Raising the bar…

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III__EF70-200mm f/2.8L USM__2.0 sec at f / 32__ISO 100

Life is full of lessons.  When I went to Yosemite Valley a few weeks ago, as with every spring for 33 years, I tried to create a new dogwood images.  I always gravitate to the same tree where I have made my best dogwood images.  I call it my Home Tree.  I tried a few frames of this tree again, but realized that my past images were better.  So I moved on.  Upriver, near Pohono Bridge, I worked along the river bank, looking for a “dogwood and river rapids” image.  Here is one I made in 1988, but this season at this same location, the dogwood were too sparse:  Dogwoods on the Merced River, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park, California 1988.  Again, I tried a few frames anyway then headed upstream to another location where I have rarely photographed.  Unfortunately, I was running short on time since I needed to meet up with my 9 year old son Ravi’s Yosemite field trip group.  The first composition I tried was the one below.  The branches were graceful and full of blossoms.  The wind was light and there was little movement in the branches.  The water was high so the river was mostly dark with a few curving breaks of whitewater.  I am pleased with the image, but it is not up there with my best.

Finally, I spotted a dogwood tree next to the river that had a broken branch dangling in the rapid water.  The blossoms danced to the movement of the river like so many dancing fairies.  My first instinct was to use a fast shutter speed, so that the dogwood would be sharp.  Even if I could freeze the action of the tree, the river rapids would look stiff and unnatural.  So I turned my aperture down to f/32 to see what kind of impressionistic effect I could capture by allowing the blossoms to dance their dance and for the river to blur softly in the background.  Since only parts of the whole branches were being shaken by the strongly flowing river, this image has an intriguing blend of sharpness and softness.  I feel that the BW treatment adds to the delicate effect.

Lesson:  I find it important to visit locations where I feel at home.  In this case, it was my dogwood Home Tree, and in general, the stretch of dogwood trees below Pohono Bridge.  But in order to continue my own creative growth, and to raise the bar on my work, I needs to push myself to seek new views, new angles.  Each time I hope to better my best!

Let me know your thoughts about these two images.

Cheers,   Bill

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III__EF70-200mm f/2.8L USM__1/3 sec at f / 32__ISO 200

Published by William Neill

William Neill, a resident of the Yosemite National Park area since 1977, is a landscape photographer concerned with conveying the deep, spiritual beauty he sees and feels in Nature. Neill's award-winning photography has been widely published in books, magazines, calendars, posters, and his limited-edition prints have been collected and exhibited in museums and galleries nationally, including the Museum of Fine Art Boston, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, The Vernon Collection, and The Polaroid Collection. Neill received a BA degree in Environmental Conservation at the University of Colorado. In 1995, Neill received the Sierra Club's Ansel Adams Award for conservation photography. Neill's assignment and published credits include National Geographic, Smithsonian, Natural History, National Wildlife, Conde Nast Traveler, Gentlemen's Quarterly, Travel and Leisure, Wilderness, Sunset, Sierra and Outside magazines. Also, he writes a monthly column, On Landscape, for Outdoor Photographer magazine. Feature articles about his work have appeared in Life, Camera and Darkroom, Outdoor Photographer and Communication Arts, from whom he has also received five Awards of Excellence. His corporate clients have included Sony Japan, Bayer Corporation, Canon USA, Nike, Nikon, The Nature Company, Hewlett Packard, 3M, Freidrick Grohe, Neutrogena, Sony Music/Classical, University of Cincinnati, UBS Global Asset Management. His work was chosen to illustrate two special edition books published by The Nature Company, Rachel Carson's The Sense of Wonder and John Fowles's The Tree. His photographs were also published in a three book series on the art and science of natural process in collaboration with the Exploratorium Museum of San Francisco: By Nature's Design (Exploratorium / Chronicle Books, 1993), The Color of Nature (Exploratorium / Chronicle Books, 1996) and Traces of Time (Chronicle Books / Exploratorium, Fall 2000). A portfolio of his Yosemite photographs has been published entitled Yosemite: The Promise of Wildness (Yosemite Association, 1994) which received The Director's Award from the National Park Service. A retrospective monograph of his landscape photography entitled Landscapes Of The Spirit (Bulfinch Press/Little, Brown, 1997) relates his beliefs in the healing power of nature. William has taught photography since 1980 for such prestigious organizations as The Ansel Adams Gallery, the Friends of Photography, Palm Beach Photographic Workshops, The Maine Workshops and Anderson Ranch Workshops. He specializes in landscape and nature photography and is concerned with conveying the beauty seen in Nature. Currently, he teaches online courses for BetterPhoto.com and One-on-One Workshops in his home studio near Yosemite National Park.

13 replies on “Raising the bar…”

  1. Can I simply say what a reduction to find somebody who actually knows what theyre speaking about on the internet. You positively know methods to convey an issue to light and make it important. Extra folks must read this and understand this aspect of the story. I cant consider youre no more popular because you definitely have the gift.

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  3. Dear Bill,

    I really like your black and white dogwood picture. The contrast between sharpness and blur is fantastic! The photo has an etheral and fleeing quality to me. Great capture and thank you for sharing.

    Best regards,

  4. I enjoyed the article Bill and agree with both points completely. Revisiting familiar places with your camera is important, for me it helps to center myself when I arrive in an area. After a bit of time working in that “home” location or with a subject I know well and can perhaps plan for I’m then free to discover the new, fresh and unknown.



  5. Great article!

    Being able to get to know a place is an under-rated luxury, I think. There are so many places to explore that it’s easy to get into the habit of always going to somewhere new, even though on your first visit you won’t know what you’re looking for or what the light will be like.

    And when you DO find a place that you are able to visit over and over, there’s a lot less pressure to “get” a photograph, since you know you can just come back and keep trying.

  6. Great story, Bill – thanks for sharing it.

    There are multiple lessons in this tale. One that I particularly relate to is the mixed blessings of being able to return to the exact same spot over and over again. On one hand, there is something very special about getting to know one tree, one rock, one pond intimately in all seasons and all conditions. This can lead to an insightful sort of photography that often isn’t possible when one simply seeks out the “new.” On the other hand, it is possible to get locked into always approaching a subject from the same perspective (and not just in the photographic sense) and miss other ways of seeing.

    Your small comment about considering a fast shutter speed to stop the motion of the flowers caught my attention and made me think of a personal story from the past year. One of my projects is to photograph the pelicans that skim along the coastline not far from where I live. I’ve begun to learn their ways such that I can begin to predict where and when and how to photograph them – and I can get “sharp” photographs of these magnificent birds.

    However, one day last winter I was at a beach where I often photograph and it was dark and cloudy and a bit foggy. I had a long lens on the camera, but there just wasn’t enough light to get the shutter speed that I “needed.” I almost decided not to shoot, but then figured I’d just go ahead and use whatever shutter speed I could manage and try to follow the birds with the camera as them skimmed inches above the sand.

    I ended up with very soft, blurred, and diffused images with just a few relatively sharp components – not at all like what I usually have tried for with these birds. But, in the end, these “fuzzy” images, for me at least, capture far better what I perceive to be the nature of these birds and the lives they live.

    And, yes, I like those “dancing” dogwood blossoms!


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