Photography excels at representation: at capturing faithfully whatever is in front of the lens. This sort of representation is a very western artistic view. But faithful representations do not always capture the essence or soul of the subject. Trying to capture what a tree means without resorting to a true likeness of a tree is a very zen, or eastern, artistic view. Photography is a meditative activity for me and sometimes I like to photograph with an eastern artistic approach.
I have been working on a series of photographs for the past several years attempting to capture the essence of "tree". In centuries past this would have been done with a hair brush and ink in the sumi-e tradition. Using a camera for this sort of work requires thinking outside the usual photographic box and utilizing new avenues of creativity. This project has reinvigorated my other photography, as well.
Oak Tree Motion
Several approaches proved fruitful for me with sometimes unexpected and always interesting results. I tried changing the focus during long exposures. For a few subjects I liked multiple exposures with a slight change of focal length for each exposure the best. I tried both linear and rotational camera motion during the exposure. The camera was mounted on a flexible iron rod and tapped just before the shutter was tripped to induce vibration.
Oak Tree Motion 5
The end results, as with most of photography, depended on the specific subject. After taking this approach for a while, I am getting much better at predicting which technique to use for particular subjects to produce a certain "look". Final results are still somewhat unpredictable and the project will be continued. Next will be repeating much of this work in black and white to remove even more realism from these shots.
I like to use projects like this one to challenge the way I think of and use my equipment. I usually like to use the sharpest lenses with the best possible color fidelity to show what things truly look like. But do any of those technical specifications matter when what you want to show is how something feels or what something means rather than how it looks.