March was a tough month - and it is behind me now. Off for a week of shooting - hope to see something like this while I'm gone. It's always good to have a plan for these things. I have a simple one - relax and enjoy the experience. My dream - come home with one photograph I fall in love with. I'll keep you posted. :)
Well, I certainly did not intend to be 'missing' as long as I have. Two things to say about that - one, life has a way of throwing you things you did not expect, and two, be sure to backup your important files. My backup system, such that is, saved me, though I need to find a more elegant solution. Anyone have a solution that works well for you? And doesn't make your head spin trying to keep up with it? ;)
. . . is part of the process, no? I have just been through a second portfolio process, this one a bit more rigorous than last year. If you have never attempted a project such as this - putting together a body of work, 10 to 15 images that work together - I highly recommend it. Going through candidate images, figuring out which ones work (and why), which ones don't (and why) is incredibly illuminating. It also felt almost impossibly difficult at times. Having 'finished,' I learned something I was not expecting - it has changed how I shoot. Understanding more critically why other, earlier shots did not succeed as well as I hoped has helped me improve what I do in the field. It makes sense that this would happen, I simply had not thought about it before putting together this portfolio.
This particular portfolio is for a local gallery here, a jury process to be accepted as an Associate Artist. I believe I've put together a strong submission - and even if I'm not accepted, I already have my reward. ;)
Several months ago, I wrote about an exhibit - Faking It: Life Before Photoshop - that prompted a heated (and fruitless) discussion with a friend and some useful soul-searching on my part. I was reminded of it again for two reasons - one, the exhibit is now here in the District of Columbia and two, the recent controversy surrounding some prize-winning photographs. I said then that the question of whether or not our photographs are 'manipulated' is a bogus question, confusing more than it illuminates. Even the word we use is loaded with a negative value judgment - manipulated, not processed. Unfortunately, the Met exhibit does not help this discussion - the premise of the exhibit is that manipulation should be acceptable because it has been practiced for over 100 years. I will see the exhibit because I am interested - I don't expect any help in answering the question when it's addressed to me.
I do have a few more thoughts on the question now. As photographers, I think we have to understand (and accept) why it is that people raise this question. As a medium, photography has a relationship to reality that other artistic mediums do not have. Also, most people's exposure to photography has been in the form of documentary images (yes, that could include celebrity magazines as well as news organizations). To be fair, it's not difficult to see why people would assume, even if incorrectly, that photography always represents something real, something that exists in the real world. They could reasonably expect to go to the same spot and see what is in your photograph. We know this isn't true but you can see how someone might think so.
The best. and clearest, analogy for me is to writers. No one would ever ask a novelist if they 'manipulated' words - they are expected to do precisely that. We know to expect that of a novelist - in fact, novelists will be asked what part of their story is based on actual events. And we don't have to go back far to see what happens to the journalist who makes up some or all of a story. The bottom line is that people make assumptions, not always accurate, and more than anything, they do not liked to be fooled. If we're clear about what we are doing, they may still not like it but we can't be accused of deceiving our audience.
Would you have seen the photograph above if you'd been standing on the beach next to me? Perhaps not but I hope you might say, oh I know that feeling.
I will add if you shoot black and white, you very rarely get the question - did you manipulate that? :)
My schedule every day does not vary much - work in the very early morning, then working on my photography. It is my passion, my friends might tend toward referring to it as my obsession. And here is a curious thing I just discovered - I have not been out shooting for two weeks. Actually, discovering this shocked me. If you had asked me, I would have said I've been putting in a great deal of time on the photography. Now that I stop and think about it, that is true - our work does not always look like what we, and others, think it does. The study, the reading, the looking at images, all of these things are also part of the process; they have become a larger part of my process.
I broke my unintended 'hiatus' this past Friday with what was, for me, a very successful outing. This image is just one of several that I'm very happy with. Every now and again, all that study pays off. :)
It is interesting - I would not say that I am a patient person, not in all things at any rate. I can be positively illogical in the ways I am not patient. I will refuse to change lenses - because it's too much trouble. I will pass on setting up the tripod - because I can't be bothered to do it. But when I'm shooting long exposures like this one, I can stay in one spot for hours - setting up the composition, checking the focus and exposure, inserting the filter, then waiting through a 30 second to two minute exposure. I watch the light and the movement of the clouds and water. I make a second exposure, then a third because the clouds and sea change. I remove the filter to try a slightly different composition - again I focus, check the exposure, insert the filter and wait through another exposure. And interestingly, I don't mind the process. In fact, it is one of the things about shooting long exposures that I enjoy most - the process slows me down.
