Industry News


A Hudson River Journey and Beyond

April 1, 2009

By Peter Skinner

Photographers who dream about producing a book of their work—and most photographers have such aspirations—can take heart at New York landscape specialist Hardie Truesdale’s experience. Even though he’s an established fine art photographer with an impressive portfolio of published work and represented by prestigious galleries, Truesdale had no illusions about the competitive market for large format photography books. Even with his credentials, getting a foot in the book-publishing door was proving difficult.

In fact, he had been trying to find a publisher for a book specific to the Shawangunk Mountains in New York State, where he has lived for a long time, but publishers shied away because the subject area was regional and too specific. However, as so often happens to hard working, talented people, Truesdale “got lucky.” In this case the luck came from his association with the book’s co-author, Joanne Michaels, an editor with whom Truesdale had worked in the past. “Joanne remembered my work from when she was editor of Hudson Valley Magazine and tracked me down to pitch the idea of a book on the whole Hudson Valley. When she approached me I realized I had a large body of images that encompassed the entire area and [the book proposal] would be easier to sell simply because it included a larger area,” he says. And a leading publisher, The Countryman Press, did like the idea and the result is an impressive book, Hudson River Journey: Images from Lake Tear of the Clouds to New York Harbor.

The collaboration between photographer and writer was ideal. Truesdale, whose photography has been published by National Geographic Books, the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society and the Nature Conservancy, has compiled a comprehensive collection of work of the Hudson Valley over 20 years. That collection became the foundation for the book’s visual content while images for gaps that had to be filled to accommodate Michaels’ text were shot over about six months. Michaels, who lives in Woodstock, NY, is one of the region’s most experienced travel writers and knew her subject intimately. She is the author of six books including The Best of the Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains: An Explorer’s Guide and is the host and producer of her own regionally syndicated cable television program.

Given their credentials it comes as no surprise that the pair’s words and images combine in a stunning photographic and informative journey that follows the north-to-south path of this historic river. Their literary and visual journey takes us through the Catskill Mountains and the surrounding valley region, through the vast preserves of the Shawangunks, and past the Palisades, all the way to New York Harbor with its iconic skyline and the Statue of Liberty. More than 90 color photographs lavishly display the seasonal changes and varied terrain of the Hudson River Valley, from the abrupt cliffs of the Shawangunk range, to the quiet tidal backwaters along the river, to the serene mystique of the fertile countryside. From covered bridges, to ice climbers and frozen waterways to bucolic vistas and magnificent autumn colors, there are wonderful images with universal appeal.

The hardcover book is published by The Countryman Press, a division of W.W. Norton & Company (ISBN: 0-88150-594-3), and retails for $29.95. Complementing Truesdale’s photography and Michaels’ text are an introduction by Hudson Riverkeeper Alex Matthiessen, and the foreword is by one of the region’s legendary advocates, Pete Seeger, who is upfront in stating that, “We are all lucky to live in one of the most remarkable regions in the world.”

Michaels’ love and knowledge of the area—and her travel writing expertise—is evident throughout. A particularly useful feature is the informative appendix, “Directions: If you want to go,” that provides details on not only the subject, but also how to get to each location. This transforms the publication from a beautiful coffee-table book into a true visual guide of this stunning region.

The grandeur of many of Truesdale’s images is reminiscent of other memorable photographs and he says that when he started out he was inspired by one of the truly great photographers of the genre; Ansel Adams. “Although I have been influenced by many photographers, my own particular mentor was Ansel Adams. His images were never merely ‘pretty,’ they captured the spirit of the place and were true art, not just moments captured on film—and they seemed to be simultaneously simple and complicated. I have learned patience, sensitivity to light and shadow, and craftsmanship from studying Adams’ work.

“Henri Cartier-Bresson inspired me by capturing incredible moments in time that told a story. His images evoked a feeling and moved me. I also get inspiration from the work of a contemporary Japanese photographer, Shinzo Maeda, whose images of nature give me a feeling of peace and quiet,” Truesdale says.

Truesdale began photographing seriously in 1969 when he was still in high school and later studied at the Banff School of Fine Arts in Canada and the International Center of Photography in New York. He learned the art of large format under the tutelage of Michael O’Neill, a well known New York commercial photographer. Currently he concentrates on stock and freelance photography for Sierra Club Calendars, Audubon Calendars, National Geographic Books, Brown Trout Calendars, I Love NY, The Nature Conservancy, Mohonk Preserve and many other clients.

As with many landscape specialists, Truesdale favors large and medium format equipment and shoots virtually all images with Fujichrome Velvia film. His basic equipment consists of a Wisner expedition field camera and a Schneider 90mm Super Angulon wide-angle (all his lenses are Schneider). His medium format gear is Hasselblad and he uses masks for 645 and panorama sizes a lot. Much of his work is done with a 40mm wide-angle lens. “Large and medium format cameras—always on a tripod—are time consuming and heavy to carry, but the clarity and their ability to capture texture and detail makes using them a must for my work. They also force me to work slowly and patiently so that I really see what I am photographing,” he says.

