Posts Tagged ‘fine art’

Making a Photograph – The Technical and the Creative

January 13th, 2015

There’s no question about it; photography is very technical. There are many technical skills that must be mastered to become a proficient photographer. And they didn’t all just crop up when digital cameras came on the scene. Film cameras required a great deal of technical know-how also.

If you were taking a grand landscape photograph back in the days of film, a composition that had a very interesting foreground and a spectacular background, you had to know how to control your depth of field so that the foreground and the background and everything in between would be in focus. This required a technical knowledge of the three factors that affect sharpness; those being, focal distance (the distance from the camera to the object you’re focusing on), the focal length of the lens and the f-stop.

Exposure in the film era was perhaps even a little more intimidating. Your ISO was determined by your film and you selected that when you purchased it. But you had to set your shutter speed and your f-stop manually. Shutter speed wasn’t too hard to understand. If you decrease the length of time the shutter was open, you decrease the amount of light that passed through the lens by the same amount. A shutter speed of 1/30 of a second let twice as much light through the lens as 1/60 of a second. Pretty simple.

But f-stop didn’t make any sense at all. If your f-stop was f/8 and you wanted to double the amount of light coming through the lens, you set it to f/5.6. The amount of light was doubled but the number was smaller. And it wasn’t what you might intuitively have expected it to be, namely, f/4. It could be a bit baffling. And the only way to get a grasp on it was to memorize these weird numbers. With film you were stuck with manual exposure and there was no getting around it. With digital you can use one of the automatic exposure modes so you can get away without fully understanding this f/stop stuff. But it’s still best if you do.

digital-cameraThe coming of the digital camera introduced a whole new level of complexity. In the film age the camera was a simple mechanical device. You were responsible for doing practically everything – deciding where to focus, the shutter speed to use and the f-stop to use. The only role the camera played was to open the shutter for the precise length of time that you specified when you set the shutter speed.

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Is That What Your Camera Saw?

July 24th, 2014

Occasionally at art festivals a visitor to my booth will point to one of my photographs and ask, “Is that what your camera saw?”  This question points out a common misunderstanding about the physics and art of photography.

Those of us who are serious about our photography capture our digital images in RAW file format.  That’s a format that does a minimal amount of processing on the image before it saves it to the memory card.  It is more like what the camera sees.

The other format is  JPEG and is not what the camera sees but rather a highly processed image that is controlled to a large extent by the settings the photographer sets in the camera – settings like sharpness, contrast and saturation.  So if the photographer likes saturation he just has to up the saturation setting in the camera.

JPEG is much closer to the photographs that were captured in the wonderful days of film.  Each different type of file had its own unique way of responding to the scene.  Kodachrome film was great for reds while Ektachrome was perfect for blues.  Fujichrome was prized for its treatment of greens and its high contrast.

So what did the film camera see?  The question is really, “What did the film see?”  Was it a faithful documentation of reality?  Not in the least.  The same can be said for JPEG digital files.  They are no more a faithful documentation of reality than film was.

The fact is, RAW files are closer to what the camera saw than film or JPEG files ever were or will be.  And, as one workshop participant put it to me, “I don’t like shooting in RAW because the photographs are so plain and uninteresting.”  There you go.  What the camera sees, exactly what the camera sees, is often plain and uninteresting.

So the physics of digital images captured in RAW format is that the images are the closest to what the camera sees.  But from an artistic point of view, these images generally do not speak to us.  These are documentation but that’s not art; art is interpretation.

Now, a RAW file is the perfect starting point from which to create art.  It is neutral, unbiased and open to the artist to express what she saw, what she experienced that inspired her to set up the camera and compose the image, that led to the decisive moment that the shutter was pressed.

In the days of film we relied on our selection of the type of film that would do the best job of rendering particular situations.  In the digital era we have much more powerful tools that we ever had with film – Lightroom, Photoshop, Photomatix and all the wonderful software that we have access to that allows us to express our vision, our interpretation of reality.

So, are my photographs what the camera saw?  Not at all.  They are what I saw.


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Best of 2012

January 18th, 2014

In 2013 we started a fun project – picking the best of my photographs from 2012.  We approached it area by area, choosing the best from each.  It’s been a lot of fun so far.  And now it’s time to finish what was started and select the best photograph of 2012.

There are photographs from four areas – California Deserts, Eastern Sierra, Big Sur and Zion National Park in Utah.

death_valley_sunrise_2012California has two wonderful desert national parks.  Joshua Tree here in Southern California is a blend of both high and low desert, the fantastic trees that give the park its name, outcrops of granite that attract climbers from all over the world, not to mention the great photography.  Death Valley is the premier desert attraction in the country.

pfeiffer_beach_sunset_2012At the opposite end of California’s diverse spectrum is incomparable Big Sur, one hundred miles of the most incredible coastline in all of North America. Big Sur is famous for its precipitous cliffs that plunge into the pounding surf of the Pacific Ocean but it also boasts redwood groves, waterfalls, classic bridges and more.  One small stretch of the coast captured your imagination and for good reason.  Pfeiffer Beach is blessed with some incredible rocks just off shore pounded by powerful surf.  And when the light is just right the photographs are unbeatable.

twin_lakes_120606

The Eastern Sierra boasts the mighty Sierra Nevada mountains to the west and rivers and lakes along the Owens Valley.  One of the prime attractions is the Mammoth Lakes area with it’s superb skiing and a beautiful string of alpine lakes and laughing streams.

west_temple_clearing_storm_121013

Zion National Park in Southwest Utah attracts visitors and photographers from all over the globe.  Its spectacular red sandstone cliffs create a canyon that of unparalleled beauty.  And when autumn storms roll through, the drama of the already impressive cliffs and towers is intensified.

