Blogodocious ramblings of a landscape photographer living in Maine.
Here's one for ya! So I've been a little quiet of late over here on the bloggy and on Facespace, reason #1 being I've been busier than ever with everything that makes up my life, reason #2 I don't want to just put up a click bait topic that doesn't have anything to do with anything just in an effort to get traffic, so if I've got nothing to say- I've got nothing to say. But this one is too good not to talk about and there is educational value attached, therefore- here goes.
Back in the hot months of the late summer I received a query from a car dealer in Portland, Maine: Berlin City Auto Group http://www.berlincity.com/index.htm (as far as I know I have no NDA obligations keeping me from talking about this and they were so awesome to work with that it's all high fives from my side of the deal!) regarding: they were interested to work with me imaging vehicles for advertising. Pretty sure they found me through the Facebook. Anyway, and here's tip #1, I was so ridiculously busy at the time that I most likely answered the email while out of breath. And while it did sound interesting I told them that in fact I was just freeking swamped and although it did sound great there just was not enough left of me to reasonably consider approaching the job at that time. So that's top tip #1: always try to answer job inquiries while being too busy "in the weeds" and you'll seem like a hot commodity and the financial negotiations will be in your favor! But here's what they said in a follow up email- I'll get to have a vehicle of my choosing to keep for a couple weeks to bring to local hotspots to photograph and I'll be paid somewhat handsomely, that is if they choose to use my work. So they got me there! pretty much I did a double take, and said to myself "say what again?" reread it all, and at that point it was decided!: Count Me In!!
Now I'm not a car photographer, really I'm not even an everything and anything photographer. I'm pretty much a landscape shooter from way back. I do like shooting portraiture, and love photographing on the street in a city, and I've taken a variety of different photo jobs in the past just because I figured I had the where-with-all to approach them and make good work and get paid. But this was bigger than anything I had taken on yet. They liked my work they saw on the internets, particularly my black and white long exposure stuff, so that's why they called me. All I had to do was make an itinerary of shooting locations and show up with the car and do what I do do. Right? Well, easier said than done! And then it showed up.
About 5 months later. On New Years Eve, the Lexus NX Sport in silver showed up in my driveway with a full tank of gas, a few microfiber rags in it and some exterior cleaner. First objective was to bring it over to my buddies house and show off. Well I got in the car, picked the key up, and looked for where the ignition was. There wasn't any ignition. Ah ha!- button start. Cool. Then I had to figure how to take the parking brake off- no lever under the dash board. Ah ha #2= brake release with on the console under the shifter. So now I'm sitting in this $45,000 sports/crossover/suv in these amazing leather seats, and all I can think is a mantra of: Do Not F@$& This Up! Really it is a cool cool vehicle, has a sport mode that torques the engine into an aggressive pulling monster, or an Eco mode that sips gas conservatively. Paddle shifters on the wheel, a great climate control system that you can set for say 72 degrees and forget about it, wicked comfy seats and a solid yet smooth ride; are some of the other high points. Bottom line is- it's a Lexus and it is nice! But I wouldn't buy one. I still like my Tacoma better.
The next day I started photographing. My goal was to achieve 3 or 4 images that I really liked, which is to say 3 or 4 shots which were strong and that I considered winners. But I wanted to make enough work that there would be plenty for them to choose from and which would work in a variety of formats and applications. So I wanted to to have about 12 different scenes/environments in all. The shot list included Bass Harbor with the lobster boats and trap docks behind, on the pier, a couple of oceanside overlooks, a snowy blueberry field, the Penobscot Bridge as an iconic location, a boatyard, a few places in Acadia National Park, and some others.
As far as preparations were concerned: I really kind of wanted to have an open mind. So I didn't want to necessarily look at a lot of modern automobile photography or images of the Lexus NX which would put an image in my head that I would then end up chasing. Not to say that I didn't look, because I did do a little bit of Google image searching on the NX. And I am a member of Kelby One training http://kelbyone.com so I watched a couple Tim Wallace classes on post processing for car photography. Tim Wallace is an awesome car photographer and I've been seeing his work for a couple years now- so that was definitely my biggest inspiration for approaching this. I wanted the work to look clean but have a bit of pop and presence. One thing that was working in my favor right off the bat is that the NX is a very distinctive looking object. I did like looking at it therefore that did make photographing it more enjoyable than say photographing a Winnebago, or a propane tank, or something like that.
