Insights and ideas from Nevada Wier
Sharing world cultures
Nevada Wier is a free spirit who says she's born to roam. She also happens to be an outstanding, passionate photographer with extensive outdoor experience, so photographing faraway places and isolated people just seems natural. Her images have garnered the attention of stock imagery licensing companies, been displayed for the gaze of art gallery visitors, and populated the pages of high-profile magazines. Wier is based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she teaches workshops in photography, but is more at home exploring seldom-visited villages, geographic wonders, and engaging with isolated tribes and communities around the world. In this interview with Photoshop.com, Wier shares her thoughts on her passion for photography, connecting with her subjects, and adapting to a changing industry.
Photoshop.com: Which piece of equipment couldn’t you live without and why?
Nevada Wier: Almost everyone has a digital camera these days. And many come with a variety of lenses. But the most important piece of equipment is a photographer’s brain and his or her creativity. Photography is definitely a right and left brain endeavor.
Photoshop.com: What role does Adobe® Photoshop® Lightroom® software play in your photography process?
Nevada Wier: Until Lightroom, I just organized my images in folders because there wasn't an application good enough to do it for me. Now, not only can I organize all my images in the Lightroom database, but also my editing is twenty times faster. I can compare images, zoom in and out, and put images up in a survey mode like the light table, which is absolutely brilliant. Editing is not my favorite part of photography, however with Lightroom it is much less of a chore. In fact, it has become enjoyable and downright fun when I begin developing my raw images.
Photoshop.com: How do you know that a photo is really good?
Nevada Wier: This is a tough question. First of all, everyone has their own aesthetic and others may not share it. I am always challenging myself to reach a higher level of visual acuity that is my own vision. In the workshops I teach in Santa Fe, I tell my students that there are four possibilities in a color image: great color, great light, great action (whether is it grand or subtle), or great pattern or composition. There have to be at least two of those. And, the gesture must be complete if it is essential to the image. However, fundamentally, I am striving for an image that has an emotional impact. I know it when I see it, because I feel it.
Photoshop.com: Describe a favorite photo you’ve shot and what grabs you about it. (Image 3)
Nevada Wier: In 1985 I made the first image that I liked. It was taken in Nepal at the end of a month long trek. I was zooming down the trail to the airport with my cameras in my backpack. It was a lovely morning and suddenly I saw a porter carrying pots coming towards me on the trail. I almost just walked by, but I knew this was special. I ran back up the hill, got out my camera, and waited for him. When I saw the image on my light table I gasped. “Yes,” I thought. “This is what I want to make—images that are painterly and cause one to pause and reflect.” It was a defining moment.
Photoshop.com: How did you create the result in the Lampa plaza image? (Image 4)
Nevada Wier: I was in Peru last year and visited Lampa, a small town, north of Julicaca. I enjoyed photographing around town in the late afternoon when the shadows were deep and long, however I knew that the plaza would be lovely just after the sun set and the artificial lights appeared. Lampa is 15 degrees south of the equator so the dusk does not linger. I figured there would be 10 to 15 minutes of "dull" light before the ambient artificial light glowed with the same intensity as the lingering blue in the sky. Then, there would only be 10 to 15 minutes, maximum, to photograph before the sky turned too dark. The first evening I brought my 5D Mark II with a 24mm f/1.4 lens and photographed holding the camera, occasionally with an off-camera gelled flash. It was fine and I got some reasonable images. However, the church was a dominating presence and it begged to be sharp.
The next evening, I returned with my tripod and set up near a food stall and waited for people to cross into my frame. It is not a busy plaza, even on a Saturday night. I felt very lucky to have this confluence of activity. I only had one opportunity and one click of the shutter when the spacing between the subjects was perfect. A couple of minutes later the sky was too dark. I was using a Canon 5D Mark II with the 24mm f/1.4 lens, using that 1.4 aperture at 1/40 sec. shutter speed. So why did I use such a shallow depth of field since I was on a tripod? Because I needed a relatively fast shutter speed so that my subjects would not ghost out. I did want a bit of motion blur, but not too much so that the subjects were recognizable.
Photoshop.com: What is it about photography and taking pictures that inspires you?
Nevada Wier: Photography allows me to connect with someone beyond words. When I find the right person, someone with whom I resonate, when I photograph them I feel I am preserving their true spirit and essence. These are those wondrous “serendipitous encounters” when I find a person or event that is unexpected, but feels natural.
Photoshop.com: What do you like about shooting digitally? Nevada Wier: I love how it’s brought more people back to photography because it’s so accessible and there are so many different types of cameras, including cell phone photography. I prefer digital raw files over film; I have more control over my images and I am able to experiment more with new processes and techniques, which as an artist is extremely exciting. I am glad I have a wide range of experience working in a black-and-white darkroom and using transparency film, but I wouldn’t give up my digital camera at this point!
Photoshop.com: What are your favorite features in the latest release of Lightroom?
Nevada Wier: The Develop module has some really great features like the shadows and highlights sliders, which are fantastic for someone like me who shoots in such a wide variety of locations and elements, especially in low-light conditions. It allows me to apply more controls to achieve a more natural effect in my final images. I also love the dated folders and Map module because I can organize images by location. I take my GPS with me everywhere, so I just plug in the coordinates and I can visualize the images on a map, which is really helpful because I travel so much. I don’t make a lot of videos but it is helpful to be able to organize them and make basic edits now.
Photoshop.com: How do you share your photography with family, friends, and clients?
Nevada Wier: I often use the Web module to send out web pages to clients and for special projects. Now, Lightroom has the new Book module, which is fabulous because sometimes I want to make a simple book that I can send to a client, or out to a museum, or even as presents for my family and friends. In fact, I’m working on a project called “Outer India,” which is an ongoing gallery exhibition. Editing the images and compiling them into a digital book is an efficient way to deliver the images for clients and galleries; it gives the project a “wow” factor too.
Photoshop.com: How have you evolved as a photographer/artist?
Nevada Wier: I’ve become more conscious about what I want to achieve in my images and more willing to experiment to achieve a powerful photograph. I think photography is hard. I feel that becoming a “virtuoso of seeing” is an ambitious goal. However, my years of experience and understanding of technical issues certainly are helping me along in my goal. I’ve learned to be more conscious of what I’m doing, to be aware of my surroundings and environment, and to know the powerful moment when I’m photographing. This journey of photography and seeing the results from our efforts is part of the joy of photography.
Photoshop.com: What advice would you give to photographers just starting out?
Nevada Wier: Be prepared to learn and to grow. I think one of the most important things photographers can do to improve their photography is to learn how to move. Don’t get rooted and set in your ways of just shooting from your height and within your comfort zone. I’d tell them to experiment with different perspectives and move around to see how light and shadows can shape a face or frame a shot. Understand that everything has to matter in the frame, so they’ll need to learn how to look beyond the person to the background, because a lot of times people get focused just on the person and lose what could be a phenomenal image. Photography is hard and that is grand!
Photoshop.com: What is the ONE lasting impression that you want to leave in your photos?
Nevada Wier: Ahhhhh!
Nevada's desaturation Lightroom preset