Is it photography?

I just hooked up with Zack Arias’ blog and was reading back posts when I came across this one:  Is it Photography?

The post is built around a comment he recieved from a previous comment he made.  Read the entire post – it is great.

But I’d like to borrow the text of the actual comment, because I loved what this guy said about why we do this, the growth process.  Zack gave his name as ChrisDavid42.

First, my opinion about art vs. commercialism:
Art has always existed at a cross-roads between commerce and human expression. Artists who wish to benefit from their art will always be subject to the aesthetic of those who are willing to commission, or pay, for that work. On the other side of the coin are the artists who reject all control in pursuit of a “pure unadulterated expression of their vision.” I recently read of a photographer from eastern Europe who was discovered in his sixties or seventies. He spent much of his life in poverty and two decades in a mental hospital. I don’t want to be that guy.

I believe a key element of art is the interaction between artist, medium, and subject. Though at times this may not be conveyed successfully to the viewer, an arguably necessary component of “successful” art, the joy of the creation of art, in my mind, is as important as the result.

Zack consistently pushes his listeners and readers to strive for excellence and individual vision in their work, and I agree. And, I have been encouraged by his message. However, I must respond to a couple comments, including the comment about getting a side job rather than producing mediocre work, or as in one of Zack’s repeated quotes “competing with Wal-mart.”

I also take issue with Zack’s comment that an image can be a photograph, but not photography. I agree completely with the sentiment that there is way too much mediocrity in the industry and in the media. I cringe at most of the photos our local paper runs, especially after years of reading Zack’s blog and Strobist and knowing that 5 more minutes of effort could have improved those pictures. And yet, that tolerance for mediocrity is the what will allow me to build a small portrait business and get the experience that you can’t get from blogs, or shooting your kids and neighbors, and pay for the equipment that I can’t pay for out of my household budget.

As a photographer, I find incredible joy from making images of people. I find joy from growing in my craft technically, or, to say it differently, interacting with my camera and equipment. I find great joy from interacting with people and creating a photo with them, not of them. My goal is to someday have the skill that allows my images to show the world “my experience” or “what I see in my subjects.” However, I am still producing mediocre images, because of where I am at technically in my photographic journey. But, my skills are improving, and I am seeing more and more improvement in my images.

I have recently had the opportunity to do two evenings of “event portraits.” Setting up in a corner at a community event and doing a hundred mini-portrait sessions over the course of two hours. The blogs and videos very much informed that experience, but having to shoot successfully under pressure is something that you can only learn from experience.

And I loved every minute of it, every compromise, every success, every time that I had to sacrifice composition to a technical detail, every time I was able to show them a picture that was better than they expected; even the failures when I couldn’t overcome technical difficulties, or connect with my subjects. Every second of that was PHOTOGRAPHY.

Even if it doesn’t translate yet on my website, it was photography. Even if I spend two years competing with Walmart for customers. It was photography because it was a labor of love for the craft; even if the viewer cannot see it. Someday it will be GOOD PHOTOGRAPHY and the viewer will see it. And that is my problem with Zack’s criticism, you can’t always ascertain the process from the product. however, I think we could agree it is a communication failure, the failure on the photographers part to successfully communicate his/her vision.

Perhaps where I take issue is that I perceived an insult to the process, and I see the process as inseparable from the product. (Honestly, what is really tweaking me is that I really identify with the first person you critiqued. One of the first things you read from her e-mail was that she had been doing this for one year. I look at what I was doing after a year and think “wow. I didn’t have the guts to put together a website after a year.”)

Zack commented in earlier critiques that kid sports photography may be boring, but he will buy it because it is his kid. I totally get what he means here, it is like watching a movie where somebody’s dad dies in the first scene, you are emotionally connected to the movie whether it is poorly scripted and produced or not. Same thing with the pictures, you buy them even if they make you cringe. However, I think that the answer is not to berate the photographers for making lifeless images, the answer is to stop buying the images. Vote with your wallet, pay a more envisioned photographer to make images of your kid in his softball uniform. Keep encouraging and educating photographers and the overall level of the industry will rise.

