And now a break from our winter programming

Really, I am learning to appreciate black and white as a way to improve composition skills and use tones to bring depth to an image.  Digital B&W processing is giving me so much more confidence in my film work, especially the large format versions.  Winter is a great time to practice all these skills…..

But my world is in COLOR!

I started out shooting slides, loving the look of those glorious colors on a light table.  There’s just nothing like that little 2×2″ piece of reality you’ve captured for memories and sharing.  I’ve looked at B&W slides – ain’t the same experience.  So, now as winter winds down for another season, I’m looking for color.

Sometimes you just have to make your own version of reality.

ISO 100, 19mm, 1/250 sec., f/5.6, two flash set up

I was strolling through one of those stores where people pick up all their supplies and training to make scrapebooks, unique cards, photo albums, etc. and saw all these brightly colored papers and it dawned on me – saturation.  So many of my images are ‘naturalistic’ yet I enjoy other people’s saturated visions of the world.  With these papers I have a great excuse to push my processing sliders way over to the right.

ISO 100, 147mm, 1/60 sec., f/16, two flash set-up

These papers are designed for various crafts where they are folded, cut and shaped so the colors are all the way through and very durable.  The first image is of paper strips made for quilling and these are what caught my eye initially.  I’m keeping them in the form you see but the playing around potential is enormous for these.  The second image is of card stock; playing the flash across the surface really brings out the texture of the paper.  I need to think a little more about how to play with these but I’m sure they will show up on the blog again.

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Becoming known

Right now I’m working on query letters to a few magazine photo editors to see how I can get my work in front of them for consideration to use in a story they are working on or an assignment to shoot for a future piece.  Like any new venture I expect this will take some time to get connected with the right people, provide them the information in the format desired, and build a relationship to fine-tune expectations on both sides.  Part of my business plan is revenue from commercial and editorial projects, which this will be a first step toward generating.  In addition, though, creating work associated with a specific project enables me to leverage prior skills in research, planning and management that I don’t want to lose or get rusty.

Another benefit, though, is the opportunity to get to know a new group of people who are also passionate about images and how to use them effectively.  In my short experience meeting people associated with photography I’ve been pleased to find the crowd generally open, friendly, willing to teach, and overall encouraging to new photographers.  The groups I’ve been around feel like a bunch of entrepreneurs focused on the success of their idea, and realizing that a network is more powerful than the single individual.

One aspect of photography is the first creator of unique imagery is met with ooh’s and aah’s whereas the first person to duplicate that uniqueness is met with blank stares and some distain.  It’s not so much we are constantly looking for new and novel as much as we each want to put our own spin on it, show our own unique vision of the world around us in a way that becomes recognizable.  And it’s just boring to duplicate what someone else has already put out there.

Not that learning new techniques from experts isn’t helpful.  Great movements in the arts always advance as a result of students adapting and modifying some core technique of a single person, but always with their own additional touch.  I’m reading Ansel Adams’ books on film photography and learning new things from each.  Not that I plan on getting that involved in film photography; rather, to think through the visualization process as he has and learn how to adapt that effort to my own compositions and development process digitally.

One photographer I’m getting to know is always trying new things with his compositions and processing.  Darrell Gulin just seems to love playing with imagery:  creating it, manipulating it, redesigning it.  His attitude comes across as one of “have fun with it” while satisfying your child-like creativity, and then find clients who share that with you through your work.  Hearing Darrell talk about his composing process, his props, his post-processing – the fun just comes right through.  If you ever get an opportunity to attend a workshop with him or hear him speak I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

Change happens

It’s amazing how fast spring erupts or how quickly life responds to optimal conditions.  Around here sometimes it feels like you can actually hear the grass grow or watch the corn get taller.  This rush to grow got me to thinking of how to give people a sense of change.

A local park where I find lots of images is mostly a tall grass prairie around a flood control lake.  Early this year the park management performed a controlled burn of different sections in the park, fire being an essential tool in the management of prairie.  It is used to eradicate non-native species and create space for the grasses and other plants to get their seeds to the ground and have sunlight reach them.  When I saw the burning late one afternoon I realized the opportunity to capture images of change.

What surprised me is how fast that change took place.  I was expecting several weeks of gradual transformation from blackened ground to green grasses so I scheduled a shoot each Monday afternoon when the sun was getting low.  Turns out I should have scheduled a shoot every day!  Returning the week after my “baseline” photos I found the areas that were previously charred ash converted into a bright green field.  By the third week it required getting down and separating the grass to see any sign of burnt ground.  Simply amazing.  I called off the project because after the fourth week the field was just a sea of grass, all getting taller at pretty much the same rate.

Obviously next spring, or after the next burn, I’ll need to set up a time-lapse system to catch these shoots of new life reclaiming their rightful place in the plains.

Personal Growth

A creative mindset is critical to keeping yourself pleased with photography, either as a professional or serious amateur.  I know it’s time to shake up my mindset when I start seeing complacency, where I “master” a technique or style and find myself applying it to everything.  Remember the saying about a boy with a hammer seeing the world as a nail?  It’s like that but with a camera.  Suddenly all my images look like HDR, or macro, or telephoto.  Boring, even when I feel the images are composed or exposed well.  Ever looked over a week’s worth of your images and realize they all look pretty much the same?  Time to shake up the Etch-a-Sketch®.

Advice I’ve gotten from several photographers is to give myself a personal project, building a portfolio of intentional images probably not fitting in my typical style or shooting schedule.  The objective here is not to necessarily create a group of images for sale but rather to give my brain a chance to rearrange how it’s seeing the world.  And then having that new arrangement seep into other parts of my brain to affect (and hopefully improve) my usual range of images.

I’ve got one of these going on, periodically adding to it as the opportunity arises.  Now another opportunity as been presented.  The recreation area near us just burned off a section of their property so new growth has a chance to pop up.  The Great Plains traditionally saw fire as a means of renewal and stimulus until we came along with our aversion to flames and uncontrolled change.  So it’s good to see the area managers turning to an old school way of stewardship.

With this I’ve decided to do a “growth” series on the burned area, recording the changes in the terrain as spring urges plants to take over areas previously covered with a barrier of old grass or leaves.  In my youth I helped my father burn off property before planting pine trees so I know how fast all those latent green shoots respond.  Expecting dramatic images of change and renewal I’ve scheduled a shoot each Monday for the coming weeks.  At some point I plan to build a final collage or image assembly, either for a gallery show or to offer the area managers for their marketing and communication materials.

In the same vein, one of my classmates has been pursuing a personal project of her own – photographing people in formal and informal portraits.  Doing so is an extension of the lighting classes we had last summer only Kate is taking the techniques to places of interest to her.  Each week it seems she’s posting images of people, some she already knows and some she recruits because she thinks they’ll look interesting in a photograph.  From her posts it obviously a learning environment she’s created for herself, intentionally getting away from more comfortable, non-people photographs in order to learn new techniques but also to find new ways to approach her other photographic subjects.  You can see her work and follow her self-imposed education on her blog.