art, composition, photography

GOING ABSTRACT

Since I began making pictures on film in the mid-nineteen nineties, I have been fascinated with abstract imagery. Back then, mostly it was by accident… an errant frame here and there, missed focus, motion blur, etc.

In the days of film, you truly never knew how your film was going to turn out. Light leaks, camera malfunctions, lab errors… these were all distinct, albeit not common, potentialities.

Now, I make a point to blur an image with motion, or purposefully shift out of focus, for effect and to convey emotion. It’s simply another useful tool by which to create something. Even a feeling.

Whether intentional or not, abstract photography can be powerful.

The world is full of incredible shapes, textures, and colors. As a photographer, you can remove the context of an image to allow the viewer to see something completely new.

If you are interested in trying out this way of seeing and shooting, here are some helpful ways to start.

Look for textures, patterns, lines, and shapes

In the world of nature, there are textures, patterns, lines, and shapes everywhere if you train your eyes to see them. For me, it takes an intentional action to begin walking slower and looking for these details. But once you dial in to that frequency, you may find it hard to stop!

Shoot macro

Seeing minute details will allow you to create lovely abstractions. And you really don’t have to have a specific macro lens, though it can be helpful. The main point is to get down into the minutia. Get close with whatever lens you can. Leave all the distractions out of your frame and simplify what the viewer sees.

Use motion and manual focus to blur your subject

This technique is the most difficult to achieve at a high level, and it’s also my favorite! Use a slower shutter speed and experiment with purposefully moving your camera. Try up and down, left to right, swirling, etc. See what works and what doesn’t. Create new shapes and blended colors with what’s before you.

Aside from motion blur, set your lens to manual focus and start playing. It often works really well to shoot into the light when trying this technique. It will create shapes, and accentuate color, as I’ll mention in the next section.

Experiment with light

Backlight is my absolute favorite. And in combination with one of the other techniques, like motion blur or blurred focus, backlight can really come alive. As mentioned above, it will accentuate color and shapes, in this case lines.

Aerial details

With the advent and availability of drone photography, it has opened a whole new realm to the casual photographer to be able to experience perspectives only seen before by those with access to aircraft. Aerial abstraction is powerful when the light is right and the subject compelling. I’ve only recently bought a drone, so I have a way to go, but I’m loving learning and experimenting!

Again, shooting abstracts is a way to expand the way we see and convey feeling to our viewer. It is simply another tool in the toolbox of visual art and photography. Exercise this muscle by practicing the way you see, and I’m sure you will find it quite fulfilling and enjoyable.

–Andrew


N O M A D  Magazine // Issue 1
Order your copy today and receive this 100 page full color travelgasm at your door!
Want to learn photography and enjoy a guided experience? Check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
INTO THE WINDS // BACKPACKING + PHOTOGRAPHY ADVENTURE
GRAND TETON // FALL COLOR // LANDSCAPES + WILDLIFE
TELLURIDE // FALL COLOR // LUXE LANDSCAPES
I’m excited to announce The Photographic Guide to Our National Parks” series of eBooks:
Rocky Mountain National Park
Grand Teton National Park
If you are interested in purchasing a “print from the road”, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
Andrew Slaton // Limited Edition Prints
Andrew Slaton // Canvas + Metal Prints
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew Slaton 
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
All images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2020
 
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nature, travel, wildlife

THE MOST DIFFICULT HIKE IN THE U.S.

Most people don’t think of Florida when they think of amazing hikes. The sunshine state is also, perhaps, not what hikers think of when they think of difficult hikes. True, Florida is mostly at sea level, so there’s not a ton of elevation gain and loss, and the air is quite thick and rich with oxygen. And true, it boasts temperate weather most of the year. But let me assure you, I completed the most difficult hike of my life, right here in Florida a few weeks ago.

Birds, and other fauna abound in the Big Cypress, a massive part of the Everglades ecosystem.

Ellen and I try to winter in Florida every year, like every other 65+ person in the U.S, because of course, we both appreciate the weather. She loves the Gulf beaches, and I love the abundance of critters, and challenging landscapes to photograph.

