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!!!

Everything Old is New Again or Here We Go Again

Hi. Well it’s been quite a while. I’m sure you thought I’d given up on all this. Or, that perhaps I was hit by a bus or something. It’s complicated to explain but overall, the blog was not living up to expectations. Not only from a readership standpoint, but also in a self fulfillment sort of way. Like I said, it’s complicated.

Overall, when I started this blog, I had some preconceived notions of how it would work, how it would progress, and most importantly, what my message would be. I’m not sure that there needs to be a point to all blogs, but I wanted mine to have one, and I wasn’t happy with that end of things. That’s the main reason for the retreat on my posts. I needed a break, and I needed plan. For want of the former, and lack of the latter, everything just stopped. A creative meltdown.

I really can’t believe how time has slipped away. It has been over a year since my last post. I suppose if you are reading this, you are either the biggest fan I didn’t know I had, or more likely, you’re finding me for the first time. In either case, I’m glad your here.

Please don’t think that over the last year I have put down my camera. In fact, quite the opposite is true. I have made more time for my photography than ever before, and have worked on this amazing craft harder than I ever have. I have not only considered my approach in the field, but also my approach to post processing with the dreaded photoshop. I absolutely use post processing because I honestly believe that the camera is inferior to my eye in rendering what I see, and completely lacking in what I see in my mind’s eye. I believe, these artistic considerations, allow for some manipulation to achieve what I want to achieve with an image. That is, of course, every artist’s personal opinion, and now you have mine. As I’ve said, I have worked hard over the last year trying to improve my craft, and I hope you will see some growth as I continue to post.

I’ve also gotten a bit more realistic with time.  Every doctrine of Blog Success says you need to post and post often.  Honestly, I don’t know if I’ll ever get to that point.  This is after all, a hobby for me, and I have a day job.  Would I like to make money from my photography?  Sure.  Do I think I could achieve that by somehow creating a brand on line?  Maybe.  Will I try that sometime in the future?  Probably.  Will I quit my day job?  Not anytime soon.  I’m a starving artist trapped in a pragmatic, overly cautious body; guided by the ones and zeros of logic, always dreaming of life outside binary decision trees.  It’s a hell of a way to live.

Anyway, I’m glad your here, and I hope you find something worth returning for.  As I type this, I see a blog of great potential brewing.  Photography is, for me, such an amazing pursuit, and it fills in what would be otherwise dull, blank spaces in my life.  I hope to honor it at least a well as it serves me.   I choose, today, a picture of a path leading toward the rising sun.  Somewhat symbolic of the journey that is the resumption of this blog.  Where does it lead?  Let’s figure that out together.

All the best to you, and until next time….John

Cormorants Everywhere!!

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Howdy everyone!  I hope you all had a nice start to the work week.  Mondays can be so blah after the weekend.  Especially after a busy one. Sometimes you need a day off from the weekend!!  That was sort of where I was at when my alarm went off this morning.

Anyway,  I thought I would post a picture of some cormorants today.  These guys were enjoying a sunny rock a little downstream from the base of Niagara Falls.  They seemed to be just hanging out, and had no special concerns for the time being. Cormorants are the best fishers on the planet, and they really seemed to like this rock.  If I were fishing in this area, I’d probably take a lesson from these birds and throw my line in right by this rock.  You can see the power of the current as it flows past the rock.  At different times, one or more of them would spread their wings to dry out a bit.  I must have taken half a dozen pictures trying to get one doing this in a way that looked dramatic.  This is the best result of that effort.  This was one of those times that I wished I had my 300mm lens available to me, but it was in the hotel room.  I know…that was a great place for it now wasn’t it?  I hate when I get lazy with my gear and try to travel light instead.  The result is usually a frustrating situation like this.  Sometimes I’ll wish it was like Star Trek, and I could just “beam” back to my gear, and get the stuff I needed.  Of course, this type of thinking does me no good.  It’s at times like this that I’m glad I have 36 megapixels to work with.  I probably cropped 30 of them away to get this composition.  That means that aside from a 5 by 7, this image is at it’s fullest size.

Next time, and yes, there will be a next time, I will take all my gear.  These are majestic birds, and they deserve the full potential of what my 300mm lens can do. You live and you learn.  A good lesson not only for photography, but for just about anything else too.  It’s better to have it, and not need it, than need it, and not have it.  Take care and have a great week.

Times Square and a Little….Luck?

