Beware The Sleepers!

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I was photographing along the California coast last week, something that I’d wanted to do for a while but had never managed to connect the dots and make happen. Unfortunately I didn’t pick a good week for the trip, given that Northern California was experiencing the worst storm they’d had in 5 years. I was hoping to tick off one of my photographic goals and get some good photographs at Bowling Ball beach. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. I did learn a lot and got a few images that I thought were okay given the circumstances.

One of the things that threw me a little was the unpredictability of the waves on the coast. Normally I like to get close to the foreground element with a wide angle lens which often puts me in the water. Not a big deal, I’ve been around the ocean my entire life I know how the game works and respect the ocean like I would a wild animal. You have to pay attention at all times otherwise you may get bit! Here on the East Coast the waves seem to be generally predictable this was also true on the California coast in that every 5 th of 6 th wave would be huge and where there was rocks or beach for the previous few waves there would be a foot or more of water. It was quite unsettling and I eventually retreated to the relative safety of the cliffs and a long lens.

I thought that this was something related to the storm and an unusual storm surge until I spotted I sign that described ‘Sleepers’ – waves that were much larger that the previous ones which could easily knock you off your feet and cause you to be swept out to sea. Reading the sign you could easily think that it was a little alarmist but have experienced the waves up close and personal there’s definitely cause for concern when photographing at the beach in this area.

Becoming A First Class Noticer

I’ve been thinking about what it takes to ‘see pictures’. People will tell you that ‘pictures are all around us’ and yet I find that few are able to consistently find them. Why is that?

Personally I feel as though I go through my day with blinkers on, really only paying attention to the things that I need to pay attention to in the specific moment. The things on the periphery are ignored in an effort to get onto whatever is next as expediently as possible.

This is a sentiment that I found echoed in ‘Sketch‘ in which the author, France Belleville-Van Stone has this to say:

Most of us have acquired, with time, the capacity to “tune out” the things around us. This faculty to conveniently ignore the things that don’e “matter” allows us to live without being constantly bombarded with visual stimuli. We need to be able to drive or walk without being distracted by the slightest object in our field of vision.

As adults we have trained ourselves to disregard the landscape around us in order to keep a certain focus, that is, where are we going, how we are going to answer questions during an upcoming interview, how not to trip in those brand new heels so as to avoid public embarrassment.

Jay Maisel seems to have this problem of seeing licked licked. He always carries his camera with him and is always looking for, and finding, pictures. How does he do that? He seems to have retained a child like curiosity in everything around him.

For me this enhanced way of seeing is most easily achieved when I put myself in new situations, where things are strange or scary or strange and scary. It’s amazing to me how I seem to notice everything when I’m in potentially dangerous situations – balancing precariously on rocks in the ocean before dawn, walking along the beach when it’s so foggy I can hear but can’t see the breaking waves or walking through a forest in the near dark hoping that I’m still on the trail. In these circumstances I have a heightened sense of awareness, time slows down, and I can pay attention to an enormous amount of detail. Interestingly this sense of awareness persists, so that I find that I ‘see’ pictures when I’m on my way home in a way that I didn’t an hour or so earlier.

Have you experienced this sensation? How do you get into the ‘picture taking, seeing zone’?

Friday Inspiration: Christian Fletcher

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A section in a book that I’m reading at the moment provided a twist to the ‘you’re the average of the 5 people you spend most time with‘ idea that has been circling the internet for several years now. Specifically it said that if you’re the smartest person you know then you need to get to know some more people, if you’re the most creative person you know then you need to get to know some more people and went on like that for quite a bit. It’s funny that the Ninety Degrees Five group is five people – all are very talented and successful, if the alphabet soup of letters that they are able to append to their names is anything to go by – I wouldn’t mind being the average of this group by any means!

