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Some Tips for Casual Shooters

The ubiquitous black gondola (shown here with the also common blue cover) is a favorite subject of photographers Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

The ubiquitous black gondola (shown here with the also common blue cover) is a favorite subject of photographers
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

September and October, and particularly during the “fall foliage” season, are prime vacation times. Many love the cool crisp fall air, the relatively less crowded venues, and are often attracted to destinations known for their fall foliage. Elsewhere, fall creates beautiful light and beckons vacationers for many other reasons.

This year looks, from all indicators, to be a year that will yield spectacular foliage as our mixed hardwood forests in the Northern parts of this country turn before dropping their leaves for the winter. With manifold lakes, mountains, rivers and ponds for backdrops and reflections, many travelers will be making memories with their smart phones, tablets, and small travel (“point and shoot”) cameras.

I see hundreds of images on the internet these days most taken with smart phones or tablets. There are just a few “tips” I would offer to perhaps make these images “better” memories.

Make sure the Horizon is Level

This may be the most common issue I see with many of the 100’s of photos posted on line. There are so many of these tilted photos that – If I didn’t know better from scientific proof – would lead me to believe that the world really is flat – and tilted! And not only tilted, but in the majority of cases, tilted to the right! I know from many of my left-leaning friends, there are are a fair number of left leaning shooters out there, but they still lean right when behind the viewfinder. We don’t see the earth tilted right or left with our eyes, but the apparatus we are using to capture the scene – or something in the scene – fools us and the end result is a tilted horizon. I have been shooting with an aid (either a bubble level or a built in level in the viewfinder/screen) for some years now, since my friend, Al Utzig recommended it. I still am amazed when I shoot an image without any aid, thinking the horizon is level and then view it, to see it is not. The level doesn’t lie. Our eyes (and mind) does. It especially shows up with images where there is a well-defined horizon (like those sunset images on your favorite lake, where if you look carefully, you would wonder why the water hasn’t drained out of the lake). J. Don’t let the other objects in the image fool you. They might just be tilted. But the horizon never is.

Think about the Sun

We have all see images – usually of people – where you can hardly see them because they are so dark in the image.

More often than not, these images are made on a perfectly clear, bright, sunny day. But as often, something creates a shadowed area in which the subjects are shrouded. This circumstance is created because of the angle and brightness of the sun. It is why portrait photographers love outdoor conditions that are “bright overcast” rather than bright, clear and sunny. The overcast creates a flat, even lighting, where the bright, clear conditions often create harsh brightness and deep shadows.

The human eye sees these scenes exactly as they are – clear and well-exposed. So why can’t we get it right with the camera? After all, it is a “smart” phone, right? While technology has moved light years in just a few calendar years, we still do not have any optical technology that holds a candle to the human eye, nor computer (yes, digital cams are computers) that matches wits with the human brain. That combination (eye and brain) corrects any lighting problem in a nanosecond, without us realizing it. And it sees a huge range of contrast from very bright to very dark, in great detail. Unfortunately our phones (cameras) are not that good. They “see” a very narrow range from bright to dark, and the computers in them then try to decide which of the tones are the most important to the image. But they just aren’t so “smart.” Unless we give them some direction, they will see a dominant tone in an image and try their best to expose it (more often than not, the brighter tone). And in the process of exposing the brighter tones, they will render darker tones, well – dark. There are a couple of “fixes.”

We could just turn the folks around and have the sun at the shooters back. A couple of problems with that: First, the “scene” we are trying to capture doesn’t lend itself to that. Second, when we do turn them around, they are looking into the bright sunlight and therefore, squinting. And last, the direct sun on them is often creates a harsh effect. So how do we fix the problem without turning them around?

Old San Juan Artisan's Market Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Old San Juan Artisan’s Market
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

There are a couple of “fixes.” The first and often the best, is to turn on your flash. Wait a minute. Flash? In the broad daylight? In bright sunlight? Yep. The flash will “fill” in those areas the computer is telling the camera to render as dark, evening out your image. A second fix is to move in as close as your subject will allow (“telling” the exposure meter built into the camera to measure the light closer to the subject.

Use the “Rule of Thirds”

The rule of thirds is an almost hackneyed rule used by artists and photographers to try to make images more dynamic. Too many otherwise nice images are composed using what I call the “bullseye” effect. The camera has a focus aid (often a square or round bracket in the viewfinder or on the screen), and the default position of that aid is dead center in the frame. So we tend to follow its lead and put our subject dead center in the frame. If the subject is a closeup without any surrounding context, that probably works. But again, the premise here is that you will be out seeing the sights and want to either capture the sight or capture friends and family with a feature of the site as a prop.

