What kind of photographer…

are you?

the day the music died
“the day the music died”

Black and white are the colors of photography. To me they symbolize the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is forever subjected.

Robert Frank

This was not what I thought I would write about this week but after photographing this, I could not get it out of my thoughts. I started thinking about why we photograph the things that we do and what does that say about us as photographers?

This was not one of those times of beautiful light. It was late afternoon and I had gone down to the lake hoping that the sun might win its battle with the heavy fog and break through with a mystical, atmospheric sunset. I made my way along the breakwater occasionally seeing dim figures come into view and hearing voices that would carry across the water. Taking a moment to stand in one place and to look all around me, my eyes were drawn to something down in the water that did not belong. It was not an easy feat scrambling down the sharp rocks in my Boggs but I had to have a closer look.

Having spent a lot of time on the water I have seen my fair share of litter and discarded items but never before a keyboard. I carefully waded out into the icy lake so that I would be able to photograph this in relation to its watery grave.

I don’t suppose that I will ever know the story behind the rather bleak demise of the keyboard but it did get me thinking about the various genres of photography and why we are drawn to the things that we are. As I sat and contemplated, the lyrics of Don Mclean’s American Pie running through my head, I realized just how much my photography has changed in the past few years. What began more as documentation that called for clarity, focus, and accuracy of the scene, had somehow began to morph into more of a visual storytelling where everything did not need to be stated.

In The Americans, published in 1959Robert Frank captured the gulf between the American dream and everyday reality, a visual story as timely today as it was then. Critics of his work described his images in less than complimentary terms using words like “meaningless blur, muddy exposures, and drunken horizons”. He deviated from accepted photographic techniques and in doing so managed to capture so much more.

In a world inundated with photography, where everyone who carries a phone has the capability of taking a photograph, how do you see yourself? What kind of photographer are you?

 

If you could could tag along with an iconic photographer from the past…

who would that be?

sunset double exposure
sunset double exposure

In photography there is a reality so subtle that it becomes more real than reality.

Alfred Stieglitz  1864-1946

I will admit it straight out…I am enamoured of Alfred Stieglitz. His images resonate with me right down to my core. I came across a book titled “Aperture Masters of Photography” Number Six one day while in a used book store and so the enchantment began.

What drew me in initially were his fabulous atmospherics; his use of steam, fog, and snow to create qualities in his images that were similar to the Impressionists. He is unquestionably responsible for launching the rise of modern photography in America in the early 20th century. With his mastery of tone and texture, and ability to imbue an image with emotional intent, he led the Pictorialist Movement which advocated for the artistic legitimacy of photography. He was also one of the first photographers in the 1890’s to create night images of artistic significance. His night scenes taken on rain drenched streets are exquisite masterpieces of light and composition.

For Stieglitz was primarily the photographer in whatever he did, no experience being truly complete for him until he had photographed it-”  Dorothy Norman

He was determined that photography would be recognized as a new medium of expression and in 1902 founded the Photo-Secession movement and shortly thereafter, the gallery, with the cooperation of Edward Steichen, that became known as the 291 in New York City. In addition to photographers, well-known artists like Picasso, Rodin, Matisse, and Cézanne all received American debuts at the 291. In 1907 he introduced the work of Georgia O’Keeffe who  would become his wife in 1924.

His later work became more influenced by Cubism, straight photography favoring clarity, sharp focus, and high contrast, with less of the sumptuous effects of his earlier work. He developed a friendship with Ansel Adams and in 1936 granted him a one person show at An American Place which he founded in 1929 on Madison Avenue in New York.

His work as a photographer, his editorship of several major publications in his time, and the galleries that he founded in his lifetime that served as the starting points in the careers of many artists, have all taken their place in the history of photography.

I find his work to be as timely today as it was then and credit him with allowing me to fearlessly post an image of a sunset or a rainbow in black and white. I’ve only just touched on his accomplishments here as to cover it all would require volumes, but if I could go back in time, what an experience it would be to see life through his lens!

 

 

When everything has already been done…

how to see something new.

the old granary
the old granary

Photography, as we all know, is not real at all. It is an illusion of reality with which we create our own private world.

Arnold Newman

Even when my camera is not in my hand, I am often thinking about it. Thinking about what I’m seeing and imagining how to see it differently. How to capture more than just the documentation of something. My views on photography have evolved over time and I hope that they will continue to do so because it leads me in new directions.

The digital era launched the term ‘photoshopped’ and I can remember feeling uncomfortable about images created digitally in a program. It wasn’t so much that I disliked them, although there were some trends I could do without, it was more my own personal desire to create as much as possible directly in the camera and then edit that single image. Perhaps that concept ages me. I still don’t own photoshop, but having grown up with film, I do recognize that the negatives also needed ‘development’.

