seafood restaurant. A good-sized rain squall was passing all by itself on the other side of the Friendship which is what you see here.
I love the dramatic nature of stormy weather. Apparently people agree because I went home and the next day started selling greeting cards to my customers who lover the stormy nature of the scene.
BUT! The story doesn’t end there!
Experience tells me that if I’m “Lucky” the sun will break out through the clouds or since it was after 4PM maybe even under the cloud deck. This was to be one of those days when many factors come together to make me “Lucky”.
The storm was fierce but short lived and the sun did indeed come out low in the sky. This means I may have several options.
- First I could have a Rainbow
- Next a dramatic sky with late afternoon warming light
- Possibly a red sky sunset with the clouds lit by the setting sun.
What I got was 2 out of 3!
I did get a small rainbow over the Friendship but I also had the smoke stacks of the power plant and the composition didn’t thrill me.
I walked around for a while and the light started to turn a golden hue and the thunder heads were still very evident but had become brighter and shades of white, also lit by the late afternoon sun.
This turns out to be the best shots of the day. The golden light with the vibrant blue sky and the billowing white thunderheads over the Friendship and the tide was mid level so I had a beautiful reflection of the sky, clouds and ship.
The storm clouds moved south towards Boston so the reflected light off the clouds over the ship never materialized. I went home and worked the images and made cards of this to sell in the store the next day also…
The take-away is that being lucky by itself isn’t really enough. You MAY! get an image here or there that gets people’s attention but you also have to learn to recognize the opportunities which comes down to experience.
Being in the right place at the right time is the first part, then “Knowing” how to take advantage of the “opportunity” is the other side of it.
I don’t always plan for a given shot, instead I will grab my camera and go to the seashore, downtown, or Cape Ann, (pick your pleasure here) and see what inspires me.
So when I hear someone say “I’ll never be that good!“, I’m mystified. I can’t speak for everyone but when I started out, I had trouble focusing on the right subject. My composition has always been pretty good but over the years I’ve taken hundreds of thousands of pictures and most were… Less than perfect! How do you build the experience to “know” how to take advantage of a situation? Practice!
Today’s cameras make it so easy but you still have to read the manual, read magazines or take seminars. Either way you slice it, none of the great photographers simply “Knew” how and what to do but with experience they learned. The same way you are learning.
They used their experience with luck (preparation) to create their perfect image.
Which are you? Lucky or good or better yet… both?
Contact me through my Gallery page here on NEPG
View my work on Fine Art America
I’m on Twitter as @Foliage_Reports for everything New England
I also Blog about the fall foliage in New England so if you have planning questions or just want to see my beautiful photography of New England fall foliage.
I also have my Vistaphotography Fine Art and Stock Photography.
Images in this article are available in my online gallerys
“Despite my best efforts, I can’t always predict when it is going to occur. But, when it’s happening, I know it. Of course, the question is whether or not I was ready to capture it.”
This is what I once said in response to a question about how I decide when to take a picture. Let’s just say he was less than impressed with the awesomeness of my answer and pretty much walked away thinking I was a complete moron.
So, in a departure from my normal blog style, I thought I would set aside the more traditional topics about technique or location and try to provide a better answer to his question.
The problem, of course, is that trying to describe a uniquely personal and spiritual experience in words alone is difficult. I also don’t want to give anyone the idea that “the moment” is always there and ready to be captured each time I pick up my camera. If that was the case, I wouldn’t have hard drives full of images that I can best describe as “bleh” – and that’s me being generous.
Hopefully, using images and associated captions to describe the context, I will be able to provide some insight into those times I think I was successful.
First, I want to cover what I perceive as the three fundamentals of the moment:
- The moment is personal.
- The velocity of the moment depends on the type of photography involved and the nature of the scene.
- The passion of the moment depends on the degree of my emotional investment prior to capture.
It’s personal, okay?
To paraphrase a quote from “The Princess Bride,” since there isn’t enough room here “to explain” – let me sum up: One person’s art is another person’s crap.
I can spend all day viewing John Singer Sargent’s “plein-air” paintings, but stick me in front of anything done by Andy Warhol and you will see what I look like when I discover a dead rat in my soup. Both are talented artists – but I don’t like them equally. Just as one of my images, where I think I captured the moment perfectly, may make someone else wonder if I know anything about photography.
Some of my favorite images, those that I have a deep emotional connection to, that felt the most familiar at the moment of capture, where there was harmony between me and the scene, are often the same ones that my dear, loving wife and children will look at and say “I guess it’s nice.” Ouch.
Velocity depends on type and nature
Landscapes, even those with rapidly changing light, still evolve in a way that allow me to slowly build an appreciation for the inherent natural beauty that I am trying to capture. The longer I take to evaluate, position, compose and capture, the more I become immersed and connected to the dynamics of the rich, visual tapestry of the scene. And, the better the resulting image.
