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.
When I was planning to go to the pacific northwest, and particularly the Olympic National Park, last year I began casting around for inspiration and to see what others had done in this area. Art Wolfe was obvious since it was his workshop that I was going on. Jay Goodrich too since he was also one of the workshop leaders but who else. That was when I came across Johsel Namkung, a photographer who some have suggested is ‘Seattle’s answer to Ansel Adams‘. I think I would disagree and suggest that Namkung has more in common with Eliot Porter than he does with Ansel Adams. When I think of Ansel Adams I think of the grand landscape captured in black and white, whereas when I think of Eliot Porter I think of more intimate images captured in color. For me Namkung’s most powerful images are color studies of shape, line and texture.
A restrospective of his work was published by Cosgrove Editions in 2012. You can browse the book here and find out more about him at johselnamkung.net. Check it out, it’s worth a look.
I’ve been thinking about learning in the last couple of weeks and have become increasing comfortable with the notion that 20% of our efforts give 80% of the results, or knowing 20% of something can get you 80% of the way there. For many people this is good enough, with the disproportionate amount of effort it takes to go the last 20% of the way not worth the effort it takes.
For the longest time I wanted to take better photographs without really a notion of what better really meant. Even now I’m not sure what better really means but I’ve settled on it being sufficiently skilled that I can conceive of an image and realise that in the final image. I’ve started to realize that for me this is a little bit like looking for the end of a rainbow. What I’ve found is that the more skilled that I become, the more that the technical stuff falls away allowing me to spend time on the artistic piece, the further and harder I push. What was difficult becomes easy and uninteresting. The new challenge is the thing that stretches and tests your abilities both technically and artistically. Failure, frustration and disappointment remain part of your everyday existence. Perhaps those failures become more spectacular as your skills develop and you try and push to bigger things. But failure remains a constant, intermingled with some successes and it’s those successes that make it all worthwhile.
So how to get better when better remains an unachievable goal. There are of course stages to this growth. Arguably imitation is the foundation of all that we do. We look at those artists that are making the kind of work that we’re interesting in and ask the question how do they do it. We work the technical side of things and figure out how they did what it was that attracted us and make servicable copies of the work of the masters. Great examples of this are the multitude of photographers that make the pilgrimage to Yosemite each year to make their own copy of Ansel Adams great photographs. That’s pretty cool – execute one of these photographs immaculately and you’ve got a pretty nice looking photograph that your friends and family will most certainly coo over.
I would argue that the next phase is to build a familiarity with the things that appeal to you. This covers the gambit of design sensibilities, aesthetic qualities in everyday life – furniture, tools that you use everyday – computers kitchen gear, dishwear, cutlery etc. as well as becoming encyclopedic in your familiarity with the medium that you work in – landscape photography, portrature, etc. and perhaps digging depper to sub specialties such as water in the landscape.
The final and perhaps hardest step then is to combine the technical and the artistic to create something that is truely your own.
I’m going to unpack my thoughts around getting better over the next few weeks. Comments appreciated as always. Thoughts on the 80/20 rule in relation to skill development? I’d love to hear them.
I was expecting a relatively intimate workshop (I had been under the impression that it would be 12 people) that would give us all a lot of time with Art and Libby and Jay. It turned out to be a much bigger group, ~30 participants and 4 or 5 additional instructors/assistants. Not that is a bad thing, the staff were all pretty attentive both in the classroom and in the field, although I found it difficult to keep track of peoples names, whether they were with our group or not and whether they were a participant or instructor. We didn’t spend too much time in the classroom because the weather was ‘perfect’ for photography, it was overcast the first day, overcast and rainy the second, but then cleared so that we got broken cloud cover for a sunset at Second beach. Very cool the way the weather worked out perfectly.
One of the reasons that I took the workshop was to get a better sense of photographing in forests and there was no shortage of opportunity to photograph in the forest. Our first stop was Marymere falls and then on to the Sol Duc. Being in dense old growth forest I was overwhelmed by the clutter and so it wasn’t until I was in the Hoh Rainforest the following day that I actually started seeing potential shots. But then however I was battling a couple of technical challenges that I hadn’t expected – it was raining, hello rainforest – which meant that I had to clean off the front element frequently otherwise my shots would be obliterated because of raindrops. The second issue that I was frankly surprised by was fogging. I was using a polarizer to take the sheen off the green and found that the front element would fog under the polarizer and so I had that to contend with too. Most if not all of the shots of the forest I ended up with are marred by one or other of these issues.
