Friday, November 21, 2008

And Three More...

Back Photographing Logs

Not really all that different from the images made the other day, but it never hurts to have a choice. I was dropping off a couple of prints for the business so decided I might as well see what I could shoot.

You don't want to be standing on the road photographing - the special lifts come flying round the corner carrying half a dozen sixty foot poles at 20 miles an hour, I was very careful to stand on the grass and back off any time I saw the loader coming anywhere near.

I used my 70-200 as well as my 300 mm. lenses for these shots, using focus blending with Helicon Focus for depth of field.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

As Good As Your Heros Without Copying Them

Who wouldn't like to produce an image every bit as good as something one of your heroes made, without simply reproducing it? It's a bit like the "How Do You Get To Carnegie Hall" anecdote. But is there a way to make an image of this quality without simply waiting for it to happen naturally and over time?

I think that if you have the competence to get focus right and produce sharp images and know how to make prints with rich tonality then it should not be that difficult to make an image as good as one you admire. Now, it might not have that little extra magic ingredient that takes an image from admirable to wonderful as I wrote about in my book, but most of us would settle for admirable images on any given day.

So how would you go about making an image as admirable as the one you admire?

Consider the following attributes of the image you admire:

Subject matter - well, you can certainly copy the subject matter since no subject is new, although perhaps you can find an analagous subject which you could treat in a similar way.

I'm at the office and have no access to my files, and perhaps I shouldn't use one of my images as an example, but here goes anyway:

My "ship's bow" images, both the black and white and colour one are often admired so how would you go about making another image as good (hey, I struggle with that too, guys and gals)? The towering ship is about power and threat and force - perhaps you could photograph a locomotive or truck, a building or a machine with similar attributes. Hell, you could even find a person who represents those feelings and photograph them in a similar way.

These two images of mine have particularly strong, simple, bold design - well you might have to do some searching to find a subject that fits the first criteria and now matches these requirements. I didn't say you could pull it off on a 15 minute coffee break.

SO if you found a powerful imposing, threatening, looming machine in which you could photograph it in a bold simple design - you'd be well on your way to producing an image as good as mine.

If you further could do so with a limited colour palette or interesting tonalities in black and white you'd really be cruising. Add some shadows of interest and you have a winner.

Now, wasn't that simple? At least in theory? Assuming you could find such a subject?

I actually don't think it would be all that hard to get most of the elements solved. It might be the local garbage truck or maybe the air conditioner on top of your apartment, or maybe a local weight lifter carefully lit. The looming object might even be six inches high and you just made it look like it's looming. Of course most of us just see the container ship and sigh for a lack of opportunity to shoot the same thing. Maybe the container ship isn't in fact the important part of the image that we want to copy.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What Photographs Do

Perhaps you haven't thought about what your photographs actually do. OK, I know they just sit or hang there, but the image has a relationship to the original scene so one could say that the image does something to the original scene.

Let me explain:

an image could be illustrative - it simply shows what was going on. It can evocative - that is it represents a whole class of things and reminds you of them - for example the expression of a child with a hand in the cooky jar - it doesn't have to be your kid yet we make a connection with that scene.

An image can be explanatory - showing how something works or why it's there or how it got in that condition. It can be interpretative in that the scene means something to the photographer and what he photographs is that meaning more than the scene itself. The image could show the risk or pain, fear or pride.

The connection of an image to the scene can in fact be quite loose as the photographer simply uses the scene as raw material for a creation, which through framing, editing, blending or whatever results in an image with very little connection to the scene.

Do you know what your images do? Do you even care? Is this similar to how you see images you admire? If your images are illustrative and the ones you admire are interpretive, just maybe this might explain your frustration with your own images, or why you haven't been published.

Why don't you look up some of your favourite images by the greats and ask yourself what those images are doing and see if your images are doing the same thing. Might just be interesting and informative.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Wokring The Scene

It's a bright overcast morning today, quite warm for November and very little wind - ideal photographing weather. I decided to start out by photographing the dead plants in my own back garden. I was attracted to the light iris leaves lying in interesting patterns and tried several compositions. I think they are ok but am bothered that the patterns aren't as strong as I would have liked, nor the image as uncluttered as would photograph best - a matter of the eye and brain being able to ignore the unimportant while the camera pays equal attention to all.