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Hi everyone.  I really have to apologize for my extended absence.  Things have been a little crazy with work, and on the home front.  I’ve been to fencing matches, dance studios, and nearly the ER, for a possible broken toe with my daughter.  It’s been a couple of wild days for sure.  I decided to go for another Times Square post today.  Times Square is one of those places that no matter how you point your camera, something amazing is in your field of view.  On this particular night, we had finished eating a little further uptown at Ellen DeGeneres’s restaurant where all the waiters and waitresses are Broadway musical hopefuls, hoping to be discovered.  Trust me, this place takes the singing waiter to an entirely new level as the wait staff perform songs from all the big shows on Broadway, while serving your food.  It is a super fun time, and the food is awesome as well.  Anyway,  we had eaten a late dinner, and were walking around Times Square checking out all the shopping venues.  Naturally, my daughter had some strong opinions there.  At one point, as we crossed the street going between these stores, I literally stopped, pointed the camera up the street, and grabbed this picture.  I can only imagine what the cabbie was thinking as I stood in front of his car to grab this shot while the “Don’t Walk” sign began to blink.   No prior planning was involved, and it turned out to be one of my favorite pictures of the whole weekend.

Photography, is funny like that.  Sometimes you spend 10 minutes standing with your camera trying to compose a picture, and never quite get the look you’re trying to achieve.  Then, other times, you stumble bass-ackwards into something that really stirs you and strikes a nerve. When it happens, you don’t know how to feel about it.  You’d like to take credit for a great photo, but you know it was the result of unseen variables that miraculously aligned for you.  Call it luck if you will.  I once had mentor who didn’t believe in luck.  He always said that you make your own luck, but I’m not so sure.  A point to ponder; I guess.  All the best.  See you soon and be well.

Dreamy Waterfall

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Well, it’s time for a little experimentation.  I have been fooling around with photoshop a little bit trying to create a “dreamscape” type of shot.  You might notice that some areas of this picture are kind of blurry, and some are in relatively crisp focus.  It’s an effect I’ve seen out there and I really like it.  Some would call it a painterly effect, but I don’t really think that’s what I’m going for.  I’m sure that if you asked 10 photographers how they achieve their unique effect, you’d get 11 different answers.  Mine involves Gaussian blur in one layer and a high pass filter effect for ultra crispness in another layer.  Then I used a layer mask to paint blurriness in.  I used a reduced flow brush to put more blur in some areas than others and believe me, lots and lots of use of the history tool to erase all kinds of mistakes.  Overall, I’m pretty ok with the end result, but I reserve the right to work a little more on the technique.  I’ve heard of photographers taking two different pictures to create this same effect.  Each picture set at a different aperture for a different depth of field, or two completely differently focused images.  This might be a great idea, however, I had no idea I was going to try that with this image when I took it; so I only had the one image to work with.  I’ve also heard of people using textures to achieve this effect.  Like I said, 10 photographers, 11 answers.  If you’ve ever tried this sort of thing let me know.  That is if you don’t mind sharing your secret sauce.

A quick note about this picture.  It is, of course, of a waterfall.  As I’ve said before, waterfalls are one of my favorite subjects.  I took this image at Rickets Glen State Park, which is a short drive from my home.  I’ve posted waterfall shots from this place before, and I have plenty more to share. There are a few dozen of them in the park.  It was late afternoon, and a really hot day.  Some friends of ours from the UK were with us, and we happily obliged them in a quick nature hike along a cool stream.  Later that evening, we roasted marshmallows and made them speak with American accents!!  It was awesome and hysterical!!!  Almost as funny as our British accents, that is!!

Cat Tails in Monochrome

DSC_1426-EditToday, I thought I would post a picture of some beautiful cat tails that I stumbled upon in the early spring last year.  The late afternoon sun was hitting them just right with a beautiful golden light.  I’m not sure what made me try to convert the image to black and white, but when I did…Wow did it pop!!  All the areas where the sun was hitting the reeds was suddenly in sharp contrast to the underbrush and surrounding trees.  If you’ve never heard of the term “happy accident” here might be a great example of one that really made my day.

I’ve read several books on black and white, aka Monochrome, and almost every one of them talks about “seeing” in black and white.  It’s a painful admission to make, but I must admit, I do not see in black and white.  I’ve read all that stuff about studying form, and recognizing contrast within a scene, and I guess it’s just one of those gifts that some people have, and others, like me, read about.  I often take a picture with the desire to convert it later, only to find when I do, that it simply doesn’t work.  Some, like the picture above, really take me by surprise.  I have long admired the work of Ansel Adams, he is a hero to me.  His calendar adorns a wall in my office every year.  His ability to use previsualization of a scene, and then to capture it using the zone system as an exposure guide, is a talent that borders on clairvoyance.   It is a skill I have chased for more years than I am willing to admit to.  I have not gotten there yet, but I will not give up the chase.  Even if it takes the rest of my life.  Of course, for me, this is a hobby, so in some ways that is a wonderful prospect to consider.

