People’s choice award. Sedona’s red rocks by Sarah Dolliver.
When we last spoke with Sarah Dolliver, she was the grand prize winner in our spring 2014 photo contest. Now, as the people’s choice winner in our fall 2015 contest, she shares an update about her life and work.
Dolliver says 2015 got off to a challenging start with a house remodeling project that had her living full-time in the master bedroom with her husband and three cats. She also served as the onsite general contractor for the project, so “I felt like I couldn’t leave,” she says. But once the house was finished, she made up for lost camera time with several trips and workshops.
Spring found her in the Texas Hill Country during blue bonnet season visiting a friend who drove her around and shared scenic places to shoot photographs. Later in the year she went to a workshop in White Sands, NM, and finally, Dolliver was able to do one of the trips on her bucket list, a solo drive to Yosemite. “I spent five days entirely alone in a state I didn’t know, and then had three solid days of shooting with the workshop in Yosemite,” she says. “I drove 1,600 miles alone, something I’ve never, ever done before.”
While workshops are exhausting, Dolliver enjoys the rigor. “You can be up two hours before sunrise to drive to the location, then you have to unload, set up, and shoot. You go back, download, eat, sometimes do critiques or a workshop session, and then go back to the field. You may stay out until 8:30. There’s lots of adrenaline and it takes a while to come down,” she says. “You can imagine how dog-tired you are at the end, but when you see the images, you’re ready to go back.”
Dolliver cites three main reasons she’s made workshops a part of her learning process.
- She doesn’t like research, so she appreciates being able to go to a location with a guide. She can then go back later and explore on her own.
- She enjoys learning from instructors whose work she respects.
- She’s able to build connections with others who like the same things she does, and new friendships develop.
Besides workshops, Dolliver learns from reading books. “Light and composition are the two keys to good photos,” she says. The light before sunrise and after sunset is the most challenging for a landscape photographer, but it also makes for the most dramatic photos.
Being stuck at home for four months with the house project gave Dolliver time to work on her developing skills with Lightroom. “More than fifty percent of the work happens at the computer,” she says, and because she wasn’t shooting new images, she was able to go back and redevelop some of her old ones. “Determined” is a collection of plants growing in odd and difficult places. “I find them inspiring. If that plant can make it there, then I can make it through my troubles.” She’s also been working on a collection of dead tree photos, which allows her hiking club to tease her about her “dead tree of the week” pictures.
In 2016, Dolliver has plans for four trips – she’ll spend time in March in the Valley learning to shoot wildflowers with her digital SLR, then in April she’ll attend a photo symposium in Moab. July will find her in the heart of the Rockies in Ouray, Colo. at a workshop, and then in late summer she’ll head back East to visit family, camera in tow. But mostly, you’ll find her out in nature. “It’s inspirational to be out in the ruggedness and beauty of the land, and to be able to share that is important.”
In that spirit of sharing, here’s a collection of Dolliver’s 2015 work.
“Bee on Viburnum” I captured this one in my own front yard. The viburnum is so fragrant when it blooms, and the bees love it. It was a bustle of activity. They didn’t even pay any attention to me near them.
The flowing lines of these graceful Canada geese caught my eye as these two came together for a moment. Usually it is not a good thing to merge subjects, but here it works because of the repeating lines and the separation by their natural coloring. My eye keeps on floating around their curved backs and supple necks.
I love patterns! And I think this shows it. Here is a lupine without blossoms. Its starburst leaves create the interest, as the subject and the background.
Near Marble Falls, Texas, they call this the “Bluebonnet House” for the sea of bluebonnets that cover the lawn in front of it – not to mention the few paintbrush in this photo too. I was captivated by the rustic structure and the old farm equipment left to rust in the yard. Taken at dusk, it shows the twilight’s bluish hues, which only embellish the bluebonnets further.
I was excited to see Texas Hill Country for the first time this past spring. My hosts drove me all over. Near a subdivision, we came across these deer who were so tame and just a wee bit curious about what we were doing. I took this one handheld with my 300mm telephoto lens. Lucky shot!
About twenty miles from Austin is Hamilton Pool, a sunken grotto with a big waterfall. It was a difficult place to shoot, as the dark shadows and bright sky send the camera sensor askew. So I opted for some “intimate landscape” work, of which this is an example. I can still hear the splashing of the water!
At a small pullout off General’s Highway in Sequoia National Park, I found the amazing Moment, were the clouds opened up and glory was raining down.
Below El Capitan flows the Merced River, the lifeblood of all flora in Yosemite Valley.
It’s often hard to take your eyes off the main attractions at Yosemite, and I’m glad I did here. We were at a large, nearly still part of the river below Half Dome. Its reflection was stunning. Yet over to the side were these bare trees, lit by the late day sun. And what a marvelous image they make!
No, it’s NOT snow. It’s the gypsum sands that sparkle in the sun at White Sands, NM. These are worn footprints left by visitors in the previous days and now blurred by the wind. Light and shadow show you the sculpting done by the wind. And it’s another pattern.
Daybreak! A magical time it is. Here, the sun rises over the mountain in the distance, its beams pointing to the soap yuccas. The deep tones of the sky and the blue cast on the white sand make the magic come through.
Another sunrise image I call the “Confluence of Day and Night.” The golden rays of the rising sun set the white sand on fire and the full super moon sets in the distance. I feel honored to capture moments like this that viewers can revisit for a lifetime.