Nick Carver Photography Blog

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Abstract Photography: Palm Trees in Laguna Beach

Abstract Photography: Palm Trees in Laguna BeachAbstract Photography: Palm Trees in Laguna Beach
Double exposure on Ilford Delta 100 Film
Click to Enlarge

I'm not really known for abstract photography. Most of my work consists of more literal interpretations of landscapes and nature. Nothing wrong with that, but lately I've been feeling the urge to flex my creativity a little bit by attempting a more abstract approach on my subjects. I've found that forcing myself to see a subject in a different way that departs hugely from my typical straightforward approach tends to open up the flood gates of creativity in me and I often times create photographs I'm really proud of. If I skip the "obvious shot" and just concentrate my efforts on doing something different - anything different - from my first inclination and from what I've seen before, I often times like the results more.

I'm beginning to believe that an ounce of "different" is worth 10 pounds of technical perfection, dramatic composition, and epic light.

So one day in January when I ventured out to Laguna Beach to photograph the sights, I decided to try some abstract photography on the multitude of palm trees down there. I wanted to try something different than simply  straightforward photos of palm trees. I didn't want the viewers to look at these photos and think "yep, there's some palm trees in Laguna Beach." Instead, I wanted my viewers to be unable to express exactly what the photos made them think of or feel. I wanted their emotional and mental response to be difficult to explain.

See, I like it when a photograph or a painting simply instills a "vibe" in you - a feeling that you can't really express in words or describe fully to anybody else. The paintings of R. Kenton Nelson do that for me. When I look at his work, I just get a vibe. I can't articulate it and I don't even want to try. I just feel it.

I know, I'm getting deep here.

But seriously, I think a painting or a photograph should instill this kind of unexplainable sensation in viewers. It shouldn't be easy to describe why you love a work of art or what it means to you or what it's trying to communicate. Because if you could just put it into words, then what's the point of the artwork?

Now the thing about abstract photography is that it doesn't get the same enthusiastic response from viewers as the Peter Lik-esque epic landscape compositions that are bursting with color and drama. Flashy colors and epic scenics grab people, plain and simple. After all, those types of photos look awesome on a digital display. But I've come to realize that I personally don't like hanging such epic, in-your-face photographs on my own walls. I tend to gravitate towards the more subtle, somewhat understated photography that doesn't punch you in the face like the typical landscapes out there. I like wall art that accents a room, not overtakes it. 

So when I photographed these palm trees in Laguna Beach, I wanted to capture them in such a way that the pictures would be (1) something I've never seen before, (2) something I'd want to hang on my own walls at home, (3) something that would really push my creativity and force me to think outside my normal approach, and (4) something that would instill that unexplainable, difficult-to-articulate feeling in my viewers and in myself.

To accomplish (1) and (3), I exposed my film multiple times with overlapping compositions of clusters of palm trees so as to create a more abstract photography look that wasn't so structured. I wanted it sloppy, yet precise - simple compositional elements of various palm trees overlaid to create some interesting shapes and tones. The goal of the compositions was simplicity. Two of the compositions were triple exposures on a single piece of film, two were double exposures. The one with the seagull is a straightforward single exposure. I found out upon developing the film that I did successfully achieve point (2). And as for point (4), these photos do instill that intangible feeling within me, but I can only hope it achieves that in others.

I framed up this abstract photography of palm trees in Laguna Beach for a month-long display at Artist Eye Gallery in (fittingly) Laguna Beach, CA. If you're in the area, swing by Artist Eye Gallery on Thursday, April 3rd from 6:30-9:00pm for Art Walk to see me and these photos in person!

Click any photo to enlarge. And just for fun, there's a little Instagram video for you at the bottom.

Abstract Photography: Palm Trees in Laguna Beach

Abstract Photography: Palm Trees in Laguna Beach

Abstract Photography: Palm Trees in Laguna Beach

Abstract Photography: Palm Trees in Laguna Beach

Abstract Photography: Palm Trees in Laguna Beach

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Heisler Park in Laguna Beach

Heisler Park at Sunset in Laguna Beach
Heisler Park at Sunset in Laguna Beach, CA
Click any image to expand

Ah, finally. The first post of the new year. It's been awhile since I've put up any new pictures or articles, but what can I say? I got caught up with the commotion of the holidays. Now that things have settled down a bit, I'll be back to my old routine (hopefully).

As my first post of 2014, I thought I'd share some photos I took last month at a local stomping ground in Laguna Beach. I was itching to take some shots on this particular Wednesday and the clouds overhead looked promising for a colorful sunset. With my gear loaded up and a few rolls of film in hand, I ventured out to Heisler Park in Laguna Beach to photograph the sunset. Heisler Park is a cliffside park just off Pacific Coast Highway near Las Brisas restaurant that features beautiful views of the Pacific, outdoor sculptures by local artists, and a nice little beach complete with rock formations, tide pools, and stretches of smooth sand.

