If there was a time to interview a photographer who spends his life photographing the beauty and grace of trees, this is it. Especially during this crisis, Steven Friedman’s stunning imagery and awe-inspiring prints of forests and trees around the world provides much-needed calm and consolation. Steven describes his photographic journey and takes us deep into the fascinating visual world of life-sustaining and majestic trees. We talked with Steven about his carefully crafted compositions, his beginnings, the importance of being among trees and his relentless pursuit of quality in image capture and printing. We also touched on some business aspects of selling prints and Steven’s fascinating plans for his upcoming book.
You can find the entire interview in the March edition of the Medium Format Magazine. Below please find some excerpts from this fascinating interview.
What was your first visual interest as a photographer?
Early on, I was interested in Galen Rowell’s work. The way he captured his images when he was adventure travelling or climbing piqued my interest in getting into remote areas to experience and photograph them. I really enjoyed his book “Mountain Light,” a gift from an aunt of mine. Galen had a great ability to emphasize the story behind his images and describe what made the image possible. As well, I was interested in some of the earlier work of Christopher Burkett. His work is more about the intimate landscape of the forest.
Why trees? When did you decide to focus almost entirely on photographing trees around the world?
If you spend enough time in the forest amongst trees, you really start to appreciate their beauty and their delicate balance of strength and gracefulness. They are just beautiful. I feel better when I’m in the forest. It recharges me and feeds my soul like nothing else. It’s where I want to be.
I used to photograph the sunrise/sunset type photographs and the typical viewpoints, which are easily recognizable. I never found it very satisfying. To stand where other people have stood is not something that excites me. I want to create one-of-a-kind images. A lot of the photography these days all looks the same.
How does seeing and arranging trees within the frame differ from crafting images of any other subject?
It’s much more difficult to find a resonating composition in the forest than in many other subjects. The forest is random and chaotic. You must find a pattern and rhythm that works for you. I use a framing card cut out for a 1 to 3 panoramic format and the 645 format, so that I can find a spot in the forest where subject, composition and light come together to make an image that resonates with people.
What’s your favourite tree? And your favourite tree to photograph?
My favourite trees are aspens. In North America I have photographed them from the Yukon to New Mexico. They glow white and have an amazing colour in autumn. I have put 15 autumn seasons into photographing aspen trees. I just love being immersed in an autumn forest. It’s a sensory overload of colour, light and smells. I still have not photographed the trees in winter. I keep a list of ideas of imagery and places that I want to shoot.
What did photographing trees for so many years teach you about trees—something you didn’t know when you started?
The forest and the ecosystem are much more delicate than I originally thought. Many forests are being affected by disease and decline. It’s really noticeable all over the world. There are numerous images I have taken that do not exist anymore. The trees have died.
What is the most common misconception people have about trees?
That trees are easy to photograph. This is not the case. I might spend days walking around a forest trying to find one image. I have gone back to a location year after year waiting for the right light and colour to get an image. It’s a lot of work and it takes dedication and vision finding an elegant image from a stand of trees. Elegance is the key to making intimate landscape photographs of trees.
Where is your favourite location in North America to photograph trees?
The mountains at peak fall colour in both the Appalachians and the Rocky Mountains are my favourite places to be. The Appalachians are a younger forest since it has been cut down so many times. I am just starting to feel I am getting quality imagery from this area after seven autumn/spring shoots. The clutter and chaos are over the top. It is fun trying to find that one spot when I get excited, knowing I have something special.
What’s your advice to those who would like to follow in your footsteps and focus on one subject?
Follow your heart and your passion. If you do, it will show up in your work. When people stand in front of my prints, they feel a sense of awe. One needs to excite and connect with people so they want to purchase your work and hang it in their homes or offices. The viewer also has a sense that they cannot create the print that I produce. Just trying to find a composition in a forest is a difficult thing; add to that the scale of my work. It blows people away when they stand in front of the prints.
You sold an edition of a print for over $200,000. That is a price point almost unheard of in today’s world of photography. Would you mind sharing a snippet about how you got to this point and how you did it?
