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Barns in Winter
(blue sky rendition)
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

Do you have a place or subject (or multiples) that have intrigued you as a photographic venue, but you just haven’t been able to “see” it through the lens the way your mind’s eye does?  A couple weeks ago, in my “Detours” blog, I spoke of a scene near where my office used to be, in Frankenmuth, Michigan, with red sheds against a weathered barn backdrop.  I probably drove by the scene several times a week and visualized it as an image.  A few times I stopped and “scouted” different angles and views and even took some “test” images.  Couldn’t get excited about any of the results.

I mean “manipulation” in the “good” – Ansel Adams – sense

And then one marvelous late spring morning, we had one of those totally unexpected snowfalls.  Probably a couple inches of wet, heavy snow following warm conditions.  It sticks to everythingSnow is one of those useful  elements that hides things in photographs that we don’t want to see.  So I had to take a “detour” on my way in that morning and was able to make a few “nice” images of the scene.

Barns in Winter
(original color image)
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

But there were still some elements of the image that just didn’t “work.” One was the leaden, grey sky.  As the opening image illustrates, I had images in my collection with clear blue sunny skies too, so I looked at the metadata.  I recalled that what actually happened is that the morning of the snowstorm, it was overcast.  I hadn’t thought of the image in monochromatic terms, because – well – I haven’t tended to think other than in color for most of my years of photography.  Until recently.  My “mind’s-eye” image had blue sky for color contrast.  But the sun did shine the next day and I got out there again, before things melted, and was able to get the blue sky.  Not sure it was an improvement 🙂 .

some elements of the image … just didn’t “work”

So, the barn scene was an addition to my collection of barn images, but it wasn’t until my recent, winter-doldrums, experimental phase, that I started looking at it again and seeing some possibilities for image manipulation (yeah, there’s that “nasty” word again).  I mean “manipulation” in the “good” – Ansel Adams sense.  So I began trying some different renditions.  Here, I show the progression of my photographic images.  In a future blog, I will show where maybe I crossed the line or went over the top, or something like that 🙂 .

Barns in Winter
(B&W Conversion)
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

As I worked with the image, I could see that it had some characteristics that I have come to believe lend themselves to monochromatic presentation.  There are some prominent graphic shapes here to work with.  And in spite of the denuded trees in the background, there is not a whole lot of fine detail in this image.  There are some really good contrasting colors:  black, white and red.  As I thought about the post-processing of this scene as a B&W image, I felt that the red really needed to stay in.  The original image, post-processed in PS ACR and then Nik, shows a surprising amount of color.  It is spring and there is a lot of red in the new growth of the tree branches.  The sky, though grey, shows tones of magenta and even blue.

I hadn’t thought of the image in monochromatic terms, because I haven’t tended to think other than in color for most of my years of photography

I used Nik Silver Efex to render the image in B&W (a turn away from ON1 – more on that in another blog).  With B&W, I have learned that more is better in many cases, when it comes to contrast.  So I turned back to ACR first, and re-worked the raw image, “goosing” up the contrast.  In Silver Efex, I didn’t use any of their presets, but “worked” it to my own liking.  I then used a couple of the other Nik modules to do some “local” editing, adding some contrast and “structure” (which is, as I understand it, contrast adjustment aimed more at the middle tones).  I like the result.  But it it isn’t “spine tingling.” 🙂 .

Barns in Winter
(“colorized” B&W)
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

That’s o.k.  I knew I was moving toward the “colorized” image here.  Using PS layers, I painted the red back in, and made some additional local adjustments to contrast and brightness.  I added a lot of structure to the snow in the foreground, along with some brightness.  The end result is an image I really like.  And it finally approaches the “mind’s-eye” image I visualized that spring morning.