I've photographed Heisler Park a thousand times before and have brought students there for private lessons and group classes more times than I can count. Sometimes the beach is packed with people, sometimes it's completely empty. This evening it was somewhere in between. But whatever the day of the week, whatever the time of year, there is one thing I always see at Heisler Park beach when I visit at sunset. Every single time I've gone out there, I see a photographer set up with a clean-cut nuclear family wearing white shirts and blue jeans (or the wildly different black shirts and blue jeans) sitting on the sand posed for a portrait to hang over the fireplace. It's always the same attire, always the same Sears-catalog family, and always in the same pose. Oh, and there's occasionally a chocolate lab thrown in to the mix just to complete the Orange County vibe.

The guy taking these pictures, I'm sure, is making bank on these photo shoots. But man that's gotta get old. I often wonder if every once in awhile he just freaks out and goes postal on another client requesting a family photo down at the beach at sunset wearing white shirts and blue jeans. I picture him screaming, "White shirts and blue jeans down at the beach?! SO original! Have you ever worn matching white shirts and blue jeans for a family day of fun down at the beach? Have you ever worn perfectly matching attire at any point in your life? Don't you ever just want some trees or a hillside behind you? What the hell is the matter with you people?!" But maybe I'm being too harsh. He's found a target market and he carved himself out a nice, stable niche. More power to him.

Anyway, I digress. This beach is beautiful and at this time of year (winter), the sun sets more south than it does during the rest of the year. That puts the sunset right over the water, 90-degrees out from the shoreline - right over Catalina Island. And Heisler Park is unique in that the rock formations vary widely from week to week as the sand level rises and drops. I've been there at times when the sand is so high there are practically no rocks to be found above the surface, and other times when the sand is so low that the majority of the beach is rocky terrain. I was pleased to see that I had some rocks to work with on this shoot.

All of the photos you see here were made on medium format film using a Mamiya RZ67 camera. The photo at the top of this post and the first 2 below were made on Fuji Velvia 50 - a high-saturation, high-contrast transparency film. The 2 at the bottom of this post are the same compositions but made on Kodak Ektar print film (negatives). You can see that the Kodak Ektar isn't as contrasty and colorful as the Velvia. I think both looks have their merits, but I tend to gravitate towards the Velvia look more - thanks largely to my admiration of Galen Rowell and his work. I didn't record the specific exposure and filter details for these shots, but I will say that I utilized split ND filters on every one of these photos.

Heisler Park at Sunset in Laguna Beach

Heisler Park at Sunset in Laguna Beach

Heisler Park at Sunset in Laguna Beach

Heisler Park at Sunset in Laguna Beach

New Work: Cress Street Beach

Sunset in Laguna Beach, CASunset at Cress Street Beach in Laguna Beach, CA
Fuji Provia 100F film - 30" at f/45
Click Image for Larger

I made the photo featured here back in January in Laguna Beach, CA. Laguna has some beautiful beaches, but in the summertime it's a circus down there. It makes shooting landscapes damn near impossible without getting a sea of umbrellas and beach towels in the shot. January makes this challenge a little easier.

But who am I kidding? Shooting at Orange County beaches is always aggravating. I guess my 6'2" frame, my giant tripod, and my enormous wooden camera aren't enough to let people know that "I'm taking a picture in this general direction so please don't walk through my frame." Maybe I should post a sign and police caution tape to finally get their attention.

Of course I'm not one of those self-entitled photographers that thinks the scenery belongs to me simply because I have a camera. I recognize that the beach belongs to all of us and no one should have more right to use it than anyone else...which is why I never say anything to anyone getting in my shot. But I mean come on, would it kill you, shirtless tourist, to take a 5-foot detour behind my camera as you stroll at a snail's pace along the sand? And don't get me started on paddle-boarders.

But enough ranting. Let me tell you about this shot.

I made this image on the beach just off of Cress Street near my gallery. I was pleased to see that the sand level was very low, revealing some beautiful boulders that I'd use in the foreground. And by judging the cloud cover, I figured the sunset would have some decent color to it, too. I made this image on Fuji Provia 100F film, but I wish I'd had Velvia 50 that night. Provia has a nice magenta tinge to it that worked well on this shot, but Velvia's color palette is much more vibrant. Oh well. I used a 3-stop split ND filter to hold detail in the sky and at an aperture of f/45, my shutter speed came out to 30 seconds. My Nikkor SW 90mm f/4.5 lens gave me the wide view I needed to include the rocks.

This puppy is also on display right now in my gallery. If you're in Laguna, stop in to Artist Eye Gallery and check it out. It looks nice printed up big.