Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Focus On: The Eye

Cedar Waxwing

I’d had my shop here on Etsy for almost a year, and been a member of POE for nearly as long when I first discovered that POE had a Forum (did I mention I’m a “visual” person?).  I scoped it out a bit, and then jumped in with both feet.  One of the first people, if not THE first person to engage me in conversation was Ellen, just “Ellen”.  

Cher can do it; Madonna can too, so why not Ellen?  And ya know, it works for her.  You say “Ellen” anywhere around our little community here, and chances are better than average folks will know exactly who you’re referring to.  Ellen runs the aptly name shop “TheEye”, and birds and flowers are her bread and butter.  That’s not all she shoots of course, but those are her primary interests, and you’d have to look long and hard to find someone that does them better.

She recently agreed to be my second victim subject and I’d like to share with you a bit of our conversation.

Steve:  The first thing that I usually want to know about a photographer whose work I admire is, “Where is this person coming from?”  So Ellen, my first question to you is really a statement built around a set of questions.  Tell us a bit about yourself; where do you come from?  What’s your family like?  What do you do when you’re not creating images?   Who is Ellen?

Ellen:  Well...I come from a paper-mill town in Ontario, Canada named Thunder Bay.  I’m from a BIIIIG family, the youngest in a sib line of 6; my family came to Canada from England.  My parents (mom’s English, dad’s Scottish) already had 4 kids by the time they emigrated, and then my older sister and I were born here in Canada.  I adore my entire family; they’re fun and witty, smart and sarcastic, loving and caring.  I have two daughters of my own who are both a) teenagers; b) amazing individuals; and c) finally past that awful stage where mom knows nothing, and might be kind of cool after all.

Lighthouse at Heceta Head

When I’m not creating images I work full time doing medical transcription for a couple of national companies.  I live in Kelowna, BC but the clients I work for are big hospitals in Toronto.  I've been at this for 19 years, working full time from home for the last 15.  When I had my kids, I wanted to raise them myself, and that's exactly what I did.  I quit my full time hospital job and started up my home transcription service, so that I could work evenings and nap-times and be home with my kiddies.  Once the kids started school, I decided it would be much easier to simply type for a transcription company and let THEM worry about all the details.  I doubt I could function in a professional office setting any more.  I enjoy my coffee and typing in my PJs.  If I wake up with insomnia at 4 am I can start my day.  Working from home, in a solitary job, gives you a lot of time to do what you want, hobby-wise and family-wise, but you spend the majority of your time alone. It does, however, afford me a lot of time to daydream, to think and to listen to copious amounts of music, which is vital to my existence.

S:  OK, why photography…how did you get your start?  Have you had any training or are you self taught?

E:  Photography is a way of taking a moment and making it stand still forever, of seeing a beautiful image and being able to share it with the world. I look at things thru a viewfinder on a constant basis ... "oh, that would make a great shot...."  Always, there is a bend of the grass or a wisp of the cloud or a shock of brilliant sunset will make me stop in my tracks and reach for my camera.

Pink Roses

My eldest sister worked at camera shop when I was a kid; I thought that was the coolest job on the planet!  I fell in love with her Nikkormat camera with the hand-made macramé camera strap.  She constantly had a camera in her hand back in those days and she took some marvelous pictures; that must have inspired me.  I've always been very artistic though; I was that kid at school that people came to "can you draw this for me?" 

I'm a bit of a renaissance girl I guess; I love to garden and cook; I paint, I write prose/poetry and draw and doodle.  I think being a traditional 'artist' definitely gives me a different insight as a photographer. 

As far as training, I consider myself self taught.  The only photography instruction I've had was waaaaaay back in high school, grade 12.  I used a 35mm Minolta for years.  I finally bought a digital camera in October of 2006 and haven't looked back.

Timeless Classics

S:  A “renaissance girl”; I like that!  Looking at your work I can see how your interest in other disciplines is reflected in your photography.  You shoot a lot of floral and bird images, sprinkled with some still life and landscape images.  Talk to me about your creative processes in these different situations.  Do you do a lot of preparation or do you rely on serendipity and happenstance?

E:  Some of each, but when you are attached at the hip to your camera, is it really happenstance? lol...

Some shoots are planned, most are spontaneous.  I'm an "oh-my-god-look-at-that-cloud-let's-go-for-a-ride" kind of person.  My daughter is a good partner for that.  She's always game to sit in the car in the middle of a lightning storm on the top of a hill so we can try and get a 'good shot'...or to drive 30 minutes to a nearby glacier fed lake because the water might look 'pretty' today. As far as birds and nature, despite my bug-whisperer claims, I don't have much control over their actions; my only defense is to have the camera at the ready.

S:  A good number of your floral shots not only look planned and arranged, but they almost look, for lack of a better word, "sculpted".  Your perspective and lighting look anything but spontaneous; what sort of process, or processes, do you employ there?

Dear Prudence

E:  Well... I'm a big fan of buying myself flowers specifically for the purpose of shooting them.  I have an orchid on the kitchen table right at this moment actually!

For floral shoots at home, I start in reverse.  Often I know what I want my end result to be, so I lay a good foundation shot.  I always have in my mind how I will be tweaking that basic composition on my computer later in order to achieve the desired end result ... then I snap the shutter a bazillion times and hopefully get 30 or 40 good ones.  

