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Headlands Wildflowers, Mendocino

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 22 June 2009 in Landscape & Rural and Portfolio.

I'm rarely productive on my first visit to a location. Until I have a feel for a place I tend to be too analytical, forcing myself to make photos rather than letting them come to me. I've come to recognize this as a common plight of most workshop participants, who usually are also visiting a location for the first time. In these situations there's a tendency to feel pressure to produce great images right out of the chute. So as much as Don (Smith) and I try to assist our workshop groups in the field (and we do), I've come to realize that sometimes it's best to monitor from a distance and let people explore first to get a feel for the area.

On this overcast morning we delivered the group to these cliffs on the Mendocino Headlands and everyone quickly spread out--Don was a little north, I was a little south, and the group was in between. The cliffs here are pretty exposed, so from my vantage point I could see everyone. It was encouraging to see that all had found something to shoot--some had focused on the larger scene, others were sprawled in the weeds working wildflower macro compositions. So I continued wandering, eventually making my way out on this narrow point blanketed with flowers. I occasionally raised my camera to try a composition, but didn't find anything that excited me enough to set up my tripod and make something.

Rather than succumb to frustration, in situations like this I try to forget about my camera and simply enjoy the beauty surrounding me. This approach succeeds in moving me from my left (logical, analytical) brain to my right (intuitive, feeling) brain. Invariably that's when the real opportunities emerge, not as potential images but as something to appreciate.

And that's exactly what happened this morning on the Mendocino Headlands. I'm not sure how much time I spent simply admiring the view before instinctively raising my camera, an entirely reflexive act. Then the images just started coming fast and furious (without conscious thought of visual movement or the "rule of thirds") and I couldn't believe I'd not seen them before.

Next post: June 25 (please view my previous posts by clicking the arrow in the upper left of today's image)

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Didier DE ZAN from somewhere, France

Very beautiful landscape and composition

22 Jun 2009 5:07am

Don Smith from California, United States

Beautiful image Gary. As with your last post, I love how you used the diagonal line of the bluff to lead the eye up and to the water and through the frame. Great explanation also about allowing oneself to open one's mind to the beauty surrounding them. We are all too guilty of arriving at a new location and felling as if you have to immediately begin shooting even when we are not sure what is we would like to photograph. Also, the vibrant color of the summer wildflowers enliven the monotoned scene and helps bring the image to life! Well done.

22 Jun 2009 2:00pm

gerry rosser from United States

"I'm rarely productive on my first visit to a location. Until I have a feel for a place I tend to be too analytical, forcing myself to make photos rather than letting them come to me." Wow! This is something I experience and think of often. I need to "settle in" to get good images most of the time. That is, of course, if I flatter myself that any of my images are worthwhile!
Anyway, your image here is very appealing to me, and photographically excellent.
The wordpress site I refer to above is my nascent photoblog, which I've listed on

22 Jun 2009 2:57pm

@gerry rosser: Thanks, Gerry. One of the problems with doing this professionally is the tendency to look at every scene with dollar signs. When I decided to pursue photography full time I consciously decided I'd only shoot what I want to shoot--I often joke that I don't shoot anything that moves, but it's really more than a joke. I'm a very deliberate shooter and much of my time in the field is spent getting in touch with whatever it is in the scene that touches me, and I just need to be sure it's all still there when I'm ready (which is rarely the case with people or wildlife).

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

I will take your words with me to my next shoot, Gary! They are SO true for me. I try so hard to push myself, sometimes, that I forget why I am there. Yes to make photographs- but more importantly to see, feel, hear and appreciate. That is when the good stuff happens!

22 Jun 2009 4:21pm

@Tracy: I'm glad my words help. I think many people are too analytical about composition--to them I say, if it feels good, shoot it.

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

PS- Beautiful photograph! I agree with Don the strong diagonal gets my eye going full circle! There is so much to enjoy about this!

22 Jun 2009 4:23pm

David BM from Gijón, Spain

Very nice composition :-)

22 Jun 2009 8:31pm

Stefan from Thiersee, Austria

Beautiful shot, Bravo!

22 Jun 2009 10:16pm

Bill Jennings from (Bay Area Northern Calif), United States

I love how you describe both the art, and the science behind your work - the image shows you have a deep emotional detector for nature. Well done.

23 Jun 2009 6:00am

@Bill Jennings: Thanks, Bill. One of the unexpected benefits of maintaining a regular photoblog is its affect on my approach to teaching photography. My original intent was to offer tip-based insights for photographers looking to improve their skills. But I've come to realize that many photographers are actually constrained by all the well-intended tips and "rules" they're exposed to. These pointers are certainly not without value, but not to the point where they interfere with a landscape photographer's objective to express their own very personal relationship with nature. Sounds like a blog topic. Stay tuned....

Larissa Roorda from United States

What great posts from the Mendocino workshop! Your previous day and this one. Love them both and love the commentary, insight you offer with each one.

24 Jun 2009 5:11am

@Larissa Roorda: Thanks, Larissa. I'm looking forward to seeing your images.

pernilla from Andonno, Italy

Beautiful picture. Like the diagonal that draw your eyes to the water. I love to read your thoughts behind the picture. And you are right. Sometimes we are just lost in the technical and the pressure of producing a beautiful picture, so we forget about the beauty itself. Thanks for share your knowledge and experience. I will have this in my mind.

24 Jun 2009 6:52am