The other thing against these images is that frankly, it isn't very original and even if technically competent, the images don't have a huge amount to offer. The grasses in an old oak barrel with the horseshoe of snow I found more interesting, more original (remembering that nothing is ever totally original in photography). I'm not sure that the image doesn't need more contrast - it looks a bit flat in my web browser, but it might print very nicely = time will tell.

Anyway, not a bad start to the day.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Lenswork News

Big news from Lenswork with the return of their special editions. You may remember that in the past Lenswork made selected images available inexpensively - they took original photographic prints and scanned them, made digital negatives from them and then contact printed onto silver paper to produce high quality silver prints which were a close match for the original print. Over time the materials and expertise to make the digital negatives disappeared and so we haven't had Special Editions for a few years.

Brooks Jensen has brought back the idea only better and cheaper. Now what Lenswork is offering is a folio of images, anything from 5 - 20, inkjet Epson K3 on Harman FBAL glossy (mostly) paper enclosed in one of his lovely folio cases he has developed for his own work.

The absolutely amazing thing is that he's selling the folios for anything from $95, that for a 10 print folio - that's $9.50 a print! Keep in mind that if the photographer shoots digitally (or if he even prints digitally) these are as original as the prints he or she normally sells, presumably for a whole lot more.

Photographers might not include their most famous images for use in folios but to get a chance to own, admire, learn from and compare top quality images from great photographers is a wonderful opportunity.

Even impoverished students can afford images - several could get together and share images if they are really broke but lets face it, $95 is the cost of a single concert these days.

Frankly at this price, even if the folio only included one image that you particularly liked it would be worth it, and besides, the other images in the folio have been selected for their quality and perhaps it would be a good idea to study them to see why others think they are good - you might learn to like them, you will almost certainly learn from looking at them.

And guess what, Lenswork are even doing colour images - of course there's no reason not to but it will be interersting to see what this means for Lenswork accepting colour portfolios. Don't forget that Lenswork Extended already accepts colour work.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Many Logs

A 5 image stitch (camera was horizontal since I was already at 200 mm. with my zoom).

Cropping And Framing 2

I thought I'd take you some of the issues with this image involving framing and cropping. First off, you'd be absolutely right if you thought I should have done this all in camera - but I'm nor perfect, and fair chance you aren't too, so more than likely you are going to face the same issues - besides, the same issues exist whether framing in the camera or cropping after - thus the title.

First and most obvious is the fact that the final image isn't the same ratio as the captured image - something that couldn't be handled in framing unless I stitched. In fact many of the images from the morning were stitched, just not this one.

The next issue is the large amount of sky. I don't remember why I selected so much sky and didn't choose more logs at the bottom - I presume that must have been the bottom of the pile or there was something in the way, but regardless, there is too much sky - it doesn't add to the image. Sure I could filter it and increase contrast and make it dramatic but this image isn't about sky so frankly I think it would be distracting.

On the right side, the top log on the right looks like an afterthough - just a small part of the log showing - I felt that either more should show - too late for that - or less - so I cropped the right hand side.

On the left, I was disturbed by that big black hole in the pile of logs - I hadn't noticed it when photographing but now it bothers me so I cropped the left hand side. This was a compromise decision because it meant that I would have less of that diagonal log with snow touching the left hand edge of the print - but enough would remain I felt and I really wanted rid of that black space which isn't balanced by anything equivalent on the other side of the print.

Don't get me wrong - when "balancing" a print - it isn't a matter of "weighing" the amount of black - conceivably a small black area on the right could balance a much larger one on the left, but with nothing over there...

Finally, though I was quite pleased with what I had, I also recognized that what makes the image is the bright orange log end and the blue snow covered logs on the right and that the number of stacked logs along the bottom isn't all that important to the image and more isn't necessarily better. I made a final crop along the bottom. I still wasn't sure this was a good move so used the do/undo a dozen times or more flipping back and forth from cropped bottom to not cropped and in the end felt the cropped version is stronger.

