Cole Thompson

A Potrerillos Wedding (Argentina)

Lone Sailboat, #1. Dique Potrerillos, Argentina, 2016
Lone Sailboat, #1. Dique Potrerillos, Argentina, 2016


So, you are a serious photographer as well as a guest or relative at a wedding. What do you do? Do you carry your camera? Where do you aim it? What do you photograph if you are absolutely not much of a people/wedding shooter?

Hopefully, the bride and groom (and parents!) have been, vewy, vewy wise and have contracted a professional wedding photographer to do the shoot. That will free you up to make whatever images you like of the goings on and of the surroundings. (Just be sure to stay the heck out of the path of the pros as they work.)

And so it was this past weekend at the wedding of my wife’s eldest daughter, Anna Clara. They had contracted a veritable team of excellent photogs, including ground and aerial (quadcopter) videographers. All bases were completely plastered.

Thank God. I would never want to have the responsibility of shooting a wedding. My chapeau is definitely doffed to those who do it and do it well!

So, being free of any such responsibility, here is what I came up with. Some images are from the tiny, but very capable, mirrorless Sony RX100iv and others with the Nikon D800 DSLR–and I bet you can’t tell the difference in these web-sized presentations!


The standard spiral stairway composition inside the Hotel Potrerillos, the wedding venue. In retrospect, I should have had the bride and groom at the top of the stairs, looking down–it would have made for a nice center of interest on this lovely stage. The entire hotel was just recently renovated and had not yet even been inaugurated. Our wedding party was the first big post-renovation event at this locale:

Hotel Potrerillos, Escaleras. Near Mendoza, Argentina, 2016
Hotel Potrerillos, Escaleras. Near Mendoza, Argentina, 2016


The bride and groom. I blatantly copied the eyes closed idea from Cole Thompson, a photographer who has done a really wonderful portrait series based on this theme:

Eyes Closed. Hotel Potrerillos, Argentina, 2016
Eyes Closed. Hotel Potrerillos, Argentina, 2016


The hotel pool kept drawing my eye being, as it was, such an excellent abstract subject:

Piscina, #6. Hotel Potrerillos, Argentina, 2016
Piscina, #6. Hotel Potrerillos, Argentina, 2016

The bride’s elegant crown:

La corona de la novia. Hotel Potrerillos, Argentina, 2016
La corona de la novia. Hotel Potrerillos, Argentina, 2016


The groom’s elegant tie:

La corbata del novio. Hotel Potrerillos, Argentina, 2016
La corbata del novio. Hotel Potrerillos, Argentina, 2016

Click here for more images!

Can’t? Then watch this video!

Underpass Abstract, #4 (Color). Boulder, Colorado, 2014
Underpass Abstract, #4 (Color). Boulder, Colorado, 2014

I can’t seem to make good pictures…I can’t figure out how to use Lightroom or Photoshop…I can’t sell any work…I can’t get my photographs in any galleries or shows…I can’t seem to unleash the creative me as I’d like…I can’t…I can’t…

Here is a superb lesson on what can happen in your life if you eliminate the word “can’t” from your vocabulary. Take five minutes out of your busy day and watch this (if you don’t get at least a knot in your throat, I’ll be a monkey’s mother):

Thanks to Cole Thompson for bringing this to my attention. He often passes on inspirational videos in his photography newsletter and I thought this one was definitely worth republishing here.

Photographer Spotlight: Edward Weston

Golden Gate #1. San Francisco, California, 2013
Golden Gate #1. San Francisco, California, 2013

For this issue of the “Photographer Spotlight”, and to go with my image of the California icon above,  I’ll offer up another California icon, Mr. Pepper #30 himself, Edward Weston.

I saw his work at the Longmont, Colorado museum some time ago and then, just recently, I happened across a great documentary film about him (it was linked in a Cole Thompson e-newsletter) and found it to be very well done, if a bit corny now and then (especially the close ups of Weston’s wise and all-seeing visage, along with some of the syrupy narration).

Weston was one of the original founders of the famous Group f/64, and I have always admired his and their work. (The other original members: Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, John Paul Edwards, Sonya Noskowiak, Henry Swift, and Willard Van Dyke.)

The film you’ll see is an old 1948 government documentary called The Photographer, shot by fellow Group f/64 member, Willard Van Dyke.  Weston looks a bit frail and, indeed, he had only been recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease when this was filmed.

The big mystery…Who is his attractive and enthusiastic student? She is too young to be Sonya Noskowiak, one of his lovers, and nowhere can I find this woman listed in the credits. A little extra e-sleuthing tells me it is most likely Dody Weston Thompson, an excellent photographer in her own right, founder of Aperture magazine and the eventual wife of Edward’s son, Brett.

Anyway…Click the link below, then sit back, relax, and learn for the next 26 minutes and 43 seconds.

Cole Thompson, Ft. Collins Photography Workshop

Sawhill Reflection #5. Boulder, Colorado, 2013
Sawhill Reflection #5. Boulder, Colorado, 2013

Yesterday 15 of us were lucky enough to spend a day with Cole Thompson at the Center for Fine Art Photography in Ft. Collins, Colorado. There was no talk about lenses or cameras; we talked about artistic vision. It was an introspective and philosophical experience.

To give you a sense of where Cole went with our group, here is a collection of quotes from the day:

–“You can have a technically perfect, yet soul-less, photo.”

–“Technical ability cannot compensate for artistic vision.”

–“We all know instinctively how we want the scene to look. The task is to put that on paper.”

–“The miracle isn’t Photoshop; the miracle is the vision.”

–On copying the works of the masters: “Ansel has already done Ansel. What are you doing to further your vision?”

–“How do I know when an image complies to my vision? When the image is uniquely mine and is not a copy of anything else.”

–On the so-called “experts” in the schools and galleries: “I want an expert when I’m getting a colonoscopy. I don’t want an “expert” when they are judging my art.”

–“Vision is not limiting, it is freeing.”

–“With vision, good images are everywhere.”

Finally, Cole’s Rule of Thirds:

A great image comes from 1/3 vision, 1/3 the capture, and 1/3 processing.

The Rabbit Hole of Creative Post-Processing

The Bar at Gold Hill. Gold Hill, Colorado, 2013 (A creative filter example.)
The Bar at Gold Hill. Gold Hill, Colorado, 2013 (A creative filter example.)

After yesterday’s post, here is an important follow-up…That is, some things to think about before you launch yourself cranium-first down the rabbit hole that is lined with the colorful boxes of the myriad creative software options available today. To wit: What exactly is your creative vision? Where do you want to go with your photography? What is your personal style, or what do you want to be your personal style?

If you have at least some partial answers to these questions, you stand a good chance of emerging from the rabbit hole with your mind intact and your mouse-click finger arthritis-free. If you know where you are going, photographically, you will be looking for specific tools that will give you a specific look. There is less chance of you simply spending the next 140 years slobbering over the millions of possible presets, filters, and slider combinations.

For an example of a photographer with a clear vision, a clear style, and who cares about the software tools only insofar as they serve to carry his vision to print, look at Cole Thompson’s work at Cole Thompson Photography. He claims to know roughly six things in Photoshop and that’s it. That’s all he needs to make his photographs so that’s all he cares about. You certainly won’t find him trapped in the rabbit hole! (Cole, by the way, is our guest presenter this month at the Colorado Nature Camera Club. Be there or be square: 7p.m., November 21, Colorado Mountain Club offices at the Table Mesa Shopping Center in south Boulder.)

Yes, there is something to said for playing around in some of these creative post-processing programs. First, it’s fun! More to the point, though, you might actually discover something that resonates with you if you are not on a specific path already. So, sure, play around a bit. Experiment. But, always be thinking about where you really want to go with your photography.

The big question: What is it you want to say with your work? (And I ask as if I know the answer to my own question!)


Thanks, Cary Wolfson, for the “rabbit hole” idea.

Creating A Workshop Portfolio

Sawhill Cottonwoods. Boulder, Colorado, 2013
Sawhill Cottonwoods. Boulder, Colorado, 2013

This coming weekend we have a workshop with the accomplished photographer Cole Thompson. Among a couple of other things, he has asked each of the participants to bring ten prints. (That is PRINTS, not just an image on a laptop–I love the idea!) But…Aaaack! Talk about a most difficult difficult task! How do you edit down all the work you have ever done into an abbreviated portfolio of ten prints!?

You could…pick ten on the same theme…ten from a specific photographic project…ten from your latest trip to the world’s largest ball o’ twine…ten in color…ten in monochrome…ten portraits…ten that you think are your best overall…ten varied works that show your wide range of interests…ten random images…ten that a friend picks out for you…and so on.

The so-called “experts” always council that, when putting together a portfolio or a show of any kind, there be some uniformity of style and theme throughout and it should be designed with the intended audience in mind. It is not seen as a good thing to randomly throw together a still life in color, then an abstract monochrome, then images of wildlife, then sports car action, etc–it wouldn’t make sense to the viewer. It should be what they often call “a cohesive body of work”.

