Start with a landscape, and then throw in a shock of color—something bright and contrasty to arrest the eye. It’s an easy way to get attention, but pull the same technique too many times and it can become a gimmick. If you’re a photographer with the skill of Melissa D. Jones, however, you use it to display the world in a unique and different way.
Many of the photos on Jones’s Instagram account, @rouxroamer, feature herself in various bright red (“roux,” in French) articles of clothing—a gown, hat, jacket, heels, umbrella—but they never come across as contrived or cheated. Her appearance in each shot deliberately works with the rest of the scene.
Part of that is due to solid fundamentals. Take out the red element and you still have gorgeously composed, well-lit scenes you want to visit and explore. Jones has an eye for atmospheric light, rich shadows, and strong colors that aren’t overprocessed.
Add Jones to the frame, though, and you have a traveling companion. In each shot, she’s either drawing your attention to the architecture of the scene, often by placing herself along intersecting perspective lines, or she’s looking in the direction she wants your eyes to follow within the frame. In most cases, she exists within the scene, usually small in scale compared to her surroundings. For example, in the shot below, taken at Alberta’s Moraine Lake, Jones draws you into the beauty and the magnificence of the place, while refusing to overpower the scene with her presence; it is a nearly perfect representation of a beautiful moment in time.
In only a few photos can you see Jones’s face. She’s not a tourist smiling at the camera, planting a geotagged flag to show that she’s conquered another destination with her presence. She and her red accent are integral parts of the composition, but you can see that, as a subject, she’s taking in the scene around her, too.
Some photographers, especially ones on Instagram whose feeds are dominated by self-portraits, make you wonder just who is the one actually taking those photos. For Jones, it’s almost always all her (she’s very clear when a shot is taken by another photographer). In a blog post on her site, she explains:
“I like to set up all my own shots with my tripod. I don’t like giving that creative license to someone else that might cut off my feet or put me on the left when I really wanted to be on the right. Most photographer friends of mine will take great photos but they might also have a vision of their own that’s different than mine.”
To capture each photo, she uses the Canon Camera Connect app on her mobile phone to communicate with her camera wirelessly, preview the composition, adjust settings, and trigger the shutter. “I don’t have to run back to the camera to redo the exposure or shutter speed,” she writes. “I just use a 2 or 10 second delay so that I can hide my phone.”
Her work is also evolving. In some earlier shots with the red dress, she’s raising it in full Sound-of-Music-mountaintop vigor, but in more recent appearances she lets the fabric hang naturally, or she sculpts it into interesting shapes that aren’t anchored to her hands.
In one recent shot from a trip to Hawaii, the dress is all weight, draped over the exposed root system of a massive tree where she’s resting…or she’s fallen. The shadows—abetted by the low resolution of Instagram photos—make the hem of the dress appear in tatters until you look closer.
The red element is there not to shock you into attentiveness, but to draw you into a story, and like so many of the stories that Jones tells, it is delicate, witty and entrancing.
To learn more about Melissa D. Jones, I encourage you to visit:
- @rouxroamer on Instagram
- The Roux Roamer Blog (which has some excellent posts on her photographic process and vision)
- Women with Wanderlust: A Guide to Roaming, by Melissa D. Jones (Amazon)