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Photographer of the Week: Gillian Henry

Posted by Teresa Hanafin  August 24, 2009 01:22 PM

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Gillian Henry, aka amythyst lake, is a two-time RAW monthly contest winner: Her photo of two skiers and a lone tree, "Tis the Season ... for winter sports" finished 2nd in our December contest, and she captured 2nd place again in May with her image of daisies on Belle Isle Marsh in East Boston, "Day's Eye."

In looking over her photos in her Flickr account, I was struck by how Jill is able to capture gorgeous photos in an urban setting. (And I have to admit I was partial to her photos from the Neponset section of Dorchester, where I grew up.) So when I asked her to be a POTW, I asked her to focus on her city photography. Her pictures are proof that to make a great photo, you first have to see the great image that could be right in front of you.

Photos by Gillian D. Henry
Nikon D80, 1/320 sec. at f/5.6, ISO 125, focal length 280mm

By Gillian D. Henry

I have always felt the desire to capture fragments of the world around me. When I was a child, I loved to draw and paint - my father and grandfather were both talented amateur painters, and I received plenty of encouragement at home.

Photography was a natural progression, and as soon as I could afford it, I bought my first SLR, an Olympus OM10, around 1980. I have taken pictures on and off ever since, but digital cameras, computers, and the Internet have opened up a whole new world of possibilities. Now I use a Nikon D80 and a Canon PowerShot G9 point-and-shoot.

I love the way that photography transforms both what I see and the way that I see it. It makes me notice things in an entirely different way. Much of my photography reflects an inner urge to record and to share that vision. I love the outdoors, and I have always taken much of my inspiration from nature. In real life, I am a biochemist and I study biological molecules all day. Photography gives me a different, more tangible link to the natural world, and an alternative way of thinking about its beauty, the way it works, and how we perceive it. It connects everything.

Capturing natural beauty while living and working in Boston is not as difficult as one might think. The secret is choosing the right light and the right time of day, which, with few exceptions, means the hour around dawn or sunset. To make things extra specially challenging for myself, I don't own a car. All the pictures that I've chosen to show here were taken in places I could get to by walking from my home in Dorchester (the Neponset River Reservation) or more recently in Revere (Revere Beach). Both places are easily accessible by public transport.

The shot below was taken at the Neponset River Reservation at the summer solstice just before dawn.

Neponset Solstice
"Neponset Solstice"
Nikon D80, 1/50 sec. at f/7.1, ISO 400, focal length 22mm

The Neponset Reservation is a natural estuary and tidal marshland sandwiched between Boston and Milton. It is remarkably rich in all sorts of bird life, and on occasion I have even startled a deer. Unfortunately, it also suffers badly from its urban surroundings and is strewn with an unwelcome quantity of trash, perhaps partly as a result of the tide. Discarded bottles, beer cans, toys, shoes, and supermarket carts are far too easy to find, so be warned. Yet in the early morning as the sun rises and touches the phragmites reeds, it can be magical.
Morning on the Neponset
"Morning on the Neponset"
Canon G9, 1/80 sec at f/8, ISO 100, focal length 7.4mm

One of the most enjoyable things about a walk in the great outdoors is that you never know what you might find. Sometimes it pays to look down. These leaf-like plates and grass-like needles of ice were formed on a cold day on the marsh as the tide went out.
Neponset Needles and Leaves
"Needles and Leaves"
Canon G9, 1/125 sec. at f/4.5, ISO 80, focal length 7.4mm

The moon is an enormously appealing subject, but difficult to photograph because it is so bright. Exposures that are short enough to show the details of the craters will leave the surroundings black; exposing separately for the moon produces pictures that look fake, especially if there are reflections of the light across water. One solution is to photograph it in reflection as I did here. This is one of my favorite shots - somehow symbolic of all my early morning walks on the Neponset.
Neponset Sister Moon
"Sister Moon"
Nikon D80, 1/15 sec. at f/22, ISO 400, focal length 200mm

About a year ago, I moved with my boyfriend to Revere Beach. Revere Beach has many things that a photographer could want - people, color, water, action, sports - but it's not the most obvious place in the world to study landscape and nature. Yet in winter or early in the morning, or when the fog rolls in, it assumes an entirely different character. I don't think I could ever run out of subject material here.
Revere Twilight Zone
"Twilight Zone"
Nikon D80, 1/8 sec. at f/5.6, ISO 100, focal length 52mm

I took this seagull shot on a bright, cold January day on the beach when there was plenty of snow on the ground. I don't normally feed the seagulls - they really don't need the encouragement - but I have to admit that I did in this case. I have a piece of bread in one hand and my camera in the other. The bird is hovering in one spot and turning its head to one side so it can keep a close eye on me as it decides whether to take the bait.
Revere Dancer
Nikon D80, 1/250 sec. at f/9, ISO 125, focal length 48mm

There was a lot of light reflected upward on the bird from the snow, and the sun was low so the shadows are gentle and the details are clear. You can see how effectively the gull has buried its feet within its feathers - they are crossed over below the breast and almost invisible. Not only does that keep it warm, it makes the gull beautifully streamlined for flight.

When a photograph reveals secrets such as this, it is an extra special bonus for me; I photographed the bird because it is so elegant and I wanted an artistic shot, but now I know something that I didn't know before.

One of the things that I try to keep in mind when I'm composing a shot is simplicity. Anything that does not add will subtract. Sometimes this can be taken to extremes, as in this minimalistic shot of grass on the beach. Again, this was taken at dawn. Another advantage of shooting in the early morning is that it tends to be calm. It can be very trying to photograph grass on a breezy day.

Revere Let's Get Minimal
"Let's Get Minimal"
Nikon D80, 1/320 sec. at f/22, ISO 400, focal length 112mm

I love to shoot the sunrise. There is always an element of surprise - each one is different, and you can never be sure what you are going to get. These old pilings at the south end of Revere Beach have been the subject of many of my sunrise shots. During the daytime they look quite ordinary, but in the right light, they become almost mystical. This is a three-image HDR.
Revere Golden
Nikon D80, f/20, ISO 125, focal length 32mm

For me, photography is an opportunity express myself visually, so I tend to adopt an artistic rather than a documentary style. "Moody Beach" is a shot that I took on a foggy day early this summer. Here I have added a texture in Photoshop (the Midlife Crisis texture by Flickr-ite Skeletal Mess) to help recreate the mood and to counter the rather bland "whiteness" that fog imparts to a shot. The eye and the camera are very different instruments. Sometimes something extra is needed to see what we see.
Revere Moody Beach
"Moody Beach"

I love to travel, but I have tried in this piece to show that great subjects can be found close to home. The great advantage of shooting locally is that you can take the time to understand your environment and its moods and to observe it in all lights and all seasons. And if you know a place, then you care about it, and your photos will have more meaning.

In this last shot, a most unpromising January day suddenly produced this beautiful late afternoon sky. It is one of my favorite shots of all time, and it was taken on Revere Beach Parkway.

Revere My Three Trees
"My Three Trees"
Nikon D80, 1/160 sec. at f/9, ISO 200, focal length 18mm


About Gillian
Gillian (Jill) Henry grew up near Liverpool, England. She lived in Western Canada for many years before moving to the Boston area in 2000 to work at one of the universities as a biochemist. She uses various kinds of spectroscopy to look at the structure and function of proteins. Jill likes to take photographs of all sorts of things, but specializes in natural subjects and landscapes. (Photo by Jim Sudmeier)

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