Author Archives: admin

My 5D Mark II and Me

White Trees, Series 2, No. 10.

Like most of the images on this website, the photograph in this post was taken with a Canon 5D Mark ii.  I bought my 5D Mark ii in late 2012, when it was the outgoing model being replaced by the Canon 5D Mark iii.  I’ve kept my 5D Mark ii through the reigns of the 5D Mark iii, 5D Mark iv, 5Dsr, and now the newly introduced 5R.  Since the Canon 5D Mark ii was first released in late 2008, as of this writing it is a 12-year-old camera, which is an eternity for a digital camera.  Why haven’t I upgraded it?

Well, truth to tell, I’ve been meaning to for awhile, but I’m surprised at how little urgency I feel to do so.  The new Canon 5R is the first Canon camera I’ve felt would be worth the upgrade.  For various reasons, none of the 5D Mark iii, 5D Mark iv, or 5Dsr really held my interest.  I’ll check out the 5R, and if it holds up like I think it will, I’ll probably get one.  Eventually.

In the meantime, I suppose I really like my 5D Mark ii.  It’s been getting the job done.  It makes inkjet prints 21 inches wide pretty much just fine, and I rarely find the need to print much larger than that.  Web pages and print publications have been no problem.  I have no doubt image quality is better from newer camera models, but I don’t feel the image quality produced from the 5D Mark ii is holding me back (indeed, I tend to like images that are a bit “rough around the edges” – I kind of wonder if I would find images from newer cameras to be too “clean” somehow).  Plus, I’ve been using my 5D Mark ii for so long, I’m really at home with it.

There’s a lesson in all this somewhere.  Maybe it’s the idea that you don’t need the latest equipment to produce artful images.  Maybe, in some cases, older equipment might even be better.  I’m sure I’ll get around to upgrading my camera at some point, probably sooner rather than later.  But it seems not be an urgent matter for me, so looks like it will be my 5D Mark ii and me, for at least a little while longer.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , |

What Can I Say?

What can I say?  I like quiet, unassuming scenes like this one.  I like them, but I recognize many people (maybe most people) will see nothing special here.  Where are the tall mountains?  The pretty sunset?  The fierce waves crashing against a rocky coastline?

Why do I like this scene?  I like it because it is a study in light:  the way the late afternoon sun lights up the dead level of the rails, and how the light fades away as you move up from the horizon and leaves the foreground in pitch-dark shadow.  I like it because of the graphic design:  the very dark foreground juxtaposed against the very light sky, with the long white horizontal of the rails and the upright black verticals of the posts adding just enough visual tension.  I like it because it communicates to me the feeling I had when I was there:  the peaceful and somewhat foreboding emptiness of the wide-open prairie, and the anticipation of the power and controlled fury of the locomotives that regularly and inevitably thunder through this place.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , |

A Sense of Place

Longs Peak, Low Clouds. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2018.

I’ve talked with some photographers of landscapes who have told me they need to travel away to distant places in order to be inspired to make photographs.  I’ve also heard it said that a real photographer should be able to stand in a random place and make an interesting photograph based solely on what’s available to see there.  It’s opposite ends of the spectrum.  One view says it’s preferable to be in a special place to make a good photograph, and one says a good photograph should be able to be made anywhere.

There’s merit to both positions, I think.  Myself, I think I lie somewhere in the middle.  My approach generally is to put myself in an interesting place at an interesting time, but to then, as much as possible, have no particular agenda and let the photographic opportunities fall where they may.

In general, though, I do try to imbue my landscape images with a sense of place.  But this is interpretative – the sense of place I’m seeking is what a place means to me personally.  It probably doesn’t take much imagination to connect the subject of this photograph, Longs Peak, to the sense of place of being in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.  Sometimes, a sense of place lies with obvious things.  But other things that have connected with me as embodying a sense of place for Colorado include mundane things such as grain silos and railroad cars, both of which are well represented here on the Front Range of Colorado.  If I were to put together a “Colorado” portfolio, it would include mountain peaks, pine trees, railroad tracks, industrial agriculture, and modern architecture, all having nothing particularly in common with one another other than embodying what “Colorado” means to me.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , , |

The Photograph Is Its Own Reality

Figure Study, Duomo of Milan. Milan, Italy, 2019.

Here is a photograph of a sculpted figure decorating the exterior of the Duomo in Milan, Italy.  When you look at it, maybe you see the graceful lines of the carving, or the way the proportions of the figure blend harmoniously with the alcove in which it is set, or maybe you feel the sense of serenity seen in the figure’s face or are uplifted by the movement conveyed in the outstretched arms and tilt of the head.

What you don’t see is how small this figure is from where you must stand to observe it.  It must be, if I recall correctly, two or three stories above the ground (I had to use a long telephoto lens to get this close to it in the photograph).  You also don’t see that this is one of a dozen or more figures of this kind decorating this wall of the cathedral, all of which compete for attention with one another and with the other various busy decorative embellishments and designs on the building’s facade.  You definitely don’t hear the noise of the traffic on the nearby city streets, feel the jostle of the crowds that gather around the Duomo at all hours, nor feel sleepy from the heat of the late summer Italian day that lingers on long into the gathering evening.