Several years ago, we had record snow. And every winter since, I have waited eagerly for at least some snow, only to be sorely disappointed. So when it snowed (only a couple of inches) a few days ago, I headed out before it had a chance to disappear. I followed a 'route' I have that I knew would offer possibilities and I made one new detour, exploring a different road, and came across this marvelous tree. The challenge on many country roads is finding a safe place to pull over and the first time, I overshot the tree. That meant going farther down the road, looking for a spot where I could turn around. Those can also be spread far and wide. I'm getting farther and farther from the tree, the sun is beginning to break through and I'm cursing, sure that I missed it. Luckily, I made it back, found a pull off, the snow flurries picked up and the sun disappeared - just long enough for me to capture this scene.
With weather events that can be difficult to predict and of short duration, it's good to know what's in your 'backyard.'
Well, the year has started off busy, busy, busy. It's a different way of working for me. Where before I shot and shot and shot, now I am taking more time with the processing, printing, critically looking at what I produce. So far - and it is very soon in this process - I am liking how things are going. And every now and again, I have to get out and simply shoot. This past Friday the weather forecast was simply too good to pass up - light clouds at sunrise, increasing clouds through the morning; the perfect recipe for some long exposure work.
A bit of good news last week - I have been trying since September to get into the monthly shows at a local gallery here, very competitive, multi-media. Last week, one of my photographs was accepted for the January show - I've broken through!
... is to finish the work.
I came across this in George Barr's book, Why Photographs Work, specifically his essay and interview with Kim Kauffman. Recently, I have received a steady stream of gentle and no so gentle reminders along these lines - discipline, focus, direction, projects. And the beginning of a new year always seems like a good time to pause, take stock, appreciate the progress made, and make course corrections as needed. This isn't a process I expect to be done with anytime soon but I am getting some ideas. My general feeling is this - getting out there and shooting is easy for me, the exploration something I enjoy. What I feel is lacking, and where I want to be stronger, is in the depth of that exploration, the difference between skimming the surface and deeply understanding a subject. The idea is still developing, and so a bit fuzzy, but making it more clear is also part of the process.
So what will I finish this year that will add depth to my photography?
Develop two to three portfolios from photographs I've already shot - The process of selection is fantastic for highlighting strengths and weaknesses and will suggest where to narrow my focus.
Continue a program of studying other photographers and their photographs - All along I've been looking at the work of other photographers but I have recently made it into a regular, and serious, part of what I do. I recommend Barr's book, among others, if you're interested in how photographers work and why they made the choices they made.
Print my own work - I'm really excited about this one. Until now, I've sent my images to a lab for printing and they have done a good job. But there is something immensely satisfying about looking at a print that I made, from beginning to end. I expect the process of producing quality prints to place demands on my shooting and processing skills as well, pushing my learning in all areas.
There will be other projects and none will be truly 'finished' but this is the direction I have laid out for this coming year. What are you taking on and what will you finish?
Note - the image above is one I've been working on printing. Already, I'm paying closer, more critical attention to composition, tonal range and the like.
In the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few. - Shunryo Suzuki
... and I have been feeling very much like a beginner lately. I think when I started with photography I assumed at some point I would know what I'm doing; and it is true that I know much more than I did two years ago, one year ago, even several months ago. But I have been reminded that in photography, like many endeavors, the more you learn the more you understand how much you still don't know.
One project I like to do at the end of each year is put together a photo book of the best/favorite images. Seeing where I was and where I am, I have found it to be a good antidote to the feeling that I'm still a baby at this art. Then, when I begin to feel too much like an 'expert,' I assign myself a new project. My newest project is to take on my own printing; the printer arrived Friday, rather intimidating at first. This called for another pass through last year's photographs, looking for ones that I wanted to try printing. I had forgotten about these leaf studies I shot last spring - I have to say, it looks marvelous as a print!
