Disappointment

•March 16, 2014 • Leave a Comment

There’s a wonderful blog post by my friend Miriam Louisa Simons on how disappointment is her greatest teacher. Here is a link to it. Here in the US, we don’t like to spend time on disappointment, unless it’s to feel sorry for ourselves. We’re a very success oriented culture. However, giving in to disappointment and not fighting it stops us in our automatic tracks and allows us to see more clearly. This can be a great opening. As artists it is opening that allows us to be inspired to greater expression and joy.

I try not to have any goals in mind when I go out hiking with my camera because the more I’m looking for a certain kind of image, the more I’m missing what’s in front of me.

However I’m human, and I usually pick a hiking location based on the morning sky, the weather and what kinds of photographs I might be able to make there.

This morning I was going up to Red Rock Lake in the Colorado high country. We’ve had alternating spring days and snow storms here in Boulder and I had no idea what I would find there. I figured being at this beautiful lake framed by snow-capped peaks would be enough.

It was 46 degrees and dry when I left this morning. Three quarters into my trip it was 28 degrees and snowing. I was dressed warmly enough, but as the snow was sticking to the road I was uncomfortable taking my two-wheel drive car into the mountains in a snowstorm. I finally turned around. Driving back down to Boulder I tried to think of alternate places to hike, but nothing appealed to me. With a storm in the west to the back of me, I witnessed a beautiful sunrise as I drove east down the mountain. I looked for a place I could pull off the road and make a photograph with it, but found nothing.

I finally decided to stop at a local park on St. Vrain Creek that had been seriously damaged from last fall’s flooding. I’d been there before and didn’t find much to photograph, but at least I could get out of the car and walk around. I missed the sunrise, but as I turned the corner the approaching storm and the rising sun made a more compelling photo than most sunrises. I stopped at a pullout and captured the photo at the top.

I got to my local park and got out of the car. It’s amazing how these little creeks cut such wide swaths of damage with their flooding. I walked through the storm debris and started to notice these patterns in the sand made by the flooding. This is something that would never have caught my eye before. Normally, I’d see it and just walk on it as I made my way. However this time the patterns and color changes caught my attention. There was nothing else to grab it.

I started to try a photograph of some interesting lines and in a short time I was obsessed going from pattern to pattern and seeing more and more. Miriam’s blog about disappointment being her greatest teacher came to mind. If I had made it up to Red Rock Lake, I don’t expect I would have gotten any images as exciting as these.

Knowing What’s Come Before Us

•February 23, 2014 • Leave a Comment

When I was first starting to look at being an artist/photographer, I was extremely fortunate to develop a friendship with and be mentored by Stephen Shore. Stephen is quite well known now, but when we first connected I was 15 and Stephen was 16. I learned a lot from Stephen about different photographers, photographic art, print quality, cameras and more.

One thing that has stuck in my mind to this day was Stephen’s saying that as artists, it incumbent upon us to know what’s come before. We should know the history of photography up to what’s being done today. We may be influenced by what’s come before us, but we should not copy it, whether consciously or inadvertently.

Stephen and I were both street shooters, so I learned about Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, Andre Kertesz and others. With digital photography and the internet, it’s very hard to know all of what’s being done in our field, but the blatant imitation that I keep seeing is disturbing.

What’s more disturbing is that I see jurors not following Stephen’s directive. I find it mind-boggling when blatant imitators constantly win contests. Recently when looking at a distinguished juror’s nature photograph selections I was disturbed to find a photo of the Namib desert. The photo was very striking, like most Namib desert photos I’ve seen, but photographers have been photographing the Namib desert for quite some time. Was this image uniquely different from so many of the others? The same goes for slot canyons. I’m not saying that these locations might not be absolutely fascinating from a viewer’s (let alone a photographer’s) viewpoint. I’m just asking if these images are saying anything that hasn’t been said before.

There are so many great images out there that we’ve never seen. Let’s see more of them.

What Makes a Good Photograph

•January 7, 2014 • 8 Comments

This blog was prompted by a discussion my friend, photographer and writer, Guy Tal were having about what goes into the making of a good photograph. I think it’s best to Guy’s description here, before continuing with this post because this entry is mostly a response to his post. Here’s a link to Guy’s post.

Thank you Guy for such a clear exposition of your thinking. I think it all comes down to our different definitions if seeing. To me seeing is not a passive act. Seeing is everything. The artist’s vision starts with seeing.

From my point of view, composition, exposure, print quality, etc can all be learned. What can’t be learned is how to See. I explicitly used a capital ‘S’ there because we all have eyes and we see. I’m talking about a different kind of seeing.

We’ve all had the experience of being in beautiful places, but because our minds are preoccupied with other things, we hardly react to our surroundings. We may see them, but we don’t See them. There are all sorts of techniques taught to photographers like meditation to help them to See. Seeing requires a quiet mind. In that quietness we can see much more. It’s in that quietness that we can recognize scenes that might make a good photograph. In that space, we’re not looking for a specific format or style of image. We have no mind to give us that information. We’re just emotionally reacting to what’s in front of us. It is seeing from that quiet place that our own unique vision becomes manifest.

So, Guy you may have thought you were just in the right place at the right time when you made those photographs. However, I don’t expect that the weather patterns they captured were very rare and I’m sure that other photographers on the Colorado Plateau have seen those kind weather patterns. However, they didn’t look at them and think this might make an interesting photograph. Most of them probably thought a storm was brewing and figured that they better head back to their cars. You reacted differently. Because of your unique vision, you saw the possibility of art and not just weather.

Whatever compositional and technical skills one might have are only crafts that can be learned. Being that they’re crafts, some of us may be better at them than others. But, they’re only crafts. It’s Seeing that makes the artist.

The photograph below was taken in Yosemite National Park at a turn-off called Gates of the Valley. One has probably seen hundreds of photographs from that place. On any day you have probably hundreds of photographers taking this same shot. You have El Capitan on the left, the Merced River in the middle and Cathedral Rocks and Bridalveil Fall on the right.

I have never seen anyone show this view. It was and is there for all of them to see. However this view is my vision.

My Best of 2013

•December 26, 2013 • 21 Comments

2013, what a year. Most weekdays and Saturdays I was out in the morning with my camera. What a wonderful way to start the day. I needed to send my favorite lens in for repair, and I purchased a cheap 70-300, plastic barrel, macro zoom, so I’d have something to shoot with during the month that my lens was away. Little did I know that I would become addicted to this lens. Macros became a regular part of my repertoire. We also had all this horrible flooding here in Colorado, and while my family was amazingly left unscathed, many of my favorite local, and high country trails became unavailable. All in all, I’m very pleased with what I’ve produced this year.


I came across this little gem while wandering on some high-country ice. If one gets real quiet and starts looking down, you uncover amazing things.


We had a week of sub-zero and single digit temperatures here that produced some wonderful ice, which unfortunately is all gone. The is the reflection of the sunrise in frozen Boulder Creek.


When I go out in the morning, I have a particular location in mind depending on the skies and the weather, but I never know what will end up grabbing me and producing interesting photographs. I was on South Boulder Creek to get a nice sunrise landscape with these interesting trees and the ice reflecting the sky. However, before the sun came up, I busied myself with some interesting cracks. It was still pretty dark. The exposure for this was something like 25 seconds. I didn’t think much about it when I took it, but it’s turned out to be one of my favorites.


We have some amazing sunrises here, but no local locations for classical sunrise landscapes with leading lines and a mountain in the background. That’s fine with me because there are already so many great landscape photographs of this kind around. I don’t need to produce more. Instead, I’ve tried to just make interesting photographs of the sky. Most of the time I have great colors and shapes, but the photos aren’t that compelling. Occasionally I luck out like I did with this image.


I’ve always been fascinated with summer grasses, and this summer, with my macro lens, I got into a good groove and had a great, productive time.


The heavy rains that we had produced some wonderful fall color here.


Sometimes the littlest of things can be so expressive.


The morning sun illuminates the grass while the background is still in shadow. This image reminds me of a piece of music. I think an Eric Satie piano piece would go well with it.


The composition of this is similar to the previous image, but the photo feels very different to me.


I love the feeling of movement that this photo gives.


From one of my too few forays into the high country. First this mother had to chase another moose from her drinking spot before posing for this sweet pic.


I had a good time playing with my macro lens and selective focus. I love the sharp parts and out of focus shapes and colors of this.


This is my nephew Nico at his father’s and my brother’s 80th birthday party. I was only taking photos to document the event, but I love the way this photo turned out. Photographing parties is hard, because you can either be at the party or be observing the party. Since I’d much rather be at the party, I don’t do a lot of people photographs. But I like this photo so much, I want to try to do more.


This little composition grabbed me the minute I saw it. I call it Pond Art.