In short, the experience of standing and looking at this figure on the side of the Duomo was nothing like what is depicted in the photograph.  But that’s okay.  No photograph can ever really document what it was like to actually be there in the specific time and place in which it was taken.  It’s just lines and shadows on a flat piece of paper, after all.  To the degree a photograph presents a reality, the reality presented is only that of the photograph itself – a two-dimensional scene, in your hands (or on a screen, or hanging on a wall), at the particular time and place you happen to be at when you look at it.  The reality presented is that which the photographer wants you to see, nothing more and nothing less.  It can be related (maybe even highly related) to what was there when the photograph was captured, but it need not necessarily be related to that at all.

Myself, I like to think my photographs reflect my particular way of seeing the world.  If you were to stand ten different people in front of the Duomo in Milan, sure, they would all see the cathedral, but my guess is they would have ten different individual experiences about seeing the cathedral, all embodied by different aspects of the cathedral that they saw.  This photograph is what I saw when I looked at the cathedral, is this what you would have seen?  The way this photograph makes me feel is what I felt when I looked at the cathedral, is this what you would have felt?  The reality of this photograph is not at all like the reality of standing in front of the cathedral, and almost certainly not like what your individual reality would be if you stood in front of the cathedral.  But it was my reality, maybe even my reality alone, and it is what I have sought to embody in the reality presented by this photograph.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , |

More Than Meets The Eye

Windmills No. 1. Near Cheyenne, Wyoming, 2020.

I don’t generally get too excited about the mechanics of photographing these days, I’m far more interested in the content of the images.  The mechanics of this image actually are a bit interesting, though.  If you have some photography knowledge, you may know that the blurring of the clouds in the sky is due to a long exposure.  In this case, without looking at the metadata, my guess is the shutter speed was on the order of 15 seconds to two minutes.  Even at the 15-second low end of that range, though, turning blades of a windmill typically would move so fast as to have registered in the image much like the blades of a propeller airplane engine.  Why do the blades appear so still?

Well, obviously, because they weren’t turning.  This windmill field was newly installed when I photographed it, and probably had not been brought online yet.  Importantly, the blades of the windmills were stopped from turning.  But not perfectly so — they were permitted to move very slowly, my guess being that truly stopped windmill blades would undergo an extraordinarily high amount of stress in a stiff wind, and so even stopped windmill blades must be provided a bit of slack to turn.  That is why the blades of the windmill in the foreground appear slightly ghosted.  The blades oscillated back and forth between the positions over the course of the exposure.

As mentioned, I generally don’t get too excited about photography mechanics, and these days am more focused on image content.  Seeing these gigantic windmills up close in the rolling high plains landscape west of Cheyenne, Wyoming was a surreal experience, and the blurred clouds and ghosted windmill blades help evoke that feeling, I think.  Still, the mechanics of the image in this case are kind of interesting too.  More practically, it’s unlikely I’ll be able to get another photograph like this one, because the field has become active and the blades now turn with a fair amount of speed.  Any exposure time sufficient to create blurring in the clouds now most likely would indeed cause the windmill blades to look like the blades of a propeller airplane engine.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , |

Just. Sounds. Terrible.

White Trees, Series 1, No. 9.

I’ve been listening lately to the photography podcast “F-Stop Collaborate and Listen” by Matt Payne.  It’s a great podcast, I really recommend it if you are a landscape photographer.  Every week he interviews a different landscape photographer, often a full-time working professional, on a variety of topics in current landscape photography.  Being pretty much an outsider, I’ve learned a lot about how this field works and who some of the personalities within it are.

One topic that comes up over and over is social media.  If you want to be a professional landscape photographer starting out today, I gather that social media is critical to succeeding.  Myself, I have virtually no social media presence, so I can’t really speak from firsthand knowledge, but I have to say it just… sounds… terrible.

First, as near as I can tell, the consensus seems to be that social media for photography is basically a big, hothouse, echo chamber.  It appears to reward the posting of essentially the same kinds of images over and over (the same locations, from the same viewpoints, under the same kinds of lighting conditions, etc.), typically in the form of a grand landscape in bold colors.  Since I photograph in black and white, often in anonymous locations and with somewhat subdued subject matter, it seems to me my photography might not have a place in this kind of environment.

Second, I get the impression there’s a lot of hostility in social media.  Say the wrong thing online, even with good intentions or by virtue of simple mistake, and you run the risk of being slammed with a backlash of vitriol and negativity.  While I realize that I’m an outlier, I’ll confess that I find people unpredictable and volatile under the best of circumstances.  I certainly would not want to expose myself to the ire of thousands of strangers online.

