Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Honing Perception

I am a photographer.  I'm also an artist and what I would term....a "Professional Creative".  I can not NOT create.....it is always going on in my head or being expressed through the various projects, clients, or artistic mediums I'm involved in.  One area is always giving me inspiration for another and it all seems interlocked someway.   It has taken some time, but I've finally come to the understanding everyone does not experience life this way.  I realize now that uniqueness is my strength for it is the driving force which fuels the passion that is so apart of me....the passion to create.

Perception is defined as...  the immediate or intuitive recognition ...appreciation of aesthetic (and other) qualities;  an insight, intuition, or discernment.   Look at these two images for a moment and consider what you see.....

Both of these were taken while on an outing to an area known as the Pawnee National Grasslands in NE Colorado.

In what ways are they similar or...are they similar at all?  Are you drawn to one more than the other and if so, why?

To me, these images are the same.  They both stir within me a since of amazed awe and appreciation. 

I know, I know......I can hear the scoffing even now and I haven't even posted this yet.   Just read a bit more and then make up your mind.

Whether you are a fan or not of the Western US landscape, you can not help but have a sense of awe when standing at the base of one of these geologic formations as in the first image.  The mass, height, isolation...they all combine at once as you begin to contemplate the enormity of time and natural forces it took to create what stands before you.  Even in the relatively boring light at the time this was taken I knew I would have to make the finale image express the grand awareness of history residing in this butte  and my own feeling of pride in being able to share it first hand.  That is why I processed it to look like this......

So, you say.....what does that have to do with a bunch a bails of hay?  Glad you asked.   In the image of the hay bails, you are seeing only a fraction of a fraction of the scene.  We were driving through literally 1000's of acres of farmland at the time.  This stack of bails was only one of several across the landscape and it struck me as I drove closer, how they appeared so similar to a child's building blocks, semi-scattered across the floor.  For all of the effort and toil it had taken this farmer to  plow, and seed, and harvest all this space....his efforts seemed frail and easily tossed when compared to "room" in which laid.   I was awed at the contrast.  I was awed with the effort.  I was awed with how small I felt as I walked across the rows and rows of dried, stubble stalks in that field.  I knew I had to relate in the finale image the sense of space, contrast, toil and enjoyment I was experiencing.  That's why I processed it to look like this.....

Sometimes immediate....sometimes intuitive....train yourself to recognize the indicators.  Sometimes all the pieces of a great scene will be in front of you...waving....saying..."Here I am...Take my picture".  Other times you have to look for it a bit.  But as you learn to hone your perception, the images that move you will line up before you waiting to be captured.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Searching for More Than Pretty

I got into photography as a result of my love of the great outdoors.  I've always loved to hike and explore...search out new places.  I started taking images to help illustrate some of the trails I had grown to love. The idea I thought was to make them pretty.  I believed at that early stage pretty equated to better, so I strived for the "glamor shots" of trails and nature.  Flawless images which would somehow heighten the beauty of the places I loved and would cause others to fall in love with them as I had.  However, my limited skills and equipment didn't really allow for much in the way of a "glamor" edit.

As time went on and I was exposed to more and more images from people all over the world, I began to understand and appreciate other takes on what was beautiful.  I started to understand the beauty I was seeing was coming as much from the way others had captured their subject as the subject its self.  I began looking for images that expressed this active connection of photographer and subject....this dialogue of emotion that seemed almost audible at times.  As I looked back on my photographs I realized the void of emotion within them and how desperately they needed to express a part of me.

Now that I'm older, my times out hiking are more about getting away, than to something.  I have the camera to thank for that.  I find I'm taking my time more....observing more.....imagining more.  When I come across a scene like the one above, I understand more of why it causes me to pause.  For me it is not just a beautiful forest/meadow scene.....it is this beautiful dance of strength  and softness....of darkness and light.  The beautiful purity of snow...the contrast of dying brown and living green.  The magical softness the light seems to bring to even the roughest bark.  And those are just the things I'm seeing.  When combined with the smells of pine and the sound of wind through the branches, my mind is a rush of memories...both real and imagined.  Times of fort building, hide and seek and a hundred other times of play for a boy growing up in the country.

This is the kind of beauty I have come to love in the images of others.  A beauty that testifies of emotions and experiences they themselves have experienced or can at least understand.  A beauty that is expressed beyond the subject matter and a passion emerges that is inescapable.

When I come across a scene like the one above....sure, I want the natural beauty of what is there to linger.  But I also long for others to catch a glimpse of the other beauty I know resides there.  Sometimes it sings...sometimes it's sadness....but it always speaks of life, of love, of sharing and of passing.  It may not always be pretty but it sure is beautiful...at least to me.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Are You Missing Opertunities?