For natural lighting, my kitchen faces east so the morning light is perfect.  I plan my set up, use different coloured backgrounds, play with the shadows and perfect what I want in terms of lighting and try to nail the composition I'm after.  Post-shoot, Lightroom has become my favourite editing tool. 

For artificial light, this will sound weird, but my kitchen stove top is often where I set up my shoot.  I can use the range hood light over top... the kitchen lighting...and the fluorescent bar lighting.... who knew a stove could be a handy photography prop?!

Steller's Jay

S:  Back to birds for a second; like anything else, you have to put yourself in position to get the shot.  I’m guessing you’re a birder; are you?  If so, how long have you been bird watching and what got you started?

E:  I've been a bird watcher from about the age of 5 or 6; they’ve always fascinated me.  I think the honeysuckle bush in my parents' yard is what did it.  The evening grosbeaks and cedar waxwings would get intoxicated eating the berries and do the funniest things!

To get in position, I’ll start shooting and walk forward, almost blindly, looking thru my lens, adjusting the focus as I get closer; I can get pretty close sometimes, depending on the type of bird.  I spend a LOT of time studying their habits.  Quails are skittish, while nuthatches will practically eat out of your hand.  Stellar jays are curious; shy at first but can become very bold.  Chickadees are friendly, not too scared of humans.  Hummingbirds are a big challenge, but so fun when you finally capture a shot in focus.  My goal for 2010 is to get a good shot of a Great Blue Heron, and I wouldn't mind a good bald eagle shot!

Spatter by Moonlight

S:  What was your first camera?

E:  My first camera was a Kodak Hawkeye instamatic R4. I thought it was pretty cool, with its ice-cube shaped flash and its blue casing.  I was about 6 or 7 when my parents passed it along to me; lots of family photos were taken with this camera.  I still have it too; it's sitting right on my desk.

S: What’s in your bag?  If you didn’t have to worry about price, what piece of equipment would you add?

E:  My bag is a Lowepro shoulder rig and it carries my canon Rebel XT, 100 mm macro,  75-300 mm zoom and 18-55 standard lenses, along with various and sundry other accoutrements. 

If money was no object I’d have to say “Hasselblad”, or at the very least a new camera body;  the sensor is shot on my current one and needs to be replaced, which will cost as much as a new camera.  I would love a 500 mm lens for birding!

S:  Hasselblad, digital back, assorted lenses…yeah, I’m with ya.

I know you view other photographers’ work, heck, we all do.    What is it that attracts you?  What draws you in?

Sweet Summer Grass Part 2

E:  Hmmm...I like nature photos, close-ups of animals and insects, flowers and lots of colour.  But then again I love black and white and urban shots. I'm not big on portraits, and though I admire portraiture, it's not my bag.

S:  What photographer(s) do you admire most and how have they influenced what you do?

E:  I have some faves on Etsy and on Flickr of course, but I don't really have a list of photographers I've been influenced by.  If anything, I'm more influenced by Mother Nature and striving to achieve even one nth of a degree of the beauty she gives us.  I'm also influenced by more traditional forms of art like painting on canvas. If I could spend a day with an impressionist like Monet and just observe the master at work that would be a dream come true.  Or if I could wander thru Leonardo's studio ... can you imagine?

S:  Yes, Ellen, I almost can.  Thanks for everything; I’ve enjoyed it!

PhotoGrunt is Steve Raley, a photographic documentarian from Seattle, Washington.  He captures images wherever he goes, and he  frequently even uses a camera.  His work can be seen on his websiteblog and his Etsy shop.


DK Miller said...

Fantastic feature on Ellen! I love her work. Her bird shots amaze me. :-)

First Light Photography said...

I joined etsy in Nov. 09 and POE in January 2010. I think choosing Ellen is perfect. She is definitely at the forefront of all etsy photographers. This is great reading!

Anika said...

Really great interview and stunning photos. Thanks! said...

I love Ellen's work....what a wonderful interview. I'm inspired!

TheEye said...

thank you so much for the interesting and interactive questions you posed...I was barely terrified at all! you have a nice style Steve.

Julie Magers Soulen said...

Great interview! I enjoyed learning more about Ellen. I "met" Ellen in the Etsy forums too and you are right, everyone knows who Ellen is!

Julie Magers Soulen Photography

Karen Casey-Smith said...

Thank you both for a wonderful interview! I've loved getting to know Ellen. She's so very talented, and such a nice person too.

Briole Photography said...

Fantastic interview! It was great learning more about Ellen.

soapstar said...

brilliant interview - Ellen takes such stunning shots!

KClark Photography said...

Wonderful interview, Thanks Ellen and Steve.

Nakedeye17 said...

Excellent piece on a terrific subject. Nice to meet you, Ellen! Your work inspires.

Thanks, Steve.

Pam Lefcourt said...

Great article Steve! I love her work!

MaryVican said...

What an inspiration. I love this candid and thorough interview- Ellen's work is unique and amazing!

Ann Wilkinson said...

fantastic interview! great article, and i'm so glad to know more about Ellen. She's amazing!