On finding your photographic style

Ice #58a. Boulder Creek, Colorado, 2011
Ice #58a. Boulder Creek, Colorado, 2011

I take my photography seriously and strive to improve at every opportunity. I hope that I am constantly evolving and improving. Since my ultimate goal is to do interesting, creative and quality work as a fine art photographer, one area that has concerned me from the beginning is the notion of “style.”

Artists will often comment that no one is taken seriously until they can show to the world a cohesive body of work with a distinctive personal style. Wow, I thought. Cohesive body of work? Personal style? Do I even have a personal style? Will I develop one? How do I develop one?

After a bit of thought and study, I came up with a potential road map to get me there. Hopefully, it will work. If you have been thinking similarly about your personal style–or whether or not you have one!–see if my comments make any sense to you. Click here for my Ten Commandments on personal style.

Street Photography: Is it for you? (Part 2)

Fishnets and Sneakers. Barcelona, 2010
Fishnets and Sneakers. Barcelona, 2010

Today, in Part 2, I’ll go into some specific street photography techniques plus some dos and don’ts, but first a quick couple of comments on another of my attempts (left). It is in color, not monochrome, so that may offend some street purists…but, does it imply a story? Does it arouse your curiosity? How would you critique this image? What do you like? Not like? Would you have cropped it differently? The next time you are out and about in an urban space, see if you can capture an image that tells a story as I was trying to do with these three individuals.

OK, now here are ten specific street photography points, ideas and techniques for you, and they should apply whether you are in New York or Small Town, USA… Keep reading, there’s more!

Street Photography: Is it for you? (Part 1)

The 99 Percent. Boulder, Colorado, 2011
The 99 Percent. Boulder, Colorado, 2011

Street photography is a very popular genre, but it can be quite difficult to get good results. The above image is one of my attempts at it. If you want a serious goal to shoot for, though, take a look at Henri Cartier-Bresson’s  (1908-2004) classic “decisive moment” work or the impressive images of Garry Winogrand (1928-1984). A current, lesser-known, photographer that I personally like is John Crosley, a guy who really should get more recognition for his work.

There are several techniques for shooting “Street” that you might try: Click here to read on!

Sometimes you strike out!

I thought this morning’s sunrise had possibilities. With a front moving through and low clouds in the area, the plan was to be atop Sugarloaf Mountain (one of my favorite spots) at sunrise. Ideally, I’d get the rising sun illuminating the bottoms of the high clouds, mist in the valleys, and snow on the Front Range. Instead, nothing. Nada. I didn’t even take my camera out of the bag. I hiked the 20 minutes to the summit in a white-out and a constant drizzle. I waited for sunrise–sometimes the weather breaks up a bit then–but still no go. So back down the hill I went, completely soaked.

Lesson? Keep going back! The more you do, the better your chances. Even if you get shut out three or four times in a row, the next time at your favorite spot might be the winner: you get presented with unbelievable light and the images just flow onto your memory card. With that in mind, I think maybe tomorrow might be The Day!!!

The image below is what happens when you keep coming back. That next morning, on Sugarloaf, the clouds parted (some of them anyway!).

Sugarloaf Fog #1. From Sugarloaf Mountain, Colorado, 2012
Sugarloaf Fog #1. From Sugarloaf Mountain, Colorado, 2012

What is a “good image”? (And some basic techniques to make one.)

 

Urban Eye. Barcelona, 2009
Urban Eye. Barcelona, 2009

First, lets talk about what a good photograph might be (and the above image may or may not be a good example!).

Here are some ideas to ponder:

  • It is well-composed, well-exposed, color balanced and sharp (unless, of course, a special effect is called for).
  • It captures unusual light, form, color, texture, interaction or juxtaposition.
  • It captures an unrepeatable moment of light or interaction.
  • It causes the viewer to have an “ah-ha!” moment.
  • It causes the viewer to react emotionally—to chuckle, to think a bit, to become happy, sad or nostalgic.
  • It leads the viewer’s eye to a key point or points.
  • It keeps the viewer “in” the image…i.e., the eye is not led out of the photo.
  • It is an unusual perspective not seen before.
  • It has been technically well “developed” in post-processing (that is, so you can’t tell it was “developed”–unless a special effect is called for.)

