Sunday, March 30, 2008


Don't know what it's like for you but when I have to reprint an image, I often want to see if I can do it better. With the tin shed image I restarted from the raw file and am quite pleased with the result.

So much for digital meaning nothing ever changes.

So Just How Important Is Composition Anyway?

Most of you know by now that I have a thing for composition - I feel it is very important to my images. my collection of well composed boring images rival's anyone's.

We have learned that whatever rules of thumb we come up with in photography, someone can find an example of the opposite that works to threaten our rule. None the less, rules simply reflect the way that usually works, that if you were a betting man, you'd not bet against the rule all things being equal.

Edward Weston said that "Composition is the strongest way of seeing", which sums it up very nicely, but doesn't answer our original question of

"just how important is composition anyway?"

Some photographers pay little attention to composition. It seems sufficient to get the subject in the frame and fire. One could argue that a lot of wildlife photographs work that way, probably sports images too and perhaps the majority of portraits, but perhaps environmental portraits more often take advantage of compositional elements.

Even things like collars, rows of buttons, position of arms and even of shadows can be compositional elements. Some of the best sports images are extremely simple in design and make very interesting shapes beyond what they tell of the sport and the event.

Certainly the vast majority of great landscape images are well composed. Still lifes would hardly exist without composition and as for architecture, well composition is synonymous with design in this kind of work.

Could it be that composition is what untalented unskilled or lazy photographers use to make up for lighting, timing, drama and excitement in an image? If we go back to Edward Weston's words, then there has to be something to see which justifies using composition to see it strongest. Thus composition on it's own will not make for good images. Perhaps you have already discovered that no matter how carefully you arrange an image, if it is boring, it becomes a well composed boring image. The image needs more - something worth looking at, because of it's nature.

That nature might be something that pulls at heart strings, whether a puppy or a war, a revealed detail or a subject that works with light to produce magnificent tonalities (think Pepper # 30 or Walt Disney Theatre and Gugenheim Bilbao. It could be it's uniqueness or originality of idea, an expression or simply beauty.

Sometimes all you can do is see something interesting, compose it in the best way possible, and hope that the subject translates well into a still image. You can only do what you can do, but if you do it often enough, with enough interesting subjects, and with a bit of foreknowledge of what photographs well, then sooner or later you are going to produce really good images.

So how does composition help?

Compositional elements may point to the subject, or arrange things in interesting patterns and lines. It downplays the unimportant parts of the image and emphasizes the important. Composition makes sure that the whole image earns it's keep and that there is a sense of rightness to the image, even if that rightness is a jarring interruption or change - as in an image full of straight lines, but one sinuous curve.

Composition helps you make sense of an image. Arrangements of compositional elements have associated emotions - peacefulness, threatening, aggitation, sadness and so on, which can be used to reinforce the message of the subject.

Composition is about harmony and balance, but also about dysharmony and unbalanced. If you think of the Stravinsky portrait with his rather small head in the bottom left corner and the huge open piano occupying the rest of the image - you'd not call that balanced, but it does describe his life in a single black blob. That image did not follow any compositional rules, but it was the strongest way of seeing. If the composition works, who the hell cares if it follows rules?

Composition is of sufficient importance that even war photographers dodging bullets will move around a scene to get the best composition - that's how important it is - worth risking your life for!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

CF Card Failures - Photorescue Software

Yesterday I lost all my images of the day from card failure. I had been able to review the images in camera as I worked but after taking the card from the camera and immediately inserting it into the card reader - nothing. On going back to camera, nothing - no images. This was my most recent card purchase, a 4 GB Sandisk III - a bit disappointing. So far it's worked fine today for the previous dust tests so we'll see.

I was able (as always) to rescue the images via PhotoRescue. This commercial software has never let me down, generally rescuing 99% of all the images (in this case all but one of 105 images) - not bad in my book and essential to anyone's work flow. While cards do come with image rescue software, it has never been as effective as Photo Rescue and I highly recommend it. I note that they now have three versions, I have the $29 expert version and so far have not had to use any of it's more sophisticated rescue techniques.

