Peter Scheirer: Nature’s Path

Peter Scheirer is a Bay Area based photographer. While mostly a hobby, Peter is uniquely passionate about photography for both its artistic and technical aspects. He is mainly self-taught but possesses the skill and know-how of a long-time professional photographer who has a keen eye for composition and light. We previously featured an array of Peter’s street photography from his Taiwan adventure. This week Peter speaks to atlas about his creative approach to capturing nature, what he loves the most about photography, and his post-processing work on one of his proudest images. (Editor’s Note: We hope you will enjoy one of our favorite features on Peter Scheirer from the past year!)

Can you broadly describe this group of images to us?

Peter Scheirer: The overall theme for these images is natural life and death.  Plants look menacing to keep predators away.  Seeds from some other plants exist to further its species.  Trees stand tall while in their prime, annually shedding leaves and slowly working their way through human-made walls until they are cut down to be used as material for other purposes.

What was your creative approach to making these images?

These images of the leaves, cut trees, fruit, and standing trees follow the idea that anything, no matter how mundane, can be made interesting by looking at it differently than normally viewed. However some views are impressive by themselves, the trick is to find them.  The cut trees in Northern California are one example, being a rather large pile of trees perhaps 30 m high and 400 m long. Also impressive by itself is the banyan tree in Tainan, slowly snaking past a wall, suggesting something mystical akin to Angkor Wat but without the religious aspect of it.

What do you like the most about these making these nature images versus the city images you recently captured in Taiwan featured in our previous post about your work?

Nature offers these infinite levels of complexity — from the very small to the very big — and at each level there is a myriad number of angles to explore. Even an ordinary flower can show its stigma and filament in such a way to resemble a miniature Kraken. What surprises me is that although I already know this feature about nature, I still get surprised when I see something deeper. I should not be surprised anymore, but I still am.

Which image do you like the best and why?

Images are like children so I like all of them equally. Like children, they have different strengths and weaknesses that become pertinent in different situations. For example, people who hike would enjoy the leaves and the standing trees the most while people who garden may lean towards the fruit and the agave. For me, I have the banyan tree on my phone to show to interested people.

How much post-processing, if any, did you do on these images?

Since I prefer to spend my time carefully and thoughtfully capturing images with a camera rather than editing them on a computer at home, I usually leave images unadulterated. Five images here are shown unaltered, but the magic and impact of the scene with the banyan tree got muted too much.  To restore that magic I ended up using Google Nik Software to pull out some details from the stems and across the entire image increased the contrast, reduced noise, sharpened the edges, and converted to a sepia tone. That last step was to lay emphasis on the lines in the image of which there are many: the linear ones from the window casing and the two sets of bricks (one set in the wall and the other inside the window) and the nonlinear ones from the banyan tree itself.  The fact that all the linear ones come from humans and all the others from nature makes this image more captivating.

What do you love about photography?

There are many benefits to being a photographer even an amateur. There are the physics, electrical engineering and the computer science aspects of the experience as well as the artistic aspects such as being able to give shape to a person’s face by letting light exist on some parts and darkness on other parts. Of course, there are also the social aspects. Photography offers the opportunity to freeze a moment in time giving our brains ample time to fully take in everything in view.

If you had one piece of advice for a novice nature photographer, what would it be?

Be patient. Look at the small stuff. Have a good macro lens. Tripods are nice, but also have some skateboarding elbow and knee pads handy as you may find yourself holding your camera mere centimeters from the dirt. Flashes may help at times but it is nice to rely on the sun for illumination which can make an ordinary scene extra special if the light angles just right.

Thanks for being our featured photographer of the week, Peter!

All images © Peter Scheirer.

Craig Hayman: The Splendor and Spectacle of the Wild

Craig Hayman is an architect and photographer based in Sydney, Australia. A South Africa native, Craig has a very diverse background. He spent years in the bush as a safari guide and a conservationist, experiences which he calls the most satisfying in his life. In addition, he also worked as a guide trainer for the Smithsonian Institute. Last year, “Wildlife in Pictures,” Craig’s 320-page book of his stunning and awe-inspiring photography of wildlife and landscape images shot in Gabon, Africa, and India was published. Aside from photography, Craig is also passionate about architecture. He currently works as an architect in Sydney in sustainable design. This week Craig talks to atlas about how his experiences as a safari guide and conservationist influenced him as a person and a photographer and shares his unique perspective on what we can do more to protect the wild for future generations. (Editor’s Note: We are showcasing again one of our favorite features on wildlife photography. Enjoy this gorgeous series from Craig Hayman!)

When did you know you wanted to become a photographer?