In summary, thanks for taking the time to read my rant. Your critiques are successful because they are thought provoking. I love listening to them. I listened to your critique on Tuesday and have been arguing the ideas in my head all week. I absolutely loved your talk at Photocamp Utah; it inspired me. I will continue to cull my best images for my portfolio, and I will continue to shoot whatever people will pay me to shoot (or let me shoot for free), and i will likely display some of that in my portfolio, if that is what my customers want and are paying me for.

enough said.

Arches 2010 Gallery

I’ve finally finished going through my Arches images.  I pulled and finished 23 images out of the approx 900 that I took in Arches and Canyon Lands National Parks last month during the John Paul Caponigro Workshop. It was an amazing week end with an inspiring group of people. I left Moab with great memories, fresh, inspiring insights and enough new images to provide months of material to practice my finishing techniques.

This selection represents the strongest images from that weekend. I explored a number of different techniques as I worked through them, applying what I thought worked best for a particular image, a few times just playing around until I came up with something I liked.  In the spirit of the blog, this group of images isn’t so much a finished display piece as it is an exploration of possibilities. It shows different techniques hopefully mostly successful.

I’m by no means finished. I want to do some black and whites. I have a motion series I want to pull together. But I also need to get out and shot some new stuff to keep pushing and growing. To keep my eye in practice.  And to provide more material based on what I’ve learned from this group.

I hope you enjoy it. Please feel free to leave comments about what you like, or don’t like.

2010 Arches Gallery


< Click film strip to view Gallery >


Next week is Scout Camp. Lots of trees, mountains and Boy Scouts, not much in the way of technology. So I might not be around for a bit. But I’m taking my camera and hopefully I’ll find some time to sneak away and explore a bit.

Over the top HDR (WAY over the top)

I’m still working through my Arches images. I’m almost done. I’ve been holding back because I didn’t want to finish and not have anything new to show off. But I decided to prime the pump a little tiny bit.

I bracketed almost everything I shot and I’ve HDR’d most of them. But I did that just to give me a full exposure range – not to ‘HDR’ the final image.  I HDR’d the raw images to broaden the range, loaded them back in Lightroom then processed them normally from there.

This image just wasn’t making it for me. It was close, but I wasn’t excited. Then I had an urge – let’s HDR it hard. I’ve never tried it before, so this is my first.

Kind of like it.

I used CS5’s HDR tool.

Moab – back at home

I’m home. We walked through Fiery Furnace yesterday morning. The nice thing was we didn’t have to get up so early – we did a normal 7:30 departure (actually 7:40 since I held everyone up checking out). The not so nice thing was it was friggin cold. A storm came in the night before and the sky was a lead grey when we went through Park Avenue. I got one really nice shot from there. I haven’t gone through the rest yet. Anyway, it rained over night – just a bit – and cleared the sky very nicely. But it left a bitter cold wind behind. So we bundled and wandered. I’ve downloaded those shots but haven’t looked through them yet.

We did our final review, which like all of them was great. Then goodbyes and headed for home. The drive was uneventful and I got home, got back in the car to drive Rachel somewhere and mowed the lawn. So much for my artistic aura.

Here’s my last group of pictures that we reviewed yesterday. I’ll go through the last couple of batches and post any that look decent in the next couple of days.

(click an image to see it full size)

This was on the first day, on the back side of the Windows as the sun was coming up.

This is Pine Tree Arch in Devils Garden. It was the first one on the hike. Hit it just at sunrise.

This is a pano I did of Delicate Arch. It was an amazing arch – way bigger than I thought it was (huge captures the thought better) but it’s hard to do anything new with it. I like the pano, but the overall image needs some work.

This is on the walk back down from Delicate Arch.

This is Pine Tree Arch in Devils Garden.

This is another view of Double Arch, looking up.

I took these two on the way up to Double O Arch in Devils Garden. I was getting tired of arches and started fixating on texture details. I like them both but the second one needs some work.

This is the one shot I’ve pulled out of our walk through Park Avenue. The light was seriously strange that night due to the storm coming in. This one was a great texture shot.

And this was an accident that worked. I think I was clearing a bracket. That would be a shadow of my skinny leg. At least it spares you the glowing white nature of the subject leg.

As I mentioned before I’ll go through my last couple of batches and see if there is anything worth sharing.

