Ten Things To Strive For In Your Photography

We are about to bring this year to a close. I’ve been busy not just taking photographs but also cleaning out my image library, archiving important images, and starting anew.

As this will most likely be most last blog post of the year, I’d like to leave you with a few things to think about. The idea for this post came about mostly because of what I’ve seen when I teach people photography. Many students I’ve had over the years have experienced difficulty editing their images. There is no doubt in my mind that editing (I’m not talking about post processing here) or weeding out your images so that you’re only left with strong ones, is a necessary skill that has to be developed just like any other skill. And for many it seems, it’s very difficult to get rid of your bad photos.

I also believe that images that are strong generally require very little in the way of post processing. I shoot mostly on film these days, so the only processing I find myself doing is dust and scratch removal, and maybe a tiny bit of dodging or burning.

All photographers have taken lousy images. And most have images that are mediocre, and some that are very strong. But I find that it’s very important to be your own critic and always be in the mindset of trying to objectively see your images from another persons standpoint.

Here are a few things I always try to ask myself when looking at photographs:

1.) Does the photograph possess a beauty in and of itself?

2.) Does the image draw you in or shock you in some way?

3.) Does the image have a universal appeal or value?

4.) Is the photograph poetic or symbolic of something larger?

5.) Is the image interesting to look at?

6.) Is the photograph significant in some way? 

7.) Is it useful in that it documents a place and time or describes a human condition?

8.) Does the image spark an emotion in you?

9.) Does the photograph have enough context for you to know what you’re looking at?

10.) Has the photographer confined the significant detail and rid the image of the unimportant clutter?

Now, you may not be able to satisfy all these criteria when taking your photographs, but trust me, it’s a good idea to always have these questions in the back of your mind when you’re editing.

Happy Shooting as always, and I wish you the best year of photography ever in 2017.

Doug

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Photographers: Who Do You Really Work For?

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in photography is to make sure you have a clear set of goals and you know exactly where you stand as far as your abilities go.

On a daily basis I think about the realization that it is the photographer not the camera who is the instrument. And that more than anything else, I want to continue to develop my vision. I want to produce photographs that are not only unique, but are somehow useful. They must carry some weight or possess some poetry. I have no desire to make photographs that are the same as someone else’s. I have no desire to make photographs that are useless and totally devoid of any kind of reason for existing.

I have learned that nobody including myself, cares about photographs that exist purely to demonstrate a level of skill. And nobody cares about photographs that are perfectly composed or executed.

If I can look back on my year and be proud of all the things I’ve learned and some of the images I’ve taken, then I’m ok with that. If I can be proud of having a vision that is my own, or if I’ve overcome obstacles that stood in my way, then I’ve achieved something.

Especially important is to realize that if you’re a somewhat average photographer, and by that I mean someone who perhaps lives in a small town, someone who works full time doing something other than photography, or runs a small business, or doesn’t have any corporate backing, or someone who doesn’t have people promoting them or working for them, someone who doesn’t get invitations to do presentations or guest blog posts etc. that you should know who you’re really working for.

Your real boss is you. I’ll repeat that. Your real boss is you. And the only person that really cares about your work is you. You need to measure your progress against all you’ve learned and done in the past year or two. If you’re happy that your photography and your vision is progressing, then you can and should consider yourself to be success!

Do not make the mistake of falling into the social media trap being someone who measures their worth based on Facebook or Instagram likes. They mean nothing. Many on social media who like your images do so only to get a like back for themselves. It is a reflection of the times we live in. It’s the way of the world.