My routine is to let a card fail once and I'll reformat as usual and keep using it, but if it fails again within a month or so - it's history. Don't know if this is efficient use, but it works for me - especially with cards coming down in price as they have.

I'm Pissed Off/Oh, Hang On...

The image above is the result of using $14.95 of sensor swabs (3) on my admittedly very dirty sensor. Damn this is irritating.

OK, so despite some negative reviews of the sensorbrush system - spinning the brush to induce a static charge that will attract the dust, here's the same spot on the sensor after a good brushing.

There are still a dozen or so spots on the sensor, but that compares to probably thousands in the swabbed image. I had truly thought that the grime on the sensor would only respond to swabs but it appears I was wrong - I can comfortably live with a dozen spots, probably only one or two which will even show in the average image.


I exposed some sky to a manual metering of f32 and the exposure on the mark. I didn't do anything in camera raw and used auto levels in Photoshop to increase contrast dramatically for both images.

Some people find the sensor brush frustrating because it picks up oil from the mirror box and that gets transferred to the mirror. I have to tell you this sensor brush was sitting in a broken plastic box in which the lid was no longer attached, at the bottom of my accessory slot on my camera backpack, for the last six months of fairly regular shooting - I could actually see some black marks on the brush but hoped the marks were too far from the end of the bristles to affect the cleaning process - hardly ideal care - but it worked. Perhaps it's just luck, or more likely bad luck for those who do get oil on the brush. I certainly never use this brush to clean the mirror box or the mirror or even the ground glass below the pentaprism.

Take it for what it's worth. Here's hoping the new self cleaning sensors work as well as advertised (already there are mixed reviews).

Sam, Exposure, High ISO

Having survived the chimney drop, I grabbed Sam for a quick portrait, picking the big door as a background and a modest amount of north light providing the lighting.

Above you see the detail in the image, click on picture to get 100% view.

The lesson appears to be that you can use higher iso's but you need a well exposed image, nicely detailed shadows that won't need further "opening" in Photoshop. Frankly it had never occured to me before to use ei. 800 with my 1Ds2 but I'm very pleased with the result.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Radiator Covers

Apparently these are the covers for locomotive radiators, being repaired and a number of bolts had rusted in place and were having to be drilled, filled, welded and drilled again.

I tried photographing from several angles, using the 90 ts-e as well as the 70-200, the latter with multiple images stitched. I had no sense at the time which composition would work the best and did myself the favour of providing as many options from which to pick as possible. This meant taking an hour to do the work and something like 50 images (remember the blending focus) but was well worth the trouble.

Independent Machinery 15

These images are pushing my limits. The image of Aaron was shot at ei. 800 since the room was extremely dark and with the window behind him the dynamic range was right at the limits of the camera. There was quite a bit of noise and the face not super sharp, but it should make a decent 8X10. He was watching Sam use a cutting torch to free a forty foot high chimney which started 15 feet up - he dropped it perfectly, though some of us were thinking 911 emergency.

The second image was a multi image blend. I really needed the background blurred since it was quite distracting so used f5.6 but even though I used 11 images to do the blend, I should have used 20 or so - with finer increments in focus between images - I managed to miss the tip of the centre metal rest and focussed 1 cm. back - looks like at 5.6 the segments needed to be every centimeter - it might even have needed as many as 30 - we live and we learn.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Photographer And The Camera

“it’s the photographer, not the camera” has been advice issued by experienced photographers to the wanabe masses for years. I still remember a “Father Knows Best” or some such show episode in which the son wanted to play the trumpet and the “banger” he was using couldn’t play a decent note. Onto the show came somone like Al Hirt, who proceeded to blow them away with his virtuosity on this beat up old instrument.

Photographers who have a lot of experience have been trying to explain to new and some not so new photographers disappointed with their results that a better camera would not have made any of the images the newbie photographer made any better.

