Shooting Mother Nature

When shooting nature, you must show her as much respect as you would a human subject. Just as you must show patients when taking a family portrait with six non-sitters (18 months or less), you often have to wait for the right moment or right lighting with nature. Sure you could bring in your own lighting (electronic flash), but unlike a studio you must anticipate and predict where your shadows will fall. Don’t get me wrong, a flash can be useful in nature shots; but often it becomes much more difficult to make nature shots look, well natural. One remedy for this problem is to always bring a tripod. Being the perfect model she is, Mother Nature can stand still much longer than you can hand hold any camera.

There is an unspoken rule in portrait photography, that the photographer should never physically touch his or her subject. Doing so, would be considered crossing the line of the photographer / model relationship. In dealing with nature; some photographers still follow this rule to the letter, some do not. I; being one of the ladder, believe there is nothing wrong with giving her respect, but I also try to help where possible. Leaving trash at, near, or around where you shoot your great works of art is not only irresponsible, it is rude. Subjects that come to you have usually spent a good amount of time picking their clothes or putting on makeup. There is nothing wrong with using filters to make Mother Nature look her best. Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but a good polarizer can be nature’s best friend, especially if water is involved.

When shooting a regular model; if her hair isn’t quite right or her outfit is bunched up it is no big deal to ask her to adjust it. If you need to move a branch or a rock that seems out of place, this is NOT cheating. This is showing your subject at her best. Now moving a branch or having someone hold it out of the way, is not the same thing as breaking a branch. That’s where photographers who show no respect start crossing the line.

Nature by its very nature is much more patient than I am. After climbing, hiking, or walking to a certain location, I tend to want to start shooting as fast as I can. Mother Nature teaches me that good things are worth waiting for, and great things can’t be rushed. Some of the things I admire now took literately thousands of years to create. Sometimes I wonder if I offend God; when I take a shot at 1/2000th of a second, and say, “There, I got it.”

When I was about 19 years old, I visited the Zen Center of Los Angels. There I was hypnotized into a photograph. The photo in question was shot in black and white, and was a perfect geometric reflection of a mountain beside a calm lake, although I did not know that originally. The shot was taken as a horizontal shot, but shown to me briefly in a vertical position, and then I was asked to close my eyes. To me, it reminded me of one of those ink blot pictures that psychiatrists use to ask you what you see.

Zen Master Diado did exactly that, except he had me keep my eyes closed and I had to describe in detail everything I saw and felt. I immediately became aware of water, and a mountain and a breeze, but then I noticed a scent as well. He encouraged me to tell him more. I described a certain yellow flower that I had never seen before and the sweet honey like scent it gave off. I was told to open my eyes and he showed me the picture horizontally. There were no flowers in the picture. I was disappointed, until he told me that was because he was standing in them, when he took the picture.

I only met with Zen Master Diado for maybe two hours, yet I still feel his influence 25 years later. From him, I learned to respect Mother Nature and listen to what she could tell me. Great shots of beautiful young women do not just happen because the model is beautiful. It’s the combination of a great subject and a great photographer that ends up creating works of art the people can not forget. Mother Nature is no different; respect her, look for her best features, be patient with her, encourage her, if she needs help offer it, but don’t cross over the line.