Serendipity: God’s Gift to Photographers – Part 3 of 3
The last 16 images covered in this series were taken in the past 14 months, from April 12, 2021 to May 21, 2022. This accelerated rate most likely results from my increased willingness to photograph a wider range of subjects. But it has also been influenced by one atypical situation last month when I encountered a large quantity of wildlife in an urban location, on a hike scheduled by my daughter. Instead of the usual one or two exposures, there were many picture opportunities, and lots of time to explore and photograph.
The place in which my daughter chose to hike is Laguna Niguel Regional Park, in South Orange County, CA. When I lived nearby 20 years ago, there was little of interest for me to photograph in local parks. Consequently, I didn’t plan to carry a camera. But I was also comfortable leaving $10,000 worth of gear in the car.
What I didn’t know was that this park, which has a lake fed by reclaimed water, has become a regular stopover and breeding ground for approximately 200 migrating Canada Geese. Even as we drove through the entry, we had to stop for two adult geese who were waddling along with ten goslings. Not much further into the park, the lawns were covered with hundreds of young geese of varying ages, escorted by over 30 adult geese.
What was most unexpected was the birds’ high tolerance for people, as they learned that humans were not a threat. I was able to walk among them and photograph them close-up, providing that I matched their pace as they grazed and moved forward. Because of this situation, I had many captures, with more than a few of high quality.
In addition to the geese, there was one young Egret that hunted insects and small fish. He covered ground quickly, and I moved along with him (or her) never more than ten feet away. While I have photographed both Geese and Egret numerous times, the perspectives this time were more intimate, resulting in many excellent images. Overall, this one unplanned event produced a disproportionate number of keepers to add to my best work.
Part III: Years 2021 & 2022
My wife and I were in Laguna Beach visiting our daughter, and to celebrate my birthday we had lunch at the Montage Hotels overlooking the ocean. Later, we walked through the lushly planted gardens, and I noticed flowers that I had never seen before and took several photographs. Only recently did I learn their names, thanks to my son.
These small parrots are not native to Arizona. They originate in South Africa and are the descendants of imported pets that escaped and adapted well to the Southern Arizona environment, even smart enough to sit next to air conditioning vents during the intense summer heat. I had first seen them in trees near the Salt River, and later read about them. They now widely inhabit the whole Phoenix Valley. I photographed this bird and three others in a tall thorn bush on the Wigwam Resort in Goodyear immediately after checking in.
Palo Verde trees come alive in April with bright yellow blooms as seen here against a vivid blue desert sky. This image was captured only because I preferred walking around outdoors rather than wait in a doctor’s office during my wife’s medical exam. The office complex had an abundance of Palo Verde trees.
This is another Arizona Toad that visited my front patio to munch on flies. While I didn’t need another toad shot, I thought that his setting up shop next to an Argentine Giant Cactus was gutsy, and worth a picture. It was certainly appreciated during a time of Covid 19 travel restrictions.
This image was a consolation prize for a wildlife photography trip to Grand Teton NP, Yellowstone NP and Glacier NP that produced very little wildlife because huge throngs of people kept them deep in the woods. My art director/wife suggested this image. Because there were 48 mailboxes along the road it took 11 exposures to make a stitched panorama that covered the whole scene.
My family, friends and I had dinner at the Dana Point Marina. This proved a colorful and well attended public display after so many months of Covid 19 sequestering. By then, I had decided to always carry a camera, just in case.
This and the remaining images are the product of my unexpected wildlife shoot in Laguna Niguel mentioned at the start of this article.
Though many of the goose images taken on this hike show throngs of geese, I felt that the small family groupings showed more character. However, the next image is too humorous to ignore.
The adult guardians marched each group of goslings to a muddy stream to drink between grazing periods. With every new group the stream got muddier. The gosling in the foreground seemed to rebel at the thought of ingesting that swill.
The Egret Images that I captured on this hike were among the best that I have ever captured, primarily because he paid no attention to me, and I was able to use a short telephoto lens and stay close.
These four goslings were probably only a few weeks old. The one on the left had waddled over to the three on the right, who seemed to resent his presence. The one with his open beak advanced toward the lone gosling and attacked him (next frame), while the other two looked on. Not shown is a later frame in which the next closest gosling joined the attack. There were a lot of angry chirps, and all through this the two parents paid no attention to the squabble. (The other parent was grazing off to the left.) Proof that the world can be cold and hard.
But Spring is also a time of harmony and promise.
For me, the process of reviewing these 50 images to determine how they differed from my usual photography was a meaningful exercise. Being in position to capture special scenes and moments has been gratifying, and I feel that the resulting images add both quantitatively and qualitatively to a body of work.
But is that it? Or is there some other greater reason to devote the extra time to capture what we haven’t conceived and planned, — to take what is offered? It turns out there is more than one reason.