I can upload what I consider to be the best image I’ve ever done to Facebook and be lucky if it gets 5 or 10 likes. In fact, most people simply don’t care about what you’re doing as much as they care about what’s going on in their own private worlds. It’s a fact of life. And that is completely normal. I recently self published a 132 page book of black and white images with important writings on some of the most valuable concepts I’ve learned being a photographer. Now, if I was a young photographer looking to learn something that would certainly make them better, it’s a no-brainer to get a copy of the book. It has the potential to take years off one’s uphill climb to seeing. Do you want to know the reality of the situation? Not a single copy has been sold (even at zero profit margin) to any friends, any local photographers, or any family members for that matter. Did I push the book? Other than a single blog post and about a half dozen posts to Facebook, not really. But the truth of the matter is that nobody is as interested in what you’re doing or trying to accomplish as you yourself are.

Understand that the reason you do what you do is is for you! It’s for your memories in twenty or thirty years from now. It’s for your kids. It simply doesn’t matter if you spent 2 years or 4 years putting together a project of your greatest efforts. Nobody cares unless you put an enormous amount of time and effort into promoting the product. And even then, it will likely be only about 2% of the masses that are even remotely interested in giving it a look. It’s a fact. And it’s certainly not a problem unless you expect something to be any different. That’s normal.

I strongly encourage any photographer to print their images and archive them into an album. Put your completed photo books in a library for your kids to enjoy someday. After you’re gone, your husband or wife may really enjoy looking back over all the memories and the special way you saw the world.

These should be your most important goals as a photographer.

Don’t ever fool yourself.

Do it for you. Do it for you.

Happy shooting as always. And this Christmas give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done. You damn well deserve it.

Doug

Nobody Writes About This Stuff

Nobody writes about this stuff…

All across the internet you’ll see an endless supply of information about the latest and greatest cameras. You’ll see all the technical stuff about megapixels and sensors. But at the same time you see next to nothing about the importance of seeing and visualizing what it is you want to do with your image.

The way it works is like this:

1.) The photographer

2.) Situation

3.) Light and atmosphere

4.) Choice of lens

5.) The camera

What does this mean?

1.) The photographer

Everything you’ve ever seen and experienced in your life contributes to the way you see the world. Your feelings about things and your interests come into play. The way you’ve been treated by others and your own little personality quirks – your sense of humour and humility influence your vision. It’s the total package. It your likes and dislikes. It’s your fears. It’s your emotional state of being. It’s the sum of who you are that has a huge influence on what you take photographs of and how you take them.

There is also all the things you’ve ever learned about photography – including good habits and bad ones, that influence not just how you compose and shoot the image, but how you process it after it’s shot. It’s a collective recollection of all the stupid mistakes you’ve ever made and all the almost invisible tiny little details you’ve learned along your road.

2.) Situation

The success of a photographer has a great deal to do with not only your personal set of circumstances, but also on your work ethic. How much are you willing to sacrifice to get a good shot? Are you willing to put up with being cold and muddy? Are you patient? Are you prepared? Do you practice your photography on a regular basis? And then, as a result of these things, your photography depends on the opportunities you create for your pictures and the situations you put yourself in to get the image you’re after.

I’ve always said that it’s important to consider the photographer’s own personal situation and take that into account. Remember that the next time you look at photographs. If someone works a demanding shift job at a steel plant in Pennsylvania, you can’t really expect them to have the world’s finest collection of Burmese Tiger photographs.

Always take into consideration the effort that the photographer may have made to achieve the image. And consider where they are in their photography evolution.

3. Light and atmosphere

There are numerous ways you can draw attention to the subject you’re photographing such as contrast, colour, light, focus, motion etc., but light and atmosphere have a enormous effect on the impact your photograph has. When you think about it that’s what you’re doing – you’re recording values of light and darkness (contrast or lack of contrast). The atmosphere determines the overall mood of the image.

4.) Choice of lens

How do you see the scene? How do you wish to render it – like your eyes see perhaps? Or, do you wish to bring out the importance of the foreground? Perhaps the background needs to be emphasized. In short, how do you wish to tell this story? Choose a focal length that helps you to achieve this.

5.) The camera

Do you notice how far down the list this is?

