Tag Archives: 2015

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.


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Pretty Pictures

Republic Plaza, Lowering Clouds Denver, Colorado, 2015

Republic Plaza, Lowering Clouds
Denver, Colorado, 2015

If I had to wager on it, I would wager that the image in this post won’t be one of my more popular images.  I haven’t been a photographer as long as many others who practice this discipline, but I’ve been doing it long enough now to have a sense of what will “land” with most people and what won’t.

So why do I do work like this?

Basically, because  it speaks to me.

I didn’t set out looking to make this image.  In fact, the day I photographed this, I had not intended to do any photography at all. I was in Denver, Colorado on completely unrelated business and found that I had some time to kill.  Walking down an alley between two buildings, I just happened to look up over the rooftop of one of the adjacent buildings and saw this scene.  I suppose it struck me just right – it moved me enough to motivate me into the exercise of getting my camera from out of my car and making this capture.

And having finished the image and lived with the print a little while, I still like it, so I’m posting it here even though my guess is that it won’t be most people’s cup of tea.  I would be lying if I said I didn’t hope that people would like my work, but ultimately it’s more important for me to stay true to my own vision and not let the reactions of others set the agenda for how I produce it.

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Mount Sneffels Redux

Cloud Arch Over Mount Sneffels Near Telluride, Colorado, 2015

Cloud Arch Over Mount Sneffels
Near Telluride, Colorado, 2015

Usually I don’t post more than one image of the same subject captured on the same date from the same location.  The reason is that when I take multiple captures on a given shoot, it’s because I have one final product in mind, and the multiple captures simply are incremental tweaking in order to get the best possible capture for the image I want to make.  While any of the several captures might make a good final image, doing more than one usually results in the multiple images being cumulative of one another and not really adding anything to the portrayal of the subject.  The better choice almost always is simply to pick one capture – the best capture – and go with it.

The image in this post is an exception.  If you look back on November 15, 2015, you’ll see that I’ve already posted an image of Mount Sneffels from the same day and location as this one.  However, I think this one really does pose its own different and distinct interpretation, so I’ve gone ahead and posted it here today.  Rules, after all, are made to be broken, something I’ve been doing a lot of lately.

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Mirror, Mirror

Ice Shards in Black Water Jackson Lake, Colorado, 2015

Ice Shards in Black Water
Jackson Lake, Colorado, 2015

When I began to take a more-than-casual interest in photography, I began to look at the works of other photographers, which in turn led to an interest in art in general.  For me, looking at artwork is a little like looking into a mirror – it reflects back to me my own interests, tastes and perceptions.  Identifying and analyzing how others have considered and resolved artistic issues allows me to decide what I have liked and not liked about their approach, which helps me to understand myself a little better with respect to the things that I want to encourage in my own work versus those I don’t want to pursue.

The great thing about this is that there’s so much artwork available to practice on, both contemporary and historical.  It allows you to experience art not just as a passive viewer, but as an active, critical participant.  It’s a fun little intellectual exercise to engage in when looking at art (at least for me), with the practical payoff of helping to improve one’s own artistic development in the process.

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Moon, Low Branch Fort Collins, Colorado, 2015

Moon, Low Branch
Fort Collins, Colorado, 2015

Want to know the backstory behind this image?

It was 4 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon.  I was in my day job office getting caught up on some day job work.  I looked out the window, and happened to notice a nearly full moon rising perfectly behind some trees on the lawn of a government building across the street.  So, I went home to grab my camera (only a ten minute round trip, fortunately), spent about 45 minutes making the captures that ultimately resulted in this image, and returned to work to finish my tasks.

Lessons learned:

1.  Always be observant of what’s going on in your surroundings.

2.  Always have the tools of your trade at your disposal.

3.  Always be willing to invest the time it takes to capture the moment.

There’s beauty in the world, everywhere, all the time, if you’re open to seeing it.

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Breaking My Own Rules

Prophet Tree Windy Ridge, Near Alma, Colorado, 2015

Prophet Tree
Windy Ridge, Near Alma, Colorado, 2015

Not two weeks ago, I wrote a post describing how I generally prefer to use bland, non-creative titles for my images.

Well, just to prove myself a liar, here is an image I’m calling “Prophet Tree.”  I put it in the category of suggestive and creative titles because, of course, the tree is not literally a prophet – you have to use your imagination a little bit to make that connection.  But, I just couldn’t help myself.  When I was working on this image, I simply could not get the picture of the figure of a biblical or mythological prophet out of my mind.

Oh well.  If anyone is going to prove me a liar, I suppose it may as well be me.

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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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