More B&W Images

Nightime Canal
Venice, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

Since last week, I have acquired ON1’s newest offering:  ON1 Photo RAW 2018.  A version or two back, the ON1 folks moved from their “Suite” Of layers and effects, to a raw converter suite, which competes with Lightroom, Photoshop, Capture One, and the like.  The “develop” module in ON1 Photo Raw allows for essentially the same basic raw adjustments as Lightroom and Photoshop’s ACR (Adobe Camera Raw), as far as I can see (Capture One offered me its suite a couple years back at no cost as some kind of deal they have with Sony for Sony camera users – while I have played a little with it, I was too lazy to try to learn a new interface at the time, but I suspect the raw conversion there also has a lot in common with these other programs).

Nighttime Canal
Venice, Italy (“toned”
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

For the Moment, one thing ON1 offers, is the ability to purchase and own standalone software, where Adobe has essentially now moved entirely the cloud-based model.  There were a lot of us in the beginning that were very wary of the online model.  Some of us still have some misgivings, though I will say I have been using Photoshop CC for a couple years now and really haven’t found a problem with it – yet.  I do like the periodic upgrades they push through from time to time, and I find that it generally works pretty smoothly, even with my low RAM Microsoft Surface, when I am not able to work on my desktop PC.  ON1 is seeming to bring the best of both worlds to entice Adobe users.  It intelligently loads (if selected) as a plug-in to both Lightroom and Photoshop, and the process of moving between the software is “relatively” seamless.  I say relatively, because some of the layer-based files can be tricky and it takes a bit of a learning curve to understand what is going on (a curve, I will readily confess, I am at the very low left end of 🙂 ).  The other thing that intrigues me is the ON1 browser/cataloging capability.  I have used LR for cataloging only for the most part.  I may look at migrating that function to the ON1 software.  But that is another topic for another time.  I wanted to play with the ON1 software, primarily for B&W images, but I can see that I will be working some with other aspects of my color images in the software.  But for now, the images here were made using some of their templates, and one with my own conversion.

The ON1 Software presents a learning curve for me; one I confess I am on the low end of

The Venice Canal is the canal where we stayed for our 5 days in Venice in September, 2017.  My buddy and traveling companion, Paul, saw the color version of this image and thought he might like a B&W Print.  So I thought I would play with it, using a couple of the “templates” that are built into ON1’s Black and White conversion process.  I used their masking process to “paint” in some texture and detail in a couple areas and to paint areas lighter and darker.  Otherwise, they are just two different templates.  The second image adds a little “warming” color, which still retaining the monochrome overall image.  I am not sure which one I like, though I tend to lean toward the more dramatic and stark B&W in all these images.

Navy Ships
Fisherman’s Wharf; San Francisco, CA
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

One of my goals in the Navy Ship image was to work a bit with the color channels to see how they affect the image look.  Most of the color version here is pretty much a neutral or slightly darker gray.  But there were a couple of red objects, and on part of the ship on the bow that was bright green.  I fiddled with the sliders a bit to brighten those colors for some contrast to the otherwise gray.  I also darkened the water a bit.  This pre-set template I used here is called “Paparazzi” and it reminded me of some of the B&W images I made back when shooting for our college newspaper many years ago.

Navy Ships; Fisherman’s Wharf
San Francisco, CA
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

The second version is one I actually made first, using NIK Silver Efx in Photoshop.  In this case, I really preferred the ON1 version above.  I suspect that with enough knowledge, I could achieve essentially similar results in either program.  But I am warming to the ON1 software and process as I continue to use it.

Barns; Glen Haven, Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

The “D.H. Day Barn,” in Glen Haven, Michigan is just off the coast of Lake Michigan.  I spent a couple hours here one autumn afternoon, intending to photograph the barns in front of a wash of fall color.  The color was nice, but not spectacular.  But there was a lot of color in the foliage to the right side of the image.  I also like the repetition of these barns which get physically small, and recede in the distance as well.  This is one of the few images I have made in the past couple years that I thought would render well as a B&W image someday.

D.H. Day Barn
Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore; Glen Haven, MI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

I worked this image in ON1, using the “develop” and then “effects” modules from a raw image.  After adjustments to contrast mainly (I used the “dynamic contrast” filter), I converted this to B&W.  The ON1 effects module uses layers (much like the adjustment layers process in Photoshop CC) to add these “filters.”  Each layer has a lot of individual adjustment capability within it, and there is a great masking brush set of tools to achieve local adjustments (I am being repetitive, here, but I am just beginning to understand the potential of this software and trying to compare and contrast how it matches up to Photoshop.  But I see myself using both softwares for the future).  I wanted to do my own conversion here, rather than using a pre-set template.

My goals were to bring out the color contrasts in the sunlit area; build a little drama in the sky, preserve and highlight the white barns, contrasting against the black roofs, and enhance the texture and brightness of the grasses in the foreground.  I feel like I succeeded in all but the last, in the ON1 program.  I am sure I could have accomplished that too, with a little added knowledge and experience in the ON1 program.  But I have to catch a plane in a couple hours to head back to the frozen tundra of Michigan :-).  So I got a little lazy, and to the image back into Photoshop and my trusty NIK suite, adding some brightness and structure to the grass. I am new at this.  Be gentle 🙂 .  But I was pretty pleased with the result.  Lots to learn and looking forward to more experimentation with this stuff.  As always, thanks for reading.

Making “Art” Images from Photographs

Barn, Saginaw County, Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

I continue to experiment with digital “painting” on my photographic images.  As I mentioned last week, I have been using Corel’s Painter Essentials 5.  The full Painter program looks pretty awesome, but a bit rich for my blood.  But I have been impressed with the estimable “light” version in Painter Essentials.

I made the barn image a few years ago, driving around my home county in Saginaw, Michigan.  While it caught enough of my attention to stop and photograph it, I never really thought much of the resulting photographic image.  As I began working with the paining programs, however, it seemed like maybe this was an image that had some possibilities.  I used the “impressionist” paint filter in Painter Essentials, and then brought the image back into Photoshop to do some final editing.  I like the final result.

Clearwater, Florida Scene
Copyright Andy Richards 2018

The Clearwater image was made with my cell phone, while meeting some friends from home who were visiting Clearwater Beach a couple years ago.  This was the view from an outdoor bar at their hotel, overlooking Clearwater Harbor.  I played with several different modes in Painter Essentials, eventually landing on this “watercolor” rendering.

Red Jack Lake
Hiawatha National Forrest, Michigan
Copyright 2018

Painter Essentials has a mode called “illustration.”  It rendered this image with an impressionist look.  This is an image that has, off and on, been featured on my website, Facebook Page and this blog.  I have always liked the photographic rendition.  But this is pretty cool. too.


Here We Go Again (It’s Fall!)

Second Edition!

Here we go again.  It’s fall foliage photography season.  Are you ready?

Reflections; Cascade River, Minnesota

Over the nearly 10 years since I started blogging here, I must have blogged about fall color and foliage a dozen times.  Maybe More. Not surprisingly, it remains a favorite subject for me.  For some who are fortunate enough to have great foliage photo-ops in their backyard, what I will say here may not apply. But for perhaps the vast majority of us, these opportunities often come only after travel to a more aesthetically accommodating venue.

Somesville Town Hall and Bridge
Somesville, Maine
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

I have traveled to New England (prominently: Vermont), the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Maine, Minnesota, West Virginia, Virginia and New Mexico, in various years, to photograph fall color. Vermont has long been a love of mine, and I have made numerous trips there; enough to prompt me to take my first foray into “publishing” with the first edition of “Photographing Vermont’s Fall Foliage” in 2012.

As the previous blog notes, I am very happy to announce the 2nd Edition of this book, with updates and substantial additional locations (the first edition is no longer available, as the sellers required that it be removed from circulation in order to sell subsequent editions). The New Edition is currently available on Amazon, Apple, in the iBookstore, and Kobo.

Maple Leaf
Stowe, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Many of the persons I communicate with at this time of the year are primarily leaf peepers with cameras. For those folks, go and enjoy! For serious photographers, I want to make a few observations, based on my own travel experience.

