by Joel Meyerowitz
photos © Joel Meyerowitz, courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery
Whether you are in a park or out in the wilds of nature, the following ways of behaving or observing where you are can serve to make you a better photographer. Here are some tips for seeing and making the most out of what you find in nature.
1. The Light
The first thing you should always look for is a special quality of light. After all, light can make an ordinary moment become extraordinary. For example:
– the way dappled light looks in the forest,
– the way shafts of sunlight streak through the clouds on a day with a stormy sky,
– the movement of clouds across the land to create sun and shadow.
These will provide you with a photograph of a special moment in time when the light was just right.
2. The Signal
Wherever you find yourself moved by a feeling that HERE is special spot, stop, take a slow look around in a 360-degree circle, and the first thing that sends a signal to you — the shape of a clump of trees, the way the land slopes or rises, a building that stands out in the landscape in a special way, or the light — this moment that holds your attention, even for the briefest second, is the moment that is calling out to YOU! This is the subject of your picture.
3. Relationships & Counterpoint
Photographers generally look at one object in a space and make that the bulls-eye in the photograph. So try something different: look at the object that calls your attention and then try to find something else that works as a good counterpoint or stands in an interesting relation to it. It’s in this way that you can find something unexpected.
4. The Unexpected
There is an old Zen saying: “Expect nothing; be prepared for everything.” Try to leave your expectations at home when you go out to photograph. In that way, when some surprising event or object comes to your attention, you will be open-minded enough to consider it as a new possibility for your photography.
5. The Weather
Don’t be afraid to go out in the weather. Nature offers its best surprises with moments of extreme weather. A thunderstorm, darkening skies. Snow and the way it filters or veils the landscape. Wind that animates the trees and grasses. Rain and the way it changes the surface of the water, a field of grass, even the way it bounces off the pavement might make for a fresh photograph that you haven’t considered before.
6. The Portrait
A portrait doesn’t have to be about a person. In nature, you may find yourself face-to-face with a remarkable tree, rock formation, a cactus, or a waterfall, or even the wind. It might be fun to consider that you are making a portrait of this tree or place or moment. There it is, standing there waiting for you to come and recognize how important it is.
Every one of you has the potential to make a work of art. And by staying open to the unexpected, by being more observant about where you are, you might begin to discover images that carry your true identity and do not look like any one else’s photographs. Just like your fingerprint is unique to you, so is your photographic identity. Allow yourself to be lost in a moment of reflection when you are standing somewhere in nature. Let yourself be “taken in.” And when you are taken, you respond with a picture that is uniquely yours.
About the Author
Joel Meyerowitz is an award-winning photographer whose work has appeared in more than 350 international exhibitions. A two-time Guggenheim Fellow, he has published 17 books of his work including the classic Cape Light. He was instrumental in changing the attitude toward the use of color in photography from one of resistance to nearly universal acceptance. Visit him at: www.joelmeyerowitz.com.