That was one sale at a time to sell out an edition of 50. It all adds up over time. Numerous prints of this edition were sold corporately at the higher price points. Prints of this image are all over the world. “Zebra Aspens” is the image that has sold at this price level. The rare dramatic striping or markings add drama to the image, and unfortunately represent only a moment in time. The image was taken over 10 years ago. The markings on these trees that were estimated to be around 80 years old at the time are from a disease or canker that attacks trees that are stressed by heat, drought, winter injury, and other diseases and insects. Unfortunately, these trees are now dead. This stand is now a sad compilation of dead, fallen and leaning soldiers.
I have numerous other images in my collection that approach this price level.
Why do you think so many photographers struggle with selling prints?
Today, I see many photographers who experience great success selling. Twenty years ago, you didn’t see even a small fraction of that success.
Something that I think is missing with some photographers is a commitment to producing high quality prints. I believe it is integral to completing the photographic process and being able to stand behind your work.
As well, I believe many photographers shoot the same places and the same subjects so the imagery today all looks the same. You need to be unique and capture images that are from something you find. It comes from inside you not from copying someone’s image you see on Instagram. Take the time to develop your own eye and style of shooting. Your viewer will recognize this uniqueness.
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In the last few weeks many of us around the world have been staying at home. Although it may seem that enjoying photography from home is hard, there are many ways we can still work on our beloved craft. We asked some of our contributors about their photographic ideas when stuck at home. We also included some from our FB MediumFormat Group. Enjoy and stay safe!
I would suggest you go back through your catalogue of images and try to organize the imagery in projects or themes. Many of us photograph different locations around the world. I have found there are themes in what I like to photograph. They may include abstracts, reflections, single trees, or large forests, etc. Once you have the images together, you could print the images on 11” x 17” paper and have a local book binder bind the images for you. I did this when I was first starting out. It made me think about what interests me and where I could improve and not get into the routine of framing and choosing similar subjects when out on a shoot.
My other idea is simply to go on the net, find photographers that you admire and study their images to try and learn why the image works and what you like about them. Study the light, composition and subject.
Out of necessity I’ve been doing most of my product photography at home in my garage. I use the floor of my garage as my backdrop because the texture of the cracking paint makes for an interesting background. Since my garage is south facing, I wait for the right time of day to photograph my gear and use a mirror to bounce light back towards my subject. Whatever gear you enjoy (cameras, watches, shoes, pens, etc.) find the best light in your home and have fun trying to photograph it.
If you are at home with your children, set up a mini home studio and take a beautiful portrait of your kids. It can be a fun thing to do together and it will keep them entertained. Then send the portrait to all your loved ones. Grandparents, aunts and uncles will be absolutely delighted to receive big loving smiles from the youngest ones. More than ever we need to connect to the people we love.
The situation forces us to SLOW DOWN and maybe it’s the perfect time to gain some experiences in analogue photography!
I just purchased another film camera (Rolleiflex 3.5) and now I’m getting experience with the wonderful camera and development of films. My preferred subject is portrait/people/fashion but it’s really fun to gather objects together or take nature shots with the camera.
I have started doing at-home assignments in my photography group, since we can’t hold meetings right now. Here is the first one. Select a subject. Find five compelling angles to photograph that one subject (experiment with up, down, left, right, front, back, close, far). Subtle shifts can often make a big difference in how well it comes out. Post your best five.
I’m documenting the impact of the virus on our home lives. Here are some photos I took yesterday of my kids making toilet paper! (No, we are not out of toilet paper or close to it, but this was their way of acknowledging the crazy times and filling an hour or two with a fun project.
1. Pretend you’re a detective investigating a crime that took place in your house or apartment. Then take pictures that could be used as evidence by either the prosecution or the defence. 2. Pick words at random from a dictionary, book or newspaper. Then make photos in your house or apartment that fit the words. 3. If you live with someone, take turns photographing each other doing the same thing. If you have a way to print them, make a small book with the images on facing pages. For extra credit you could mail or email a copy to someone.
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On behalf of my team, I am excited to introduce the February edition of the Medium Format Magazine. This month we have great pieces for you authored by Paul Sanders, Vieri Bottazzini, Holger Nitschke, Marie Calmes by Sally Jennings, Janet Dwyer, Alex Burke and Ian Howorth, with an introduction by yours truly. In this month’s interview we go deep into the fascinating world of seeing of Ned Pratt.