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

Preparation is Key

Mental preparation is the most important piece of this. Just because it is fall foliage season, doesn’t mean the rules for good photography change :-). It is important to be thoroughly familiar with the gear you will be using, as the “window” for a great image is often very short, and you may only have one chance to visit the location. In 2010, prior to my planned week-long trip to Vermont, I hit a milestone of sorts, in my own photography.  I had always planned my locations and tried to find as much “intel” about a location as I could.  But this time, I focused less on those details, and instead gave some contemplative thought to what I wanted to present visually, emotionally, and artistically.  I think this contributed to one of my most successful trips.

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

What you can take on a trip is also always a consideration. When I shoot near home, or somewhere I can drive to, the photographic gear I will take is generally only limited by what I own (and can afford).  When flying, you really have to consider weight, and bulk. Most of us do not feel comfortable checking a bag with photo gear in it for a number of reasons. So what can you carry on, along with your other needs?  One of the miracles of modern technology is the ability to make great images with a lighter, simpler gearset.  For “casual” travel (I define that as any travel I do that is not specifically and solely dedicated to photography), I now carry a very small, packable carbon fiber tripod and the RXSony 100 iv (a point & shoot sized camera, with some professional credentials).  Even when I go on a dedicated photo shoot, the camera, lenses and tripod are much small and lighter than in the past.

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

A better question might be “what lens will you use?”

Photographic gear is a subject that is often over-thought, in my opinion.  Cameras, lenses, filters, and accessories are — for sure — tools that are necessary to the making of an image.  And there is no doubt that higher quality tools can render a technically better result.  If that is what you seek.  I have already read, several times recently, the question:  “what is the best lens for foliage photography?”  I don’t think there is a “correct” answer to that question.  A better question might be “what lens will you use?”

Tahquamenon Falls
Michigan Upper Peninsula
Copyright 2004 Andy Richards

However, that there are other considerations that will have a more direct bearing on the successful image.  Understanding light, and composition will have much more effect on imagery, in my view, than any other factor.  This assumes, of course, that you already have a solid grounding on exposure principles, how to focus the camera, and considerations of aperture and depth of field.  This relates directly back to the first point:  preparation.  If you do not come to your subject in the best light, it will be difficult to make a really great image.  More often than not, this means early and late (or–think:  during breakfast and supper :-)).  Much of my more recent travel has centered around other activities, such as family time, tours, etc.  While I do make images, it is often apparent that they were not take in the “best” light, and I frequently lament that it would be nice to be at a location either very early or in the late afternoon/early evening.  If your trip is photography-focused, you will need to be mentally prepared to be on site at times that may be inconvenient to others you travel with.  When I have made my fall foliage trips, the majority of them have either been alone, or with other, equally serious, photographers.

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

Don’t forget the “other” gear you may need.  Most fall foliage locations have the potential for very warm weather, rain, and even freezing temperatures (especially at sunrise).  Hat, gloves, sunscreen, and adaptable clothing is important.

Fall Color Reflection
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Most important of all, though is to have fun and enjoy the process as much as the result!  Best to all of out out there and good shooting!

Burton Hill Road
Barton, Vermont
Copyright 2010 Andy Richards



Last time, I wrote about color.  Color attracts.  It always grabs my attention.  It pulls the eye.  But as this image illustrates, it is about more than just color.  This image is boring.  Mundane.  In fact, pretty awful to be displayed on a photographer’s blog.  But I hope it illustrates my point.  Color is a big part of my imagery.  But there are other important ingredients. 🙂

Copyright Andy Richards 2008

Color alone will not make an interesting or compelling image

As the opening image illustrates, color, alone, will not make an interesting (and most certainly not compelling image).  Indeed it is so mundane that I didn’t copyright notice it or claim “artistic” credit.  I am sure I am not the first to have created an image very like this one.  So what’s missing?

Rocks, Lake Superior Shoreline
Copyright Andy Richards 2004

There are a lot of things that will bring interest to an image.  Line, horizon, animation (either illustrated, or in the case of many animal images, imagined).  I want to talk about shape today.