Of this group Christian Fletcher recently won Western Australian Landscape photographer of the year and International Landscape photographer of the year. He’s based in Dunsborough in South Western Australia, which looks like a fantastic part of the world if his photographs are anything to go by and is now on my list of places to visit. Christian seems to work predominantly with digital medium format cameras, which allows him to create large prints of his work, working with photoshop to fully extract the potential in each of his images. Check out the videos below to hear more from Christian himself.

Phase One – Christian Fletcher from Michael Fletcher on Vimeo.

Beavertail Lighthouse Scouting Trip

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What’s the weather like where you are? Here on the New England coast it’s been bitterly cold this last week – a polar vortex the weather guys seem to call it. I was in Jamestown recently to photograph around Beavertail lighthouse with the temperature cold and feeling colder because of the wind chill.

This was the first time that I’d actually gone to Jamestown with the intention of photographing around the lighthouse and, although I had prepared as well as I could, I wasn’t prepared for the difficulties that the cold would present. I was playing with the 24 mm tilt-shift lens again but what I quickly found was that I was too clumsy with gloved hands to operate the buttons and knobs that you need to work to adjust the lens. I struggled along the best that I could but was very frustrated by the time I was done.

I did however get a couple of images that I liked and managed to find a couple of fun spots that I plan to return to in the coming weeks.

Friday Inspiration: Tony Hewitt

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I’ve enjoyed poking around on Tony Hewitt’s website as part of learning more about the photographers that make up the Ninety Degrees Five collaborative group. Tony is a wedding and portrait photographer although it’s his landscape and fine art work that I’m drawn to. I was curious to see that he isn’t just what I consider a ‘straight shooter’ but is will to add textures to his photographs and really push them to get the feeling he’s looking for in his photographs. I wasn’t expecting that from some of the work that I’d seen of his as part of the ND5 exhibitions but it just goes to show that it’s worth digging in to get a better sense of the breadth of work people are doing. Check out the interview and other videos of Tony below.

Tony Hewitt, “Keep Looking For Your Style…” from AIPP TV on Vimeo.

The Pilbara Project – Tony Hewitt from Michael Fletcher on Vimeo.

Tony Hewitt and Christian Fletcher talking about the Pilbara Project – Photographers Cut exhibition from Michael Fletcher on Vimeo.

A New Tilt on an Old Theme

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I thought that I’d share my first in the field experiment with a tilt shift lens. My first attempt with a tilt shift was this which of course taught me that in addition to manual focusing I needed to also be manual exposure. Probably not too much of a surprise for anyone whose used these lenses but it’s all new to me. I also was ready for the back end freak out where photoshop isn’t able to stitch my images together for me but that comes later.

So how did I get here? I’ve been worrying unnecessarily about depth of field. While you, like me, are setting the F stop to 22 (or some other high number) focusing a third into the scene and then firing away with the knowledge that you’re going to have good front to back focus. While this has served me well I realize that the only thing in your image that actual is in focus in the thing that you’ve focused upon and everything else in the same plane as that point of focus. Everything else is acceptably out of focus.

The medium and large focus photographers that have access to tilt and shift are able to angle the plane of focus and by doing so get more (all?) of the image in focus. Scheimpflug principle anyone? With a DSLR one way to achieve the same large depth of field is by taking multiple images with different points of focus and then blend them to extend the depth of field. Helicon focus is a well respected piece of software that can help if this is something that you’re interested in, beyond what you can achieve in photoshop. This approach is somewhat problematic when things in your image are in motion, such as my favorite subject – water. This is where a tilt shift lens comes in. It should give you access to the same tilt and shift functions that you would have with a medium or large format camera.

My playing so far has been restricted to the shift function which is how the image above was made. A vertical panorama stitched together and then cropped. See the images that I used below.

Top:

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Middle:

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Bottom

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Which when stitched together give:

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Which I then cropped to this:

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I think that this is working. The next experiment will be to see what I can do with the tilt functionality. That should be fun.