Do I wish I'd seen this before shooting? Darn right I do - by cropping on all sides I have reduced the size of print I can make - but a small print is better than no print. This is, I confess; one of the nice things about having a camera with lots of pixels - you really do have options and rescues.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Friday, November 07, 2008

Grain Elevator

Photo Excursion

We had plans for where we'd shoot today, but in fact on our way to our planned spots, we found other things more interesting. A local utility pole company were good enough to let us photograph from the edge of the property and here's the first of the images that I like. Others are blended or stitched and it will be a while before I see all the possible images from the shoot, but I'm quite happy with this one.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Voting With Your Wallet, Or Not

Perhaps I'm unique (though experience suggests not) but there are a lot of images I admire that I am not necessarily willing to pay for and there are very few images out there that I would be willing to fork over large sums of cold hard cash for, and of those most are just out of my price range. Yes, I could in theory purchase Pepper # 30 for $10,000 - a print made by Cole Weston, still currently available even though he passed away a few years ago, Edward of course having died in the 1950's. I'd have to forego the repair to our back deck, the one with the holes in it, that has needed replacing for several years, and no doubt my wife would kill me - so it won't be happening any time soon and the price seems to magically go up as I earn more, always just a little out of reach.

But getting back to images which remain affordable, which I could purchase without going to the bank first - why is it I don't buy one of these every few months over the years so that by now I have a collection of perhaps 100 fine images.

Well, I could make the argument about lack of wall space - but I could always rotate the prints. The cost of framing is an issue and storing framed images is frankly a pain - they are so easily scratched, but these are really excuses. The truth is that I don't have an especially strong desire to OWN most of the images I admire - it's enough to see them in print.

What does this say to my commitment to photography? Does it mean I really don't have my heart and soul involved with photography? I don't think so. Knowing that most photographers own few images I suspect I am in good company.

If this is common, then what does it mean when we value great images so little that we are unwilling to spend money to own them? I think there are several things going on here.

1) variety
2) got it, now move on
3) repeat rather than continuous
4) quality of reproduction and the nature of photographs

Truth is, it doesn't take long to "get" a photograph - we are incredibly visual creatures and we can get most of what an image offers in a split second and 99% within 15 seconds - so why would we want to linger? It's like reading a joke, you get it and you move on.

We crave variety - we want to look at other images - in most situations we can come back to the ones we particularly like. Most photographers would find it pointless and probably painful if they "had" to look at an image they like for fifteen minutes straight.

I have written in the past about how sometimes when you are photographing, the first recognition of the image is exactly the right one and no further positioning and fiddling will improve the initial seeing. While this happens only occasionally when photographing, it happens all the time when looking at images - after all, it's too late to change anything, what's in the image is all you get - and you get it in that same quick glance, recognizing the rightness of the image - even though it could take you some time to analyze why it's right.

There are problems with purchasing an image apart from the pain in the pocket book. Buying an image implies that you are not allowed to change your mind, not just about the photographer, but about which particular image is best. The best image may only be best this afternoon. Tomorrow in a different mood I may have made an entirely different selection - but of course I only purchased one image. Often it can be so difficult to decide which image to buy of a handful of favourites, that if you can't have all, it's better to have none (and see them in a book or on the web or whatever).

And let's not forget the baser motives - like most of us would rather spend money on a new camera or lens than a print and lacking infinite funds so we can do both, well...

From a practical point of view, we can buy several books containing hundreds of images for the price of a single print, which hasn't yet been framed.

Would it be reasonable to take all of the above to it's absurd end and decide that no photographers should purchase any prints? I don't think so. Having a dozen or so really good prints around from our betters is a very good idea. Sure book reproduction is much better than 20 years ago, but having some prints as a reference point is a good idea. It's also good to support fine art photographers, especially people who have helped us - often we purchase prints when attending workshops. Paying for some prints also says something about your commitment to your art but I doubt that purchasing 27 really says a whole lot more than purchasing 15.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Found this door on my meanderings in Germany. Of course it raises questions of originality when the painting was done by someone else. Arguably the painter didn't anticipate the passage of time and the stripping of paint especially noticeable in the dark areas but really, is that enough? I console myself with the knowledge that photographers have been shooting graffiti for years. Ansel himself was known to do it as was Walker Evans and many of the greats.

Perhaps the best way to think about it is that when photographing a flower, I cannot take credit for the beauty of the flower, only for how I posed, lit, framed and printed the image, which is what I did here. Gee, maybe I can stop feeling guilty.

Photographic Education

I was asked:

I would be interested in defining what "better educated" means. Are we talking art history classes, more time at museums, more time just looking at other photographers work?.