The rule of thirds says that a more dynamic composition divided the image into thirds both horizontal and vertically and places important parts of the images at one of the points there the dividing lines intersect. Many cameras now come with a grid that can be activated with lines at the “rule of thirds” point. A useful compositional aid, if you have it. If not, try to imagine your viewing screen or viewfinder divided in thirds in both directions.STONE HOUSE MANASSAS BATTLELFIELD NP MANASSAS, VA 082720100003_tone compressor

For much of the “travel” imagery I see, this is particularly important for the vertical placement of the horizon in an image. With one primary exception, placing the horizon in the middle of your viewfinder is a recipe for a boring image. The primary exception is when you are creating a mirror-image reflection. Even then, be careful not to overuse that.

You have to think about Image Sharpness

In “the olden days” (as I used to say when I was a kid), travelers shot with Kodak Baby Brownie cameras, or Instamatic Cameras. They were “fixed” focus, which meant they used optical formulas which pretty much guaranteed focus in most situations. This mean very short focal length lenses, with relatively small openings (apertures). Only “serious” shooters back then had cameras that were capable of being focused by the user.

Problems with image sharpness are caused by a number of factors. Movement (either your subject or yourself while holding the camera) is one. This is exacerbated as the focal length of the lens increases. Another is the actual optical focusing of the lens. “Fixed” lenses are not common on today’s cameras. Instead, most have some focusing capability. While desirable, this also causes issues from user misunderstanding.

The reason most lenses today are focusable is because of the advent of “autofocus” technology (AF). And, thankfully for those of us with old and poor eyes, AF just keeps getting better and better. But it is still an optical-mechanical technology. Which means it needs some guidance. On smartphones and tablets, there is generally very little user-adjustment. But the guidance is still happening. The software is telling the sensor you are aiming to focus at a particular spot. There is often a green confirmation. You must know where on your screen is telling the lens to focus. Most cameras have a bracket (see above), that will tell you the part of the image you are focusing on. It might not be your subject! But it will focus where it’s told, rendering what appears to be an out of focus image.

The second cause is not understanding the mechanics of your “camera.” If you are shooting with a camera with a very long zoom range and trying to shoot under relatively low lighting conditions, you will likely get blurry results. This is a function of the optics. If your subject is moving, you will likely have the same result. With cell phones the first problem is more likely, as the lenses in these cameras tend to be relatively short.

The above “tips” are just that. They are not “set in cement” rules. And even if they were, all artists know that “rules” are made to be broken. The tips should make general images “better” images and to be kept in mind as rules of thumb while shooting. As the old saying goes, “your mileage may vary.” Don’t be afraid to experiment and to break the rules. But breaking the rules work better when you know them and understand the consequence of breaking them.

Copyright Andy Richards

Copyright Andy Richards

I will be “out for a couple weeks” on travel. Hope to be able to bring some new images back and perhaps something to discuss here. In the meantime, safe travels, have fun, and be safe!

It’s Here (Again)

Boley Lake Babcock State Park, W. VA Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

Boley Lake
Babcock State Park, W. VA
Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

A number of years back, when I first started writing this blog, I think I used the title, “It’s Here!” So I’ll just say “again,” this time and not try to be particularly creative. The last two blogs talked about “that” time of the year, and “teased” this one. Well, it is time and it is here.

Pete's Lake Moon Set Hiawatha NF, Michigan Copyright 2012  Andy Richards

Pete’s Lake Moon Set
Hiawatha NF, Michigan
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Yesterday afternoon, taking a different route than usual home from work, I looked across one of mid-Michigan’s ubiquitous farm fields, just in time to see some stray sun rays break through the cloud cover and light the treetops of the wooded section in the back of the field. And in those light rays, there were reds and oranges and yellows in several of the trees; the harbinger of things to come.

Miner's Castle; Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Michigan U.P. Copyright  2012  Andy Richards

Miner’s Castle; Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Michigan U.P.
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

The season is early yet here in Saginaw County, but with an unusually cold, wet summer, it will not surprise me if we have an early color season. We have yet to have a true frost, but we have certainly flirted with it a couple times already this month. The days are definitely getting shorter, and the air, cooler and crisper (albeit moister than normal, also). The farmers have begun to harvest their crops. And it is, after all, already the second half of September.

Hiawatha NF Color Sections Michigan U.P. Copyright 2012  Andy Richards

Hiawatha NF Color Sections
Michigan U.P.
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

In years past, I have had the fortune of traveling to some place (away from home, of course) where geographic features create a setting for more spectacular fall color than can be found in our flat, farm fields that go on for miles here. This Fall, I may make a couple trips to Northern lower Michigan. This is not the Upper Peninsula that I have written so glowingly of, but it is an area I have not explored (nor exploited) as much as I would like. I have made scouting trips in the off season and noted probable good photographic setups. But I have not found the way to get there during prime color. This year may be early and I may pull it off.

