Spring Oak, Ahwahnee, California, 2011. A key element on our property is this magnificent spreading oak, which resides just outside our front door. We built the house where it is to feature the tree. I wait for the right conditions, like here when the new leaves just come out.
I’ve lived in this home near Oakhurst, California, for 20 years. I’ve always found something to photograph over that time, be it my purple plums in bloom, the oaks or pines or manzanitas, moss-covered boulders, fog, snowstorms or the clouds, irises or poppies or lupine blooming. Or the first fresh leaves budding out on the large oak in my front yard. I watch the light and weather daily and wait for inspiration.
Waterfall, Ahwanhee, California, 2007. I built a waterfall feature on my backyard patio, and when I selected the flat slate pieces, I picked those with varied edges to give me intriguing streaks of water flow. Here the ochre-colored wall behind the water flow is sunlit while the flowing water is in the shade. This light only occurs at certain times of the year, so I keep my eye out for this afternoon light.
Two Lilies, Ahwahnee, California 2010
I designed and built a waterfall feature that provides photo options. And in its little pond, I planted lilies to photograph. I leave out my tub of colorful pebbles on my patio, waiting for the right conditions. In the winter, when extraordinary ice patterns crystalize around those rocks, I am ready.
Ice and Pebbles, Ahwahnee, California, 2007. I have a collection of landscaping pebbles that I keep in a 20×26 tub on my patio. Over the winter, I fill it with water and sometimes adjust the level, then see what ice formations appear each morning. My collaboration with nature was very fruitful this cold morning.
All of the photographs seen here were taken within a few feet of my house.
There were two ways I’ve created these opportunities. First, we chose to live here, building a home on a one-acre lot covered with pines and oaks in the Sierra Nevada foothills. I find plenty of subjects in what was already here.
Sunset Clouds, Ahwahnee, California, 2007. My neighbor’s pine tree made a perfect graphic accent for the sunset clouds, taken from my driveway. From where I sit on my sofa, I can see whether the skies light up each evening.
Second, I planted mostly native plants like redbud, the poppies and lupine to give myself other photo options. I also planted the plum trees and flowers to photograph. I even tried to grow a native dogwood tree, but it couldn’t tolerate the heat here at 2000 feet of elevation.
Blowing Poppy, California, 2006. From my “Impressions of Light” series. When I first moved into my current home, I planted native flowers, including poppies. For this frame, I utilized both camera motion and the wind to portray the action of this blowing poppy.
Plum blossoms in late afternoon light, Ahwahnee, California, 2013. Soon after moving to our home, I planted purple plum trees in front of my living room window. Every spring when they bloom, I watch the light and weather waiting for some magic and inspiration.
The point of my ramblings is that while you are stuck at home, think about what you can photograph around your home or inside. I’ve been making images of our orchids. I know some folks are ordering flowers online to photograph at home. Creating more opportunities to photograph at home is an excellent strategy during this pandemic, but also in the long run. Remember, our “seeing” needs daily practice. Beauty is all around us every day.
Elderberry Leaves #5, Ahwahnee, California, 2012. I collected these leaves from my front yard in a box and photographed them in my dining room where two large windows provide me with soft but bright indirect light.
Salsify seeds at sunset, Madera County, California, 2006. When the summer heat arrives, I find salsify seed heads to collect. I cut them and save them for when I am in the mood to photograph them. When that time arrives, I place one, in its vase, on the top rail of my back stairs that lead to my office. As the sun drops into the trees by the river, the light warms and softens. I position the seed between my camera and the sun to isolate the seeds for this simple yet graphic effect.
Pebbles and Ripples, Ahwahnee, California, 2020. These ripples were formed on the ledge of my waterfall. I placed this stone so I could photograph the interaction of water and stone.
Stones, Ahwahnee, California, 2018. These stones become alive with their electric colors when wet. Just add water and click.
William Neill’s next book, Light on the Landscape, will be released soon. It is a collection of his “On Landscape” essays written over the past 23 years for Outdoor Photographer.