Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Finding Photographic Inspiration

Inspiration can come from the most unpredictable sources. It's different than motivation, although they seem to run together like cream and coffee. Inspiration just yields a brighter glow and using inspired moments can be fuel for making powerful photographs.

Recently, while teaching a Mentor Series Ultimate Photo Adventure (http://www.popphoto.com/mentorseries) along with adventure photog Michael Clark and wildlife master photographer Bob Smith at Heart Six Ranch in Wyoming, I was moved by the confidence of one of the riders. Totally random and unexpected, I sensed we were in store for a photo op that might prove memorable.

Arriving at the ranch we discussed potential photos we'd like to try to create to offer a variety of lessons to the group. This included portraits, inside and outside, some action shots and so on. Across the dirt road from the ranch house was a large meadow. The ranch was slightly elevated from the meadow and a small crystal clear river meandered through the valley. Thinking big, as you should always do for making great photos, I asked if there was any possibility of having a few riders running through the river for us. Large horses splashing through the river on a sunny day, mountains in the background, this could be really visual. You have to ask these questions or you might miss out.

                                        Click on photo(s) to see full image

It was a blistering hot day in the mountains and the ranch manager agreed it might work. Four riders were asked if they'd like to ride for us. For them, this was a nice break from the routine days of taking tourists on slow trails and long rides. Here, the riders could use their skills and run their horses they way they were meant to be ridden. Excitement was brewing.....for everyone.

As is customary, and important protocol for assignments, workshop, or any other type of photographic opportunity, you get things figured out in advance. Talk it through, get the angles, where's the sun, talk about speed, water depth, what they can and can't do as riders in water. Without this sort of preliminary discussion you are just guessing and minimize your chances of getting the shot you want.

As the photo group gathered at the waters edge near the curve in the river we had collectively chosen as our staging point, I asked the four riders, "Who is the best rider?" One might think it was silly for asking this. And, it was. That was part of the intent. We all knew it would draw a response. But, I asked this for a reason too. One, to see if there is a top rider, so we know whom to place in the right spots, but also jokingly breaking the tension. Let's face it, everyone was about to shoot action like they've never shot before and were all excited and nervous.

Without hesitation, rider Samatha Cook raised her arms high into the sky. She was the smallest rider full of life and thirsty to help.

"WOW, that was fast," I yelled out. And she meant it. She was confident, skilled and eager to run. I knew I'd be aiming my autofocus on her and her horse, McCue. I found her attitude and pure delight in riding for our group inspiring. I knew she'd photograph well and thus my motivation increased. I wanted to get cool shots to share.

Ya never know where inspiration will come from. But when you do, just run with it.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Photo Reality

Kids tuckered out from day long processions take a break. (Click image to enlarge)
Recent photographs I made in Sevilla, Spain over Easter week drew quite a reaction from folks back home. I'm not surprised. All these people wearing long robes and hoods. At first, the impact of what I was seeing targeted my core as well and revealed my lack of knowledge to Spain's religious celebrations or the origins of the garments. In the U.S., it means something very different.

Observing individual parish members of the processions parading through Sevilla dressed in penitential robes with pointed hoods with eye-holes, can smack American visitors hard. The resemblance of the trademark costumes worn by the U.S. terrorist group Ku Klux Klan is a tough nut to overcome. It raised a lot of questions for me on how to photograph these marvelous celebrations  without the inherited prejudice. After all, images of the KKK in their white robes and hoods are entrenched into generations of Americans as a symbol of hatred and racism. I felt I needed to be extra careful in how I photographed this so not to promote any negative observations.

It was important to educate myself on what the costumes meant. Since the Middle Ages, around 1350, parish members have dressed wearing these capirotes (robes and hoods) so the faithful could repent in anonymity. After a few days of photographing the different parishes marching through the cobblestone streets of Sevilla, watching families walk together in the processions, mothers attending to their kids as they adjusted and tightened robes and hoods, full of hugs and smiles, the joys of celebration rang clear.

Personally, I found my greatest comfort in photographing the kids. The experience was new to them. They were caught up in the pageantry just as I was. It was real, imperfect and genuine. Soon, the intolerance and bias I had been carrying due to the clothing disappeared. Witnessing the passion a culture holds for their faith was a joy to photograph.

