Panning with moving objects to convey a sense of speed and motion. I need to do more of this, although people can be weird about a guy standing on a street corner with a camera. Maybe now that I’m older they’ll just think I’m eccentric but harmless. 😉
Kathy & I recently attended a travel show in Charlotte, hoping to get some ideas for places we’d like to go. As is inevitable at these events, someone along the line asked the question, “so what’s on your Bucket List? It’s a common question, and has gotten to be a bit cliché, but for the most part is simply used as a conversation starter. I don’t take offense at the question, but do tend to bristle a bit whenever I hear it. Let me explain.
One of the most valuable lessons that I have learned from my photography is that we can’t go everywhere or do everything – we can only do so much. We’re never going to see everything there is to see. There is always a “better” sunrise or sunset happening somewhere else. And traveling to exotic destinations does not guaranty good photographs. Not that there aren’t a lot of good reasons to travel to beautiful locations. My approach has become to travel to places I am interested in, take my camera and make photographs wherever I happen to be. Traveling to a place specifically to take photographs, more often than not, results in looking for preconceived or iconic photos, at the expense of seeing things through my unique eyes and vision.
One of my favorite ways to travel is to rough out a route, then look to see what else there is to do along the way. When I get to a T in the road, it is not unusual for me to go left when my directions tell me to go right. I’ve found a lot of interesting things – and interesting photographs – by going the “wrong” way. It’s nothing for us to be driving down a country road, see a sign for something or other and say, “let’s check it out.” We do and it is often a worthwhile diversion.
I try to avoid falling into what I have heard referred to as “get-there-itis.” That’s what happens when we are so focused on the route or the destination that we don’t take time to enjoy the journey. If we never stray from the highway, we never see that fish processing plant at the end of the dead-end road or stop at a waterfall that isn’t on the map. And that’s why I don’t like the idea of a Bucket List in the way I suspect a lot of people look at it. The problem becomes when we look too far ahead or focus too much on the list itself to the exclusion of other choices. We also run the danger of over-planning, and don’t leave time for serendipity.
There are obviously unlimited ways to consider a bucket list, and that obviously makes a difference when it comes to what it means. If we think of it as a list of places we’d like to consider going, but use it more as a guide in case we lose our memory before the money runs out, then yeah, that is probably OK. But taken to the extreme, if it becomes an “ohmygawdIjusthavetodoallthesethingsbeforeIdieormylifewillbeafailure” list, then it becomes – in my opinion – little more than a list of potential disappointments, for those things we don’t get to do, or because of things we pass by because we are too determined to cross off one more thing.
There are obviously a lot of places I would like to go and things that I would like to do. I even have a list! But there really isn’t anyplace I feel like I need to get to in order to be satisfied. I’ve wanted to go to Colorado since I was a kid, and finally got there last year. I’d probably love Hawaii, but as Kathy & I were reminiscing about our recent visit to Nevis – admittedly a “Bucket List-worthy” destination in its own right – we wondered just how much “better” Hawaii might be? Different, certainly. It’s hard to say, and we might get to find out someday. I’d like to go to several places in Europe, but if I don’t get there that will be OK.
Our son Kevin leaves today for a week in Peru, and I am quite envious. Is Peru on my “Bucket List?” No, but when he talks about the things he is going to do there, it sounds like a place I’d like to go. Somehow I had just never considered it. Will I add it to my list? Quite possibly. But more likely I will channel my thoughts to answer the question of “so, what is MY Peru?” What place would I love to go that I haven’t thought of? I’m not sure, and when I find it I hope there is a flight or a ship to take me there!
I find that I can be perfectly happy making the best of anywhere I am. Whether that is Waynesville or Belhaven, North Carolina, Key West or Fort Collins, those places are special to me also. Many of my best memories and favorite photographs are from places that wouldn’t be on too many Bucket Lists. But I get the most satisfaction from experiences and not from places. And I think my photographs reflect that, too.
I recently had reason to go back through my files for a project I am working on to free up some storage space on my hard drives. A (very) few may find that subject interesting, so I’ll try to include that in a future post, once the idea is more thoroughly developed. In the meantime, I excavated some long-forgotten photos in my Lightroom catalog, dating back to my very first digitally-originated photos from my Canon G5, which I acquired in late 2004.