Now for the challenges and problems. The first day of photographing was almost perfect- there were dry roads, it was't too cold at about 32 degrees f and there were fast moving low clouds which would be great for long exposure. However between the time of leaving the driveway to then arriving at location #1- the winds had whipped up to a raging sustained 25 knots out of the north west with gusts that would blow you right over. So even a 10 pound sand bag hanging off my tripod made sharp exposures a challenge, not to mention freezing the nose tip off and the fingers. But I got some shots in the can so the hard part was out of the way= getting started. However that was the last dry day. After that point we had snow fall after snowfall, only a few inches at a time but the roads were forever after covered with slush and or road salt or sand and muck. I did have a brief fantasy considering maybe the winter road dirt would make the Lexus look all rugged and tough- but no, it just made it look dirty. So to combat that problem I would always bring a few gallons of water to pour over the door panels etc to wash away that loose dirt. And with that super shiny finish that the car has it would come right off, and with the bonus of leaving little water drops beaded up on the glossy surface of the car which did give it a rugged "can handle whatever you throw at it" -in the weather look.
Next problem= reflections. I don't know if this was really that much of a problem but it was certainly a consideration. And since I've finished the work I've been looking at different car ads and some take out the reflections entirely and others don't. With the super gloss brand new finish of this vehicle it was giant mirror with a thousand facets. So where a major consideration in all photography is always: what is the background and is there a tree growing out of his or her head, here it was also a major consideration what is being reflected and can I minimize distracting reflections which then I wouldn't have to worry about as much later in post by changing the angle of my composition or the car itself.
The majority of the work I did in Photoshop was cleaning up the car. Taking out any random bits of dirt left on the finish, removing strong or distracting reflections (for instance where there is fresh snow on the ground there was often a reflection in the door panels that made it look like there was a giant white angular racing stripe on the car)- which kind of looked cool, but it looked much better without that loud stripe. So my healing brush and cloning techniques were pushed to the max. So much so that I decided enough was enough and it's time to add a Wacom Tablet to my desktop. There's enough meat there for another post just about the tablet, but suffice it to say that it's been a long time coming and I wish I had gotten one years ago- because I love it! Makes dodging and burning on a grey layer as natural and effortless as it should be.
Alright then, let's cut to the chase and wrap it up- I ended up sending them 16 scenes of 44 images. Some were doubles as a color and a black and white. I did end up getting the 4 shots that I was very happy with and in the end felt that the entire body of work was valuable and that I did a good job. I learned some new skills through doing the job, got out and made a bunch of work at a time when I probably would have more likely been hunkering down and letting the weather blow by with my camera sitting in it's bag. Had a blast driving driving around that sweet sweet ride! Just burned under a tank of gas and was extremely careful treating the vehicle like it in fact wasn't mine! And, in the end, I even got paid in a timely manner! (grand applause and a hallelujah amen!) The only downside was that it was a lot of work photographing, and none of it was for me.
And this is lesson #next: regarding success. I consider it a great success that I've come a long way from the point of wanting to be a good photographer to being a photographer that is busy doing things that aren't making photography for my self. So therein lies a problem- the expression is: do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life, but what I love is going out and finding imagery and coming home and working on it for a few days over beers. But I did end up enjoying working on that Lexus job almost as much as my own work- especially by the end when I had a strong idea of the vision of the look I wanted, it started to feel like I do when I'm just out shooting. And nobody got hurt and no property was damaged so I'll chalk it up to a great success. And looking forward to what the next challenge is that's gonna come down the pike.
Homarus Americanus. Maine lobster.
