Focus Your Fall Portfolio

October 2nd, 2018
Working with a theme can help you create a unique collection of images

 

 

Autumn Elm and Sunbeams, Cook’s Meadow, Yosemite National Park, California, 2014.

With autumn photography season here, I want to share some ideas that may help you develop an excellent portfolio for this fall season. I have found it useful, for myself and for teaching my students, to think about creating a story line, or clear thematic focus, for your work. Consider what specific locations or aspects of autumn inspire you the most. The location could be your backyard, a nearby park or reserve, or a travel location where you can spend at least a few days to explore the area fully. A favorite aspect might include colorful reflections, or the patterns of fallen leaves, or a series focused on branch-filled tapestries of color. This approach of specialization will help distinguish your autumn images from other photographers’ work.

Two key elements needed for your selection of an autumn theme are passion for the subject and easy access during the season. Passion is a must-have ingredient for creative, insightful imagery. Repeated access to your location will build your knowledge of the light, weather and seasonal changes, helping you find the best conditions for making great photographs. One idea would be to photograph the transition of autumn in your area, from the first hints of color in green trees to the last clinging leaves. This transition offers us great opportunities to communicate that visceral sense that we all feel of time moving forward.With autumn photography approaching soon, I want to share some ideas that may help you develop an excellent portfolio for this fall season. I have found it useful, for myself and for teaching my students, to think about creating a story line, or clear thematic focus, for your work. Consider what specific locations or aspects of autumn inspire you the most. The location could be your backyard, a nearby park or reserve, or a travel location where you can spend at least a few days to explore the area fully. A favorite aspect might include colorful reflections, or the patterns of fallen leaves, or a series focused on branch-filled tapestries of color. This approach of specialization will help distinguish your autumn images from other photographers’ work.

Instead of trophy hunting for singular, spectacular scenic images, I like to explore around for quiet images, ones that don’t shout too loud. In Yosemite, for example, I often find exciting details on the forest floor, in river reflections or cliff details. I have included some examples here from last fall in Yosemite Valley. Over a two-week period in late October and early November, I worked with private students in Yosemite Valley. I enjoy the one-to-one process of helping photographers find their own vision, and share mine with them. Even though I usually focus on intimate details, that doesn’t mean I will avoid those epic, rare events where weather and/or light explode with drama and energy.

On one such dramatic morning, an amazing confluence of peak autumn color and morning mist, rising off a frosted meadow, unfolded before me and my student. We started out photographing from one excellent vantage point, then raced to where the sun was directly behind this extraordinary tree where we witnessed sunbeams bursting through the graceful branches. Knowing that the mist would burn off soon, we worked rapidly to find the best camera position for him to block the rising sun with the tree’s limbs. Even though the lens was shaded from direct sun, the high contrast and rapidly changing situation called for bracketing exposures to ensure a full range of data was captured. The end result, for both of us, were top portfolio “keepers!” The images portray the symbolism of “a new day” and “light shining through the darkness.”

Just as exciting to me were several quiet Yosemite images I photographed last fall. Quiet intensity in an image can endure and engage the viewer for longer in my opinion. With subtle imagery comes a depth that can be enjoyed more over time.


Yellow Maples, Cedar and Pine, Yosemite Valley.

When I pull together a group of photographs such as from last autumn, I edit by looking for the highest and most consistent quality, as well as looking for a balance of scale, light, weather and subject matter. I might use a wide-angle view or two to set the context of the portfolio in Yosemite Valley. However, my intimate landscapes would be my main focus, such as the river and trees reflections, or leaves floating through autumn-colored river reflections. When you see the selected images as a group such as in an exhibit or online gallery, they should create a visual story, a personal exploration, a creative viewpoint.

This fall, think about what thematic project you could develop. Selecting a title, even if you change it later, can give you additional focus for both your shooting sessions and editing. Think about what you want to say with your images. Your unique viewpoint will be better revealed, and the concept behind the photographs will heighten the portfolio’s impact.

Best wishes for great light, wondrous color and creative autumn photographs!

Autumn Portfolio

 

 

Autumn Snowstorm, Yosemite National Park, California 2015

 

 

 

William Neill Photography

September 26th, 2018

 

Impressions

September 15th, 2018

Autumn tree reflections on Bubble Pond, Acadia National Park, Maine 1992

Impressions
(revised from 2003 essay published in Outdoor Photographer.)