Craftsbury Common Vermont Copyright 2010  Andy Richards

Craftsbury Common
Vermont
Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

During normal “prime time” I will – as I have noted – be in San Francisco, where the color is local, and of a bit different variety. Still, I have hopes of bringing something back from there, too.

Scenic Overlook; Babcock SP, West Virginia Copyright 2011  Andy Richards

Scenic Overlook; Babcock SP, West Virginia
Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

 

Here’s hoping that those of you who are privileged to travel, find what you are seeking. I wish the best to my friends in Vermont, my friends in Ohio, a special friend from Pennsylvania who I suspect will find his way to West Virginia, and another in Minnesota, who hopefully will make it to the North Shore of Lake Superior in time to catch some color.

Burton Hill Road Barton, Vermont Copyright 2010  Andy Richards

Burton Hill Road
Barton, Vermont
Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

Best to all for a successful and fun Fall Foliage shoot!

Presque Isle River, Porcupine Mountain State Park; Michigan U.P. Copyright 1997  Andy Richards

Presque Isle River, Porcupine Mountain State Park; Michigan U.P.
Copyright 1997 Andy Richards

This is the final of my personal picks, 22 “best of” Fall Foliage images. Perhaps it is fitting that I saved what may be the very best for last — and ironic that it is the oldest of the bunch, shot on film.

That Time of the Year (A September Rant)

Tahquamenon Falls Michigan Upper Peninsula Copyright   2004  Andy Richards

Tahquamenon Falls
Michigan Upper Peninsula
Copyright 2004 Andy Richards

I commonly write during September that it is “that time of the year, again.” I know I said I was going to feature some of my “favorite” Fall Foliage images over the next couple weeks, leading up to what – in the Northeast U.S. at least — is probably the climactic first week of October, when I will be out on the “left coast” trying to find a different kind of color.

Photographic images are personal property.

But it is a blog, and so there should probably be some writing around the images – shouldn’t there?

Glade Creek Gristmill Babcock State Park, WV Copyright 2011  Andy Richards

Glade Creek Gristmill
Babcock State Park, WV
Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

It seems like there is something in the air (maybe it’s “back to school,” the excitement of the football season, or some other related reason), and it is apparently “that” time of the year, also. After posting the first 6 of my “favorite” fall foliage images last week, one of my images (not yet posted as a favorite, but appearing in a foliage-based blog last year) was posted on 5 different websites, resulting in 5 DCMA Takedown notices this morning. One successful response is already in, but we will see how the others work. It is becoming more difficult, in my view, to seek and find the ISP hosting service and the correct person to send the notice to. This image hit home for me, as it is one that is “unique.” Not so much because of the subject matter or composition, but because unlike a lot of other Fall foliage images, especially in Vermont, I think I may have been the second person to photograph and publish this scene and the person who discovered it is a special friend and photographer in her own right. Seeing it on other people’s struck a nerve.

Jordan Pond Acadia NP, Maine Copyright 2009  Andy Richards

Jordan Pond
Acadia NP, Maine
Copyright 2009 Andy Richards

So, maybe (or not :-) ) It is timely to revisit this subject (for the 3rd or 4th time on my blog and probably the billionth time on photo blogs as a whole). :-)

Photographic images are personal property.

Photographic images are personal property. From an ownership standpoint, they are not really that different from your wallet, your car, or something you produce and sell. From a reality standpoint, they are galaxies apart. People view them differently. And they are physically different, which does lead to some technical ownership differences. Legally, we refer to images as “intellectual property.” As such, they are in the same category as artwork, books and other writing, and engineered designs and formulas. Photographic images are personal property.

Santa Fe Ski Basin Santa Fe, NM Copyright  2008  Andy Richards

Santa Fe Ski Basin
Santa Fe, NM
Copyright 2008 Andy Richards

Even legally, the “ownership” of intellectual property is not always crystal clear. We have possession of our wallet and title to our car. The photographic image on the other hand, (especially in the digital age) is ephemeral. But instead of “now you see it, now you don’t,” it is more like “now you see it, and then over there you see it again … And again. And again.”

We have developed a mentality that because it is really easy and really available, there must not be anything wrong with it

The digital process has made the movement of images, including copying, much more a reality than it was in prior days. That is not to say that there wasn’t some copying. You could photograph an image or copy it with a color photocopier. Back in the days of the Masters, hand re-painted copies of paintings were not at all unusual. But it generally took an awful lot of talent and effort to do it accurately.

