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Impressions of Light

By William Neill

Table Mountain, California 2006
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II • 70.0-200.0 mm • 1.6 sec at f / 22 •  ISO 100

Images and text excerpted from: 

Impressions of Light - Digital Edition
http://www.williamneill.com/books/impressions.html

I have been a photographer for 35 years.  I started out with my first camera in 1974, a 35mm Pentax Spotmatic camera.  Over the years, I have most often photographed natural patterns and other details in the landscape.  In 1982, I acquired a 4x5 field camera, and for the next 20 years, I photographed mostly with 4x5 transparency film.  I continued to concentrate on photographing landscape details as well as broad views and dramatic light. 

My intention in using a large format camera was to render nature with great detail such that the amazing textures and eloquent light on my subjects became extra-ordinary.  I have been using Canon’s high resolution DSLRs, first the EOS 1Ds, then the Mark II, and currently the 1Ds Mark III, to create most of my images.  No matter the tool, however, my goal has remained the same – to inspire passion for the natural world and convey my emotional response to the subjects I photograph – that of awe and wonder.

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Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park, California  2006
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II • EF 70.0-200.0 mm 2.8L • 1/6 sec at f / 32 • ISO 10

The sand dunes image above was made on a camping trip with my family. 
While my kids ran up and down the dunes, I made a series of panning exposures using a fast horizontal motion. 
It took many frames going back and forth with the camera, within this area of greatest interest to me,
to capture where the receding ridges showed the strongest graphic design.

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My most recent work is entitled Impressions of Light.  About two years ago, I discovered a new way for me to convey such an emotional response.  I give credit for this inspiration to students taking an online course I teach, offered by BetterPhoto.com.  They had picked up some blurring, or “painting with light” techniques from other instructors, mainly Tony Sweet and Brenda Tharp.  I had a visceral response to their images.  I tried it out myself in the summer of 2005, became very intrigued by the possibilities, and immersed myself in creating this new portfolio of work.

I have long been intrigued by the motion studies of the great color photographer Ernst Haas.  Freeman Patterson has also used camera motion as a technique, as well as other methods for creating impressionistic photographs.  Since I was a boy, I have loved impressionistic painting.  My mother was a docent at the National Art Gallery when we lived near Washington, D.C. as a teenager.  I was inspired by the en plein air approach of Monet and by the pointillism of Van Gogh I viewed there.  Art was one of my favorite elective courses during high school.

The motion studies seen in my Impressions of Light work are simply another way to depict the deeply moving beauty I see in Nature.  The technical aspect of sharpness or softness of focus doesn’t matter to me ultimately.

I try all kinds of movement, up and down or sideways, starting and stopping, and changing direction in the middle of the exposure. Sometimes I just jiggle the camera.  It’s a learning process, a sort of feedback loop.  Every frame is different.  I tend to photograph in bursts of five to ten images at one shutter speed.  I then watch the images come up on the LCD to see what happened.  Based on what I see, I adjust shutter speed, focal length or my camera position to refine the effect.

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Winter Forest, Yosemite National Park, California 2007
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II • EF 70.0-200.0 mm 2.8L • 1/2 sec at f / 6.3 • ISO 100

When I approach any subject for creating my Impressions images,
I use the same attention to image design that I would use when setting up my 4x5 camera. 
This image was very deliberately composed to create a pattern of trees trunks across the frame. 
Very small movements of the camera were used to give spacing between the trees. 
Once this was established, then I panned the camera up and down. 
Dozens of exposures were recorded to find this one successful image.
 

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This process continues until I think I’ve created something good.  I end up with dozens, and sometimes a few hundred images, after I try all the creative options I can think of.    The additional size and brightness of the latest LCD screens, like on my Canon 1DS Mark III, is very helpful in previewing my results. 

Editing the large number of images I create is greatly aided by the use of Adobe Lightroom.   The selection process involves rating of the images that appear to have the most potential, and once I have several similar frames, I use the Compare View.  My ranking system is quite simple.  The initial edit of images that have possibilities receive three stars.  After using the Compare View, the best of similar frames receive four stars.  As I begin to work with the four star images in Lightroom’s Develop module or in Photoshop, the very best of those receive five stars.

In terms of composing, I start out with an image design that would work for me as a sharp photograph.  A great advantage to making these images is the freeform and spontaneous style of capturing them, but I am also very careful to apply the same standards of quality of any composition I make.  Since the camera is moving during the exposure, it is not possible to control exactly where objects land within the frame.  Most compositional issues, such as distracting bright areas along the frame’s edge, can be corrected by responding to feedback from the LCD.  Any other problems with composition can be solved in the editing process, as I make enough similar images that usually at least one works out.

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Dogwood Glowing, Yosemite National Park, California 2007
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II • EF 70.0-200.0 mm 2.8L, Extender EF 2x • 1/5 sec at f / 5.6 • ISO 100

When I visited nearby Yosemite Valley in the spring of 2007, I spent about two hours creating about 700 frames of dogwood blossoms. 
Any subject that does not include strong horizontal or vertical lines, such as a forest or sand dunes, presents greater difficulty in creating an interesting impression. 
During this intense session, I played gleefully with all the combinations of shutter speed, aperture and camera movement. 
One critical tool is used here, and for many of my blurs, is the Singh Ray Vari-ND filter. 
I was able to use a wide aperture and still use a slow shutter speed.

