The Nature Of Nature Photography

I remember a story Fred Picker once told about showing his portfolio to a curator at a museum in New England. Fred photographed in the British Isles, near his home in Vermont and places far and wide, and trained his eye and lens on natural forms and man-made totems in nature. His favorite photographer was Paul Strand, though his photo collection ranged as far as his travels. In any case, in goes Fred to this curator, who quickly breezes through the images and dismisses the lot, saying, “We don’t need any more rocks and trees.”

Indeed. The visual partnership photographers have with those “rocks and trees” is something painters and other visual artists understand, and something curators and their ilk might not. In most instances it’s not the Rock and the Tree being photographed, it’s a metaphor for a deeper sense of awareness, of being alive in that place at that time. It’s creating what has come to be called “a sense of place,” a photograph not only of the physical scene but of the feeling of the place itself, its magnificence, intimacy, or simply the way light plays on the river in the breezes of late afternoon.

In some ways the photograph becomes a by-product of being there, but also serves as a remembrance of what was felt and observed, one that can be looked back upon in times and places of a less expansive nature. The hope, of course, is that the photograph can evoke those feelings in others as well, or at the least have them yearn to visit the pictured place, or whatever place in their memory brings back those natural and powerful feelings.

That’s kind of a tall order, I suppose, but it’s something to strive for, to attain and to seek whenever you find yourself in such a place, be it hiking, floating down a river, or watching the moon rise in a black sky on a camping trip deep into the woods, away from the light cast by cities into the night. How do you capture all that in a silent, two-dimensional medium? That’s a challenge nature photographers face all the time, and many rely on light, on a unique point of view (gained through altitude or lens choice), and an innate sense of what works and doesn’t to make those exciting images.

In this issue we bring you some tales from some travelers and stories of the places they’ve been. We also take a look at what we consider one of the most important traveling accessories with a roundup of photo backpacks and “sling bags,” with special emphasis on comfort and portability.

Of course, with the price of gas these days many of us will be scaling back travel plans, but that shouldn’t stop you from getting into a natural state of mind, be it down the road or on the other side of the country or the world. Wherever you go keep your eyes fresh, your heart open, and your mind on making images that will resonate with how you see and want to express the world around you. Keep aware and happy trails!
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