Photographic Philosophy + Fresh Eyes

Philosophies & Reasons:  I have been staying away from commenting on the technical aspects of photography as of late. The majority of those who read Earth Images already know them.  From a software/editing point of view, I no longer have enough knowledge of the latest programs and filters to educate others.  For you newbies to photography, you can either comment on a post or email me personally to let me know if you are interested in the basics.  Technically speaking.  Then I will either write an article for this blog, or email you back personally with what you might want to know.  Otherwise I will mostly be commenting on the stories behind the pictures, the subjects themselves, my personal philosophies, or the compositional concepts that were used.

Composition 101 and Cloudy Day Landscapes continue to be the most consistently read posts on Earth Images.  That certainly tells me that the photographically inclined public are most interested in composition and/or light.  Cloudy Day Landscapes also lets me know that people want to make the most of the opportunities that arise.  I have preached for years that you can come home  with successful pictures almost every time you go out.

How do you say storm, mountain and autumn in one picture?   The simplest way is in fact  just that,  simple.  Get all three into your picture.  The problem comes when you look for a composition.  Ron and I spent a fair amount of time exploring this little mountain meadow.  I made ( my opinion) about four shots that contained all three elements and still worked.  This is probably the most unusual composition, with the signs of autumn lining the right side of the image.  If you count the mountain and the grasses as one element and the sky as another, you can say we are close to the rule of thirds as we travel up and down through the picture.  The rule of thirds is rarely employed when you travel left to right in an image but that fall tree takes up about one-third of the picture frame. Even when we make unique compositions, we are often still hanging around in the neighborhood where those rules live.  I guess the painters who first discovered them, must have known something.DSC_0354

Birds lacking in color, or rarity, or stature, are ignored by many wildlife photographers.  I’ve never completely understood that.  I suppose if I still photographed people, I might be that photographer who is not always looking for the prettiest or shapeliest subject.  The Sanderling is not the prettiest or shapeliest.  I do think they are prettier in their black & white winter plumage, but just like most of life, I take what I can get when I can get it.

Below we see summer plumage with the first two images, and then winter in the final two.DSC_0135DSC_0099WindPointWaxWShoreB 111WindPointWaxWShoreB 140

In many ways flowers are a lot like birds, as many photographers hunt for the rare or the beautiful.  I was never one to ignore the rare and beautiful but to me they all seem interesting.  I have pretty much photographed every kind of flower that I have found. The top flower is the endangered White-fringed Prairie Orchid. The second is a thistle that would be ignored at a roadside or cut or pulled in our yards. I have no idea what the final flower might be, or for that matter, where I found it.  The Orchid and the final image are crops.Copy of WFPorchid 1256DSC_7490aHhPets 047

One summer long ago, I was privileged to use a Fuji 6×17 medium format panoramic film camera.  I fell in love with the pano format and recently have I re-visited it via the digital crop.  I have never tried digital stitching but I have certainly seen many great images from that technique.  I have however taught how to find the nodal point of various lenses in order to keep your digital images lined up for digital stitching.  There is no question that I make sure to crop images that work well in that format.  A raft of pelicans or an old bridge running across the picture frame.  Maybe a pair of Horned Grebes in different plumages where the birds are spread out left to right, but on close to the same plane north to south.  The next image below ( not a pano) of a Horned Grebe and a female Red-breasted Merganser was taken shortly after the previous image.  These birds are on a different plane up and down, and are physically too close together to be a candidate for a pano.  How about a row of mountains with an historic old barn?  Note the composition of that image and how important the trees on the left are for any success.  If you haven’t tried pano crops I would suggest it.  Make sure your image will hold up to the job as far as sharpness is concerned.aPelHoriconPanoDSC_2792blogHGfox 156HGfox 157blogCopy of Copy of DSC_0384bAnd2more

