As I’ve explored this place, I’ve realized that I’m not as interested in the abandoned mining equipment and machinery, as fascinating as some of those things are. I’m drawn more to the places where people once ate and slept and drank and socialized, and left behind the artifacts of their lives – furniture, cooking utensils, books, magazines, pictures, cans, bottles, a baby carriage, a bird cage, sewing machines, coats, pants, hats, shoes…
To me, there’s something poignant about those things. They’re the only tangible evidence left of people who lived full, rich lives, but have been long forgotten. In Bodie you can sense their presence, and begin to imagine what their lives might have been like.
Photographing those interiors is challenging. Clutter and chaos abound, so a big part of the challenge is trying to simplify your compositions. But just like landscapes, or any other photograph, it helps to have a clear focal point, and to look for repeating patterns — as I tried to do in the following two images.
And of course lighting is vital. Soft window light is wonderful, when you can find it. This is the light that painters have been using for portraits and interior views for centuries, and for good reason. It has direction, which brings out form and texture, but avoids the harshness of sunlight and shade:
But sunlight can work too. In the morning the sun streams in through the many unshaded, east-facing windows in Bodie, throwing random spotlights into the rooms. These scenes can have extreme contrast, so bracketing and blending exposures is often required. But the main ingredient is that the sun has to hit something interesting, something you can build a composition around. If your main subject is lit by the sun, surrounded by darker areas, then the viewer’s eye will be drawn to that subject. If your main subject or focal point is in the shade, with sunlit areas next to it or behind it, that’s a problem, because you’ve created a visual tug of war between what you want people to look at – your subject – and what their eye is naturally drawn to – the brightest parts of the photograph. In these images I tried to use sunlight to draw the viewer’s eye to key parts of the scene:
But aside from these technical and esthetic considerations, photographing Bodie is another confirmation, for me, that it’s much easier to photograph subjects you care about. If you feel a connection with the place you’re photographing, if you’re inspired or even moved by the subject, that somehow comes through in the photographs. And finding those connections is ultimately far more important than f-stops and shutter speeds. I’m glad I found a connection with Bodie, even though it’s not my typical subject matter.
— Michael Frye
Michael Frye is a professional photographer specializing in landscapes and nature. He is the author or principal photographer of The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite, Yosemite Meditations, Yosemite Meditations for Women, Yosemite Meditations for Adventurers, and Digital Landscape Photography: In the Footsteps of Ansel Adams and the Great Masters. He has also written three eBooks: Light & Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom, Exposure for Outdoor Photography, and Landscapes in Lightroom: The Essential Step-by-Step Guide. Michael has written numerous magazine articles on the art and technique of photography, and his images have been published in over thirty countries around the world. Michael has lived either in or near Yosemite National Park since 1983, currently residing just outside the park in Mariposa, California.