I enjoy impressionistic art. As a teenager, my mother worked as a docent at the National Art Gallery when we lived near Washington, D.C., so I often had the chance to visit the exhibits.  I was captivated by the en Plein air approach of Monet and by the pointillism of Van Gogh I viewed there.  Art soon became my favorite class during my high school years. My intrigue with the Impressionist movement led to my experiments with blurred many images years later.

The sensation of light and the emotion of seeing a beautiful moment are the qualities of the style I like.   Impressionism, the French school of painting that developed in the late 1800s, has been defined as a method of depicting transitory visual impressions. One early adherent advised other painters to “submit to the first impression” of what they saw.  This idea, in part, can be attributed to the invention of photography in the previous century.  The Impressionist painters saw the enormous potential of revealing the frozen moments of time as seen in photographs.

In their work, the Impressionists chose to emphasize their direct sensory and emotional responses devoid of intellectual thought.  Painters such as Claude Monet were fascinated by the ever-changing lighting conditions outdoors, and they would return to paint the same scene at different times or weather conditions.   More traditional painters of the day painted only in their studios.  The Impressionists painted on location, working quickly to capture the moment before the light changed.  How similar this sounds to landscape photography!

A critical photographic idea grew out of, at least in part, from Impressionism’s sensory method. The concept of the Equivalent, developed by Alfred Steiglitz, relies on the photographer’s intuitive response to a scene to create an emotional equivalent.  Mentored by Steiglitz, Ansel Adams and Minor White taught this approach to their students.  They used the idea in their own work, applying it using straight photographic technique rather than altering reality.  Reflecting on his own path, Adams once wrote, “If I feel something strongly, I would make a photograph, that would be the equivalent of what I saw and felt…. I’m interested in expressing something which is built up from within, rather than just extracted from without.”

Freeman Patterson, in his book Photo Impressionism and the Subjective Image, discusses another approach, writing “the “impressionist” photographer deliberately abandons physical exactitude in the belief that he or she can convey the reality of feeling more effectively by doing so.”  Patterson wishes to “help photographers venture into some aspects of the non-literal world of photography and to create (or, for that matter, to record) impressions that convey a truth of feeling or spirit.”  If you are frustrated creatively with traditional methods, you might explore this option.

Most of us photograph the landscape by attempting to capture special events in nature, such as mountains in dramatic light, in a realistic and documentary style. Such literal imagery, if composed well and heartfelt, can speak powerfully about the beauty of the land and express the photographer’s unique perspective.   The danger in this straightforward approach is that images can be so blandly descriptive that the viewer is left unengaged and the artist’s viewpoint unapparent.

For the most part, I photograph directly and realistically.  There is usually little doubt that the subject existed as seen in the photograph.  Ideally, the scene is transformed in a magical way, via composition or light, to make an extraordinary image.  When I make abstractions of nature, the reality of the image is only a question because the exposure itself has altered the reality, such as with blurring water, or that I have isolated the object from surrounding clues, not because I have changed reality.

It seems to me that there is a continuum of possibilities between realistic photographs and photo impressionism, a gray (middle gray?) area where photographs have the attributes of both.  “Autumn tree reflections on Bubble Pond, Acadia National Park, Maine 1992″ is a photograph that depicts reality impressionistically.  I exposed the image with my 4×5 camera with a single exposure.  The only factor that “distorts” reality is that the shutter speed used blurred the reflections.  Is blurred water reality?  Is it more real if a fast shutter speed stops the water’s action?  The answers are less important to me than being open to exploring artistic options and having the willingness to experiment in hope for creative inspiration.

My photograph here was made using straight photographic technique, yet evokes an impressionistic feel, returning me to that brilliant autumn afternoon, when harmonious colors blurred in water, like a painting!

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For information about William Neill – Photographer, A Retrospective, private workshops and to connect via social media, visit WilliamNeill.com to sign up for his newsletter updates.

Open Studio Tour coming soon! Sierra Art Trails – October 5, 6 and 7!

August 16th, 2018

The photo above shows what my living room looks like during Sierra Art Trails.

We are very pleased to announce that we will be open again for Sierra Art Trails 2018, which is celebrating 16 years of supporting the Arts in the Yosemite Foothills! Mark your calendar for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, October 5th, 6th and 7th from 10 AM to 6PM. My home studio will be full of my fine art prints, books, and posters. Come visit me, and you can also visit Yosemite while in the area!