Waterville Mountain Road Bakersfield, Vermont Copyright  2006  Andy Richards

Waterville Mountain Road
Bakersfield, Vermont
Copyright 2006 Andy Richards

Not today. Today, any owner of a decent smart phone, or any kind of computer or tablet, can copy a digitized photographic image with the click of a mouse or rocker button. But what I am amazed about is that we have developed a mentality that because it is really easy and really available, there must not be anything wrong with it.

I do have a philosophical problem with not asking.

One responder noted to me that the image was linked to my site. While I will agree that that is better than taking it and selling it, or taking credit for the image, it is still taking something that belongs to someone else without permission.

Fayette State Park Michigan Upper Peninsula Copyright 2007  Andy Richards

Fayette State Park
Michigan Upper Peninsula
Copyright 2007 Andy Richards

The funny thing about this is maybe I am just shooting myself in my own foot. The image in question, in a couple cases, was linked with a “Lightcentric Photography” hotlink. And I don’t even really have any philosophical problem with allowing others to showcase my work on their site in that manner (attribution and a link to the artist’s site). But I do have a philosophical problem with not asking.

Miner's Beach Munising, Michigan (U.P.) Copyright 2009  Andy Richards

Miner’s Beach
Munising, Michigan (U.P.)
Copyright 2009 Andy Richards

I am not naïve (really, I am not :-) ). I know that there are many other instances out there and neither this blog, nor my flurry of DCMA Takedown notices from time to time is even going to make a scratch mark in the overall situation. But I will – because I can — continue to tilt at windmills – for the time being.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Fall Color Abstract; Pete's Lake Hiawatha NF Copyright  2012  Andy Richards

Fall Color Abstract; Pete’s Lake
Hiawatha NF
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

While this might be a shock, it’s not Christmas. At least not for photographers. In my (admittedly myopic) experience, it is the Fall color season. Everything comes together for landscape and nature photographers at this time of the year. The light is wonderful, and sunrises are later (which means we don’t have to get up in the middle of the night to be on location — just the more civilized hour around 5:00 a.m.), the light is low angled and gives us a longer “window” during the “golden” hours. The air is fresh and clear. Often, wildlife is in full “plumage,” and because it is mating season, often (ironically) less skittish around photographers.

National Forest Road; Hiawatha NF Copyright  2012  Andy Richards

National Forest Road; Hiawatha NF
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

It’s not Christmas

In my ideal world, I would take a 2 month “sabbatical” from work and life each year, and would start in the far northern stretches of our continent and follow the color South. Unfortunately, though my world is great and I have no complaints, it is far from the ideal world described above. So I take “potluck,” and don’t always know for sure where I will be and what I will be able to photograph.

Red Jack Lake; Hiawatha NF Copyright  2012  Andy Richards

Red Jack Lake; Hiawatha NF
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

There may be an opportunity to make a long-weekend shoot or two in Northern Lower Michigan this year, which will present some new opportunities for shooting.

Sunrise; Mocassin Lake Hiawatha NF Copyright  2012  Andy Richards

Sunrise; Mocassin Lake
Hiawatha NF
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

I don’t always know where I will and what I will photograph

Over the past years, I have spent a lot of time in New England and Northern Michigan. I have had the great opportunity to spend some time in Virginia, West Virginia and in New Mexico during the Fall. I am looking forward to visiting the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Eastern Canada, and perhaps the Southwest in future years.

Barn on Pleasant Valley Road, Cambridge, Vermont Copyright 2010  Andy Richards

Barn on Pleasant Valley Road, Cambridge, Vermont
Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

This year, I will be in the San Francisco Bay area in early October this year and “Fall color” images are probably not in the outing for me. Reflecting on this, and how every year at this time I feel the compulsion to write about Fall color photography, I began looking through my more than 6000 “Fall Foliage” images in my Lightroom catalog. I created a “best of” category (which really is probably better defined as my favorites). My quick selection got me down to some 22 images. I will showcase them here for the next couple weeks (because I can).  :-)

Grandview Farm Stowe, Vermont Copyright  2010  Andy Richards

Grandview Farm
Stowe, Vermont
Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

Tablets, Smart Phones and “REAL” Photographers

Last week, I wrote about “photography as art.” My good friend, and mentor, Ray, commented about my blog in his own blog, and probably had the best answer to the question a photographer being an artist: “I don’t know. Do you want to be?” In other words, “does is really matter?” He just makes images – great ones. Go see his work! And thanks, Ray.

Ha'Penny Bridge River Liffey Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Ha’Penny Bridge
River Liffey
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

While I am dwelling on the topic of digital, this may or may not be a logical follow on. But you may want to grab onto the rails, as this blog is probably going to take some strange turns. :-) While surfing during the week, I ran across a thread of photographers complaining about the use of smart phones and tablets to make images. Some were just complaining in general. Others had legitimate “beefs.” But I found the subject and the train of thought fascinating.