As one who ‘paints with her camera’ I have grown fond of the multiple exposure setting available in many digital cameras today. I have found that it gives me the option of combining more than one element into a single image and has the ability to soften and give a more painterly style to what I am shooting. An added bonus was a growth in understanding the maximum ‘print’ capabilities existing in an image. When am I going to blow out the highlights and leave no more room for the second image to record in those places? Where do I need to position the darkest darks?

This old building, that the town has grown around, has been the subject for many an artist. My eye was drawn to it often but I did not want to simply replicate an image that had already been done…so I doubled it with a vibrant, reflective water scene. I think Newman’s quote sums it up nicely calling photography ‘an illusion of reality’.

Will it appeal to everyone, not likely! For me though, when I look at this image I am transported back to the moment that I took it… the feel, the weather, the light, and isn’t that what it’s all about?

 

Why dusting off your film camera…

can add so much to an experience.

Valhalla
‘Valhalla’ …  the final portrait

Whenever there’s a new form of media, we always think it’s going to replace the old thing, and it never does. We still have radio, however long after TV was introduced.

Matt Mullenweg

I had the opportunity this past summer to take a trip back in time to a turn of the century farmhouse and outbuildings that belonged to my husband’s grandparents. Located near Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan on some of the best and most productive agricultural land in Saskatchewan, the Regina plain represents the bottom of a glacial lake that covered the area after the last ice age.

The purpose of the trip was a memorial service for my mother in law and an opportunity to say good-bye to this farm as a new family was going to begin a life there. Before that would happen though, all buildings were to be demolished and returned to the earth.

I wanted to capture the farm as it was and would no longer be in three short months. As I packed my gear for the trip my mind kept going back to film and how beautiful it would feel to capture this on an old medium format camera. To that end I have a 1950’s Yashica D TLR that is in pristine condition so along with my digital cameras I packed that old girl and some rolls of Ilford 120 film.

The experience was an incredible one and my idea to go back in time with my choice of camera equipment felt exactly right. As I wandered the home site I was reminded of the differences in photography today and how common it is to take hundreds of images and then just discard the ones we don’t like with a click of a button. I found myself slowing down and being far more thoughtful about each image.

Upon arriving home I shipped my film off to the Ilford Lab for development and had that long forgotten feeling of anticipation that you get when you are waiting to get your pictures back. When I opened the package I was not disappointed and found the detail in these images to be breathtaking.

Did I shoot digital as well? Of course I did, some infrared too, but the feeling of stepping back in time and slowing down the pace was one that I will remember for a very long time. Those film images were also my favorites of the shoot.

I was reminded of this experience when I came across the above quote by the developer of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg.

I do think film is here to stay and as our world gets faster I heartily recommend shooting some. Since I have been doing so it changes how I shoot with my digital cameras, I am more thoughtful about the process and about getting it right in the camera.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s in your bag…

that you can’t live without?

Fourth of July Fireworks
“fireworks light up the sky and water in Bayview, Idaho on the Fourth of July”

What makes photography a strange invention is that its primary raw materials are light and time.

John Berger

I know it’s not the Fourth of July but scrolling through some images this week got me thinking about some favorite things that I lug around with me on a daily basis in addition to my camera and an assortment of lenses. In my northern clime, fireworks displays and light parades do occur with some regularity on the mountain to celebrate winter and being prepared for these kinds of scenarios is a good thing!

Some of these things may seem pretty obvious but they still bear mentioning…extra cards and extra (fully charged) batteries for your camera, flash, remote trigger, and flashlights. I do a lot of shooting in very cold temperatures and that does tend to use the batteries up more quickly.

I couldn’t live without my tripod and the quick release plate is always attached to my camera. Sure you can hunt around and maybe find something to set your camera on to steady it but chances are it will not be found exactly where you need it to be in order to frame your shot. I love doing long exposures and night photography and for those, a tripod is indispensable!

A sweet little item that resides permanently attached to my camera strap is an ML-L3 remote that triggers the shutter from the front, up to a distance of about 16 feet. I love this little tool and it has been used A LOT!

In the lighting department I carry a speedlight flash and a ring flash which I use primarily for macro shots like the snowflake from last week. I have a Buglit LED micro whose nifty legs can attach to my tripod so that I can find my way back to it at night, a squeeze light in red in case I want to retain my night vision, and a Surefire E2 executive flashlight just in case the urge to light paint strikes! While on the topic of light, have you ever tried to look at your LCD screen in bright daylight only to find it next to impossible to see? A lovely little fix for that is the Hoodman loupe. Mine hangs on a lanyard and if I need to see detail on the LCD screen I simply place it against the screen and it blocks out the light showing me my image in far greater detail. It’s a little pricey but I do love it.