Of course, there were always dramatic changes in quality when one moved from 35 mm. film to medium format and from medium format to large format. So it is true today that images made with consumer grade cameras tend to look poorer than those taken with 16 megapixel cameras and those lag somewhat images made with 39 MP digital backs.

They only look poorer though in a few specific ways, to do with tonality, shadows, resolution and so on, while the mre important issues of subject matter, composition, lighting, and so on don’t even come into the issue as all being photographer driven.

Print size largely cancels out the inequalities of imaging - make a nice 5X7 image from 35 mm. slow film, well printed and the result can be wonderfully rich, so too can a consumer level digital camera make nice small prints.

But what is forgotten in all this discussion is that a huge number of struggling photographers are so convinced that it is their cameras that limit their work and who not only spend big dollars to buy cameras they don’t really need, they also waste time experimenting. In the old days it was films and developers. Now it’s raw processors and sharpening tools and Photoshop plug in’s. They change cameras so often they never become proficient with any of them. Frankly “the good worker doesn’t blame his tools” is still worthwhile advice.

The average photographer would be far better to buy an $800 Rebel than a $3000 5D and use the $2200 difference to take workshop, buy books of fine images, subscribe to one or more of the better magazines or do some reading about the artistic and creative side of photography (slim as the pickings are).

But this isn’t the real world - new equipment and big lenses are sexy, they feel good in the hand, they are impressive to look at. There are few of us who have not succumbed to the bigger/better/more philosophy to one degree or another.

To argue that the camera doesn’t matter, when we are talking about a population of photographers who shoot wildlife or football games, do studio work or landscapes is just silly. What might be a better statement is something along the lines of “the photographer still matters more than the equipment”.

After 40 years of photographing I’ve becme fairly competent at recognizing what will improve my photography more. But you know what - I have a big expensive shiny sexy camera. I’m human.

Having Meaning Vs. Being Meaningful

G. Dan offered the following:

G Dan Mitchell has left a new comment on your post "Meaningful Images 3":

"Meaning" is an interesting notion relative to art. With my particular background I tend to think of it in the context of music where one simple way of dividing things up (too simple, perhaps) is to speak of "program" and "absolute" music.

"Program" music overtly "means something" because the composer intends it to be associated with non-musical things - perhaps to represent something specific, to tell a story, or evoke a particular feeling or experience.

On the other hand, "absolute" music is simply what it is. It is no less significant nor does it create a less significant effect on the listener - it just produces the effect purely by means of the sound resources that the composer uses, without specific reference to any particular "meaning."

I don't see why photography should be any different. Great photographs may come with "meaning" attached - either supplied by the photographer or obviously to be inferred through the subject. But great photographs can also simply be great photographs that are not "about" any specific thing at all.

It works for me.


I like Dan's idea that an image doesn't have to mean anything, it just is - you look at it, marvel at it's beauty, balance, tonality, composition and simply enjoy it's beauty. You leave enriched because looking at beauty is a moving experience, but you aren't changed, other than to think, gee, I liked looking at that beautiful image, just maybe I should look at more wonderful images.

With Pepper # 30, you can get into sexual implications, but really, it's just a pepper. It says nothing about farmers rights or immigrant workers. It has no intrinsic meaning other than to show beauty where one had ignored it previously.

I think Pepper # 30 is meaningful because it is so incredibly rich and sensuous and shows wonderfully what photography is about, but it doesn't have meaning in the sense of representing something.

But, did the peppers start to be meaningful for Edward as he became better at translating their curves and tones and highilghts into beautiful images. I think so, and just because he ate it, doesn't make it any the less meaningful experience for him to have worked on the series.

Meaningful Images 3

A street photographer is wandering around, looking for interesting things to photograph. He has no special agenda other than to be recognized as the next Cartier Bresson, someone with a fabulous eye. He looks left and sees a hot dog vendor - the lighting is perfect and there is a shadow in the background that just adds something to the image - a small child is reaching up to take his just served hot dog. In less than half a second the photographer has seen all these elements come together and takes the picture. Because he's been doing this for a while, focus is spot on, exposure is right, he's learned the trick of good hand holding.

