Embracing the Abstract by Simon Weir

09_a_Abstract_SWDXT19084-Editby Simon Weir

This February I was once again in Yellowstone National Park running MagicIs photographic workshops with some really extraordinary people.  Over the two weeks I learned a little about nuclear physics, banking, metallurgy, reconstructive surgery, hitech roof construction, information technology, farming and how a 12 year old boy sees the world through a camera…

In return I showed them some of the most extraordinary sights on earth and endeavoured to give them some of the skills to translate what they saw before them into images – be they wildlife, landscape, or something more abstract.

At the beginning of each course there was much talk of aperture, shutter speed, ISO and autofocus modes – the core building blocks behind understanding how your camera works.  Then came the understanding of how the technology in your camera sees the world and makes judgement on the camera’s settings – I like to think of this as “The Small Man from Japan” who lives inside our cameras and tries to guess what it is we are photographing and how it should be exposed.

Then gradually as a group we talked more about composition and in particular about understanding how we, as cognitive human beings, see the world around us.  We have our familiar tools of depth, time, framing and tone, but before we can use these we have to learn to “see”.

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“Homage to the Small Man from Japan” – Fujifilm X-T1 – XF14mm – 1/15s at f/22 ISO200 with vertical panning

Every time we pick up a camera and look through the viewfinder we create an abstract – by framing our subject and capturing it in an intrinsically two dimensional device we move away from external reality and instead seek to achieve its effect using shapes, colours and textures.  Some of these abstractions can be literal and immediately recognisable for what they are, others are more ephemeral and create an impression or a feeling of what is before us that may or may not be understood by the viewer.

But there is a huge difference between “looking” and “seeing”.

When we “look” at something we think that we are taking it all in at one instant.  In fact our eyes and brains form a complex image by scanning and storing small parts at a time and assembling them into a whole.  Some parts of this are borrowed from memory and used as a stopgap until that part of the image can be scanned.  I am sure many of you will have experienced that feeling, when glimpsing at a wristwatch, that the second hand takes a few moments before it appears to move regularly – this is simply our brain applying the known static image of our watch, processing everything around it and then realising that something within the watch is moving and giving that some focus and detail. The phenomenon is called Chronostasis and gives us a fascinating glimpse into the way our visual perception actually works.

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“Gibbon Falls” – Fujifilm X-T1 – XF50-140 @ 75mm – 30sec at f/2.8 ISO400 – Firecrest IRND4.8 stopper

When we learn to “see” we bring many factors into play.  We can pre-visualise the way we want to represent a subject in terms of depth or time.  By understanding how the brain interprets shapes and forms we can compose our framing to help the mind’s journey through the photograph.  If we can reduce and simplify the image to tell a clearer story then we can strengthen the viewer’s emotional connection with the subject matter.

Seeing involves thought and time and is part of a process we call mindfulness – “the intentional, accepting and non-judgemental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment”.  It comes from the Buddhist meditational practice anapanasati and is widely used in the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorders, anxiety and drug addiction.  And mindfulness is a key building block in creative photography.

Let me show you an example using bison…  There are many thousands of bison in Yellowstone and they are rather wonderful animals to photograph.  No two are the same and as the weather conditions change they take on many different appearances.  For some time now I have been seeking a very specific image of a bison – one that tells as much about the animal’s habitat as it does about the animal itself, showing both the harsh environment and the creature’s strength.

By thinking about this conceptual image I now find that I see and photograph bison in a completely different way, using the camera’s tools to create abstractions that try to convey something more about the essence of bison…

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Fujifilm X-T1 – XF50-140 @ 140mm – 1/900s at f/2.8 ISO200

This image is as much about snow as it is bison – the falling snow (rendered pin sharp by the high shutter speed) is the subject in focus, shallow depth of field and a panoramic crop gives a sense of distance to these slow lumbering beasts.

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Fujifilm X-T1 – XF50-140 @ 70mm – 1/200s at f/5.6 ISO200

Here the focus is on the speed and power of the bison ploughing through deep snow.  The relatively slow shutter speed allows representation of movement through blur while the horizontal panning keeps just enough sharpness in the bison to show its purpose.

However neither image is the one I carry in my mind – the single image that combines everything that is “bison”.  Most likely I will never make this “perfect” image, but I will certainly keep looking for it and finding new ways to see this magnificent creature and its frozen habitat.

