A Night in the Woods

Winter is not the most popular time to photograph. Not only is it cold but everything is so drab. However, winter is a great time for us black and white photographers. So, I donned my winter gear and spent some time in the woods in late February looking for some good tree compositions to photograph after dark. My idea was to use my flash to highlight a particularly interesting tree so it would stand out against a relatively dark background, much as you might do in a studio with a black, felt background cloth.

Once finding the compositions, the trick was finding the same shooting spot after dark. Accomplishing that, I set my camera on a tripod; then using Kodak Tri-X 400 film I set my lens to f/2 and the shutter to bulb. While handholding my Speedlite flash off-center from my camera, I opened the shutter just long enough to manually trigger the flash. I took three shots of each composition at 1/1, 1/4, and 1/8 power. Twenty-seven frames later, here are the best (click to enlarge).

Photogenic Lianas

180 degrees

Lianas are those woody vines so common to our wooded areas. As kids we used to look for them so

Looped

we could swing through the woods, much like Tarzan. Unfortunately, every once in a while a vine would either break or tear loose from its tree and down we would go. One of us ended up in a swampy mess. Such was life for boys in the rural fifties. I always felt so good coming home after time in the woods, alone, or with friends.

Nowadays I don’t swing on lianas, but I have found that some have interesting

Tangled

shapes, making them good photographic subjects. I took these photographs on Ilford Pan F 50 film. The sky was overcast, providing soft light. Since most of the exposures were  1/30 second or longer, I used a tripod.

Monochrome

Portland Head Light
Portland Head Light

Our lives change so dramatically, depending on our social contexts and age. I started moving more towards monochrome about a year or so ago. Since then, I have presented a greater portion of my work this way. At first, articles describing monochrome as the more artistic medium—better able to show form, texture, and in many cases, strong contrast, motivated me. It removes color’s “distraction”. Naturally, not all compositions maximize the uniqueness of monochrome

Harding Beach, Cape Cod; image scored 14 of 15 pts in Camera Rochester juried competition
Remains

(birds, flowers, and sunsets come to mind). Therefore, the trick when shooting monochrome is to see our surroundings from a monochromatic perspective to identify those compositions that might be best presented this way.

So, art theory aside, what draws some photographers to monochrome? I think because it gives us another dimension to express what we feel. Consider the first photo. Here, Portland Head Light stands at the gateway of Casco Bay and the North Atlantic on a mostly overcast day in late November. Guiding ships and boats, it stands vigil at the end of seasonal growth, awaiting the darker winter days ahead. The fence post in the second photograph stands alone,

Steps to Somewhere

no longer connected to the other posts. The steps on a winter’s day leading to some unknown in the third photograph—all metaphors for the loss of loved ones, unrequited love, and loneliness.

Fortunately, social contexts change—one day I will shoot more color.