We start off on a very positive note with “Ode to Joy” by Paul Sanders. Paul has written a series about contemplative photography and this article is an extension of this important subject. We all struggle with our photography and photographic self from time to time so Paul’s article should help us to put those struggles in perspective. The piece is accompanied by poetic visuals which set the tone for the much-needed break we all need.
In this month’s interview we talk to Canadian photographer Ned Pratt. His book “One Wave” has made a huge wave in the photographic industry. The accompanying imagery is being sought after for private and public collections all over the world. What I find remarkable about Ned is his uncanny ability to talk about the process of seeing and crafting unique and personal imagery. Did I mention that Ned is one of the nicest and most genuine people I have ever encountered in this industry!? Sally Jennings and I couldn’t be more thrilled to present our readers with this fascinating interview.
This month, Vieri Bottazzini shares with us a highly personal account of “The First Sunrise.” It is so easy in this busy and demanding industry to forget about our personal experience. Vieri tells the story of one morning and its sunrise and takes us along on an unforgettable journey. His piece is accompanied by visually rich and colourful sunrise vistas.
The first time I saw Holger Nitschke’s portrait of Lilly I thought, “You have to tell us more about it.” There is no shortage of portraits online but the simplicity of the image, the striking beauty of the model and the rendering of the lens/camera combination makes this portrait a true gem. Holger Nitschke agreed to give us more details about the photoshoot in this month’s HOW IT WAS SHOT.
Marie Calmes has a special way of observing and capturing the world with her Hasselblad film camera. Sally Jennings, our language editor and wordsmith, wrote a short piece about Marie and her work based on some answers Marie sent us. This piece about Marie and her journey wouldn’t be complete without her photographs, which provide an immersive experience into the life and seeing of Marie Calmes.
In the next article Janet Dwyer introduces us to the craft of photo-scanography. She writes: “This unorthodox method continues to present interesting possibilities for large format imaging and printing.” With plants, flowers, nets, feathers, etc. as her key visual elements, Janet crafts remarkable and unusual imagery with her scanner as camera. I am glad to report that Janet has agreed to write a series of articles about her work.
This month, Alex Burke is challenging us with a very important question: “What makes a compelling landscape photograph?“ Alex breaks down this question into smaller visual considerations and puts together a compelling picture of the genre which has been cherished and practiced by so many photographers around the world. As always, Alex shares with us his latest work from the field captured with a large format camera. So much to think about and enjoy!
In his article, “The Move to Digital – Part 2,” Ian Howorth continues his outing into the world of medium format. Having been a film shooter most of his life, Ian is exploring different medium format digital systems and comparing the outcome to his film work. This time the Phase One back P65 has caught Ian’s attention with its CCD sensor which “creates an experience closer to what I’m used to, and a thought process behind creating images that I prefer.” As always, great imagery and writing!
Our issue concludes with the Readers’ Exhibition section where you will find the super imagery submitted by our readers and patrons. I am sure you will find inspiration and zest for seeing by slowing down and looking at each other’s imagery. I‘m planning to grab a glass of wine and look at these images at a pace they deserve.
I trust you will enjoy all the content our writers and contributors prepared for you. We have recently signed some new amazing photographers and writers and you should see their new columns and articles starting in March 2020. I am looking forward to our next issues and much, much more. Thank you for your readership and support.
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In every issue of the Medium Format Magazine you will find the monthly section, HOW IT WAS SHOT. This is where we feature one image and the story behind it. In the January 2020 edition, Peter Delaney shares with our readers not one but two images and stories behind them. One of them is a truly stunning photograph from our January cover titled “The Matriarch.” The second image is “Virginia Tree” (below).
Today we would like to share with you the third image from this truly spectacular series. Enjoy!
In my photography, serendipitous moments are few. Sometimes, we see all the elements that will make a great composition but they are out of alignment. It is then that two crucial aspects come into play—patience and Lady Luck.
It was day four of our Masai Mara adventure; my guests were three gentlemen from the Philippines who were passionate wildlife photographers.