Finally in my everyday gear I make sure that I have lens cleaning equipment, filters, and hoods for the lenses that I have with me and last but not least…a rectangular piece of black cardboard. Huh…a piece of cardboard? Oh yes…

A few words about today’s image. This fireworks shot was taken with my D7000 and a 35mm lens, the settings were f16, 22 sec, ISO 100 and because I shoot in RAW format I was able to lighten up the shadows in the foreground in Lightroom and expose the lights reflecting on the boats. This was not a composite shot… remember the piece of cardboard?  I was able to capture multiple explosions by placing the black cardboard in front of my lens and selectively removing it as each firework was shot.

I would love to hear what’s in your gear, especially those small odd items that can make all the difference in a shot.

 

 

 

To see the big picture…

sometimes you have to focus on the little bits.

...a single snowflake
“a single snowflake, fleetingly captured”

 

Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever…it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.

Aaron Siskind

 

I remember the exact moment that I became fascinated with macro photography. I use my camera every day and on this particular day I was at a loss for inspiration. My solution to this dilemma was to walk outside and pick a spot, sit down and look carefully at everything around me. It wasn’t long before I noticed a whole tiny world going on around me. My gaze was drawn to a bright green grasshopper on a dandelion stalk that had gone to seed. He was bright green, with the longest of antennae swivelling in all directions. At this time my lens of choice for every day was a pretty basic 55-2oo Nikkor which when zoomed out would have a nice soft background. I laid down on the grass, eye level with this small creature, only to discover that there was more going on upon this small stalk. Just above the grasshopper was the tiniest of worms…the intended dinner for the grasshopper. I captured the photo and it later became the focal point of an encaustic painting. In addition to that it sparked an avid curiosity for the tiny things that one might just walk by and never notice at all.

As with most new ventures I didn’t want to run out and purchase a macro lens only to find it gathering dust somewhere down the road so I opted for a very inexpensive macro filter that could be screwed onto the end of a lens and enable you to get just a little bit closer in magnification. Naturally the glass was not extremely sharp and the edges were very soft but as an intro to macro it served me well.

Today I shoot macro with a beautiful 105mm Nikon lens that allows me to capture things that I can barely see with my own eye. Using that lens has led me into a whole tiny world of beauty created by nature.

Today I see the big picture but only because I’ve focused on the little bits.

The best shot I never got…

or why you should take these few extra steps before heading out for the day.

blue heron in flight
“a blue heron in flight…with reflection and shadow”

 

If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn’t need to lug around a camera.

Lewis Hine

There are some images that will be forever burned into my memory and at the top of that list is one particular bald eagle shot.

I always tell people to carry their camera with them at all times because the one time that you don’t, will be the time that you will wish that you had. Of course this was back when I thought that just having my camera with me would be enough!

The bald eagle in addition to being our national bird is the only eagle unique to North America. They weigh between 10 to 14 pounds and have a wing span of 6 to 7 feet which can only be fully appreciated when one is at eye level with one such bird…and that is exactly what happened one summer morning as I was driving down the road only moments from home in the Idaho countryside.

At least one camera and an assortment of lenses are always with me in my daily travels and I truly do feel quite naked without them. They reside in a large ‘handbag’ of sorts that doesn’t scream ‘I’m a camera bag!’ The day after the best shot I never got, I started a new ritual so that maybe another time this image would be in a printable format instead of just indelibly lodged in my brain. My camera now sits on the seat beside me, the lens cap is off, and I have set it manually. I’ve taken a test shot and adjusted for light conditions. I’ve set it for a shooting speed that will capture action. Only then do I feel that I have done all that I can do to prepare for that once in a lifetime shot.

On this morning though my camera was residing in its bag on the seat beside me and as I crested the hill I came eye to eye and within 20 feet of a bald eagle who had a roadkill deer carcass lifted about 3 feet off the ground. He was struggling mightily with the load and you could almost feel the power coming from the downward beat of his wings. Not taking my eyes off of him I reached my hand into my bag and began drawing out my camera and just like that he was gone. I’ll never know if it was the weight of the carcass or my presence that caused him to abort but I do know that if this had happened today, you’d be looking at the shot instead of hearing me tell you about it.

We all have time to play with adjustments on the stationary landscape or scenery shots but these action packed moments are the ones that we need to be prepared for…those times when you get one shot, maybe even through the windshield, but you get one shot. If there is a next time, I’ll be ready will you?