So, I used to think of my lack of presence on social media as a bit of a personal failure.  And really, it probably is – if someone wanted to magically offer me 100,000 followers on Facebook, I’d have a hard time saying no.  But given what I’ve learned about how social media works from listening to interviews with the pros, I do feel less bad about not being engaged with it.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , , |

Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

Dark Cars, Dark Clouds. Lucerne, Colorado, 2019.

Why do I shoot photos of railroad cars?  Who exactly is my audience for this?  Would anyone use this to decorate their wall?  Would any critic consider this to be fine art?  Was this really a productive use of my time for photography?  Is photography really a productive use of my time at all?  Does this duplicate the work someone else already has done?  Is it beautiful to look at?  Is it more than just about a train?  Is it more than just about a photograph?  Why does it matter?

I shoot photos of railroad cars because they speak to me.  I am the audience for these photographs.  I would use them to decorate my wall.  It doesn’t matter to me if a critic would consider them to be fine art.  Yes, it is a productive use of my time for photography.  Yes, photography is a productive use of my time more generally.  I don’t know if this duplicates the work of someone else, nor do I care.  Yes, it is beautiful to look at.  Yes, it is more than just about a train.  Yes, it is more than just about a photograph.  I don’t know why it matters, but it does.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , |

Just Right

Storm Over Rock Cut. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2019.

I’ve noted before that I’m a big fan of the contemporary photographer Michael Kenna.  I’m hardly alone in this.  He is one of the most renowned and widely collected photographers working today with many admirers around the world.  And deservedly so.  His work is just beautiful.

With so many followers, it’s perhaps no surprise that many photographers seem to be trying to (consciously or unconsciously) imitate his work.  On the face of it, the look of his pictorialist, black and white landscapes would appear to be easy to imitate.  And yet.

So often I look at the work of other photographers whose work is playing in Kenna’s space, and I end up having the same reaction:  1) I look at their work, and am very impressed;  2) I later look at the work of Kenna, and suddenly the imitator’s work seems shallow and pale by comparison.  There are, in fact, only two photographers I can think of off the top of my head whose work I think is on par with Kenna’s in the style that Kenna pioneered (whether or not this is a good thing I don’t know, and in any case they shall here remain nameless).

What is it about Kenna’s work that stands apart and above from his crowded field of imitators?  I guess I can say only that it’s “just right.”  There’s something about his choice of subject matter, the equipment he uses (he’s known for Hasselblad medium format film cameras), his perspectives, compositions, and the choices he makes in his darkroom printing.  If any one of these (or a multitude of other) variables is off, even just by a little bit, as I presume to be the case for the many Michael Kenna imitators out there, the result no longer is “just right.”  The products of such efforts become merely, again, pale and shallow imitations of the magic of the original.

“Just right” is an interesting concept.  In my own efforts, it’s the discriminator between work that passes the bar from one level to the next.  In the field, I frame and re-frame compositions until it looks “just right” on the camera’s screen (thank you digital cameras!).  On the computer, I edit and re-edit until it looks “just right” on the monitor.  I then print, tweak, and re-print until it looks “just right” on the paper.

Of course, “just right” also is a difficult concept, in that it is completely subjective to the eye of the beholder and therefore cannot be taught to another with any objective standard.  To this, I can say only that every artist being honest with himself or herself carries around their own “just right” standard with them.  It’s the little voice inside one’s head whispering, even when you want your work to be perfect and finished, that it’s not.  Ignore that voice at your own peril, it’s usually right.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , , |

Art Speaks Where Words Cannot Explain

Black Trees, Series 3, No. 3

So, I’m not going to pretend that a work of art is as important as a ventilator, or that the work of an artist is as important as the work of a doctor or an ICU nurse. Priorities have to be placed, and it’s obvious where priorities should now be falling.

Still, art does have its place and its value in a society.  As the title of this post says: art speaks where words cannot explain. If you have experienced art to enrich your life in good times, as I have, then no less can it be healing and comforting in bad times as well.

Consider saying thank you to an artist. Of if not a thank you, just a note of some kind to let them know you appreciate their work. Creating artwork can be a very lonely experience in the best of times, and working artists can very easily fall through the cracks when times are bad. Again, not to take away from the doctors, the nurses, and everyone else on the front lines of the coronavirus crisis. But a simple, quick, and heartfelt expression of appreciation to an artist whose work has reached you in some way will, at the very least, make their day.

And no, please don’t send me a thank you. I’m doing fine, and plus I don’t want this post to be misconstrued as trolling for compliments. Besides, I am for better or worse a bit of a lone wolf by nature – I probably wouldn’t know what to do with a compliment anyway.

 

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , |

That Plain Little Church…

San Rafael Church. La Cueva, New Mexico, 2016.

Sing those hymns we sang together
In that plain little church with the benches all worn
How dear to my heart how precious the moments
We stood shaking hands and singing a song

— Hazel Dickens, “Won’t You Come and Sing For Me”

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged , , , , , , |