October is a wonderful month in so many ways. Cooler temperatures, changing scenery, more exciting landscapes top my list. But it is also a month for new and exciting technology. Many photography companies, whether hardware or software producers, release new products and new updates to existing products. This month has been ridiculously full of pent-up demand for new stuff and the manufacturers did not disappoint.
This article won’t review all of that. Many blog and vlog posts have already done so. Instead, I want to talk about one feature nobody seems to have really highlighted. Last week, Adobe released the latest versions of Photoshop and Lightroom, to much fanfare and focus on its superb and enhanced capabilities. The new masking tools are phenomenal. You can also do more and more with automation and “neural filters”, and even drop in assets and have them automatically be absorbed and “harmonized” into the scene you are creating. But there is even more for you to know.
I really enjoy image critiques – no seriously, I do. I always appreciate an independent point of view, even if it is wrong. Ok, ok, but seriously again, I’m not talking about the criticism of a judge in a competition. I’m talking about the guidance from someone with experience in the same genre, who has discovered their own voice, and has the ability to see basic flaws in the work of someone who has not yet made that discovery.
I had that experience recently, attending yet another photography conference, where participants were asked to submit images for comment. The person who offered the critiques is someone I know and admire and who, in my view, has the infinite right to offer “coaching” to those less fortunate.
Although we all submitted images, only a few were selected for review and sadly, mine was not one of them. I had to live vicariously through others. But even that can be a good thing. Here’s why.
Sorry for the delay in posting this. A bit of rebranding for the website led to a new email arrangement which, despite all attempts to anticipate issues, went into the dumper on the day of launch (Feb 1). All is now fixed, but this article is late because of it.
It’s an interesting time for camera manufacturers and an even more interesting time for camera consumers. Simultaneously, on the same day, I read of Canon’s banner year, the problems every manufacturer has delivering product to market, the overall world decline in camera sales and Nikon’s gripping financial loss. The next day, Sony released a powerhouse camera with specs to entice any gear nerd.
But there is a most interesting irony in all of this: the as noted move away by consumers from conventional cameras, while at the same time the global glut of posted images that demand to be shared. It’s a bit frustrating, really, reflecting a society more focused (pardon the pun) on convenience, instant gratification, social networks and recordings of their personal experiences rather than on art, culture, creativity and expression.
Some of those posted experiences leave a lot to be desired. I must say that I don’t care to know what someone had for breakfast or how far they jogged that morning or whether they can balance their dog on their head. But, I must admit that even I enjoy getting photos of my young great nephews, smiling and laughing, occasionally while covered in food.
So social experiences definitely have their place. Some might even argue that they present a more creative outlet for everyone, not a less creative outlet. Coming up with an idea that makes us laugh at these most trying times does deserve applause. And especially when those experiences have to fit on a phone screen or be contained within 30 seconds of view time.
But artfulness is not art, craftiness is not craft. I still need my fix of both. And that is harder and harder to experience, I’m finding – not because of the pandemic.
Every generation of photographer has faced the same issues. Changes in technology lead to changes in what society finds appealing (although it’s a bit of a chicken and egg discussion about which comes first). The very fact that an image could be captured (after minutes or even hours of exposure) was the first great appeal of photography in the 1800’s. Then only the very rich could afford to do those captures, and the images memoralized either family generations or big industrial or political accomplishments.
“Instant” cameras and disposable cameras brought the same capability to the average consumer in the 1960’s and that was where I first discovered photography. I remember the square plastic boxes, with round plastic lenses and the flash “cubes” that attached to the top, fired once and were discarded. Then the big advance of 4 shots per cube. It was amazing. My family couldn’t afford film, so we have little to no such instant memories, so only when I got my first job and had my own money could I spend just a bit on this new “fad”.
It was incredible when I actually bought my first real interchangeable lens camera, a Yashica Tl Electro in the early 1970’s. I couldn’t really afford it, but I didn’t care. I wanted it, and going into debt was ok with me. My first taste of instant gratification and of compound interest! I only had one lens for it for a couple more years, but that was ok too.
Then, career and other demands took over and being immersed in photography was not really an option. Like everyone else, I took pictures on vacation and for special events. I always said I would get back to it and learn the “art” of photography, but never did, until I retired. I still have that camera, and it still works, although I don’t use it now.
It’s now been 6-1/2 years since retirement came calling. I’ve immersed myself in all things photography for that whole time, including two full years at school. It’s been glorious. And yet, I honestly can’t yet say that I am an artist. I love the technical challenge of taking a good picture, but so easily miss the best angles and perspectives and stories. I watch the true artists around me not worry about their gear (beyond the basics) and create magic with a unique view or dash of colour. That’s what I want, that’s what I need. Not the instant gratification of 500 likes.
But I honestly have no idea how to proceed. So I’ve been procrastinating more than I would like. Ideas for projects scribbled on paper but not planned or executed. Bits and bites of tabletop scenes loosely stowed in the spare room, waiting for ?
I don’t seem to be alone in this. Numerous admired photographers lament the fact that they are stifled right now, even when they have good ideas to pursue. Some of it is just opportunity – “stay at home” doesn’t provide much of that. But there’s a mind shift at work too. I’m worried that we won’t recover when the authorities finally say we can.