While I may not have any photographs from the forest that I liked, I did begin to ‘see’ potential photographs which was a significant step forward for me. I’m looking forward to going back for more!
I’m still futzing with making black and white photographs. The winter trees above taken during a rare (at least for this winter) snow flurry is my latest effort at black and white. A little easier to visualize this time since the subject is ostensibly black and white. Comments as always appreciated.
I’m not exactly comfortable with the try it and see approach, although that will surely work, and so I have been looking around for tools and resources that could help educate and train my eye. The book ‘Seeing in Black and White‘ by Alan Gilchrist seems like it would give a solid theoretical understanding and was recommended by Vincent Versace in his recent interview with Ibarionex Perello on The Candid Frame. I’m also looking forward to seeing Vincent Versace’s book on black and white conversion techniques, ‘From Oz to Kansas: Almost Every Black and White Technique Known to Man‘, which should appear in the next couple of months.
The tool that I’ve found that looks intriguing is the Tiffen #1 B&W Viewing filter, essentially a Kodak Wratten 90 monochromatic viewing Filter but in a more user friendly holder. Apparently it is able to remove the color and gives a monochromatic view more like that which would be captured by black and white film. Sounds intriguing and I can’t wait to give it a go. Read more about the filter in an excellent article by George DeWolfe here.
‘Not every printer is a great photographer, every great photographer is a great printer’
I came across the quote attributed to Ansel Adams a couple of weeks ago and couldn’t help but wonder whether this is really true today. There have been seismic changes in photography and technology in the last 10 or so years – the shift to digital, decent cameras in most mobile phones, great tablet devices and on and on – that makes me wonder what was true when Ansel Adams made his comment is still true today.
How many people feel the need to print? Sure not people who are stock photographers. They deliver their content to the stock agencies digitally and it is further distributed digitally. Wedding photographers? Again another example of a group that are focused on high quality with high productivity, that would most likely today have some if not all content delivered digitally with the remaining photographs and associated wedding books printed by specialty print services. Editorial photographers, similar story – digital delivery to their editors.
Does this mean that these photographers are not ‘great’? Of course not. The successful photographers in these fields have exacting standards that when coupled with creativity and a capacity for hard work has been the foundation for their success.
So is Ansel’s comment still relevant today? I think so but we should modify it slightly – ‘Every great fine art photographer is a great printer’.
It’s never been easier to print your own photographs. Prices of really good ink jet prints have dropped precipitously and are well within the range of most serious amateurs. There are a huge range of ‘substrates’, papers and other specialty surfaces, available for printing. The standard printer drivers and paper profiles give good results without needing tweaking. Finally there are a tremendous range of resources available to help you along the way – George DeWolfe’s Book ‘George DeWolfe’s Digital Photography Fine Print Workshop‘ is one that I would particularly recommend. It’s quite possible then for us all to make good prints and with a commitment to the craft even some great ones.
I’m sure that David Hockney is a familiar name to all. Some have told me that he’s the most famous painter alive today, perhaps that’s true but it’s not what I find interesting about Hockney. I first came across Hockney’s work in the late ’80s when he was making photocollages which I thought were interesting and set me on a path of doing ‘joiners’ whenever I had the chance. I stopped paying attention to what he was doing as life got busy and it wasn’t until when one of my friends recently mentioned that her work was moving close to the Hockney Gallery and Museum that I looked him up again. I was surprised to see that he’d relocated from Los Angeles to Bridlington, a small seaside town in East Yorkshire, and was busily painting the Yorkshire Wolds. This is very familiar territory for me and was a bit of a home coming to see the video and resulting pictures. What is particularly noteworthy is that he’s painting very large paintings outside. He really does manage to capture the essence of the place. If you’re in the UK his yorkshire landscape paintings are being exhibited at the Royal Academy from Jan 21 – April 9, 2012. Check out the video below.
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.
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.
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!