8 minute read
Lessons on Art and Life
Karen Hutton imparts her deeply connected approach to landscape photography, channeling intention through FUJIFILM X-T5
The artist’s road is paved by opportunities to learn. Through attempts and failures, isolated studies, and fateful revelations, they come in many forms. Often, the very best are delivered by mentors, knowledgeable and astute from their own decades of dedicated learning. The right advice can resonate so strongly that it shapes any endeavor to follow.
Like so many, nature photographer, Karen Hutton, was molded indelibly in her formative years. She’s achieved more than many will in a lifetime, and while she continues to create with spirited fervor, she has devoted parts of more recent years to guiding budding photographers. Ahead of FUJIFILM X-T5’s launch, she was joined by college student, Hope Grunert, in Zion National Park, Utah. What followed was an unforgettable experience for both artists.
“I’ve had an unbelievable life, in that I have become a professional at about six different disciplines – and in turn, I’ve taught everything I’ve ever done. I don’t know why, but I was born to do, and I was born to teach,” Karen muses. “Mentoring in photography was never in the plan, but people wanted to know about what I do, and how I do it. So, I at least wanted to fulfill that curiosity.”
While many artworks exist for beauty’s sake alone, Karen is a firm believer in using photography as a means of connection. Every frame is imbued with meaning. Her approach as a tutor naturally follows suit.
“The way I teach photography is from a perspective of finding your artistic voice. Yes, learning traditional skills is important, but there’s more to the medium. And there is a system of learning that will help people bring themselves, their loves, and their intent through in images.”
The experience’s location was no accident. The reasoning was practical and spiritual in equal measure. From the park’s towering, red cliffs to its plunging, verdant valley, Zion is a landscape photographer’s paradise.
“I wanted to take Hope somewhere with a big variety of subject matter in a relatively compact area,” Karen explains. “I felt it was important for her to be exposed to that. It’s one thing to make a good image of a single subject, but something else to tell a whole story. There are the epic, establishing types of landscapes that we usually think of, but also mid-range frames, and intimate details.
“It was also a perfect location to let Hope discover how to use what the earth and day gives. At the right time, light in Zion spills and tumbles in a radiant display. It’s important to acknowledge how to create around that. On other days, the same scene would not make such an image.”
The shared tenets of storytelling have stood the test of time for millennia. They may be perceived from different outlooks, and even employed differently based on artistic medium, but the fundamentals are unmistakable. Like many masters of their craft, this element of Karen’s process is no longer overtly considered. For Hope, earlier in her journey, this step required focus.
“I apply storytelling rules as they present themselves in scenes,” Karen notes. “When I’m with a mentee, I ask them to think about the central idea of what they see before them. I ask what they view as character and where the relationships lie – because something’s got to relate to something else, otherwise it has no meaning.
“When you have those two things, you need to find a perspective to show them from. Look down, look up, consider a wide or narrow view, examine the depth-of-field, and really take in your whole world. Ultimately, it’s about applying ideas in a conscious way.”
Photo 2022 © Karen Hutton | FUJIFILM X-T5 and FUJINON XF30mmF2.8 R LM WR Macro, 1/1250 sec at F10, ISO 250
Photo 2022 © Karen Hutton | FUJIFILM X-T5 and FUJINON XF30mmF2.8 R LM WR Macro, 1/1400 sec at F7.1, ISO 250
The second crucial aspect of learning was a little more esoteric. There are many ways to encapsulate the magic of a real-world scene on camera, but for Karen, it comes down to a unique mixture of emotion and science.
“There’s a larger answer, but one detail to grab onto comes from quantum physics, of imprinting your intent into the photons reaching the camera,” she states. “It aligns with a set of experiments, where they discovered that the path of light can be completely affected by the people watching it. The thing I explained to Hope is, photography is so magical because it’s a quantum sport – we work with light and time.
“In that sense, the notion of having an awe-inspiring experience, and a strong feeling about what you’re photographing, is important. I believe that’s the part that affects the light as it comes in and hits your sensor. It’s not something to focus intently on at all times, but I wanted it to sift through Hope’s mind.”
Unconscious use of ideas and practices can take years to ingrain, but from the very beginnings of the journey, Karen emphasizes a willingness to be led by intuition. Technique is an essential, but that alone will leave you in the weeds.
“Maybe it’s less common in other genres, but I see a lot of very rigid approaches to landscape photography,” she says. “Some believe there are regulations around how it must be done. It’s important to examine the spirit of any rule, to see what it’s based on – but I’m also about busting up constructs. In my approach, personal passion, story, and the idea of a good photograph all have to play together.”
Wrapped up in the impassioned talk of such a creative, it’s strange to acknowledge that the art of photography is entirely contingent upon technology. Perhaps, even, it’s where the two meet most beautifully. It is not a consideration Karen overlooks.
Throughout the mentoring experience – and in the photographic road trip that preceded it – Karen’s camera of choice was none other than FUJIFILM X-T5. It combines the renowned analogue-looking appeal of X Series with the stunning added detail of 40-megapixels. And that’s far from all.
“Fujifilm is a big part of why I’ve been able to do what I do. I’ve described this camera as the most amazing figurative paintbrush. In my medium, we don’t use paint, we don’t use words, we use light and time. As I see it, X-T5 does that best. It’s the perfect, new solution. You can see a distinct improvement, and really it brings all the creativity to fruition,” she enthuses.
“It was so beneficial in this context, especially with its return to a classic form,” Karen adds, referencing the camera’s reduced size, compared to its predecessor. “I know I could go diving into deeper controls, but I don’t need to. I set up my shortcuts, which give me a handful of basic commands to remember. For me, X-T5 is the simplest, most intuitive camera ever.
“I was happy to show Hope a few functions – some fun, creative things, as well as how to compensate for the bright moments, and other practical details. When I was at her point in the journey, I remember feeling that X Series gave me ideas. Through Film Simulations, the cameras come with a creative slant to them, which is part of the genius. You can go as neutral or as bold as you want, but I personally love embedding whatever inspired me to make a picture right there in camera.”
Karen’s thoughts turn to Hope. The young photographer has a bright future ahead – brighter still for the influence of her mentor.
“She’s a wonderful creative – open-minded, but with a strong perspective. One of the things that really stood out was a shared characteristic of ours. We’ve both experienced some self-doubt. I suffered so much when I was young that it ended certain passions.
“Here we have this shining soul that’s so creative, who sees and feels in such a beautiful way. I wanted to give her tools to harness that, and ways to not spend the years doubting it. The last thing I gave her was a word,” Karen concludes.
“I can see where people are struggling. And I can see the element that, if focused on, will allow someone to leap over what’s holding them back. When we use the phrase, ‘I am,’ it gives power to the word that follows. So, I gave Hope an ‘I am’ word. Its meaning might not be immediately obvious to her, but I hope it’s helping her make steps beyond her normal limits.
“Hope has talent. She has teachers. I didn’t need to give her any of that. What I could give her is a way to be – an approach to thought and creation. I hope that frees her, to maximize everything she’s taking in now, and to not get in her own way.”
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