Still,  I am amazed how powerful the prejudice of the robe and hoods clings to the visual definitions I had growing up. Photography has more power of influence than most believe. And the comments I had gotten after sharing these back home verified this. I simply tried to find moments that promoted the positive aspects of Spaniards celebrating the Week of Saints.

Many parishes participate in processions for the Week Of The Saints during the Easter week of celebrations in Sevilla. Night and day tens of thousands of people line to streets to watch the events. Each parish has its own style of clothing and wear colors reflecting that of their parish. Its a family event full of festivities and community. Sevilla is the heart of Spain's  massive Easter procession activities. But, cities and villages across the country hold their own procession events.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Defining Your Photographic Style

VW Bus & Surf Board, California's Coastal Hwy
 In a recent email exchange with a friend, he mentioned flipping through a magazine and liked a photo inside. He said he knew instantly it was my photo before noticing the byline. I must say, that was one of the best compliments I've ever gotten.

How does one find their style?

Basketball hoop on rural barn, Minnesota
We've all done it. Seen something through the window while driving down the road, it calls out to you. It has a visual interest. You keep driving. A minute later you tell yourself, "turn around." But, you keep driving until you are too far down the road to go back. A missed opportunity perhaps? There's lots or reasons why you didn't turn around. But, that's not what is really important here.

Something back there grabbed your eye. Both your visual smarts and creative instincts were put on high alert. There had to be a photo there, right? No one else saw it. And, if they did, they didn't react to it the same way you did. Whatever it was, it defined your style. It's your style because you were attracted to it. It defined your vision.

 Don't miss those opportunities to define your style.

Giant Saguaro reaching for the sky, Arizona

While covering an assignment in the Arizona desert at Saguaro National Monument, on the way to the park, I had spotted this giant lone saguaro reaching for the sky amidst the power lines. The mere size of the cactus was stunning. But, the encroachment of modern life enveloping a living example of natural history was a compelling scene for me. I pulled over and made a picture. It made me chuckle knowing I was probably the only crazy photog to stop there and photograph a cactus next to power lines.  Most would have avoided the power lines to the best of their ability.

Brooms drying in Olive Trees, Orvieto, Italy

Spotting these home-made brooms drying in the olive trees was a fun find. The brooms were only hanging in a few of the trees within the orchard. It took some effort to find the right angle, composition, and lens choice. It would be been very easy to just walked past them, enjoy the mental note of the unusual sight and dismiss pulling out the camera. Yet, connecting with those internal instincts and listening drawing the eyes towards the trees and recognizing the value of making a photograph paid off in stylizing my Italian experience. 

The difficult part is recognizing those messages and acting on them.
After that, being a photographer is easy. Your style is defined.

Friday, January 2, 2015


(Click on image for full size view)

Every New Year's Eve millions of people
make resolutions for the future.
Not a bad idea really.
It's always a good idea to look forward and give yourself challenges. Personally, it's not something I consciously do. I have plans stacked up so high into the future I cannot attach a dateline to it. 

For most professional photographers the end of the year means making those end-of-the-year purchases for tax reasons. Naturally, that plays into our futuristic outlook. I never buy equipment to save on tax expenditures. I purchase gear to enhance my photographic capabilities. Plus, it's so fun having new glass!

That said, I admit each year I look to traveling someplace I haven't visited. Diving into a new culture, an unusual landscape, or vibrant city excites the visual taste buds. You see new things and find fresh  ways to document them. I learn something new in each and every geographical location I visit and usually learn something about myself as well.

For 2015 plans already include Iceland, Greenland (Mentor Series), Cuba, Ireland, Scotland (PhotoZoneTours), and Costa Rica, Belize, Italy and even our 23rd year of a photo dogsledding adventure next month right here in Minnesota.

If I can offer any advice towards your 2015 outlooks for creating photographs, it is take your camera someplace you have never gone. Find a new way to communicate through your lens. Make the images you capture your own. When you make it personal, you develop your style.

So, CHEERS to a booming and fruitful 2015!

layne & gang