Standing Tall in the Quiet Light, Part 2

Another scene from the first weekend of this month on the High Lonesome Ranch:

Canon 5D + 24-70mm f/2.8L + polarizer
4 seconds, f/8, 24mm, ISO 200

Last month I wrote about shooting the trees on the ranch as my main subject ( That work was done in November. In December and early January, I made two more trips to the ranch and again focused on the trees.

The ranch isn’t a grand landscape kinda place. It’s cluttered with thick vegetation and the low, rolling hills don’t often open up to wide vistas.

Something I’ve been struggling with in the last year or two is resisting my wanting to shoot big (i.e. the grand landscape or BIG scenic), or rather, to stop putting such importance on shooting such scenes.

I guess when we start this love affair with photography, we get excited about the nifty gear. Then we get excited about “capturing” trophy scenes, typically great American icons like the Grand Canyon, the Tetons, etc. We “chase the light” and become what Mark Hobson likes to call “light stalkers”. All we seem to be after are postcard-worthy snaps to hang on the walls like trophies to impress visitors.

a grand landscape (i.e. a BIG scenic)
click for larger pic

Admittedly, I won’t pass up a grand landscape or a scene with vivid, mind-blowing light and color without at least a snap. Stuff like that captures my interest and I just cannot help it. But when I look for meaning in photography, I get a sense that something more profound must be present in a photo.

So I started shooting trees :-) Well, it was really an exercise: pick one subject and stick with it for a while. A short project is a better term for this work.

What I was after was to learn and experience practicing meaningful photography when the usual attention grabbing grand scenes were just not available. I.e. more like shooting in your backyard when you don’t have the time or money to take a trip.

So are my trees more meaningful than the Grand Canyon? I’m not sure. They’re certainly an intimate look at life on the ranch, although the “life” is fairly ordinary and common.

As the short project wore on (I made four trips to the ranch between mid-November and early January), my interest gained. I enjoyed it. The thing that really stood out to me was that I started to see much more photographic opportunity than I had before. I started to notice all sorts of potential scenes as I wandered around the ranch, and I revisited many of them when I had time to photograph.

I did, however, encounter vivid, colorful conditions :-) I wasn’t stalking the light, but I did make use of it :-)

click for larger image

7 thoughts on “Standing Tall in the Quiet Light, Part 2

  1. Glad to hear you’ve “seen the light” about grand landscapes. I’ve given them up a number of years ago: I’d much rather experience them in person than try to record them w/ a pathetic little photograph. What does work photographically is much closer material, and the messiness of life. I’d like to see more of your ranch series.

  2. Hi Kent,

    Many thanks for your comment on my blog. I appreciate you taking the time to look and leave a comment.

    I have new work from the ranch posted in two new sub-galleries:

    I have a photo project page on the ranch here:
    (but it’s not been updated yet to include some of the new photos I took this past fall)

    I really enjoyed your Man Made Wilderness site. I like the concept and purpose of your photography. I’ve added your RSS feed to my reader.

    One thing I really struggle with, especially in photographing a working ranch, is how to handle the effects of man’s hand on the land. So far, I’ve chosen to mostly shoot isolated scenes that depect “pure” nature. But the ranch is so heavily used that one could very easily shoot nothing but the effects of human use.

    I’m still a sucker for the grand landscape, but those type of photos are becoming less meaningful to me as I continue and grow (hopefully) in my photography. Dealing with the “messiness of life”, as you put it, results in something special. You have to accept or ignore man-made changes. You have to work with the clutter of life (e.g. mass of tangled foliage) and distill something interesting and meaningful.

    Anyway, thanks for the input here!

  3. “But the ranch is so heavily used that one could very easily shoot nothing but the effects of human use.”

    Do it. I’d love to have something like that around here that I could get access to. Being in Central Virginia, there are still plenty of working farms, but I don’t currently know anyone who works or runs one. Soon I guess I have to make my own introductions. What’s your connection to the HL Ranch?

  4. Cool. I’ll have to consider that. I’m inspired by seeing your work.

    The High Lonesome is also a hunting lease. I’ve been going there since 1987, but I started photographing it seriously only in about 2003. I do far more shooting with the camera than I do with the gun :-)

  5. TJ, Your small project is well done and surely part of your evolution. To answer your question “So are my trees more meaningful than the Grand Canyon?” No, they are both equal! When we overcome our intellectual and emotional defects Nature’s gifts are here to serve the soul, to help us evolve. Look beyond “the life is fairly ordinary and common” and see how absolutely incredible it can be.

  6. Thanks, Mike. Thanks for reminding me.

    I think that subconsciously, I’m constantly aware that nature is amazing. There’s a door that opens each time I see a patch of trees, a little stream, a distant hill, etc. Beyond the door is a renewal of spirit, an enlightenment, a connection to something much larger than my own little life. I just have to remember to slow down and become aware of this consciously.

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