Friday Inspiration: Christopher Burkett

I first came across Christopher Burkett‘s work in George Barr’s Book ‘Why Photographs Work: 52 Great Images Who Made Them, What Makes Them Special and Why‘. I have seen a number of Christopher’s photographs now either on his website or in his books and look forward to seeing some of his original prints in the next year. He really has captured some of the most magnificent images of fall color you could hope to see. I hope that you enjoy the video interview with Christopher below.

Fall Color Lomography


As I mentioned earlier in the week, my attempts to head north for some fall foliage photography this year have been thwarted. Instead I’m making the most of the local color using both my regular DSLR and the iPhone. I am working up a set of iPhone photographs made using the lomography workflow I described in a previous post. I’m not sure where I’m going to go with the project but I’m having fun and starting to develop an idea about how the photos should look rather than relying on what the presets give me. Often this means that I’ll initially process the image and then as I live with the original processed image for a while I’ll find things that I want to change. This was certainly true of the image above that was taken just in front of my house. This image is now into the third iteration of edits. I’m finally liking it as it is, although digital editing means that it is way to easy to go back and tinker some more.

Where Do You Turn for Fall Color?

It’s almost peak fall color here in Massachusetts. I had grand intentions this year of talking some trips North to Vermont this year but I have missed my window of opportunity to do that. There are a number of websites that will either give you a prediction of the color or that use a network of spotters to give a more accurate representation of what the current status is. Of course if you live in New England like I am fortunate enough to do then these websites are useful, not so much if you booked your trip a year in an advance.

Okay so where to go? Not sure how you prepare for trips to new locations but I usually will use a combination of on-line searching with digging through books and if I can get some local knowledge so much the better. Jerry and Macy Monkman put together a book a few years ago called ‘The Colors of Fall: A Celebration of New England’s Foliage Season‘ that I quite enjoyed. They then followed that up with ‘The Colors of Fall Road Trip Guide’ which gives you a range potential New England trips, from ones that might be familiar such as the Park Loop Road in Acadia National Park to what might be less expected such as Rhode Island Beaches and Mansions.  While the book highlights good vantage points for leaf peeping it’s not specifically targeted towards photographers.

Countryman press have a range of books for the photographer that I’ve mentioned here before and that I’ve found generally useful.  The Photographer’s Guide to Vermont and The Photographer’s Guide to the Maine Coast both by David Middleton are good resources when planning trips at anytime of the year to either Maine or Vermont but especially during fall.

While it looks like I’ve missed my opportunity to travel north this fall I’m making the most of the color nearer to home.

Friday Inspiration: Edward Burtynsky

I had a birthday recently and one of the gifts that I received was Manufactured Landscapes: The Photographs of Edward Burtynsky, a retrospective of Burtynsky’s work that features essays by Lori Pauli, Kenneth Baker and Mark Haworth-Booth.  An added bonus, for me at least, is an interview with the Burtynsky by Michael Torosian, originally published in the Lumiere Press title ‘Residual Landscapes‘.  Burtnynsky’s work focuses on the impact of man on the landscape, his large format pictures of the damaged landscape, from mountains of tires to rivers of bright orange waste from a nickel mine, are really quite impressive but really make you stop and wonder what are we doing to the planet?

Burtynsky won the 2005 TED Prize, his TED presentation is in the video below.  To find out more about Burtnysky click here.

All Done Here?

I’ve been returning to the same stretch of coastline for the best part of year now, while I continue to enjoy my early morning jaunts, one of my friends suggested that I’ve gotten stuck in a rut. I would argue against that, I am after all making photographs that I particularly enjoy and I don’t feel as though I’m repeating myself. Yet, the rocks are becoming awfully familiar.

So are we all done here? That was the question that was going through my the morning that I made the photo above. It was already much lighter than I like for my photographs but the line of the rock caught my eye and I stuck around to make a few frames.

iPhone Lomography – My Current Workflow

As I’ve mentioned before here, I’m having a blast working with the camera on my iPhone, largely pushing into territory I had previously thought was not for me. One of the presets that gives an effect that I like is ‘Lomo’ in the app Phototoaster. Not being a student of history it took me a while to realise that ‘Lomo’ actually refers to a camera, the Lomo LC-A, that has somewhat of a cult following. Characteristic photos from the Lomo LC-A have effects caused by light leaks, strong vignettes and rich, saturated colors. Often lomographers will shoot with slide film and cross-process to give strong color shifts. Take a dip into the Lomography photostream here.

While I mull over the purchase of an LC-A+ I’m going to continue playing with my iPhone. Read on to see how easy it is with the iPhone.

I am typically using Camera+ rather than the camera app that comes with the iPhone. Here is the image as shot. Lots of problems with this, my biggest criticism is that I should have been closer to crop out the sky and the trailer. You can zoom with Camera+ but be aware that it is a digital zoom – in effect you’re just using less of the sensor. If I have to crop I’d prefer to do it in software after the fact. I’ll admit that I think cropping is not a big deal particularly with my DLSR but is an issue with the small files that come from the iPhone, so try to get it right in ‘iPhone’ as it were.

The first step is to bring the file into PhotoForge and do some preliminary editing. Photoforge is a great app with lots of capabilities, curves, sharpening, cropping, textures, frames and effects and is one that I highly recommend. One of the neat things is that Photoforge has layers so you can work in a layer based manner if that is something that you’re used to. I generally am not using layers but I’m also just doing very simple edits. I will generally look at the levels panel and tweak there if I think the image needs it. In this case it didn’t a levels adjustment and so I moved on to add a bit of contrast using the curves function. I didn’t like any of the other tweaks that I might usually add and so I saved the file back to the photolibrary and jumped into Phototoaster.

