Connecting with nature through photography
Alex Miller is a Los Angeles-based portrait photographer who was born and raised in Berlin, Germany. With over three years of professional photography under her belt, many within the social media community may recognize Miller as “Liquidverve.” Unlike most photographers, Miller uses natural light in her work 99% of the time. We caught up with her recently to find out how nature impacts her art and why we should preserve these wild places.
Q: What inspires you about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service?
A: I really respect and appreciate this agency’s conservation efforts. I also value the education that’s provided to us as “normal” people because I’m continuously trying to develop better awareness and understanding of the ecosystem around us, how to better interact with these natural places and how to make better choices on a day-to-day basis. I’m always trying to educate myself on the resources available to us and even what’s not available to us. I think people have a lot of misconceptions about what we can and can’t do when it comes to making a contribution, so awareness is definitely the first step.
Q: How do you incorporate nature into your work?
A: I love shooting outside in nature — I much prefer it over shooting in a studio or any other setting. My favorite part about using natural sunlight is that it’s got a quality that artificial light can’t quite meet. I absolutely love how light interacts with the environment; the sun in the sky is not just lighting the subject as a flash would, but instead, the entire landscape is sort of bathed in that light.
I mainly work with three different types of light when I’m out shooting in natural spaces: backlight, direct and diffused light. My favorite light to use is backlight in combination with bounced light. Essentially, that means shooting towards the sun, which typically forms a really beautiful halo light around the subject and each element in the environment. This usually looks really beautiful in any sort of natural area, especially when it’s falling through foliage or across the ocean because we get these golden edges on all the trees, bushes, flowers and waves, you know, whatever is out there in the field.
The most important thing when working with natural light is positioning. Since we can’t move the sun, of course, we have to work with it. The two hours closest to sunrise and sunset will always show the most beautiful light because the closer the sun is to the horizon, the more ideal its position in relation to the subject. The quality of the light changes closer to sunrise or sunset, which is when we get that “golden light,” so that’s a time I usually aim to shoot at.
Q: Where did you go to school?
A: I moved to California when I was 16 and graduated from Columbia College Hollywood with a bachelor’s of fine arts. Originally, I went to school for film and decided to take a hard detour out of film and into portraits. I was able to transfer a lot of the knowledge I gained from my small art school of film to photography, so I have classical training in lighting, composition, and color theory. I’ve been a professional photographer for three years now and have been shooting portraits for four years. I do both classic and stylized modern work, as well as photography coaching.
Q: How would you describe your photography style?
A: I would generally consider most of my photography to have a very whimsical, dreamy, feminine, and alternative style. I have a lot of work that’s a little more stylized or pulls in the direction of fantasy and science fiction, but I’m also very inspired by timeless and vintage photography because I believe if it’s been preserved all the way up until now there was a reason for that. So overall, I try to cover a full spectrum of styles depending on what I’m in the mood for. I’m also very inspired by cinema because of my film background, so I always try to bring a narrative aspect to my photography by making the project or portrait extend beyond the frame — like it lives outside the edges and has a life of its own. Often, I create photosets that are meant to be a sequence to create a more dimensional mood or aesthetic, or a storyline that has a beginning, middle and end.
Q: Do you notice photography growing more recreationally and what advice do you have for those looking to get involved in this field?
A: I definitely think recreational and professional photography is becoming more mainstream because we share so much photography on social media these days, and I feel people are trying to improve the quality of what they’re sharing.
As far as advice goes, I’d recommend trying to discover your learning style first before actually learning photography. I’ve seen so many people spend a whole decade using the mechanisms of study that aren’t a good fit for them or how their brains work. That can take up a lot of time and energy, so I’d always recommend trying different avenues and see what works best for each individual.
Q: Why is conserving wild places important to you?
A: I have a very emotional connection to the sea and beaches, and I love shooting at parks, as well. I’ve experienced these areas at their worst, where people don’t take good care of them. It’s really impacted me to do my part and support any larger-scale efforts to conserve these natural places. I’ve been doing beach cleanups since I was young, and I free dive and scuba dive as a hobby, so I feel deeply connected to the ocean and truly care about preserving and undoing the damage in those places.
Author: Rebecca Fabbri, public affairs specialist, U.S Fish an Wildlife Service - California-Great Basin Region