The photographer moves on. Someone is sweeping the sidewalk, large clouds of dust kicked up and the late afternoon sun isolates the sweeper from the background. Suddenly a pretty girl walks by in front of the sweeper and he glances up to admire her. Click.

Our photographer spends a few hours out photographing, coming home with a few dozen images, a couple of them he's really excited about. On looking at the images on computer, one of the two good images is trash - fatal distacting elements or too harsh lighting or split second late. A couple of images that didn't excite the photographer at the time show some real promise. In the end the photographer comes up with four pleasing prints and one fabulous image, not the one he expected.

The above is a not untypical scenario, whether applied to a sports photographer, fashion or landscape. But what about meaning?

You might best describe this kind of image in the above scenario as "slice of life". No great truths have been unveiled but the images (if they are good) beautifully illustrate ordinary human existence. It might be hard to see meaning in any one image especially when examined critically and excessively, but when you put together the work of our street photographer over a year - it tells a story of "our town", beautifully illustrating those little moments in life which define our existence. In this way, they do have meaning and purpose and are worth sharing with others.

The photographer may not have had the intention of "doing a project" but in essence by choosing the images he does, by electing to be a street photographer and select a location and work at it repeatedly until both successful and with a body of work behind him, it really ends up as a project.

The photographer thought of himself as "cruising for snaps" as the late Fred Picker described it, but inadvertently managed to produce a meaningful body of work that many an office worker can relate to.

Monday, March 24, 2008

More On Meaningful

I suggested the other day that meaningful relates to the photographer, not the viewer and went on to suggest that perhaps meaningful might well not become apparent until well into a photographic project, and that photographers who shoot a little of this, a little of that, might never reach the meaningful threshold. There are photographers who do produce some lovely work, simply trying this and that. Kertesz comes to mind as someone who didn't seem to have specific projects yet Chez Mondrian is one of my all time favourite photographs so I guess I'm arguing against myself - mind you kertesz took a lifetime of photographs and is known mostly for a dozen or so images and although I think Chez Mondrian exquisite, I'm not sure that I'd call it a meaningful photograph.

This raises the question as to whether a photograph even has to be meaningful. Perhaps it's like a lot of other common characteristics of good photographs, it helps but is neither essential nor sufficient to make a great photograph - it's just one of many things that could be included to make a great image.

It's quite possible for a photographer to select a subject that he or she thinks will be meaningful to others. This seems to completely contradict what I said in the first article on meaningful. But bear with me.

As a photographer I could choose to photograph one of the "hot" topics - poverty, disease, pain, war, pollution and so on. One could make the argument that this is what Burtynsky did, but when you read about Edward Burtynsky, you find out that he's been photographing the effect of the environment on the landscape since the mid 1980's, long before environment was popular and certainly before he could have reasonably predicted that he'd make big bucks off of selling images of tire piles and rust and what not. To stick with a project for 23 years means that you are involved in it at a fundamental level - it has meaning for you - you are dedicated to it - you are willing to see it through slumps and doubts and failures. Is it any surprise that after this much effort, we can see the meaning in his images.

I think that one could pick a "hot" topic and the quality of the images, the meaninfullness of them is likely to be tied to the comittment made to the project. After all, war photographers clearly choose to go into danger and can produce meaningful work. What I suspect doesn't work very often is to decide at 3 pm to shoot poverty, head down town and onto the wrong side of the tracks, cruise the back alleys, shoot a few bums and come home proclaiming meaningful images.

To me, meaningful goes along with understanding of your subject, a sympathy for it, or at least for the problem it illustrates, it's tied to caring and trying and enduring and repeating and making an effort and sticking to it through thick and thin, then the images can be thought of as meaningful.

Sure I can casually go shoot a bum, but really - what are the odds of showing you anything new or meaningful in such an exercise - it didn't mean anything to me, why should I anticpate you are going to fall over yourself exclaiming it's deep meaning.

