Tag Archives: 2015

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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Stepping Back

Windmill, No Horizon Near Carr, Colorado, 2015

Windmill, No Horizon
Near Carr, Colorado, 2015

It’s virtually impossible for me to view one of my own images without bringing along a lot of baggage.  By baggage, I mean the fact that I was there when the image was captured, I was there for all of the editing of the image, I was there for the first test print of the image and any and all thereafter – in short, that by the time the image is done, it’s spent a lot of time being on my mind.

As a result, at that point it really has no mysteries left for me.  One of the joys of seeing the work of other photographers is that I come to it completely fresh.  As a general rule, I don’t really know, with any precision or specificity, where they made their image, nor what they did to edit the capture, nor how many evolutions a print went through before it was finished.  Such images essentially are all mystery me.   I get the impact of seeing it as the artist intended, without being burdened by the backstory.

By way of contrast, when I look at my own images, they’re all backstory to me.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, since creating an image comes with a set of rewards and satisfactions all their own.  But the mystery associated with seeing an image fresh and new for the first time, without knowing the full backstory of its making and creation, is not one of them.

So I was surprised recently when I went back to look at some of my older images that I hadn’t looked at in a while.  Briefly, very briefly upon first viewing, I would get the full impact of the image because I hadn’t thought about it in a while and the image’s backstory would take a minute to return to me.  For that brief interval, it was like I was a stranger to my own work, able for just a moment to experience the image like I imagine someone else might.

It was pretty cool.

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When Words Fail

A Bristlecone Pine and a View Mount Goliath, Colorado, 2015

A Bristlecone Pine and a View
Mount Goliath, Colorado, 2015

One reason I like photography (and painting, and sculpture, and all of the visual arts, really) is that it is communication without words.  I suppose this concept is fairly obvious to understand, but really, it’s pretty deep with you think about it.  If you’ve been moved by a work of visual art (and I hope you have), it’s not because someone described it to you, or explained it to you, or communicated the nature of it to you in a code of linguistic symbols having abstract meanings attached thereto by which we exchange concepts and ideas with one another.  It’s because when you looked at it, it acted on you in ways that defy speaking and writing, that refuse to engage the cognitive and reasoning parts of the brain that are required to process language.  Instead, it reached out and touched the parts of your brain that don’t work on a linguistic level, but that respond instead to line and shape, to tone and luminosity, to space and arrangement, and it made you

feel something

That’s pretty cool.

Not a slam on my writer friends in the audience, just an interesting observation.

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Stifle Your Incredulity

Eventually, the Trees Give Way to Rock Mount Goliath, Colorado, 2015

Eventually, the Trees Give Way to Rock
Mount Goliath, Colorado, 2015

I am not a deep thinker.  No really, stifle your incredulity, it’s true.  If you want to read some deep thoughts on photography, go check out Guy Tal’s photography blog.

Still, you don’t need to be a deep thinker to practice photography in a thoughtful way.  Being thoughtful can take many forms – thinking about why you photograph, thinking about what you hope to accomplish, thinking about what others are doing and where you fit in to the tradition of photography.  The list is potentially limitless, and I suppose the difference is that of photographing within some kind of personally relevant context versus photographing in random, directionless ways or for external motivations or validations.

I sometimes wonder why I still write this photography blog, given that it does not seem to have achieved the goals I set out for it when I started (a topic I’ve touched on now and again in other posts).  Earlier today it occurred to me that, if nothing else, it’s been a tangible manifestation of my own thoughtfulness as it relates to the practice of photography.  Interesting reading for myself, if not for (or if only for a few) others.

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A Sense of Place

On the Low Road to Taos Near Taos, New Mexico, 2015

On the Low Road to Taos
Near Taos, New Mexico, 2015

How closely should a photograph reference the place at which it was taken?

I think back before I got into the practice of photography, and simply was a consumer of photographs, I tended to favor photographs of landscapes that I had personally been to.  I think I’ve always been an observer of the landscape, and on that basis photographs of landscapes that I had personally experienced were more meaningful to me.

When I began making photographs of my own, I think my perception of photographs changed.  I’ve tended to favor photographs of anonymous locations, where one can’t tell simply by viewing the photograph where it was taken.  Perhaps I’ve felt the emphasis should more properly be on the content of the photograph itself, divorced from any associations one might make from knowing the location.

But I wonder if that view really holds up.  When I went to title this image, I could have used a title non-specific as to location, such as “Tree and Mailbox” or “Reaching Tree, Curving Cloud.”  But somehow I felt that the title, and therefore the image, should reference its place at the side of a bend on the Low Road to Taos, New Mexico.

Maybe it’s better not to overthink these things, and just go with your instinct.

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Daylight Savings

Tree Split Mount Goliath, Colorado, 2015

Tree Split
Mount Goliath, Colorado, 2015

About a week ago it was daylight saving time here in the U.S., which means that clocks were pushed forward by one hour.  I’d been looking forward to this for some time, because the additional hour of daylight in the evenings means that there now is enough time to do whatever it is I may be doing during the day, and still have enough light for some photography in the evening.

