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.

Camp Bradley

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Home again. Long week. Lots of bugs, rained 3 of the 5 nights, scores of pre adolescent boys. A lot of farting and spitting going on.

I took the camera, but not sure I got anything worth bragging about. Took this one with the phone.

It is the meadow outside of the parade ground and lodge. Best example of the overall look of the place. It did have some good parts, like this. Beautiful place.

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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

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< 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.

The Story – Arches

Our first morning JP (John Paul Caponigro) instructed us to find the story. He told us we should go so far as to write it down. Of course I cringed inside. Writing goes deep, it requires engagement of muscles that I seldom use.

But I did it.

After that first round of shooting, while I was waiting for the last couple people to finish I wrote the following:

 

the Story

nouns – actors

verbs – actions

- qualifiers

- acted upon

The Literal Story

The Virtual Story

—-

Literal

The process of accumulation and erosion

Building up then tearing down

Slow, constant change

The beauty of ruined structures

I felt majesty – someone used the term temple and that felt right

The awesome majesty you feel as you approach these structures is what the builders of the cathedrals attempted to capture.

They captured some of that feeling – but these structures eclipse those.

Sounds of scuffling feet, tripod clinks and the chitter of the swallows in the cliffs, swirling around above as they chase one another.

Kid Portraits

For the third time in too many years I set up the lights, hung a backdrop on my new backdrop rig and shot with my new soft box.

The occasion was K’s baptism and A’s new suit. R has recently decided she doesn’t like her picture taken, so nothing of her.

She’s a beautiful young lady. My angel girl.

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Here’s a handsome young man.

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Best friends (most of the time), brother and sister.

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Fatherhood has its benefits.

Sky Panos

While we were in Moab we took hundreds of pictures of beautiful, powerful rock formations against plain, boring skies. A lot of blaa blue and slate grey – with the occasional cloud.  Sunday night we had a pretty good storm blow through, leaving a cold day on Monday and a new weather pattern – this one with clouds.

Just outside of Moab I stopped and shot a pano cloud shot. I stopped two more times between Burley and Boise and shot more clouds. Outside of town where the horizon was flat and there wasn’t a lot of clutter and there were wonderful cloud formations.

I didn’t do very well on the Moab set and it was still a bit grey. But the Idaho sets were clean and I kept the sequence simple.  I shot 3 1 stop brackets all the way around.

I wasn’t sure how well Photoshop would do stitching them together. Was there enough information in the images for it to hook them up? I included the ground as I shot, but not much. So I wasn’t sure how it would do. I was pleasantly surprised.

The first one I tried I processed via HDR. I did the HDR processing on each shot, before I merged them. I used CS5 and did a soft merge – enough to build a full exposure range. I saved the settings and processed all of the images with the same settings.  Then I ran it through the pano merge – using the auto method:

This is a 7 image merge, almost the entire way around. It merged beautifully. I didn’t do anything to help this – it was all Photoshop. It did a great job.

Then I processed the base images to see how it looked as a non-HDR:

I actually like this one better. The overall exposure range is less and it is less contrasty, but I like the look better.

The second one is a non-HDR from 13 images. On this one I followed a cloud formation up in the middle. I had 12 images even with the horizon and one shot up a level right in the middle. Again, I wasn’t sure if Photoshop would pull it in clean:

Again, it joined it without a problem.

I’m not into skies for the sake of skies. But they will be good resources for other shots that need something in the sky, like some of my Arches pictures. I dropped the last sky pano into the following Arches shot and it helped a lot. It was nice having such a big image – it let me drag the sky around until I found a good match.

The first one as I shot it:

The same image, with the clouds added:

Because the lines along the rock were well defined the selection was pretty simple using the quick select tool. But I had a halo around the inside of the arch, on the left side. I tried to feather that, a bunch of times at different settings, but that didn’t help. I was about to do the unspeakable and actually ask our Photoshop person at work for help when I found the solution in one of my Photoshop books. Just read it, didn’t even realize it was the solution until I tried it a few days later.

It was pretty simple – brush in white in overlay mode on the mask. Cleaned it right up.

Overall, I like the result.

I’m still going through my Moab images. I pulled out about 40 shots that might work. I’m through the first 12 or 13. When I get though them all I’ll put them together as a slide show and post it. Some pictures I’ve already posted and some new ones.

I’ll try to make it worth the wait.