This year, I decided to make it a goal to section hike the Florida National Scenic Trail (FNST or simply FT), a 1300 mile span of the entire state. I wanted to explore this diverse and beautiful state, and to get my hiking and wilderness fix, in spite of the season. I figured to do it quite passively, with no real end date in sight. We only spend a few months every few winters here, so I wanted to approach the task realistically. I wish I had read this article by Outside first, but alas, I only found it after while researching some info for this post.

If your hiking NOBO (northbound) on the Florida Trail, you start at the southern terminus, at the Oasis Visitor Center in Big Cypress National Preserve. This is known as the most remote, most dangerous 31 mile section of the entire 1300 miles. Great way to “get your feet wet.” I would come to find that expression translates literally in this case.

It is recommended to take three days to do this section, so of course I decided to make it an overnighter. The first day I planned to do 17 miles from the start at US 41, and the second day, 14 miles, with Ellen picking me up at the end of my section, I-75 (Alligator Alley), at 5PM.

February is considered the “dry season,” however, I only found about 3-4 miles out of the 31 to be actual dry land. The rest of the hike, I was in 6-18 inches of water and muck.

The Big Cypress section of the FT is known as one of, if not the hardest hike in the U.S.

This is prime alligator and snake country. And with temps reaching 87 degrees during the day, it is not uncommon to come across reptiles in Big Cypress, even in February. Many dangerous and some venomous.

Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes are just one of the venomous snakes commonly found throughout Big Cypress.

Thankfully, I only came in close contact with a water moccasin once. But the opportunities abound.

The orange blazes marked on the cypress and pines help to keep the hiker on trail, when the trail is not always so visible.

It is a truly haunting and beautiful landscape though. Vast cypress strands with bromeliads create hanging gardens to slosh beneath. Your eyes are constantly tilting down, watching the murky waters for danger, then glaring up to make sure you still see the orange blazes, on many stretches, the only indicators of your trail. To top it off, there is almost no shade on the entire hike.

Only a few miles in this realization hits… your exposure to the blazing sun is profound and inescapable. Even in winter.

The cypress swamps are beautiful gardens teeming with amazing plants and animals.

Lovely wildflowers dot the swampy landscape, even in winter.

After deciding to stop several times the first day well short of my 17 mile goal, I came across two guys hiking SOBO (southbound). They told me that if I could make it the 3-4 more miles to 13 Mile Camp (confusing, because if hiking NOBO, it’s actually 17 miles in) I would find dry land on which to comfortably camp and a large trail maintenance group that was giving out water.

I had underestimated how much water to bring, so this info came to me as the best motivator possible. Of course I brought my filter, but I can assure you I only wanted to drink the water I was sloshing though as a last resort. So I pushed on.

I reached 13 Mile Camp with a few hours of sunlight to spare. I started my hike a bit late that day at 10AM, and reached the 17 mile mark at 4:30PM. I won’t lie, I was completely exhausted. My feet were sore from the constant post-holing up and down through deep mud. My shoes never got dry on the entire hike.

But I made it.

It is not at all uncommon to stumble upon alligators on this section of the Florida Trail.

The trail crew could not have been nicer. They were camped only a quarter of a mile or so away. They gave me as much water as I wanted, and so I alleviated the symptoms of dehydration I was already showing. I stumbled back to my lonely camp and crashed. The anxiety for tomorrow, and the warnings for what lie ahead from the trail crew swirled in my thoughts. I had told them I made it this far in one day and that I planned to do the rest of this section tomorrow, and I saw the looks they gave one another. Their lack of confidence in me was palatable.

Trekking poles are a must if backpacking the Big Cypress section.

When I got reception for a moment the next morning, I called Ellen to tell her to plan on not picking me up today… I would need another night out and a half day to complete this section. I felt a bit defeated.

I’m comfortable tackling 15-20 miles at high elevations, carrying 50 lbs on my back. Here, I was at sea level, carrying only 35-40 lbs. How was it that Florida was kicking my butt already?