The obvious answer is all of the above but I thought I'd give some thought to just how and where one can improve one's "education" Of course I'm not talking about going to school, though if you have the time or are young, that's not unreasonable too - especially a fine art photography programme as opposed to a commercial photography bias.

a) Books

Books can be of or about photography. Firstly books of photographs. If you don't own 100 books of photographs then you aren't educated. OK, maybe you can get them from the library but you need ready access to lots of images that others consider among the best.

The following list is highly biased to my interests in black and white and landscape but hey, it's my blog, not yours, so take it for what it's worth - oh and it's also biased to who has been recommended to me by English speaking north americans for the most part, so it's a bit isolationist. Feel free to add names from your neck of the woods. But with that said, I'd recommend any library at least include the following:

Edward Weston
Brett Weston
Paul Strand
Ansel Adams
Michael Kenna
Huntington Witherill
David Plowden
Andre Kertesz
Henri Cartier Bresson
Bruce Barnbaum or John Sexton
Joel Myerowitz

and I'm absolutely sure I have missed many great photographers, but it's somewhere to start.

Books On Photography

well of course you have to start with my book (hey, I did say it's my blog) so
Take Your Photography To The Next Level
I highly recommend the books of Freeman Patterson
I have not read but understand that the books by Michael Freeman and Bryan Peterson are considered good.
The classic Looking At Photographs by John Szarkowski is considered a classic although I find it spends sig. time on alternative processes. The Photographer's Eye is a classic also by Szarkowski though is just images.
I highly recommend Art And Fear
On Being A Photographer - Hurn and Jay - essential for anyone who dreams of becoming a pro
The Photograph: Composition and Colour Design by Harold Mante I recommend with reservations - the images are great and laid out in a sequence which can teach you a lot about colour and design however the text is philosophical, difficult to read and not very practical - if you like reading philosophy books then... But the images are good enough on their own that I can still recommend the book and predict you will learn from it.


Lenswork - and I'd highly recommend you invest in as many back issues as you can afford. Alternatively you can get all on a CD.
Black and White
Black and White Photography (U.K.)


Not all great photographers can really teach you to see better. Freeman Patterson is one. Craig Tanner who used to do Radiant Vista is another. Do remember that the field sessions in most workshops are fun but not especially educational while the lectures in many are basic and often covered in the writings of the photographers doing the teaching - for those too lazy to read the book, this is ideal, for the rest of us...

Sometimes art galleries offer workshops or clinics or simply lectures on photography. I took a photographic appreciation course which was fundamental to my growth as a photographer but I don't see courses like this listed very often.

Mentoring - going out shooting with a more experienced friend can be a good idea but of course depends on their generosity in sharing and their skills in communicating ideas.

Exercises - some books and magazines and websites offer exercises and assignments and even if you don't normally like photographing cabbages, you are likely to learn from the experience. I confess I tend to be too lazy to photograph things I don't particularly like but there's good evidence that they work if you are willing.

Gallery Visits - if a gallery is willing to show the work of a photographer, they are basically puting their reputation on the line and you would do well to study the images even if your first impression is that they are junk. In fact the more you dislike the images, the more it would be worth while talking to the curator of the show to find out what he or she sees in the images that you do not - you might just be surprised at how your own attitudes change.

Portfolio Reviews - in truth it is extremely difficult to provide meaningful feedback and direction to a photographer when reviewing their images. Feedback along the lines of "like it, don't like it..." are essentially useless. Advice about how I would have done it differently or if only that rock had been 10 feet to the right are almost as pointless. It takes skill and tact and experience and teaching ability to look at a series of images and formulate suggestions which will help the photograher move forward. Such talent is unfortunately uncommon (aren't most good things in life?). The only way to know is to do enough reviews that you begin to recognize the good ones from the bad, or at least to ask other photographers if their reviews actually changed anything. Sometimes all you need is a sense that you are heading in the right direction and to keep on trying - which doesn't in fact change anything, yet the message can be critical at times when you are full of doubt. That kind of feedback can be great but you need to know if in fact the person giving the advice is simply being nice or actually sees something in your images worth developing.

The above suggestions are based on personal experience or recommendations of others I respect but is very much incomplete. If you have personal experience of educational methods, books, etc. that have helped you, do add your comments below.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Enjoying An Image On Many Levels

Yet again I'm going to foist a music analogy on you to make a point about images. there are many levels on which one can enjoy music - at a most fundamental level it can be a jolly good tune - the kind of thing you find yourself humming in the shower after hearing it. It can be stirring, possibly without even knowing why. Amazing Grace on the bagpipes does it for me and interestingly it does for a lot of others who unlike me weren't born in Scotland. The 1812 Overture rouses most people and Beethoven's 6th, the Pastoral Symphonie does relate to the countryside, both peaceful and stormy. (different sections though).