A camera is just a box between the film plane/sensor and the lens. It has a shutter. It’s real importance is that it is easy to use and functional. It should get the job done and it should be minimally obtrusive. What I mean is that it should not be a distraction to what’s really important – what’s going on in the world in front of you.

When you choose a camera, choose it for the right reasons. Choose it for its simplicity. Choose it for its ability to accomplish a certain task. Choose it for its convenience. Don’t choose it thinking that it’s ever going to give you better images. Because in almost all circumstances it won’t. (I’m not going to mention the specific exceptions because you probably already know what they are.)

Anyhow, put that in your pipe and smoke it for awhile…

And happy shooting always,

D.

Make the Best With What You Have

kaltire

With the web inundating us with thousands of fantastic images on a daily basis (there are a lot of bad ones too), it can be frustrating at times for the average photographer who thinks they are stuck in a black hole where they live seemingly unable to find inspiring photo opportunities.

It’s wonderful to spend some time viewing and learning from great images. It’s pretty hard to go wrong there… But in the end you can only produce based on the raw materials you are given and how often you can put yourself out there as a photographer. That’s your situation right? Either you can change your situation or you can adapt to it. Those are your choices.

If you have access to frequent travelling opportunities then that’s terrific. But suppose you are someone who has a demanding day job, or suppose you are someone who lives in a small town.

I find myself having to write this article because I’ve talked to quite a few local photographers who have experienced the “home town blues” and often talk about the photos they will take when on vacation or on a road trip. And I have first hand experience dealing with this kind of situation. I am currently working on a street photography project in my small town. It would be very easy to say that there is no interesting architecture, no grand staircases, no checkerboard floors, no crowds of people, and terrible light for most of the year. But there are other things. For example, there are reflections. There are gestures. There is rain and snow. There are textures. The people here are extremely skittish when alerted to the presence of a camera. But that just means that you have to either blend in with the situation or be invisible to get your opportunities.

So it’s important not to let yourself feel like you’re a victim to a lack of opportunities or that you’ve been put into a dull situation that has nothing interesting to offer. You have to train yourself to think differently and find the interesting in the routine. Photograph whenever you can…whatever works with your particular schedule. I do most of my photography during my half-hour lunch breaks. I have to do this otherwise I’d be lucky to take 5 photos a week.

Everybody’s situation is different. Some people have wonderful opportunities based on their free time and their geographic location. Others are quite restricted. But the bottom line is that you must photograph on your terms, on your turf. OYTOYT

Happy Shooting,

Doug

Slowing Down

From time to time, I like to read quotations about nature or the environment. Some of them are quite profound, and they’ve given me much pleasure and allowed me to re-visit my thoughts if you will…putting them back into proper perspective.

Today I came across a quote by Eric Berne who said, “The moment a little boy is concerned with which is a jay and which is a sparrow, he can no longer see the birds or hear them sing.”

I thought it is quite true that often as adults we tend to over-analyze everything, desperately trying to see more into things than they often demand. And, as we age, we tend to apply labels to things, in an attempt to compartmentalize objects and place them into little boxes our brains can easily deal with for organizational purposes.

This can be true with art and photography as well. I think many photographers, myself included, are guilty of breaking an image down into components or trying to reverse engineer the process that went into making it to such an extent, that we never really “see” the image. And this is all fine if we’re learning about composition or post-processing etc. However, we must never forget that the essence of fine art – photography included, is not to reveal accuracy necessarily, but to make our souls rise above all that we know in our daily lives. Fine art will make us feel. It will produce an emotional response and convey a different kind of truth that perhaps we don’t ever entertain except for those few brief moments while viewing the piece, taking it at pure face value, and simply allowing it to enrich our lives.

Sometimes we need to slow down. We need to stop to smell the roses. We need to see the beauty before us.

Happy shooting,

Doug

What’s It All About?

Summer Morning at the Lake

Summer Morning at the Lake

It’s Father’s Day, and when I think about my three girls, all grown up now and living many hours away, I sure miss them. I look at old photos and examine my own photography ventures. I have to ask, “What’s it all about?” and “Why do I do this?”

