People who go on hikes with Doug Paulson don’t just move their feet. After few minutes with the nature photographer, they learn that details matter. And to see detail, you have to look not just around, but up and down, with a willingness for and expectation of encountering the unusual.
“My focus of detail runs deep,” the Salem, OR, artist says. “I even work and play with a focus on detail.”
On hikes, he frequently points out things that are “old hat” to him, but never noticed before by his companions.
“My hikes are a learning experience to fellow hikers whether they like it or not.
“And I do have an overwhelming sense of humor (whether you like it or not). I call it the family curse. My dad’s side is full of undiscovered comedians.”
Paulson has been playing around with a camera since he was twelve, and after years of working with images on film, he is especially appreciative of digital technology. Carrying his camera with him wherever he goes, he likes the freedom of taking numerous shots from varying angles, without having to wait days to see if they turn out.
“I work in God’s world, and capture bits and pieces of his handiwork,” Paulson says.
“My material is everywhere — I can find a picture that is unique just about anywhere. Thank God for digital and no cost to take pictures other than a new SanDisk card.”
Paulson is rarely still, his mind and eye as active as his feet. Prior to retirement five years ago, he worked 33 years in a factory making Andersen windows and doors. He also coached wrestling — in both volunteer and paid positions — and extols the benefits of the sport for the determination and perseverance it demands, as well as . . . attention to detail.
“Wrestling is definitely in my blood — I am a former wrestler in Osceola, Wisconsin, wrestled varsity as a freshman on, and was a co-captain of the school’s best record team my senior year — still the record today.
“I recognize the life benefits wrestling gives to the participants. I’ve been there hands on with plenty of kids who have had great success — in wrestling, and in life.”
Wrestling with the Details
This year, in “retirement,” Paulson is head wrestling coach at Judson Middle School in Salem. It keeps him in top form both physically and mentally, so that when he heads out to the woods with the camera, he’s good to trek for hours, or, when need be, stand patiently for what seems like hours until the light is right, the atmospheric conditions perfect, and the necessary moveable details to the picture naturally fallen into place. Rather than let photo manipulation finish the picture, Paulson prefers to cooperate with nature.
“I will stand at a wonderful coastal sunset and wait for a seagull to fly through, to add the bird to the picture.”
Paulson says he learned early on that it’s the details in the photo that establish the mood, rather than his trying to fit a large panorama into a set space. In focusing on the details, he also pays attention to the background, because it sets the stage.
“Background adds or highlights the color in the subject, and it can wash out the subject, too.
“I do a lot of foreground inclusion, too, and also like to shoot through trees to get a silhouette. The ability to isolate or focus on details — this is what makes my pictures unique.”
Details, Not Defects
Some of those details, Paulson adds, other people would describe as “defects,” but he doesn’t consider them that way. With a little time and patience, a changing of perspective, one sees the same scene in a different manner.
“I will circle a subject until I get the best contrast of color and light, thus enhancing the subject.
“Shapes and features in wood, stumps, leaves — these all attract my attention. Sometimes I will let my shadow cast over the subject, as light will wash out the colors.”
It’s a matter of, well, wrestling with the subject matter, not so much to dominate it as to pin it down to its essential, and most interesting, elements. And it’s also a matter of stopping, looking, observing, not being in a hurry — of allowing the wonder of what is there to slowly reveal itself. You have to be willing to admit that you don’t know everything, and then willing to learn.
“I am a gotta know why guy.
“I see pictures everywhere, so I take them.”
Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.