I think that the joys and frustrations that we experience as photographers are common to many of the creative arts, whether they are the visual arts, literature or music. Having said that, it is remarkable how many photographers have a background in music. Ansel Adams had intended on becoming a concert pianist before photography interceded. He must have been drawing on this background when he said that ‘The Negative is the score, The Print is the performance’. I’ve heard or read this quote a number of times and when I came across it most recently I wondered how far this musical metaphor could be pushed.
If we stay with Ansel for a moment, he also said that 12 masterpieces in a year would be a good crop. This would be similar to a rock band or recording artist coming up with a new album in a year. Of course to get to that new album the band may have tried out a few new songs with the audience on their last tour (similar to how we get feedback on comments by posting on Flickr, Blogs or other websites) before secluding themselves in a recording studio to come up with the final album.
The process of recording the album would then start by weeding out the songs that have been written with the album in mind that are either weak or that don’t fit well with the other keepers. This is very much akin to the process that one might go through to develop a strong new portfolio. To do that we review collections of our images to ensure that the images all support the portfolio theme and are of equal quality.
Our fictional band aren’t in the studio alone, they are working with a producer. The role of the producer can vary, but at best the producer is the there to make sure that the band come up with the best album that the band is capable of producing. For many of us this role is played by a mentor, but could also be from feedback we get from gallery owners or show juries.
The ability to come up with songs of any worth at all is underscored by commitment to practice. It’s expected that musicians will practice everyday for a few hours, whether it’s scales, riffs or a whole new song. So how do you practice your photography? We should work with our cameras until we understand every function inside and out, so that we can change any function of the camera without taking our eye from the viewfinder. This only comes through regular use – daily practice. So get all your gear out and play with it!
A number of issues have been limiting my ability to get out and photograph – principal among these has been the fact that the weather has been shocking recently. While this can result in very dramatic light it can also mean no obvious sunrises, grey skies and flat light. My response to this has been to find subjects around the house that I can work on. I’ve started making a series of photographs of things that I find when I’m at the beach – ‘Beach Artifacts’. The image here is the first of these, a pair of starfish that had washed up after the recent storms that passed through the area.
I am a voracious reader – perhaps to a fault. The internet and ‘The Google’ mean that we have access to resources today that we could only have dreamed of when I was younger. This means not only books but also magazines. I find magazine articles interesting because it seems that this is often a venue that the authors will use their articles as vehicles to get ideas out that they been developing in workshops. If you can’t get to the workshops this can be a good thing.
The website has links to magazine content, making it possible to spend quite some time (and I have) reading older articles written by many of the luminaries of american photography such as Bob Krist, Frans Lanting, George Lepp and William Neill. Even if you don’t check out the magazine the website is a great resource.
First off the website is marginally better today than it once was but it is still only a venue to allow you to subscribe to the magazine. There was a time where you couldn’t subscribe if you didn’t live in the UK. Fortunately this has since changed! Not unusual to find articles contributed by Charlie Waite, Joe Cornish and David Ward. Well worth checking into.
Peter Eastaway, the award winning Australian landscape photographer, seems to be the creative force behind the magazine. The website has lots of interesting material including links to Peter’s blogs and also the Online Masterclasses that he has put together. The masterclasses are well worth checking out.
In addition to these 3 magazines I find that increasingly that I am looking for sources of other good photography. You might want to also check out Lenswork, Black & White Magazine and Color. More about these fine art magazines in future posts.
I’ve noticed that a few of the homes in my area have their windows decorated with what could be best described as coastal artifacts. This caught my eye because the lobster trap buoy made me think of a nose between two eyes. This property has changed hands since I took this photo and the windows now sport dried star fish as decoration.
We’ve spent the last few blog posts exploring the process of learning and the tools available to the keen amateur photographer. Fairly you might ask – to what end or ‘why be good’.
Indeed this was a question posed by John O’Connor in a recent blog post. If you don’t know John (and I know of him only through his blog, website and mentions by William Neill) it’s well worth checking out his work. My initial reaction was – why not be good? If you’ve decided to commit to a task why not do it as well as you are able? If you are committed to a career path why not be as good as you are able. Perhaps a better question would be why choose to pursue photography at all? What do you want to achieve through photography? But these are questions for another time.
The answer to the question of ‘why be good?’ is very personal – some may wish to be perceived as good because they need the external validation (adulation?) from others. Some wish to be good because photography is their career, their sole means of supporting their family and being good means that they are likely to make a reasonable living. While others wish to be good because this is the way that their photography, and ultimately the cause they are promoting, will reach the largest audience.
For me the goal of learning is to get to a place where the technical aspects of photography no longer hinder me from fully realizing my photographic vision. The Japanese have a word for this state – Shibumi – that can be translated as ‘effortless mastery’. Being good – or in a state of effortless mastery will help me share my full wonder and appreciation for the world we live in.
The weather has been miserable here in New England over the last few days very much like the day that I took this photo. I had spent an hour wandering around the harbor getting very wet before heading out to the lighthouse and breakwater. I didn’t expect to even get out of the car – once around the lighthouse and home for tea, as we say at our house. However, the storm that day resulted in a higher than usual tide and the breaking waves were making spectacular crashes against this breakwater.
