Fine Art Inspiration
Jackie Ranken’s photography delivers magical, whimsical and innovative images that delight the viewer.
With fond memories of her Dad’s family-themed Christmas cards, Canon EOS Master Jackie Ranken was bitten by the photo bug at a very early age. “Those photographs still exist, they are really quite funny,” says Ranken. Indeed Ranken admits that these annual Christmas cards were her “first introduction to creating a series of work”, something she was to do herself many times in later years. The cards also stressed to Ranken how “important it is to print your images, so they exist.”
Since earning her stripes in her father’s home dark room, Ranken has been printing her images ever since. Her first camera was what she laughingly refers to as the “equivalent of a point and shoot” and as an eager young photographer she spent years documenting “her friends at school and photographing family holidays”. Then when she was 16, her Dad bought her a 35mm SLR.
“Straight away I was learning how to use aperture and shutter speeds to not only get correct exposure but to help me communicate how I felt about a subject.”
Three weeks later Ranken had her first weekend job taking snapshots at the local Greyhound track. “After three weekend’s training I had to get it right on my own. Correct focus, exposure, panning and correct framing of the shot were what was required.
“There was 22 races each Saturday afternoon so I had 22 chances to get the dog on or near the finish post and then sell the image to the owner. Back then, in 1977, a framed print with race details cost $22 and I received $3 commission. It was a great first job.”
Today Ranken’s images sell for considerably more than $3 and the photographer finds her inspiration in places other than the racetrack. Her work as a landscape and fine art photographer is world-renowned.
When asked what inspires her photograhy, Ranken quotes painter Margaret Ollie: “the love of doing”.
She explains: “I am at my most settled when I have a camera in my hands and have the space, the time and the light to make photographs and print them.
“When I am working on a series it’s important that the series work together. It’s important to edit out the images that don’t fit in. As a whole, the printed images should be stronger when seen together on a gallery wall, or seen in a fine art book.”
Ranken is also known for her aerial work. From 2001-2003 she embarked on a series of aerial photographs taken around her hometown of Goulburn, NSW.
“It was called ‘Aerial Abstracts’. The images I made displayed my natural response to abstract shapes, lines, textures, and shadows as seen from the top of a loop looking down on the ground from 1000 feet. My father, Dick Nell, was my pilot and his antique biplane was my flying tripod. We made the photographs while flying a loop because the bottom wing was getting in the way of my lens (and it was a lot of fun).”
More recent work shows Ranken’s continued love for “the abstract and the surreal”.
“I push most of my landscapes into monochrome plus texture layers. So the advent of the digital darkroom suits me. At present I am really enjoying the multiple exposure features in my Canon 5D MKIII.
“My current fine art landscape work is broken into classic themes. Rocks, grass, trees, water, clouds and objects in the landscape. “
Ranken once said that ‘creativity is more about ideas than techniques’, a statement she credits to her husband and fellow Canon EOS Master, Mike Langford. “We now both say ‘ideas rule’. Meaning that you can have the best equipment you like but if you don’t know how to use it then it’s not going to help you make consistently good images that communicate.”
These days Ranken says she photographs work “for herself” rather than considering any commercial undertakings and says she really “enjoys the abstract”.
“I love finding subtle shapes and images within the layers of my work. I will often subtly incorporate one of my family member’s eyes into my images, no-one else may find it, but I know it’s there.”
She describes her process as “organic”. Saying she will walk into a scene and “respond to what is in front of me”.
“Once I have worked through that initial response I then turn on my ‘ideas’ brain and work on a particular concept. ‘Kitchen Stories’ is conceptually based.
“The kitchen implement ‘is’ the subject of the photograph. It is the sharpest, most obvious shape within the frame. It is flying through the sky without the aid of Photoshop. All shot in camera. And it represents my need to feel free and fly.”
She adds: “When I am getting prepared for a photography trip I will often sneak into the car a few kitchen implements or objects that I have found and like the look of. My plan is to photograph them in a totally out of context way, to have them take on an identity and take an active part in the landscape. When I come across a landscape that suits I just start shooting and shoot until I make a composition where the subject is clear of any distractions and is nicely lit. Experimentation and a degree of luck is involved in getting the perfect shot.”
Ranken believes that the more time spent taking photographs the more likelihood of a serendipitous moment being caught on film.
“There is a difference between making images and finding images. When I am ‘making’ an image it’s not always the right place and the right time because I am the one who’s in control. When I am ‘finding’ images, that’s more about being in the right place at the right time. Sometimes I have gone out to make an image but along the way end up finding one.”
While Ranken started her career in film, she’s embraced the digital revolution and insists that she enjoys editing her images on computer as much as she did when developing film.
“Back then I used to spend days printing in the darkroom. This included processing the film, making contact sheets, proofing, printing, toning, and spotting prints. If I want to I can still shoot film, I still have my film cameras and can still process the film. I don’t have a darkroom but I could scan the film and print it digitally.
Today Ranken and her partner Mike run the Queenstown Centre for Creative Photography – sharing their passion for photography with beginners and enthusiasts.
“We like to encourage individuality as well as good camera craft. Our clients become our friends and leave the workshops feeling inspired and energised, to be more open and expressive in their photography.
“We aim to help our students improve their personal vision and discover new ways of seeing and making photographs. We believe that the most rewarding images come from the heart…”
INSIDE JACKIE’S BAG
- Canon EOS 5D MKIII
- EF16-35mm f/2.8LII USM
- EF 40mm F/2.8 STM
- EF 17-40mm f/4 USM
- EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM
- EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM
- EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro USM
- EF 50mm f/1.2 USM
- Speedlite 580EXII
- ExpoDisc (for custom White Balance)
- ND Grads P120, P121
- ND 8, ND 400
- Cokin P007 infrared filter
- Circular Polarisers for all lenses
- Home made bokeH filters
- Canon remote switch
- Hot shoe bubble
- Lens cloth
- Gaffer tape
- Spare battery
- Petzl head light
JACKIE’S LANDSCAPE TOP 5 TIPS
1. Avoid merges, where two or more shapes come together and create visual confusion.
2. Create shapes and graphics that you can use to make interesting compositions.
3. Less is more: less confusing shapes, less bright distracting areas.
4. Keep it simple. Make your subject strong, simple, sharp and well-exposed. Be aware of any distracting elements, and try to take it out, especially when it’s on the edge of frame.
5. Experiment, then choose the best shot later when reviewing on a computer.