Tag Archives: Santa Fe

What It’s About

White Wall, Black Vine Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2016

White Wall, Black Vine
Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2016

I’ve heard it said that photographs should be about something.  Is this photograph about something?  I think it probably is, but I like the fact that I can’t (and don’t need to) put it into words.

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Broken Lenses and Emotional Impact

Cross on St. Vincent's Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2016

Cross on St. Vincent’s
Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2016

My Canon 24-105 L lens is broken.

Well, maybe not broken exactly, but it’s developed a habit of creeping.  If you point it straight up, for example, and set it to 105 mm, it will slowly creep down to 24 mm because the mechanism that holds the zoom at a fixed focal length apparently has become loose.  I’ll be sending it in to Canon for warranty service, but in the meantime I’ve been needing to hold the barrel by hand if my exposure is more than a fraction of a second.

For the image in this post, the lens was pointed up fairly steeply at the cross on the roof of the old St. Vincent’s hospital (now a hotel) in Santa Fe, New Mexico, but I checked it before I tripped the shutter and it seemed to be holding steadily in place.  I was wrong, though. Over the course of the exposure (probably somewhere in the 10 to 30 second range, I forget exactly), it crept back a bit, effectively zooming out as the exposure was made.

Turns out I like the result.  This troubles me a bit, because I’ve never thought of myself as someone who would seek to achieve optical effects by moving the camera around during the course of an exposure.  It’s always seemed kind of gimmicky to me.  Nevertheless, I think the image here has some emotional impact, at least for me.  Though the effect in this case was produced by accident, certainly it seems possible to do the same thing intentionally.  I may have to rethink my position on moving the camera around during long exposures.

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Cross of the Martyrs Santa Fe, NM, 2016

Cross of the Martyrs
Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2016

Most of my photographs are pretty carefully chosen, set up, and executed.  I believe that one of the things that marks a photographer as an artist rather than simply a snapshooter is the ability to see potentially good images in an otherwise cluttered and chaotic world, and to take deliberate, considered steps in a controlled and repeatable process to realize them, rather than simply snapping the shutter a lot and relying on large numbers of captures to get a few that turn out well.

Still, whenever you’re working in real time in the real world, there will be things you can’t control.  Chance will play a part, sometimes serendipitously so.

I was working on a slightly different composition of the Cross of the Martyrs in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  The cross was to be largely as you see it here, but the sky would have been a clean background, and the bottom of the frame would have had the hills that rise to the west of Santa Fe to ground the composition.

I spent a fair amount of time setting up the composition how I wanted it, metering the scene, choosing a graduated ND filter to bring down the brightness in the sky, adjusting the polarizer to whiten the cross and darken the sky’s blues (this was to increase the contrast in the final black and white version), setting the focus at the hyperfocal distance, etc.

Just when I was ready to trip the shutter, I noticed the airplane.  The airplane’s path and the contrail behind it were such that they would make a perfect compositional placement in relation to the cross.

But it would mean recomposing the scene.  There were literally only a few seconds available before the airplane would pass through the scene and be out of position, so there was time only to unlock the ball-head of the tripod, roughly position the camera to include the cross and the expected position of the airplane in the composition, and quickly trip the shutter.  No checking if the camera was level, no checking if the metering needed to be revised, no checking if the new angle of the polarizer would create unevenness in the sky, etc.  The last thing I noticed before tripping the shutter was the glare produced by the sun, now very close to the edge of the frame, and I figured it was long odds that I would get something useful.

Well, I think I got something useful.  That glare turned out to be, to me, magical.  It still took a fair amount of editing after the fact.  I’ve included the jpg straight out of the camera below so you can see the capture and the final result.  But, at least the basics were there in terms of exposure and focus.  I was a bit sorry to lose the hills in the background, which I feel would have given the image more of a sense of place.  But I was glad to make this trade-off, since I think the composition and impact of the final image is much stronger, if a bit more abstract.


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No Mediocre Light, Just Mediocre Photographers

Lamp, Window, Buttress Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2011

Lamp, Window, Buttress
Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2011

One of my favorite photographers, Chuck Kimmerle, wrote a nice blog post recently called “The Myth of ‘Good’ Light.”  His basic point is that photographers are encouraged too much to photograph at times early or late in the day, because the quality of light at these times is presumed to be better than at other times of day.  The better approach, however, is to be open to seeing the possibilities under any kind of lighting conditions, even those that are thought to be “bad” for photography.  I couldn’t agree more.

It is true that the light early or late in the day can have a very nice quality, and so the advice of shooting then often is offered to novice photographers to try to help in producing pleasing photographs.  As with much advice given about photography, however, it’s been blown way out of proportion.  Just because this light can be nice, it seems to have become presumed that the light at other times of day is less suitable, or even unsuitable, for photography.

This simply isn’t true.  The light at different times of day is just, well, different.  Nothing more and nothing less.  It’s a mediocre photographer indeed who is blind to photographic opportunities just because of the time of day.

Midday light, for example, commonly is thought to be harsh and one-dimensional.  That’s a pretty narrow way to choose to see it, though.  It’s equally valid to say that midday light produces strong, dark shadows, and can bring out texture on surfaces.  These are both characteristics that are very useful building blocks for interesting images.  The image in this post, “Lamp, Window, Buttress,” was photographed in the middle of a sunny Santa Fe afternoon, and I tried to use both of these elements to the advantage.  Indeed, I don’t think this image would have been very interesting without them.

For some other great examples of wonderful photographs that wouldn’t have worked but for strong midday light, I refer you to Chuck’s post, along with the thought that great photographs can be made under any lighting conditions at any time of day.

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Always Bring Your Camera

Statue and Flowers, Sanctuario de Guadalupe, Santa Fe, New Mexic

Here’s another fairly basic, but important, lesson of photography:  always have your camera with you.  You can’t capture an image if you don’t have a camera with which to photograph it.

On a recent trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, I really had not intended to do any photography.  But when I travel these days, I feel a little under-equipped if I don’t have a camera with me, so I threw my camera bag and tripod in the back of my car, figuring it would just take up space until I returned home.

Well, sure enough, while walking around Santa Fe and not thinking particularly about photography, I happened to walk by the Sanctuario de Guadalupe and was struck by this scene.  I couldn’t help but take in the texture of the adobe, the flowing lines of the alcove, and the serene expression on the statue, and think that it would make a good image.  So, I grabbed my camera out of my hotel room not too far away and was able to capture the image in this post, “Statue and Flowers, Sanctuario de Guadalupe.”

I’ll admit, I don’t carry my camera gear with me everywhere I go.  But I’m getting better about taking it with me if there’s a possibility for photography, even if I think it’s unlikely.  Part of practicing photography is making the time and effort for it, and having your camera with you is a necessary and obvious prerequisite to making great images.

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