I have worked with a coach and mentor regularly for the last few years. One of his key ideas is what he refers to as ‘cadence’. He believes that everyone has a natural pace or rhythm. If you are able to recognize what this is for you and work with at your pace or ‘cadence’ then you will be more productive and more successful. I have interpreted this to mean is that a critical component of success is being true to yourself. This is of course another way of saying ‘do what you love and success will follow’.
While I didn’t think that I had made enough clicks to have a defined style – I’ve shot under 100,000 images with my digital cameras – from a recent review of my archive there are clear themes that stand out. I like the grand vista images that others take but I tend to gravitate towards abstractions of the larger scene and more intimate landscapes. Although I had previously tucked many of those images away in the ‘nice but a bit weird’ pile, I have come to realize that many others make similar images. I was recently turned onto the fact that Eliot Porter made similar intimate landscapes and even had an exhibition and book of the same name. David Ward, the English landscape photographer predominantly makes this style of image and William Neill also appears to have a tendency towards this style of image too. All are photographers worthy of further study.
What I am increasingly realizing is that my most successful images are of the subjects that I enjoy photographing. What a revelation! When I am pushing myself in a direction that I’m not comfortable with I find this often shines though in the images that I’ve made. The photo here is a good example of this. While I did need some encouragement to get out of the door on this day because the weather was awful I was glad I did. I have made images from the other side of this headland previously and wanting to try something different I set up here. I had a break in the weather for a few minutes that allowed me to make this image before it began pouring again.
Essential reference tools to support on going learning process
Updates on my experiences will follow in future blogs!
I am continuing to explore the coastline around my home and in particular to try different approaches to capturing what are all too familiar scenes. After trying out the obvious images from this view point I decided to try an image where I moved to exclude the obvious. From my initial edits this was the most successful of the series. I like the effect and will try more of this style in the coming weeks.
We have some wide ranging conversations over dinner at our house. One topic that has come up a number of times is how we learn and some of the psychology of learning. We decided that I was most likely a ‘visual-spatial’ learner using either Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences or a ‘visual learner’ according to Flemming’s VARK model. Visual learners tend to think in pictures and learn well from figures and diagrams. This of course would make sense given my interests!
If you are interested in finding out more about these models check out the following links:
I appreciate that few of us fit nicely into the categories outlined by these models and that the models themselves may be fundamentally flawed. What I think is important is a recognition on our part as educators that our students respond more or less effectively to particular types of instruction and be flexible in our approach. As students we need to continually reflect on what classes worked well for us and why – what style of instruction best meets our needs.
When considering photographic instruction we should be mindful of what style of instruction works best for us and look for an approach that is going to play to our strengths. I would like to think that photography is a skill to be developed and this development will likely take some time, so we should dig in and enjoy the journey.
This image was made at one of my favorite beaches. I had been up to catch the sunrise and then was hunting for some detail shots that were a little different. Once I found the mussel shell I worked my way into position to line up the other elements in the frame and waited for the waves!
I’ve been giving thought, perhaps too much thought, to how I approach photography, how I learn and what I can do to improve. All of which is largely dictated by personality. I firmly believe that a better understanding of ourselves can lead us to be more productive and more successful.
How then do I approach photography, or at least getting ‘the shot’?
At one extreme there are those that go out and shoot what they come across, a free spirited approach, while at the other extreme is the more regimented approach of going out into the field with ‘the shot’ in mind, blinkered to other potential opportunities. I would like to think that I fall somewhere in between these two extremes.
If I am going to make the investment in getting up early to go shooting then I want to maximize the chance that I am going to come back with an image that excites me. To do that I will research the location if I’ve never been there before by looking to see what others have done at this location. In times gone by looking at the postcard rack was always a good jumping off point, while this still is a fair approach the internet offers a much greater visual exploration of an area of potential interest.
When on location I will typically plan on 3 categories of shot – wide views, what I call mid-range shots and finally details. If I get a satisfactory image in one of these categories I’m happy. Achieving a satisfactory image in more than one of these categories and I’m ready to buy a round of drinks for everyone in the local Starbucks.
I will typically have a primary subject in mind but also have thought through a few ‘what ifs’ and have a secondary subject in mind too.
Having a secondary subject was a good thing on the morning I shot this photograph. I had risen before the sun with the intention of getting some harbor views bathed with the early morning sunlight. Unfortunately there wasn’t a sunrise just a flat grey sky – ‘no sunrise today, you should have been here yesterday’ was the chorus from the joggers and cyclists as they passed me by. After deciding that the harbor views weren’t working on this particular morning I decided to try for the red barn. Fortunately the tide was cooperative, where I was stood is often covered with water at high tide, and I was able to get in position to make this image.
In the same way that the proverbial lemming jumps off the cliff I have jumped into the blogosphere – everyone else was doing it so why not me too! I’ve found that writing about photography, and my photography and process in particular, helps me, and some of my random thoughts may be of interest to others. We’ll see.
I am continually on the lookout for interesting lanes such as the one in this image. Fortunately this one is almost on my doorstep and that means that I can return at different times of the year for different weather and different light. My last visit was during one of the ‘winter events’ we’ve experienced and I was able to catch the lane with snow on the road before the salt trucks had made their rounds.