Mark Graf: Notes From The Woods PhotoBlog
Lessons On How To Make Captivating Nature Photographs Almost Anywhere
(What in the world is Monday Blog Blog? See the blog post, “Monday Blog Blog Celebration.”)
Learning about photography online is richest and most rewarding not in attending tutorials, photo schools, forums or other large blog or magazine sites, but in finding talented single photographers who have a distinct voice or a specific niche, something in common with you, or the type of advice or specialty you seek, or something different you admire, then developing a blog relationship with them.
One photoblog I discovered five years ago in my first month of blogging was Mark Graf’s Notes From The Woods. Not only do I admire the way Mark Graf approaches photography and blogging, he is one of the best at encouraging discussion and creating community, yet he appears to do it nearly effortlessly, with nonchalance and a lack of blowing his own horn that is pleasant and surprising in today’s often ego-driven photo social media world.
Graf makes his home in Detroit and has photographed and specialized in the natural places and wildlife of Michigan, Alaska, the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, as well as other states and bodies of water since the year 2000. His photography has been widely published in magazines and books and used by a long list of commercial clients in the financial, travel and education spheres. He specializes in placing large fine art prints in hospitals and other medical facilities to provide a calming, tranquil atmosphere for patients. Part of his core philosophy as an artist is the idea that everything is connected in the web of nature. Mark’s short biography and artist’s statement are well worth reading.
One day a few years ago I visited the New York Times Opinion Pages Dot Earth online and suddenly there was a photograph by Graf called “Fracked,” as well as a commentary on the image and his other photographs he makes by photographing mineral laden rocks up close. Abstract photography is one of his specialties. To learn more about the photograph from the artist’s perspective see Mark’s blog, Notes From The Woods and the original blog post about “Fracked.” Also, take a Google at some of the many other blogs and websites that published articles about the innovative image “Fracked,” including StateImpact a reporting project of NPR, National Public Radio.
Graf has written about how Michigan, for the most part, has less dramatic landscapes than many Western or other states and countries. As a result he has developed his macro and underwater photography and diving. He also finds nature in small areas and preserves, often owned by the Michigan Nature Association, which he supports and works with. The Michigan Nature Association, Mark said, “Buys sensitive plots of land and prevents any development or recreational use other than hiking and education.” They are a non-profit working to protect Michigan’s threatened and endangered species through habitat preservation. Since 1952, they have established more than 170 nature sanctuaries, the largest network of such natural areas in Michigan.
When Graf writes for Notes From The Woods, he sometimes states his opinion, but he writes his posts in such a way as to leave plenty of room for other viewpoints. He shares the various sides of any given discussion or method and asks his readers for their thoughts. I will discuss certain aspects of blogging here because I feel Notes From The Woods is one of the most accessible and easy to relate to examples of how to run a photography weblog around.
There are subtle issues that come up in commenting on blogs and receiving comments. The two biggest complaints I hear from bloggers about comments are: 1. “Most of the people who comment only do so hoping I will return comment on their blog” or conversely, 2. “Some blogs I comment on never reciprocate by commenting on my blog.” As a photoblogger, if you comment right back each time anyone comments on your blog, you tend to get into a lot of “tit for tat” relationships. If one day you do not maintain the chain of exchanging comments, comments tend to dry up on your blog. If you never reciprocate by commenting on other blogs, you will not receive many comments on your blog either. There are a few blogs that are extraordinary exceptions to this pattern. Also, at least some comments come from those who truly appreciate the writing or photography.
Graf has found the happy middle between the two opposites of never reciprocating and constantly reciprocating. He comments back selectively and intermittently. Mark visits and comments on Landscape Photography Blogger when I write something that catches his interest, but there is no noticeable correlation to when I comment on his blog. Thus, with his lead, we have avoided the rut of an endless half-sincere comment trade. This alone sets Notes In The Woods apart in my mind and causes me to think of Graf Nature Photo in a favorable light. When I get very busy, his blog is one of those I visit first, while I may not get to many of the others I usually read. More fundamentally, I have been following and commenting on Notes In The Woods now for five years because I found Mark’s writing and photography intriguing and ideas provoking. His blog was also rated highly by blog ranking websites, which meant to me that he knew what he was doing and would be interesting to learn from. I was not disappointed.
Graf has a way of sharing often small, yet vital photography pointers sometimes through his own mistakes and with a humility, friendliness and real-world insight that can be lacking in other photographers who have as much experience. I always look forward to reading what he has to say, or what I can learn, or be reminded of, in his blog posts. Many aspects of digital photography that were different from film, I discovered there.
Not only does Graf’s blog provide an excellent learning experience, but his photographs have much to teach those who care about nature and wish to capture it with integrity. At the same time, with many innovations that go beyond the literal image, we see in his work the cutting edge of artistic expression in digital photography today. Mark began this journey by using double exposures and other effects with film photography. See his article about it on NatureScapes called, “Departing from the Literal Image.” Today we see in Graf’s photographic art various blurs, pans, movement of objects and other effects, all executed with taste, often in camera rather than in Photoshop, giving natural places dignity. He still makes multiple exposures in camera, which is one reason he uses Nikon digital cameras: they make it possible. His use of special effects adds to and helps bring out the beauty around us, rather than supplanting it in a gimmicky way like much of the awkward pictorialesque imagery seen online today. To a number of his images he adds a circular blur either in post-processing or in camera. The images in which he chooses to use this whirl effect, or any other technique for that matter, help us see the details and patterns in nature, rather than covering them up. For an education in digital photography, be sure to study his online photography gallery of portfolios. You will be glad you did.