Have you ever wondered why you can’t seem to get a good photo of a certain place, or setting, or scenery? No matter what you do, it just ain’t there. Something intangible is “disqualifying” a given photo for your portfolio. But in another locale, everything you take is a keeper? Have you ever considered that you have. horrors, an inner, unspoken prejudice? Perhaps about color?
Gotcha! I’m not talking about any form of racial prejudice, I’m talking about your personal internal color pallet. We all have one. Or perhaps your like or dislike of outdoor areas. For example which do you like more? Florida and California or Arizona and Nevada? Urban or Rural? Believe it or not, a lot of those choice may actually involve colors, not just climate. To make this shot of red rocks and canyons, I added in a big ol lake. This shot and treatment will never be in my official portfolio.
Greater Nevada is primarily desert. The overall colorization is tones of brown, and crisp blue skies. Geological history is evident wherever you look. Driving through Nevada, it is easy to see eons of erosion, rock slides, flooding and drying, that kind of stuff. I really like the Nevada topography, desert lakes, the mountains and upheavals of time, that kind of stuff. Browns, some greys and blue skies. Of course.
Take Arizona… please! Sedona is a world-famous area known for its red rocks and formations, natural bridges and arches, yatta yatta. The colors are predominantly reds. Not luscious, deep crimson reds, but kind of a dirty, rusty red. And oranges. And browns. And blue skies. I’ve been to Sedona and environs a couple of times. Never gotten a good shot of all that famous scenery. I have lugged around 25 to 40 pounds of medium format equipment, looking for that all-elusive keeper. Never got one. I got a few decent shots of the grand canyon, but nothing to write home about. Why?
It’s like I told K one day. “I don’t see in reds and browns. I see in greens and blues.” You throw in most any shade of reds into a landscape, and I’m not seeing beauty. I have no idea why. We spent a day in Colorado National Park. I shot four rolls of 220 film, at 6×7. Used a tripod. Expensive lenses. Really expensive camera. Pricey filters. I didn’t even get one good shot. Not even of a flower. However, there is one caveat of tmy “no red” rule: Sunsets. I can shoot a pretty mean sunset … especially if its over blue water… with a bright fire-engine red boat…
Lakes and mountain rivers are a favorite source of my imagery. I grew up in two places, the high sierras in the non-school months, and Stockton, California the rest of the time. We had a small mountain lake at Pinecrest, where I spent my entire summer swimming, fishing and sailing. Beautiful photography area.
The San Joaquin River Delta was where I spent my warm school months. My grandfather had a house on the river. He had a boathouse with a beautiful black 35 foot Chris Craft cruiser. More times than not, I was the driver of that big boat. He wanted to sit back with his big black stogie and a whiskey on the rocks. Also in that boat house was a great little outboard powered aluminum skiff that I spent zillions of hours on, exploring back waters of the delta. As much as I love the delta, there ain’t much scenic photography there. Most all the levees are lined with official US Army Engineer Rip-Rap.
I now live in Vegas, who’s liquid claim to fame is Lake Mead. The only problem with photography on or about Lake Mead is twofold: No vegetation to speak of, so no greenery. And thanks to a Southern California federal judge, there is a twenty or thirty foot thick waterline of bleached land, created by draining water from the original high water limits and sending it on to provide water for thousands of square miles of lawn in LA. Meanwhile, except for some parks watered by non-potable water, Las Vegas has no lawns. Perhaps boat photography would be okay out in the lake, but I don’t have a boat.
When we rolled our big ol RV back to Florida, after a great photo shoot in the Grand Tetons, I was in my element. I’ve always loved boating in any form, green is my favorite color, and so on. Florida’s skies are dramatic with white billowing thunder-heads in the afternoons, and crisp blue colors in the mornings. There ain’t no such thing as dry trees or shrubs. The browns of the ground are a deep dark chocolate. Wildlife is abundant around the water. A virtual plethora of water birds, gators, otters, snakes, etc.
For me South Florida is a target-rich zone. I personally believe that Miami is the most photogenic city in the US, and I’m originally from San Francisco. I’ll give San Fran the number two rating because of the scenics created by the bay and the San Andreas Fault-driven topography. Miami gets number one because of the colors. I really like the Cuban influence. In fact Cubanos are some of my favorite people, but that’s another blog.
For boat photography, its a clear toss-up between Florida and Northern California. Put me in either place, and I’m a happy outdoor photographer. And yet, I still live in Las Vegas, but that’s yet another blog. (Got a lot of those lined up, don’t I?)
What about working in black and white? Black and White definitely has its place. In my humble opinion, straight black and white photography of scenics is a bit self-defeating. Don’t get me wrong, I really like black and white. I think outdoors, it’s great for shooting features, especially with the judicious use of filters.
One of my early mentors took me along (I was about ten… hmm… now that I recollect, I was there to operate the boat.) on a shoot of my brother’s sailboat while on Strawberry Lake (where Pinecrest is located). He used colored filters, which fascinated me because I didn’t understand why one would use color glass in a black and white photo. But when I saw the finished results of using a #3 Red filter, a bright white sail against a deep grey sky, I was hooked for life. I wish I had a copy of that great shot to show you, but I don’t. And that mentor has long since passed.
Ahh, boats, mountain lakes and cameras. I was in boyhood heaven. (Yeah, another blog…)
So you can see, just by my reminiscences, how I got to be prejudiced towards the colors of the summer mountains and oceans. I can easily imagine that Native American boys in the southwest feel the same way about the colors of Arizona and New Mexico. Or people who grow up in Alaska. Add in eight months of grey skies and white topography. Another set of colors that are not my cuppa tea.
I can shoot a pretty mean sunset … especially if its over blue water…