Living in Gardiner, NY, has enabled Truesdale to create many great images in his own Hudson River backyard. However, during his career he has traveled to and photographed many other areas, within the United States and overseas in places such as Italy and Mongolia. His vision is the same regardless of the locale. “I am most interested in capturing the natural environs in dramatic yet subtle circumstances, especially in mist, rain, sleet, snow or ice storms when the mood and quality of light is intensified,” he says.

Evaluating the potential of a scene—visualizing the image before capturing it on film—is a process that all successful photographers master; explaining it to others is not so simple. Truesdale says, “On the surface I can almost feel an image in my gut. I seem to look for a landscape that makes me feel settled or at peace. I go out in the elements a lot, especially in the mist because it seems to isolate and simplify everything and at times it seems to almost reveal the spirit of the area. Composing and photographing is a very personal experience and my best work is done in solitude with no distractions. I just like the quiet beauty of the mist, which is what I try to capture on film.”

Integral to many of Truesdale’s images is a strong foreground that invariably starts, or is a part of, a naturally forming “S” curve. “I prefer something in the foreground, not centered but on the left or the right side of the image, to anchor the viewer in the image and then the S curve to carry the viewer through. Since the East Coast woods are busy and confusing, the mist works beautifully to isolate and simplify key elements in the image,” he says.

“I prefer dramatic clouds or storm skies to create more interest. However, that doesn’t always happen, so on sunny, cloudless days I go out at first light or last light and generally shoot with my back to the sunset and look for a strong foreground, naturally forming S curves and nice warm early or late light. I generally use very little of the sky if it is plain and uninspiring,” he says. “On overcast days I look for environmental landscapes, such as a scene in the woods with no sky. Overcast light is great for abstracts and environmental shots since it evens out the light and you don’t get the harsh shadows. Although it is difficult to work in, rain is even better as the wetness brings out subtle colors in leaves, mosses and other details of nature,” he says.

Some years ago Truesdale “discovered” the powerful imagery created through digital printing and has embraced and mastered this technology for all of his own work—all done in house. Until then he had used Ilford’s Cibachrome process. “Shortly after my first encounter with these digital prints—at the West Light Gallery in Carmel, CA—I began reading books, taking courses and leasing equipment so I could retain the creative process in house from start to finish. Also, I go to some length to promote the longevity and archival stability of my prints. I use highly archival pigmented inks on an acid-free premium luster double-weight paper that is remarkably stable and highly resistant to fading. Tests done by Wilhelm Imaging Research (www.wilhelm-research.com) rate this media at 100–150 years before any noticeable fading occurs. Also, the process is environmentally friendly and this is important to me,” he says.

Creating fine art landscape photographs is soothing to the soul, but practitioners also have to be business and marketing savvy to survive and prosper. Truesdale comments, “What I have found is that local work from the area you live in sells the most if you are showing locally. Most of my shows in the Hudson Valley have worked primarily from that area because that is what sells. I sell more out-of-area work through my website and to calendar companies and magazines. Also, I am finding more and more editors want to see initial submissions via email and not original slides. If they like what they see they will ask for either appropriate-sized scans or the original slide.”

Should you go digital for landscape image capture? Many say yes, but at this juncture Truesdale is not one of them. “Digital is close but not there for me yet. Electronics also fail readily in snow, sleet, rain and cold weather. It is also very technical for me and I find myself scrolling through menus looking for the settings I want while the special light or moment disappears. Also, at this time, calendar companies like Sierra Club and Audubon will not accept digital images,” he says.

If you are keen to explore landscape shooting, here are some other Hardie Truesdale tips: Always shoot with a tripod. Submit only the sharpest strongest images. Keep submissions tightly edited and remember fewer are better—20 good images are better than 100 mediocre ones. Identify species by Latin name and location. “One editor told me they won’t even look at a submission with hand-scribbled captions on the slide mounts,” he says. Be organized—editors want everything yesterday. Create a large body of strong work before approaching companies. “I started going to bookstores and getting names of calendar companies off of the backs of the calendars and writing for submission guidelines,” he says. And most important: Don’t give up. “It took me 10 years to gain a foothold,” says Truesdale.

To see more of Hardie Truesdale’s work visit www.hardietruesdale.com.

Freelance writer/photographer and author Peter Skinner, who relocated to his native Australia in 2003 after living for 23 years in the U.S., has more than 25 years experience in the photo industry in public relations, media liaison, corporate communications and workshop production and coordination. His magazine articles and photography have been published internationally and he has co-authored or edited numerous publications and books including the 5th and 6th editions of the authoritative ASMP Professional Business Practices in Photography (Allworth Press). He can be reached at prsskinner@bigpond.com.