As painful as it is to admit, I've found that a truly good photo takes at least three attempts.This blog will capture the 'attempts' that I hope lead to success. With any luck, you will pick up something that prevents you making all the wonderful mistakes I've made over the years, as well as some hints for locations that will increase your chances of success.

Why is nice bad?

June 21, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

"Why is nice bad? What kind of a sick society are we living in when nice is bad?"
- George in The Cafe


I'm not a fan of 'nice' photos. I need more than that. I need the photo to take me to that place.

But how on earth do you do that?

This won't come as a surprise to you, but I've found that the way to create better photos is to figure out what appeals to me. And that comes from copying being inspired by the work of others. Well, let's be honest, at some point you and I both stood overlooking Yosemite Valley trying to recreate an image by Ansel Adams. And after I failed miserably, I found myself figuring out what elements of his images that actually appealed to me. It's easy to get lost in the technicalities of tone etc., but that wasn't it. Ansel Adams (and others) succeed for me because they make me feel like I'm there. It's been said for example that Adams did a masterful job of capturing weather, and that's a fundamental part of the three-dimensional sensory world that we live in.

What I strive for is not to copy a particular image, but figure out why I like it then create images that capture the elements that I respond to. And by the way, if your goal is to figure out what you think other people will like and use that to guide your work - forget it, you will never be successful.

If I take photos in a particular location, I find that my more successful images capture the feel of that location. The one below was taken after a long climb up the Shafer trail in Canyonlands National Park. We happened to visit at the tail end of monsoon season, so wild skies and scattered showers were common. The canyon itself has been carved by wind and water over millenia, so rather than zooming in on the dramatic cliff faces and rock structures, it seemed that the cloud formation was an essential part of the image.


Canyonlands National ParkShafer Trail

So the word for today is 'context'. If (like me) you are trying to capture the essence of a favorite place, try to keep the context in mind. In the image above, I feel the sky is just as important as the spectacular canyon below, as it reminds me of the wild weather conditions that day.

To put it simply, a photo works for me if I feel like I am there - if it provokes some kind of emotional response to the location. That's always better than 'nice'.

More soon.


Less traveled for a reason

June 14, 2013  •  1 Comment

"Sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason"

You can do much worse than paying your respects to the honorable Jerry Seinfeld, and it seems to fit today. I always love it when someone looks at a photo of mine, only to note that "Dude, you must have a totally awesome camera!". Well, having stepped off the technology treadmill some time ago, it's probably worth talking a bit about my gear - if only to get that out of the way and answer some questions you may have.

All the photos on the web site (apart from this one - sorry about what appears to be a compressed version of a poorly lit compressed original) were taken with a Mamiya 645 Pro TL. It's a medium format (6cm x 4.5cm) film body, and I use three lenses - a 80mm, a 150mm and a 35mm. The 80mm lens is equivalent to a 'standard' lens in a 35mm system, and it's the one I use 90% of the time. The 150mm lens is nice for compressing compositions, and the 35mm is really wide and can be tough to use successfully.

And yes, I have a lot of filters. The ones on the left are polarizers and UV filters that I just basically use to protect the lenses, and the ones on the right are filters for black and white film. OK, since all of this is starting to sound like a Kodak commercial from 1952, all I'll say is that it's old, it's reliable, and in the right hands (maybe even mine) it can be combined to create great images. Oh, and because all these bits are either metal or glass or a combination of the two the total kit weighs a ton. And that manly aluminum tripod can be used to fight off hungry black bears.

Fortunately it's still possible to replace may of these bits, and in all likelihood the camera will probably outlive me since it's built like a tank. Taking a photo may take me 20-30 minutes, but sometimes it's worth all the effort...

Ubehebe Crater, Death ValleyUbehebe Crater

Rather than going into all the details of these antiques now, I'll mention whatever is relevant in the course of later blogs. And you have to believe me when I say that the technicalities aren't really all that important to me. The stuff here does the job, fits in the bag, and mostly works every time I switch it on or put it together. What more could you want?

More soon.


Once upon a time...

June 05, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Once upon a time there was a photographer (let's call him Ron). Ron paid way too much for his first (2.1 megapixel!!!) digital camera, and followed that up by paying way too much for a Nikon digital SLR that had fewer megapixels (but much longer battery life!) than his current cellphone. And just as photography began to become too easy, Ron remembered the days of film, with it's scratched negatives, light leaks and print spotting. And it seemed like a hundred steps backward would be necessary in order to take one step forward...

The idea behind this blog is to vent my frustrations take a bit of a sideways look at the whole ongoing motivation and process behind getting some images that I actually like. You just need to experiment and make mistakes to get any better, and if you are a photographer maybe this blog will help us figure out why we are fantastically passionate about something that has, let's face it, a really low success rate. I don't want to show you how to take brilliant photos, because I'm honestly not sure I'm able to do that. What I can show you though is how to take photos that you like, and that is much more important.

In the event that I don't screw up the chemicals or accidentally uninstall my scanner, I'll also share some photos from time to time. And if you want to make sure I know that this is the worst best blog that you have ever read, please go ahead and throw something into the comment box.

More soon.


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