Even if you do choose to thoroughly explore one of the more "hot" or "classic" or "politically correct" or "controversial" topics, you can't know who's going to respond or how - you might make predictions about how likely it is that some people will respond to the images, but can't make any prediction about how any one person will perceive them. This is something to be well considered when submitting for publication - in general you are hoping that one person will see something in your images that makes them meaningful for themselves. Given that many people are hitting them up with "meaningful" subjects such as the starving and aids victims and so on, maybe you really don't want to do the obvious and just perhaps your chance of making a difference, of getting published, of creating a powerful body of work will depend on you finding meaning in your project.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


It was actually coincidence, I happened to be on the way to something else and this caught my eye.

Peeling Paint

Peeling paint is a cliche - and one could make a good argument for not even bothering to photograph it. As it happened though, trying to make the best possible composition was more than a little challenging - there being a fair amount of the paint and I consider the exercise well worth trying.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Meaningful Photographs


you think of yourself as a photographer artist or at least a 'Serious' photographer, someone who wants his or her images to mean something. You are looking for your next photographic project. What on earth are you going to pick for a subject so that you can be taken seriously as a photographer.

You decide to look at some current magazines for ideas on what others consider 'Serious' photography. You look at the latest Silvershotz - pictures of lightbulbs, hmmn... You flip over to Phot'art and half the pictures are more or less fashion shots, many of the rest odd quirky images highly dependent on gimicky technique - gee, this is getting a bit discouraging. You look at the latest Lenswork, at least here you see many portfolios showing the traditional values of image craft - well made images beautifully printed - subjects are pretty traditional - cathedrals, nudes, portraits, grain elevators?

In the end you really aren't any further ahead in finding a subject - either it doesn't appeal, looks kitchy or its a great idea but someone just did it and published it so not much scope there - at least for now.

Perhaps if we stop and think about what meaningful actually means, when referring to a meaningful collection of images. Well, I think right off that the whole point is for the images to be meaningful to you the photographer. You have not the right, privilege or ability to pick what is meaningful for me, the viewer. That's up to me to decide. Frankly after looking through the latest images in Phot'Art, my response is 'not too many images are meaningful for me'.

So the images have to mean something to you the photographer, and you don't have to make any consideration at all to whether they are meaningful to me the viewer. Of course doing meaninful work and doing work that is likely to get recognition are two entirely different subjects, though I do think the better editors can see when images mean something to the photographer - there is an intensity, vision, direction, message, or style that says this subject meant something to the photographer and he put his heart and soul into doing his best with it.

I'm guessing that Ann Geddes makes a lot more money with her cute baby pictures than say Michael Kenna, though I'd bet on Michael being remembered far longer.

Anyway, getting back to the subject and the images meaning something to the photographer you can see where the problem lies - the harder you have to think of a subject to photograph, the less likely it is that it's going to have deep personal meaning for the photographer, the more artificial the idea of what to photograph, the greater the chance that in choosing it, you have inadvertantly slipped back into trying to decide what will be meaningful for others.

What if it doesn't work that way? What if the meaning comes after you have been photographing a subject for a while and it starts to fascinate you and you find yourself going back and back for more, trying harder and harder to get the best out of the subject? What if it's the actual process of exploring any subject that makes it meaningful? This might explain why people who flit from subject to subject, never really exploring any one subject, don't tend to make any meaningful images - perhaps the very definition of meaningful precludes little of this little of that type photographers from creating meaningful work, or at the very least makes it a whole lot less likely.

Virtually every photographer I admire put a lot of effort into exploring his or her subject - whether it's Edward Weston's nudes or the quiet landscapes of Paul Caponigro, the native portraits of Phil Borges or the misty elegant and simple landscapes of Michael Kenna, they all spent a lot of time working on their chosen topics. Of course Ansel took grand landscapes - he hiked thousands of miles and was out in the wilderness for weeks at a time - probably putting more wilderness mileage in than 100 average modern tree hugging landscape photographers.

