The remains after a wildfire has been a subject matter I have been interested in for several years now. I have found images of them to have strong emotional impact and that’s basically what I’m after in my imagery. During this pursuit I have discovered that the best subjects are ones where time has taken place since the disaster and there is growth around the charring remains. I feel as though old ghosts still remain of what once had been as though there spirits still rise from the earth. That, in a nutshell, is what this is about.

I shot this in Eastern Oregon late in the day when they were in shadows. It wasn’t planned for. I just showed up at this time but I suspect the flat light is right for this subject matter.

I’m looking for any suggestions, particularly on brightness and color intensity. I have done little processing or experimentation because I don’t know which direction to go. I had a recent discussion with a photographer who misses the days of film photography and it’s restrictions. He stated that due to the restrictions you pretty much showed what came out of the camera. Nowadays he would start processing on an image and take it down a path. Then he would reconsider and take it down a different path. Then he would again reconsider and try yet still another one. In the end there is a lot of work without any path better than another. They were just different expressions of same image and were all about equally effective.

GFX50R, 45-100mm

Igor, this is a great image. I know you’re asking about brightness and colors. To my eyes (color challenged as they are) the colors are great. There’s a fine variation to the colors in the grasses that stands out nicely. I also think this is quite fine brightness-wise. The comp works very well too, with the right set of trees, creating a nice channel for the eye to wander into the scene. Nice!

Igor, the comments that you’ve posted along with your image are intriguing to say the least and I hope you don’t mind a little long-windedness on my part in response.
First, without being aware that it was one of your images, I opened it based on the thumbnail, which is to say, I found it compelling. And full size there is certainly a lot to say for it. I love the grass and how the yellow is infused with reds – almost like human hair, soft, delicate, and intricately patterned. The blackness of the branches stands out and made me think of antlers or bones gone black rather than white with age. There is a clear sense of directionality and depth described by the layout of branches that guide me into the frame, although from my perspective there isn’t as much of a payoff as I might like. But here’s the thing, until I read your comments, it didn’t occur to me that this was a burn or that, from your perspective, that this was essentially why you took the picture. And, for me, this connects with your second paragraph where you talk about how digital photography may give us so much latitude in terms of what we can do in post, that it can feel like a bottomless pit of possibility. So, I’m going to bring your first paragraph and your second one together.
As artists we need to create constraints. That’s one of the reasons why I think collections of images are so valuable – they ask us to think ahead of time what we intend these images for. You yourself said that you have had a relationship to backcountry burns for some time and that they have a strong emotional impact for you. Once we start thinking of our images as being part of a bigger idea, a deeper conversation than any one image could elicit, we create those necessary constraints because now we’re thinking about aspect ratio, colour balance, composition, tonality, and host of other issues in the context of how these images will relate to each other. In that respect, creative possibility ceases to be an infinite, bottomless pit of possibility. It now has a context that contains it and gives us a meaningful sense of creative direction (rather than trying this or that just to see what happens). I think of your image here, for example, and the fact that I was unaware that it was of a burn. That didn’t detract from its quality as an image but , at the same time, were I to have seen it in the context of a collection of images about backcountry burns, my relationship with this image would have been so much more complex and powerful. Then, all that I already love about this image would become so much more powerful in the context of this much deeper vision and the relationship that you want to share with me around it. I could say a lot more about this because it is something I have been giving a lot of thought to myself, but I will contain myself and thank you for helping to give my inner reflections a bit of a push into the world.

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This. ^^ Kerry has said it much better than I could. From a practical standpoint, one has to ask “why am I making this picture?” There’s always something that makes us click the shutter. You say these post-burn images have a strong emotional impact for you - like spirit ghosts rising from the earth. Are they peaceful (I hesitate to say happy) spirits or unhappy spirits? If the latter, I think the flat light and low-contrast work. If the former, perhaps brightening it a bit would convey that better.

The image resonates with me because of my personal experience with wildfire. I have lots of photos like this, of burnt remains poking up through new grasses. The contrast between the harsh burnt trunks and the delicate, soft grass is aesthetically compelling. I find it rather beautiful in a way, but depressing at the same time.

Are you kidding? I would much prefer a long response to a 2 sentencer. Much as I would prefer a negative response to indifference. To be fair to my friend we were discussing seeing versus processing. Processing doesn’t make up for poor vision we decided. I do get that images should be processed with the vision in mind. But I believe he meant different ways of processing the same vision. I could give this image a cooler cast for instance and still convey the feeling I’m after. In fact that may be worth a try.

Yes, those seem to be contradictory but I’m not sure. You will notice that the black limbs have graceful curves to them. One thought I had is that they would support the idea better if they had sharper angles, were more jagged. Well, it was difficult enough to come up with this comp much less find one with branches bent as I wanted them. Besides, I don’t think grace has much to do with pessimism and optimism. Well, on the one hand I do and on the other hand I don’t.

Like @Bonnie_Lampley and yourself, I too have been drawn to these scenes and been photographing the re-birth, re-emergence of life from the aftermath of the western wildfires. It’s not a new phenomena of course. I have any number of similar images/concepts from the Mono basin. Just something about the skeletal remains (“ghosts” is a good reference,) that conjur up all kinds of reactions and emotions. Personally, I just find the visual contrast (both literally and emotionally) between the burned vegetation and the new life taking it’s place, as compelling and motivate me to photograph.

Having said that, your image captures all that beautifully. I think the colors are wonderful - especially the reds (which are prevalent in the areas that I’m familiar with…) The brightness is subjective I think, but given the lighting conditions is processed nicely.