I’m almost exclusively using Phototoaster now to add the Lomo effect. There is a Lomo effect in PhotoForge but it feels a bit washed out for my taste. I cropped the image to a square to remove the distractions and applied the Lomo effect which can be found …

I like the square but also wanted to see what else I could do. Here I didn’t lock the crop to a particular ratio and came up with this crop that I particularly liked and as before then added the Lomo effect.

Friday Inspiration: Michael Freeman

With the arrival of ‘The Photographer’s Vision‘ it feels like Michael Freeman has finished his trilogy of books that began with ‘The Photographer’s Eye‘ took us to ‘The Photographer’s Mind‘ by way of ‘Michael Freeman’s Perfect Exposure‘ and finally delivering us to ‘The Photographer’s Vision‘.

One of the first things I do with any book of this type us to scan through to find the sections that look like they would offer immediate value. One such section is seeing differently. I was surprised to find that this short section was almost entirely devoted to a case study from one of my friends and mentors, Cary Wolinsky. Michael’s interview with Cary that includes the case study can be found here. I’m still working through the book but it looks like it will be a valuable addition to the photographers bookshelf, particularly the one who us interested in further developing visual literacy and the language to go along with it.

Check out the videos below to hear Michael discussing professional photography and his books.

iPhone Fun on the Farm


How many times have you seen something that you’ve thought would make a great photograph but you’ve kept going, thinking that you’ll get it on the way back or tomorrow or the next time your in town? If you’re like me you’ve done this dozens of times. I’m always rushing from one place to another so much so that there’s little time for those scenes that you just happen upon. The photograph above is one example of such an image. I’ve driven by this tractor on a weekly basis for over 7 years, it’s on the way to the local coffee shop, but it wasn’t until this week that I actually stopped and took the photograph. I was pleased that I did. I got a photo that I was happy with and got to meet Chrissie Dahlstrom. To see Chrissie’s version of her tractor click here.


Contemplative Photography: Book Comment

The deeper that I delve into photography the more I realize how hard I find it to create a successful photograph using just a rules based, intellectual approach. The successful images come when I apply the technical understanding to capture the scene that really stopped me in my tracks. Being able to be stopped in my tracks happens when I slow down and quiet the chatter. This kind of slowing down and taking time to quiet the chatter is something that I’ve come to naturally but is something that I have heard both Michael Kenna and Paul Caponigro refer to. Michael Kenna has called this communing with the land, while Paul Caponigro refers to his stance of silence and to having to shut up when the subject calls to him.

Some call this contemplative photography. It was this phrase that caught my eye when I was browsing and that led me to The Practice of Contemplative Photography by Andy Kerr and Michael Wood. The focus here is on seeing clearly or as Cartier-Bresson puts it ‘putting one’s head, one’s eye and one’s heart on the same axis’. Kerr and Wood break down contemplative photography into 3 distinct phases: The Flash of Perception – the recognition of something special that is likened to ‘being awoken form sleep by a loud noise’: this is then followed by Visual Discernment, maintaining the contemplative mind after the flash of perception and then finally, Forming the Equivalent, taking the picture that is equivalent to your perception. Each of these stages is explored in detail with their own chapters that include assignments to help you practice and example photographs to provide inspiration. The example photographs aren’t exemplars or templates to be repeated since we all will respond to our environment in different ways and as a result make very different photographs.

I must admit that I enjoyed reading and working through the book. I also find the connection made between photography and Buddhism interesting too. Kerr and Wood argue that both contemplative photography and Buddhism are concerned with clear seeing. They argue that clear seeing is the ultimate antidote for confusion and ignorance, freedom from which is a key tenet of Buddhism.

The book is not all sunshine and roses – I can’t help but take issue with the notion that the use of telephoto lenses and filters adds an unnecessary artifice resulting in plasticky photographs. Does this mean that we should only be using ‘normal lenses’ that mimic the human eye? Hardly. One of the reasons that I’ve been disappointed with my results in the past is that I haven’t been able to simplify the scene to a point that makes me feel satisfied when I see the image on the computer days later. Similarly using a filter to ensure that I don’t blow the sky out, to compress the dynamic range of the photograph is increasingly important to my being able to capture a successful image. I would argue that you should use whatever tool or tools it takes to be able to render the image that you felt and that the key is to reach a level of fluency with those tools such that the technical doesn’t get in the way as you move to making the image that stopped you in your tracks. A minor quibble with a book that I have enjoyed working through over the course of the last few months.

iPhone Fun

Although I’ve had an iPhone for quite a while, it wasn’t until this summer that I finally got turned onto it as a camera. I’m very familiar with the ‘best camera is the one you have with you’ refrain but wasn’t that excited by what I saw in the results. So what changed? I was thinking about something a workshop student said last year – ‘I’ve been wrong all these years’. I realize that I have a particular idea about how my photos should look, how much processing they should see, how they should be presented. It goes on and on. Not that any of this is particularly bad. Having these kinds of bounds results in a particular look or style that in time becomes uniquely you and so I maintain that aesthetic with photos taken using my DSLR. With the iPhone however, all bets are off. I push and pull, add textures, funky borders, effects that I would never otherwise have dreamed of. As a result not only am I having fun but I’m taking photographs more regularly than I would have otherwise and of subjects that I would have normally walked by or in the case of the photograph above, rowed by.