It's a return to the blank canvases he faced in the early days, only this
time the canvas is a photograph in which there is a background that offers possibilities.
The image's background is the starting point. "I'll have a
photograph that depicts a scene," Gil says. "Let's say a desert
scene, and then I look for photographs in my files that have elements that will
work with that scene, elements that have the same quality of light falling on
them as the scene, and elements that will look like they could belong in that
space." The direction and the amount of light, the shadows and where they
fall, the consistency and the richness of the colors--all have to match
up, to look like they belong, because they almost do. These are images just
beyond the edge of the possible.
began as a color image, of course," Gil says, "a landscape
taken of Eagle Lake in Acadia National Park in Maine. I turned
a copy into black and white and then created the fold."
So we know where the inspiration for these graphics comes from, but the need
to do these images now, at this point in his career, comes from a different
place. "It's the reality of the market," Gil says. "The
most difficult thing in nature photography, at least for a photographer like
me, who comes from an art background, is that I want to be as creative as possible.
But the marketplace doesn't allow that. Photographs for editorial illustration
have to go along with the words. And overall, there's very little leeway
to experiment when it comes to nature photography." He says that creative
concepts in nature photography are often met with comments like, "Oh,
that's not real, that's not legitimate nature photography."
And so these images are a creative outlet, a chance to ask "What if...?"
and then break the boundaries of nature photography. It's not work that's
going to sell to his editorial clients, but as fine art it may find a place
among his website offerings.
He's been doing these images long enough that the actual technical process
is not terribly time-consuming. The search through his photographs for elements
to place in the scene can take longer than the few days it takes to create the
The original photographs are either 35mm or 6x7 transparencies (Gil works with
both the Nikon and Mamiya systems), and they are scanned into his Mac G5 using
a Nikon Coolscan 8000. He works in Photoshop CS and sometimes draws elements,
like shadows, using a Wacom Intuos3 9x12 drawing tablet. As you might imagine,
a large monitor is very important for the exacting detail necessary, and Gil's
is a 23" Apple Cinema Display. While Gil's methods and techniques
are beyond the scope of this article, we can tell you he uses pretty much the
full palette of Photoshop's tools and plug-ins, especially layers and
the airbrush. (Specific Photoshop techniques and procedures are often discussed
by David Brooks in these pages.)
the coyote and the background were taken in Haden Valley in Yellowstone
National Park, only a few miles from each other, but a year or
so apart in time. Gil created the shadow and the tracks. "It's
like I was going back to painting," Gil says. "I took
a section of the scene, created the right perspective, then added
highlights and shadows."
The final images, Gil says, "convey the reality that I have in my mind,"
and it's a reality that he once put down on canvas and now creates on
screen. "The digital medium provides you with so many ways of adding,
subtracting, and manipulating elements, ways that just aren't available
to any other medium. Not to mention the ability to change your mind--to
move things around the canvas, so to speak, and change their size or color."
The possibilities, however, do not overwhelm him. The work is clean, elegant,
and precise, and he is as meticulous and measured in his choices for these creations
as he is in his nature photography. "I've always been good at composition,
in both my paintings and my photographs," Gil says. He knows that simplicity
makes for the best of compositions. "Going to extremes is not for me."
Note: You can see Gil's nature images at his website,
To find out about his photo tours, visit www.fototreks.com.