Friday, March 26, 2010

Congratulations To Chuck Kimmerle

Chuck has a lovely portfolio of Prairie winter photographs in the latest Lenswork. To see the images you have to purchase the magazine of course but here's a link to Chuck's home page. There are a couple of points we could make about this portfolio. I was raised on the prairies and these images speak to me of my experience. The images are not dramatic, they aren't scary or depressing, they don't have any political agenda unless it's to remind us of our roots. Each image quietly goes about illustrating one aspect of winter in the middle of North America, the flat lands. Many find photographing flat difficult, being only able to see the grandeur of peaks and canyons as being worth while. Here is a reminder that closer to home can be very productive.

The other point is that each image of the portfolio reinforces the others, fills in a few gaps in describing prairie winters. Brooks Jensen has always had a preference for and encouraged and promoted portfolios of related images rather than a "best of" strategy and it's very clear here that the photographs work together.

It might be tempting to think that weaker images combined can have sufficient strength to make a good portfolio but in reality, any portfolio is heavily biased by the weakest image therein. Two weak images and the portfolio is in trouble, three and it's more than likely game over.

This does not mean that photographers who are eclectic are precluded from creating portfolios - it simply takes longer. If every year or two, you illustrate a particular subject again, then within 20 - 30 years you might well have dozens of potential portfolios. Many well respected photographers did exactly that. The downside is it takes patience and we do not live in a time or a society that is enamoured of patience - we want fame and we want it now. The only possible solution would be some sort of a compromise - mostly eclectic but one or two projects which could turn into portfolios in a reasonable length of time. After all, since you photograph all manner of different things, surely there must be fodder there for a project.

Anyway, this started out as a heads up to Chuck's images and I think they well well repay careful study.

The other portfolios in Lenswork 87 are quite different and perhaps not to everyone's taste. Here too study can repay. Brooks presumably thought them worth bringing to our attention and perhaps we can figure out why they work. Sometimes we can learn from styles entirely different from our own, while not compromising our own style and taste.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

This Isn't Photography

There are a lot of things we do in our pursuit of the craft/hobby/art of photography, which often distract from the real job of DOING photography. For example:

- talking about photography
- reading about photography (except for my books of course)
- playing with cameras
- running tests
- checking out the local camera store
- trying new papers
- checking out online reviews/anecdotes/stories
- writing about photography (oops)
- thinking that we should be photographing, except that (here add your own excuse - weather, time, money...)

Gee, when you add it all up, that's a lot of time NOT photographing - what would happen if we spent an equal amount of time photographing - just think how good we'd get, how many marvelous images we'd make.


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Working With What You Have

Howard Grill has a nice essay and example of fighting the subject, then realizing that it makes more sense to work with what you have.

Monday, March 08, 2010

One In A Hundred

Doesn't seem to matter who you are, or even what style of shooting you do, most people report that they are really happy with about one in one hundred photographs. This explains why I was so frustrated as a large format shooter as the same odds seemed to apply there - and it would appear they applied to Ansel Adams. Of course, his one was better than our one, but he probably didn't feel any happier with the one than we do.

Common sense would suggest that if you approach each scene methodically and find the absolutely best position and wait for the perfect timing, light and wind, success should be much more common. But, for every picture that you spend 20 minutes (or more) fussing over, you missed 19 other photographs which from my experience quite often turn out better than the one you stopped the car for in the first place.

We will distort the figures if we start shooting 10 images to do a focus blend, 5 images for a stitch, 3 for an exposure blend, etc. but discounting those inflated  numbers, the rule is pretty close to right for many of us.

Knowing the odds, we can relax about shooting (it hasn't been one hundred yet so I shouldn't be kicking myself for not getting a great image). In fact, the more desperate we are for a good image, the less open we are to seeing what's interesting in front of us and the more rigid our thinking about what will make a good photograph.

It would be rare to shoot 100 different images at a single scene. I find this takes about three separate scenes. So, if I want to come as close as possible to guaranteeing a decent photo today, I'd better plan on photographing more than one scene/setup. This is relevant in terms of setting up the day, but also in being open to finding something interesting on the way to or from the main work of the day. Some of my best images have been photographed after the light turned bad, while travelling to or from the scene, or from finding something different at the scene from what you expected to photograph.

This willingness to be flexible is crucial to being successful in getting a good image and getting good images is what drives us out there the next time.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Emotion In Landscape Photographs

Photographers often struggle with creating emotion in their landscape images, without actually photographing rubbish heaps and urban sprawl and industrial pollution. I think there are at least two ways in which emotion plays a part in really good landscape images.

For a start, instead of asking what emotion an image generates, think instead of mood of the image - is it peaceful, dramatic, bold, quiet, subtle, shouting, sad, angry, agitated, scary, shy, loud, brash, rude, sublime? Does it make the viewer feel awe, wonder, puzzlement, curiosity, calm, smug, satisfied, complete, uncertain, doubtful, regretful, wistful?

Awe and wonder can be generated without dramatic light, huge canyons, storm clouds and long shadows. The awe can be created (in some viewers) through subtlety, by showing something not usually seen, through the detail shown and the careful arrangement of the elements of the photograph.