Category Archives: Texas Photography

Photography Published in New Book

I am pleased and honored to have several of my nature and landscape images published in the new book release, “South: What it Means to be Here in Heart or in Spirit.” The photographs selected were those captured in South Carolina, North Carolina and Texas. “South” also includes the work of several other well known photographers and essays from some of the best known authors and essayists throughout the Southern United States including Pat Conroy.¬† “South” is published by Lydia Inglett Ltd. Publishing of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.

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Celebrating Nature Photography Day | Texas Style

Saturday, June 15 2013 was Nature Photography Day. This is an annual event started in 2006 by NANPA (North American Nature Photography Association.) Per the Nature Photography Day page on the NANPA web site “this day was designated by NANPA to promote the enjoyment of nature photography, and to explain how images have been used to advance the cause of conservation and protect plants, wildlife, and landscapes locally and worldwide.”

I’ve been an active member of NANPA since 1999. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to attend two of NANPA’s annual summit meetings and through this organization I’ve gained many great friends and valuable contacts.

It’s a great thing that June 15 has been set aside as a day to promote nature photography. The event builds a sense of shared commitment and enjoyment while bringing awareness to the need to protect and preserve those places of natural beauty, whether it be the metro park down the street, the wildlife preserve across the state or the National Park in the Western United States.

Last June 15 (2012) I was living on Hilton Head Island. For some reason I was preoccupied and not able to get out that day to capture and image or two. This year was different. I awoke in the pre-dawn darkness on Saturday morning thanks to some howling wind and booming thunder. A storm was blowing through my area of Texas, just north of Dallas. It lasted perhaps an hour and then the clouds started to break in the east for what I knew would be a spectacular sunrise. I love working on the backside of storms at sunrise and sunset because the last of the storm clouds can often be illuminated by the low sun and cast dynamic shapes and reflect beautiful color. I am also fortunate to live close to one of the few open fields remaining in the high-growth suburb of Frisco. This field is land owned by the US Army Corps of Engineers and is relatively undeveloped. What I also enjoy is that it is one of the few views here at sunrise where, if I position myself just right, I can eliminate the usual clutter of power lines and rooftops on the horizon line.

Two of the images below are of that sunrise this past Saturday, Nature Photography Day. The third was at sunset, from the parking lot of Wakeland High School in Frisco (once again my daughter Chloe waited patiently in my truck while I jumped out with camera and tripod). I’m thankful for the opportunity to capture these images and to share in the celebration of the day. The lesson learned is that no matter where you find yourself there is always natural beauty worth celebrating through photography, whether it be landscape, wildlife, plant life or the quite simply some amazing light int he sky following a passing storm.

And where will I be on June 15 2014 ? Back home on the farm in Ohio !

FriscoTexasSunriseJune152013byJimCrottyFW TexasSummerSunrisebyJimCrottyFW TexasSunsetNationalNaturePhotographyDaybyJimCrottyFW

Betwixt and Between | Coming Full Circle, again

It’s always the unexpected that makes for the best experiences and images with landscape photography. One such experience occurred this past Friday evening. Good friends of mine here in the North Dallas area of Frisco, Joel and Julie, invited me to come photograph a hidden away patch of Texas prairie that had not yet been developed into a subdivision. It was land that bordered the farm property they both were renting for raising Arabians, chickens and just having a welcome retreat for me to escape to. But even here they were already making plans to buy farm/ranch acres of their own, several miles to the north near the Oklahoma border. Sprawl was coming.

We hopped on the ATV’s and headed over to where Julie wanted to show me an incredible display of spring wildflowers. Through a face-load of pollen we came upon on a scene that I had always imagined how a North Texas prairie should be – an unbroken field of wildflowers (in this case Indian Blanket) with a horizon line not ruined by power lines and roofs. It was there and just as the setting sun was breaking through rain clouds I jumped off the ATV and began composing my captures.TexasAwesometicitybyJimCrottyFW

The bad news is that just on the other side of this field trees were already being taken out and the land surveyed for a new road, and subsequently new subdivisions. I live in one of those subdivisions just a few miles away.

