And Stars Too

Two Stars Over the Never Summer Range Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2017

Two Stars Over the Never Summer Range
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2015

“What are men to rocks and mountains?”

- Jane Austin, Pride and Prejudice

And stars, stars too.  If I am recalling correctly, the two stars here actually are the planets Jupiter and Venus, which came into (I believe perfect) alignment a couple of years ago.

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The Real Magician

Twisted, Tumbling, and Twined Mount Goliath, Colorado, 2016

Twisted, Tumbling, and Twined
Mount Goliath, Colorado, 2016

I knew, of course, that trees and plants had roots, stems, bark, branches, and foliage that reach up toward the light.  But I was coming to realize that the real magician was light itself.”

- Edward Steichen

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Catching Up

Julie Penrose Fountain, Study No. 5

Julie Penrose Fountain, Study No. 5
Colorado Springs, Colorado 2015

Things are pretty quiet with photography for now while I get caught up on other things.  Hopefully I’ll be able to return my attention to it again before too long.

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On Inspiration

Standing Wave Over the Mummy Range Rocky Mountain National Park, 2015

Standing Wave Over the Mummy Range
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2016

It’s that time of year again, when there is enough daylight to allow me to drive up to Rocky Mountain National Park after work.  For example, if I leave my house in Fort Collins at 6 p.m., I can be at this spot by around 7:30, and still have a good hour and a half of light to work with for photographing.  I’ve been making these trips in June and July for the past four or five years.  They began as an exercise to help me practice my outdoor photography skills, but have since developed into a cherished summer ritual.

Truth is, for a while now I’ve been pretty uninspired when it comes to landscape photography.  But I plan to continue my visits to the Park if for no other reason than that I’ve come to enjoy making the trip so much.  I’ll bring my camera along too, because that’s part of the ritual.  Inspiration is a flighty thing, it comes and goes without much rhyme or reason.  But I believe that so long as the underlying passion remains, the inspiration will return, and I’m not yet prepared to concede that the passion is gone too.

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Tools of the Trade

Steel Staircases.  Near Eaton, CO 2015

Steel Stairs
Near Eaton, Colorado 2015

I believe in keeping things simple, so for the last few years I’ve been carrying only two lenses – a Canon 24-105 L, and a Canon 100-400 L.  Between the two, I can cover the range from 24 mm to 400 mm without fumbling around with a lot of lens changes.  I realize zoom lenses with long ranges come with an image quality trade-off, but the convenience of keeping my workflow simple in the field is worth it to me.  I would rather spend my valuable field time seeing, reacting, and shooting, rather than having to make a bunch of lens changes. And, in fact, I would guess that well over 90% of my images are made with the 24-105 L (and probably half of those at either 24 mm or 35 mm), so my workflow in the field really is straightforward.

Still, I do think the 100-400 is worth keeping around.  There are some situations where the reach really comes in handy.  This image, for example, likely would not have been possible with the 24-105.  It was made with the 100-400, at 400 mm.  This enabled me to: 1) shoot from across a busy highway; 2) isolate this pattern from its surroundings; and 3) create a very flattened perspective (due to the telephoto effect), accentuating the graphic aspects of the composition.

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All Talk

Two Posts Near Carr, Colorado, 2015

Two Posts
Near Carr, Colorado, 2015

Some time ago I read about a study that determined people experienced similar levels of satisfaction upon stating their intention to do something as they did in actually doing it.  For example, a person stating their intention to go on a diet to lose 10 pounds apparently experiences a similar physiological response of satisfaction as someone who actually goes on a diet and achieves a 10 pound weight loss.  The study went on to reason that talk about achieving a goal is a disincentive to actually working toward achieving that goal, since a level of satisfaction similar to achieving the goal already has been experienced simply by talking about it.  The conclusion of the study was that if you want to achieve something, it’s better not to talk about doing it before it is done.

I’ve found this to be true in my practice of photography.  At any given time, I have at least a few photography ideas or projects floating around in my head.  Most of them don’t go anywhere, but some do.  The one thing I’ve noticed, though, is that those that I’ve shared with others, prior to my actually starting them, uniformly still remain unrealized.  For me, there really does seem to be something about sharing an idea prematurely, before I’ve really committed to it in some fashion, that takes the wind out of the sails of doing it.  So I think I’ll revert back to my general practice of not talking up my projects that I would like to do, but instead simply having completed projects that speak for themselves.