Opportunities? They are all around us.  There is power lying latent everywhere waiting for the observant eye to discover it." Orison Swett Marden

A number of times over the past couple of months I've received comments from photographer friends regarding the "before/after" shots posted on my Flickr site.  Mostly, they are amazed at how relatively drab the original image is compared to the finished one, often adding... "I would have never taken the shot"....

I was surprised at first by the comments....not regarding the amount of change that had occurred because it is in most cases dramatic.  But rather the idea that one would pass by a scene simply because the light was not optimal or it was too cloudy or some other misfortune was plaguing the scene.  I had to remind myself I've been on this journey for a while now.  It is only natural I would be looking at the world around me with a different perspective.  There is an expectation of what I'm feeling or want to feel already being applied in my minds eye as I gaze through the view finder.

I recalled the countless times in the beginning I clicked on the "delete" tab in frustration as I poured over the thumbnails of the day's capture.  A false expectation clouded my perception that the perfectly finished image would be lying there waiting for discovery.   That moment has yet to occur.

However, what has occurred is an ability for me to begin recognizing the "good bones" of a scene....something that I can build upon and hopefully make into something memorable.

A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed.    -Ansel Adams

I believe a photographer must at some point learn to move beyond the mechanics and into the artistry of what we capture.  We capture a beginning.....we develop the opportunity....and in the end  we are left with something memorable.  Don't be too quick to discard what you have already captured.  There could be something wonderful there....waiting to be discovered.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Looking for a start

Hi everyone.  I hope your week has been a good one and you've had a chance to get out and explore, shoot, and experiment with your images.  I was asked this week if I knew how I was going to process an image when I was capturing it?  My answer at the time was "I rarely think about the way I will process the shot but always think about the crop of the shot when I'm shooting."  But thinking back on that answer, I would say that is only partly true.  The reason being, the crop of the shot I am already seeing in my minds eye is including processing possibilities my experience has taught me to look for.  Hopefully today's post will help you both when you are out shooting and back at home working on your images.

The image above was taken a couple of days ago at one of the local reservoirs.  The sun was just coming up and the scene with it's muted light and patches of snow against the rugged browns was very striking to me.  But as I looked through the view finder my circular  polarizing filter added such a striking depth and drama to the sky and color overall, I knew the image would have numerous possibilities for processing.  Once home I began studying the scene for possibilities and there were several that came to mind.

As I've stated in earlier posts, I first create a subtle HDR of the image.  The layering of exposiers help to  soften out the darkening depth created by the filter while bringing up details in the foreground.  I loved the rounded bulky look of the snow on the ground and when I arrived home noticed the similar look in the surrounding vegetation and terrain.  Again, the HDR helps to bring out these characteristics.  I knew when taking the shot I wanted the lone tree to be the main player in the final image so I tried to shoot it in such a way as to be able to incorporate a fair amount of sky to either side for adding an interesting movement of texturing later on.

Coloring and contrasts is always the next step.  I find that when I begin working on the image with the actions I have on file, the changes in mode brought out by this step, help me to "see" the image in different ways.

As with this unused version here, while gaining an aged feel from the faded color and softer contrasts, I decided I preferred the the darker mood reflected in earlier image and wanted to bring out that character.

So now with the depth of shadows returned to the ground cover and a warmth brought to the sky and over all color, I knew this would be a good foundation to begin from for texturing the shot. 

So, crop became the next issue.  Now, I've talked about crop several times before and I know there are those who do not care for a square crop, but I do.  The square crop was giving me options in different parts of the original image.  I decided to work on two from this image that I felt worked best.

I finished this crop because I love the bouquet of textures and shapes created from all the foliage and trees.  I loved the rounded punches of white created by the clouds and snow.  And I loved the color combinations of rust, browns, gray blues, and cream.

This crop, while also flipped....was all about the dance between light and sky.  The textures, shadows, and colors were all there from the first version, but the character of the image I feel is much different.  To me, it doesn't even feel like the same time of day, much less the same picture.  The different character of clouds with the way they are streaming in....creating a leading line for the light streaming across the foliage and ground.....I loved it and wanted to bring out those characteristics as well.

Well, I hope this has helped you to take a second look at some of your own images.  Not all shots are going to have multiple options for you, but a lot of them will...if you are looking for them.  Don't feel as though you have to choose between them....work on them all and see what they have to reveal.

Happy shooting.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Getting Moody

Hi everyone.  Over the past week or so I have received several comments regarding the mood I create in my images.    I have begun posting my original shots along side the finished shots on my Flickr site.  A friend of mine had been doing it and I really like the message I felt it sent.  Not so much of a "hey, look at me and how wonderful a job I think I can do".....but rather...."if you are willing to look a little deeper, look at what YOU can do."

