I was lucky enough to spend my first evening on Martha’s Vineyard with my friend Ginny Newton. Ginny was the winner of Yankee Magazine‘s Editors’ Choice Photo Contest in 2010 and was also a guest blogger over on the Yankee Magazine webpage. We met at Alison Shaw’s gallery in Oak Bluffs and then Ginny gave me a guide tour of the campgrounds. I guess this area is more formally known as the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association Campgrounds. In any case the little cottages are pretty neat and Ginny had some fun stories to share of staying in various cottages including one across from Shel Silverstein. The Camp Meeting Association is a religious association dating back to 1835. As one might expect at the center of the campgrounds is The Tabernacle – a really interesting structure that has dozens of stained glass windows. Because of the way the stained glass is arranged there are interesting colored patterns to be captured throughout the entire day. I had a fun couple of hours on two occasions photographing the colored light.
I’m on Martha’s Vineyard this week to attend Alison Shaw’s photography workshop. The weather has been good but we’ve lacked the spectacular sunrises and sunsets so far his week. One of the things that going out regardless of the weather is that it pushes you to go beyond the bounds of what you might think are conditions needed for great photographs. I’ve bumped up against this a couple of times already this year and again for our evening at Lucy Vincent beach. There was a decent amount of cloud cover and it got foggy as the evening wore on. The image below was my favorite from the ones that I’ve reviewed so far.
I’m getting ready to head over to Martha’s Vineyard for a week of photography starting Saturday. What better way to spend the week than being given a tour by the photographer who literally wrote the book on ‘Photographing Martha’s Vineyard‘ – Alison Shaw. Alison is a fine art and editorial photographer who lives year round on Martha’s Vineyard and has done so since she came for the summer in 1975 and never left. Here’s Alison talking about her book and photographing on Martha’s Vineyard:
I’ve been trying to understand the key elements of ‘Intimate Landscapes’ – I’m still a long way from them making even vague sense to me – but I am looking at as many photographs as I can in this style and reading as much as I can too. Niall Benvie‘s article in Outdoor Photography about ‘Deconstructed landscapes’. You can find a version of the article on his blog here, certainly worth a read.
I enjoyed the article enough to look up his books and came across Outdoor Photography Masterclass. Against my better judgement, since I’m trying to ween myself off ‘how to’ books, I ordered it and spent last weekend flipping through it. The book is broken up as though it were a 3 day workshop. I haven’t gotten deeply into the specifics of workflow, basic processing etc., – it seems like the usual affair, generally solid advice, perhaps a little dated. A minor quibble for instance – I’m using 8 GB memory cards, shooting raw I get about 280 images per card. I generally delete the out of focus stuff and keep the rest. It’s quite possible for me to have at least 8 GB of images from a morning or evening shoot more than will fit onto the DVD recommended for archiving purposes.
What I really liked were the more thought provoking short essays at the end of each chapter, covering topics such as ‘How Should we Critique Outdoor Photography’ and ‘Creativity, Style & Vision’. I would have been happy to have a book full of these and I’m happy to have bought Outdoor Photography Masterclass for these writings if nothing else.
To find more of Niall’s writings, and I recommend that you do!, a great place to begin with is the blog ‘Images from the Edge‘ that Niall collaborates on with Clay Bolt, Paul Harcourt Davies & Andrew Parkinson. Niall is also a regular contributor to the UK magazine Outdoor Photography. This can be hard to find in the US but is available as an iPad app and well worth having a look. Lots of good stuff to dig into.
I have had a lot of fun so far this year looking for ways that I can bring a sense of motion into my photographs. To do that I have been experimenting with moving the camera. One series of experiments involved panning with a slow shutter speed, both vertically and horizontally, a variety of different subjects. Some of the results I quite liked and I will continue on with those ideas. On the day I took the photograph above I was headed back to the car after a morning shoot. Although I wasn’t ready to be done, the sun was too bright for the kind of photographs that I prefer. As I walked back down the road I noticed a patch of rocks that had interesting colors. The straight shots I made were okay, but wanting something different I tried both panning the camera and rotating the camera. The result of rotating the camera is shown above.
