If you are a regular photo blog reader, the name Valerie Millett won’t be a surprise. Her landscape (see her Web site here) work in the American south west and the badlands is building her a solid reputation for having a fine eye. After spotting her work on the Luminous Landscape late last year, I wrote and asked her if she would interview for DearSusan.
My Our luck was in.
In a recent interview, you said that “finding unique and original compositions is challenging…
…you tend to seek out the iconic then quickly realise that you haven’t really done anything anyone else hasn’t already done.”
But your images seem to shrug off the familiar, even when the view is in fact, just that. What do you see that tens of thousands of us don’t?
Valerie: When I photograph a place like the Grand Canyon, a place wildly iconic yet extremely beautiful, I’m conscious of the input my mind has had over time about a particular landscape. Personal visits, my own images, magazines, books, videos and of course other photographers. When I take off my lens cap, I wan’t to see something else and I just know it when I see it. Deep down inside, I always feel the beauty to be found at any iconic location is endless. Much easier to do this if I’ve stalked the weather a bit and I know I’ll have a great background at least.
I’ve seen the Canyon de Chelly shot by many people from a similar perspective, but your rendering made me catch my breath because of its reality and feeling of 3D. Is it just exquisite scenery, great kit, or am I missing something?
Valerie: Thank you! As photographers go, I’m no doubt a minimalist when it comes to gear. I don’t lead a lifestyle that allows me to be a “gearhead”! I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark II that I bought used from another photographer when I started out and I’m still using the same camera. Most of my lenses are gifts or hand me downs. My go to lens is my Canon 70-200mm f/4 that a photographer from Australia gave to me after we shot together a few years ago.
I believe what you are seeing is how I process my images. The greatest influence in my post processing technique believe it or not would be Ansel Adams. Although, he shot film, he was a master in the darkroom and his images have proven over time that learning how to finish your image is just as important as how you take it.
More so, the de Chelly images are especially surprising because the sun still seems to be far above the horizon and any photographer’s ability to capture usable contrast is severely hampered by high highlights and deep, deep shadows. Along comes Valerie Millett…
Valerie: Yes, and what’s missing from my images are the sounds of me choking when presented with those kinds of shots! These are tough shots for me as well since I don’t blend or composite my images, I do have to make sure my exposure is just right in the camera. For a shot like that, I’m exposing all over the place and watching my histogram and playback image. Also keeping in mind that the light is changing very fast. I’ve learned not to completely trust the camera readings here, as I’ll still take a shot even if I’m getting a blown highlight warning because sometimes when seeing the RAW image, they actually are not blown.
I can’t help but notice that with a few exceptions, you edge more towards a pastel treatment of colour, choosing not to end up with the more usual bright red sandstone and deep blue skies. I love it, but this clearly isn’t chance – why did you choose to take what is such a contrary path? (example Dead Horse State Park in Utah)
Valerie: I do for sure. I’m really not a fan of unnecessarily over-saturated images unless, in fact that’s how the color really was. I do shoot some dark and broody things as well but I do have a special affinity for places that lend a delicate palate. Personally, I love when I have a series that ends up feeling to me as though the images had a feminine feel to them like White Sands National Monument.
The abstract landscape rarely plays a significant part in the portfolios of so many photographers. Not so with you – when you’re driving along or walking a trail, what makes you stop and reach for the camera?
Valerie: I have a love for all things geological! I love sandstone formations, river beds, badlands and deserts. When I’m out shooting a new location, I usually spend several hours just walking around with my camera looking at the ground and surrounding rock because I just find it fascinating. Occasionally, I’ll see something I just have to shoot. I also love to look further in a scene to find interesting abstracts.
One final question; it’s winter. The weather’s closed-in and you’re housebound. It will clear eventually and you look on the Internet for inspiration, or a change of pace. Where do you go, what do you look at/for?
Valerie: Housebound? That’s shooting weather! Now if I’m injured and I can’t leave (this happened this Summer), I’d be looking to where I wanted to shoot next. It’ll will either be a new geologic location or landform I’ve not seen or a National Park. Looking to where I’m going next gets me inspired to try something or see something new. So a lot of my forced internet time is really research. Nerdy heh?
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