No “real” photographer would shoot with a tablet or smartphone, right?

The article that captured my attention was by a wedding photographer who was objecting to attendees shooting photos with their iPads, and to a lesser extent, complaining also about cell phone shooters. There are some (what I think are) obvious issues there, but not really related to the medium of capture, in my view. More on that in a minute. One comment in the article by the photographer struck me: “I don’t have any ego about this, but I am certain that my shot would have been much better than that of the person shooting with her iPad.” Hmmn. Does anybody else see inconsistency in the statement? There were numerous comments about the “crappy” quality of table and cell phone cams, and asked why anybody would bother. I mean, no “real” photographer would shoot with a tablet or smart phone, right?

The ubiquitous black gondola (shown here with the also common blue cover) is a favorite subject of photographers Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

The ubiquitous black gondola (shown here with the also common blue cover) is a favorite subject of photographers
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

It strikes me that all this teeth-gnashing really misses the point. I don’t know who originally said it, but I often see the quote: “the best camera is the one you have with you.” And, the reality is that I have seen some pretty impressive images made with smart phones, and a number of them posted by seasoned, talented pro photographers. Digital technology has, for an “old-school” photographer like me, taken mind-bending turns over the past 10 years. The cameras in phones, and though lagging behind a bit, tablets are becoming more and more impressive. But it really isn’t so much about technology. It is more, in my view, about the Henri Cartier Bresson – attributed, “decisive moment,” about creativity, and about using the tools available to you. Should we photographers really be “bashing” tablet and smart phone owners who use the cameras in those devices to capture images?

Should photographers be bashing Tablet and Smart Phone shooters?

Well ………. No. Inexpensive digital photographic technology, and especially with the ubiquitous mobile phone and the increasingly ubiquitous tablet, and all manners of hybrids in between, along with internet sites like FaceBook, Flickr, and their progeny, has simply made photography easily available to everyone. Hence, everyone is out there making images and posting them. Most, to be brutally honest (I will admit that I do have some “ego” about it J ). Aren’t very good. The fair majority of almost hackneyed “beach sunset” images would lead a view to believe that the earth is indeed flat and frighteningly, tilts precariously to the right. The “family and friends” shots are often sillouhettes. But again, that perhaps misses the point. These shooters are not trying to be Ansel Adams. They are simply capturing memories. And, relating back to the “tools” comment, a serious photographer tries to use the correct tools for the job. If we are going to capture a landscape image for use other than a Facebook posting, or are making wedding memories “for hire,” we are, of course, going to use “better” tools (for the time being – technology marches on). And yes, I hope the pro photographer will make a “better” image than the rank and file attendees – does that really need to be said?

Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

On the other hand……….Yes. Why shouldn’t anybody who wants to and owns a phone or a tablet with a digital capture device be able to shoot images when and where s/he wants? And why should “we serious photographers” (hard to impart this in writing, but I am poking fun at myself with that comment) whine and complain about it? Is it the “competition”? Maybe. But that’s nothing new folks so adapt and get over it. It’s not going away (easy for me to say as I don’t make my living shooting; and I am not unsympathetic; just pointing out reality). To me, as one who has spent 30 years shooting through a viewfinder with a dedicated camera, all those folks holding the tablets and phones at arm’s length look kind of silly. But don’t knock it until you try it. I have actually found times when having the ability to hold the device at odd angles and at arm’s length works to my advantage. Just because everybody doesn’t do it my way, doesn’t mean they are wrong (really, it doesn’t, though sometimes I need to be reminded of that).

This isn’t really about Tablets and Phones at all … it’s about Manners

So why Yes? My wonderful, late, maternal grandmother (family and friends who knew her will agree that she is – perhaps the only member of the family – worthy of being referred to as a “saint”), once defined “manners” for me (see, I told you we would be taking a weird turn – that’s why my blog refers to “musings”). “Manners,” she said, are very simple to define and to carry out: “they are simply put, consideration for others.” So there is the answer to why I said “yes.”

But it’s not really about tablets and smart phones, is it? The wedding photographer was really complaining about the discourtesy, or at least oblivion of the wedding guests. And this is a “people” and “manners” issue. It is not a choice of technology, or even a “right to,” issue at all. As a professional photographer, charged with creating professional and creative memories of the event, the shooter found it very difficult to do the job, with guests stepping in front of her during the ceremony, or even monopolizing a shot by standing in the aisle. There is nothing that says “romance” like that shot of Uncle George snapping the groom kissing the bride. J. And there is nothing more frustrating to the professional than Mrs. Jones’s flash blowing out a nice, moody, natural light image. And during other parts of the wedding (including, incredibly in my view, during the formal shooting before and/or after the ceremony) guests shooting, and often disrupting the process and distracting the subjects. And, by the way, all of the above can be done just as well with a “pro-style” camera as with a tablet or smart phone. So that really is just a “red herring.”