One idea is to try a new form of art for a while and see if that kickstarts the other. For the next few months, I’m going to try learning to play piano. And to get out my drawing pencils from school. Perhaps the emotional beauty of a piece (assuming I don’t butcher it completely) or finding just the right shading on a pencil sketch will bring back the brain cells that are stifled. Who knows. But I have noticed that the best photographers (those who make art, not pictures) are also artists in many other ways ranging from painting to the preparation of food. So let’s give it a try. I’ve always said I love learning something new. It’s time to put money where my mouth is. Come on brain, show me what you got!
Happy, happy New Year. I sincerely hope that wherever you are, you will have a safe, happy, glorious New Year. I think we all deserve it. My part of the world went into lockdown again a few weeks ago, and I’ve taken it perhaps more seriously this time, by not venturing out at all since its declaration, except to pick up something curbside that was ordered well before lockdown.
So that means a lot of time on my hands, right? Would that it were so. I’ve set myself a number of goals, and am moving forward on each one, perhaps more slowly than expected but moving. One of those goals was to make some artistic direction decisions about my photography. More on that in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I’ve also immersed myself in ideas that might set me in a new direction. This post is about one of those – rules in photography. Continue reading “If It Ain’t Broke, Maybe It Shouldn’t Be”→
Well ain’t this grand. I logged into my WordPress account today to begin to write my next post and found a completely new editor. I was warned that it was coming, but I ignored it. Far from being “easy” and “versatile” and “quick”, it requires that I select “blocks” of content types, arrange them on a page, fill in the content of each block and test the layout for views on computers, tablets and phones. I’ve never been good with puzzle pieces, and I won’t use more than half of the block types available, so the change was a less than stellar one for me.
I didn’t intend this to be the topic of my post, but somehow it is fitting. Being forced to change my paradigm is a good thing right now. Everybody needs a restart or a refresh from time to time. But my first reaction was admittedly “WTF”. I’ve had more of those moments this week too.
Ok, so the initial shock has worn off and I’m now getting used to selecting and dropping in content blocks. Even images drop in seamlessly. But I have to change the way I think about my post. I typically write the text, then drop in content. Not any more. Content placement first, then writing the text. Getting there. But on to something more important.
We tried a new concept in our local camera club this year: small special interest groups that would do a deep dive into one subject. The group would decide how, what, where, when and why, and also for how long. One of the groups I joined is looking at Fine Art, in all its forms, as a key to improving our own photography.
But first we had to decide what the heck is “fine art”? We’ve had several animated discussions in the past few months, even a field trip to our local art gallery. In the past, I’ve written about photography as art and thought that experience would help, but no. For all the “deep diving” on this subject, I’m not really much further ahead. Why is this so hard? Continue reading “On the Hunt for Fine Art”→
Lots of articles are written about gear, editing software, and training for both. Lots more are written about composition – rules and tips. Lighting, time of day, angle, selecting the subject – all of these receive wide commentary from writers, vloggers and trainers alike.
I can shoot an image, I can even stage a scene. But more often than I would like, I completely blank out when I bring the raw image onto the computer. I ask myself – now what? What’s the final look I want to achieve with this image? How should I present it?
To those photographers who always know what the result will be, even before they shoot, I applaud you. I’ve listened to photographers speak of their work in exquisite detail, outlining every capture and adjustment decision and why they made it. I envy them.
I have friends who deliberately do minimal edits. I have others who retouch to the point of the original piece serving only as a framework for a piece of art. Frankly, I rarely like either extreme. So I guess I’ve made my first decision – establishing a boundary around my edits.
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. Continue reading “Photographers I Admire”→
It seems there is a long-standing debate around photographing other people’s work. It’s a simple debate: what exactly is the photographer creating if the photograph includes an object or structure that has been created by someone else?
This debate arises mostly in relation to works that exist in public spaces. The originating works may already be labelled “works of art” or may be labelled “architecture”, “edifice”, “structures”, “building”, “hardscape”, “figure”, “carving”, “casting” or any of many names that don’t necessarily assign an aesthetic value.
And yet all of it was imagined by someone, designed by someone, built by someone and placed on display. Even if the work has another function, such as a building, there was a creative effort expended to provide that space. If a photographer takes an image of it, presents it as their own creation and maybe makes a profit from it, is that right? Disclaimer: this is not a legal review. Continue reading “Photographing the Work of Others”→
The options for manipulating an image after capture are endless today. Creative edits can include composites, the addition of graphic elements, and the use of finishing treatments such as texture overlays, painterly conversions, grunge and high dynamic range (HDR) effects. These are just a few possibilities.
But as recently as 1935, the only manipulation available to a photographer was around how much highlight and shadow to reveal in the print and where (a.k.a. dodging and burning). All film was black and white. The most creative photographers played with different development processes and printing surfaces, but these were all still monochrome results. Others tried coloured filters at image capture, or layered emulsions that could produce different colours, but this made the capture and processing much more complex and the results were often poor.
In 1935, Eastman Kodak Company introduced Kodachrome and changed the world forever. Despite this, colour photography did not become widespread, at least not in the consumer market, until the 1960’s. So colour image capture has really been in broad use for just 50 years.
Today, all digital cameras capture colour data by default. Black and white conversion is available both in-camera and through post-processing. The irony is that the same debates about colour vs. black and white that drove the creation of Kodachrome still exist today. Here’s my take on the creative debate. Continue reading “Black and White or Colour?”→