Tag Archives: Colorado

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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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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Well-Being

Profile, Spire at Rock Cut Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2016

Profile, Spire at Rock Cut
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2016

I remember vividly the evening that the capture for this image was made.  The weather forecast called for thunderstorms in Rocky Mountain National Park.  This often is a bit risky from a photography standpoint, because it seems there’s about an equal chance of seeing something really cool happening with the conditions, or getting simply a flat, drab sky or a persistent downpour that washes away all of the visual interest in the landscape.

On this night, I got the really cool conditions.  In fact, the conditions were unreal, I’ve never quite seen anything like it in several years of visiting the park during evenings in the summer.  A rolling fog filled Forest Valley, the valley just behind this spire, and curtains of mist moved in and moved out with alacrity over the spire itself.  But the fog and the mist were uneven – a clear sky would sometimes develop, even as most of the landscape otherwise was covered by the fog or draped by the mist.  In summer, this location usually is quite crowded with tourists, but on this evening, warned away by the weather, there were few people about, and perhaps none by the time I made this capture.  Photographically, it was one of those evenings I probably never will forget.

But there’s something I remember even more – the profound sense of peace and well-being I felt while I was working that evening.  This particular image was a long exposure, two minutes or perhaps more if memory serves.  While I was waiting for the exposure to run, I simply was sitting with myself, watching the scene unfold, and being at peace with my inner life.  There were no regrets about the past, nor anxiety about the future, just being, truly being, a part of the moment.  The feeling was all the more remarkable for occurring at a time otherwise rife with personal turmoil.

Photography is like that for me, and there’s a lesson in there somewhere, I suppose.  Wouldn’t it be nice to carry that feeling with you all the time?

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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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My Work is Changing

Under the Windswept Sky Windy Ridge, Near Alma, Colorado, 2016

Under the Windswept Sky
Windy Ridge, Near Alma, Colorado, 2016

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes.  Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow.  Let reality be reality.  Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.

- Lao Tzu

My work is changing.

I didn’t really notice it myself until a friend pointed it out, but now I can see that my recent work looks different than my earlier work, at least to my (and my friend’s) eye.  It’s not a sudden break or dramatic shift from what I’ve done before, but more like a gradual change over time that you don’t notice while it’s happening but only after you’ve come a way and look back at where you were.

I can’t quite put my finger on what has changed.  I will say that I’ve become more aware of the emotional communication of what I make.  When I started in photography, the most direct way I connected with the work I was producing was in terms of its visual communication.  The message of the image was communicated primarily by my manipulation of visual elements such as lines and forms, brightness and contrast, etc.

I think I still work this way on a conscious level, but now I think I also am aware of what the image makes me feel like when I’m done with it.  Sometimes this feeling simply is what I was feeling when I captured the image in the field, and sometimes it is what I was feeling when I edited the image after capture, which can be quite different.  The point is that mere manipulation of visual elements is not enough, there has to be emotional content to the image as well.  Perhaps this always has been the case, and I simply now am more conscious of it than I used to be.

I’m very aware that I could have edited this image differently, to make it look perhaps more “pretty.”  But, without getting specific about it, I will say this edit more accurately reflects what I was feeling at the time I did the editing.

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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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