Shooting at Home as Though it Were Away

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In writing about getting ready to photograph on the road I realized that I don’t bring that level of rigor to shooting close to home and I should. Home for me is Boston’s South Shore, a region that many people, perhaps most people, zip through on their way to Cape Cod, or Martha’s Vineyard and yet there are lots of great places Hingham, Cohasset, and Scituate among them.

In looking for local photographers that fueled the fire for me I realized that the south shore is underserved by the kind of photographers and photography that I like. The Focus Gallery does a great job of highlighting Boston area photographers with perhaps Cindy Vallino and Mike Sleeper being the most local of the locals.

I do have one book on my shelves that has been good for getting ideas about potential locations – Boston’s South Shore and a quick search on amazon shows another couple of books that I ought to have on my shelves. My major tool for researching potential locations has been a combination of the satellite view tool in google maps, the photographers ephemeris and of course doing the leg work of driving to check places out. I’ve written about this kind of virtual scouting before and you can see the process that I use by clicking here.

If you do live in a location like I do, where there is relatively little in the way of resources to draw on you’re in a great position to explore the area both virtually and in person and find unique locations that few others are photographing. Go for it!

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What I Did On My Summer Vacation

OB Rocks Final-1I was thrilled to be accepted into the exhibition ‘What I did on my summer vacation‘ curated by Jim Fitts, Founder of PhotoWeenie.com and Anne DeVito, Co-Owner of Panopticon Gallery. The exhibition opened in the private room at the Panopticon Gallery September 12 and runs until Jan 14. So there’s still time left to look at the selected images.

I really liked where the photo was placed in the room, in a little alcove as shown below.

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The opening was quite a scene. A couple of artist talks and tons of people. Really overwhelming.

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Friday Inspiration: Michael Zide

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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.

The course that Michael teaches at the Maine Media Workshops is called ‘As You See It: Finding Your Creative Voice‘ which further caught my attention at the time and is on my list a potential future workshop.

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Check out more of Michael Zide’s work here: http://www.michaelzide.com and take a walk with him as he photographs Buffam Falls in the video below.

A Commitment to Becoming a Better Photographer

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To follow up on my previous post I thought that I’d share some of the things that I’d done to improve my photography and hopefully they may be useful to you. At the time I did all of this stuff I felt that I was a late starter and wanted to accelerate my learning as much as I could. This meant using the expertise and experience of photographers that I liked to quickly get a solid foundation. Please do chime in with your thoughts and comments too.

1. Find your true calling. Work out what appeals to you, what repels you. Start a scrap book real or virtual of images that appeal to you. Make a list of common attributes – color or black and white, landscape, portraiture, wildlife, fashion, wedding, dig a bit deeper what else do these have in common, what differentiates them.

2. Find a mentor. Have you found yourself gravitating to one or two photographers? Study what they’ve done and how they got the shots you particularly admire. Of course if they’re alive today they probably teaching workshops – take a workshop with them and get some advice from your photographic hero. Not only will you get some insight into how they achieve their signature works but you’ll also get some feedback on your own work.

3. Get the right gear. Figuring out what gear your heros are using to get the shots you admire and get the same stuff. Somethings you’ll want to buy now, others you should rent. But without getting the gear to get the shot you won’t get the shot. A good example for landscape photographers is a rock solid tripod – get a good one and it will last you for years.

4. Do what your heros do to get the shot. When I was at Alison Shaw’s Workshop on Martha’s Vineyard in 2009 I was bemoaning my lack of progress to Alison’s assistant Donna Foster. Donna quickly pointed out that there was a progression to my work but that my biggest problem was that I wasn’t shooting in the best light and that if I wanted to improve I should find some time to get out early or late and shoot when the light is good.

5. Get feedback on your work. There are a number of ways to get comments on your work I prefer one on one portfolio reviews with someone who is going to be brutally frank. Feedback from workshop instructors is also very useful, as can be comments from friends whose opinion you trust and value.

I hope that you found this useful. I’d be delighted to hear what you’ve done to improve.

