Taking a Mulligan

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Everyone deserves the opportunity to have another go, to reinterpret and reimagine their work. The more that I understand lightroom and photoshop the more possibilities there seem to be. In an interview with Michael Kenna I recently read he said that one of photography’s greatest strengths is that it is (or at least was) tied to reality. That tie is clearly broken for those that wish it to be. While I’ve yet to push reality hard, I have started to play a little. The image at the top of the page is a reworking of the image that I posted a few weeks ago based on the feedback that i received here and to fix a few things that bugged me which I didn’t know how to fix at the time. So a mulligan, a do over, let me know your thoughts.

Looking at Photographs: A Way to Improve Your Photography

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Getting basic techniques down and being able to replicate photographs that others have made is all well and good. But how do you advance beyond that to make photographs that are unique, that express your unique vision.

Many people use the struggles and creative processes of writers to help guide the photography path. Skeptical? Take a look at Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing‘ and change his mention of writing for photography and you’ll see what I mean.

My development as a photographer has paralleled the way I learned to play the guitar. I spent many hours learning how to play songs and even more time how to play blues riffs. At first this was following along with instructional books and CDs, as an aside David Hamburger and Dave Rubin produced some phenomenal instructional books and CDs, and then later working out riffs for myself from the CDs that I had. This let me build up a series of phrases that I could be dropped into either my own songs or the songs of others, in many ways like learning elements of photographic technique that will later be pieced together to make an image.

For both writing and learning to play the guitar there comes a point where progression comes from studying the work of others. Either reading more in the case of writing or listening more when it comes to learning an instrument. The same is true for photography. We’re surrounded by images but I suspect that few of us take the time to really look at them, to really see. When was the last time you went to an exhibition of photography or painting? When was the last time that you pulled one of your coffee table photography books down and spent 10 minutes looking at a single image?

If you’re like me, more engineer than artist, perhaps part of the reason is that you don’t have the language to describe what your seeing and you could argue if we could use words we’d be writers. The very act however of simply describing the image in front of you is enormously useful first step in becoming comfortable with describing photographs and identifying elements within them that you could use in your own photography. The more time you spend looking at other photographs the more photographs you’ll see when you have your camera in hand.

So how to start? Start with a very basic description: What is it a photograph of? Color or black & white? Shape of the frame? Where was it taken? When was it taken? How was it taken? Then go beyond the basics: Why was it taken? How does it make you feel?

I’d be interested in your feedback and comments if you run through this exercise with the image above.

Art Wolfe’s Olympic Peninsula Workshop Comments


Or I just flew in from Seattle and boy are my arms tired.

I recently attended Art Wolfe’s Olympic Peninsula workshop. What an amazing place the Olympic Peninsula and the Olympic National Park is – Rain forest, Mountains and the ocean. What more could you ask for? It was quite an experience.

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!