I have been playing with the interaction of still and moving, generally trying to combine the two into a single photograph. When I saw these trees together on my way down to the beach recently I wondered whether I could build on my interest in motion to create an image that I was happy with. I took a lot of frames but was happiest with the one above. I may try more of these!
In his book ‘Welcome to Oz’ Vincent Versace says that practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent! Perfect practice makes perfect. This should be familiar to anyone who’s learned how to play a musical instrument. Practice builds muscle memory that can be hard to unlearn once established.
I think that the same can be said for patterns of behaviors, the rhythms and routines of life. It’s certainly true for the way that I approach photography and change is hard to do.
The Maine Islands workshop that recently attended with John Paul Caponigro marks another step in my evolution as a photographer. I’ve heard many times before the importance of ‘working the scene’ and frankly thought that I was but now realize that I’m not working hard enough. The challenge that I’ve set myself is to go ahead and make the obvious image but then make something more creative and keep pushing until I have 6-10 distinct images. Easier said than done! Even though I set out with the intention of doing that what I ended up with was not too much of a departure from what I’d done before. Breaking old patterns of behavior is tough but certainly worth the effort.
I continue to work through the images I captured at John Paul Caponigro’s Maine Islands workshop. I have plenty to work on!
One of the topics for discussion was the use of graduated neutral density filters. With a well captured image the tools available in Lightroom and Photoshop make this type of filter redundant. However, I’m not ready to give up my filters just yet. I will usually take a number of images with and without the filters and see which I like the best. Even with the expensive ‘neutral’ filters from Singh-Ray, under the conditions I usually photograph I get a pronounced color cast. Sometimes I like it, sometimes not so much. The image above was taken without a filter and then processed in photoshop to add a digital neutral density filter.
I’ve been developing a series of images exploring the juxtaposition of motion with stillness. I’ve shared some of those images here previously. More can be found on my main website here. At John Paul Caponigro’s Workshop I spent time trying things that were on the fringes of what I would normally do.
One of the images that I made that I quite like is shown above. It fits into the general idea of what I have been trying to achieve with my Still Motion series and yet is a departure. This image was made on Monhegan Island on a misty morning, with very limited visibility.
Last weekend I was at John Paul Caponigro’s Maine Islands Workshop. The workshop appealed to me because it was based in a part of Maine I hadn’t previously explored and it was an opportunity to work with John Paul. For the uninitiated, John Paul is a fine art landscape photographer whose work often blurs the line between photography and painting. I was initially more familiar with his work as a master printer since he was referenced by many of the photographers I have paid attention to. After poking around on his website I realized that JP could be the photography mentor that I have been looking for, someone who could help me become more like me.
I was more than a little bit intimidated in signing up since I felt that John Paul attracted people that were already very good and were pushing to be more creative. I really needn’t have worried. John Paul’s relaxed demeanor helped to foster a very supportive environment that made for good weekend.
As an added bonus Kevin Ames was part of our group. I was familiar with Kevin through his book ‘The Digital Photographer’s Notebook’ so this was real surprise to get a chance to meet him and see him in action. Kevin has a great sense of humor and was fun to be around. He’s also a great resource for imaging possibilities in photoshop which came in very handy. I’m looking forward to bumping into him again.
The subtitle of the workshop was ‘Illuminating Creativity’, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that at each of the shoots John Paul gave the group an exercise – shoot a photograph that’s a noun, make the postcard image and then make a more creative one. What this did was to shift my thinking. I have a specific project that I am working on that I half thought I would come close to finishing at this workshop but what actually happened was that I tried a lot of things that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I made some images that I like, I have a few ideas that I will pursue further and I have a better sense of why my duds are just that duds.
It was an odd sensation but I came away from the workshop feeling the same way I did when I got into graduate school – an ending but also the first step on a grander adventure.