Personal Projects: Fine Art Photography and the Essence of Trees, Part 1

 

 

I make my living as a commercial photographer– I listen to my clients and do my best to carry out their vision, whether that means photographing a luxury apartment complex, a famous politician, a medical team, or executive portraits. I ask a lot of questions- how will the pictures be used, who will the audience be, and what’s the end result you want from the pictures? I have to listen carefully, then translate their ideas into a well-crafted photo.

But every once in a while, I have to get away and photograph my own personal vision. This is where the fine art photography side of my business comes in. For over two years, I’ve been working on a new project photographing trees. But just not any trees; these are special trees photographed in a unique way. I call the project Essence, because I’m not making literal photos of the trees– their trunks, branches and leaves. Instead, I’m using camera movement to capture their essence- what makes them special. It might be the color of the leaves, the shape of the trunk or the size of the trees.

In these images, I’m photographing the trees from multiple angles, often walking 360 degrees around the tree, taking pictures every few steps then combining up to fifty images into one finished photo. I end up with some very unique tree portraits. I’ve looked around but I only know of one photographer making similar images, so these are unique portraits. As much as they look like standard pictures of trees, often the trees don’t look anything like their finished portraits. The image below is one of twelve pictures that make up the image above.

The technique doesn’t work with any tree; I’ll sometimes look for hours to find one that will work. Then it can take two or three hours or more on the computer to combine all the images into a finished photo. I’ve been using a medium format, 51MP camera to make the pictures, and with the larger file size, the final photos can exceed 4 gigabytes or more. But the detail is incredible– layers upon layers of leaves and branches that combine to create an Impressionist masterpiece.

 

To see more finished images, visit my fine art website, www.hudsonfineart.com/trees-gallery-2.

 

Video Production

The bulk of my work is photography. It’s what I’ve done professionally since 1989. But my clients are surprised when I tell them that I studied video production in college and have a degree in Studio Art/ Photography & Video. I’ve always enjoyed the storytelling aspect of videos– getting a message across through a combination of images and sound. Years ago I really wanted to direct music videos; I loved how they could tell a story and lead you through several different emotions in less than three or four minutes.

But when I finished college in 1989, it was too expensive to break into video on your own, and most editing was done in claustrophobic editing rooms, digitally splicing video tapes into more video tapes. Photography, with its chemical processes and darkrooms seemed much kinder to me at the time…

I shot my first commercial video for one of my photo clients in about 2009. Since then, the work has steadily increased each year. In 2014-15, I stepped into the “big time” when I worked on training video for Bank of America. Last year, I made three videos for a local outreach center that supports single moms, at risk kids and low income families. This was one of those videos, shot for a donors’ fundraising evening…

Self Publishing a Coffee Table Book

For nine years, I had been traveling to Acadia National Park (Maine) every Autumn to photograph the foliage, coast, lakes, mountains and everything else on Mount Desert Island. And for most of those years, I found myself wondering what to do with all the photos I was making. I had a website, Images of Acadia, which is a nice way for others to see your photos, but website pictures are small, and the photos deserved a better venue to be seen properly. Though I’ve sold a number of prints over the years, wall prints are expensive, and finding buyers with free wall space and the money to buy a quality print isn’t always easy. Eventually I realized that most people can afford a book, and if it’s done right and the pictures are good enough, it will sell.

Towards the end of 2014, I’d decided I would publish a coffee table book. The biggest market for the book would be at the national park– in the bookstores, gift shops and Acadia visitors center. I already sell posters in the visitors center, so I had a contact there. I wrote to her and asked if she thought my book was worth pursuing, and did she think it would it sell. Her words to me were, “Love the idea. We are always being asked for coffee table type books. People want to give them as gifts or want a hardback high quality book for themselves. I think it will sell!” That was enough for me to push ahead with the project.

I knew it wasn’t going to be a small undertaking, but I had no idea how much work it would involve. I had to find an experienced printer to make the book for me. I planned to self-publish it, but someone had to print the actual book. I knew there were services out there like Blurb and Apple Books, but the quality is marginal at best. My book would have to be done on a traditional offset press. After searching around, I learned that the minimum print run I could do was 500 books. Any less just wasn’t worth the cost involved, and would push the per-book cost up, so I decided to do a print run of 1,000 copies.

I searched the internet and found a company in Michigan that could handle the printing. I had a sample book sent to me to check on the quality, but wasn’t convinced. I decided to drive the three or four hours from my home in Chicago to visit the company and look through other samples, ask questions and meet some of the people who would be helping with the production of the book. It was a good day out, and I left Michigan satisfied, knowing they were my printers of choice.

