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?
#1277. Joshua Tree National Park in Infrared
#1212. Roadside Attractions – Arizona State Route 79
#1158. What I did on my Covid Vacation – Part 2
#1125. What I did on my Spring (Covid) Vacation – Part 1
#464. DS HotSpot: 4 tips to photograph the Grand Canyon (duh!)
#427. Canyon de Chelly on horseback. Travel photo the hard way ;)
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Not come across Valerie before so thanks for this piece. The images of White Sands are fabulous.
Thanks very much Steve!
thank you for sharing those amazing photographs and illuminating words. You bring extraordinary subtlety to a world usually dominated by contrast and saturation.
It would be tempting to attribute these qualities to “feminine sensitivity”. On the upside, this might encourage more women to take up the craft. But I really think that’s over simplifying reality, as it’s obvious you have put a lot of work on training your post-processing technique and research your shots very thoroughly. A sobering lesson for all of us obsessing over gear rather than focusing on what matters most. What kept you on the light side of the Force? 😉
Thank you again,
Hello Pascal! Thank you for such kind remarks!
Valerie, I think you are a master (mistress??) of COLOR composition of photographs. Your work is outstanding!!! Thanks a zillion for sharing with us.
Thank You Pete!! Thank you a zillion for such a generous remark!!
Thank you Mike!
Nice interview and a nice peek inside your thinking process. I enjoyed your captures, sublime. Your comments on A.A were on point. Love your passion and zeal and maybe I’ll bump into you one of these days in the field. As someone who has been serving overseas for 22 years and recently moved to Utah and seeing and discovering the southwest with fresh eyes, I truly understand your love of this gorgeous country of ours.
We’ll bring Bailey our lab. Keep pressing Val!
“If not you than whom?”
“If not now than when?”
Thanks so much Mark! I would definitely love to live in Southern Utah. I could be very happy in Moab! So much to photograph there it’s so incredible! I’ll keep a lookout for ya!
Dear Valerie, I follow you on FB and always take time to look at your photos. You have the artistic talent to render sceneries like no other can. Each shot you take tells us about the amount of work behind. Thanks for sharing your art!
Thank you for the fine compliment and I’m so happy that you follow me on FB!!
Lovely read, views and perspective. Thanks to you both, Valerie and Paul. Much success!
Thank you Scott, happy you enjoyed it!
So totally inspiring! Thank you for transporting me there!
Thank you Philberphoto!! Thanks for coming along!
I must comment on the beauty of the white sands photographs in particular. I’m often unmoved by landscape photographs, perhaps because they are often homogenous or derivative, but some of the photos herr are absolutely stunning. Thanks to “Dear Susan” for introducing some of us to Valerie’s work.
I’m very flattered, Thank you!
You don’t need to be flattered by my comments as you clearly have your own style and vision that doesn’t need others to validate you. So much landscape photography (in the UK) seems to merely involve using Velvia-aping colour presets in an attempt to copy well known landscape photographers such as Charlie Waite and others (*), whose work for me is equally repetitive and therefore ultimately interesting. Its refreshing to see work so simple, subtle and beautiful.
(*) I am not denigrating these photographers, I’m sure they are very talented at finding locations, getting up very early, picking a day with good weather and stacking their filters. Unfortunately their work that I have seen is homogeneous and therefore simply “boring” because there is a strong sense of having seen it all before. All this is tempered by my earlier comment that I’m generally not moved by landscape photographs, but some of your work is stunning and refreshing.
I come here regularly for inspiration, and every time i’m moved by the beauty of Valerie’s shots. In the same way, what she says is inspiring, she seems very humble and dedicated to her art, it’s a pleasure to read 🙂
Thank you for the kind remarks Mikael!!