Woah- where has the time gone? What a whirlwind. Last time I checked in here it was 90 degrees and it feels like I was a different person. It used to seem a lot more important and necessary to update the blog here regularly, but there is only so much time in a day! The intent of the blog is to share with people who don't know me some of my ideas and personality and motivation that informs my photography work, so people can have something of a connection to the guy who made the picture. There are a million amazing photographers out there, so the blog is a chance to differentiate myself, and tell stories while I'm having a coffee or a beer at the end of the day. Also I really love a good blog like the old warhorse NatGeo photographer Joe McNally's stories of climbing to the top of the Empire State Building to photograph them changing the lightbulb beacon-
After a while you really end up feeling like you know these people. You take them into your life through your monitor or your smart phone and follow them around the world like stowed baggage. The photographs are great but sometimes the mind of the artist is even more interesting. Now don't confuse me with an interesting person- I'm just trying to do my part in creating content and maybe somebody will like something. And I've personally learned so so much about technique and philosophies of photography through reading blogs that ideally hopefully I'll be able to give back and if even one person learns something or is inspired in the littlest way and makes better work then everyone wins and the world is a better place! Grand ideas I know, had to end the paragraph somehow though.
Allrighty then- first things first: I got married! Wow! Sophie and I have been together for 8 years now and we've been in love for that long too, asked her to marry me 2 years ago (she said yes!) but all the planning and schedules and procrastination took us a long time. Then on October 12th the weather was amazing and the absolutely beautiful and a sunny fall day was a wonderful gift for us all to enjoy together. It was just a fantastic day!
I wore a kilt! My Dad's Dad came from Scotland, moved to America when he was 3. Tried to find a kilt that had our colors but couldn't this was the closest to it. Sophie was absolutely beautiful with a custom hair job and she was just glowing.
Like I said- it was a great day. We would have invited you all, and everyone, but wanted to keep it a small get together.
On to the photography: Right then, I had to get you up to speed, couldn't just start typing like nothing ever happened and everything is just business as usual- because it's not! Like I said earlier- it feels like I'm a completely different person in a number of ways now, and not just because I got married etc- and I feel lucky about that (being married and feeling change). My point is that I was able to change, I changed perspective, changed photographic approach, changed how I consider photography and how I conceive photographs. It's a lucky thing because for the last year or so it started to feel like I was repeating myself. It started to feel like I was photographing photographs that I had already made- it had been far too long since the sensation of a breakthrough, since the invigorating sense of inspiration when you find a new exciting direction. Too much time would pass between needing to recharge my cameras batteries and downloading images after going and photographing for a few hours- and then you start to think: maybe I'll never again make a great picture... Arg!
So back when the weather was wicked bad last winter around January and February I was starting to mess around with setting up and photographing still life kinds of things in my studio. I'm just using the corner of the room and a table that ordinarily functions as my print matting and mounting table. Photographing on usually white mat board but have also experimented with reflective black, old wooden boxes, and some other stuff. Initially I was borrowing a speed light from my buddy Ken Perrin at Atlantic Art Glass and sometimes using available window light. This summer however I went "whole hog" and started acquiring light gear. I've had some exposure to the concepts of lighting through following Zack Arias, Joe McNally, Scott Kelby et al but when it came to knowing what I needed or even wanted I hadn't a clue. So the guy at B+H Photo recommended 2 different packages- a softbox + speed light + transmitter for 800 bucks or the 'Scott Kelby' everything kit for Canon for only 500. Now there's something a little cheesy about an everything-in-one kit but since my knowledge on this gear on a scale of 1-10 was about a 1.5 before, I feel like I'm easily at a 4 or a 5 now after incorporating this stuff and shooting to learn on this for a while.
The Kelby kit comes with a Phottix Mitros+ speedlight that seems pretty well built and it talks to the camera through the Phottix Odin 1.5 TCU wireless TTL trigger. You can control the flash's parameters from the trigger well however in the part of the learning curve that I'm at right now I'm shooting manual flash instead of TTL and am changing the flash settings from the flash itself (which is often a drag because I have it often boomed up or away at angles difficult to reach it, maybe I'm overlooking something there...?). The kit came with a cheap flash stand, an 36" shoot through umbrella, a little mini 4"x6" softbox that they say is good for macro but I think I'm not convinced, and an umbrella holder elbow. Oh and a sandbag. Comes with a nice carrying kit too.