We had spent an hour photographing a lion pride. The pride was on the move from the swampy grassland to higher rocky ground where it was drier underfoot. I decided to pre-empt the lions and get to the rocky area before they did, allowing us time to position ourselves and get the right angle to photograph them as they approached.
As our 4×4 began the ascent of the small hill, we climbed slowly over sharp rocks. Luckily the grass was short, and we could navigate without damaging our vehicle. The last thing I wanted was to break down with a pride of twenty lions heading our direction. We climbed higher, rolling back and forth, hanging on to our equipment for dear life. I glanced towards the top of the hill where a lone tree stood proudly against a backdrop of beautiful white cloud. My first thought was to stop our driver Benson to capture this incredible scene.
But then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a small herd of five elephants happily grazing and moving slowly along the hilltop. My mind went into overdrive. What if?
I voiced my thoughts to my guests. I painted a picture of the elephants standing close to the tree, adding that extra element needed to make a great composition.
My driver and guests all stated the apparent flaw in my vision—the elephants were some distance from the tree.
I pointed out that they were, albeit slowly, moving in that direction.
We kept to our original plan of photographing the lions who had now reached the rocks. A male and female were sitting close to each other and that would be our photographic subject while we waited on the slow progress of the elephants heading towards the lone tree.
Clouds began to roll in from the east; the wind picked up; time was not our side. If the storm reached us, the chance of a flash flood on one of the Masai Mara bridges we had crossed over was high.
Two elephants stopped grazing, lifted their heads, and strolled towards our tree; it was as if they could read my mind and had decided that they would play their vital role to complete my vision. I decided to move our vehicle away from the lions and gamble on the elephants and tree. I advised my guests to change lenses to medium focal length which would help to compress the view and allow enough space for the tree, elephants, cloud and some breathing room if we needed to crop in post edit.
I pointed out to Benson the best position to park the 4×4—a low angle further down the hill to accentuate our angle of view and have the tree in the middle of our composition; the two elephants were walking side by side towards the tree. We needed some space between the elephants, or the photograph would not work. For the second time I felt the elephants were reading my thoughts. One elephant walked to the left of the tree, the other to the right—an almost a perfect mirror image. I shouted, “Now!” We all pressed our shutters.
Within a 500th of a second, the synchronicity of the photograph had disappeared. The elephants ambled on. Patience and a little bit of Lady Luck had completed my vision. I glanced at the EVF of my GFX100, holding my breath as I waited for the image to appear. I had managed to get three photographs, but the middle picture was the one that made me smile, as both elephants were equidistant from the tree. Everyone on board was happy with their day’s safari. We headed back to camp looking forward to sharing much-needed refreshments.
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The GF45-100mmF4 R LM OIS WR lens has a 35mm equivalent focal length range of 36mm and 79mm. One of the most important features of this newly announced lens is “powerful 5-axis image stabilization, one super ED lens element, and a near-silent, high-speed autofocus motor.”
Here are the key features of this lens (quoting as per Fujifilm announcement):
The GF45-100mmF4 R LM OIS WR lens consists of 16 elements in 12 groups, including three aspherical elements, one Super ED element and one ED element to effectively control spherical aberration, field curvature and chromatic aberration. This minimizes the negative effects of various forms of aberration, such as luminance shift and color bleeding, to deliver astonishing image sharpness.
Compact and lightweight large format standard zoom Weighing 2.2lb (1,005g), measuring 5.69in (144.5mm) long, and having a diameter of 3.66in (93mm), the lens is extremely portable and compact despite being a 2.2x zoomfor a large format camera system.
Fast, quiet and highly accurate AF. The use of an Internal Focusing system has minimized the size and weight of the focusing group, which is driven by a linear motor to achieve fast, quiet and highly accurate AF.
The lens is equipped with five stop image stabilization (CIPA guidelines), allowing photographers to make the most of the high-resolution sensors found in GFX System cameras, especially when making images hand-held. Highly robust design that withstands various shooting conditions.
The GF45-100mmF4 R LM OIS WR lens will be available in late February 2020, at a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $2,299.95 USD and $2,999.99 CAD.