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The Other Colorado

Seven Cars and Twelve Tanks Eaton, Colorado, 2016

Seven Cars and Twelve Tanks
Eaton, Colorado, 2016

I’ve lived on the Front Range of Colorado for a number of years now.  When you mention Colorado to someone who doesn’t live here, my observation is that most people tend to think of pristine, snowy, mountain-filled landscapes.

I love that Colorado.  But there is another Colorado, too.  Roughly half the state is flat plains, having more in common with places like Kansas or Nebraska than Vail or Aspen.  That’s a Colorado worth knowing as well, equally compelling in its own way.

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Feels Like EDM

On the Low Road to Taos, No. 2 Near Taos, New Mexico, 2016

On the Low Road to Taos, No. 2
Near Taos, New Mexico, 2016

I’ve been listening to a lot of EDM lately (that’s Electronic Dance Music – check out Deadmau5!).  It fascinated me to realize how much that kind of music makes me think of photography.  The way the music works there feels to me like the way light works in photographs.  The steady beats feel like the visual rhythms in the composition of an image, like the earthy, shadowy areas in a landscape.  The rises and falls of the crescendos and drops feel like the way light spills from one corner of the frame to another, like a dramatic backlit sky on a stormy day.  The way the bass kicks after a quiet break feels like the abrupt transition of a dark tree rising above the bright line of a distant horizon.

Maybe it seems like an odd connection to make, but to me it’s perfectly logical.  I think creativity is something that resides within you.  You bring it to bear on all of the things you do in your life.  Creativity doesn’t seep into you from the outside, it’s something from within that colors the way you perceive the world.  It’s an internal logic all of its own, personal to you, that allows you to see connections where others don’t.  That’s one thing about it that makes it so wonderful.

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Good is Good

RE/MAX Building No. 3 Denver, Colorado 2013

RE/MAX Building No. 3
Denver, Colorado 2013

I used to hold the opinion that “good is good.”  Specifically, I think there is a branch of criticism in the photography world (really, the art world in general) that cliched photographs of cliched subjects are per se bad, even if done very well.  Think photographs of sunsets over beaches, the Milky Way at night, or iconic locations like the Grand Canyon, which all have been photographed over and over again to the point where even the best executions of such images mostly really do tend to fade into a sea of duplicate, derivative, and look-alike imagery.  My counterpoint always used to be that good is good, so even a cliched photograph of a cliched subject can be good if done well.

Truthfully, I think I still largely stand by that opinion, but I’m beginning to see the merit in the other side.  I look at a lot of photography, and if you look at a lot of photography, you can’t help but notice the repetitive onslaught of the same depictions of the same subjects done in the same way over and over again.  For example, I think I’ve candidly reached the point where I don’t need to see another long exposure seascape, unless it’s done by Michael Kenna or perhaps another of a handful of photographers who really pioneered or otherwise contributed to this genre.

It’s become a relevant consideration in my own practice of photography.  I think a conscious motivation behind making the image in this post was to try and reach past photographic cliches.  Which, on balance, I think is a good thing.  I just need to remember, for myself in my own work, anyway, not to sacrifice fundamentals – like strong light, strong composition, and a conveyed a sense of emotion – that always make the “good” so “good.”

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No Such Thing as Talent

Rock Cut, Storm in the Valley Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2016

Rock Cut, Storm in the Valley
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2016

I wonder if maybe there is no such thing as talent.

Bear with me here.  Talent, in the dictionary I checked, is defined as a natural aptitude or skill.  It’s something you’re born with, you either have it or you don’t.  A talent for photography, for example, suggests that it would take less effort for one with the talent to become accomplished in the discipline than one who has no talent, because the presence of talent supplies a natural aptitude or skill that can be developed and that is lacking in one with no talent.

But what if the operative force is not talent, but interest?  To have an interest in something, say photography, suggests to me a capability to invest time pursuing it.  One with an interest in photography, for example, might enjoy viewing many photographs, reading books on photography, and generally thinking about photography a lot.

It’s the capability to invest substantial time that’s important.  Having the interest means you’re more likely to stick with it because your interest keeps you going, even when things aren’t necessarily going well or otherwise become difficult.  Naturally, the more time you invest in something, the more likely it is you are to become accomplished at it, so it follows that those who become accomplished in something may well do so simply because of a driving interest in that thing, rather than some innate aptitude or skill for it thought of as talent.

Okay, I’m not really sure I fully believe this myself.  Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle.  I find it interesting food for thought, though.

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