That was all well and good but right away after experimenting with the umbrella for a while I realized that I wanted a softbox for a little bit more of a directional yet still very soft light. Back to B+H and added a 2 foot by 2 foot Impact Quickbox softbox. It folds up to fit in a slick carrying bag, but the thing is it never really unfolds perfectly square- doesn't seem to matter much, just a pet peeve. Added a Manfrotto boom arm to really reach in over the table that I'm shooting on and securely hold the much heavier soft box-
and then I found my favorite modifier yet: while watching a Zack Arias tutorial he showed a really cool and very affordable $50.00 strap-on grid spot. Made by ExpoImaging it's a 3 in 1 honey comb grid system that by stacking grids or just using by themselves can achieve either a 45 degree spot, a 25 degree spot, or a 16 degree spot light. Makes for super dramatic beam and shadows look. And that's what I'm primarily using for this current series of photographs of tools that I'm working on.
Mossy rock habitat diorama. Rogue grid-spot directly overhead. Feels like a museum exhibit lighting scenario-
I'm really enjoying the idea of being able to photograph things in the studio- ordinarily the landscape imagery I'll make requires being on location at the right time, and I'm working on the boat a lot now so time is always an extremely limited commodity. So I can set up a subject on the white paper and not photograph it until I'm ready, having walked by it a dozen times and seeing it in a variety of natural lights and thinking of how to actually shoot it, by the time I get around to making the photo I'm not feeling rushed, I can take the time to manipulate it and the light and enjoy the process even if it's 04:30 in the morning or 4:30 in the afternoon or 8 o'clock at night. I can tether the camera to my monitor and review on a large screen the effect small changes in focus or f stop or light can have. And it's a wicked gas!
Sophie's Dahlias, my vase.
But I need content- what to shoot? Sophie grows amazing things in her greenhouse and gardens but really I'm not as interested in making flower photography as much (don't get me wrong they are beautiful but there's just something a little too cliche feeling to me personally about photographing too many flowers, that's just me- whatever..) so I started looking down on the forest floor for things to photograph like leaves and ferns etc,
then I had a great idea: shoot tools!
I'm sure it's been done before. Everything it seems has been done before, especially pictures of flowers- but I haven't done it! Time to make some photographic studies of tools! There's this place called "The Tool Barn"in Hulls Cove, Maine. It's part of the Davistown Museum, here's a website: http://www.jonesport-wood.com/hullscove.html they have tons of old tools, and apparently the main location in Liberty Maine is 4 times bigger- so I'll have to get to that one sometime. I used to live just down the street in a little apartment across from the beach with my golden retriever Grover and had been to the Tool Barn many times looking for some kind of necessary tool or other, but one that wasn't made of plastic and imported from China. Sometimes it was fun just to go there and look around and try to think what this or that tool was meant to be used for. So it occurred to me that that would be the ultimate place to find things to study under studio lights. The character of the tools. The tools that built New England. These old tools that have the wear marks and and the patina of being used for many hours. Lot's of them have old initials engraved in them of their owners beside the maker marks of the factories. And when you hold them you can really easily imagine all the work they must have made.
I worked out a deal with the proprietor Skip, who is all about having the tools be appreciated and respected as items of art and history. Then the only concern was how to photograph them and what the look should be. Right away I had this idea of making a real high contrasty dramatic looking bit- I was thinking of that movie "Sin City" which is all film noir looking with harsh long shadows. So the grid spot would make that happen: on the boom but hovering just off the surface of the table behind and to the side of the tool to cast a long shadow into the foreground. Of course the tool would then lose all the detail on the face but maybe I could bounce some light onto it (oh yeah I also got a 48" 5 in 1 Westcott reflector diffuser) with a white panel. So the first test shot that came back was crazy cool and just what I was looking for:
"Old American Tools #1. Stanley #4 plane." The composition was as much about creating interesting shadow lines as it was portraying the tool-
"Old American Tools #2, egg beater drill with brace. Goodall-Pratt Tool Co." This shadow made me think of a scooter. Used a small spring to elevate the chuck of the drill to let the light underneath and cloned the spring out later.