In many ways I guess, I hope that my photography will live on for them for many years. They can look at an image and know that I was there, and preserved that moment in time in a picture. And even more than that, know that this is what I saw and felt through my eyes and in my heart.

Then I think, what else has photography done for me? It has given me so many things. Nature and landscape photography in particular has taught me to be patient, passionate, forgiving, reflective, meditative, and quiet. It has given me a burning enthusiasm to experience and appreciate wild places and do what I can, to spread the word about how important these places are to protect and preserve.

I hope that when my kids see my images, they can also feel the excitement of the moment, what it was like to be there, and feel the connection we all have to our natural world.

My sister posted something to facebook the other day that said, “If we are paying attention with our eyes and ears and hearts, what a blessing it is to have small children in our lives. To watch the leaves on the trees dancing in the wind, as they do, to listen to birdsong, as they do, to look at the world again as the enormous miracle it is….as they do.” Then it struck me. That’s what it’s all about!

Seeing the world with a sense of wonder, as a child does, is something you must never lose. And if there’s one thing this Father’s Day that I hope to have passed on to my kids, it’s just that…holding on to a sense of wonder.

The world is a great place. And through photography, we can capture the human experience, what it means to be alive, and the inseparable connection we have to nature. Photography gives us an opportunity to translate not just what we see but what we feel.

One of my favorite movies was playing this Father’s Day. It’s called “Dad” with Jack Lemon and Ted Danson. There was a great scene where Jack Lemon was talking to his wife (played by Olympia Dukakis) about dying. She said, “Don’t talk about dying.” Then Jack said, “It’s ok. We’re all going to die. Dying is not a sin…not living is.”

Wow.

Then I look at my kids and see all the things they’ve done and accomplished compared to what I did at their age…

I’m thinking, I must have done something right.

Happy Father’s Day everyone, happy shooting, and make your pictures count.

Doug

Revisiting the Familiar

So many photographers dream about traveling the world and taking amazing photographs of distant far away places. Then, when they present these images to the people back home, they are amazed at the skill of the photographer.

Part of the allure lies in the fact that the audience is not used to seeing the subject matter. Take those images and show them to the people who live where they were captured and they may not be as impressed. It’s all relative.

Some of my images that I am most proud of are the ones I took of very familiar things or scenes, but they presented the biggest challenge for me. And some of those images were captured using the simplest of gear, perhaps even a pocket camera. So why then, is it these images that I think of the most? And why are these images often overlooked?

I know as a photographer that it is easy to create a good image of a grand vista, or a beautiful wilderness expanse. I also know that it’s not the camera that creates the images. It’s the person behind the camera who creates them. And, sometimes when I’ve had a very busy week at work, or I find myself with very little free time for taking photographs, I will start looking at things differently. In fact, that really is the essence of photography – how we look at the world and see things. So I will start to take a new look at the familiar. I’ll look at perspective, shapes, highlights, shadows, structure etc.

Guy Tal in his ebook “Creative Landscape Photography” talks extensively about what to consider when creating a composition. Visualization is so important in fine art photography – this ability to select a scene that has some kind of potential, and then find a way to create what you see in the finished image. It involves finding an interesting composition, waiting for the right light, using your gear to give you the raw image that works, and processing the image to produce a result that reflects what you saw.

My colleague from Alberta Dan Jurak has often said if you learn to photograph the things closer to home well, you’ll be a better photographer for it. These things are not the “low hanging fruit” as he calls them, but rather, the things that may present a bigger challenge to image. Learn to make the ordinary interesting, and it can only help your photography.

When you find yourself with little time, or the weather is not cooperating, or you’re unable to travel, try seeing the world around you differently. Use the lack of opportunity and turn it into a great opportunity to improve your skills.

All of these images were taken with a small pocket camera 🙂

Cheers,

Doug