Elliot Falls
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

When I started to look through my archive for illustrations, I thought I was going to have a lot more illustrations that said “shape.”  I also thought about writing about “line.”  A topic to come.  But I was surprised that I was able to find many examples of line, or line and shape.  But fewer that shape alone provided the interest.  Some good examples appeared in the last blog.  The pottery in the shop in Istanbul was really all about color and shape.  Likewise the fans in Japan.

Shiawassee River, Owosso, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

The Rose image has plenty of color.  Two primary colors in fact; red and green.  A blob (or an uninteresting shape) of red and green would not be interesting.  As a photographer, its presence would perhaps pull my eye.  But upon closer inspection, it would not tickle my photographic fancy.

Parking Structure on Wabash Avenue, Chicago
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

Nature presents us with unique and interesting shapes and textures.  The Lake Superior rocks image is another example of nature’s unique presentation of shape, texture and color.  This image might be interesting without all three of the elements.  Maybe the shape and texture would still make a viable image.  But the color attracted me, and the shape and texture of the image prompted me to make it.  Likewise, shapes make the Elliot Falls image in my view.  This Michigan U.P. waterfall is oft-photographed and it is difficult to find a unique perspective.  But the scallops in the sandstone really make this image.

Street Shops
Madrid, NM
Copyright Andy Richards 2008

I was looking for color the morning I took the Shiawassee River photo.  The background was cluttered and not very picturesque.  So I started looking for reflections.  The shape of the log creates enough interest to the eye to make this image work.  Sometimes you have to “help” nature just a bit.  The Noyes Pond bubbles image is a favorite of mine.  Without the bubbles, you have another “record” shot of fall foliage surrounding a pond.  The familiar shape of the bubbles adds interest.  I must confess that although I was involved in making the bubbles, my photograph was not the primary reason for them on this morning.  This image was made in memory of a dear friend, and enthusiastic fellow Vermont shooter.  But I think George would have loved this image. 🙂 .

Moulton Barn
Mormon Row, WY
Copyright Andy Richards 2012

Man made shapes often lend themselves to “shape” composition.  Architecture often lends itself to some dramatic images.  I visited Chicago several time over the years and always loved to walk around downtown in the early morning hours.  This well-known parking structure can be seen in the background of many images of downtown Chicago.  Its unique shape and physical prominence makes it visible from a number of viewpoint around the city.  Color once again drew my eye to the back street shops in Madrid, New Mexico.  Pastel colors abound in much of New Mexico’s architecture.  But again, without the juxtaposed rectangles throughout the image, it would be just a blob of color.  I liked that this image is made up of essentially all rectangles and straight lines.

Canadian Air Force
Fleet Week Air Show
San Francisco, CA
Copyright Andy Richards 2011

Shapes in a image can sometimes be serendipitous.  Without the contrails in the Canadian Air Force image, we would just see a handful of red dots in an shapeless, monotone sky.  The contrails make this image.

Copyright Andy Richards 2009

And, sometimes you just have to make your own shapes.  The starburst image was taken at Christmas time of a lighted outdoor tree display in front of a large commercial building.  It just wasn’t doing it for me, so I played.  The image is shot at a slow shutter speed, on a tripod, while a zoomed the zoom lens.  But in the end, my favorite shapes come from mother nature and her random, unique artistry.  The Whitefish Falls image is but another nearly ubiquitous single drop waterfall in the Michigan U.P.  There are many of them that all look essentially identical.  To make a more unique image, I walked in close for my favorite “intimate” perspective.  I like the result as much as any shape I have ever shot.

Whitefish Falls
Trenary, MI
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

What’s In The Bag (Today)

Tokyo Dawn Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Tokyo Dawn
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

There should be little doubt to the reader here that I have hit a bit of a dry spell when it comes to both topics and photography.  🙂  We have had a very mild winter here (so far) and the part of Michigan I live in is pretty flat, and pretty brown this time of year.  It is also cold.   That creates an atmosphere in which it is difficult to get motivated to go out and shoot.