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The most important note on my technique is that these images are all single exposures created with camera motion only.  Having seen other techniques used, such as multiple exposure methods, I find the single exposure approach works best for the mood I wish to create.  The resulting images have an organic and painterly look.  Other approaches often look heavily manipulated or Photoshopped, while my style is to work with the textures and light and color I see in my camera.

Even when I use my camera set to its lowest ISO and the lens stopped way down, often there’s still too much ambient light to permit a long enough exposure time. In that case, I use a Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter, with which I can adjust neutral density to reduce the light entering the camera by up to eight stops.  This tool has greatly increased both my options in bright lightings conditions, and in controlling the balance of aperture and shutter speed.  For example, with my flower close-ups, I can still use a slow shutter speed even when using the widest apertures.

Iris, 2007
Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II • EF 50mm 2.5 Macro • 1/15 sec at f / 2.5 • ISO 100

In most images, I make a few minor adjustments in Photoshop, including boosting contrast lost when a scene’s brighter areas blur into darker ones.  I output images with Canon’s 12-color, pigment-based image-PROGRAF iPF6100 and iPF8000 printers, which have 24- and 44-inch carriage widths, respectively. I usually print on Canon’s Hahnemuhle Photo Rag, a watercolor-style paper.  This paper is very effective at accentuating the painterly feel of these images.

The other night I watched an amazing DVD entitled Andy Goldsworthy’s Rivers & Tides.   If you are not familiar with his art, I highly recommend that you check out his books and this DVD.  He is dedicated to connecting with Nature, especially around his home in Scotland, and this DVD shows him at work, and talking about his art.

I scribbled down some notes as I watched this inspirational documentary.  As I listened to him express his own philosophy, I realized, in a more concrete way, what I am trying to do with my Impressions of Light series:

Remove the context; distill down to the essence, in order

to convey the energy of a subject or scene in a fresh

way, much as snow simplifies the landscape.

For me, these images defect the mind’s tendency to

dwell on the concrete issues of place and name when

viewing a subject.  The spirit of a place or an

object is less objectified and can

be more strongly conveyed.

Carp, Bronx Zoo, New York  2006

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I’m trying to stretch, not just to be different but also to find new ways to express what I’ve been trying to show all along - the beauty of nature.  It may sound trite, but that’s still what motivates my photographic explorations.  In order to both grow and survive creatively as an artist, I have found it important to push myself in new directions, in other words, to evolve. 

Success towards this goal cannot be achieved passively, but it must be sought out.  I have tried to adhere to the concept that as an artist, one should always question one’s own preconceived notions!

Below are sample spreads from William Neill’s new ebook –
Impressions of Light – Digital Edition
http://www.williamneill.com/books/impressions.html

I have been working on this series since 2005, and it is rewarding to have finally produced a portfolio of my favorite images.  The book was designed in Adobe InDesign with file sizes that have been optimized to preserve the high-resolution images files. The quality of the images really comes to life on screen.  I know that this isn’t the same tactile experience of holding a book in hand, but it’s hard to dismiss the vivid quality one can enjoy on screen.

To purchase this Digital Edition book, just click here William Neill's Impressions of Light - Digital Edition http://www.williamneill.com/store/ebooks/impressions-of-light/index.html.

Giant Sequoias, Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park, California 2007

I invite you to visit my Light on the Landscape Photoblog http://web.me.com/wgneill/wnblog/PhotoBlog/PhotoBlog.html where I share my thoughts about photography and post my latest images.

November, 2008

© 2008
Photograph and Text by William Neill

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William Neill (http://www.williamneill.com/bio.html), a resident of the Yosemite National Park area since 1977, is a landscape photographer concerned with conveying the deep, spiritual beauty he sees and feels in Nature. Neill's award-winning photography has been widely published in books, magazines, calendars, posters, and his limited edition prints have been collected and exhibited in museums and galleries nationally, including the Museum of Fine Art Boston, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, The Vernon Collection, and The Polaroid Collection. Neill received a BA degree in Environmental Conservation at the University of Colorado. In 1995, Neill received the Sierra Club's Ansel Adams Award for conservation photography. Neill is a member of Canon USA’s elite Explorers Of Light and Print Masters.


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Concepts: Photography, Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III, Full-frame digital SLR, Exposure, Shutter speed, Digital single-lens reflex camera, Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II, Canon EOS

Entities: Washington, a watercolor-style paper., Adobe, Scotland, National Art Gallery, Yosemite Valley, Michael Reichmann, Mark III, William Neill, Mark II, Tony Sweet, Freeman Patterson, Andy Goldsworthy, Ernst Haas., Ray Vari-ND, Brenda Tharp., Canon EOS-1Ds, D.C., Photoshop

Tags: images, camera, shutter speed, Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II, 1ds mark iii, EF 70.0-200.0 mm, slow shutter speed, Digital Edition, camera motion, Vari-ND filter, emotional response, canon 1ds mark iii, Compare View, image design, motion studies, Pentax Spotmatic camera, William Neill, single exposure, similar frames, apertures, large format camera, new ways, favorite elective courses, en plein air, high resolution dslrs, high-resolution images files, color photographer ernst, Ray Vari-ND filter, field camera, 44-inch carriage widths, latest lcd screens, nearby yosemite valley, National Art Gallery, multiple exposure methods, Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter, bright lightings conditions, Hahnemuhle Photo Rag, Impressions images, camera position, camera movement