So, perhaps in the end it doesn't really matter what you photograph next - pick something, anything, and see where it leads you. Perhaps you'll get one or two nice images, but just maybe the subject will affect your dreams and drive you crazy and make you burn midnight oil and appreciate people you wouldn't normally give the time of day to. Just maybe the meaning is in the dedication and the dedication is in the meaning and it just happens, or not. If it doesn't happen, then you move onto the next idea.

Perhaps I'll write next about what to do if none of your ideas turns into dedication or meaningful images - does that mean your ideas aren't clever enough, or does it say more about your own attitudes and curiosity and energy?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Dis, Dat, and T'Other


Ah to be a fly on the wall at Nikon or Canon - what are they going to add to the next cameras. Of course their goal is to add as few features as possible compatible with competing with the opposition. With Nikon moving up fast with the D300 and D3, there's going to be more pressure on Canon to add significant features. Personally I'd like to see a tilting 3.5 inch LCD screen - it would make some of my photography dramatically easier. I do have a right angle finder but...

Looking Back

It's been an interesting year - a year ago if someone had said I'd have a successful book behind me I'd check to see what they were smoking. The book is being reprinted as you read this, the first 5000 copies all gone from the distributor and the book is usually in the top 25 photography books at

Thinking Ahead

I'm getting cold feet on another book - not enough images without duplicating - even though the purposes of the books are quite different - afraid that the content isn't different enough from all those photoshop books out there. I'm open to suggestions for a topic that would be both unique and useful.

Feeling Sorry For Myself

I've had the flu for three weeks - completely exhausted, short of breath much of the time - finally improving but even today I slept through lunch before returning to the patients. On Friday started seeing flashing lights - a sign of a vitreous separation (goo from the retina) and wasn't surprised but somewhat horrified to wake saturday with a huge floater drifting in front of my central vision in the left eye - they say it will settle, but it's my photographing eye! Not a happy camper. I make a terrible patient, moan moan, bloody moan!

Photographic Plans

I do feel that Independent Machinery is winding down after 14 trips but I want to shoot a few more of the regular staff but it's time to start thinking of a different project. The rheumatoid arthritis is sufficiently better that landscape is a possibility but I'm not finished with industrial. Was watching a video of Edward Burtynsky photographing some of his industrial shots, using a large ladder to photograph over chain link fences - good idea - he uses the top of the ladder for his tripod head.

Perhaps I need to be thinking about a completely new subject for my photography - hmmn...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

San Francisco

Most of the spots are filled for the April 12, 13 workshop but a few are still available. Looking forward to meeting some of you in person.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Latest Lenswork

# 75 just arrived and a lovely issue it is - some of Bruce Barnbaum's classic cathedral images (and a couple I hadn't seen before), interesting images of photographers by Bill Jay and more importantly along with some interesting text, a series of nudes by Rosanne Olsen. Larry Blackwood has a portfolio of grain elevator images which are top notch - strongly designed and beautifully printed.

Brooks tells us that he's no longer going to put Lenswork on magazine racks to avoid the huge waste in which excess magazines are trashed. I can see his point though I'll miss seeing it on the stand, class amongst the masses.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Andy Ilachinski

Sly dog that Andy is, he doesn't exactly tout the fact that on Blurb, the online self publishing company Andy actually has four books. I happened to see brief mention of it on his blog (though I can't see it on his website now). Anyway, interested to see Andy's work in print and curious to see what a self publisher like Blurb could do for black and white images, I ordered Andy's "Landscape Of The Soul" I thought $49.00 a bit steep for a paper back book, but that's inflation for you. By the time I paid for inexpensive postage to Canada, it was another $16 - a bit much for casual ordering but Andy has been supportive of my work and so I went ahead.

Landscapes Of The Soul - Andy Ilachinski

The book arrived, extremely well packaged and protected. The cover has a plastic laminate over it and there was slight peeling along one edge (1 mm.), pretty normal for this kind of book binding. The paper is clean, white and has just a hint of shine. The cover images are quite "selenium" though the images throughout the book are quite neutral. All images are monochrome. Andy has arranged the images all on right hand pages which makes looking at the book in hand very easy and avoids bleed through. The images show clean whites, subtle highlights and good blacks. Shadow detail is fair - about the look I'd get on my 5000 printer with enhanced matte - very reasonable for what it is, a small volume book.

