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I'll be honest, creative nature photography is something that I have struggled with. My progress has been pretty smooth with other types of photography but for some reason nature has always given me heartburn. I think that I am finally beginning to unlock this particular puzzle.

Crossposted on my blog: Creative Nature Photography | Minimalist Photography 101

creative nature photography cactus

I would go to beautiful places and take photographs that were, without exception disappointing. I now think that was because I was placing the emphasis in showing the scene unambiguously with all objects easily identifiable. In other words I may have thought that I was being creative but I was doing little more than recording. I may as well have been shooting images for a biology project.

Ogden gardens valparaiso Indiana april 2011

Abstraction, i.e. a lack of concern about whether the objects in the image are either easily identifiable or clear in the image, is the big change in my work. That is incredibly liberating and it stops the end results looking blah and like  thousands photographs that came before.

Ogden gardens NW Indiana april 2011

I cut my photographic teeth as many do by producing what is called microstock photography. This is basically the photography that appears on impersonal looking websites. Think corporate website a number of ethnically diverse individuals with identikit smiles, the finacial site with the pile of dollar bills or the cookery site with the image of freshly chopped vegetables that you are sure you've seen somewhere before. That is what stock photography is.

Ogden gardens april 2011 Cactus

There is a very big plus and a very big minus to starting out in stock. The plus is that it is a very technically demanding type of photography. Noise is not permitted and neither are hard shadows. lighting must be even, it must be very clear what the object is and by and large it should be fully contained within the frame. This is great discipline and it really forces a focus on the technicalities. If you see noisy or degraded images on this site, believe me it is not because I do not know how to produce clean ones. It is an artistic choice.

Ogden gardens april 2011

The downside of working on stock photography is that it makes the above practices ingrained and after a while it becomes very hard to break away from them. It took me a long time before I could release a photograph with noise or hard shadows or an undefined subject. It is a transition that has taken several years.

creative nature photography

I spent some time yesterday not only editing these images but looking at photographs of the same public gardens that I have taken over the years and the change is remarkable. It should be said that these and the previous photographs were taken very informally, normally while walking around with my wife, Meg. In other words I was not out to capture specific images or great photographs but would shoot whatever caught my eye at the time.

Ogden gardens april 2011

The first shots, from half a decade ago, are of brightly colored flowers, paths winding into the distance, all well (at least according to ideals preached by many photography books and art teachers) but boringly composed and all looking to imitate postcards. As the years have gone by the move towards abstraction and the diminishing importance of the objects being photographed is both marked and very consistent. This has led to an ongoing deconstruction of the scene into line and tone, purely artistic considerations. In my case this shift appears to have been mre evolution than revolution. This seeing the process after the fact rather than it being a conscious one gives me great comfort for some reason.

Ogden gardens april 2011 park close up

I had been thinking in these terms artistically for years with regard to painting. I am not sure why I didn't quickly transfer the thinking from painting to photography. Why I had to start from scratch again. I suspect that the prevailing pictorialist/technical obsessions that currently dominate photography at all levels other than fine art and my entrance via the microstock route are largely to blame.

Ogden gardens april 2011 broken reeds

I realize that it would have been more informative if I'd used photographs taken over the last five years to illustrate this piece but to be honest I don't actually like the earlier stuff anymore. This leads me to think that there is a very good chance that I won't like these in years to come. That is what makes photography, or any art based approach to anything exciting - the not knowing.

agden gardens april 2011

To end on a technical note. These were all shot using a Nikon d40x. The lens is an old kit zoom lens from a Nikon film camera - an N55 I think.

Originally posted to stevej on Fri Apr 15, 2011 at 07:54 AM PDT.

Also republished by Photography and Community Spotlight.

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