Craig Hayman: While I am primarily an architect, I took a serious interest in photography only in my early twenties on a journey through Tanzania. From a young age, I had been exposed to art, photography, and an appreciation of nature by my parents. I started drawing and writing long before I picked up a camera.

How long have you been photographing wildlife? What else do you photograph?

I began photographing wildlife more seriously when I moved to the bush at age 24 to work as a safari guide. Until then I had an interest, but I had never had the time to develop it fully although many years of observing animal behavior proved to be invaluable when I did pick up a camera in earnest.

Now that I live in Australia, I have been focusing on landscapes, architecture, and some portraiture. I live close enough to the ocean to hear the surf at night when the wind blows the right way, which makes me happy. Sydney is a very photogenic city. I have also taken on several architectural photography projects, including some commercial and some for my own interest.

Can you describe a little bit about these magnificent wildlife images you took?

The opening image: Subtly backlit and set against a gilded Serengeti horizon, a pair of giraffes arrange themselves in a harmonious composition. I did not think much of this shot at the time, being too consumed in enjoying the moment, but it has become one of my favorites for its simplicity and softness.

For the image above, I spent two voyeuristic days with this pair of mating lions through rain and shine. When a lioness enters peak fertility, she will push a male to mate multiple time per hour, every hour, for several days. They will typically go without eating, pausing only to drink and nap. This image was taken moments after the pair had finished mating for the umpteenth time, and the male is warning the female to give him space. When the male eventually fatigues, the lioness may mate with another male within this male’s coalition.

You published a photo book of your work entitled “Wildlife in Pictures.” The images in are stunning and powerful. What inspired you to put this book together?

The opportunity to publish a book came quite by accident. I never sought out a publishing deal, but I am very glad that “Wildlife in Pictures: has been so successful. The book has provided a great platform through which to connect with people.  Once I began work on “Wildlife in Pictures,” I wanted the narrative of the book to be as authentic as possible, including the gritty, the unglamorous, and the uncensored. The publishing house was a little more conservative and guided the book’s image selection towards mass appeal, which I can understand. I am looking for a little more leeway in my follow-up project

You had the unique opportunity to work as a conservationist and a safari guide. What was your experience like?

Without doubt, living and working in wilderness areas as a safari guide has been the most satisfying experience of my life. Living so close to nature, knowing a wild place so intimately, learning from people who have been ancestrally connected to the land for centuries shifted my world view dramatically.

To achieve this above shot, I lay on my belly on a salt pan using a 500m lens. The gemsbok (also known as Oryx) were alert and tightly clustered. They were watching me carefully, unaccustomed to seeing humans on foot. In the background, in soft focus, a cluster of baobab trees is visible. This specific copse of baobabs is known as Baines’ Baobabs. The trees are many centuries old and are visually unchanged since they made famous by European explorer and painter Thomas Baines in 1862.

How has your experience influenced you as a person and as a photographer?

As a person: As a safari guide, you learn to become an expert in human behavior as well as animal behavior.  I had a number of important role models who influenced my ideas on the kind of man I want to become. Nature teaches you to understand complexity and to look for inter-connectivity. I think that I am more patient, more observant, and more appreciative than I would have been without those years in the bush. I am also less impressed by bravado.

As a photographer: Without my time as a safari guide, I do not think I would have taken photography seriously at all. Time is vital in wildlife photography, and living in wilderness areas for three years provided time to grow, to make mistakes, and to develop my own style.

To capture this leopard, I recall frantically scrambling for my camera the moment I spotted this leopard, terrified that she would slink off before I had the opportunity to photograph her. This image was taken before I began guiding professionally, and leopard sightings like this had been few and far between. I only had a few minutes with her before she moved off to chase a squirrel. Timing is everything in the bush.  In my mind, I have a wish list of photographs I would love to take. The list grows and changes, but a moment like this had been near the top of the list.

Do you think we are doing enough to protect the wild? If not, what more can we do?

There is a tremendous amount of good work being done to preserve wild places and wild species and there is much to be celebrated. There are also many reasons to feel concerned for the future. The greatest challenge will be in addressing the underlying pressures that threaten wilderness. These are interconnected issues that center around population growth, climate change, habitat loss, corruption, and an economy married to fossil fuels and non-renewable resources.

Are there any photographers whose work inspire you?

I am a big fan of the work of Peter Beard. His images are raw, fearless, imperfect, and transcend the space between art and photography, which is a difficult thing to do in nature photography. I also have man crushes on Nick Nichols, Sebastião Salgado, and Steve McCurry. Outside of photography, I am also strongly influenced by the composition of J.H.Pierneef, a South African landscape artist. One of his prints hangs over my desk.