The primary reason for writing this blog is to inspire.  For those that need it....to fan that spark of imagination and creativity that is already there and help it blaze into something more than you might think it can become right now.  For others, I share bits of my particular processing style and thought in gratitude for the many who have freely invested themselves into me.  So, let's get to it shall we?

I went out this past weekend to get some images of a local pumpkin patch and some fall colors.   I had a few ideas of shots of pumpkins in the fields I wanted to try and capture.  But, I'm always on the lookout for an interesting scene. 

The Denver Botanic Gardens has a farm they operate throughout the year.  They have a corn maze and pumpkin patch (shown here) that is well attended and surrounded with a lot of fan fare.  So, it was easy to get caught up in the mood on such a beautiful afternoon as families wandered about the fields with their young children looking for just the right pumpkin.  The air was field with the smells of funnel cakes, kettle corn and other goodies and music played in the background as flocks of red winged black birds moved like a small cloud from one area to the other searching for seeds and bugs.

I had to capture at least one shot of the scene as a whole if for no one else but myself.  I really didn't know if I would do anything with it or not.  But as I looked at the image back at home, I thought about the sounds, the smells, the feelings of family and thoughts of childhood and autumns long ago.  I'm always trying to create a feeling of history....a story along with the image of a journey that has been taking place for some unknown span of years.  I love that feeling from actual older images.   Amidst the wrinkles, splotches, creases and faded color comes a feeling of nostalgia.  This image meant something special.....means something special....needs to be past along.

One of the primary rules of thumb I'm always working from is....IS IT NATURAL?  Meaning....would this coloring, crease or scratch happen naturally over time and if so....where would it most "naturally" happen or how?  The second rule of thumb is how to use those unnatural "natural" elements to your advantage.....to give interest to an uninteresting area of the image.  To give focus to a idea where none really exists.

In the above image.....crop, coloring, and contrasts set up the frame work for these two rules of thumb.  The crop still communicates the vastness of the scene.....the expanse of the field and the grandness of the sky....while eliminating the peripheral information.  The foreground pumpkins now help to lead you into the people in the field.  The color and contrast are now more akin to an image taken on film whose color is now degrading with time. 

But, there are some problems.  It is too pristine for one.  There is little chance that a snap shot taken of an afternoon family outing would remain so clean.  Typically it has moved from lying on the kitchen table, to being used as a bookmark, to lying in a cigar box and eventually ending up in a scape book or album.  All of that handling, sharing and abuse takes its toll.

Secondly, after cropping....the foreground is helped but the sky is not.  I'm now left with this big gaping whole of  nothing on the left and some clouds that are really not that interesting.

Now with the texturing applied, that idea of years of handling comes alive.  Notice also the addition of splotches and darkening in the blue sky above the people help to give both interest to the open sky and greater focus to the fact there are people in the field.

With a bit more tweeking to the contrast  and coloring.....and bump in the sharpening, I ended up with this....

Darkened, dirty, and creased from years of being loved....at least that is the idea.  A heightened feeling of nostalgia and slightly romanticized ideal of family, home and togetherness.  I'm not trying to create fakes....but rather...create memories we can all relate to in one way or another.  The scene might not be familiar, but the mood will be.  Am I getting moody?  You bet.....and I love it!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Stay true....

Over and over I have felt compelled to relate to the artist in others....that spark in fellow photographers to refuse settling for the "norm"...That idea that "straight out of the camera" is the only true ideal for a "real" photographer.  Don't get me wrong....I love photography in all of it's expressions.  I just happen to have settled in on a combination of expressions of HDR and Textures.  There are so many variations of this medium, each carrying a voice of expression that is unique, dramatic, informative, and inspirational.

But for me, the combination of these techniques has given me an expression that I feel, for now, expresses what I FEEL for what I see....and not just a "true" expression of what I see.  I'm not interested in showing exactly where I've been.  I want others to gain a taste of how where I've been moves me....capture my attention....affect my emotions.  Each image evolves. 

Please!!!!....understand, if "out of the camera" works for you....expresses what you meant to say....the reason for why you felt to capture the image in the first place.....fantastic!  Keep it up, and learn all you can to perfect that voice of expression possible.

But, if you are anything like me, and the image the camera collected just isn't enough....than explore.  Search out images....ones that move you...make you linger....make you think.  Don't allow yourself to just pause for a moment while thinking in the back of your mind...."I wish I could do something like that".  Ask questions.  Look for answers.  Be willing to learn.