NEW BOOK

Featured this year will be my new retrospective William Neill – Photographer, a Retrospective. The first printing is now in limited supply so consider coming to my studio for your own signed copy. To learn more about the book, to read what “others are saying” see here:

 

Book Reviews
TERRA GALLERIA BOOK REVIEW
ON LANDSCAPE BOOK REVIEW
LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY MAGAZINE BOOK REVIEW
THE ONLINE PHOTOGRAPHER

Book Essays
THE LUMINOUS LANDSCAPE
OUTDOOR PHOTOGRAPHER


INVENTORY SALE!

Once each year, I offer discounts on a large number of prints in inventory.  The good news is that I have so many photographs, but not enough space in my office, so CLEARANCE is the key word!

I hope to see many old friends and meet new ones too!  Let me know if you think you can make it, and ask any questions if you have them. Also, please share this with friends who you think might be interested. Thanks!

See the official website for more details.
http://www.sierraarttrails.org/index.html

Cheers,  Bill

The cost of admission is $20.00 for all participating venues and includes the Sierra Art Trails Catalog, your “ticket for two” for the event. The catalog includes a list of participating artists, examples of their work, and maps to the locations of artists’ studios, galleries, and other viewing locations.  Artists are scattered throughout our mountain communities. Your catalog and map will guide you to each artist’s venue.

See the official website for more details.
http://www.sierraarttrails.org/index.html

Finding Your Voice

August 3rd, 2018

Autumn Snowstorm, Yosemite National Park, California 2015

Over the years, I have gained a sense of myself as a photographer, finding a certain clarity about what inspires me to photograph and what I wish to communicate. Fortunately, this clarity came early in my career. In my college years, I studied the works of landscape masters such as Eliot Porter and Paul Caponigro, who focused more on the details of nature rather than the broad, descriptive view. Just a few years after buying my first camera in 1974, I moved to Yosemite and never left. Living in or just outside the park continuously since 1977 has been key to my development as an artist. After a few summers working for the National Park Service, I was hired to be the photographer-in-residence at The Ansel Adams Gallery. I got to know Ansel and attended many of his summer workshop sessions, meeting other world-class photographers such as Ernst Haas, Joel Meyerowitz and Jerry Uelsmann. I started teaching photography to park visitors, taking them for daily “camera walks” in the meadow near the gallery. I learned to make my own color prints, ironically, in Ansel’s black-and-white darkroom. I listened to the photographers I met and explored this famous landscape.

Photographers find their voice when they discover what subjects move them most deeply. That passion, that emotion from within is the magic element. An excellent way to concentrate one’s attention is to develop thematic portfolios based on those emotional connections. The first phase of this development is to see what themes exist in your photographs and which of those are the most promising, and to start editing the images into a portfolio that exemplifies your best work.

Curating Your Photography

There are two main requirements for an exceptional collection: there must be a coherent theme that moves you and motivates you, and there should be consistent quality. In any situation where you show your work, great images are diluted when average images are included to “fill out” your presentation.

Giant sequoia and fir tree in the fog, Sequoia National Park, California, 1993

Learning to think in themes is an ongoing process that can continue for years or even decades. As you begin to assess the current level of your work, you also learn to maintain that standard of quality using your editing skills and become conscious of ways to improve your future efforts. There is no set way to do this, so we must learn to trust our own instincts and observations, and listen to the opinions of others we respect. Those instincts depend on how well we feel an image translates our vision, plus the equally subjective process of comparing our images to those of others.

With a long-term persistence and commitment to my portfolios, every year I’ve made a few new top level images, slowly building the depth of each theme. The payoff shows in a new book released in December. The photographs are organized by those main themes: an in-depth look at my “Landscapes of the Spirit” work; my recent “Antarctic Dreams” series; a black-and-white portfolio entitled “Meditations in Monochrome;” my “By Nature’s Design”series of patterns in nature imagery; a portfolio of my ICM (intentional camera movement) work called “Impressions of Light;” and last, but not least, a collection of Yosemite photographs I call “Sanctuary in Stone.”