Sunrise; Ft. Myers Beach, FL Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Sunrise; Ft. Myers Beach, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Usually when this happens, I start going through old images, and come up with something.  I think I have kind of beaten that to death, so I started going through old blog topics, from the early day forward.  A couple of patterns come up.  I have addressed the IP issues of photography a fair amount.  I have talked about digital processing.  I have talked about my travels, and I have talked about “gear.” 🙂

New York, New York Casino at night Copyright Andy Richards 2016

New York, New York Casino at night
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Gear is a funny thing.  It is a part of every photographer’s evolution from a beginning shooter forward.  At some point we fall in love with gear and begin to think it is going to make us a better photographer.  Eventually we learn that it doesn’t really do that at all.  We buy cheap gear because we cannot afford the real high quality stuff in many instances.  Then we look back and realize that we spent at least as much on the different iterations of cheap gear as we would have spent on the quality gear in the first place (this is especially true of lenses and tripods).

Wooden Boats Awaiting Restoration Newport, RI Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Wooden Boats Awaiting Restoration
Newport, RI
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

And then there is the evolution of gear.  My starting point was a 35mm SLR film camera with a turn-hand winder, and without a built in light meter.  Today I carry the physical equivalent of a P&S for 90% of my shooting.  But in between ……. 🙂 wow.  Reviewing a couple old posts, I had to laugh.  In 2011, I waxed philosophical about “less is more” [“In the Bag” (getting ready for Spring)].  At the end of that blog, I listed the gear in my “bag” in 2011.  LOL.  All in, that was about 15 lbs of gear (not to mention the bulk of schlepping that stuff around).

Flag Detail The Acropolis Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Flag Detail
The Acropolis
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Today I travel mostly with my Sony RX100iv weighing about 1/2 lb and pocketable.  When I do need a tripod, my Sirui T-025X carbon fiber tripod weighs about 1/5 lbs, and its (just under) 12 inch folded length fits in my carry on bag.  It is plenty rigid enough for a light P&S camera.  But I have used it with my bigger cameras, too.  You may need to brace it, but it will still be better than no tripod in those instances when you are simply unable to pack one.  I would say “less is more” fits my today’s mode better than it did in 2011. 🙂

Temple Rokuon-Ji Kyoto Japan Copyright Andy Richards 2015

Temple Rokuon-Ji
Kyoto Japan
Copyright Andy Richards 2015

My point, though, is that photograpers and technology both evolve.  The RX100iv was not in existence in 2011 and there was simply no equivalent (the RX100 debutted in June 2012, but it was not even close to the camera the later iterations — especially the III, IV and V — were).  At the same time, the more I traveled the less pleasure I found in lugging all that gear around.  It is a lot of trouble in most cases.  I have to confess that I still keep my Sony a7 DSLR-like body, a couple of lenses, and a larger carbon fiber tripod, which I use for “dedicated” photography outings.  I am still able to fit the body and lenses in a carryon bag, and the Sirui 3204x tripod, with a folded length of 20 inches, fits rather easily in a checked bag (I have also carried it on in a carry-on size suiter suitcase).  Even that gear weighs about 1/2 of the 2011 bag.

Clontarf, Ireland Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Clontarf, Ireland
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Every image except the last one (a7) here was taken with the small cam.  For purposes of my photography and vision, I do not think it has suffered by shedding weight and numbers of equipment 🙂

Truth in Photography (Here I go again)

Birch Clump Hiawatha NF; Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Birch Clump
Hiawatha NF; Michigan
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

[Recently, I seem to have run out of fresh, new material, which partially explains my more infrequent posts here (my goal has been one a week and over the years, I have largely met it).  When I get into these times, I will sometimes look back at prior posts to see if there is anything worth re-visiting, and through my Lightroom archives to see if anything stimulates me.  I have done that for the last 2 weeks.  Nothing.]  🙂

“truth isn’t absolute”

So, this morning, I spent some time with my friend, “GOOGLE,” and found this article, Why Facts Aren’t Always Truth In PhotographyMany will remember the Afgan Girl magazine cover that (perhaps) launched photographer Steve McCurry into international recognition.  He has recently made news (at least in the photographic world) again.  Without getting into the specific circumstances of the article (written by a colleague and fellow professional photographer, Peter van Agtmael) it’s “10,000 foot view” is, in my view, focused more on some principles of “truth” in photography that can be generalized.  And boy, did it resonate with me.  In fact, it can — I believe — be applied to much of what has gone on in the past several months over media, social media and even the coffee table.