"Old American Tools #3. Stanley #12 pull plane." Sophie see's a vertebrae here, I see a bird or bat or airplane shadow. Same light set-up with the grid spot behind to port but bounced foreground fill with the white reflector. Also this time added a paper texture layer set to soft light blend mode and selectively masked for the background.
"Old American Tools #4. Stanley 190 plane." Got a little carried away with this one! This is the point of experimenting and learning- trying new things to see what works and learning about the processes through it all, then incorporating the successes to future work. The exercise here was to mess with creating a foreground reflection. I shot this on white paper, so there is no reflection in that scenario. Creating the reflection isn't too hard- making it feel right is the challenge, and I made a gigantic error there that didn't become apparent until after I had made a print of this and brought it to Skip at the Tool Barn. Fun experiment but I'm very unsure about how much I like this now. Also the shadows remind me of a guy riding on the back of a whale.
"Old American Tools #5. Fischer Ohaus scale." Grid spot hanging almost directly overhead on the boom arm- the trick here was adjusting the light so that the important details of the scale were not hidden in shadow like the central circular little emblem and the numbers on the scale arm. Incredibly finicky adjustments of half an inch would make or break the shadow details.
"Old American Tools #6. Bunion tool." This isn't much for dramatic shadows or things but check out that sticker near the hinge: "Used to make indentations in shoe for bunions!" How weird is that!
Right then. More to come. To sum it all up: it's been a blast to go in a completely different direction. It feels great to have opened a door to a world of light modifiers where there are so many different possibilities and it's all new to me and I've only just scratched the surface. It feels great to be learning photography in a completely new way and to add another skill to my bag of tricks. And it feels great to push myself to try something new, and I guess that also includes being married! I think it's important to kind of always try to be growing and being better and not just be satisfied with what's working. But that's just my opinion right now.
Alrighty that's it for now, thanks for stopping by, have a nice day, and get out there and try something new!
Now before you go all troll on me and blow up my internet with comments saying how crazy I am- the 26 hour day IS possible!
And it would be sooo convenient. I wouldn't sleep longer that's for sure, well maybe every once in a while- but I would use the time to try to get to all those things that get pushed over into the next day, which then pushes other things into the day after that. Anyways here's the wikipedia article regarding length of day and how it is actually getting longer:: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Day_length, and from that article: "The earth is constantly losing angular velocity and rotational energy through a process called tidal acceleration, which leads to a slow lengthening of the day. A century ago, the average day was about 1.7 milliseconds shorter than today, while in the late Neoproterozoic about 620 million years ago a day had only about 21.9±0.4 hours.[2"
How crazy is that@!! So I guess that if we can only hold out for another say 400 million years or so then we'll have all the time in the world! Until then I'll keep drinking coffee.
It's the absolute height of the season here right now on Mount Desert Island. The roads are absolutely impossible- clogged with tourists visiting Acadia making 12 point turns, there are J walkers galore, bicyclists, joggers with those baby strollers made for running, deer crossing with fawns in tow, and that's just the first turn out of the driveway! Also the lobstering is in top gear as it's get as much as you can get season. My hands are only occasionally numb this year, guess my body is acclimating fairly well. A typical day for me these days has the alarm going off at 03:00, I take a quick 4 minute wake up shower while the coffee is brewing, then I chug a half a pot while listening to the news and working on photography in Lightroom or Photoshop, out the door to haul gear by 04:00 or 04:30 and back home in the afternoon often at around 2:00 pm. I'm missing the best times of day for photography with my big camera but I'm always shooting the sunrise with my iPhone, as in every single beautiful sunrise there is, which is nice! Here's a quick sampling of sunrises and other scenes from this summer shot with the iPhone:
F/V Never Enough
My good dog Grover on the punt dock.
Rowing out to the boat.
Setting gear. Traps stacked across the rails.
Sunrise through the windows of the wheel house.
Sunrise between the islands.
Heavy overcast off Black Island.
Danny pulling up to a buoy off Black Island.
Danny gaffing a buoy off Black Island.
Looking for buoys in the fog.
A couple of oversized ancient lobsters.