Warning in the Fog Sony Nex-6; 16-50 Sony Zoom; f5.6 Copyright  2013  Andy Richards

Warning in the Fog
Sony Nex-6; 16-50 Sony Zoom; f5.6
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Should we blame these folks? Probably. We could all (I need the reminder daily) profit from my grandmother’s definition of “manners.” Because this post is really about manners and not about technology (though it’s hard not to conclude that technology has had some negative effect on manners). But it probably doesn’t rise to the justification for a rant. Maybe the photographers should take some responsibility for the fact that we do not live in a 2-dimensional world. Over the years, I have whined and complained about the inability to get a clear (i.e., people-free) shot of some of my sought-after landscape subjects. My wife has a way of bringing me back to a state of humility by reminding me that most of these places (like National Parks for example) were put there for everyone to enjoy – not just for me to get my award-winning shot (and, thank god for “content-aware” cloning in Photoshop). J

As for events like weddings, couldn’t a lot of this be solved by “management?” Shouldn’t the hosts of the event and the professional photographer take some responsibility. Why not educate and negotiate with your clients to prohibit, or at least “manage” guest photography at these events? It seems like there could be times that could be restricted, or designated areas and times for taking shots for all but the hired event photographer.

Tablets don’t kill people, people kill people (oh, wait …. That was guns ….but you get my point, I hope).

 

(Note: This is a photography blog, so I always feel compelled to insert a couple photos. I searched my archives – in vain – for some images taken on my phone or tablet. I don’t do that, so I don’t have any, though any one of them could have been taken with a tablet or phone)

 

 

Am I an Artist?

Copyright 2005 Andy Richards

Copyright 2005 Andy Richards

The title, to photographers and probably most “other medium” artists, should be pretty clearly “tongue-in-cheek.” After all, photography IS art. Isn’t it? The idea for this blog was partly fueled by comments by two of my friends, on last week’s topic about digital medium, Kerry and Stewart. It may just be a logical extension of that topic. But coincidentally, I saw, and clicked on Canadian outdoor photographer, Darwin Wiggett’s Oopoomoo blog, “Photographers – Artists in Denial?” I have heard a number of times, recently, from numerous observers, that the general public does not think photography is “art.” Yet, many of us as photographers take for granted that what we do is “art.”

Let’s look at an ostensibly authoritative source. The Oxford Dictionary defines “art” as: The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power. Photography is most certainly a visual expression and most certainly involves human skill. But does it involve “creative skill and imagination?” Sometimes. But is photography real art?

Many of us as photographers take for granted that what we do is “art.”

My take-away from Darwin’s blog (he is a “friend” on Facebook, so I will take the liberty of calling him by his first name, in the spirit of my own blog, which tends to be very informal – hope he won’t take offense) was that many photographers are attracted to the gear and technical aspects of the “craft” of photography, but that they often hide behind it, rendering their photography, eventually, ultimately unfulfilling. He suggests that what most photographers are really seeking (but may not admit or recognize it) is a creative outlet. I inferred from the blog that some men may think “art” is not “manly.” J I believe we observe, think, and write from our own experiences and that those experiences are probably paralleled by many of our contemporaries. So, I will follow that lead, and suggest a different view, based on my own experience over the last nearly 40 years (not to challenge Darwin’s thesis – I believe he is correct – but to suggest another view).

Leaves Floating on Water Copyright 2007  Andy Richards

Leaves Floating on Water
Copyright 2007 Andy Richards

Painting, drawing and sculpting all have things in common. They are visual representations. They take skills beyond just having a creative imagination. There is as much “craft” to these arts, as there is to photography, albeit perhaps less mechanical and scientific in most instances.

Darwin is, I am sure, right about many men (and maybe a few women, though I really don’t want to go down the “Mars vs. Venus” road here). J By my reading, the main point of his blog (and indeed perhaps of the Oopoomoo site), is that photography is really about creative art and that the technical stuff, once mastered, will not satisfy the “artist” in us. It’s hard not to agree with that.

It is one thing to call yourself an “artist.” It is another thing altogether to be an “artist.”