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“New Life from Old” – Fujifilm X-T1 – XF18-135 @ 135mm – 1/40s at f/11 ISO200

Abstraction and mindfulness together open the photographer’s eyes and allow us to see both the tiny detail and the wider environment – the microcosm and the macrocosm.  We become more aware of our surroundings and more attuned to our environment, and in doing so our images begin to connect with the viewer and tell a story – every photograph should tell a story…

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“Frozen” – Fujifilm X-Pro1 – XF55-200 @ 200mm – 1/500s at f/7.1 ISO400

For more information about MagicIs photographic workshops and safaris visit www.magicis.com

If you are interested in finding out more about the 2016 winter workshops in Yellowstone National Park then contact me via the MagicIs website at http://magicis.com/contact-us/


About Simon

Simon_Weir_1Fujifilm X-Photographer Simon Weir specialises in photographing live performance (particularly classical music), contextual portraiture and nature. To see more of his work, check out his website http://www.simonweir.com/

 

Yellowstone’s Winter Wildlife Seven Day Photo Safari

Start the New Year a new photographer

By Simon Weir – Professional X-Photographer

If you’re like most people, much of the time you live life on autopilot. Everyday tasks, like taking a shower and driving to work are managed by long-established habits. This leaves the mind free to think but rather than exploiting this freedom the mind, left unattended, fills its day with internal chatter about what happened yesterday or last week or what you have to do after lunch or this coming weekend. Sometimes it all gets a bit too much.

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What is “enlightened photography”?

Photography provides an opportunity to give our minds a holiday but unless we also clear the mind of its senseless chatter, photographs only ever reflect our cluttered existence. That is why, on a Magic Is Photo Safari, we teach more than just the technical aspects of photography. We also help you to be mindful to the photo opportunities around you – to recognize each moment for what it is and connect with the land and the wildlife in a way that will not only transform your photography but possibly your everyday life as well.

Take a load off and fire your imagination

Imagine, then, that it’s February and you are deep in Yellowstone National Park. The quiet is absolute. The waist-deep snow is talcum powder-soft and the park’s ancient trees loom against the vast blue sky to create a landscape plucked straight from your wildest imagination.

The clean, crisp air, sulfur springs and pine nut-aromas unite to provide the perfect accompaniment to the natural geothermal features that are an ice age in the making. It’s an ethereal, ever shifting landscape of cryptic light and shadow that plays home to wild wolves, coyotes, bobcats, eagles, bison, foxes and elk – the perfect location to immerse yourself in nature and take a load off your mind.

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The highlights

  • See fantastic wildlife, including top predators and snow-covered bison and elk
  • Our specialised snow coaches give us brilliant winter access to the park
  • Immerse yourself in the solitude of this incredible landscape
  • Dawn ‘til dusk photography
  • Our flexible itinerary allows us to go where the action is
  • No single supplement
  • Learn from Simon Weir’s 10-years experience as a pro’ photographer
  • Hands-on tuition as you need it and optional evening seminars
  • Special extra lectures on Infrared, night and time-lapse photography
  • £300 discount for Fuji photographers

The experience

Let’s start off by saying that everything you’ve ever heard and seen about Yellowstone in winter is true. Every step you take can quickly become the best step you’ve ever taken. And through this land of ice and magic move the animals. Like apparitions, in the semi-corporeal mists they drift through the hinterland. Yellowstone may seem at slumber but in winter it’s awake and alive with wildlife.

Our photographic days begin at around 7:00AM, when we board our specialized snow coaches for a full day in the park. Initially, the road takes us east, following the course of the Madison River. This is an excellent area for sighting trumpeter swans, bald eagles, elk and bobcat. At Madison, there is a warming hut, which provides hot drinks and snacks and a warm fire, and is a favourite mid-morning stopping place with our guests.

The Madison Valley is a prime wildlife area and we can expect to see plentiful bison, coyote, fox and maybe the rare and elusive wolf and bobcat. From Madison we can take one of two routes: north-east following the course of the Gibbon River, towards the Norris Geyser Basin, taking in the famous Gibbon Falls; or south, initially following the course of the Firehole River towards Old Faithful, Yellowstone’s most famous geyser.

Each route offers a changing landscape, interspersed with ghost-like trees and the rising steam from distant geysers, and wildlife sightings of bison and elk and more. We spend the whole day in the park, returning as the sun disappears beyond the horizon, leaving behind its fire-red glow.

At day’s end, we head back to the warmth and comfort of our cozy lodge where, like old friends around the fire, we’ll share our stories from the day’s photography and visualize the next day’s adventure. Life – and photography – really doesn’t get much better than this.

The details

A 7-day photo safari from 8th – 14th February 2015 at just £2,255 per person with £300 “Fuji” discount (normal price £2,555). Price includes airport transfers, accommodation, lunches, Park entry fees and permits, snow coach transport and all tuition. Flights to and from Bozeman International Airport are excluded.

Booking

For further information and to book on this safari, simply click here.

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