Crescent moon over the Bass Harbor lighthouse.
Predawn on the Bernard town dock with lobster traps and bait.
Danny setting them back.
My folks came up for a visit and went for a ride on the boat, they really loved it!
Shifting gear- photoed from the poop deck!
Getting picked up from the finger float.
Sunrising over Little Black Island.
Danny with a cod that came up in a trap.
Mount Desert Island off my front yard also known as Goose Cove.
Setting more gear.
Another beautiful sunrise.
Traps ready to be set on the rail.
Shifting a string of gear.
In the ER with redfish poisoning.
The local paper liked this one enough.
Captain Dan picking a trap.
Another beautiful sunrise while leaving Bass Harbor Maine.
Searching for unicorn lobsters under Blue Hill Bay rainbows.
My big camera gets out of the bag hardly as much as my little pocket camera but the goal is to try to make serious imagery once a week or so in this the busiest of seasons. When I do break it out I'm continuing adding to my Acadia catalog but trying to find new approaches to old scenes. Also it is my studio camera when I don't want to necessarily drive somewhere to photograph but I'm feeling the need to photograph- so I'll shoot on white or black and make a study out of some object. Like this the phycus leaf:
Tessellated leaf 2.
That's it for now- just wanted to show you that I'm still alive and kicking, just very distracted from all the other things that are called life and work that are keeping me from the blog. Have a good one and try to be as productive as possible with our miserably short 24 hour days!
Otter Cliffs Shore Path and Hurricane Arthur, Acadia National Park, Maine.
Hey there folks- been busy lately, the blog has mouldered and I haven't been in the mood to just post for the sake of posting, so it took this long to be inspired enough to come back with something to say. Get to that in a sec- first, I've been wicked busy. After hauling 200 or so pots of lobster out on the bay with Danny it takes a lot of inspiration to want to go to make new work. So I've been on a shooting schedule of about once a week if I'm lucky. There has also been a fair amount of printing and licensing to do so that has cut into the rest of the free time along with lawn mowing and I gotta watch last weeks episode of Deadliest Catch at some point. You know how it is! So the blog has mouldered. There was a time when I tried to post 6 times a week, if for no other reason than to have that as a discipline which made me feel constructive- but it'll take the deep of winter before that'll happen again, and it has been just gorgeous here lately if not downright hot. We New Englanders have a pretty poor short term memory when it comes to the seasons. We're like: "Oh winter wasn't that bad this year, all the snow was nice!" while clutching a beer wearing shorts and sandals baking in the summer sun on the lawn. Seriously- do you remember the winter that was hammering us only three months ago? It was just over 90 days ago when my fiancee totaled her car the morning on black ice after a blizzard slammed us here in Maine and with air temps around 12 degrees f. 80 degrees later and we can't remember a thing about those times! Unless that's just me? Anyways...
Last weekend brought a rare July hurricane up the coast and whenever there is a storm like that coming the photographer part of me gets all excited. High surf warnings were forecast along with sustained 40+ knot winds, which wasn't hardly as bad as North Carolina had, but I have seen two story house sized waves pounding the granite along the coast of Acadia before (seriously 25 feet tall+ would shake the entire Earth when they broke against the cliffs) so I was psyched! Simultaneously fearing how the lobster gear would fare, while at the same time hoping for terrifyingly exciting waves to photograph- I went over to Otter Cliffs at high tide saturday afternoon. That was also the time when the storm was supposed to break and the downpour would stop, and the leading and trailing edges of storms are always amazingly dynamic for photography. Rolling into the park the signs were in place: for 'Danger High Surf proceed at your own risk' kind of thing. But it was hardly anything to freak out about- there was definitely a longer period strong swell breaking into upwards of 8 foot to 12 foot heavy wide waves, but there was a strong north wind that seemed to push most developing seas back. In the end however it was my excuse to go out and try to make something and the breakthrough moment was ultimately a printing and presentation idea.