I love this image above for its ability to tell a story in a single image. In an unusual standoff, a female waterbuck shields her offspring from African wild dogs. After an exhausting hunt, predator and prey are at a stalemate: the waterbuck reluctant to enter the water where other dangers wait, and the dogs unable to chase the waterbuck any further. In the end, the two waterbuck swam over 100m to safety and the dogs moved on. In situations like this, onlookers often want to see a successful kill, but I was very happy to see the young waterbuck live another day.

Aside from a photographer, you also work as an architect in sustainable design in Sydney. How has one influenced the other? 

Architecture and photography are at opposite ends of the creative spectrum. Designing as an architect is a slow, laborious discipline. You have a client, a budget, a timeline, and so many rules. It can be challenging to find the creativity. Photography is quite the opposite. There are few constraints and the challenge is to introduce structure, restraint, and narrative.

An education as an architect is a great foundation for photography. Composition, light, structure, color and pattern are key elements in both architecture and photography. Learning to ‘see,’ and to be objectively self-critical are probably the most valuable skills both an architect and a photographer must develop.

Are you working on any new projects?

Short term – In June I will be in Botswana for three weeks assisting with a rhino conservation project. It is for an important cause with some inspiring people and I am excited to be a part of it.

Longer term – I am planning an exhibition in Sydney for 2016. I am also in conversation with my publishing house about a second book projectThe subject would likely not be wildlife photographyI’m interested in storytelling, in landscape, and in the stories of indigenous people and their relationship with the land.

If you had one piece of advice for aspiring photographers, what would it be?

My advice would be to focus on enjoying the process of making images. I enjoy photography most when I am up early to ensure I am in the right place when the light is perfect or out in a beautiful location trying to perfect a shot of the stars. I enjoy making images of subjects that challenge me. I relish the storytelling aspect of photography. Find the thing you love doing, bring a camera, and tell a story with it.

Thanks for being our featured photographer of the week, Craig!

For more information about Craig Hayman, visit his website.  All images © Craig Hayman.

Osceola Refetoff: Beauty and Awe of the California Desert

Osceola Refetoff is a Los Angeles-based photographer.  A Chicago native with Danish, Bulgarian and Canadian roots, Osceola is a master filmmaker and photographer. Osceola’s first love was film making which he studied at Duke University and then at New York University’s Graduate Film Program. Over time, Osceola’s talent for visual storytelling gravitated towards photography. His works reflect his passion for humanity and its impact  it has on the world. These days Osceola’s focus is on the vast American West, including the magnificent California desert and the communities who used to inhabit there. In collaboration with historian Christopher Langley,  Osceola created “High & Dry,” a wonderful blog of stories and images that detail the stark landscape and communities in the California desert. His works from his vast desert series are on exhibit at the Porch Gallery in Ojai through the end of March. This week Osceola talks to atlas about his start in photography, why the California desert appeals to him, and why it is important to document the natural beauty and stories of desert life.

How did you first get into photography?

I do not have one of those heart-warming stories where I got a camera at age five and knew I wanted to be a photographer. Mostly as a kid, I was into blowing things up and generally causing trouble. It was not until much later – in my twenties – that I got interested in photography, and even then there was not a sudden “ah ha!” moment. At some point, I was living in New York City and found myself carrying around a couple of small cameras at all times — one with color film and one with black & white.

You brilliantly capture a wide range of images — people, landscape, nature, objects — that show all aspects of our humanity. What is it about our humanity that draws you in as a photographer?

I am fascinated by people and I enjoy observing and revealing their personalities, usually with their permission and at their best. However, much of my desert work is about the absence of people. Not straight-up nature shots, but humanity defined by the traces they leave behind. I am particularly interested in what desert ruins might have to say about who we are today as a society, and how that may be different from peoples of the past.

If you look at Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, it seems like everyone is posting photos and identifying themselves as a photographer. How do you create images that sets yours apart from all the rest?

I am active on social media. I love being able to connect with a larger audience, far away. And although I do a lot of work that is experimental in nature – pinhole photography, infrared photography, long exposures – my general approach to photography is pretty traditional. To stand out in this crazy-cluttered environment, you simply have to shoot really well. For instance, I have a series “Armchair in the Sky” that I capture from the windows of commercial airplanes. When I started photographing the series on film twenty years ago, you did not see those kind of images very often. Now, everyone is shooting out airplane windows with their phones. If I want my images to stand out against the millions of airplane shots that are posted online, they better be really very good. So far I must have made a couple thousand exposures. After twenty years, I finally started exhibiting the series last July, and to date I have uploaded about twenty images to my website. So start with a specific vision, pursue that vision over the long haul, edit the results with ruthless determination, and print only the very best with a mindful, cohesive aesthetic. Personally, I like that there are so many “photographers” out there today. It keeps me on my game.