But one of his sub-themes was almost a generalization about how some of us come to photography from other serious (“professional”?) endeavors like science, medicine, technology and IT; are attracted by the science and technology of photography as a “craft;” and try to become photography “craftsmen.” He suggests that we shy away from being an “artist,” because our view of “artists” because of our perception their unique “personality.” Note that I emphasize “our perception.” I don’t think for a minute that Wiggett is suggesting that those “traits” he lists are accurate – just that many have the perception that they are (I won’t quote him here – instead, I highly recommend you read the well-written blog). I have no doubt that what he writes is true of many photographers – but not all.

I have no problem calling myself an “artist” – not for the reasons posited in the blog, anyway

I am a self-avowed “gearhead.” My dad, and his dad were engineers (electrical and civil) and both were skilled with the use of tools for mechanics and woodworking. I inherited some of their aptitude and certainly their love for the work and perhaps more to the point – fine tools and skills. But I was not attracted to photography by “gear” or scientific technique. I was attracted by fine photographs made by other photographers. I wanted to do that – but I wanted to do it by bringing my own vision to images. So, while I agree with his end conclusion – that we need to focus on the creative process of photography in order for it to be a sustaining thing for us, In my own case, I don’t think it is a lack of attention to, or any reticence about the “art” side of photography. I have no problem calling myself an “artist” – not for the reasons posited in the blog, anyway.

Zoomed Colored Lights Copyright Andy Richards 2009

Zoomed Colored Lights
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

It is one thing to call yourself an “artist.” It is another thing altogether to be an “artist.” I think many of us who came to photography rather than being attracted by the craft, were art appreciators. I played in the band and orchestra in high school, sang in the choir and chorale in college, and took piano lessons as a kid. I love music. But I was never talented enough to call myself an artist or musician. I could play, but I couldn’t “make music.” I have always been in awe of those who can sit down with a piano or a guitar and “make” a new song. Art it very similar and one of the deep-seated fears of many of us is that we can master the “craft” and we can mimic the best. But can we create our own art? That is an area where, in my view, resources like the Oopoomoo site (which is dedicated to the creative side of photography) can be invaluable.

I think many of us who came to photography rather than being attracted by the craft, were art appreciators.

I have images that I am pretty happy with. Some of them have been purchased by others. Some of them have “won” juried selections in art galleries. Some of them hang on walls in offices and living rooms (not just my own J ). Many of my images get lots of “oohs and ahs” from my friends and acquaintances and the occasional complete stranger. But I will probably always have the nagging thought that someone else has done it and mine is just mimicking what has already been done. That it is not creative and is not art. I’ll bet this resonates with some other photographers.

Fall Color Reflection Copyright 2012  Andy Richards

Fall Color Reflection
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

I have no formal art or photographic training. I took an art appreciation course in college. I have read about art, and especially about classic composition. My brother has a college degree in art and he definitely “creates” imagery as a painter, drawing, and with computer graphics. They are unique and from within. We have both sold images and had our work “win” things (him perhaps substantially more than me – but that is what he does). Is he an artist? I think so. Am I an artist? A wise friend and talented and creative photographer recently said something like this to me (paraphrase), whether something is art is determined not by the creator, but by the appreciative viewer. In that case, I have made many a photographer an “artist.” I definitely can appreciate art. But can I create it? I guess that is up to the viewer.

Has the Digital Medium Changed Everything?

Shops in Jackson, Wyoming Copyright  2012  Rich Pomeroy (taken with my Canon G11)

Shops in Jackson, Wyoming
Copyright 2012 Rich Pomeroy (taken with my Canon G11)

38 years ago, I became fascinated with photography, as a hobby and art form. My inspiration at the time was a college professor who was an accomplished landscape and nature photographer. I lived in Vermont, which is pretty much a nature studio, so it seemed pretty natural that I pursued outdoor and nature subjects, and in particular, “landscape.”

The “medium” of photography back then would seem much like “alchemy” to the youth of today. We used strange, cellular strips of stuff called “film,” which had silver crystals which changed from light to dark when exposed to light, to create 2-dimensional “images.” After exposing them to light, we immersed them in a smelly, chemical bath and then after drying them out, we had images that could either be projected with a beam of light, or printed (with yet another silver crystal, light-exposure, chemical bath process).

“Not everybody trusts paintings, but people believe photographs”

Today, most of us have moved on to a digital capture, digital presentation, or printing process which is much more “behind-the-scenes” mathematical, but much easier for most of us to accomplish, because it uses computer technology that today, most of us take for granted and most of us own. The “math,” as I noted is behind the scenes for the most part, with relatively user-friendly, graphical user interfaces (like sliders, circles, brushes, and drawing tools).

