Natural Selections; Gil Lopez-Espina’s Brand-New Blank Canvas Page 2

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.

"This 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 graphics.

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.)

Both 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