To be a good photographer is to be a lifelong student of the craft. There is no such thing as a photographer that knows it all. Even if you are the most technically proficient expert around, the art of photography is something that needs attention for as long as you shoot.
I’ve noticed an evolution of my abilities and interests over the 4 years since I took to this seriously. I’m not bragging. Far from it. Some things have become second nature while others send me down a rabbit hole of discovery, wrong turns and sometimes an “ah-ha” moment. But the most mind-intensive introspection, for me, occurs when I’m examining the work of other photographers. I’ve come to realize that this is a good thing, even if it leaves me with more questions than answers.
Do I like the work? Why? Why is the shot framed that way? Why was that subject chosen? What’s the message? What’s the emotion? Is there anything interesting about the angle of capture? Do the elements in the photograph complement or compete with each other? And yes, does it meet a technical standard that defines it as the work of an experienced artist? Lastly, how was the shot finished and presented? Does it grab my attention or turn me away?
Eventually, you begin to lean toward the work of specific photographers, because their work speaks to you in a certain way. I do have a list. I’m sure you have your own list. I’d love to hear who inspires you.
My list isn’t the big names, often labelled the “most influential” photographers of all time. Lots of articles have been written about them. They should definitely be studied, particularly when a new artist is trying to find a niche, establish a style or try a new technique. Even seasoned photographers should take the time to “refresh” their senses by taking a leisurely walk through history. I do, regularly.
Here’s one example:
My list isn’t a list of “good” photographers. I don’t want to offend anyone by not including a name, especially if I’m honoured to know them. Instead, mine is a list of photographers whose style and interpretation say something specific to me. In a way, you’ll learn more about me than about them by reading on. That’s ok. So, here we go.
An entire category of photography that inspires me is architecture presented as fine art. Here, already beautiful examples of human creativity are further transformed typically into skillful plays of shadow and light. Two of the pioneers in this area are Joel Tjintjelaar and Julia Anna Gospodarou.
Joel has developed techniques for long exposure capture, selective gradient masking and luminosity masking in fine art architecture. His images are amazing. He used to spend a week or more editing a single photograph – now he uses Photoshop-based tools that he personally has developed to cut down on the mechanics and concentrate on the art. His website is BWVISION.COM.
Julia Anna speaks and writes about first identifying a vision for the final image before ever picking up the camera. She is also an architect, so has great insight into the lines, shapes and shadows that form a structure.
Both Joel and Julia Anna examine and adjust almost every tonal value in the image to achieve the perfect result. Their work isn’t the typical tourist shot of the world’s manmade wonders. Instead, they use those wonders as backdrops for their artistic vision and it works just “wonderfully”. Each image stops me and I just stare.
Next is Don Komarechka, a local lad who has made a name for his amazing macro photography. Often shooting in his backyard or on his kitchen table, he creates the most amazing views of the smallest treasures that exist right in front of us. Like Joel and Julia Anna, he spends hours setting up, capturing and preparing his images. His attention to detail is extraordinary. Do you sense a theme? Perhaps I admire the dedication to the outcome as much as the outcome itself.
Another artist who focuses on the natural world is Denise Ippolito, based in New Jersey. Although she photographs many different forms of nature, I’m most drawn to her macro botanical work, along with her fine art depictions of flora and fauna. She presents an already amazingly beautiful subject (the natural world) with an artist’s reverence and care. Many good photographers have come from other creative mediums and I understand why the blend is so successful.
For something completely different, but stunning in its impact, I turn to Edward Burtynsky, also based locally. Ed has made a worldwide name photographing the grand scale of human interference with the natural world, often depicting huge manmade structures as grotesque patterns that overlay the landscape. Each image skillfully combines the good and the bad, typically producing a resulting compelling (and often embarrassing) message. Like the others I’ve mentioned, the preparation for any of his photographs is lengthy and detailed. Maybe that’s the real definition of success.
There is inspiration everywhere, including at my local camera club. When you know the photographer and can ask them questions, experiencing their work is a whole different kind of amazing. In these last two examples, each artist has brought experiences from other careers into their art, one from the graphic design world, and the other, interestingly, from a highly technical discipline.
I said this post was more about me than the photographers I admire. I don’t want to offend any of my colleagues not featured here. You are all wonderful. But in terms of next steps for me, this is the work I need to follow.
First is Leif Petersen, who like me is retired from a technical career, but who has turned his passion for photography into a multi-faceted business, offering software workshops, printing and framing services, photography tours to Norway AND his own amazing work to view and purchase. Although he photographs more than landscapes, there is something about the finishing touches in Leif’s landscape work that particularly appeal to me. Colours complement and support each other. Nothing is overdone, but all landscapes pop – a very fine balance. I feel surrounded by each image, and able to experience it just as he did when he shot it. That’s exactly the effect I’m seeking to achieve.
Rounding out my list is Todd Murrison, who joined my local club this year and who has routinely placed at the top of any of our competitions. His artistic background is immediately evident in his photographic work. He seems to look at a scene and know immediately what to do with it – back to Julia Anna’s point about having a vision. The end results are stunning. The colours literally flow into one another, transporting the viewer from one beautiful element of the image to another.
So as you can see, it’s a bit of an eclectic mix. And yet, the common elements across all of my heroes are: vision, emotion, planning, attention to detail and the ability to bring it to the finish line. Over the next year, I look forward to taking even small steps toward the examples they have set for me. Wish me luck.