Personally being a photographer that focuses on people as my primary subject matter I sometimes just want to look at images that show a lot of peace and quiet. Images that take me to an isolated place. One evening on PhotoNet.com I found such images by landscape photographer Jeff Rabidoux aka “J Michael”.Thank you Jeff for sharing time with us.
Jeff Rabidoux: Thank you James for identifying with my portfolio out of the thousands of beautiful portfolios on photo.net and for taking the time to talk about the inspiration behind the images.
JRP: Where do you call home Jeff?
Jeff Rabidoux: I live in Glen Arbor, Michigan. A small community in the northwest section of Michigan’s lower peninsula. We are just south of the 45th Parallel … the longitudinal line that signifies the halfway point between the earth’s equator and the North Pole. Our town is bordered by Lake Michigan to the west and is surrounded by the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore … one of this country’s most beautiful National Parks.
JRP: Michigan affords plenty of interesting natural views. Are there some areas that draw your attention more than others?
Jeff Rabidoux: Without a doubt, the ever-changing environment of the National Park is the center of my inspiration. I often refer to the dunes as my mentor. Winds coming off Lake Michigan continually shape the landscape, while the changing light accents the many textures of the landscape.
I also had the opportunity to spend three days in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula last autumn, photographing some of the beautiful waterfalls near the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore area. The U.P. offers so many wonderful photographic opportunities for a landscape photographer. I can’t wait to return in the Spring.
JRP: When and how did you get started in photography?
Do you have any formal training?
Jeff Rabidoux: I moved to this area from the Detroit suburbs in the summer of 2005. I began taking photographs the following September with a simple point and shoot camera, sharing them with friends and local artists. I was encouraged by their comments and invested in a better camera in January of 2006. I have not received any formal training although I know that I could benefit from it. I look forward to the time when I can attend a training course, preferably at a location that I dream about shooting. Places like Yellowstone, Alaska, etc.!
JRP: What equipment would we find in your field bag? What software do you prefer in your work flow?
Jeff Rabidoux: I shoot with a Canon Rebel XT DSLR camera. I purchased a EF 28-135 3.5 – 5.6 Image Stabilized lens soon after buying the XT and use it about 98% of the time. It works well for me for everything from landscape shots, like sunsets, to macro images of wildflowers and dune grass.
Like all photographers, I have a “dream list” of lenses that I would love to have. But also like many photographers the bank account seems less enthused! I use a tripod 90% of the time and have been using a very inexpensive Ambico model for two years. I just purchased a used Slik model which should provide a little more flexibility in the field. I also use the Cokin P graduated neutral density filters and a Hoya polarizing filter. While there are certainly higher quality products available, which may indeed produce better results, I use what I have, to the best of my ability.
In terms of work flow, I just used the profits from a local holiday art show to purchase a new Dell computer. I use Photoshop 7.0 and utilize the provided Canon software to process my images…which I shoot in RAW format. I recently used a 30-day trial version of Adobe Lightroom and was very impressed with the ease of use, the image management capabilities, and the simplified editing features of the program. As a result, at some point I will permanently add Lightroom to my workflow.
JRP: Jeff you have been a member of PhotoNet.com for a little over 2 years. Has this association along with any others helped to improve your photography and the awareness of it to others?
Jeff Rabidoux: Without a doubt, PhotoNet has been a great tool for me. Examining the photographs of more experienced photographers like Marc Adamus, for example, has taught me so much. In addition, posting my images for critique has resulted in some great recommendations from my peers. While the ratings themselves are not that important, you do feel as though you want to strive to post a real high quality image.
In addition, my work has been noticed by some people who have been viewing images on the PhotoNet site. Besides this great opportunity of talking with you, I have also had a couple of my images chosen for various publications, including this year’s nationally distributed calendar “Discover America”. For someone fairly new to the photography game, I am very blessed by the many things that have resulted from my time behind the camera. I plan on posting some of my images on other photo sites as well, such as Flickr. I think it is a good idea to have a selection of images on the various photo sites out there. You just never know who might come across them!
JRP: Take us through some of your thought processes as you begin to capture an image. Is there any pre-visualization? Do you scout an area prior to a shoot? What happens?