The building-out and growth north of Dallas has not let-up since the 1980’s. Frisco is in the top five of the fastest growing communities in the U.S. Thousands of new residents are pouring in as more and more employers realize the benefits of favorable tax incentives in Texas. It’s all very good for the local economy but the nature photographer in me sees the downfall. There is very little in the way of set aside green space. There is nothing that even comes close to the Five Rivers MetroParks I had access to back in Dayton, Ohio. The situation presents a bit of a paradox for me. One the hand I can’t complain about the quality of the Frisco public school system. I have daughters in 6th and 8th grade here in Frisco and I have to admit, the quality is at par or even surpasses what I’ve experienced in the past with private schools.

But I can’t help but miss all those beautiful hills and woodlands back home in Ohio. It’s where I built my reputation as one of the top pro nature and landscape shooters for that area. It’s a big reason why I am returning to Ohio next month. The decision did not come easy. I don’t exactly enjoy being torn in several different directions. There was some tempting reasons for returning to South Carolina as well. Ultimately I have to be true to myself and my art. That truth is back in Ohio.

Rapid economic development and growth can be mostly good, however, I won’t be so quick to be as harsh on Ohio in the future. There is a quality of life issue, an ease of living, where closeness with nature plays a bigger role. There’s the essence of home that’s rooted in a familiar landscape and a rhythm and balance to distinct seasons. Texas is Texas. Ohio is Ohio and Ohio is home. I need to be there and my daughters need for me to be that touchstone to their Ohio roots. I need for me to be doing what I do best in the place I know best.

The Dayton Ohio area is also where I worked hard to establish myself as both a commercial and portrait photographer. Corporate clients, editorial clients, high school seniors, workshops. It was all just starting to hit stride when I picked-up and moved in early 2011. I will regain that momentum. I have to. What’s also interesting to note is that most of my portrait customers on Hilton Head were Ohio referrals ! I had a good thing going and now I fully appreciate it. And I very, very much appreciate all those beautiful metro and state parks and nature preserves.

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Tips on Wildflower Photography | Composing the Spring Landscape

Conditions are now coming together for another season of spring wildflower photography. It’s that time of year when nature photographers everywhere awake from their winter doldrums and blow the dust off their camera gear. In Texas it’s all about the Bluebonnets. People down here go crazy for them with cars pulled over along every field where they pop-up. Back in Ohio it’s more a combination of Virginia Bluebells and Trillium. Last week I had the opportunity to visit scenic areas in the Texas Hill Country where I came across some good stretches of Bluebonnets. It will be another week or so before they’re appearing in the Dallas metro area. I’m also traveling back up home to the Hocking Hills of Southeastern Ohio to both teach a one-day workshop on spring nature photography (still some openings available – hint, hint) and serve as a judge and guest presenter at the annual Shoot the Hills weekend, April 19-21.

As a lead-up to the topics I will be discussing in Ohio I put together a list of my top tips for spring wildflower photography as well as a short video.

First my list:

* Be willing to get low and get dirty, photographically speaking. Unlike late summer and autumn, wildflowers in spring are most often just inches from the ground. The most unflattering angle is the easiest – just straight down. Don’t do it. Engage your subject at eye level, which sometimes can entail getting on your stomach. It might be muddy and uncomfortable but the results will be a huge improvement from standing and shoot downward. The lower angle will add needed depth, texture and a much more pleasing background.

* A dedicated macro lens is ideal but a medium length zoom or telephoto lens can work to. Focus on the essence of the subject. Even plants have a “personality” and focal point. Find it and work with it.

* Blur your background with a wide aperture and narrow depth of field BUT be aware how those wide apertures (2.8 to 5.6) can dramatically decrease the area that’s in focus, especially with macro lenses. You can stack multiple exposures, each with a different focal point, but your subject has to be absolutely still to gain the proper frames to work with in post-processing. It’s almost a sure thing you will be dealing with wind.

* Maintaining tack-sharp focus. Speaking of wind. The closer you zoom or get close with macro, the more you magnify movement of your subject. Watch your shutter speed and keep it fast enough to maintain sharpness. With DSLR cameras today the best method is to simply shoot your ISO high enough to gain a fast enough shutter speed. It’s not uncommon to hear a few choice words from docile nature photographers when they are trying to photography wildflowers with just the slightest breeze. It’s also a good idea to go with manual focus on macro lenses because at that range lens focusing systems will jump around constantly with just the slightest movement of the subject.

