Tag Archives: Colorado

Fill the Frame

Marin's Figures, Study No. 3 Denver, Colorado, 2017

Marin’s Figures, Study No. 3
Denver, Colorado, 2017

I generally don’t take a “rules” approach to photography, as in where some say that following certain rules or formulas are what it takes to produce compelling photography.  The one possible exception may be the “rule” that says to fill the frame with your subject.  Nine times out of ten, I find that doing this results in a stronger composition.

It’s been said that photography is a subtractive art – taking things out of the frame until the only things that are left are those that are necessary for the photograph, and nothing else.  Because the world is a visually chaotic and cluttered place, this is where much of the challenge of composing for a photograph comes from.  Indeed, I often have found it simply is not possible to compose a photograph that I want, because I cannot eliminate distracting and non-essential elements from the frame.

Filling the frame with your subject is one way toward subtracting out those kinds of distracting and non-essential elements.  Obviously, the more space your subject takes up in the frame, the less space there is for anything else.  It probably seems intuitive and simple to understand when I write it here this way, but I think many novice aspiring fine art photographers make the mistake of not filling the frame with their subject, and consequently having too many distracting and non-essential elements therein.  I know I did.  It really is a skill to learn just where to draw that fine line.

On a related point, filling the frame with your subject really requires that you pay attention to your background.  If you have filled the frame with your subject, odds are you are either standing very close to it or have zoomed in on it with a telephoto lens.  This makes it easy to change how the background looks, since slight shifts in camera position will have a big effect on what appears in the background.  So I rarely accept that the first spot in which I’ve chosen to stand is the best.  Instead, I move around and try out different camera positions to see how that affects what appears in the background.  The background is a critical part of a photograph, and is worth investing the time to get right.

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On Portraiture

Marin's Figures, Study No. 2

Marin’s Figures, Study No. 2
Denver, Colorado, 2017

“All photographs are self-portraits.”

- Minor White

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Theft and Authenticity

Marin's Figures, Study No. 1 Denver, Colorado, 2017

Marin’s Figures, Study No. 1
Denver, Colorado, 2017

“Nothing is original.  Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination.  Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows.  Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul.  If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.  Authenticity is invaluable, originality is non-existent.”

- Jim Jarmusch

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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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On Inspiration

Standing Wave Over the Mummy Range

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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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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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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