By Martha Blanchfield
When it comes to her recent trip to Iceland, photographer Bambi Cantrell says, “Not having a strict agenda was a boon—we could stop to shoot any time. We traveled together in this bus, stopping along the way whenever we wanted. As time wore on, we gained familiarity and it was as if we were together as a family.”
ALL PHOTOs COPYRIGHT © Bambi Cantrell
On the first shoot day, Cantrell marveled at all the spots they had visited. She snapped photos of everything from geothermal energy plants to geysers, finding it easy to explore the venues. But still not fully charged, she found it difficult to shoot at her best. Maybe a touch of intimidation lingered? Day two came and went, seeming a near repeat of the prior day’s mood. Yet she continued on, capturing images of waterfalls, beautiful rolling hills and ample wildlife, alternating shoot activities with ample social camaraderie. Cantrell shares, “I could not figure out why, with all the natural beauty, I was still not at my best. For an artist that’s not good.” Fortunately, day three was different. On the third morning, the group shuttled 50 miles off to an enormous volcano lava field. The landscape comprised of vast stretches of jagged black and charcoalcolored hardened lava, peppered here and there with rising thermal steam streams and pools of reflective water. “The landscape was powerful. Taking in the remoteness initially made me think this too might be yet another challenging day. I could not
understand why I wasn’t connecting; what was holding me back.” The group headed to the trailhead where two routes were introduced: one path easy, one more difficult. Cantrell took the more challenging, hoping to engage at least physique as she coursed the walk over uneven surfaces toting a single camera and one lens. After 20 minutes she paused, finding herself completely alone, surrounded by stillness and utter quiet. “I felt odd being alone and I’ve never heard such deafening quiet in my life. There were no trees, not even the sound of birds. The landscape stretched for miles showing not a soul. I had this overwhelming feeling of being unconnected. It was unsettling and the combination of quiet and no movement did nothing to calm my fears.” A few moments passed in introspection. Suddenly she had the strong urge to move beyond what was holding her back. “Get up and do something!” was the prevailing thought in her mind. Says Cantrell, “It was as if in that moment I recognized the cause of my anxieties and the heaviness it brought. I couldn’t let intimidation or fear stand in the way any longer.”
With beautiful white puffy clouds overhead and hardly anything beyond four inches tall, Cantrell was newly inspired. She surveyed her environment and commenced a simple study of light and dark, at first paying attention to her own shadow. Looking beyond its outline she took notice of small details in the ground, absorbing the subtleties of her surroundings. Cantrell spied clusters of tiny green plants contrasted against the stark volcanic rock. “Then I noticed the even smaller purple flowers on the stems–just a whisper of a flower; it was so poetic. In this vast bareness a small and beautiful thing survived. Had I continued with that dour attitude I wouldn’t have observed it.” Her mind reframed. A quiet and lonely time yielded opportunity to seek interest in areas where she had perceived none existed. The phrase “life changing” has been planted into her dialogue since. Continues Cantrell, “Against that stark volcanic ground contrasted this beautiful flower. It was a moment to understand what I had been going through. I needed to look deeper, to see the challenge but find the courage, not fear, to see what was
possible. The smallest of flowers allowed me to gain a complete change of thought— my willingness to explore offered a tremendous breakthrough. I had confronted my fears and was moving beyond.” Cantrell believes her new awareness came about because she forced herself to move beyond her level of comfort. Says Cantrell, “I was trying too hard to make a great photo. I was intimidated by others whose livelihoods and callings are capturing nature photography. I was having trouble connecting with my talent because the majority of what we were shooting was not intimate and as people-oriented as what I normally shoot. What bubbled
to the surface was that we all see and are influenced by things differently. Each photographer essentially had equivalent technical mastery; I needed to find my comfort zone.” From that point on Cantrell was charged, “No longer was I comparing my work to others, I was comparing my work to my personal standards. Once I did this I found freedom to experiment first, be critical later.” She hopped back on the bus with new energy, understanding and inspiration. On the return, the bus chanced upon a herd of 40 ponies alongside the road led by about eight young boys. As a child Cantrell had loved to ride horses and was immedi-
ately drawn to photograph them. “Their manes were like thick mops,” she says. “We left the bus and it was amazing how friendly the ponies were—nearly as friendly as people having their photo taken. They were spirited and personable. Right away I found that psychic connection I craved.” Cantrell nabbed several images before the boys corralled the ponies and continued up the mountain. Using a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III camera body and 70–200mm lens, she dissected moments and photographed from a distance. “I wanted to concentrate on the heads of these beautiful ponies, capturing their fabulous full heads of hair. Walking back to the bus I noticed
of the frame only. I was crushed! However, after returning to the hotel and reviewing my images I had to laugh. The images from the plane took on a particularly ethereal look and became some of my favorite ones. I guess I learned that sometimes what we think is perfect, and what perfect turns out to be, depends upon your point of view. To see things clearly, sometimes you have to see them through the lens of an obscured, faulty lens.” Continues Cantrell, “The most important thing learned on the Iceland trip was that I had to be vulnerable. I had to be able to say it’s okay, tackle the fear, make it an adventure, try something new and explore. I was reminded that no matter the emotional challenge—raw skill and knowledge build a solid image. An f-stop is an f-stop; shutter speed is shutter speed; composition is composition. There are no substitutes. It’s so important to learn the basics and keep these at play no matter the subject or situation. Beautiful images come forth with effort, seldom luck. Once I got over the fear, my years of experience could come forth.” Thousands of miles from the volcano fields, she pulls what she learned during that soulful and therapeutic time into her daily life. Cantrell shares, “Emotionally the trip made me appreciate the value 25 years experience brings. When confronted with an entirely foreign subject and environment I had to go back to the basics; to tap core skills that helped me build a perfect image inside the camera. It took a little bit of time to find that personal reservoir and to trust it, but it came through for me.” Her Iceland adventure helped her learn an important lesson for her work: “Humility over ability. When you put undue or unnecessary pressure on yourself, you cannot do your best work.” Martha Blanchfield is creator of the Renegade Photo Shoots (www.renegade-pr.com) and a freelance marketing and public relations consultant.
the ponies running along the ridge. My last two frames were then captured—clearly my favorites of the day.” Cantrell’s breakthrough yielded a wonderful gallery of fine art photography, some of which hangs in Rangefinder magazine’s and Microsoft’s offices. She shares another anecdote about her trip and learning to
“let go.” “On day two I was so captivated by the environment that in my hurry to photograph a particular scene I dropped my 24mm lens on the hard rocks by a waterfall. On first inspection it seemed to be fine—until later when we were in a small airplane en route to the glaciers. The camera seemed to grab focus in the center
Bambi’s Camera Bag Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III body EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM EF 24–70mm f/2.8L USM EF 70–200mm f/2.8L IS USM Lenovo W700 laptop
Published on Sep 17, 2009
“Not having a strict agenda was a boon—we could stop to shoot any time. We When it comes to her recent trip to Iceland, photographer Bambi C...