For example, this past weekend I spent the day both Saturday and Sunday skiing, but after the ski day was over there still was enough daylight to do some exploring and photographing in the snowy mountains near the ski area.  As the days get even longer, I’m looking forward to getting out in the evenings after my day job to photograph in and along the Front Range near my home here in Fort Collins, Colorado.  By June and July, there will be enough light for me to make the hour or so drive up to Rocky Mountain National Park and still have an hour or two to explore and photograph before it gets dark.

It’s fun for me to get out with my camera, but there’s a bigger point at issue here.  It’s the idea of working photography into my daily routine.  As I’ve mentioned before, I have a full-time day job as well as all of the chores and responsibilities of daily living.  Often, at the end of the day, I’m tired and it would be easy just to wind things down and call it quits.

But I think photography is kind of a “do it or lose it” discipline.  Staying engaged with it on a daily basis – be it making captures in the field, editing captured work, or simply reading and learning new things – is necessary to keep developing one’s art and craft.  I think it’s important, therefore, to find ways to work it into the daily routine.  Fortunately, for me anyway, it’s not hard to do because the desire is there.  It’s simply a matter of making it a priority and following through with it.

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Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Moon Over Sprague Lake Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2015

Moon Over Sprague Lake
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2015

Here is an image that was captured last summer in Rocky Mountain National Park and probably edited not too long thereafter.  It sat unnoticed on my hard drive until just a couple of weeks ago, when I came across it by accident while going through my files looking for something else.

I’m not sure why I didn’t think it was post-worthy the first time around.  Maybe I didn’t like the way the long exposure blurred the shape of the moon, or the fact that the clouds actually are airplane contrails windblown into the shapes of streamers, or that there are two fisherman visible in the image (normally I don’t include people in my images).

If those things bothered me before, they don’t now.  In fact, I rather like them.  They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, what is it about time spent away from something that makes it more appealing?

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What Catches Your Eye

Streetlamp and Palm Trees Madrid, Spain, 2015

Streetlamp and Palm Trees
Madrid, Spain, 2015

Madrid, Spain, is a fascinating city of beautiful boulevards, rich history, and a vibrant local culture.  What caught my eye on this particular occasion, however, was none of that, but rather the juxtaposition of this simple streetlamp against the silhouettes of these palm trees.  Palm trees aren’t even particularly common in Madrid, I believe – these were of the potted variety, standing in front of a hotel across the street  from the Prado museum.

This image probably doesn’t say “Madrid” to most people, but it does to me.  Streetlamps just don’t look like this where I live here in Colorado.  Even if it doesn’t say anything specifically about Madrid, though, I find the image compelling, and that probably says something about me and what catches my eye.

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Of Level and Tilt

County Road, Pinprick Moon Near Carr, Colorado, 2015

County Road, Pinprick Moon
Near Carr, Colorado, 2015

Last summer, I realized that I’m not very good at leveling the camera when I shoot a photograph.  I would rely on my eye in order to judge the level of the horizon, but invariably I would get it wrong and would have to correct the rotation of the image later at the computer.  So, I bought a simple bubble level that slides into the hot shoe of my camera to solve the problem.

It’s worked out quite well.  After a brief break-in period of getting used to using it in my workflow (“I’m not going back to the car just for that!”), most of my images come leveled-out just fine.  In fact, I’m astonished at just how bad my judgment really is.  More often than not, I’ll compose the image, check the level, and realize that I’m substantially off.

So, imagine my surprise when I opened this image file on the computer and saw that the level of the horizon was off.  Except that it’s not.  If you look closely at the road, especially where it crests over the horizon, you’ll see that the image indeed is level.  It’s the slope of the landscape that’s tilted.

At first I found this a bit disconcerting, but having lived with the image for awhile I think it adds a certain pleasantly off-kilter appeal.  Anyway, at least I know my bubble level works, no image rotation required!

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Small Differences

Two Dancers, Windy Ridge, Near Alma, Colorado, 2015

Two Dancers
Windy Ridge, Near Alma, Colorado, 2015

I can’t count how many times I came close to tossing this image into the trash can.  It sat on my desk for months, never looking quite right to my eye.  Several times I picked it up with the intention of discarding it, but something always held me back.  There always was a nagging little voice telling me that there was something solid here, something worth keeping, even if I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at any given time.

Then one day, I discovered what my hangup was.  I really liked looking at the image from a distance, but not so much up close.  I realized that what I liked about the image was the forms and the lines of the trees and the distant mountains, but not the texture of the grasses and the bark.  When viewed from a distance, the forms and lines dominated the composition, which was why I liked it.  When viewed close up, the grass and bark textures were really noticeable, which is why I didn’t like it.

So, I used various tools in Photoshop (the dodge and burn tools, several curves layers with the effects selectively painted in on layer masks) to reduce the contrast in the grass and bark, mostly by burning down the highlights and midtones so that the overall tones mellowed out into a shadowy evenness.  Then, I slightly upped the global contrast in the image, which further emphasized the lines and forms of the trees and mountains as compared to the background sky.

You can see the prior version – the one that sat on my desk for months – below.  The differences are small, but to me are what made this image a keeper versus one that ended up in the trash.

20150725_1701-FOR-COMPARISON

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