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

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!!

Years and Years

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Hi everyone.  It’s great to see you again.  I thought I would post something in line with the New Year starting today, and I came across this picture which I took on a hike a few months ago.  It was just before sunset, and even though we were underneath some heavy tree cover, the golden light of the sun managed to sneak through and illuminate this felled tree edge on.  It was perfect for seeing all the rings representing the many years it had been growing.  Obviously, the limb was deliberately cut.  I see this often when hiking a few days after a big storm.  This guy probably came out on the loosing end of a heavy wind gust, and came down across the trail.  The park ranger must have cut it up, and left it to the elements.  I’m sure there will be mushrooms all over it next spring.  I tried to count the rings, but found I will need an upgrade on my eyeglass prescription before that happens.  It’s somewhere around 20 or so, I think.  Not exactly a General Sherman Redwood, but no less important in my book.  It had seen a few New Years come and go, sort of like all of us.

For 2016, I want to concentrate on making the work I do count for something.  I want to balance my time properly so work, and leisure activity, each get their fair, and necessary share, of my efforts.  If you like, you can join me in one of my “First 100 Day Plans”.  This year, that is April 9th, because of leap year.  I’ve formulated a few tasks I would like to complete by the 100th day of the year.  Here we go:

  1. Stop drinking Soda…Forever this time
  2. Lose 20 pounds…that’s less than 2 pounds a week
  3. Establish a routine where I hike/photoexplore (my own word) a least 3 times every 2 weeks.
  4. Take this blog to the next level, with more posts and tutorials
  5. Finish reading the Harry Potter series…I’m stuck on Goblet of Fire, and I refuse to watch the movies until I’m done!!

To be fair, I make a separate list for work, but I’m sure you could care less about that, so I’ll leave it out.  What do you say?  April 9th?  Make you own list, and get cracking.  Whatever you choose to do, or not do, have a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year, and I’ll see you back here soon!

Early Morning Clouds

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Ahh… back to nature.  After a brief trip to New York with my last post, its back to familiar territory for me.  The truth is I love shooting cityscapes, but I just don’t get to the city enough to do it, and when I am there, my family really isn’t concerned with what time golden hour is.  So as a result, I don’t get much chance to shoot the way I would want to when I’m in that type of environment.  I do have a few more shots from New York to share with you, but for now, it’s back to a more natural setting.  This shot was taken along the banks of the Susquehanna River in Northern Pennsylvania.  I was on a canoe trip down the river, and we were camping overnight along it’s banks.  Sunrise brought a beautiful shade of blue and orange to the sky, and I couldn’t resist getting a shot.  I didn’t have a tripod because we were traveling light, but I managed to get a decent hand held shot anyway.  It was a beautiful weekend, and over the course of our journey, I saw my first Bald Eagle in the wild.  Unfortunately, I have no photos of them to share as I was actively paddling when I saw them, but it was still an amazing site to see.

Today was my first day off since the holiday, and I’m completely messed up on what day it is.  I do know that while there has been some mild and sunny weather around lately, I ‘ve mostly seen it driving to work.  Today, on my day off, it rained.  I know, as a photographer that’s no excuse.  I should have been out there anyway, but it was REALLY raining, so I took a pass.  I guess sometimes even a photographer needs a day off.  Anyway, I wish you all the best and I’ll see you soon.

Two Speeders

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While this may look like a shot from just last week, since there are no leaves on the trees and it’s looking pretty Fall-ish, I actually shot this last Spring.  It was one of the first nice days outside, and it was finally starting to warm up, so we went for a quick hike through a local park.  The late afternoon sun made for some great light, and the Geese were new arrivals after returning from their defection to the warmer South for the winter.  Actually, they caught me by surprise.  I heard them coming, it wasn’t hard with all the honking,  but they were moving really fast across the water. I only had a split second to snap a picture before they were out of frame again.  I never even brought the camera up to my eye, I just shot from the hip all Western gunslinger style.  I was with a few people and they were quite impressed.   Of course, I’d be lying if I said the image didn’t need a little straightening in Lightroom.  I still can’t believe how fast those geese were moving.  I would have loved to try a panning shot and give a sense of their speed, but there was no time to set up for that.  I think it must be cool to speed across a lake just inches above the water like that.  That’s the way I’d fly if I was a goose.  Have a great weekend everyone.  I know Call of Duty is coming out today, but get out there and take some pictures!!!

Fall Colors, A No Brainer!!

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Wow! The last few weeks here in the Northeast have brought color to a whole new level.  The leaves are all changing, and whatever it is that determines how bright and how varied the colors get, well it happened, and the trees are “on fire”.  Shooting in the fall is a no brainer.  Everywhere you look there are gorgeous pictures waiting to be taken.  It’s like a last gasp of nature before winter replaces all that color with the whites and greys we are so accustomed to here in the north.  There’s plenty of beauty in that as well, you just have to look a bit harder.  For this picture I had just finished some yard work, and the golden hour was in full swing.  So I put the lawn mower away, and went for a walk.   It couldn’t have been more perfect. I really liked how the low angle of the sun was causing the leaves to cast their own shadows on the tree behind them.  It’s funny how I had been planning to take a big hike to get some fall shots;  you know, pack a lunch, put on the Merrells, grab the backpack and such.  Then one of my favorite shots of the season was taken literally along the road in front of my own house. Who knew!!!

I hope your liking the blog so far.  I’m still trying to figure out a few things with the set up and choices.  It’s kind of like moving into a new house and you move the furniture around a bit to see how you like it best.  You can definitely consider this a site under construction, so don’t be surprised if you see some changes.  I hope to mix in some technical content from time to time too.  Let me know what you think.  More to come for sure, see Ya later!!