* Look for soft, even lighting conditions such as early morning. Diffuse bright sunlight but also “throw” a touch of light when the flower is too much in shadow, such as with a handheld reflector or detached speedlite. With flowers it is always best to expose for your focal point.

* Fill the frame with repeating patterns. Keep the edges clean.

I mention a few of these tips in the following video as well –

Spring in Texas Hill Country | Photography by Jim Crotty 3 Spring in Texas Hill Country | Photography by Jim Crotty 4 Spring in Texas Hill Country | Photography by Jim Crotty 5 Spring in Texas Hill Country | Photography by Jim Crotty 6

Pondering the Simple Grace of Trees | The Texas Landscape

Spend enough time practicing and traveling with your art and you will begin to connect with your subject in a way that eventually starts to turn toward the philosophical. For me the subject of my art – the landscape – is multifaceted. The “subject” is not just one, well-defined object. It’s the sum of many parts. Earth, sky, water, light¬† and something else that is almost always present but more often overlooked.

Trees.

I love them. I can’t get enough of them, and despite serious seasonal allergies I can’t resist working them into nearly every landscape image that I capture, whether a solitary, 500-year-old Utah Juniper perched on a canyon in the high desert or an immense growth of Aspens on a mountainside or a formation of a hundred White Pines in the Appalachian foothills. I shudder to think of world without their presence.

What’s fascinating is how the uniqueness of their form and texture is shaped by their environment. They are the ultimate survivor. It’s no wonder that trees are referenced so often in the best selling book of all time.

That region of the United States known as the “South” is blessed with a species of tree that seems to embody the character and spirit of the landscape that it calls home. The Live Oak. Recently I had the opportunity to photograph the landscape in that area of Texas called the “Hill Country” – the elevated remnants of ancient mountains from just north of San Antonio to Austin.

Although the same tree, it is interesting to note the subtle differences between the Live Oaks of coastal South Carolina and those in Texas. Whereas one is more long, wide and graceful in its Spanish Moss-covered mystery the other is more tall and wind-cut to an essence that as best as I can describe would be beauty in bare bones. Kind of a “what you see is what you get” personality as compared to an enticement of haunted seduction with just hints of what lies beneath. Think Sandra Bullock as compared to Angelina Jolie (hey I’m only human and beauty is beauty).

With those in the hills and open plains of Texas it’s also easier to see the remarkable similarity that the shapes and growth of their branches have with a heart. That was something that caught my eye – as well as my imagination – during my drives between South Carolina and Texas. With the taller, thinner versions to the West – cut and cropped short due to near constant wind – it’s easy to see bent and sharply curved branches as coronary arteries and veins channeling energy out and within. Perhaps it’s due to my own recent experiences seeing surgical imagery of my own heart and how that experience impacted how I see objects in the landscape. I always carry with me a sense of awe and wonder in the amazing complexities of the design of nature and a supreme carving hand.

But beyond obvious similarities in visual appearance there’s also parallels in life story. Patience, endurance, courage, love. It’s all there. With the tree and the human heart. Obvious growth in fair weather. Resilient through both flood and drought. Branches bend to wind, and sometimes break, but growth continues, and as roots ground deeper limbs reach higher. The tree won’t give up.

Sometimes the simplest elements give the most life to a landscape because of what is represented and reflected back to the artist. These subjects that are discovered in nature are in so many ways comrades in arms with the journey of the human spirit and soul, signs with life and energy that we are moving along paths that are right and toward something greater than ourselves. Though our outward appearances begin to show our years of braving the elements (which by the way I find to be beautiful), the trunk and roots hold true to what was there from the very beginning.

Despite all that is thrown its way the Live Oak adapts, endures and reaches higher, and wider. Grace in the coastal tidelands. Grace on a hilltop in Texas. It’s all good.

PonderingtheLiveOakbyJimCrottyFW Spring in Texas Hill Country | Photography by Jim Crotty 8

Live Oaks on LBJ Ranch National Park Texas by Jim Crotty