Suburban Soles: A photography lesson in Grant Park
By Eddee Daniel
The sun burned through a cloudless sky with uncompromisingly hard light. Difficult conditions for photography, especially in a woodland where the foliage creates a dappling of intense contrasts with brutal highlights and deep shadows. On the other hand, it was cool in the shade, while out in the open areas that relentless sun would broil us all fast. One of the first lessons—and challenges—of photography is to know how to use the light. I was thrilled to discover, later on, that one of the participants not only successfully took on that challenge but also made it the very subject of one of his photos (below). More about that in a minute.
I had been invited to give a lesson in nature photography for a summer series called “Suburban Soles,” a bi-weekly program which features guides in a variety of fields who give walks and talks in Grant Park. I had arrived early, as I prefer to do, to scout the park a bit. I discovered a perfectly brilliant patch of wildflowers in the center of one of the parking lots. While I chose not to have the group walk there in the heat of the blazing sun, I did shoot a number of images of my own to illustrate the primary principle of photography: Decide on a subject and do everything possible to render that subject clearly and unambiguously in an image. Powerfully if you’re up to it!
Take the patch of wildflowers and the series of images above and below for example. How many different “subjects” can you find in one place? Do you single out one blossom—with or without a bee or other insect engaged in the act of pollination? Or do you emphasize the density and size of the patch of Black-eyed Susans? Or draw attention to the fact that the patch was intentionally planted to be a rain garden? Or the irony of carefully managed “wild” flowers being surrounded by a sea of asphalt?
Back to the group. Our first stop on our photo-shooting tour was the famous pedestrian bridge at the trailhead of Seven Bridges Trail. “Motif #1” I told them: Arguably the most photographed subject in all of the Milwaukee County Parks (if you don’t count the Calatrava on the Lakefront). How do you make such a thoroughly examined subject your own? Part of the answer to that question is another basic principle of photography: Point of view. This can involve something as simple of angle of view: bird’s-eye, worm’s-eye, frontal, profile, etc. But another factor is perspective in the sense of attitude towards the subject. Can your picture show how you feel about the subject? Or what it means to you?
We proceeded down the Seven Bridges Trail, shooting as we went, until we all spilled out across the sand at the beach on Lake Michigan. There we joined dozens of other people out enjoying the splendid weather. I urged them to consider including the “human element” in their images, even if some aspect of “nature” was their primary subject. The beach offered plenty of opportunities for this.
At the conclusion of our session together I encouraged them all to send me a few of their best images so that I could include them in this blog post. Five did so. One of them even included a poem, which I present here for your enjoyment, along with their photos as well as a few more of my own (which are the uncredited ones).
Thoughts from Grant Park
By Mike Krogman
You don’t just find a time
To enjoy Grant Park
It must be planned with urgency
Circled on a calendar
Arranged to meet with friends
Within a few steps it starts
Eyes adjust to the shadows
Letting attention fall to colors
Dappled sunlight, ancient stones
Balanced in nature’s serendipities
Ears find the whispers of wind
A leaf sudden movement, a wren
Or finch, moving too fast to know
The anxieties of the city
Move far, far away
Turn left, or meander right
Be bathed in the forest aromas
Breathe deeply and fall in love again
Be at peace with the soil
And the ecosystems beneath it
Be in joy with the majesty
Of trees in their slow dance
Listen to the songs of the blooms
Watch the sunshine bounce off the leaves
Listen for the waves of Lake Michigan
Go home when you must
Stronger for where you have been.
For more information about Grant Park, click here.
I want to thank Brian Morrison, organizer of Suburban Soles, for inviting me to lead this session. Suburban Soles is sponsored by Friends of Grant Park. Check out their website to see more photos of the park.
Eddee Daniel is a former photography teacher and a board member of Preserve Our Parks. All unattributed images are his.