Unlike so many books of the past, the tonalities are very smooth and showing excellent resolution and are free of streaking and unevenness that still shows up in a lot of magazines.

Now for the more important part - the images. The book consists of flowing water, old windows, religious icons, and abstract macro images, all but the religious icon images show to advantage in the printing of this book, the latter with their dark detail would have been better served by duotone printing of the highest order.

I had admired Andy's window images before and there are a few of my favourites here, but I really liked the macro abstract images showing bubbles and folds and lines and were very nicely done. The flowing water images are printed in negative which works very well and you don't even think about it at first. The images are quiet, elegant, and attractive.

Overall a lovely little book of a size perfect for looking through. I'm guessing Andy will sell far fewer than he deserves to but if price point isn't super critical, you'd be doing youself a favour to pick up this book from blurb.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


It's common to worry about developing your own style. There are even books you can read to tell you how to do this. Frankly, I think it's a joke. Anything you do deliberately to differentiate your work would be better described as an affectation. Style comes from seeing that way, of doing things in a particular way because you have to to express yourself clearly. It comes from a varied background in photography or the arts. We're tempted to think that composers like Mozart developed their musical style de novo - but it's far from the truth, He had years of musical exposure and training before he started composing and he started composing by picking up where others left off, not by suddenly coming up with a totally new style - Beethoven the same. You'd think the 20th century composers with their non melodic music must have invented it one day, but truth is there were hints in the 19th century. Truth is music was moving that direction anyway. In art, picasso may have developed a totally new style of painting - but the precursors were there and I believe he started out relatively conventionally. Lots of his sketches are very classical in appearance (no eyes between breasts there).

Perhaps someone with a better background on Picasso can comment but I doubt he woke up one morning and said to himself - I need to be different to become famous. If I remember correctly, he was a respected artist already before he painted in the cubist style.

Edward Burtynsky photographs with an 8X10 not because he wants to show he's more manly - he has a point to make and the incredible detail possible with an 8X10 was the only practical tool at the time (nowadays he could in theory stitch with a medium format back, but perhaps in China he still finds the 8X10 more reliable and practical). His huge prints are made to have impact, for you to be able to see the scale, the repitition, the sheer effect on the landscape and the environment. 8X10 glossies just wouldn't do it.

My point? Well, I think you can probably assume you aren't going to develop a style overnight. It almost certainly is going to be a leap in the direction you seem to be going anyway. You can't buy it, read it, pick it up at a garage sale and you can reasonably assume it's going to come with sweat equity and probably not even at a conscious level.

Save yourself the trouble, don't try to rent a style. It'll come, eventually, if you keep trying to express yourself rather than make pictures to sell well or please others.

Lens Extremes

No matter how long a lens you carry (or wide), you will invariably come across a situation in which you could have used a longer (wider) lens. Even assuming you have the money to purchase these lenses, do you really want to carry them?

I suggest that if you have them and are wondering about continuing to carry them, count up the number of keeper shots made with these lenses, that couldn't have been made without them. Good chance it isn't very many. It seems the number of times you wish you had the lens compared to the number of actual keeper images when you do is pretty small.

Since you can't do this experiment if you don't already own the longer (wider) lens, you can at least take heart from my experience that the more extreme the lens, the fewer the situations where not only is it the right lens, but actually results in an important portfolio image. For example, for months I have been carrying my 300 mm. around with me and haven't needed it. When I was out photographing landscapes I would occasionally use it but the keepers were even fewer and frankly if I didn't have it, I could function just fine.

On the other end, I use my 17-40 at 17 mm. mod. often with my Independent Machinery project and would miss it - is there any justification for going even wider to a 14 mm., not a chance. Your mileage might differ.