Tug Boat in Caribbean Waters Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Tug Boat in Caribbean Waters
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

We are still making images and for the most part, as presented, they appear to be the same. But is it? “Old school” photography was “realistic.” The whole idea was to try to depict a photographic image that looked as “real” as the scene being “caputured.” Wasn’t it? As a relatively new medium, photography was very distinct from painting. One of our most famous American landscape photographers, Ansel Adams, was reputed to remark that: “not everybody trusts paintings but people believe photographs.”

Today’s reality is that observers simply do not trust most photographs any more

That may have been true during his era, but alas, I doubt that is true today. Indeed, I often hear the remark, “that has obviously been ‘photoshopped.'” And, I frequently have people ask me about my own images: do you “enhance” them? A couple years back, a New York Times photographer was fired for “enhancing” his photographs, by moving some of the subjects around. Today’s reality is that observers simply do not trust most photographs any more.  Edit:  I was corrected, this morning, by a source of the highest integrity.  No New York Times photographer has, to my (or my source) knowledge ever been fired for “manipulating” images.  I was recalling an event about a Los Angeles Times photographer during the Iraq War.  It was widely publicized at the time and he apparently cloned-in persons rather than moving anything around.  There is enough misinformation around without me unnecessarily adding to the mix.  My point is/was that photographs do get “manipulated” by different persons for different reasons.  I might be a “bad” thing in some instances.  It is not always “bad” and “manipulate” very often takes on an unneeded pejorative slant in this context.

The real truth is that the photographic art form has never really depicted “reality.” You cannot hear, smell, or feel a photograph or its surroundings. It is, at best, a fleeting instance of time—frozen. It is a momentary image “captured” by whatever medium is currently the best suited for such capture (and, perhaps, best suited for the photographer’s intended result). It is up to the photographer to create in the viewer the reaction and emotion to the image that creates a “being there” kind of result (whatever and wherever the photographer intends that to be).

Photographic art form has never really depicted “reality.”

The reportage “branch” of photography (as in the New York Times example above), and photography intended for evidentiary or scientific use must, almost by definition approach “reality” as best the photographer can present it (and even then, it can only be that photographer’s best interpretation of reality. The shooter must persuasively depict the subject in a manner that supports the proposition being illustrated. And, since in news, scientific illustration, and evidence, the proposition is factual reality, the image must accurately portray that proposition. In my view, in virtually every other kind of photographic imagery (or in other words, artistic imagery), there is no need to be so realistically accurate.

Fall Color Abstract; Pete's Lake Hiawatha NF Copyright  2012  Andy Richards

Fall Color Abstract; Pete’s Lake
Hiawatha NF
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

I absolutely digitally enhance my images

So, in artistic photography, the photographer is free to create (or as Ansel Adams once also said, “make”) his imagery. I said above that I am frequently asked if I “enhance” my images before printing or displaying them. The answer is yes, absolutely! Why wouldn’t I? I generally have one of two (sometimes the result is a blend of both) objectives in my landscape imagery. I want to recreate on screen or print what I “saw” at the scene; and/or I want to enhance a scene that fits within my imagination of what could have been. Of course, sometimes, in post shooting review (and – rarely – during a shoot), I will envision something more surreal or unrealistic and think it may still be a cool art form. But mostly, I am looking for “realism.”

I keep using the word, “realism,” and perhaps it appears, somewhat inconsistently. Realism is one of the funny words that (in the words of a famous U.S. President), “depends on your definition of the word.” My definition is set out above (what I saw, or what could have been). I am not shooting evidentiary or reportage shots. In that genre, it seems important that we depict, as closely as possible, what “was.” But even then, it is not really possible to have a uniform, concrete definition of “real.” If 3 people come upon a scene and are asked to describe it afterward in their “minds-eye,” I guarantee you will get 3 different descriptions. We see arrangement of elements differently. We remember things that struck us and they are likely different than others saw and remembered. We perceive color, light and contrast differently. So, it’s very difficult to photographically represent factual realism – because that is a moving target.

Chili Ristra, New Mexico   copyright 2008  Andy Richards

Chili Ristra, New Mexico copyright 2008 Andy Richards

Realism depends on your definition of realism

Yes, I believe digital photography has “changed the world,” and is very different from film photography. But I don’t think the fundamental idea of what images represent have really changed at all. It may be easier for more of us to “manipulate” images. By and large that is at least a neutral thing, and in my view, a positive thing. And, “manipulation” of imagery is not a “new” result of the digital age. Alchemic photographers spent hours and hours in the darkroom, “manipulating” images. What digital has done is opened up a whole new world of manipulability, to a much larger set of users. In terms of my comment above about nowaday observers not “believing” images, I have no problem with having a healthy skepticism about what a photographer says the image depicts. But that doesn’t mean disbelief. And, as shooters and observers, we have – perhaps – a responsibility to view imagery in context. Art is art. I am not sure what real is or what is real. J

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