For the sharpest images, try these suggestions: Continue reading

Photo Clubs, Contests, and Art Shows

Faith and 83 Years. Barcelona, 2010
Faith and 83 Years. Barcelona, 2010

So, you have been making images for awhile, you think you might have one or two that are pretty good, and you’d like to test the waters in a public forum beyond the superficial Facebook environment. Good for you! That was exactly my line of thinking last year, after two years of intense learning. I was having a hard time critiquing my own images and deciding if I was on the right track with my work. Click here for the rest of the article!

The Importance of Post-Processing

Probably the most important thing a photographer can have is a vision of what a final image should look like. This is what Ansel Adams called “pre-visualization” and it is ten times more important than what kind of camera you have. Great vision = great art, regardless of the tool used.

One, oft-neglected, area of bringing that vision into the final print is post-processing–what you do with that image on your memory card before you print or post it. In the old days, this post-processing took place in the darkroom with adjustments to developing time with the negative, then many adjustments during the actual printing process. If you think there was no manipulation being done to images before the digital days you would be quite wrong–a subject maybe I’ll delve into more deeply in the future with some great historical examples.

Below, I have posted two versions of the same image. It is an image called “Moonset Beside Longs Peak” from a previous post.

Moonset Beside Longs Peak. Before and After.
Moonset Beside Longs Peak. Before and After.

On the left is the original file as it came from the camera. On the right is the image after I post-processed it. I took the original RAW file, made a few slight adjustments in Lightroom (mostly sharpening, contrast), then converted it to monochrome with a Nik plug-in called Silver Efex Pro (using a preset which I adjusted slightly), and finally made some further minor adjustments in Photoshop (bumping up the contrast a bit more, for example). The final image is much closer to my vision than what initially showed up on my LCD screen after I pressed the shutter.

Is the image an exact replication of reality? No, but it does reflect my vision and that was my goal–and the post-processing helped me get there.

A Trip to the Wild Animal Sanctuary

Tracks #1. The Wild Animal Sanctuary, Colorado, 2012
Tracks #1. The Wild Animal Sanctuary, Colorado, 2012

A couple of days ago I spent a few hours with my father at The Wild Animal Sanctuary about 50 miles east of Boulder out on the Colorado plains. Naturally, I thought I might capture some great images of wildlife as this wonderful place is a haven for a large number of rescued lions, tigers and bears (oh my!), including GRIZZ. To tour the facility, one treads a catwalk some 30 feet above the animals and their large, open pastures, so the chances of capturing images of some big beasts from unusual angles is pretty good.

Ah, the best laid plans…I did manage a few images of the animals, but I found my eye wandering to all the different patterns on the ground from the extensive construction activity at the preserve throughout the summer. Thus the image I have posted above, which is just one in a series which I call “Tracks.”

So, the lesson here is don’t focus so intently on what you think you will be shooting that you don’t allow your eye to be free to wander to other subjects. Relax and observe. You never know what surprises you might find.

Colorado Summits: Twin Sisters (11,428′), and Planning and Timing Your Photography

Moonset Beside Longs Peak. From Twin Sisters Peak, Colorado, July 4, 2012
Moonset Beside Longs Peak. From Twin Sisters Peak, Colorado, July 4, 2012

Lately, one of my favorite things to do is to rise in the wee hours of the morning, carry my camera gear a few hours up a Rocky Mountain trail in the darkness, then be in position at dawn to catch what I am always hoping will be a scene illuminated with spectacular light. I don’t do this all the time–just when I think the circumstances will be just right for something special. Sometimes it works and I come away with a good image; other times, the light and cloud cover don’t cooperate and I come away with nothing. You can’t win unless you enter the race, though, so I keep at it.

Last July 4th was one of those days that seemed like it might be a good one for some landscape photography near Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. The weather forecast called for partly cloudy skies (clear skies are boring!) and, even more interesting, the moon and sunrise tables called for a full moon to be setting just after sunrise. Given the moon’s location, it seemed to me that if I were sitting atop Twin Sisters (11,428′) to the east of Longs Peak (14,259′) at sunrise I would get some great sunrise images as well as–just perhaps–a nice image of the full moon setting behind Longs Peak and the famous Diamond. Click here for the rest of the article!