Yet, I pressed on. One step at a time.

That’s the “mantra” I use when a hike seems too difficult for me… “one step at a time, Andrew. Just one. Step. At. A. Time.” It’s become a lovely metaphor for life for me. When trials come, disaster hits, despair takes hold… “one step at a time, Andrew. Just one. Step. At. A. Time.”

I know it’s cliche, but hiking/ backpacking really is an uncanny metaphor for life. You have your mountaintops and moments where you are overwhelmed by all of the beauty, and then the long, seemingly never-ending uphill slog, when you feel like you can’t take it anymore. And all you have to do is put one proverbial foot in front of the other. And then again. And again. Until, eventually, you reach the mountaintop again, and take your rest.

The birds of Big Cypress are plentiful and fascinating.

Sunrise and sunset in Big Cypress are worth all of the pain and misery.

Birds (and water) are the only constant companions on this lonely section of trail.

Day two was a test of will. It was definitely more challenging than day one. The submerged swamp sections grew longer and more maze-like, the water deeper, the mud more viscus. I nearly fell several times, which could have been incredibly defeating. If you are considering hiking this section, and I do realize that’s unlikely after reading this post, may I suggest trekking poles. I would even venture to say that this hike wouldn’t be possible without them.

Even through several miles of being slowed to one mile per hour, I was actually making good time. I couldn’t believe it. My “one step at a time” mantra was working.

I got reception and hurried to call Ellen. I was already going to run out of water again if I stayed another night, and I was beginning to see the possibility of finishing as planned on day two. My will to finish was kicking in. The mosquitos, wet feet, and difficult steps were enough at this point to propel me forward to unending fresh water, my bed, and an escape from the bugs.

Starting at 8AM, I was able to make it to the finish line ahead of schedule, at 4:30PM.

I hit the pavement of the I-75 rest area, tossed my pack to the ground and immediately ripped my soaked, muddy shoes and socks off. It was one of the best feelings to know that I accomplished what I set out to do. Ellen pulled up with the pups only a half hour later, with a victory beer in a beachy coozie.

So I’m sure you are asking yourself “why?” Rightfully so. Ellen asked me several times before and after. And I think the best answer I could  muster was that sometimes the hard things, the things that haunt our dreams and cause us to worry… the things that we fear, the unknown… these are the things we must confront. For confidence in ourselves and our abilities, but also to force ourselves to rely on God for strength and protection. Tasks that just seem too tall for us to take on, are the best places for us to dig deep within ourselves to find strength we didn’t know we even had. And more than this, to look outside ourselves for help when we realize we don’t actually have the strength to go on.

The current level of comfort in our age betrays us.

When I get the “why” question, I often think of JFK’s speech about going to the moon. And I find it apropos as people look at me like I’m crazy when I place myself in challenging and difficult, and sometimes even dangerous situations.

How else can you measure a man, if not to put him to the test?

We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.” ~ JFK, 1962

When asked immediately after finishing by a tourist pulling up, “how was it?” I told him I wouldn’t recommend it.

But now, several days later, I actually might consider doing it again. And I actually would recommend it… only to the resilient… with eyes wide open.

–Andrew


N O M A D  Magazine // Issue 1
Order your copy today and receive this 100 page full color travelgasm at your door!
Want to learn photography and enjoy a guided experience? Check out my exciting, NEW workshop dates:
INTO THE WINDS // BACKPACKING + PHOTOGRAPHY ADVENTURE
GRAND TETON // FALL COLOR // LANDSCAPES + WILDLIFE
TELLURIDE // FALL COLOR // LUXE LANDSCAPES
I’m excited to announce The Photographic Guide to Our National Parks” series of eBooks:
Rocky Mountain National Park
Grand Teton National Park
If you are interested in purchasing a “print from the road”, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
Andrew Slaton // Limited Edition Prints
Andrew Slaton // Canvas + Metal Prints
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
Tandem Stills + Motion // Andrew Slaton 
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
All images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2020
 
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