I’m not sure whether Michael Zide would consider the image above to be his most iconic but it was the image that first caught my attention when I was leafing through a Maine Media Workshops catalog a while ago and then the one that I rediscovered last week. There are a number of things that I like about this image but I think the thing that struck me the most was the combination of ice and the ocean – I really got a sense of the cold when I looked at this image. It was also fun to realize that it was taken at Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard, one of my favorite places to photograph, and perhaps Michael’s too since he lived there for over 10 years.
Getting basic techniques down and being able to replicate photographs that others have made is all well and good. But how do you advance beyond that to make photographs that are unique, that express your unique vision.
Many people use the struggles and creative processes of writers to help guide the photography path. Skeptical? Take a look at Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing‘ and change his mention of writing for photography and you’ll see what I mean.
My development as a photographer has paralleled the way I learned to play the guitar. I spent many hours learning how to play songs and even more time how to play blues riffs. At first this was following along with instructional books and CDs, as an aside David Hamburger and Dave Rubin produced some phenomenal instructional books and CDs, and then later working out riffs for myself from the CDs that I had. This let me build up a series of phrases that I could be dropped into either my own songs or the songs of others, in many ways like learning elements of photographic technique that will later be pieced together to make an image.
For both writing and learning to play the guitar there comes a point where progression comes from studying the work of others. Either reading more in the case of writing or listening more when it comes to learning an instrument. The same is true for photography. We’re surrounded by images but I suspect that few of us take the time to really look at them, to really see. When was the last time you went to an exhibition of photography or painting? When was the last time that you pulled one of your coffee table photography books down and spent 10 minutes looking at a single image?
If you’re like me, more engineer than artist, perhaps part of the reason is that you don’t have the language to describe what your seeing and you could argue if we could use words we’d be writers. The very act however of simply describing the image in front of you is enormously useful first step in becoming comfortable with describing photographs and identifying elements within them that you could use in your own photography. The more time you spend looking at other photographs the more photographs you’ll see when you have your camera in hand.
So how to start? Start with a very basic description: What is it a photograph of? Color or black & white? Shape of the frame? Where was it taken? When was it taken? How was it taken? Then go beyond the basics: Why was it taken? How does it make you feel?
I’d be interested in your feedback and comments if you run through this exercise with the image above.
I recently came across the photography of Douglas Ethridge. The first image of his that caught my attention was one from the same series as the example I posted above, featured in an interview with him in F-Stop Magazine. There’s more to Douglas than just these images of water, his black and white work is equally stunning. Check out all of his portfolio’s here and my favorite black and white set, Waypoints, here.
Finally check out the video of Douglas discussing his work below.
I think one of the challenges that we all have as photographers is showing the everyday in new and interesting ways. Michael Eudenbach is one photographer who seems to make doing this easy, making photographs that I always enjoy looking at. His photograph of the bow of Endeavour, shown above is a particular favorite. Michael has a talent for finding a unique way of representing the scene in front of him, resulting in photographs that make you feel as though you’re part of the action. You can find more of Michael’s photographs here. Check out the video below that shows one way that Michael uses to find unique viewpoints. For personal feedback on your images you can find Michael on PhotoSynesi
I carry a camera around with me all the time, whether it is my iPhone, pocket digital – canon G10, or a DLSR. The more I look for images the more I find and with tools to capture them easily to hand the more likely I am to stop and try something. When I’m with others this is met with reactions that range from curiosity regarding what I’m seeing, tolerance for the tourist to outright disdain. Disdain, perhaps because I’m supposed to be paying attention to something else or that I’m not following expected norms of behavior. Breaking the rules, the photographic rules that is, is something that I’ve been thinking about recently. Something that has been encouraged by the photographs I’ve been taking with my iPhone. As a beginning photographer, you’re told shoot on a tripod, if you’re hand-holding then use a shutter speed of at least 1/focal length. I certainly have been interested until very recently in making photographs that are a sharp representation of life in front of the lens. When I was out walking this past weekend I was surprised at how low the light was even though it was the middle of the day. In order to achieve a shutter speed that would allow for a sharp image I had to be at a wide open aperture and iso 800. Which made me wonder what if I pushed in the other direction what would that look like. I played until I got a shutter speed of 2 secs and then looked to see what I could do. It was a fun exercise and one that I’m likely to repeat in the future. The image that I liked the best from the set is the one above. It really gives me the sense of water rushing by. What do you think? Any other fun exercises to keep things interesting?
I spend a lot of time traveling around Boston using the underground system which is locally referred to as ‘The T’. Even though I’d traveled around for years on the T it was only since my obsession with grungy iPhone photos kicked in that it occurred to me that there were some potential images to be made while waiting for the train. Initially I considered these to be sketches of what I might be able to do with my ‘real’ camera. Even so I quite like what I’ve been able to do so far and will continue to push the idea forward.
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.
After spending time at Lucy Vincent Beach, other Martha’s Vineyard beaches pale by comparison. That’s not to say that there are interesting images to be had here. I decided to forgo the bandstand in Ocean Park and headed down to the beach. There were a couple of piles of rocks and old pilings at the waters edge that caught my attention. The image above was one of the more successful images.
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.
Normally the presence of water makes things rusty. For me, quite the opposite is true. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to get out with the camera in any serious way and I really felt it this last weekend. I was surprised that it took me one session to get back into a rhythm. I sometimes feel like this even when I have been shooting regularly – the first 15 – 20 minutes are essentially me stretching and warming-up so that I can work towards the image that I have in mind. If anyone has good ideas for a series of ‘stretches’ to make that first few moments on location more productive I’d be happy to hear them.
Fortunately the weather held out while I was at the beach which meant that I was able to get a few sessions in and came away with at least one image I was happy with.