First, for creative people the immediate value is to break away from a natural tendency to confine oneself to one type of subject, one way of seeing and one way of presenting it. By focusing narrowly to perfect what we do, we lose opportunities to experience the excitement and creative inspiration that new subjects and challenges can offer, which in turn can do much to hone both our vision and skills.
Secondly, random exposures to new subjects often provide valuable inputs we can’t get any other way, as it’s difficult to seek knowledge and insights on new subjects that aren’t even on your radar screen.
This type of analytical postmortem may seem odd to some. But it isn’t much different from what business career professionals do periodically when they assess whether their career paths are tracking closely with their objectives. Anytime that we make substantial investments of time, money, and energy we need to periodically evaluate whether the results are what we envisioned.
Some More Food For Thought:
The value of photographing or painting something that comes to us from outside our bubbles is that we are often given opportunities to apply our skills in new fresh ways that help us grow and increase our sense of accomplishment.
One of my best landscape images wasn’t taken in a National Park. It was taken in a dense urban setting. This is the image in Part II taken from the Orange County Performing Art Center. Here, the sunset and red-streaked sky looks just as appealing as they would above the ocean. The composition is pleasing, and the light and dark tones provide mood and invite visual exploration, proof that the skills we develop to make one genre appealing are translatable to other genres.
And of significant importance is the enhanced appeal a body of work takes on when good presentation is evident in a broader variety of images. They play off well against each other.
So, the larger purpose of looking for the unexpected and being ready to capture its essence is how it stretches us as artists rather than a tendency to stay with what is comfortable.
There is another undercurrent at work here that must be recognized. The purpose of photography is not only to produce art. It sounds funny to make this statement, because it wasn’t that long ago when photographers like Adams, Stieglitz and Weston worked very hard to convince museum curators and other art critics that photography was no less an art form than painting. But today, many photographers prioritize being recognized for their art rather than for their message.
The fact is that photography is also a recording medium which is equally important. Photography bears testament to what exists, and to changes over time. It has strong educational value and connects us to the past so that we can compare it to the present and develop a sense of where we’re going. It is just as important to capture moments as it is to capture compositions, context, and color.
Before photography arrived, these were the primary tasks of painting. Going back 60,000 years ago, the first drawings and paintings were made to record and memorialize important events and experiences in which prehistoric people took part. Over the millennia the skill with which such recordings were drawn helped develop the concept of art. And art became something that took on desirability and monetary value.
In the mid 19th century, at the same time cameras, plates and film became increasingly available, impressionist painting became mainstream. And it was a number of those artists who recognized photography’s value and became ardent photographers. Ironically, it appears that photography freed painters of their recording burden to allow them to concentrate on new art forms and techniques.
But recording is not a burden. It’s both a responsibility and a great calling. It isn’t only the domain of photojournalists either. It is important at all levels of society. Because of that, a photographer’s output is likely to seem deficient if it only consists of pretty images of idealized landscapes. As with many artists, photographers’ creations are more likely to be treasured if they also educate and place subjects in time and space. A strong photograph is one that educates, makes a statement, and is also executed artistically. In the 20th century, Eugene C. Smith combined reportorial skills with artistic presentation and became one of the greatest photojournalists ever.
Many of my friends and acquaintances are longtime photographers, often with similar paths and experiences with photography. Most are passionate amateurs who have more deeply embraced their art as a second career. I hope that this article will inspire them to explore ways to increase their enjoyment, skills, and quality of work by taking on fresh challenges every now and then.
To see the scope and essence of Harvey Stearn's photographic art please visit www.CameraStops.com. Mr. Stearn began photographing Western landscapes and wildlife at the age of 13, spent 50 years pursuing his passion in the field and in the darkroom before fully converting to digital photography in 2002. He developed color prints as well as monochrome, but switched over to digital capture and editing in 2002. Though he was a top executive for two large scale land development and home building corporations, he always found time for his fine art photography which won many awards. His work was exhibited in art museums in Southern California and Arizona, and was also featured in billboard advertisements and published in magazines. Mr. Stearn served on the California Arts Council for nine years, including two years as Chairman and another two as Vice Chairman. In addition, he was the founding Chairman of the John Wayne Airport Arts Commission in Orange County, California. Mr. Stearn’s work was sold through Arizona galleries for 15 years. In recent years he wrote 21 illustrated articles for PhotoPXL.com and 14 articles for Luminous-Landscape.com. In 2013 he published a book entitled “In Search of the Old West” which has been widely acclaimed. He was a guest lecturer on photography on a cruise ship visiting Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and the Falkland Islands. His work was among the top 100 images printed in NANPA's Showcase publications in 2019 and 2020. Images have been edited and selected for two new books on Landscape photography which will be published in late 2022 and early 2023.