All the best,  and Happy Valentines Day!!

The Fence

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I’ve not showed this picture to anyone yet, and I’m slightly concerned that you might think it is a black and white shot; but it isn’t.  Honestly, this particular morning was one of the densest (most dense? ugh grammar) fogs I can remember.  The light was super soft, and with all this white around, it’s hard to differentiate the snow on the ground from the sky.  Everything melts into one sublime space. Gotta love it!!  Interrupting it however, is this broken stone wall fence and a tree.  The sensor in my camera just couldn’t handle this very well, and so I sent the snow to white, and the rest got underexposed to near silhouette.  This is the result, a fake black and white.

I drive past this scene everyday on my way to work, and literally for years I said I would take this very picture.  I can’t tell you how many times I’d driven past it in some spectacular light, or a weather condition that would make for an amazing picture, and I just kept driving to work.  I would shake my head and say, “Some day I’ll take that picture.”  There’s a certain complacency with photography around your own home.  After all, the tree wasn’t going anywhere, and after over 20 years of looking at this fallen down rock fence, I knew no one was planning on fixing it anytime soon.  That doesn’t mean you should take it for granted either.  I call these kinds of pictures “Some day shots”.  The ones you have filed away in your subconscious. Then one day, it all came together.  I was off, and this fog had settled in over everything, and I knew the rock fence was calling to me through the fog.  Ironically, the very road I drive on as I pass this tree would have been in the picture if not for the thickness of the fog!!  Anyway,  get out there today and take one of your “Some Day” shots.  Or, if your not into photography and you’ve stumbled onto my sight and are reading this…   First, welcome!  Second remember that everyone has a “Some Day” something.  Make that Some Day today!!  Good Luck!!  All the best!!!

Still Goin’

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Wow.  What happened to last week?  Have you ever been so busy that you just bounce around like the silver ball in a pinball machine, just doing what is in front of you, and barely taking a moment to look up from your work?  Then, when it’s all over, you wake up and realize you’ve briefly lost touch of who you are.  Just about everything had taken a back seat to your work for the past week or so, and the non- work you had somehow been suppressed out of existence.  Well that’s the week I just had.  I woke up this morning and remembered the non-work me.  The Dad, husband, photographer guy, and I had to wonder where the past week had gone.  Actually, I had a great weekend last week.  I spent it in a 100 year old cabin in the woods with a bunch of friends watching the snow fall at a furious pace.  At the height of the storm, I laced ’em up as they say, and went for a long walk.  Unfortunately, because of the week I just had, I still haven’t gotten the shots off my camera but I’ll share them with you as soon as I can.

Today’s picture is from the summer obviously, the tail end of what appears to be a pretty good season for these guys in the flower bed.  I was drawn to their grizzled look.  The bees had long since had their ways with these flowers, and had moved on to better prospects, and now they were left to be scorched by the late afternoon sun.  Well past their prime, they all seemed to still be hanging in there, with an admirable never say die kind of attitude. I kind of liked that, and thought it was worthy of a picture.

 

A Fond Remembrance

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Ah, remember when we were all wondering where winter was?  At least those of us in the North Eastern US anyway.  Our warm, and mostly dry fall, gave us a beautiful show with the leaves, and many gorgeous days for long walks to enjoy them.  But alas, those days have left us behind, and we are now in the throws of winter.  Our first major snow storm is about 24 hours away, and the crazed dash to the supermarket for milk, bread, eggs and toilet paper has begun.  In that light, I thought I would post a fall shot of some Creeper Vine doing what it does best on the side of a Birch tree.  This vine is a photographer’s best friend in the fall as it turns yellow and then red early in the season, and stays that way until long past Halloween.  I found a superb specimen on a walk this past October, and spent a little time trying to capture it in all it’s creeping glory.  A wide aperture allowed for a nice blurry background of yellow leaves and blue sky to compliment the reds.  It was a great day to be alive, and an even better one to be outside.  I’ll remember this particular afternoon when I am shoveling the show we are predicted to receive in the coming days.  The weather men have fired everyone up pretty good, and called for between 1 and 24 inches of snow.  It’s a pretty good bet they’ll be right.  It must be great to talk to you boss in terms of probabilities.  Anyway, have a great weekend whether you are expecting snow or not in your part of the world.  If you do get some of the white stuff this weekend, remember to lift with your knees, not your back as you shovel.  And of course, take some pictures!!!  All the best.