Monthly Archives: November 2015

Series and Numbers

White Trees, Series 3, No. 1

White Trees, Series 3, No. 1

Sometimes, I’m asked why I don’t get more creative with the titles to my images.  For example, the title for the image in this post, “White Trees, Series 3, No. 1,” probably wouldn’t be considered as being particularly inspired or creative.

There’s a reason for that.  I’m a firm believer in the idea that the value of a photograph should come strictly from within the four corners of the image itself.  I generally feel that when you supply a photograph with supplementary information – such as a creative title, explanatory text, a bio of the photographer, etc. – that at best such information distracts from the impact of the image itself, and at worst it becomes a crutch to prop up an otherwise weak image.

Having a mundane title is like an informational dead end for the viewer.  There’s nothing there for the viewer to latch on to.  Attention is directed back to the photograph itself, and the image stands or fails on its own merits.

For those who are curious, I’ve divided the White Trees images into three (so far) series based on location.  Series 1 was photographed in Rocky Mountain National Park, Series 2 at the Mount Goliath Natural Area, and Series 3 at the Windy Ridge Bristlecone Pine Scenic Area, all in Colorado.  Within each series, photographs are numbered in the order I work on and finish them, not in the order they were captured.

But of course, to keep things interesting, even I break my own rules.  That’s why the Series 1 images indeed each do have a more descriptive title.  There just was something about the trees at the Rocky Mountain National Park location that made me see them as having human characteristics, and I named them accordingly.  You can see the names in the White Trees gallery on this website if you’re interested.

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Engagement

Capitol Vista Schoolhouse Near Cheyenne, Wyoming, 2015

Capitol Vista Schoolhouse
Near Cheyenne, Wyoming, 2015

One of the things I love about practicing photography is the sense of engagement with the world that it gives me.  I’ve spent many wonderful hours bouncing around back roads and out of the way places in my old 4×4, ostensibly looking for photographs, but really just looking, seeing, and absorbing the beauty and wonder in things both grand and ordinary, that most people seem to pass by without giving a second thought to, alone with my thoughts and maybe some good music on the radio.  It’s peaceful and exciting all at once, and every now and then I get to frame up something nice that I capture mostly for myself, but post online anyway.

The sign on the front of this building says that it is the Capitol Vista Schoolhouse, presumably because the Wyoming state capitol in Cheyenne is located within eyesight just to the east.  I don’t know for sure, though – I was too engaged capturing this view to the west, and I forgot to look.

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Your Unique Vision

Storm Cloud Over Mount Sneffels Near Telluride, Colorado, 2015

Storm Cloud Over Mount Sneffels
Near Telluride, Colorado, 2015

Sometimes I hear people say that, as a photographer, you should not photograph iconic or well-known subjects because you simply will produce images that are cliched or derivative of what others have done before you.  My gut response always is that if you have a vision and pursue it honestly, then it doesn’t matter what you photograph, because all of your images will have your own personal and unique stamp on them.

Recently, I was able to put my view to the test.  Mount Sneffels is an icon of the San Juan mountains in southwestern Colorado, and the view here is from a classic and well-known pullout along County Road 7 on the Dallas Divide.  It’s truly a magnificent prospect, well worth seeing regardless of whether you are into photography or not.

Of course, it is in fact very popular among photographers.  I make it to this location maybe once every two or three years, and every time I visit it seems like there is a notable uptick in the number of photographers present.  On my last visit, just a few weeks ago during the spectacular fall color season, there was a lineup of photographers all along the side of the road.  So many, in fact, that I was disheartened.  The view was the same for everyone, so how could I hope to make an image that was unique and personal to me?

Nevertheless, I dutifully picked out a spot and worked on my captures as the sun went down and evening rolled in.  When I finished up and left for the day, I thought the capture of the image here had some potential and could be worked on, but I also thought what would be the point, it would surely look like everyone else’s photographs from that evening.

A couple of days later, I happened to come across an image of Mount Sneffels on a social media website.  From the date and location information given by the poster, it was clear that he was one of the other photographers photographing Mount Sneffels at the same time I was.

But his image – which was quite beautifully done, by the way – looked absolutely nothing like mine!  Among other things, his image was vibrantly colorful, in a 3:2 aspect ratio, with no real cloud forms in the sky and an emphasis instead on the colorful trees in the foreground.  It’s hard to put into words, and I specifically don’t want to call out his image so as to avoid a needless comparison (I’ve forgotten where to link to it anyway), but his image just felt very different to look at.  It communicated an entirely different message about the scene than what I was receiving from the scene that day myself.

The two images are so different that if I didn’t know better, I would have said they were taken on different dates at different locations and under different conditions.  It really just reinforces to me the idea that your vision is unique, and if you pursue it honestly, your images cannot help but have your own stamp on them.

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Nothing Fancy

Curving Cornices, Silvery Steeple San Ysidro, New Mexico, 2015

Curving Cornices, Silvery Steeple
San Ysidro, New Mexico, 2015

Nothing fancy here, just the simple facade of one of the very many, very cool little churches that dot the landscape of northern New Mexico.  So much contemporary photography seems to be about grabbing attention, whether it be by grand subjects, super-saturated colors, gimmicky concepts, or other “look at me” kinds of things.  I wonder if there’s still a place for quieter, more understated kinds of photography?  I hope so.  Quietude and understatement seem to be qualities that don’t carry a lot of weight in our culture, which is a small tragedy, since so many good things can be found in these small things.

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Your Muse and Where It Takes You

White Trees, Series 2, No. 5

White Trees, Series 2, No. 5

When people ask me about my work (which isn’t that often, but does happen now and then), more often than not they ask me about my White Trees series.  These images seem to be among the more popular that I do, and often the question is along the lines of why I don’t do more of them.

Thing is, I don’t really know.

I started this series back in 2012 (if memory serves), and they were among the first black and white images I did, from photograph to print, that I was really happy with.  For personal technical and artistic reasons, I might even go so far as to call them a turning point in my photography.  I like these images a lot, but for some reason, after an initial flurry of activity, I  just have not felt compelled to work on them much over the last couple of years.  My muse was leading me in different directions, and I’ve learned there’s no point in fighting her on this.  You can’t force inspiration, and if the time is not right to be working on something, then there’s no point in trying to work on it.

I came across the RAW file for the image in this post a few weeks ago pretty much by happenstance, as I was in the process of looking for something else that I was going to work on (this happens quite a lot with my work, by the way).  When I saw this capture, for some reason right at that specific time and moment, it really jumped out at me.  My muse practically ordered me to work on it, right then and there.

So I did.  And now I’m able to add one more image to the White Trees series.  I’m happy to follow my muse wherever she takes me, and delighted she has led me back to this body of work once again.

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