The work of Virginia-based photographer Eric G. Brown is featured in the Spring/Summer 2013 issue of American Forests as the “Last Look.” In this American Forests web exclusive, Brown recounts his challenges shooting with natural light and shares some of his favorite D.C.-area spots to photograph.
When and why did you become a nature photographer?
I enjoy many aspects of photography — landscape and nature photography just happen to be two of them. I can’t pinpoint when I became a nature photographer; I think it more likely became incorporated into my work naturally since I like to explore my surroundings. I really enjoy being out in natural surroundings, even if most of my work takes place close to the city. I like the challenge of finding nature in our urban areas.
Are you drawn to a specific type of nature photography? Wildlife? Landscapes? Detailed close-ups?
I am really drawn to landscapes. When I look any landscape photograph, it takes me on a journey — either through remembering my own journey of taking the photo or, if it is another photographer’s, imagining what they did to get to that place. I place myself in that location.
What was the most difficult image you ever tried to capture?
In general, the most difficult thing for me is getting the right natural light. I like to force myself to use available natural light in a lot of my work. That means getting up very early in the morning and planning where I need to be. I enjoy the morning, but some days, as much as you plan, things go wrong or not as you expected. There have been plenty of mornings waiting for the right light. I remember one photo I did of the Washington Monument and reflecting pool. It was a nice morning so there were a fair number of people around. The morning sky was brilliant with orange, red, blue and purples. There was another photographer set up with his tripod, and I wanted to capture him in the photo. But, I had to wait so I would not get anyone else in the photo. The problem was that the amazing light was not going to wait! But, I got lucky and the tourists moved and I was able to get the photo I wanted. I could have edited out the others, but I’m a bit of purist. I like to photograph things as they are as much as possible.
Do you have a favorite story from your quest for beautiful photographs?
I’m always on a quest to figure out where to go to shoot photos. I heard about a very large field of sunflowers in suburban Montgomery County, Md. I searched online until I found a blog of someone who had found it. Luckily, this person had included map locations. I walked a ways from where I had parked my car on the side of the road and — behold — I was able to find the location in the early morning before sunrise! The field of sunflowers was about the size of three football fields and the sun was coming. It was amazing to see things come alive when the sun came up and to see this spectacular field of sunflowers. Needless to say, I was there for several hours with all my camera gear getting some great photos. I love finding gems like this in a very urban area. An oasis of sunflowers, it felt so far away from the hustle of the Washington, D.C. area.
Where is your favorite shooting location?
Since I am based in the Washington, D.C. area, I would say the National Mall. It offers some wonderful urban landscapes with wonderful sunrise and sunset photo opportunities. Also, Great Falls Park along the Potomac River is an amazing place to photograph. Many people are unaware of the Potomac River gorge and how beautiful and powerful this part of the Potomac River is.
Do you have a favorite photo?
That is always a tough question to ask any artist. I guess my favorite photo is one that I took at sunrise of the classic skyline of Washington, D.C. — the photo featured in American Forests magazine. I took it on Easter morning in 2011. There was low-lying fog around the trees and monuments. Also, the morning light was hitting the tulips in the foreground just right as to make them glow. So, for me, everything to make this photo more unique was in place; good light, the right amount of fog, time of day and an iconic location.
Which other photographers do you admire?
There are two photographers I get inspiration from: Stephen Shore and Lisette Model. Stephen Shore for his use of everyday common scenes, turning what most people take for granted into the main subject. Lisette Model for her unique take on perspective and isolation of a subject.
Do you prefer digital or film, and why?
This is a tough question. I learned on a fully manual 35mm film camera and develop black and white film. I really enjoy the challenge of getting the photo just right and thinking about your composition. When I shoot digital, I take time to compose also, but I do like the instant results you get with digital. I enjoy shooting both and it depends on my mood. But, I would have to say digital due to the convenience.