I continue to think about and torture my friends by asking them about making Art and making photographs specifically. What is it for? Who is it for?
There are so many ways that we can use our time why make art if it’s not putting food on the table? Why make art if there’s no waiting audience for it?
The answer that I keep coming back to is that for me, and I suspect many others, creating things is an internal drive. I just have to do it. The world gets out of balance without the ability to create things. Nice if there’s and audience for what we’re making but it’s not the reason for making it.
Where things get a bit wobbly is when you have expectations for what you are creating. Whether it’s the standard that you set for yourself for quality? Whether it’s the ‘likes’ on Instagram or the number of pieces sold. Focusing on these things as measures of how good the work is will inhibit your progress as an artist.
Instead it’s much better to focus on the process of creating. Thinking about how many days did I get out to photograph this week, this month, this year or how many photographs did I ‘finish’ – take through the edit process and print? Seems to me a much better way to measure our creative output.
I’be been thinking about projects over the last few weeks. You might call it a series, others might call it a portfolio but for me all of my photography sits as part of at least one of a number of on-going projects. I picked up this way of working from one of the earliest workshops I did online with Bill Neill.
I had been thinking about initial ideas and how to develop them into a rich body of work when I started to think about what’s the goal? What would success look like? When would I know that I was done?
I must admit though that I never feel like I’m ‘done’. I just keep looking for images that will either raise the standard of the work that’s in my project or that will extend it in some way. But I had never thought about it being done.
It was encouraging then to listen to an interview with Michael Kenna who said something similar. That he’s never really done but an exhibition or a book deadline line will cause him to bring a group of images together that suits the need. He keeps working though and extends the work beyond the exhibition or book.
Other people that I’ve been listening to have discreet projects – I’m going to photograph here for a week, a month, a year and then after that time I’ve got what I’ve got and I’ll move on to the next project. Even then some of these photographers look for a milestone event such as an exhibition or a book to signal being done.
I like the idea of getting your project out into the world as an exhibition, a pdf, a chapbook, zine or larger book as a signal that the work is done. If only that means that chapter of the work is finished.
How about you. How do you know when you’re done with a chapter or the whole project? I’d be interested to hear about it.
With all the snow that we’ve been having here in New England you would think that I would have had time to finish working on my images from Japan wouldn’t you? A reasonable expectation but I’m swamped here at the moment. More about what’s going on in a few weeks.
I’ve mentioned here before that I generally take a lot of frames when I’m out shooting, particularly when I’m photographing water. With flowing water each frame will be different and potentially offer something unique. Also worth exploring is a range of shutter speeds – I generally try to keep some sense of motion in the water rather than blur the water completely with a very long exposure.
I’m still working on the image above – I’m happy with this version but will now live with this for a while to learn what I like and what I like to change.
Often I find that I am crunched for time, which means that I need to quickly process my images and get on to the next thing. Having a little bit of extra time to work on learning new techniques, how to use new equipment and then to integrate that into my everyday workflow is a real luxury.
Over the last six months or so I’ve been dabbling a little with both of these – learning about new masking techniques and how those can be used to composite images together to make large files that will be used to make large prints.
The image above is one that I had struggled with earlier in the year. I posted an earlier version of this image here. With a little bit of extra time over the Christmas break I was able to play a little, make some composites and finally get close to the image I had felt when I was there.
I was reminded of the Bruce Lee quote ‘Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless like water if you put water in the cup it becomes the cup and water can flow or it can crash’ last week. I was in California and had expectations of what I was going to photograph. I believe that it was Ansel Adams spoke about previsualization, having a sense of what the image is going to be before you make the exposure. I think that Ansel was probably previsualizing as he stood in front of what he was going to photograph. I on the other hand was guilty of previsualizing from thousands of miles away.
As I stood looking at the pounding surf, 3 feet above a normal low tide, that hid the rocks that I had imagined photographing for the previous 2 years it would have been a natural reaction to be frustrated. I’m not sure why I wasn’t but I just let it go, enjoyed the magnificence of the fury of the Pacific Ocean, and then moved on to photograph other things. I don’t think that anticipating and being prepared to get a specific shot is a bad thing but it is bad not to be flexible enough to recognize other opportunities that come your way. While they might not be what you’d prepared for they could be equally, or more, enjoyable.
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.
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.
Which when stitched together give:
Which I then cropped to this:
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.
As I was setting up my tripod for this shot this summer as I collapsed, de-telescoped, closed or whatever you call it, one of the legs the rubber foot shot off sending me scrambling to find it. Luckily I did! The glue had finally given up on the Gitzo 1325 legs of my tripod. Not bad after taking a beating for 8 years. I got a two part adhesive and glued it back in place and my tripod problems were over. Or at least I thought my tripod problems were over.
When I was using the tripod this week one i found that one of the legs was impossible to fully extend. Years of neglect had finally come home to roost. Photographing in and around the ocean means that your gear takes a pounding. Ideally you would rinse the salt water off your gear with fresh water. There are obvious problems doing that with cameras and lenses but you can and should do some clean up of your gear with a soft damp cloth after you’ve been out. I do this as needed after every shoot but I’ve never properly cleaned my tripod. This has largely been out of fear of getting the tripod to pieces and not being able to get it back together again.
I actually found that taking the tripod to pieces was much easier than I’d expected. On the old Gitzo that I have it’s simply a matter of unscrewing the leg lock the whole way and then pulling on the leg. The one that was stuck needed me to stand on the head of the tripod and then yank hard on the leg. Eventually it yielded to force! While the tripod was in pieces I took the opportunity to clean up the threads both on the leg and on the screw lock. The leg locks had been making awful grinding noises for years, presumably from sand and salt getting in there. This was easy enough to do with a rag for the legs and a toothbrush to get into the locks. As an aside I had always been taught to extend the tripod fattest section first, which of course meant that the lower section lock ended up under water the first time I used the tripod at the beach. While this advice is generally sound I typically have the lower section extended the width of my hand – about 4 inches – and then when working at the beach this is the first section that gets extended.
At the top of the tripod legs I found 3 bushings – two plastic and one that could easily be carbon fiber. Trying to get the legs back together was a little tricky and after a little bit of trial and error I realized that it was the plastic bushings causing the problems. I took these off the tripod and wound them into a tighter circle and then when they went back on the tripod the plastic stayed in this tighter configuration long enough to allow me to reassemble the whole thing relatively easily,
It was quite an educational process and easy enough that I could have been doing regularly all along!
I was in Iceland recently, even though my principal reason for being there was not there to take photographs I did have my camera gear with me and managed to get one photograph that I liked.
In thinking about why this worked image worked for me and so many of the others that I’ve taken in recent months have failed, I realized that I brought exactly the same way of thinking to taking the photograph above that I do when I’m shooting at the beach. I set up in the same way, used all the same gear and essentially had the same experience. Minus that is, the panic that my camera is going to get washed away with the next wave. In many ways I’ve been trying too hard. Forcing something that wasn’t working, where as this photograph was taken without thought and was essentially intuitive.