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Improving Your Imagery

The unique cloud trail pattern in this image, in my view, is what adds "gesture" to this Image of Grand View Farm in Stowe, Vermont

I am always thinking about how I can improve my photography skills. While I don’t suggest that my technical skills have reached perfection, I think I have a reasonably good grasp of the fundamentals of exposure, focus, depth of field, and digital exposure and manipulation.

However, I am often in awe of what seems to me to be a “natural” artistic vision by some of my friends and fellow photographers, while being self-deprecating about my own artistic vision.

Recently, I have been thinking more about “art” in the context of my own photography. How can I take it to a higher level? What should be my frame of mind when I set out into the field or on a photography excursion? Is there a mental or emotional approach to preparation for photography? While I strongly believe in developing my own unique vision, I have increasingly sought the advice and commentary of photographers who I respect and believe have themselves attained that higher level.

My recent fall trip to Vermont was preceded by some of this self-searching about what I wanted to accomplish photographically. In past trips, much of my planning was about finding the particular location and photographing it. This year, while I still wanted to find sought after locations and shots, my mental preparation involved looking for something extra in the photographs, instead of just the “record” shot that others have captured. In a discussion on the Scenes Of Vermont Photography Forum, the word “gesture” was bandied about for a week or so. I believe it was attributed to comments made by professional photographer, Jay Maisel. I found it a good descriptive term for that “something extra” I was looking for in my own photography. That “gesture” can be found in dramatic skies, unusual reflections, and dramatic weather conditions such as fog. As always, dramatic lighting conditions will almost always provide “gesture.” I thought the images I posted on my “Working At Creative Photography” blog in October, successfully captured some of that “gesture.” Rather than the “iconic” postcard images I had sought in the past, I tried to find clouds, light, fog, etc., in my photographs.

But I am still looking for more. On one of the internet forums I frequent, The Midwest Photography Enthusiasts Group, I have had the pleasure of getting to know Pennsylvania professional photographer and teacher James Moore. Jim is a thoughtful guy whose own work speaks for itself. I think it is worthwhile to study Jim’s work as I read his comments and critiques of work he observed. Jim has a masterful way of honest, direct, critique of photography within the meaning of the word “critique” as I see it. I think the terms “critical,” “critique,” critic and the like too often are taken in a negative or pejorative sense. I believe that it was intended more to be direct observation about a subject including concrete observations about what could be done to improve, as well as what works well with the subject. Jim does this in a way which continues to impress me. I commented on the forum about a couple of Jim’s critiques of others’ work and how much it helped me in my own journey to “see” photographically. Internet forums are an incalculable resource for photographers and allow us to commune with other photographers, including professionals, on an informal and daily basis. This is a phenomena that simply wasn’t possible a short few years ago. The MPEG forums have been one of the best I have ever participated on, as they have given me access to some very talented professional and hobby photographers, alike. Mark Perry, the owner, is a talented photographer himself, and is very accessible to the membership. I spoke to Mark on a daily basis by cell phone while we were both in Vermont last October. I highly recommend taking a few minutes to view the forum and its benefits.

Recently, Jim has taken my invitation to comment on my work to another level, by creating a several-part formal critique of one of my images on his own, EFT-Stop Blog. This image was one taken in Minnesota, on the Cascade River, accompanied by my good friends and fellow photographers, Al Utzig, and Rich Pomeroy. These guys are kindred spirits who always make my photography more meaningful with their fellowship and sharing of thoughts and ideas. The image is an example of one in which I spent some time “visualizing” the options of presenting the scene, but also one in which that visualization may not have been optimal. The posted image was a crop from the in-camera image, and Jim, as you can see from the Blog, is able to point out, not only that there is a stronger, more visually effective image within, but most importantly to me; why. My personal goal is to “see” that kind of effective composition as I stand behind the camera and capture it straight from the camera. Jim’s subsequent Blog posts give a series of considerations designed to get the photographer to that point. And, in sharing some personal communications with Jim, his workshops are designed with some tools and exercises to teach the photographer how to visualize and “see” the compositions we are talking about.

I am of course, flattered to have Jim review and use one of my images. But I really want to highlight his process of critique and teaching. I highly recommend reading his critique (not because it is about my image J — but because I believe there is some high quality, constructive instruction to other photographers seeking to better understand the process of artistic “seeing”). I have become a believer in Jim’s critical and teaching skills. He leads a number of “Master Class Workshops” in Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Smoky Mountain NP, and Western Maryland each year, geared toward serious photographers who want to take their skills to higher levels. You can bet that I’ll be attending one of Jim’s workshops in the near future!

In the meantime, I continue to read and study on my own. This year, at Christmas, my booklist included a number of “art” texts in an effort to better understand traditional art. Time (and hopefully, images) will tell.

This image of the Cascade River on Minnesota's North Shore is the subject of a 3-part critique by professional photographer and teacher James Moore on his EFT-stop Blog

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3 Responses

  1. That was a nice review of this image Andy, and provided a lot to learn from.

  2. […] I recently commented on a photo by a friend that an image I particularly liked was actually at least 2, and perhaps 3 different images. What I meant by that was that I could see additional potential images in a scene. It is always a nice “find” when we can produce a viable image that is actually more than one image. My most recent experience with that was the Cascade River image in my recent blog, “Improving Your Imagery.” […]

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