Streetscapes lay at the other end of the pace spectrum. While I may position myself to increase the chances of spotting “the moment,” when it happens it happens fast (as a side note: I’m a street photography “lurker” who positions and then waits). The positioning sets the context, but it’s “the glance” or “the spontaneous interaction” that defines the moment. Rather than unfolding over minutes or hours as it may during landscape photography, you are lucky if you have more than a second or two to capture the moment of a streetscape.
The degree of my investment plays a role
The minute I pick up my camera, think about the act of photography and start to adjust the settings for whatever style of photography I plan to do, I begin the process of becoming attached and invested.
Many people think street photography consists of just quickly and spontaneously snapping pictures. In fact, I find myself spending a lot of time developing my street “tunnel vision,” looking for tell-tales and clues about where the best and most interesting interactions are likely to happen, evaluating the light and then positioning myself to wait for the moment. During landscape photography, I do much the same but rather than human tell-tales, it is often natural ones that evolve slower. In both cases though (and everything between), my concentration becomes increasingly intense to the point of becoming unaware of surrounding distracting elements that don’t directly contribute to the visual event unfolding in front of me.
In a sense, the more I invest in the process, the more meditative the experience becomes for me and the greater my ability to recognize and capture the passion of the moment when, or if, it arrives.
Bottom-line? It’s personal, it varies and, of course, everything in this article could all be wrong. But, are you ready?
~ Tom Gaitley
This time of year in New England is what most photographers live for. The trees in reds, yellows, oranges and combinations of the three combined with waterfalls, ponds, barns, churches and mountains. Classic New England imagery that turns northern New England into a seasonal mecca for leaf peepers. While these images are classic and iconic and I have many in my portfolio, in my opinion, they tend to become routine.
So how does one take something so monumentally iconic as New England fall foliage and put a new spin on it? It’s something I’ve been toying around with for a few seasons and I’ll gladly share some tips with you.
By far the easiest spin on foliage is the abstract. It can be as simple as using a long lens and zooming in tightly to a cluster of trees on a mountainside instead of going wide and capturing the whole scene. A classic fall abstract is to simply shoot the reflection of the foliage in moving water. It’s timeless, and when done right, can sell for a million bucks like the famous Peter Lik photo “One”. To get a true abstract, try using intentional camera movement. Focus on part of a tree, set your shutter speed slow enough that you can zoom in while the shutter is open. Try panning side to side or up and down while the shutter is open, or get really creative and twist the camera while exposing. It’s generally hit or miss, but when it’s a hit you can walk away with a really amazing and unique image. The following images are examples of some of these techniques.
Try using a 9 or 10 stop ND filter, or stack a 2 and 3 stop ND to get a long exposure during daylight. This can have a really dramatic effect when combined with water and moving clouds. I have used both my 9 stop and two 3 stop filters in the late afternoon to get 90-second exposures of foliage reflecting into a pond with clouds that appear to be racing by.
There is foliage along the coast that turns color in the fall. Most people either forget that or are unaware. Beach roses in particular, turn very vibrant orange, red and yellow in autumn. The grasses and reeds that grow along salt water marshes also turn golden in the fall. These can be used to create some dramatically different fall foliage images.
Many of the iconic fall images include something man made, like a barn or church. Step it up a notch and include city streets, or an old factory. An abandoned car in the woods would make an excellent subject when surrounded by bright fall foliage. Instead of focusing on the barn and silo, find the tractor or baler and compose it with the foliage.
Close Up and Depth of Field
You could use a macro lens or extension tubes and zoom in really close to backlit leaves. Or zoom in tight with a small aperture and shoot at the sun to get a star burst behind a leaf. Sometimes a little fill flash helps with this. You could use a wider angle lens but open up to as wide as you can and focus on some foreground leaves. This would leave (no pun intended) the background soft and out of focus. This would even work with an iconic shot of a white church blurred in the background. Another option I’ll add in here is a Lensbaby. If you have one, try it out on foliage landscapes. You might end up with something really amazing.
Instead of focusing on the trees, turn your camera to the variety of fall flowers and berries that appear in October. Put the trees in the background, and you can have some really great images.
Blue Hour and Night Images
Fall foliage looks its best in good light, but how about moon light? Get out to one of your favorite spots after the sun has gone down and take a few shots. This will look especially good if there is some moonlight. The blue hour, or twilight, also can also make some great images. Light painting would also yield a unique image, especially if you would like to include stars or the Milky Way in your image. Taking a foliage shot at night in an urban setting will let you get artificial light on the foliage and possibly turn the points of light into starbursts by using a small aperture. Shooting in low light conditions like these can be tricky to get proper exposure, so bracketing and combining your images in post may be a good solution. I have to admit that I haven’t personally tried shooting foliage at night yet, but I will have by the time this foliage season is over. I do have this example taken about 20 minutes after sunset as the blue hour was beginning.
In closing, this fall, don’t be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to your foliage images.
~ Bryan Bzdula