Thursday, June 20, 2013

Northwoods May 2013

May 31 - Storm Brewing Over Round Lake

One photo from each day of May 2013

It's been a weird spring. Especially when we compare it to last year's insta-winter-bust into summer. Nope, this year we paid that loan back in full. Rather than simply write about it though, like so many have before me, I wanted to do something different to chronicle the transition. I went with a more visual approach.

Each day, from May 1 - 31, I took one photograph somewhere in the surrounding area, processed it, and uploaded it online at I wanted to capture the radical changes the Wisconsin Northwoods goes through in this season of fluctuation, so most of the shots are wide or medium range landscapes - it’s hard to shoot from a mountain top in the middle of the woods.

Over the course of the project, I drove 184 miles over 14 hours. That averages out to be about six miles per day, even though there are several days I did not write down mileage or time. Those were the instances where a photo was on my way to somewhere else - typically work or fishing related. I also did not keep track of time spent processing photos, but by the end of the project, I had that part down to 30 minutes or less each day.
May 22 - Live tree in foamy Sailor Creek

After a set of photos was taken, and I felt confident I had at least one I liked, I set into the behind the scenes work with tools like iPhoto, Photoshop, and an online set of editing tools called Aviary. I utilized social media platforms such as Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus to distribute the work, garner attention, and collect feedback on what sort of pictures were best received by family, friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers.

As the first week or so unfolded, I started to refine my process. I began to try different methods for the distribution of these photographs, and by this experimentation, harnessed different tools. Flickr (a powerful social media platform for photography) was the mainframe tool I used. Flickr worked well for several reasons: I could display full resolution photos, I could map out where each and every one was taken, and I could organize, archive, and distribute the whole project with ease. I also started to use the mobile app for the site, which included a host of great filter effects, and helped me stay on target to adventure, photograph, and upload each and every day.
May 3 - Butternut Creek

I found that color became one of my primary expressions of the changing atmosphere I wanted to capture. Color could tell parts of the story that proximity, shape, size, texture, and line could not do on their own. I wanted to effect an emotional reaction out of these photos, and color helped me get there. I was leery in the beginning to overdo it with heavy hues, but as my process began to define itself, it became more and more vital.

See, when the project started, the rivers were opened up but the lakes were not. All the snow melt (and snowstorms) at the beginning of the month flooded rivers and creeks, and made for some really interesting, once-a-year sights to see. Consequently, I was drawn to these bodies of water, as most of the land was still barren and soggy looking. This resulted in the need to find more and more subjects to photograph; therefore forcing me to traverse different roads and waterways for new and interesting shots. In the end, this worked out to the advantage of the project as a whole, because it forced me to extend my radius further than I may have normally.

The entire project was one big experiment, and it taught me a few things.

'Northwoods May, 2013' as I ended up titling it, demanded a lot of discipline. Sort of like this column, I had to force myself to try on a regular basis. Whereas Woodsman Enough occurs on a weekly basis, this project demanded I find perspective and inspiration on a daily cycle - though for a shorter term. One of the objectives of the project was to make a visual record of 31 days in which our woodlands transform drastically. At first I was worried that maybe I should display multiple pictures of each day, or multiple pictures on a weekly basis, but something about choosing only a single photo for a single day really resonated with me - and that's another lesson learned - decisiveness.

I only posted a single photo each day, but on average I took about 75. Weeding through these was a process onto itself, and usually involved an initial overview, selection of a top five, and then a final commitment to processing the single winner in the group. Since this was a daily routine, I became efficient at judging compositions rather quickly. A major factor that went into the judging was looking back at what I had posted over the past few days, as I wanted to always be presenting a fresh take, making the best effort to overcome monotony early and often.
May 15 - Duck House in Wetlands

Now that it's over, I find myself missing it. Sometimes on my drive to work, walking somewhere at sunset, or paddling on the weekend, I want to instinctively grab my camera and capture a beautiful landscape. I've already got my mind on several different locations because of this, and I can't wait to do something similar down the road, applying all that I've learned.

However I figure on organizing my next photo project, I'll be sure to let you know. This one addressed capturing seasonal changes, exploring new local locations, and returning to spots I have not been to for years. Your suggestions, opinions, and feedback, as always, are welcome.

“Each work of art excludes the world, concentrates attention on itself. For the time it is the only thing worth doing -- to do just that; be it a sonnet, a statue, a landscape, an outline head of Caesar, or an oration. Presently we return to the sight of another that globes itself into a whole as did the first, for example, a beautiful garden; and nothing seems worth doing in life but laying out a garden.” 
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

See you out there,
A woodsman in training.

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