My actual first experience with something you might consider a type of extreme pano was in the 1970s while I was making pictures in Denver.  I had secured a commercial job with a new motor inn being constructed in the area.  The entire top board that rested above the check in desk area (about 15 feet) was to be filled with a series of art prints. I needed prints that could be combined in sequence.  They didn’t have to match up perfectly.  In fact they were more artistic when the match was not perfect.  Each print was to be approximately 18 inches up and down and three feet across.  Then they decided to add two feet on the left side of the desk area.  That image essentially ran back towards the entrance door. Then they added three feet to the right of the desk area. You guessed it running back towards the entrance door.  In other words those images touched the prints that ran across the desk area, and then ran towards the entrance door.  I needed a series of prints to match together running for 20 feet across, and only a foot and a half up and down.  A super panorama.  They wanted a western scene.  What kind was up to me. Oh yes, they wanted to see a series of small proofs that I could lay out on a floor.  Starting on the left, bending around the corner and running in front of the viewers, and then around the corner to the right.  The proofs had to be trimmed to fit the format just as the bigger prints would.

So you want to be a commercial photographer?

I headed for the mountains with my Mamiya Press Super 23 medium format film camera.  I wanted to use b & w film and then use sepia toning to warm the imagery but they insisted on color.  I normally used color transparency film but I decided on negative film as in the end, it would be all prints. They then said that they might want some post cards from individual scenes.  I added a few rolls of color slide film to my list. I decided against mountain scenes as I wanted my super pano to be unique.  I settled on the near-by old wild west town of Central City. Do understand that I had to fund everything I did.   Out of pocket with no guarantee they would buy.

I decided to start my image making along the creek leading up to Central City.  There were gold panning sieves lined up there.  I waited for moments when there were no people (modern clothes, payments, law suits etc.).  I then went home and returned the next morning early when there were no cars or people in town.  Then the next morning I did the same and worked the other side of the street. This was not meant to be an accurate  representation of the actual town.  I was able to piece it all together as if the gold panning stream, and both sides of the street were one continuing scene.  It took my lab three tries and four days to trim and size every image. They had to remake one single print.  A total, including planning, of six business days and the prints were up in the hotel, with minor adjustments.  My client was happy, and I was paid.  I have no doubt I couldn’t succeed at that job today. There have been too many years of photography using far less discipline than it takes for a job like that.  Just the same,  those kind of jobs are a great photographic training for future endeavors.

It is funny, but even when you are creating photographic art, it takes an enormous amount of discipline to succeed.  If you have ever watched a great painter you know how much work and discipline is applied.  Art is rarely just a free-flowing emotional thing that thrives in on its own.  In fact the artists that I have seen who make a claim to create that way, have yet to impress me with anything that I (or most?) would call actual art.  Combining the truth of discipline with an artistic vision and an open mind has always seemed to be a combination that leads to success.

Fresh Eyes:  I have written many times in years past about the need to look at the world as a little child, or with “fresh eyes”

When I was an active photographer I was frequently asked how I manage to find something to photograph every time I go out. The reason I could do that was  when I didn’t find something new to photograph, I would photograph something old…so to speak.  Something I have made pictures of many times before. I never tired of new subjects, and I never tired of old ones. Every day is different and I always managed to see something new in an old subject.  It is amazing what an open mind that looks at the world (usually nature) as if it was just created today, can find. If nothing else, a new day with an old subject will bring different light or a different expression or pose.  Those same old grasses in that prairie might be just a little warmer in tone today.

When we were all shooting expensive slide films there were economic reasons to keep our fingers off the trigger.  While the expense of external hard drives can add up, today we can delete images that don’t impress us.  No harm, no foul. I definitely was not a digital photographer who thought it was good to machine gun 2,000 pictures every time I went out, but I certainly didn’t save the space on my memory card like I was paying by the byte. That was true whether I was photographing a rare subject, or another Robin or Geranium.

Sometimes photographing a subject over and over again is exactly what keeps your photographic vision fresh and new.  You are challenged to see things differently.

Next time you head out, along with your camera equipment, some bottled water and a sandwich, make sure to pack a set of “fresh  eyes” as well.

Thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts and please come back.                                  Wayne

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