Also, some time this next week I’m going to port this over to my hosted server and redirect the traffic from here to there. If you come by while that is happening you might get a link to the new site. When that is done I’ll be able to do much more interesting stuff and do it with a great deal less effort.

Sometime after that, and probably overlapping a bit, I’ll go through the entire shoot, pick out the better images, many of which you’ve seen here, work them better and put together a more polished presentation of the entire experience.

I’m also going to put together a produce/publish schedule that will (I hope) push me into keeping the muse alive and going. This weekend was great and I’d like to keep the momentum going, despite being home with all of the challenges that provides.

Hope you enjoy these.

Moab – Day 3 (I missed a day)

This will be short – but I’ll post some pictures. Got in last night at 10:30 – up at 4:00. Now it is 11:30 and I have to be up at 4:30. I haven’t had much time to post. It’s been fun, but a lot of work. Have some decent pictures to show for it.

Here you go:

These are from Goblin Valley Last night:

This is in Canyon Lands this morning:

This is from Window Arch in Arches:

This is a view of Double Arch in Arches:


Moab – Day One

I survived the trip. I had one exciting moment when a semi blew a tire just as he was going by me. Thought someone had shot something.

The car ran great – my biggest challenge was staying reasonably close to the speed limit. It handles VERY nice. Really like this machine. Here’s a shot of it just outside of Moab.

Mom told me that I should check out Dead Horse Point. She said it was really impressive. So, after I got settled and wandered around town I jumped back into the car and headed up. Got there about 6:30. Wandered around a little then made my way over to the west side, set up and watched the sun go down, taking a few pictures every few minutes so it looked like I had a purpose in being there. I did – but I mostly enjoyed just sitting there listening to the wind and the birds and watching the shadows grow, define then disappear.

Here’s my view point while I was sitting and watching.

This is a shot I took when I first arrived, looking east off of Dead Horse Point. This little spire caught my fancy.

More to come.

Now I need to get to bed. I have to be ready to go at 5:00 am. ugh.

The adventure begins tonight

As immediatly after work as possible I’m throwing the camera bag and some worn out clothes into my trunk and heading south to Moab/Arches and what ever else is down there. I’m going to wander around in the desert with a famous photograpic artist and take pictures of rocks. And I’m going to have fun, **mn it.

I’ll try to post at least once a day with some images. So stay tuned, maybe it will be worth it.

CS5 HDR – My first shot

I’ve been a bit absent – sorry about that.

I decided I needed to have more flexibility than I could get from So I upgraded my current hosting plan, setup a couple of WordPress blogs there, one a replica of this site and played. I bought a WordPress book, found a bunch of custom templates to work with and discovered Windows Live Writer. I set up another blog from scratch on the new host server and have been spending most of my blog time there.  Now I need to move this one over.

I’ve also been messing around with CS5. I’ve been watching Kelby training vids and just messing with it – finding things and pushing buttons. I played around with the Content Aware fill and the Puppet Wrap – the cool new sexy things that at some point I may find a use for. I think the Content Aware fill will be nice, I just need to find where it works.  I need to play with Puppet Wrap more.

So far I’m liking the CS5 HDR. I’m a little irritated that I bought Photomatrix and haven’t hardly used it since – now I have this. Oh well – it’s just money, right?

I’ve only run a couple of things through and haven’t done anything hard yet, but I like it.

Here are the originals. 3 shots at .7 stop increments (not on purpose – I was going for full stop increments but I’m an idiot and I didn’t check it). All pictures were shot hand held so they needed to  be aligned (click to enlarge):

Here’s the original base exposure shot – standard Lightroom adjustments to Exposure and Blacks:

This is the base HDR image before any PS adjustments. All adjustments were made in the HDR panel:

The shadows opened up very nicely.  Detail depth is much better.

And this is the final, adjusted HDR:

I like the result. It aligned nicely, which was a problem I had with Photomatrix – not a big problem, but enough that I noticed it. The panel is simpler than Photomatrix which for the moment is nice, but usually that indicates less possibilities. Need to dig deeper to flush that out.

More to come on CS5 HDR.

One more thing to add – I need to move this to the new site. Editing this in the base maint tool basically stinks. Windows Live Writer is a joy compared to this. I’m motivated now.