People more educated than I in the art of music can appreciate music on other levels - the mathematical progression of Bach, the inversions and complementary notes and such of other composers. I'm sure if I knew more about music I could describe more levels of appreciation. I quite enjoy listening to conductors and musicians talking about their music, even if I don't always understand their explanations of the subtleties and intricacies of what they are talking of.

People viewing our images come with varying levels of visual education. Some can inherently appreciate a really well composed image while others look only at the subject. Some may appreciate the composition even though they don't understand why, others don't get the point of careful placement, framing and relationships to other objects in the print. Lots of people don't get the subtleties of tonality or fine detail, our efforts in that direction wasted on them. Some are both very visual and educated and are capable of seeing what I wanted to do in a particular image and can tell me about it.

As photographers we are presumably the most visual, the best educated in the photographic process and techniques and artistry and therefore presumably the most fussy about what we see in images - is it any surprise that when flipping through the work of another photographer, perhaps only 10% of the images do anything for us and something like 1% get us excited, and that's of really good photographers. We're just so damn picky.

So is this a philosophical discussion or is there a point to this and a practical message someone might take home and apply to their photography?

1) We need to be more visual and better educated than our audience. If you are hoping to persuade a magazine to publish your work, then you are sending your images to someone who is likely very educated in the visual arts and very visual themselves. For this person, a good tune is not likely to be enough and while you might get lucky with an image, it would be not unreasonable to assume that you need to be as educated, as visual, as experienced in the myriad of images out there, and who the greats are and what their work is like in order for you to produce images of a quality which will satisfy the editor.

This goes a long way to explaining how it is that friends, neighbours and relatives can praise your images and mean it, yet getting published is a whole other story. Of course it also helps if what you are submitting is a bit different from what has gone in the magazine before. You don't have to be original to be good but if an editor has two choices of equal quality, one with a fresh viewpoint, can you doubt which the editor is likely to choose.

2) The better we get, the more selective we are - so while with our experience we may see images where someone else does not, we also bypass a whole lot of potential images because they don't offer us enough - they work on one or more planes but clearly don't in others and it isn't enough for us.

3) while to some degree we can create on various levels without actually thinking about them, it wouldn't do any harm to actually enumerate the possible levels on which an image might or could work - interesting subject (a good tune), well composed (good orchestration), offering interesting detail on top of the big picture (intricate melodies).

Next time I'm going to discuss what those various levels might be above and beyond the ones mentioned above.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Birch Tree

Several tree stitches have not worked out - just because one side of a tree looks good does not mean that more of same will be better. I quite like this tree however. I can see that the image needs work - areas that should be darkened in the dark gray for example but as it looked better before shrinking it for the web, the next step is probably to live with a print for a day or two before making further changes. This is a 17 image stitch, now that it's trimmed and flattened it's 7000X5000 pixels - 16X23 inches at 300 dpi.

My biggest fear with such complicated stitching is that after hours of editing and flattening, I'll find a flaw in the stitching. I have gone over the image carefully but am well aware that I could very easily have missed something. Mind you, I did save the unflattened 17 layer image (1 GB).

Saturday, November 01, 2008

More Trees

This is a local Laurel Leaf Willow, most likely planted in the 1960's and now about two feet in diameter - pretty good for Calgary, not known for growing big trees. Oddly even Edmonton, 200 miles north grows trees a whole lot better because of the snow cover and less violent swings in temperature during the winter.

As you can see, this isn't a 360 degree stitch, more like 120 degrees, limited because of branches coming out and because this was the more interesting side.

The jury's still out on whether this is a viable source of portfolio quality images, but I will explore further and look harder for interesting trees. So far one is in colour, the other black and white - so I'm not sure which direction this will eventually lead - instinct tells me black and white, but we'll see.

How are you coming along with your current project? Do you even have one - I know it can be pretty frustrating when you really don't have a clue where your next interesting image is going to come from - a sense of desperation creeps in - hardly conducive to creativity. Remember that like my idea, at the beginning you really won't know whether it's going to fly and it might take considerable time and effort before you know - but what the hell else are you going to do?