The G5 was the camera that convinced me to make the move from film to digital. Even though it was a measly 5 megapixel point & shoot, the fact that I could get some pretty darned nice photos from it without having to scan film was the clincher. I was shooting medium format film at the time, and while I loved the images and the overall aesthetic of MF, being able to skip the scanning step was incredibly freeing. Of course we now spend that time in Lightroom or Photoshop, but we didn’t realize that at the time!
I’ll try to post photos from subsequent years as I go, but for now this is a blast from my (photo) past. Nothing extraordinary, but a whole lot of fun!
I mentioned in an earlier post about how I struggle between color photos and black & white photos. While the black & white versions are OK, I tend to see and feel in color so the color versions of my photos often win out over the black & white versions. Here are some sets of images from that same post, along with their counterparts. I’d love to hear some feedback on the pros and cons. I know that ultimately my photos need to reflect my voice, but I also know that I have lived a pretty sheltered existence when it comes to my experience with black & white photography.
As a rule I generally consider New Year’s “resolutions” per se to be a bunch of b.s. They mostly just give people something to talk about and to post on Facebook, and unfortunately are quickly forgotten. But I do think there is a lot of value to periodically evaluating our goals to determine if we are spending our time, money and energy toward things that truly allow us to meet those goals, or if the current of peer pressure and advertising has steered us off course. On a long journey, mid-course corrections are always necessary.
My friend John frequently talks about our “currency.” The idea is that in addition to money, and perhaps more so, we spend time and energy on everything we do. That is our currency, and we only have so much of each. Often we trade one form of currency for another, such as buying prepared food instead of cooking our own, or having someone mow our lawn or clean our house instead of doing it ourselves. I enjoy washing my car, but I seldom do it myself, because (a) that makes it rain 😉 , and (b) having a clean car isn’t that important to me so I’d rather spend my currency on things that give me more pleasure.
The best example of currency is how we trade a large amount of our time and energy to our employers in exchange for the money we need to do everything else we do. As our lives and careers progress, the relative value of all our currency changes. Early on we are anxious to accumulate as much money and as many things as we can, and are willing to trade a large amount of time and energy to obtain it. Later on we find that raising kids, buying houses and saving for college uses more of all of our resources – time, money and energy. Ultimately, we start looking forward to (hopefully) having enough money that we can find something else to do with our time so that, even if it does pay in money, it pays in something more. Like personal satisfaction or fulfillment.
So that’s a way-too-long way of saying that, while I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, I do often take the time to reflect on all aspects of my life to make sure that the way I spend my currency is allowing me to most effectively meet the goals that are most meaningful to me. And since this is a photography blog and not a philosophy blog (for now!), let’s wrap up by talking about photography.
When it comes to photography, my two primary themes are that (1) I love to photograph things to capture my view of the world, and (2) I love to share that view of the world with people to enjoy and appreciate it. Mostly I accomplish that through my blog, although I do happily accept money, and have a number of ways for people to purchase my work.
So in reflecting on where I am today and where I want to be tomorrow, I’ve some up with a list of things that I want to concentrate on this coming year. Essentially those come down to three things. First, I want to get better at taking my camera with me more. I wrote a few weeks ago how I tended to talk myself out of taking my camera with me, so that is something I had already identified and had started working on. Second, I intend to post more frequently on my blog. It may be just a picture or two with few words, but more frequent sharing often results in a more open dialog with those who take the time to read and comment. That means a lot to me and I would like to encourage more of that exchange. Third, I intend to do a better job of keeping my website up to date with my best and most recent photographs. I don’t do photography to pay the mortgage, but I do manage the business side of things in a professional way, and keeping up the website is the most public way to do that.
So there you go. Yesterday morning I had to go into town for a haircut. I decided to take my camera with me, got there about 20 minutes early and spent those minutes taking the long way from my parking spot to the barbershop. That also accomplished the goal of walking more, so I got two for the price of one on that currency!