 

Morning Mist, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California 2013



The titles are important because they encapsulate the ideas and passion for each theme, and guide the viewer toward those ideas. More importantly, a theme concept can inform your efforts in the field and subsequent editing sessions. When editing, you not only judge both technical and aesthetic aspects, but you consider whether the photograph adds depth and quality to your chosen theme.

Although the Antarctica photographs were made over only a five-day voyage with Luminous Landscape, my other themes are collections created over four decades. My black-and-white images offer an example of where the inspiration began. Although I’ve gravitated to working in color, early on I was more strongly influenced creatively by black-and-white masters Minor White, Edward and Brett Weston, Wynn Bullock and Paul Caponigro. Seeing the abstract, mysterious and less-literal landscape imagery these photographers often made, I was inspired to strive for the same effect in color. Many years passed as I pursued this goal. Digital technology eventually progressed to the point that allowed for high-quality black-and-white software conversions from digital capture and scans of my color film. When a corporate art project for black-and-white murals was presented to me, I happily dove into the editing and processing of images from my 4×5 film archive. The project led me to expand my initial selections into a full-fledged theme, transforming a long-latent passion for the black-and-white landscape.

Autumn Snowstorm, Yosemite National Park, California 2015

Preparing For Presentation

I recently prepared an exhibit for The Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite. The gallery has been showing my prints since 1983, when Ansel himself approved of my representation there. Each exhibition there has taken on a different flavor depending on the curator, the season and what new images I have made. When deciding what to print, I have naturally focused on showing my most creative work, but the final choices are a collaboration between myself and the curator. Each gallery I work with has a different clientele and curatorial focus and knows their customers best.

Writing an artist’s statement is an excellent way to give voice to a thematic concept and guide the viewer to understand your point of view, whether for a book, exhibition or online portfolio. Of course, photographs are visual communications and should speak to us directly without verbal definition. However, writing can add important depth to the impact of images for any project. Words matter. Ideas matter. For an exhibit there a few years back, I entitled it “Sanctuary,” and I wrote the following artist’s statement for the exhibition:

The theme of Sanctuary provides the foundation of my exhibit selection. Preserves of nature such as Yosemite offer a sense of protection from outside forces, much as do the walls of a church or temple. From within the protected walls, the peacefulness and beauty of Nature, its quality of sanctuary, gives comfort and calm. Given this sense of Sanctuary, the creative energies of an individual are given the freedom to express what one feels, to express the connection between the soul and the beauty of Creation. I can’t speak for others but this is what I have experienced.”

Clearing winter storm, Sentinel Rock, Yosemite Valley,  1990

Although not entirely based on the new book, my Yosemite exhibit was a retrospective drawn from my 40 years living in and next to the park. In writing a statement for the exhibit, I wrote the following words to describe my creative process.

Seeing and feeling beauty is more vital to me than any resulting imagery. When the key elements of photography—light, composition, and emotion—are before me, I am fully engaged, yet detached, without expectations. The magic of my discoveries—whether the dramatic light of a clearing storm or an intimate detail on the forest floor—recharges my spirit with a sense of wonder. The intensity of the experience makes me feel vibrant and alive, the necessary first step to creating a transcendent image.”

Rock, Water and Tree, Cascade Falls, Yosemite National Park, California 2011

I’ve had the good fortune of having my photographs exhibited and published over many years. The first book I illustrated was The Sense of Wonder by nature writer Rachel Carson, published in 1990 by The Nature Company. The success of this book, reprinted in nine editions, led to 10 subsequent books. Flash forward to 2017, and I have a new retrospective book revealing my four decades as a fine art landscape photographer.

The collection, entitled William Neill, Photographer: A Retrospective features 151 images, many never before published. Included are images taken with a 35mm film camera from the 1970s and 1980s, through to my current digital captures. A significant number are photographs made with a 4×5 film camera. It is an amazing feeling as I pulled together 40 years of photography, but there is also great tension as we entered the final stretch of the book building process. Writing my essays, used to introduce each theme, was a challenge, requiring I be both concise and poignant. Essays by Art Wolfe and John Weller supplement my writings in the book. With 151 images in six chapters highlighting my themes, I hope that a sense of my artist’s journey comes through.

Learn to focus on your greatest sources of inspiration. Commit to seeking your own creative vision. Consider what style or themes drive your passion to photograph, and follow that path even if it is “the long road” to success. Good luck and good light.