Tell us a bit more about these stunning and beautiful desert images you have entitled “Ozymandias.” You have a masterful eye for light and style. What inspired you to capture these desert images?

Ozymandias” is the name of one of my black & white desert portfolios featuring the remnants of human existence strewn about in the California desert. I generally carry at least two or three cameras with me when I travel by car in the desert. Some images lend themselves to black & white exposures, and for these, I generally shoot infrared – either digital or film. The main reason for working in b&w is that, in the absence of color, all the emphasis is on form and composition. As an additional benefit, infrared makes the skies very dark, and the clouds (when there are clouds) are very pronounced. Generally, landscape photographers have a hard time making good images in the middle of the day, so they tend to favor “magic hour” light and shadow. Well, that leaves a lot of day on the table! I love “good” light too, but for me, the desert experience is much about the sun directly overhead. Black & white photography not only feels like the right medium to portray many of my subjects, but it also allows me to work all day long, capturing the relentless intensity of the midday desert sun.

Your passion about the desert led you to start a blog called “High & Dry” about California’s deserts and those who reside there. What inspired you to start this blog? What do you hope to accomplish with this blog?

I had been thinking for some time about collaborating with a writer because of the unique power that words and images have when they are presented in tandem. I was familiar with the work of James Agee/Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange/Paul Taylor when I met writer/historian Christopher Langley in Lone Pine, CA while working on a motion picture project. First and foremost, the purpose of our collaboration is to present cool and interesting stories about the California desert, illustrated with quality photographs. We are interested in the history of the desert, particularly in relation to human activity past and present. We are also documenting the massive transformation underway with the development of industrial-scale renewable energy facilities. Our hope is that familiarizing people with the history and natural beauty of the desert will encourage them to consider the future of this long-undervalued land resource. The project gets re-syndicated in a variety of media – local desert publications, glossy magazines, scholarly journals, and KCET’s “Artbound” – so we are able to reach a large audience from all walks of life.

You chose to photograph these images in black & white which gives them a radiant aesthetic quality. Why did you select black & white over color?

I love both color and black & white. Some subjects are suitable to both mediums, but others are distinctly better in either color or b&w. Because I shoot 99% of my b&w work in infrared, I have to make my decision on site, determining by the nature of the subject, which representation better suits what I want to express. In the desert, I usually photograph from a tripod, so sometimes I will make a similar exposure with both a color and a b&w camera.

Are there any photographers who have influenced you?

I came to photography later in life. Early on I was much more interested in filmmaking, eventually getting an MFA in film production from NYU. All through my late teens and twenties, when I was not in production, I would see ten or more features a week in theater. So my compositional style and my interest in visual narrative was heavily influenced by the great mis-en-scene directors I admire – Lange, Welles, Kubrick, Melville, etc. So today, I find myself interested in the meticulous framing of compositions in depth, I like to explore temporal as well as visual space in my stills, and I am obsessed with creating visual effects in-camera. I go to art presentations of all kinds – many of them! And I find that I’m as likely to be inspired by a painter or the lighting design of a stage production than I am by a photography exhibit.

If you could go on a photo shoot with any photographer (living or deceased), who would it be?

I only became interested in photography very late in the game long after I had developed what I consider my own visual style. I think I would enjoy hanging out with Man Ray or perhaps a late night out on the town with Brassaï.

If you could give one piece of advice for a novice photographer, what would it be?

I would tell him or her to buy a printer. The images we see on backlit displays have significant limitations. They cannot adequately convey the full artistic potential of photography at its best. I have seen too many images on my computer that translate to disappointing prints. And images “in the ether” favor graphic, hit-you-over-the-head compositions, rather than subtle, more nuanced work. Printing your work will help you understand how to make better exposures, and seeing the photographs as physical documents will, over time, help you evaluate which of your images may truly be excellent, and which will only get a bunch of likes on Instagram. You will know you are getting somewhere when your prints starting looking much better than your images on the screen. For a while, you may find that the opposite is true. Keep at it. For me at least, printing is hard work. I do not do fancy stuff, mostly traditional darkroom adjustments, not what comes to mind when people typically think of “photoshop.”  But I have only had time to print a small percentage of the images on my website, which are the ones I have exhibited. These images look far better than they did before I spent a couple of days working on them, experimenting with different papers, exposures, color balance, etc. As Ansel Adams said, “The negative is the equivalent of the composer’s score, and the print the performance.”

Thanks for being our photographer of the week, Osceola!

For more information about Osceola, visit his website. For more information about “High & Dry,” visit his blog.  For more information about Osceola’s current photography exhibit at Porch Gallery, visit the gallery’s website. All images © Osceola Refetoff.