When I started going back through my photos from 2006, my first thought was “gee, this isn’t going to be as interesting as 2005.” Not so, I think. We maybe didn’t travel to Alaska, but we still managed to haul ourselves to some pretty interesting places!
It was in 2006 that I sold my Mamiya 7 film camera and bought the 5D. A lot of these photos were taken with the 20D, and a few of them were taken with my Powershot G5! I need to dig that camera out of the closet and play around with it. It was a pretty nice camera and would a bit “retro” to be carrying around now! A 12 year old digital camera is pretty Old School, just like me. 😉
One of the things that I had forgotten about with the 5D was the fact that that big old sensor tended to attract a lot of dust. And since I was typically shooting landscapes on a tripod I tended to use pretty small apertures. I didn’t know what a self-cleaning sensor would be like just a few years later, but these photos have and had a lot of cloning done. Thank goodness for the dust removal tool in Lightroom!
This is another case where the newer process version in Lightroom really brings out the goodness in some of these old photos. I’m working on a before & after post to show some examples, but between the differences in the software and my own changing personal taste (me, taste?) there is quite a difference in some of these.
On to 2007…stay tuned!
I was talking recently with a friend about some upcoming concerts here in Charlotte and what our interest was in attending them. Kathy and I love to see and hear live music, but find the cost of the tickets – especially for decent seats – and the crowds to be huge turn offs, so with rare exception we usually pass.
One of the recent announcements is for a jazz series, with several artists that I would like to see. Also just announced is a concert by Billy Joel. That would also be a great show, but based on prior events by big-name performers, chances are good that the cost of seats will be in excess of $100, but I’m just guessing. This runs counter to most people I know (shocker!) but I would be more likely to spend $100 (or $200 for both of us) on a nice dinner and/or a bottle of wine than on a concert, regardless of the performer. And I don’t part with that kind of money easily, so you get the gist.
At some point during the conversation it occurred to me that, for the most part, popular performers are those whose music has words. More often than not my preference is for music that doesn’t have words. And then I wondered how that translates to other parts of my life. For example, I tend to take photographs of scenes without people, but a large percentage of all the photographs taken on a given day – at least those not of food or cats – are photographs of people. I tend to seek peace and quiet, while a lot of people seem to like noise and drama. Different strokes, as they say.
This is not to suggest that music without words means that it has negative space. In most cases that is far from the truth. But I find that the introduction of words to music can be like people in a photograph. More often than not I prefer to leave them out.
The whole idea of negative space comes about when I think about my photographs. A lot of people are afraid of negative space, just like they are afraid of silence. But my favorite photographs are often those that have large areas of negative space. Not negative space in terms of “nothing,” but negative space in terms of sky or water or a solid color. Negative space, like silence, tends to make some people uncomfortable. I find it soothing and feel that it often adds balance. Not always, but often and under the right circumstances.
So what about those concerts? It’s too soon to tell but my guess is that we’ll opt for a few of the jazz concerts and skip the others. But who knows? We might decide that it is worth the money to see a big name like Billy Joel.
About a week ago on Cedric’s Blog a few of us were commenting about how we enjoy taking pictures of people taking pictures. I had been collecting photos of that topic for a while now, but hadn’t really posted any of them as a collection. So here are a few that I was able to dig out of the archives to get the ball rolling on this.
Generally when I am in the process of taking a photograph, I have a basic idea what it is going to look like when I am finished processing it. When I’m sitting at the computer working on an image, it just sort of “develops itself.” Most of the time the direction I need to go with an becomes pretty clear to me. I open up an image in Lightroom, work on it a bit, and after a few basic tweaks it is pretty much done. Unless I’m going to make a print, there isn’t a whole lot more I do.
This particular photograph has me a little perplexed. I processed it exactly how I expected to. It’s a little more processed than usual, but there’s quite a lot of dynamic range going on here. But for some reason, I just can’t seem to get comfortable with it. There’s nothing really “wrong” with it, in fact a lot of people would probably wish that they had taken it themselves. But for some reason I am struggling with it.