My only thought/suggestion would be a slightly broader view for more environmental context. As presented, one interpretation could be this is more about the forms - even gracefulness of the standing vegetation - like “dancers”. And btw, great job with the framing of these particular plants as they bend inward helping to frame, and contain the image.

too many other points mentioned to address them all, but a couple:

As you know I spent several decades using film and the large format. Yup, more “constrained”, focused and purposeful. But for me, and just me, making the change to dslr had little or no effect on my “vision” or how I see things in the field. None. Sure, I can now shoot multiple frames for stacking, exposure or now ICM’s, etc. etc. - endless possibilities… But it hasn’t changed what I “see” or how I react/see the environment I’m engaged in. Digital/film… are just tools.

Lastly, and interesting and insight comments @Kerry_Gordon . This was particularly interesting because perhaps Igor, Bonnie, myself and others don’t need a body of work to have an emotional reaction to this scene - because there is already a connection. Interesting, perhaps because of your exposure to different natural environments, you didn’t have that same exposure - and so your comment makes sense. I guess my main comment there is that in general, if one already has that connection, you don’t need a collection to make it more meaningful - at least for some. For other’s, of course it can make a big difference.

Great thoughts and discussions.

I guess I’m not making my point very clearly, Lon @Lon_Overacker . First, just to get it out of the way, combined over the years I have spent many, many weeks paddling through forest burns, so the issue of having little exposure to such an environment being the reason for my comments is kind of moot.
So, to be clear, I’m not suggesting that individual photographs don’t or can’t have a powerful impact. But I have to point out that every great photographer, and by “great” I mean those who are recognized over time as such, have all published their work in collections. I don’t mean retrospectives, I mean that they have not only presented but conceived of their photographs in the context of a vision that impacts every aspect of their creative process a priori. Whether we’re talking about Robert Frank’s “The Americans” or Sebatiao Salgado’s “Genesis”, these photographers understand the power of collections to present a vision at a depth that no single one of their photographs ever could. Salgado’s individual photographs are brilliant to the say the least and I would be thrilled to have one on my wall - I’d look at it every day and be amazed. But it isn’t the same as going through one of his books where he has conceived of and organized a collection of photographs deliberately and with intention. I believe that the power that collections have in taking the reader deeper into the photographer’s vision is clearly demonstrated. Now whether you or any one else wants to experiment with that is entirely a matter of each photographer’s personal choice. The only point I was trying to make to Igor, based on how affected he has been by his experiences moving through burned environments, was that, in my opinion, this particular photograph could have more impact as a part of a body of work as opposed to standing alone. Please don’t misunderstand - I’m not trying to say that taking a bunch of ill conceived images and throwing them together and calling it a collection is going to make much more than a mess. What I am suggesting is that even more than taking images already completed and putting them together as a body of work, but actually conceiving of the body of work prior to making the images can create the kind of constraints that is so important in helping artists focus their creative energies.

There’s a collection on a theme and there’s a sequence. William Neil has written about the importance of the former for books and galleries and Minor White on the latter. The idea of the latter is personally more interesting to me. The idea as I understand it is if you create a sequence of 5 images the 1st image becomes better understood after you see the 5th image. And the 5th image would be a mystery without the first. They are somehow linked to each other. White’s work is often so confusing that a sequence makes sense. Although for many of us it remains confusing. Regardless, im a big fan of his work.

This thread had gotten pretty deep. There are many great thoughts so far. I love this kind of image. They are always emotional. Tragedy has occurred in many instances and in others, there is simply nature taking it’s course and rejuvenating the environment. For the most part, this is the circle of life for nature. But humans always see it as something much more devastating perhaps because what was once beautiful is now ugly and charred and dead. I always have an emotional reaction to these kinds of images and this one is no different.
As for the light and the tones, I think the flat light works well with subject. The grasses/shrubs have plenty of luminosity without direct light on them and they also have a warm glow about them.
To me, it almost looks like they are the fire. That’s what I see with this image. The addition of the red tones throughout the foreground in concert with the yellow reminds me of flames. Had the brush been green, I would have different feelings about this and I don’t think it works as well. This is very unique because for the most part, whenever there has been a burn and you start to get some regrowth, it tends to be green. In that light, I would be leaning more towards rejuvenation and the life cycle of nature. But I see this differently. I see the bare bones of former plants and an ongoing fire underneath them. I may be alone in this thought but that’s part of what photography is all about. Interpretation by the photographer and by each viewer.
As for taking this in another direction, I guess it depends on what you want to get out of it. I like this a lot as is because it’s so unique and I don’t often see this vegetation coloration after a burn.
I also think a good title helps to lead the viewer down the path the photographer wants and your title “Ghosts” really eludes to what you’re thinking and feeling about this image.
By the way, you have framed this image with thought and care using the shapes and forms of the burnt branches to keep the viewers attention in the frame. I say this often with your images but this is well seen and arranged. I might make the reds even redder to convey more of the “on fire” aspect that I see but if you don’t see that, then I don’t have any constructive help for further editing. It depends where you want to take this. Very creative image.

@David_Bostock, @David_Haynes, @Kerry_Gordon, @Lon_Overacker, @Bonnie_Lampley

Love the lengthy discussions. Thank you for that.

Now I remeber better some of my thoughts when I took this image. If you recall one of Adam Gibbs YouTube videos, he discusses composing an image where he moves right and left and up and down to arrange his “albutes” tree branches so that none touch or cross each other. I went through a similar exercise here with these black branches. They’re each on a different plane so to get them all separated required an Adam Gibbs exercise. I also recall being dissatisfied with the open ground in the front. I wanted all the branches rising from the grass. In the end I decided the bare earth was better than cropping and having the branches rising from the bottom frame. I guess every image is a compromise of some sort or another.

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