I've always loved a good panorama, used to compulsively make them and would hardly shoot anything but them! But it was half with the intention of how I wanted to represent an image and half to make up for some of the limitations of my poor quality consumer dslr. When I was fortunate enough to upgrade to a great camera I left all that panorama stuff behind and have been just photographing in a mostly standard fashion. And that's all been good until finding tilt-shift lens shift panoramas completely addictive, which has been for the last year or so mostly. Recently I had had an inquiry for a print commission for a bar/restaurant where one of the wall's would have 3 prints. I had been considering a group for it but then went and photographed last weekend's storm and when working on the images in Lightroom in the grid view I happened to notice how freeking nice they looked next to each other! Therefore the triptych. But instead of having 3 images in one frame this would be a partial panorama split into three vertically framed images that is the scene. And the ultimate success is if the finished installation has the feel of looking out a bay window onto the coast. Because if a print can transport a viewer in that way of immersion then that is a great success! Obviously this is not a breakthrough in the art world, just in my own sensibilities as to how to package a product and sell a solution. I didn't photograph the scene with printing it as a triptych in mind and that has caused more work in postproduction than I would have liked, but, now knowing the correct workflow: in the future I think I will start a gallery on the old website here of prints as triptychs and diptychs and have that as a project to pursue. Gotta love projects!
So, I feel that although I haven't been as productive making new photography as I would sometimes like to be- my sensibilities and ultimately my work, at this point in my photography development (play on words there) has matured as well if not faster than if I had been photographing much more. Because then I would be distracted from conceptualizing by finishing and presenting imagery. Interesting that- I think I've often grown more through visualization doing the things I've pursued than through the actual doing of them-? And we'll leave it there for now...
Right then. That's what I've been doing, what have you guys been doing?
Have a good one - from Maine, Nate!
"Seaside Meditations" Seaside, Oregon. (I don't understand what that white line is doing on the right- some kind of uploading artifact that I'm figuring out on right now-)
Every once in a while I find myself struggling to keep up the pace of making new 'good work', photographs that is, and the haunting idea of "maybe there will never be another 'good picture'" crosses my mind. It's not an impossible possibility- but that would be bad, hang it all up and put the kit up for sale on Ebay kind of bad. The worst kind of bad! A very real challenge that faces my photography is that I live on an island, it's attached to the mainland by a bridge but it's still an island. The island (Mount Desert Island on the coast of Maine), does happen to contain Acadia National Park, which is completely beautiful and has all kinds of different terrain and always gorgeous and varied landscapes, but I've been photographing on this island and in Acadia for the last 14 years and after a while it feels like I've made all the photographs of all the places in all the weather, from macro to 360 degree panoramas from dawn till dusk and into the night. That's not really true- there's always more places to find and more weather to influence them and more ways to photograph them, but I'm human and sometimes it can seem like there are a finite amount of possibilities. Certainly it does become more challenging to tour around the island and through the park with my gear and feel as inspired as I felt ten or five years ago while I was doing the initial discoveries. And the chances of going out to find something new and exciting are definitely not as productive feeling as it used to seem to be. So sometimes that can be a bummer. I remember "back in the day" while I was chasing sunrises thinking that if I get skunked today then the chances will be better tomorrow for getting something amazing, and if it didn't happen tomorrow then the chances would be even better the next day- somehow thats permeated into maybe sometime this month I'll find a novel photograph to make and work on that thrills me close to what I used to feel. And that's scary.
So I've been fighting this skeleton in the closet for a while now and more and more it seems each time I go out to make new work. It's so easy in comparison to go someplace new even if it's as close as 2 hours away by car and see clearly an exciting image to make- and that's one of the great values of travel, but I don't get to do that too much. My folks live on Cape Cod though in Mass and whenever I visit them I can usually charge up with the inspiration of finding something new, and I'll often stop in Boston on the way to partake in some street photography and get some fantastic pizza in the Italian North End, but I'd like to think that it shouldn't take going so far in order to satisfy the desire to make a good image.
Therefore I've picked up a few tricks along the way that helps break up the feeling of being stuck on the hamster wheel and repeating myself like a stuttering photographer in a terminal feedback loop. I added filters (neutral density, graduated neutral density, polarizers), I went on a panorama bender for a few years, an HDR addiction for another few, now black and white with the occasional digital filter from the Nik Suite, abstracts through camera motion (kinetic photography), macro studies (not as much there so that has plenty of room for exploration), still lifes in my home studio using natural light and off camera flash. And there's really lot's more to explore so there's no reason to panic.