Starting with one of my earliest posts, “Get Real,”  and for example, “Has The Digital Medium Changed Everything?,” and “Photoshop Is Not Evil,” over the years I have been writing here, I have made frequent reference to my thoughts on the use of “digital darkroom techniques” to “enhance” my own images.  I think I have made position clear when it comes to the art of photography.  But Mr. van Agtmael ventures into photography that is not made, per se, as “art.”  Rather, he addresses what I refer to as “reportage” photography.  Presumably, the image depicts things exactly as they appeared.

“We shouldn’t mistake something factual for something truthful, and we should always question which facts are employed, and how.” (Peter van Agtmael)


Humanity is not scientific.  Biology is.  The human brain is a scientific wonder.  The workings of human brain?  Well that is only “scientific” to the extent that it is thinking about science.  The rest?  It’s an art form for certain.  How else can both the consistency and inconsistency of human thought be explained?  And so, Mr. van Agtmael posits something we have all heard back in our own ancient histories, at some point.  In my words, “truth isn’t absolute.”  But that is a bit cliche‘.  In his much more eloquently stated words: ” ... there were a lot of loaded words like ‘truth’ and ‘objectivity’ being thrown around. I don’t really believe in these words. I’ve never met two people with the same truth, nor seen true objectivity ever demonstrably applied to anything. They are nice words, but remain aspirational and cloud a more nuanced interpretation of reality and history. We shouldn’t mistake something factual for something truthful, and we should always question which facts are employed, and how.”  I like that.  Our world is filled with millions and millions of “facts.”  We also hear a lot of opinion which is cited as fact.  But even with incontrovertible, empirically provable facts, it is still important to understand context and relevance.

Goat Island Light Newport, Rhode Island Copyright Andy Richards 2016

Goat Island Light
Newport, Rhode Island
Copyright Andy Richards 2016

The opening image here is (OMG!) altered.  I know viewers will say I “saturated” it, I “enhanced” it, etc. (maybe; maybe not 🙂 ).   But that isn’t really what I mean.  This image was physically “altered” before it was even made!  I had an image I wanted to depict, and in the crotch formed by the 3 trunks there was I small pile of dead branches which were (in my view) unsightly and distracting.  Is it relevant that I removed them and spread the leaves around a bit?  Could the image have been found the way I have presented it?  Perhaps if I were trying to depict the “pristine” quality of nature, or deny that it can sometimes be messy, the answer would be different.  I appreciate that this is not reporting on the refugee crisis and is trivial in relation to that.  But this is a photography blog, and I don’t do reportage photography.  I just thought Mr. van Agtmael’s point would resonate even in the perhaps less significant milieu of nature photography.

How else can both the consistency and inconsistency of human thought be explained?

Those who have read here previously know the story of the Goat Island Light Image.  I placed those chairs there.  “Hand of man and all that good stuff.”  Again, I don’t mean to trivialize the serious piece.  But I do think the larger point has application to all of our photography.

Fayette State Park Michigan Copyright Andy Richards 2007

Fayette State Park
Copyright Andy Richards 2007

If the viewer looks carefully at the bottom center of this image, there is a snarl of yellow polyethlyene rope in the foreground.  A better photographer than I would probably have seen that detail and excluded it (or perhaps purposely included it, again depending on the goal of the image).  I would not perhaps shock anyone here that before I made a print of this image I (GASP!) “Photoshopped” the rope out.

Small things.  But then, from small minds ……..  🙂

But seriously, I would commend the reader to read the Peter van Agtmael piece on Steve McCurry debacle.  While you may or may not agree with me, or with its premise, I hope you will agree that it it thought – provoking.