This is a sampling of the photographs that are being considered for the Best of 2012.  The top two images from each of these areas are presented for your evaluation.  Take our survey to view them all and pick the ones you like the best.

Thanks for participating.  Have fun and enjoy.


Please feel free to share this with your friends.  The more input we have the better.

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Making a Photograph – Vision

June 29th, 2012

“This photograph speaks to me.”

The photographs that have a strong impact on us speak to us.  The photographer has created an image that moves us.  Did he or she have something in mind when making the photograph?  Probably so.  Strong images just don’t happen by accident.

As one grows as a photographer one’s vision becomes clearer.  One begins to discover who they are and what they have to say.  And as one’s technical and aesthetic skills develop, skills used in both the field and the darkroom, one’s ability to express their vision becomes stronger.

The artist’s vision is an important element of their art.  The clearer an artist is on what his or her vision is the more expressive their art becomes.

If you’re not clear on what your vision is, live with your photographs.  Become aware of what you associate with them, what stories they are telling you, how they make you feel.  And as your vision emerges nurture it, strengthen it, let it speak through you and your art.  And then your photographs will also speak to others.

death_valley_sunrise_2012

We do photography workshops.  Come on out and join us.  Click here to check us out.

You can also check out our photography.  Click here.

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The Same Ol’ Question

June 18th, 2012

Every time I do a show I get asked multiple times if my photographs are manipulated.  My answer is always, ‘Yes, of course.’  The hidden expectation is that photographs are supposed to be accurate depictions of the scene that is photographed.  This expectation is not new.  And any photographer that seeks to make art rather than documentation must face this question.

Take Ansel Adams for instance….

ansel_adams_winter_sunrise

The above iconic Ansel Adams photograph is titled Winter Sunrise.  It is of Mt Whitney and Lone Pine Peak above the Alabama Hills with Adams’ characteristic dramatic lighting.

There’s an interesting excerpt regarding this photograph from his book, “Examples, The Making of 40 Photographs.”

“The enterprising youth of the Lone Pine High School had climbed the rocky slopes of the Alabama Hills and whitewashed a huge white L P for the world to see.  It is a hideous and insulting scar on one of the great vista of our land, and shows in every photograph made of the area.  I ruthlessly removed what I could of the L P from the negative (in the left-hand hill), and have always spotted out any remaining trace in the print.  I have been criticized by some for doing this, but I am not enough of a purist to perpetuate the scar and thereby destroy – for me, at least – the extraordinary beauty and perfection of this scene.”

It seems the debate raged in Adams’ day and continues today.  I guess you know where I stand.  Oh, and for those ‘purists’ that revere Adams, if they only knew.

Winking smile

Go ahead.  Express yourself in your photographs.

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Making a Photograph – The Four Pillars

May 20th, 2012

I’ve been giving a lot of thought recently to what goes in to making a great landscape photograph. It turns out there are four things, four pillars if you will.  Four, that’s a good number.  There are the four legs of a table or the four wheels of a car.  And not to forget the four sacred directions of the Native Americans.

In landscape photography the four pillars are evenly divided between the aesthetics and the technical.  So what are they?  The two aesthetic pillars are Fantastic Light and Strong Composition.  No surprise there.  The two technical pillars are Appropriate Sharpness and Optimum Exposure.  No surprise there either.  If just one of those pillars is missing, well, the table collapses, the image suffers.

Let’s look at them one by one….

joshua_tree_spring_sunrise_2011

Joshua Tree Spring Sunrise (2011)

(click on the images to enlarge them)

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Lightroom Tutorial – Workflow

February 17th, 2012

There are about as many definitions of “fine art photography” as there are people who call themselves “fine art photographers.”  For many of us, fine art photography is an expression of our view of the world.  Much of what we see in the world is captured in the images we capture in the field.  But that’s not the whole story.  Why?  Because the true expressive quality of our photographs comes to life in the post processing – the digital darkroom if you will.

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Taking Your Photography to the Next Level – Fine Art

January 13th, 2012

In the previous post in this series I presented the idea that calendar art is a worthy first goal for serious photographers.  (Read Taking Your Photography to the Next Level.)  And aside from the fact that the subject matter of calendar art may be fairly run of the mill, the technical and aesthetic qualities are generally excellent.

In that post I ended with this thought:

Calendar art is about the subject of the photograph.  The photographer is transparent.  In fine art photography the influence of the artist becomes more apparent.

 

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Inspiring Quotes

January 12th, 2012

Art is the desire of a man to express himself, to record the reactions of his personality to the world he lives in.  ~Amy Lowell

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Inspiring Quotes – Georgia O’Keeffe

January 9th, 2012

I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.

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