MYN in the Shenandoah Valley

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The Conservation Photography class at Eastern Mennonite University explores the intersection of image-making and environmental preservation. Nestled between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains at the edge of Appalachia, our location in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia is home to a wealth of flora and fauna. The amphibian population is particularly diverse with several endemic salamander species (such as the Cow Knob Salamander) found only in a few mountain ridges.

During the academic semester, students partner with regional environmental organizations as they document ecosystems and explore the sometimes fragile relationship between human communities and the natural world. As part of this process, we’ve been grateful to learn about the Meet Your Neighbours project from co-founder Clay Bolt. After a slide lecture from Clay, students had a chance to try out MYN camera and flash techniques in the field and image processing in the lab. We look forwarding to continued partnership with MYN in future semesters!

-Steven David Johnson, Chair, Visual & Communication Arts and Theater,  Eastern Mennonite University

The following passage is from Han Park (Senior Photography and Digital Media Major):

When Clay Bolt introduced the Meet Your Neighbours project in EMU’s Conservation Photography class, the simple and unique beauty in the photos (with the sole focus on the subject) inspired me to seek plants and wildlife living in my own backyard.

Han Park, a photography students at Eastern Mennonite University, photographs a box turtle using the 'Meet Your Neighbours' field studio technique.

Han Park, a photography student at Eastern Mennonite University, photographs a box turtle using the ‘Meet Your Neighbours’ field studio technique.

After figuring out the technique, as I photographed more and more, I started to feel appreciation and intimacy toward the subjects of my photos. There are at least three different kinds of wild flowers living in my backyard. Small creatures like butterflies, bees, and snails are also living there. Though I knew of them, I had not really thought about their presence or truly encountered them.  Through the process of photographing them individually, they became my true neighbors.

This crayfish was found near a stream in Ramsey's Draft Wilderness, Virginia.

This crayfish was found near a stream in Ramsey’s Draft Wilderness, Virginia.

Park photographed this Sulphur butterfly as it visited a wildflower in rural Virginia.

Park photographed this Sulphur butterfly as it visited a dandelion in rural Virginia.

As I started practicing the MYN style, I faced a technical challenge with balancing the front (main) lights and back lights. If the back light is too strong, I lose the edge of the subject because of overexposure. However, if the back light is not strong enough, I will not get the unique detail coming from the semi-transparent skin (or shell) or thin leaf (or petal) of the subjects. The digital darkroom and continuous LED lights helped to solve this issue. Using digital darkroom exposure controls, I can maintain both clear edge and a pure white background by reducing the highlights and increasing the whites. At the same time, the combination of continuous LED lights and the live view mode of the camera helped me to get the correct lighting setup before releasing the shutter.

This is a beautiful eastern box turtle photographed by Park in rural Virginia.

This is a beautiful eastern box turtle photographed by Park in rural Virginia.