Jeff Rabidoux: Let me say first, that I am always looking for a photograph whether I am actually out hiking with my camera, or just driving around in my truck to the grocery store.
Because of my career, I typically can only go out to shoot images in the early morning or late evening. Luckily, these are most often the best times to shoot … the so-called “Golden Hours”. I typically will only shoot on days when the sun is going to shine at least intermittently, or on days where the clouds provide the drama … perhaps before, during, or after a storm.Planning ahead can make a real difference as well. Prior to taking the trip to the Michigan U.P., I studied the work and recommendations of other photographers who had captured the waterfalls before. I determined the optimal time of day to shoot each individual waterfall and charted a plan thereby maximizing my time at each location, while minimizing the amount of driving I had to do. Luckily, the weather cooperated and I came home with a nice selection of images.
When I am out taking pictures, I always take time to visualize the shot before taking it. I consider the light, the textures, the foreground, the background, the effect certain filters might provide, and which location might provide the best viewpoint to capture the particular image. There are times that I don’t even take the shot, and times that I take the shot, but end up unhappy with it. In both cases, I make a note to return to the location when the conditions would provide a better outcome. Obviously, sometimes this is not possible. In those situations, you just have to take the best photograph you can.
Once I am comfortable with the composition, I take a few shots, adjusting some of the components … depth of focus, shutter speed, etc., to provide some choices in post-processing. I realize that I am still learning, and because of that I am always better off shooting a couple of extra pictures. As a nature and landscape photographer you can never reproduce the same conditions again in the field.
JRP: Vision or technique, which of these tools is most important to your photography?
Jeff Rabidoux: I would have to say vision. In the same breath, technique is very important. The composition of an image separates a great photograph from an average or below-average image. Nonetheless, a perfectly composed photo of a beautiful landscape, taken with poor technique, is still a bad photograph. I live in a tourist area where people photograph many of the same subjects … barns, sand dunes, wildflowers, etc. In order to sell my matted images I need to capture those same subjects … in the perfect light, in a well composed shot, on the perfect day. That way when they see my prints in the local gallery, they realize that my image captured their feelings of that particular subject better than the picture they took. It’s the only way I am able to sell my prints.
JRP: Do you have any special projects you are working on?
Jeff Rabidoux: My goal is to capture the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in its entirety, and publish a coffee table book that reveals the spectacular landscape that many visitors don’t have the opportunity to experience. From the Lake Michigan shoreline, to the beautiful sand dune formations, to the Crystal River that wind through acres of hardwood trees and pines. Books have already been published by other talented photographers but I believe I see things differently. I think there is so much of the park that has not yet been captured in its full splendor.
JRP: What is the best advice so far that has been given to you as a photographer?
Jeff Rabidoux: A photographer once told me to always focus on developing my own specific sense of style. That does not mean he said, that you just shoot landscapes and that you do not try new things such as taking macro shots, or shooting portraits, but rather try to do those things with your own particular sense of style. I try to always keep that in mind, especially when shooting subjects that have been captured by many other people before me.
JRP: What advice to new landscape photographers do you wish to share?
Jeff Rabidoux: Constantly view the work of your peers, especially those more accomplished than you. Everyone sees things with a slightly different eye but you can train your eye. Landscape photography takes patience. In a studio, you can set up your lights and place your subjects in a manner which provides a successful composition. In landscape photography we have little control over the lighting, the placement of the objects in the field of view, etc. Instead, we often need to adjust the placement of ourselves, as well as our cameras, to capture the elements in a pleasing composition.
Sometimes, you sit and wait for the best light, other times you don’t take the shot at all. Be patient, dress appropriately for the conditions, and make sure you have everything you need for the time you plan on being out there. Look at the weather, including the radar images to see what is coming … sunshine, scattered clouds, etc. For me, every photograph I have taken has a particular story behind capturing it. Typically, my favorite images are the ones that required the most effort to obtain or were the ones I was lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time.
Jeff Rabidoux: Thank you very much James for the opportunity to share my work and thoughts with you and your readers! I have been truly blessed with this talent and thank God everyday for it. It has added so much to my life. I encourage everyone to get out and take photographs … remember, the pursuit is as rewarding as the photographs!