A Morning at Oak Bluffs

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.

Paying Attention to What Has Your Attention

“If you don’t pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.”

David AllenGetting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity

I love the quote above from David Allen, the productivity guru most well known for Getting Things Done or the ‘GTD System’. It’s so right, on so many levels. Ignore the things that you should be doing and they will demand your attention, even if only to stop you from sleeping because you’re thinking about those issues as you try to nod off.

It was this David Allen quote that I was mindful of when I was away in Martha’s Vineyard a week or so ago but really in a very different way.  I do find it difficult to photograph if I’m not fully present and this can take some time to get to if there’s all kinds of other stuff unrelated to the scene in front of me that I’m thinking about.  Fortunately I have no problem quieting everything else to focus on what’s in front of me, although it can take 15 – 20 mins and a couple of hundred frames to get into the zone.

What I am aware of though, is that I can be so intently focused on the scene that I have framed that I frequently ignore the moments when my intuition tells me there’s a great photograph to be had. This could be paying attention to some stuff that I would consider to be a little weird – such as the image of the shells and seaweed above – and would normally walk by, simply reframing from the position that I’m already in or could involve a bit of a wander to get to a place where the light is doing interesting things.

How clear what the photograph is also varies – it can be crystal clear or could take a bit of work to get there. The work usually typically involves simplifying the image so that it has just the elements critical for whatever caught my eye, whether it was interesting light, a vivid color or something odd happening such as how the waves came together in the image below.

I feel that some of my better photographs have been in response to listening to my intuition and so, as is the case in many aspects of life, paying attention to what has your attention is equally applicable to photography and is a work in progress for me.

Alison Shaw Workshop: Thoughts & Comments

I’m just back from a week on Martha’s Vineyard to attend Alison Shaw’s workshop. It was a really fun week, great to catch up with old friends and make some new ones and to immerse myself in photography.

Like most of life, you get out of a week long workshop what you put into it. That means being at the location an hour before sunrise and staying at the evening locations until well after the sun has gone down. That makes for some very long days, especially if you try to edit photos when you get home in the evening. By mid-week everyone is a little punchy, filters are gone and everyone is in the groove.

This was the second time I’d visited Martha’s Vineyard, the first time was for Alison’s workshop last year. As a consequence the novelty factor is still very high for me even with places that most people are very familiar with such as Edgartown or Menemsha. While we went to some of my favorite spots, Lucy Vincent Beach and Vineyard Haven Harbor being high on that list, there were a few new places included in this workshop. We made it over to Chappaquiddick and after a stop at Mytoi, the Japanese garden, we headed for East Beach. While East Beach does not have the spectacular surf that Lucy Vincent Beach has there were enough photo opportunities to make the trip well worthwhile. One of the things that I appreciate about the locations that we visit is that they are rich with photographic opportunities, so even someone like me is able to come up with 3, 4 or more different photographs at each location.

Alison has an easy going nature and teaching style that she is able to adapt to the level of the student. While I could imagine some workshops being all about the instructor leading them, that’s not the case here. You get as much help as you need. While there is plenty of in the field instruction from Alison and a reasonable amount of classroom instruction, for me the real learning comes from the critique sessions. Alison was commenting on 80 + images every day, remarkably many were very different even though we were all at the place. I found that while I learned a lot from the critiques of my images, I learn just as much from the critiques of the other students.

For the September workshops Alison is usually assisted by Donna Foster. Donna splits her time between Charlotte, North Carolina and Martha’s Vineyard. I can’t say enough good things about Donna. Last year she really talked me off a ledge when I was in Menemsha and lost for something to shoot – if you’ve never been, think rusty junky old stuff and lots of it. Then took the time to review my images that I had brought with me and showed me that yes I was actually improving by sequencing and commenting on them. It was the boost I needed.

The week is rounded off by a group dinner and show. It was fun to see the progression in everyone’s work from the start of the week to the end of the week. I had an excellent time and look forward to spending another week with Alison in 2012.