Flippin’ images!

Answer: Yep, yesterday’s image was flipped horizontally. Note the left-handed musicians and the backwards treble clef.I will do this to an image if I think it might flow better if flipped. We western “civilization” types tend to have minds that work from left to right because that is the way our languages read…our brains have learned that, for us, things flow more naturally that way. On the other hand, a right-to-left flow in an picture might cause us to feel tension, or subtly uncomfortable. This could be exactly what you want to do with a photograph. Or not. But, it is always an option to keep in the back of your creative mind.

(Now what if you read fluently in both English and Arabic or Hebrew? How might that affect how you view artistic images? Hmmm…that is an interesting question!)

When not to flip?

Here are a few times when it doesn’t make sense to do it:

1) When you are just doing it for no real compositional reason…that is, just to click a button in Photoshop.

2) When there are objects in the image that don’t look correct when reversed (like printing, or the treble clef in yesterday’s image). Example:

Group Therapy (Flipped!). Longmont, Colorado, 2013
Group Therapy (Flipped!). Longmont, Colorado, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3) When photographing well-known, iconic subjects…Yosemite Valley, say. Or Maroon Bells Peaks. Or even the Flatirons here in Boulder. To those familiar with these landmarks, your image will just look like a bad mistake. To wit (for you Boulderites):

After the Storm (Flipped!), Boulder, Colorado, 2013
After the Storm (Flipped!), Boulder, Colorado, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is an example of an image that has a completely different feel when flipped horizontally (to me, at least). In this first case, this is how the original composition appeared, with a decided right-to-left flow:

The Old Cottonwood, Denver, Colorado, 2012
The Old Cottonwood, Denver, Colorado, 2012

 

Now, here is what it looks like when flipped horizontally to give it a left-to-right flow:

Cottonwood Tree (Flipped!). Denver, Colorado, 2012
Cottonwood Tree (Flipped!). Denver, Colorado, 2012

 

Does the second image feel different to you? Does one image feel more natural and relaxed than the other? Does one move your eye around more comfortably than the other? Hopefully, you can sense intuitively that there is a difference between the two. Can you verbalize this difference? In this example, no one will ever be the wiser if you decide to flip the photograph horizontally–so do what your creative instincts tell you to do.

Another one for your bag o’ tricks. So, happy flipping!

A visit with Cole Thompson

Private Property. Downtown Ft. Collins, Colorado, 2013
Private Property. Downtown Ft. Collins, Colorado, 2013

This weekend was Open Studios weekend in Ft. Collins, so we took advantage of the occasion and zipped up north to visit Cole Thompson at his ranch studio. I like his work because I am quite partial to high contrast, monochrome images with simple yet strong compositional elements, and that describes much of what Cole’s art is about. And, although he comes from a landscape photography background, his work is not limited to that genre. To see for yourself what he does, check out his galleries HERE.

Interestingly, Cole is off in a side eddy as opposed to floating tranquilly down the mainstream in terms of his philosophy of photography, so I thought I’d address that in today’s post. You may not agree with some of his thoughts, but you may learn something from them. His work is pretty powerful–especially when you see the actual finished prints on the wall–so may he stay forever in that very creative side eddy of his.

Here are a few of his key ideas (in my own words):

1) Everything starts from a personal vision. No unique vision = no unique images. All the King’s expensive cameras and lenses stacked on the shelves at B&H Photo won’t help you put together the pieces of an obra maestra unless you have a personal vision of where you want to go with your work.

2) There is no need to know Photoshop like a Scott Kelby clone. All you need to know are those post-processing tools necessary to bring your vision from the camera to the print. In Cole’s case, that amounts to only about a half dozen Photoshop steps and he is finished.

3) Cole doesn’t believe in critiquing the images of others. To him, it is tantamount to saying: “If you want to make your images look more like what I do, then you should do this…”, which he thinks is absurd. You should be free to follow your own personal path without well-meaning critiques interrupting your journey. Also, in many clubs, universities, photo workshops, and photography courses, the common scene is one of photo critique sessions and portfolio reviews which can have the very unproductive effect of motivating you to produce work to please others and not necessarily to please yourself, the latter being what you really need to do to create honest art.

4) He believes in what he terms “photographic celibacy”…that is, not spending hours poring over the works of others. In fact, he has gone seven years now without deliberately studying the photographs of other image makers. He feels this too easily leads to the temptation of IMITATION–and too much of the work being done these days is merely imitation. Again, he stresses the importance of finding your own personal voice with your photography.

To read Cole’s own words on the above themes, read his article, “Never Ask Others About Your Work” and the “Imitation vs. Inspiration” article that immediately follows it.

These ideas could be seen as heretical in some circles. But I say screw “some circles” as long as he creates what he wants! I may not agree 100% with the above points, but I certainly see their merits, I see that they work for him, and I will likely incorporate at least some of those attitudes into my way of doing things, too.

All-in-all, a great visit…and we look forward to his presentation at the Colorado Nature Camera Club in Boulder in November.

Refining an image based on a critique

Moraine Park Burn image with block print effect. RMNP, CO, 2013
Moraine Park Burn image with block print effect. RMNP, CO, 2013

Last Thursday night, at our monthly Colorado Nature Camera Club meeting, Stephen Weaver, geologist and pro landscape photographer, gave me some interesting feedback on the above image. As with all feedback from very experienced photographers, I listened carefully. Here were his key points:

1) He had a problem with the lack of detail in the snow–it is all pure white with no gradations of tone.

2) He had a problem with the blacks for the same reason.

3) He thought it was an interesting concept for an abstract.

He was right on all counts. But here’s the thing…my goal in this image was to create something akin to a Japanese print effect. I deliberately made all the whites pure white and all the blacks pure black, or nearly so. You may not agree with my vision, but that is what I was after. Here is the original image so you can see what I started with:

Moraine Park Burn original image. RMNP, CO, 2013
Moraine Park Burn original image. RMNP, CO, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I did try a version in which I left some detail in the whites and blacks–and you can also see the shadows. This could actually be a better idea for the image and it does adhere more closely to what Steve had in mind, I think. Here is that version after some cropping and white balance and exposure correction:

Moraine Park Burn image with detail and shadows. RMNP, CO, 2013
Moraine Park Burn image with detail and shadows. RMNP, CO, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still, the final “blockprint” version pictured at the top is the one I like the best (although the “shadow” version is growing on me). I like the combined abstractness and the simplicity.

So, when your images are critiqued, listen with an open mind. Listen thoughtfully. Especially if the one doing the critique has been around the block for many decades (as was my case with Steve Weaver). Then, filter what is being said about your image through the vision you had in your mind when you created it. You’ll naturally find some good advice you’ll want to take…and other things you may choose to ignore.

But always listen with an open mind!