Developing Projects

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I’ve been going back through the archives looking for images that could be used to extend exisiting projects and identify themes to be developed for new projects. It can be a nice surprise to find images that were previously overlooked, a little bit like finding money in a coat when you wear it for the first time in a long time.

One of the things that I’ve been doing while I look through my images is to set up smart collections in lightroom that will be populated when certain criteria are met. I have a simple color scheme that I use to label my photos – I mark images that I’ve worked on green, ones that are to be worked on yellow and ones to be deleted red. All the photos labeled green (the keyboard shortcut to do this on the mac is simply by pressing the number 8) will then appear in my smart collection folder ‘selects’. I’m in the process of refining this collection using keywords that will then put images into project folders – ‘coast’ captures the images at the coast that I like so much, ‘trees’ is my tree project that is slowly coming along and ‘water abstracts’ is a project that came to light as I was going through the archive. The image above is one from the water abstracts collection. A screen grab of this collection is below.

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There’s definitely a ‘one of these things is not like the others’ element to this collection that I will need to resolve at some point, either by punting the offending image or building additional images into the set so that it is no longer a singleton. Having a number of clarified projects percolating in the background means that I’m sensitized to the opportunities for adding to these projects which will hopefully allow them to mature more rapidly.

How about you? Are you thinking about the images that you make in terms of projects? Any approaches, tricks, techniques or thoughts to developing projects that you want to share? I’d love to hear them

Why Do You Photograph?

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If you’ve been following along here, in the last few weeks we’ve been digging in to identify our purpose, the big why that is the underlying reason for the choices that we make in life. A touchstone that helps guide us through difficult decisions.

Before I leave this topic for a little while I could help but ask a final question. Why do you photograph? Perhaps related is how does your photography support your big why?

Now I’m not thinking about what kind of photography, sports, documentary, editorial, fine art etc., or what you photograph but why do you do the thing that you’ve chosen to do.

There are lots of reasons that people photograph, to capture the essence of a person or a pet, to make other people feel emotion, to preserve significant moments, to create something, as a meditative practice. The list goes on.

Making the connection between your photography and your big why can help identify new photography projects, bring existing photographic projects into focus, give a sense of direction to your work and also a reason to keep going when you’re wondering is it worth it. Additionally, as we’ve discussed previously understand why helps guide your decision making and help make sense of the myriad of options you have for spend your most precious resource of all – time.

Friday Inspiration: Carleton Watkins

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I can’t remember where I first read about Carleton Watkins, perhaps it was this article in the Smithsonian magazine.  For someone like me, who thought that photography started with Ansel Adams, it was something of a revelation to read about and see Watkin’s photographs of the American west and particularly of Yosemite Valley.  While many of his photographs are stereograms the views of Yosemite are quite familiar.  It was his series of photographs of Yosemite Valley in the 1860s that helped influence Congress’s decision to make the valley a National Park in 1864.

There’s an exhibition of Watkin’s photographs at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University until August 17.  To find out more about the exhibition see here.  Unfortunately I’m in the wrong part of the country to be able to get to the exhibition but I did get the related book and have been enjoying looking at the photographs.

Recognizing many of the views made famous through the work of Ansel Adams in the Yosemite Valley made me think about what Ansel Adams brought to the table.  Perhaps not his vision but his superior control of the medium and printing abilities?

Check out the video below for more details on the exhibition at the Cantor Arts Center.

A Beginning?

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How do you come up with ideas for new photography projects? A conscious decision? An organic development of an existing project? Or perhaps looking back through your archives and finding common themes.

Over the recent break I recently found the house in the photo above. While I was taking the photo a town worker gave me a brief history of the property. Clearly it’s abandoned and in a state of disrepair.

I see these abandoned properties everywhere, and while I’d wondered about who lived there, why did they leave and why is it now left to rot, I had never photographed them. Given my sensitivity to these abandoned properties it seems as though I should photograph them, at least until they’re out of my system.

What do you notice all the time? Perhaps that would make a good project?