Happy Accidents & Other Surprises


Were getting to the time of year when people review the year just gone and plan for the year ahead. I guess I’m doing the same, although I will leave the ‘my 12 best images’ post to others.

It’s interesting to look back over the last year and see what images I consider to be my best how these compare to last years work and how they relate to one another. I started the year with the intention of making a set of color images of the coast on clear mornings. This idea began to evolve during the course of the year as I made a number of images during foggy conditions, trying to make the most of my time photographing. Even with a clear plan of what you want to achieve, being flexible enough to respond to the situations you find yourself in, can lead you in directions you hadn’t expected. Perhaps for you, as has been the case for me, these photographs will be standouts and serve as jumping off points for new projects.

Back in the Saddle

After my moment of angst, self-doubt, call it what you will I was back at the beach again recently. I don’t think that I’ve ever managed to be at the beach at exactly the same point in the tide’s cycle and so I’m always surprised by what i find. On this morning there were sand bars that meant the incoming tide would be deep and then very thin giving rise to some interesting contrasts in texture of the water at the shutter speed that I was using. I’ll be back for more.

All Done Here?

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.

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.

Lucy Vincent Beach

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.

Wide Angle Distortion – Does this Lens Make me Look Fat?

Over Labor Day weekend I spent some time playing with my regular lens walk around lens, Canon’s 24-104, but using it at the wide angle setting. I know that wide angle lenses can cause distortion and have particularly noticed curved horizons as the a byproduct of working with the wide angle. Converging verticals and keystoning are also other hallmarks of a wide angle lens.

I’ve read all this in books but hadn’t really internalized it until I made this image:

Sort of annoying because I wanted to include a big open sky.

Keeping the sensor parrallel to the lighthouse resulted in this:

A little better. When I got this home I used the function within lightroom to correct for the lens used and got this image:

I looked at this for a while but couldn’t put my finger on what was the problem with it. Then it dawned on me. Correcting for lens distortion made the lighthouse ‘chunkier’ than it actually seems in real life. There’s a lesson for all of us in that – be careful with automatic settings. They work great the majority of the time but not always.

I finally decided on how I wanted the image to look and came up with this:

Tons of fun and some good lessons.