I was sure in the beginning I was stuck with what I was able to do.  I hid the reality of being self taught as some kind of shameful past.  I was embarrassed to ask questions of other photographers because I didn't want to appear stupid.  I was certain that everyone else had years of experience behind them.

What I found however was quite different.  People are willing to answer questions....they are willing to share their secrets....the things they have learned.   I haven't always been the least experienced one in the crowd.  When I was, it really didn't matter, because they all knew what that felt like.  The other photographers I've shot with have been more interested in sharing what they've come to understand than hide it away.  Oh sure, people are people, and there is always going to be one along the way that you can't wait to get away from.  But from my experience, the vast majority, even if they are locked into this idea that there is only one way to express photography....have been an interesting and generous lot.

Don't allow what you don't know to hold you back.  If your images are not expressing what you think they should, put yourself out there.   Ask questions.  Experiment.  Learn.  If you have discovered and grown to love this world of photography, the greatest thing I can offer is to learn your voice of expression in this art form and then......stay true to that voice.  Leave that legacy of expression others would otherwise miss.

Friday, September 23, 2011

What are you looking for?

Before I begin...let me just say a word of thanks to Mehreen  from "the perfect line" blog,  for her note of encouragement and prodding to get busy and write.  When I started this blog about a year ago, it was at the prompting of other photographers that if I wanted to move forward in "the business", it was something I needed / was expected to do.  Truly, it was not because I felt I had so much to say I needed to create a platform to get the information out there.  Frankly, figuring out what to write is and has been one of the biggest problems.  When I do come up with a topic, something in the back of my mind convinces me...."no one is going to be interested in this"...or..."people already know how to do that..." and so I end up not writing anything.  

Well, thank you Mehreen for your encouragement.  I appreciated hearing what you had to say.

Do you know what you are looking for?....a question I have asked myself numerous times when either out shooting or while working on my post processing work. What is it I'm trying to get across with an image....what kind of image am I looking for....why?

When I first started out in photography, completely by accident by the way, I got involved in one of the online groups like "Flickr".  I was astounded by the extraordinary talent I found there.  I had never seen such creativity in photographs before.   I longed for my images to gain even a portion of the impact I felt so many other photographers seemed to capture so effortlessly.  (strange how it always appears to be effortless when you are not involved in the process...)

The other thing I noticed was how focused many photographers seemed to be regarding subject matter.  They were brilliant at what they did, but the images were all the same....people, landscapes, sunrises, flowers...whatever....beautiful, but the same.  I tried for a while to stay focused on one subject matter, but no matter how I tried, I just couldn't.  If I tried to focus on the wide open landscape, I ended up feeling pulled toward the close up....

After a half dozen close ups, I would begin thinking, "I don't have any shots of architecture or structures"...so off I would go looking for the next building or windmill to capture...

Structure shots might lead to people shots, then back to landscapes  then off to macros and so forth and so forth....always finding myself challenged to rethink how I was looking at my framing of the shot or the angle or direction of the sun or light source.

Beyond subject matter, I have found myself exploring a variety of directions regarding my post processing work.  I would become fascinated by others ability with black and white images.....or their ability to create this feeling of intensity to an image....turning what was a relatively simple image into one that evoked an emotional level I could hardly believe.

Other times I've been mesmerized at the hyper-real look brought on by a well done HDR.  I love the intensity of detail that seem to explode off of the page and worked to harness the skills needed to do something similar.

I'm never tired of the beauty that can be drawn out of familiar shapes masked in a cloak of haze or fog.  I've marveled at images that seemed to be so permeated with a dreamlike quality it seemed impossible to have captured them with a mere camera.

As I jumped from one subject to the next, or one type of post work to the next...I would think..."I'm all over the place.  Surely no one else has this much trouble figuring out their sense of style or voice."   It wasn't until one week some time back I finally realized I didn't need to "figure out" my style or voice as a photographer....I already had one.  That one week I received a half dozen or more comments for different contacts I've made around the world all saying a similar thing...."I would recognize your work anywhere"...."you and your famous tones"....."I love your keen eye for a scene".....

I stopped looking at the latest image I was working on and stepped back to look at the whole of my body of work.  What was it about what I was creating that others had noticed and I had failed to realize?  What I found was a part of me.  My emotion, my perspective,....that bit of romantic and sometimes somberness I embody.  A somewhat melancholy nostalgic take on the world that captures my attention.

I found that as I journeyed to discover the ways other photographers expressed themselves, I found the way I wanted to express myself.   The images I've shared here are all my own.  Taken of things and places that mean something to me.  Expressed in a way that....well, means something to me.  Hopefully others find themselves able to relate to what they see....connect with my images in a way.  And, apparently, some have.

What was I looking for?.....my voice of expression.  What I found was that and a lot more.