Publishing a book is very expensive, obviously. I couldn’t afford to print the books myself, so I turned to Kickstarter to raise the funds for the book. I read up all I could find about Kickstarter campaigns and a month later, I had scripted, filmed and edited a promo video that I liked enough to use on Kickstarter (click here to read more about my experience with Kickstarter). And amazingly… thirty days after the campaign started, 108 people had successfully funded most of the book’s printing costs. Work on producing the book could now kick into a higher gear.
I’d already laid out the design and chosen the photos before the Kickstarter campaign began, but now I needed someone with expert knowledge to help me lay out the design of the book. My good friend Dean, who works at a publishing house– and is a book designer– offered to help me out. For about three months Dean and I went back and forth, sending pdf’s to each other, gradually shaping the book to look just like I wanted it.
I own several fine art photographers’ books and based a lot of my design and choice of paper stock, etc. on those books. I had decided early on that the book had to be the highest quality possible within a reasonable price, so that meant using a heavyweight, 180gsm paper (for an additional $540) that would complement the photos well, along with a cloth cover and quality dust jacket.
By June, the book was at the printers and the long wait for proofs, etc. began. After several weeks and additional changes, the whole process was underway and the presses were finally rolling. A couple advance copies came to me by mid-September and I was able to take them with me on my trip to Acadia in October. I used these copies to show at the visitor center and to the president of the Acadia Corporation, which owns several stores around the Park. All agreed to carry the book when it became available.
Finally, in mid-November, I got a call to say my books were on the way. 167 boxes of six books each arrived on three pallets at my garage. A few days later, on my birthday, I spent the whole day driving to northern Illinois (twice) to pick up shipping supplies– my van couldn’t fit them all in one trip.
Now the Kickstarter backers have been given their copies of the book, and several copies have been sent to Acadia to be sold in stores there. A number of them have been sold though my website (acadiaphotobook.com), in three local stores and on Amazon. The tourists are all but gone in Acadia right now, so I’ll have to wait until Memorial Day when it gets busy again to see how the book sells. If it sells well, I’ll be ordering another 1,000 or more books, so a portion of my profits will be used to fund the next printing.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. Will the book be successful? Will it sell enough copies? I don’t know. Time will tell. But if the reaction of some of the people who have bought it are any indication, I think I’ll be re-ordering more books some time in the near future.

Under October Skies finished book

Under October Skies finished book

Under October Skies finished book

Under October Skies finished book

Under October Skies finished book

Under October Skies finished book

Under October Skies finished book

To buy a copy of the book, visit Images of Acadia. The cost is $75 and includes free shipping to all US addresses. This is the only place to get a signed copy of the book.

Downtown Naperville

I’ve worked with the Downtown Naperville (Illinois) Alliance for several years– Naperville is a great place to shop, eat out or just hang out. The downtown area always seems to be expanding and in 2015, a new block of stores opened. The owner of the new construction, as well as the Downtown Naperville Alliance, needed updated photos to show off the new areas.

 

Main Street Promenade, Naperville

I chose to shoot the pictures in the dusk when their would be light left in the sky but the street lights would be on, creating a nice ambiance. There’s a small window in which to shoot; the sky will only be that nice, rich blue for a short time before it goes black. Despite the relaxed atmosphere of the pictures, it was a rushed shoot, trying to get as many buildings photographed before nightfall. In the end, I had to return the next morning to get the final shots.

I used a Pentax 645 medium format camera- my current favorite– for this job. The large, 51-megapixel sensor produces beautiful, large files, with much more dynamic range, and are easier to edit afterwards compared to files from a traditional D-SLR. I used Adobe Lightroom to correct the converging verticals and bring back some color from the original RAW files; each image needed extensive post production work.

Main Street Promenade, Naperville

Senior Communities

Franciscan Communities/ Marian Village, Homer Glen

Last year, I photographed all eight senior communities for Franciscan Communities, from the northern suburbs of Chicago, to Lafayette, Indiana and all the way out to Cleveland, Ohio. The shooting took place over about a month.

I’ve photographed retirement communities several times in my career, and have always enjoyed the work. The residents are generally very relaxed and willing to be in pictures (usually… but not always!). It’s a different pace of life. We shot lots of different scenarios, from meal times (showing off the dining areas) to the residents’ apartments, going on walks, the gym, cinema and even residents hanging out in their new pub. The purpose of the pictures was to show the residents having a good time while showing off the amenities.

Franciscan Communities/ Victory Lakes, Lindenhurst

Franciscan Communities/ University Place, Lafayette, Indiana

Franciscan Communities/ St Anthony Home, Crown Point, Indiana

Franciscan Communities/ Mount Alverna Village, Parma (Cleveland), Ohio

Franciscan Communities/ Marian Village, Homer Glen

Franciscan Communities/ Marian Village, Homer Glen

Franciscan Communities/ Franciscan Village, Lemont

Franciscan Communities/ Addolorata Villa, Wheeling