Yarra River Meanderings
Travel Focuses Our Attention And Motivates Us To Take Action
I recently acquired a Sony a7Rii camera with a high quality Sony/Zeiss 24-70mm f4 lens. I have three amazing Leica M-series manual focus lenses which I can attach to the camera, via an adaptor, and will probably buy a Sony/Zeiss 16-35mm f4 lens before I head off in a few weeks for my latest overseas adventure.
Now that the weather is finally improving, after a long and cold winter in Melbourne, it’s time to get out and about to further familiarize myself with the camera before my trip begins. This is a full-frame mirrorless camera with some very advanced technology. For the most part that technology is useful. It just takes time to acquaint oneself with the various menus and buttons, of which this camera has many.
The picture quality is extremely good and it’s a relatively solid, well built camera with good ergonomics. The fact that it’s significantly smaller and lighter than my Nikon D800e camera (which I’m just about to sell) is very important, particularly given the increasingly stringent regulations associated with airline carry on luggage.
I’ve been incredibly busy over the last few months, but have found time for two important activities prior to my upcoming trip: walking and photography. I need to get my general fitness up and I also need to be fully comfortable and familiar with the workings of my camera before I leave. I love how travel focuses ones attention and motivates us to take action.
Can You Tell Me How To Get To Carnegie Hall?
But preparing oneself for an active photography trip takes more than a basic fitness regime and familiarization with one’s camera gear. It’s also necessary to get into the right state of mind for photography and, as I’II be traveling to the South Island of New Zealand, that means landscape photography. When out and about, whether with the Sony a7Rii or just my trusty iPhone 6 plus, I’m very much thinking about making photos.
- I look at the light and how it transforms the landscape and
- I think about simple solutions that will enable me to peel away complexity and reduce the image to its core compositional elements. And the best way to achieve this kind of resolution is to actually do it. A mobile phone is a great way for you to practice composition.
These days I do a lot of one-to-one teaching, either through private classes or with The Arcanum. There’s no doubt that immersing yourself into the work created by other people is a great activity which very much keeps my focus on photography. But it’s still important to move away from the computer, to get out and about in the fresh air and to actually make photos.
And if you haven’t yet heard the old joke, it goes like this
Young Girl Carrying Violin Case
Excuse me sir, can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?
Old Man Sitting On Park Bench
Practice, practice, practice!
Inclusion and Exclusion
Here’s three important points I want to make about the notion of inclusion and exclusion.
- To make an image it’s important to let go of pre-conceived ideas so as to become more receptive to what’s going on in the environment around you.
- To communicate something you first need to understand it - not just conceptually, but at a deeper, more connected level.
- You want your photographs to appear as though you are inside of and a part of that environment, rather than just looking into it.
By separating what’s inside your camera’s viewfinder from the world around it you have created a world and a reality unto itself. There’s a great book I purchased back in the 90’s by the American landscape photography John Sexton titled Listen to the Trees. John Sexton’s photographs showcase our need to bring order and a sense of harmony into an otherwise chaotic, though beautiful, natural environment. A former assistant to the great Ansel Adams, Sexton is a Master of the Fine Print tradition.
Composition is the art of simplification and our cameras viewfinder allows us to produce a more cohesive composition through the art of exclusion. What we exclude from the frame is, arguably, as important as what we include. When dealing with a complex and chaotic environment, use a minimalist approach to distill the image down to its essential elements. Only then will the image reveal it’s true meaning.
I remember thinking of John Sexton, who I briefly met at a seminar he gave in Melbourne, Australia in the late 90’s when I made the above image. I was very much aware of the need to forget about trying to better understand the workings of my new camera and begin to listen to the river.
Do Not Fear Emptiness
To be able to listen to the river, the trees or whatever the subject matter of your photograph is it’s important to clear the mind so that it’s a blank canvas and allow the image to reveal itself, it’s very intentions, to you.
Nothing Simply Is
Some folks have a problem with the notion of clearing the mind. Perhaps they think that nothing is emptiness, and they fear the notion of emptiness. I don’t agree. Nothing is not emptiness. Nothing simply is. And, if you think about it, that’s a very powerful concept.
Creation, whatever you put it down to, came out of nothing. But as nothing existed prior to the creation of something, nothing must be, by definition, (and words fail me somewhat here) something other than something.
Emptiness is the beginning of creation. It is the canvas onto which and through which creation occurs. And, as creative beings, our thoughts and actions bring to life all manner of creations every day of our lives. The more positive and life-affirming those thoughts and creations, the more positively we impact the world and those with whom we interact.
An Exercise In Difficulty
I made these photographs along two separate stretches of the Yarra River, near my home in Melbourne. Each exploration was very much about making something out of nothing and this particular image was the most difficult to realize. As you can see the foliage here is very dense and it was a challenge to try to bring a sense of order and cohesion to the scene. It’s really an image that explores composition. Rendering the image into black and white was helpful as the original color image made it harder to concentrate on the lines, shapes and textures which underpin the composition.
Now I don't want to suggest that it's a good photo. Indeed this post includes several photos I normally wouldn't post on this site. I'm just trying to illustrate how I made use of this terribly dense and complex environment as a way of practicing the art of composition.
An Exercise In Tonality
I love the notion of photographing trees on an almost vertical slope. I’ve been to such locations, but rarely have the lens with me that would provide the reach required to isolate these areas from the rest of the environment. When working along the banks of rivers the problem is more likely to be gaining a relatively unobstructed view from the opposite bank.
In this case I would have loved to have had a more powerful lens by which to build a simpler composition. As it is, there are too many competing elements within the frame. That’s the reason I opted for a black and white rendering and processed the image in a way that provides as much tonal separation as possible. Some of the subtleties will be lost in this on-screen representation. Nevertheless, it was an interesting exercise to undertake.
Kanes Bridge is a lovely, narrow walking bridge which crosses the Yarra River between Fairfield and Kew. On one side there are golf courses and sporting ovals, on the other the Studley Park Boathouse and a densely forested bush walk.
I was here for sunset, though it was unspectacular. Nevertheless, an interesting haze developed and I’ve processed the image in such a way to suggest the notion of a summer’s evening. The trees have been used to take attention away from the bright sky and allow the eye to be taken, on a journey, along the footbridge.
This last photo features Studley Park Boathouse, one of two boathouses near my abode. Made at twilight it was a nice way to finish a fun exploration of a short stretch of Melbourne’s iconic Yarra River and, in doing so, to further familiarize myself with my new Sony a7Rii camera.
Our journeys are not always epic nor are our adventures always far from home. But so long as we undertake them our life is enriched and our opportunities for creativity enhanced. Daylight savings has just begun in Melbourne. I’m looking forward to many such creative preamulations over coming months.