Tag Archives: 2015

Those Crimson Peaks Stir My Soul

Longs Peak, Cloud Crest.  Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2015.

When you have an interest in photography, like I do, you tend to look at a lot of photographs.  It’s natural, I think, to begin to form opinions about what you like and don’t like, what works for you and what doesn’t, etc.  Eventually, you may find yourself asking whether certain photographs are “art” or not, or maybe if they are “good” or not.

I’m not even going to wade into that debate.  As far as I’m concerned, you could doodle a stick figure on a cocktail napkin and call it “art” and you probably would be right, and the question of whether something is “good” or not is largely in the eye of the beholder. 

But I will say for myself, having looked at a lot of photographs, a hallmark of the ones that stand out to me is that they tend to have a degree of nuance, subtlety, or sophistication in the way in which they communicate their message.  Photography being a visual medium, it’s a bit hard to describe what I mean.  But, by way of analogy, it’s kind of like the difference between the sentence

“Those mountains are pretty at sunset”

and the sentence

“Those crimson peaks stir my soul”

Okay, granted, neither of these sentences is a literary masterpiece, but the point I’m trying to make is that the second sentence (hopefully) communicates its message with more nuance, subtlety, and sophistication than the first sentence. 

Photographs are like that too, except of course that the language of photography is visual communication rather than written communication.  Some photographs simply are executed with more nuance, subtlety, and sophistication than others.  It’s something to perhaps consider if you find yourself asking whether something is “art” or not, or whether it’s “good” or not. 

Posted in Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , , , , , |

Landscapes are Landscapes, Photographs are Photographs

Longs Peak, Range of Clouds Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2015

Longs Peak, Range of Clouds
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, 2015

“My interest in photography did not begin with books or mentors, or with any burning desire to see the world through a camera.  It evolved from an intense devotion to mountains and wilderness that eventually shaped all the parts of my life and brought them together.”

— Galen Rowell

What an interesting quote by the great landscape photographer Galen Rowell.  It’s interesting to me personally because it is almost exactly backwards from how my interest in photography developed.  From a very young age, I remember being interested in photographs as objects in and of themselves.  I remember when my Dad would travel on business, I would ask him to bring me back a postcard from where he had been and spend an inordinate amount of time getting lost in the photograph.  Conversely, I did not grow up with much of an outdoorsy lifestyle, and to this day I have no appreciable wilderness skills to speak of.  Most of my landscape photography is done by the side of the road or maybe, if I’m feeling adventurous, down a well-marked, well-traveled trail in a National Park or somewhere similar.

This is not to say that I have no connection to the land or to landscapes.  To the contrary, I feel a photographer interested in producing expressive photographs should feel a strong connection with the subject matter he or she is photographing.  It’s just that my connection with landscapes has not developed as a result of lots of time spent in the back country or otherwise outdoor adventuring.  I love to travel and to see new places – most of my eyes on the landscape likely has come through the windshield of my car.

There’s nothing wrong with the Galen Rowell approach, of course, and indeed my experience is that most photographers who photograph the landscape come at it from this perspective.  I’m a little fearful, however, that the Galen Rowell quote may create an expectation that reverence for the landscape is all that is required to photograph it expressively.  It is not.  It my opinion, it’s far more important to have an interest in photographs – what makes them work, what make them fail – to produce expressive landscape photography.  Being an accomplished outdoorsman is admirable, but landscapes are landscapes, and photographs are photographs.  It is being an accomplished photographer that is required for photography.

Posted in Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , , , , |

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.

Posted in Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , , , , , |

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.

Posted in Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , , |

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.

Posted in Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , , , , , , |

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.

Posted in Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , , |

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.

Posted in Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , , , |

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.

Posted in Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , , , , |

A Sense of Place

On the Low Road to Taos Near Taos, New Mexico, 2015

On the Low Road to Taos
Near Taos, New Mexico, 2015

How closely should a photograph reference the place at which it was taken?

I think back before I got into the practice of photography, and simply was a consumer of photographs, I tended to favor photographs of landscapes that I had personally been to.  I think I’ve always been an observer of the landscape, and on that basis photographs of landscapes that I had personally experienced were more meaningful to me.

When I began making photographs of my own, I think my perception of photographs changed.  I’ve tended to favor photographs of anonymous locations, where one can’t tell simply by viewing the photograph where it was taken.  Perhaps I’ve felt the emphasis should more properly be on the content of the photograph itself, divorced from any associations one might make from knowing the location.

But I wonder if that view really holds up.  When I went to title this image, I could have used a title non-specific as to location, such as “Tree and Mailbox” or “Reaching Tree, Curving Cloud.”  But somehow I felt that the title, and therefore the image, should reference its place at the side of a bend on the Low Road to Taos, New Mexico.

Maybe it’s better not to overthink these things, and just go with your instinct.

Posted in Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , |

Daylight Savings

Tree Split Mount Goliath, Colorado, 2015

Tree Split
Mount Goliath, Colorado, 2015

About a week ago it was daylight saving time here in the U.S., which means that clocks were pushed forward by one hour.  I’d been looking forward to this for some time, because the additional hour of daylight in the evenings means that there now is enough time to do whatever it is I may be doing during the day, and still have enough light for some photography in the evening.

For example, this past weekend I spent the day both Saturday and Sunday skiing, but after the ski day was over there still was enough daylight to do some exploring and photographing in the snowy mountains near the ski area.  As the days get even longer, I’m looking forward to getting out in the evenings after my day job to photograph in and along the Front Range near my home here in Fort Collins, Colorado.  By June and July, there will be enough light for me to make the hour or so drive up to Rocky Mountain National Park and still have an hour or two to explore and photograph before it gets dark.

It’s fun for me to get out with my camera, but there’s a bigger point at issue here.  It’s the idea of working photography into my daily routine.  As I’ve mentioned before, I have a full-time day job as well as all of the chores and responsibilities of daily living.  Often, at the end of the day, I’m tired and it would be easy just to wind things down and call it quits.

But I think photography is kind of a “do it or lose it” discipline.  Staying engaged with it on a daily basis – be it making captures in the field, editing captured work, or simply reading and learning new things – is necessary to keep developing one’s art and craft.  I think it’s important, therefore, to find ways to work it into the daily routine.  Fortunately, for me anyway, it’s not hard to do because the desire is there.  It’s simply a matter of making it a priority and following through with it.

Posted in Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , , |