Is it Good?


We’ve all been there.  The moment we complete our work, and we take a step back to take it in.  Then comes the question.

Is it Good?

I think as artists we all try to determine if our labors have earned our approval.  But I submit that all too often we are determining the answer to this question from the wrong point of view, and the question we are asking ourselves is a lie.  That is, that all too often we are really asking, “Will anyone else think it’s good?”  And in that we have the true rub.  We are judging our own work through the eyes of others, and trying to determine if we will win their approval.  Let me just start by saying, that while I am guilty of this, as we all are to some degree, I have begun to realize the answer to whether or not I have obtained everyone’s artistic approval of my work, is becoming less important to me.

As artists, we all seek approval from others, but I submit to you, that we must each have an inner satisfaction to our efforts as a fundamental necessity of our pursuits.  This applies across the artistic spectrum, from writing, to painting, to sculpture and yes, photography.  Art needs to be free, and an expression of what we each choose to express, not what we think others want expressed.  This is a step that requires great courage and vulnerability, but in the end, having the approval of others without feeling fulfilled ourselves, leads to empty success.  There are countless expressions for compromised art, from adverse influence to just plain selling out.  Sometimes you need to pay the bills, but when we pursue art on our own terms we find it’s purest expression.

Satisfaction in our own work, on our own terms, does not come easily at first.  We long for acceptance, but as we grow more confident of our abilities, that sense of fulfillment in our achievement comes more easily.  I have begun to find this happy place with my photography, and it has elevated my pursuit of this hobby.  It comes with practice, successes, and many failures, but the road is fun to look back on, if only for a moment, until I cast my gaze forward again.  Because as anyone can tell you, there is no room for comfort in art either.  Comfort leads to stagnation, and a lack of growth…but that’s a story for another day.  Enjoy my shot of a walk in the woods, on a sunny day.  I am pleased with the picture, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say, I hope you like it!!

Until next time…all the best…John

Composition or What’s Your Story

DSC_6453-Edit-EditComposition is such a conundrum. It is clearly the heart and soul of photography. For all the anguish we spend learning the exposure triangle and how to apply it, for all the obsession about proper focus and depth of field. At the end of the day, none of the above matters if what we’ve pointed our camera at doesn’t stir us in some way. As artists, we seek an emotional response from those who view our work, and that simply won’t happen if the picture sucks.

This is tough because as photographers we’re forced to deal with what we get from the scene. It’s up to us to somehow make the viewer of the image not only see, but more importantly feel, what we are experiencing as we take the picture.

This is where I sometimes have trouble with some of the time honored dogma of photography. I’m supposed to be telling a story with the image. Sometimes a picture screams its 1000 words, and other times, I couldn’t come up with a decent paragraph. Do I really need to tell a story? Isn’t it sufficient that I capture a beautiful image? As the sun rises above the clouds on a nondescript grassy hill, and it illuminates the fog on a rolling field with a brilliant golden light. Is that picture really telling a story? I use all my composition rules that I’ve learned to place the peaking sun on one of the “high energy” points of the image, and perhaps a fence leads me into and through the image, but what’s the story? Perhaps you could go on about how the old sun rises above the sloping hill as it has done for eons, illuminating….an on and on. Please excuse me if I admit, that to me, that’s all just artsy fluff. It’s a beautiful picture taken at the perfect moment of the day. End of story. 500px is rife with golden hour shots taken in mountains all over the world. Each is a little bit different, but if they are telling a story, it’s a pretty common one. In these cases I submit that the photographer is paying homage to the beauty of the scene, and the story, if there is one, is an afterthought.

Please don’t take this to mean that I don’t believe that proper care and consideration of the moment are necessary to create a great image. Or, that taking an image without considering its story diminishes all the wonders possible from a great photograph, but sometimes the visceral pursuit overcomes the cerebral one. Personally, I have no problem with that. Especially, if the person gets that look on their face all us photographers know, when someone looking at our image is hit with it as though it were a left hook from a prize fighter, and they simply say, “Wow, that’s beautiful.” It’s a satisfying feeling that screams mission accomplished.

I hope you like today’s image.  This is a horse stable near my home.  I consider myself lucky to live near such a rich photographic subject as I have taken many pictures in and around this place.  I just wish the horses had been up and walking around already on this particular morning.  Have a great day.  Go out there and make a great picture.

All the Best…John

Gear or Megapixels vs. Grey Matter

Once upon a time, not too long ago, I got a package delivered to my doorstep, wrapped in brown heavy gauge paper. It wasn’t very big, maybe about a cubic foot in size, but true to the old axiom, good things do come in little packages, and I had been waiting for this one. I could tell from the labels this was what I had been waiting for. I had tracked it’s movement across several states each day knowing it was closer to arriving. I tore into the package with a wholehearted vigor that would put a child on Christmas day to shame. I finally reached the inner golden box emblazoned with the markings Nikon D810. It had finally arrived. After months of craving, and planning, I was finally holding my new camera upgrade. Stepping up from a D90, the 810 was a full frame sensor camera roughly equal in size to the 35mm film I used to shoot in the 80’s and 90’s. It was, at the time, the highest resolution DSLR camera (35megapixels) on the market, anywhere in the world. And…I had my very own copy. Surely, this would make me a better photographer.

A few months, and a few thousand pictures later, I began to realize something.  I was a better photographer, but not because my camera had 35 megapixels.  It was because I had taken several thousand pictures, and was smarter for the effort.  I had always heard the saying that cameras don’t make pictures, people do, and a host of other philosophies that drive the point home that the photographer is way more important than the camera they are using.  I mostly agreed with that point, the heart and emotion of an image come from the human pressing the shutter, not the camera collecting the photons.  A few years ago, a popular video blogger  (DigitalRev) did a series of pieces where he would give world renowned photographers the absolute worst cameras, and force them to use it for a day.  The result was hysterical, especially for a camera geek like me.  But it was also photographic brilliance,  even when the camera was a 25 year old point and shoot, a 2 megapixel antique, or even a child’s toy camera made out of Legos.  The experiment demonstrated the genius of the photographers using the cameras, not the cameras themselves.  Fuel for the old adage that the most important accessory to any camera sits 6-8 inches behind the lens, i.e. the photographer’s brain.

Well, this week was an interesting one for me as my beloved D810 slipped into obsolescence. The Nikon D850 was released on Thursday, and by Friday, the internet was littered with unboxing videos, and in depth reviews of Nikon’s newest gem.  The 850 has 45 megapixels, 8K hi-res time lapse, and a host of other goodies, but I’ll pass. To be sure, the 850 has a host of ergonomic improvements, and features that facilitate the picture making progress, but while things like back-illuminated buttons would be appreciated, their not worth the cost of admission.  Taking the high road doesn’t come easy, but at $3200 USD, it’s a lot easier decision to make.   For now, I’ll keep on going with my D810 and concentrate on the craft more so than the technology, and happily so.

Today’s picture comes from a sunrise in New Mexico, shot during a 2 week back packing excursion I did with my son last summer.  More about that later.  It was taken with a Nikon J5, not my D810.  When your backpacking, you go light and the 14 ounce J5 wins out over the 3 pound D810.

Until next time…all the best!!!