It’s a typical Cowee Mountains Overlook sunset. It’s got a nice sky, detail in the foreground, and there’s a lot going on. Too much, I think. It is a very “busy” image, as opposed to a lot of my photographs that are a bit more simplified. I’ve definitely processed it a lot more than I usually process an image. Maybe that’s it, I’m not sure.
I think the thing that I keep coming back to is that it doesn’t seem like it’s mine. It’s the sort of landscape photograph that I’ve taken for years, but I just can’t seem to connect with this one. No, I didn’t switch memory cards with someone by mistake, but it’s just such a departure from the type of photography I’ve been doing recently that I may just have to spend some time with it to figure it out. In the mean time, it just doesn’t feel like my style, and I find that interesting.
I’ve written lately about how I feel like I am in a bit of a slump, photographically. Many readers have made comments along the lines of “gee, I’d love to have a slump like that.” But I’ve recently come to realize what I mean by what I’ve written. What I’ve pretty much decided is that doing the kind of photography I like to do requires an investment of time, energy and dedication that, for a number of reasons, I just haven’t been committing to this year. And this applies not just to the shooting, but to the processing and printing parts of the process as well.
As much as I’d like to think I can, I can’t just show up at a place and take meaningful photographs. I can take photographs for sure, and many of them may be good technically. But to create photographs with meaning requires more time. I need to get to a place, get my mind and my heart tuned in to what is happening, and sometimes just sit for a while until I start hearing the voices. “Being open to the gifts” is what my friend Les Saucier likes to say. I can’t just pull the magic out of my camera bag, toss it out there and expect to take meaningful photographs.
Mostly what this requires is an investment of time. Time partly to allow things to happen, but also time to get to a place in plenty of time for whatever is happening. Sunsets are a good example. I can’t just show up at a spot 10 minutes before sunset, pull out the camera and start taking amazing photos. Sometimes the best photos come well before the actual setting of the sun, sometimes as much as an hour before, such as when the sun is moving behind a low-lying layer of clouds and casting sunbeams, or highlighting ridgelines as they recede into the distance. Often by the time the sun sets all the magic is gone. Occasionally, the magic is just beginning at sunset, as the real color begins to appear after the sun has gone below the horizon. But I need time to “tune in,” to see what is happening, and to figure out what to shoot and how to shoot it.
The other way that my photography requires an investment of time is in having plenty of time to enjoy myself. Kathy & I enjoy good meals at nice restaurants, both at home and when we travel. That generally doesn’t involve sitting at an overlook with cold chicken and potato salad. Sometimes it does, but not usually. So in order to do a little bit of both, it’s often necessary to have more than just 24 hours in a place in order to really do it justice and to find that balance between sunset on the Parkway and dinner in Waynesville (or wherever). One of the ways that this year has differed from previous years is that we have been taking more 2-day weekends and fewer 3 or 4-day weekends. This results in less time in a specific place, and I find that this takes time away from everything. I don’t like to feel like the clock is ticking while I am photographing. And the smaller window of opportunity that is dictated by a shorter weekend makes that clock tick like a parade of Harleys going by! With less time, success is more dependent on luck than creativity, and I don’t work so well when I am depending on luck.
So what does this all mean? Well, it means several things. First and foremost, I think it means that I need to do a better job of managing my time so that I have the freedom and flexibility I need to do the kind of photographic work I find most inspiring while also finding time to do the other things I love. Photography and fine dining aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Some times of the year they are, so I’ll need to work that out. Sometimes it will mean a nice but late dinner, and sometimes it will mean cold chicken on the Parkway. The other thing it means is possibly traveling less frequently but for longer periods of time. And perhaps staying longer in one place instead of trying to see multiple locations and moving around constantly. I generally shy away from what I refer to as the photographic “death march” and don’t do a lot of good photography while I’m driving down the road. Give me a place to sit and chill for a while and I’m more likely to get inspired.
I’ve done some good work this past year and hope to do some more before it’s done. This year has been a little weird for a lot of reasons, and I’m looking forward to settling back into my usual routine next year. We’ll see where that leads, but I’m hoping it will lead to more fulfilling photography for me, and less of my whining about it to Kathy!