Monthly Archives: June 2014

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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Red Filter, Blue Filter

White Trees, Series 1, No. 7 (Keep the Watch)

White Trees, Series 1, No. 7 (Keep the Watch)
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2012

Here is an image that was being worked on in one state or another since shortly after it was captured in the summer of 2012.  This stands in contrast to many of my images, which I only begin working on after an extended period of time has passed, often several years.  Unlike those, however, I had a strong vision at the moment of capture for how I wanted this image to look, and got to work with unusual diligence to make it happen.

As with all of the White Trees series, my vision here was of a very white tree against a very dark background.  Key to that vision was a very dark sky, perhaps black or nearly black.  I tried on and off for nearly two years to achieve this, but never could quite pull it together.  No matter what I did, the end result just never looked right.

During that time period, of course, I was working on other things.  I continued to photograph, continued to edit, continued to post.  I learned new skills, and got new ideas from looking at the work of others. My artistic tastes evolved.

And then one day it hit me. I had been conceptualizing this image all wrong.  The white tree/dark background concept was solid, but it didn’t necessarily require a uniformly dark sky.  I had been using a red filter (in digital editing, not on the camera) to take the blue sky and make it dramatically darker, basically black.  This was pretty routine practice for me two years ago, when I would take all blue skies and make them black as a matter of course.

Since that time, though, I had also begun using blue filters (again, in digital editing, not on the camera) in some situations to dramatically lighten blue skies, introducing more light greys and white highlights into images.  I realized this image would be a perfect candidate for this. Following my realization, things fell into place pretty quickly, and I arrived at the image in this post in a matter of days.

It got me thinking a bit about the idea of previsualization.  This is the idea, as I understand it, that upon viewing the subject to be photographed, a photographer should have a definite and complete vision of what the final print will look like even before the shutter is pressed.  With this knowledge, the photographer can optimize each step of the photographic process along the way towards the goal of achieving the previsualized print.  Previsualization is largely attributed to the giant of American photography, Ansel Adams, and is championed by many as the gold standard of how a photographer should operate.

I used to think I was a firm believer in previsualization, but the more I photograph, the less certain I am about this.  I certainly don’t believe in randomly photographing things with the hope of “getting lucky” with one of the end results.  Some degree of forethought is absolutely necessary and desirable.  But neither does perfect preconception of the final print seem to be an absolute necessity to me either.  The process I described for the image in this post certainly doesn’t fit that mold.

For me, at least for now, my process seems to be paying attention to the things that catch my eye in the field, and doing the best I can to capture that initial impression with the camera.  The closer I understand what it is that caught my eye, the more definite idea I have for what I want the final image to be.  Often, though, the idea is not perfectly formed, and there is room for exploration, and excitement, with the captured image after the fact.

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Shameless Self Promotion

Juniper Tree in Devil's Garden.  Arches National Park, Utah, 2014.

Juniper Tree in Devil’s Garden.
Arches National Park, Utah, 2014.

I follow a fair number of photographers and other kinds of artists online, through things like Web pages, blogs, and social media.  I do so because I have a genuine interest in their work and I like to hear what they have to say about it.  This interest certainly includes finding out about their upcoming exhibitions – there’s no substitute for seeing work in person versus on a computer screen, and I take the opportunity to do so when I have the chance – and, to a lesser degree, hearing about their awards, accolades, etc.  I also recognize that most artists who maintain an online presence do so, at least in part, to promote their work, myself definitely included.  All of which is understandable, proper, and certainly fine with me.

Still, I’ll confess to beginning to feel a bit of self-promotion fatigue.  I first noticed it when I began seeing artists post acceptance emails from awards they had won, exhibitions they had been accepted into, etc.  Not merely a post stating the fact of it, mind you, but actually copying the correspondence they had received for others to read.

I’ve also noticed what I think is an uptick in the cycle of posting about these kinds of things.  For example, it no longer seems enough just to share, maybe once or twice, that one’s work is being exhibited somewhere.  Instead, you get a post about receiving the acceptance letter, followed by one about finalizing the work, followed by one about dropping off the work at the exhibition site, followed by one about the exhibition opening in two weeks, then one week, then tomorrow, then another post about the artist’s reception, and then posts about the exhibition closing in two weeks, then one week, then tomorrow, etc.

Is it just me, or is it enough already?  I generally feel that if someone is interested in your work, they will choose to follow you out of interest in what you do.  Sharing your accomplishments certainly fills some of that interest to a point, but after a while it crosses a line and begins to feel like being shouted at with a megaphone.  I follow photographers and other artists primarily because their work resonates with me and I want to find out more about that, not to be a distribution point for items that fill up their CV.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m judging those who engage in this.  Really, I mean that.  It’s a tough world out there in which to be an artist, and I totally understand the need for artists to get the word out about their work.  I suppose I’m just expressing that, for one person, the balance seems sometimes to be getting a bit out of hand.

And of course, as with many things, I’m probably out of the mainstream on this.  I’ve been accused of under-marketing myself, and that may be true.  Early on, I made a decision that I would use my blog and other online presences to express my interest in photography and the arts, not to self-promote those few accomplishments that come my way.  As it is with those whose work I follow, I hope that those who follow me do so simply because they like my work.

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Parallel Worlds

San Jose de Gracia Church No. 2. Las Trampas, New Mexico, 2012.

San Jose de Gracia Church No. 2.
Las Trampas, New Mexico, 2012.

One thing I enjoy about photography is the sense of living in a parallel world.  What I mean by this is the ability to see things in a parallel way.  On one level, I certainly see the world in the work-a-day, get-around kind of way that everyone does.  But it’s also fun and enjoyable to see the world as a photographer, looking for and being struck by light and shadow, frame and composition, and so forth.

I think we all live in parallel worlds.  When I look at the San Jose de Gracia church, I see it as a work of visual art.  An engineer might see it in terms of load, structure, and dimension.  An historian might see it as representing the Spanish colonial influence in New Mexico.  A New Mexican might experience it with warmth and a feeling of home.

Living in parallel worlds like this gives everyone a unique perspective on the common world we all share.  Sharing these unique perspectives is one of the great joys of life.  Whatever your parallel world is, embrace it, live it, revel in it.

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