Part of the problem though lies in that there have been years when it seemed like I could make as many as three or so great portfolio worthy (my portfolio that is, not Ansel's) images a week- week after week after week. So to compare the productivity of now to then seems like I'm way off the mark. But the root of that problem would seem to be the idea of competition. Competition with myself. Comparing now and then. Surely I feel like I'm a much more mature photographer than I was two or three years ago, (last year is too close to consider without imparting emotion into the images and remember when making them). So I do feel like I'm on the right track. And I try to stay somewhat removed from considering what my peers are making and comparing with them- I hang out on the social media a bit but hardly as much as I used to, there just isn't enough time! Speaking of time- it's time for a graph. This is what I'm feeling that the graph of my productivity might be represented as: the old bell curve. Nobody like a bell curve!
Quality of photographs vs time spent photographing.
Realistically the graph wouldn't bottom out on the right like this does, I just didn't really feel like creating my own graph so I apportioned one from the internets. This graph would go to show that initially as a newb photographer there is nothing but dung, but after not much time has passed you develop enough skill to make dependably satisfying imagery, then you're on fire!, then you develop your harsh critical inner voice that informs your sensibilities regarding making new work and it's all down hill from there! But my point here isn't to be pessimistic, my point is to share the conversation that I've been having with other artists over the past few weeks regarding this.
Key point number 1- focus on projects. Ken Perrin my glassblower cohort (http://www.atlanticartglass.com) and more recently my photographer friend Heather McKenney (http://hmckenney.tumblr.com) reminded me that cohesive work is buoyed through focussed projects. This is no new news to me but a helpful reminder, especially coming from people who's opinions I respect. As mature photographers we all know this lesson, we aspire to make work that compliments our previous work, we fill out our catalog of work in as succinct a way as possible. The "everything photographer" is a tough game played best by those Nat Geo guys like Joe Mcnally and Steve McCurry, but even those guys have a shtick and a style and there are very few "one-off" images or "friggers" (in glassblowing jargon). But after a while even the deepest project becomes worked, and then overworked, and then worked to death! My thing has always been about seascapes- I love landscapes but if there is no water in it I'm more than a little bummed out. And if there's a lot of water in it then I'm the most happy. But after a while worked stuff needs a rest! So this winter, which was one of the coldest and craziest that I can remember, I took to the still life studio and started messing more with photoshop compositing and stuff like that and the refreshing change that I felt making that imagery was like a very real breath of fresh air. However my portfolio doesn't have any of that kind of thing so I felt torn- like: is this what I really want to be doing? It's fun and all but does it fit? And those questions are the really complicated ones that we as artists have to occasionally consider. Can we make a drastic departure in style and not put off our fan base? Is this really the direction that I want to go in? How will it be received, etc. See it's pretty complicated in the end. I have this idea that my reputation is all that I have, I don't have lots of money and I don't have lots of Brad Pit-ness but I do have something of a style that I've worked hard at and therefore a sense of what is good and bad and right and wrong, especially when it comes to photography. So is the artistic pursuit of photography that hopefully will get me through my whole lifetime, which will hopefully be long, and hopefully will be as interesting and fascinating to me 20 years from now as it was 2 or 3 years ago. Am I overthinking this? Do you guys ever think on this kind of thing? Has any of this made any sense? Have I just spent the last three hours lining up words vainly and should I have been trying to make pictures instead? Did the chicken really come before the egg? Does it matter that I am even alive?
I'd appreciate your thoughts on this in the comments-
I do know that I will be pursuing two newish seascape projects that will keep me entertained. I do plan to go back to the big cities a couple times this year to make more street, I'm looking forward to some more still life bones and photoshop projects, and who knows what next year may bring in the area of inspiration. Maybe by then I'll have taken up something freaky like skydiving and start in on freefall photography- that's the great thing about life and living, you never know what tomorrow may bring! Right?
For now, have a good one-