The experts also council that, editorially speaking, you should become a cruel and heartless Genghis Khan as you slice your digital scimitar through your image collection. Be absolutely ruthless about throwing out the bad stuff, they say–and even the good stuff that doesn’t quite make it to excellent. For a portfolio, keep only your very, very best.

So, what to do…what to do? How do I whittle down what I do with the camera into just ten images? Also, this is just a workshop–I am not trying to sell myself to a gallery or a client–so how might that affect my selection?

My personal problem related to image selection for a portfolio is that I am sometimes too attached to particular images to be able to judge them in a neutral way. I also sometimes don’t think I know what a good image is, at least when it comes out of my camera. Maybe it is that my emotional investment or even my physical investment (dude, it was a mega-epic hike to get there!) can confuse me about what is truly a good image.

Because of these issues, it is a great idea to enlist the help of a spouse, friend, relative, fellow photog, photography club, your cat, even a stranger on the street…as long as they are capable of telling you the truth! A different, honest, perspective can reveal things about your images that never would have occurred to you working solo.

So, I have picked my ten images. I went ahead and matted them, too, as I think presentation is very important in how one views a photograph. I have chosen pairs of images that relate to five different themes–sort of the mini photo essay idea. All are monochrome, except one which has somewhat muted colors (I am taking a risk here, mixing in a color with B & W!).

We will see how it goes. And it will be interesting to see the different ways in which the 15 participants have approached this assignment of bringing in ten prints. I will report back after the workshop.

Oh, and I completely reserve the right to change out my portfolio images right up until this Saturday morning!

Additional Information: For a great summary of the nature of a photography portfolio and how to create one, see 10 Steps for Building a Photography Portfolio to Be Proud Of by Simon Bray.


Sawhill Reflection #10. Boulder, Colorado, 2013
Sawhill Reflection #10. Boulder, Colorado, 2013

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.

Wednesday Critique #14, 03/13/2013

Drifting Snow #3. Joder Arabian Ranch, Colorado, 2013
Drifting Snow #3. Joder Arabian Ranch, Colorado, 2013

For this week’s Wednesday Critique, I thought I’d throw you a curve and talk about the idea of NOT critiquing the work of others…Call this the anti-critique point-of-view. 

Why would anyone want to not critique the work of others, especially if they are widely seen as a master photographer?

Well, I know one photographer who has his very specific reasons:

People who give advice are generally well intentioned and oft times experienced.  However their advice comes from their vision and their point of view, not yours, which makes all the difference in the world. If I were to tell you how to process your images and you listened to my advice, then your images would begin to look like mine. That’s not right, they should look like your images that were created with your vision. Consequently I try very hard to not give advice to others about their images, how they should process them or how they should look.

This paragraph is from an interview with Cole Thompson in which he talks extensively about his vision and his creative process. You can read the entire interview HERE, and I highly recommend you do if you are a pensive artist. (Note his philosophy of “photographic celibacy” which is most interesting–the notion of deliberately NOT studying the work of other photographers in order to more purely pursue one’s own vision and style without falling into the trap of imitation.)

You might find some of Cole’s ideas a bit contrarian–I certainly don’t fully agree with him on all points–but his ideas work for him and that’s really all that counts. They may not–and probably won’t–work for you. And that’s the point: In the midst of all the noise of social media, art galleries and art critics, the mass media, peer pressure, photo club opinions, and so on, every artist must find that lonely path that works best just for him or her. It’s a very personal journey, this practice of the art of photography.

Artistic tips from Cole Thompson

Equine Cross County Jump. Boulder County, Colorado, 2012
Equine Cross County Jump. Boulder County, Colorado, 2012

If you have issues with the following three major topics (as I have had) and want some great answers, then check out the link (given at end of post) to a superb article by Cole Thompson. Here are some of the things he’ll help you with:

1) Ever wonder what is involved in making great artistic images? Check out his 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 theory.

2) Don’t think you have the Photoshop talent necessary to make beautiful photographs? Console yourself and give yourself some hope with Cole’s “lack” of talent declaration.

3) Trying hard to get your monochrome conversions to come out with more pop–do they tend to be too “flat” looking? Cole has some specific tips on adjusting contrast as well as setting the white and black points using the Levels tool with the histogram, all to make them look better. (And he doesn’t use plug-ins!)

If you want some answers to these key issues, see this article by Cole ThompsonHis web site is also worth a visit–check out his galleries then spend some time perusing his newsletters.

One of these days I’ve got to see if I can get some one-on-one mentoring sessions with this guy!