... good will toward men. How marvelous that would be. Here's hoping your holidays are full of both.
I made this image on the morning of Friday, December 14th. No one could have imagined what would take place in a few short hours. Sometimes words are supremely inadequate.
A few days ago, two things came together that seemed to demand of me a thoughtful response.
First, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City opened an exhibit, "Faking It: Life Before Photoshop." It is a fascinating exploration of the many 'manipulations' that photographers have explored since the advent of photography - yes, there was HDR before Photomatix, dodging and burning, composite photographs. The website is well worth a visit or even better, take in the exhibit should you find yourself in New York.
The second event was a conversation with a friend about my excitement over some techniques I am learning to use and master, how it is opening up a whole world of possibilities that I can only imagine right now. As you might guess, she could not share my excitement - in fact, she had some very strong objections, related primarily to the ethics of manipulating a photograph. I found myself explaining then justifying, stopping just short of apologizing. I mentioned the exhibit at the Met, how there is a long, historical tradition of photographers, great photographers, well respected, who made similar changes to their images, if in a wet darkroom rather than on a computer. She remained unconvinced - photographs should not be manipulated in this way. Paintings, sure - photographs should be a faithful representation of what is 'real.'
Neither of us changed the mind of the other. Not until later did I realize why this question persists, why the argument is never settled - it is a bogus issue, a red herring if you will. And appeals to historical precedents only obscure the issue even more. Remember there was a time when folks believed the world was flat.
The question, as old as photography itself, is - can photography be both an artistic and documentary medium? The answer to that, to my mind, is obvious - yes. And would the methods used be different depending on the final goal? Again, yes; not necessarily, but certainly possible.
Is this image manipulated? You bet - I wouldn't be doing my work as an artist if it wasn't. My goal as an artist is to produce photographs that are evocative and expressive, beautiful in their way, that hopefully generate some response in the viewer. And the next time this discussion comes up - and you know it will - I will remember to make the question explicit, art or documentary. You certainly are not required to like or even understand my art - and I am not required to apologize or justify it.
Sometimes you just know there is a photograph in front of you - if you could only figure out what it is. I loved the design of this building, the colors of the building materials, the sweep of that curve - there is a green curve as well. I wanted a shot that isolated the design elements of the building. I couldn't find an angle that eliminated the trees and landscaping in front of the building - I tried everything. And then, I decided to try working with the trees instead. I rather like how this turned out, perhaps better than the shot I imagined and worked so hard for.
Sometimes you think you know what you're doing - and if you keep at it long enough, you have one of those 'happy accidents' that prove you actually knew much less than you thought. :)
... photography is 'serious' business. A little - or a lot - of play is a always a good idea.
I have never had much success with HDR images. I know what to do in theory - it just never seems to work in practice. So, I'll be honest - I avoid shooting HDR as much as I can and often well past anything you would consider wise. In situations that clearly call for some allowance for high dynamic range, I'm pushing my exposures to the limits of what I might be able to work with in a single image. So you might imagine my surprise, and delight, when I processed this image. I'm not certain what I did correctly this time - I need to figure that out so I can learn from it because this is one HDR that works perfectly for me.
The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude. - Friedrich Nietzsche
Have a happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Death Valley is, in many ways, an out of this world environment, harsh, unforgiving if you take it too lightly, achingly beautiful - and mysterious. Racetrack Playa is one such place, famous for these 'sailing rocks' that move along the lake bed, leaving trails behind them as they advance a few inches or so each year. There is a warning as you enter the lake bed - to stay off if it should happen to be wet. Any footprints you might leave could last for 100 years.
I have seen other, more dramatic photographs of these rocks and the Racetrack. This, however, is one of my favorites - if you know my work, you know I like simple, occasionally minimal compositions.
Home again, after having spent an amazing week at Death Valley National Park in California. The environment there is so unlike anything I am used to so shooting there challenged me; much of the time, initially, I simply took everything in, saying to myself - oh my god.
... and out of touch for a while. I'm off to Death Valley tomorrow for a week of photography. Can you say 'heaven?'