Reflections of fall color in a little pond caused by the extensive flooding we had this fall.


Ice in the high country on Boulder Creek.

If you’ve gotten this far, I hope you like what you’ve seen. Thank you for coming and spending the time.

- Dan

Skies

•November 10, 2013 • Leave a Comment

We have skies here like I’ve never seen before. The sunrises and cloud formations, especially in the winter, are just amazing, and as a photographer I am continually tempted to do something with them.

Photographing skies is very difficult. Generally you need something else in the picture as a focus and then the sky is just part of the composition. This usually results in a sunrise photo with a mountain or ocean being offset by the sky. I’m not interested in doing this kind of photograph. So many of them have been done that it’s very hard to do something particularly unique in that genre.

So, I keep trying to capture interesting the skies by themselves. Most of the time they don’t turn out to be anything special, but occasionally I think I get something worth showing.

Frozen

•October 26, 2013 • 4 Comments

Frozen is the name of an exhibit I’m currently having at the Dairy Center for the Arts here in Boulder Colorado. Below is the text of a talk I gave at the opening along with photos that were part of a Power Point presentation which was shown along with the talk. You can see all of my ice photos on my web page.

I love taking photographs. For me, wandering the world with a camera is a process of discovery. I walk around trying to not let anything miss my eye. Being so focused gets your mind very quiet, and in that quiet, heightened awareness, you start to see things that you didn’t see before. I liken it to seeing things for the first time.

I first practiced this type of photography in my teens and early 20s wondering the streets of my native NYC. I’d see people and interactions on the street and something about them would thrill me. I would quickly focus, compose, set exposure, shoot and move on.

When I graduated college I went into advertising and fashion photography. It was much less spontaneous. I was working with fixed models and fixed locations or in a studio. It was fun, and I enjoyed it, but when other things came along to grab my attention and interest, I easily left photography and never looked back.

Move forward some 20 odd years and I’m living in northern California in this extraordinarily beautiful area and I want to start taking photographs again. I would wander trails the same way I used to wander New Your streets. When something grabbed my attention, I would try to make a photograph of it.

Shooting color transparency film required much more care about exposure and lighting than black and white film. I started using a tripod and carrying a hand held meter. I eventually moved to 4×5 film for the greater control and quality it offered.

The equipment however, only really matters to me. It’s an end to a means. I’m trying to capture my ecstasies and serve them to you, hoping you can get off on them too.

I came to Boulder just over 3 ½ years ago. I am very fortunate to be able to make a good living here as a computer programmer. Every morning, before work, I go out on one of the marvelous trails here with my digital Nikon and a tripod and wander around looking, focusing. waiting for something to bring me in and excite me.

The less desire and thought going into walking and looking the better. Once I find something that interests me, then the experience that I have doing this for most of my life comes in. First, am I looking as something that I can make a unique and compelling image of?

I can be easily be stopped by a beautiful sunrise over the Flatrions, but making a unique image of it is something else.

If I think I have the potential for a good photograph in front of me, then I need to decide how to make the image. What focal length lens I want to use, how to compose it, and how to best expose it.

I’ve been doing this for a long time, so a lot of this is fairly automatic for me, but I still need to do it. I actually find doing this a lot easier than working with a point and shoot where it’s supposedly all done for you.

Which brings me to ice. The work I have on display here today.

I discovered ice the way I discovered everything else, coming upon it and finding it compelling. Ice had some unique problems, like being extremely slippery, but getting a good pair of Yak Trax fixed that. Then I would wander around on the ice looking for interesting patterns and colors, different things frozen in it and see what I could come up with.

Our weather is so varied here that between freezes, storms and thaws, the same place rarely looks the same from one day to the next. Some days I find myself enchanted by leaves, flowers and twigs frozen the ice. Some of the images of frozen leaves make me feel like I’m looking into the past of some view many years ago that’s been frozen in time.

Other times just the different swirls and crystals grab my attention. Ice is never the same and always has some new unique patterns to explore. Some of my photos look like they are from outer space.

My goal in all of this is to bring my excitement to you. To show you something you might not have seen before or not have seen in quite the same way before and hopefully excite you too.

Learning from One’s Mistakes

•September 28, 2013 • 5 Comments

The leaves were already turning colors on the cottonwood sapling and I thought that it might make a nice photo. I set up my tripod, focused carefully and set the exposure. It was a little breezy, but I thought my shutter speed would stop things and my old eyes didn’t notice anything blurred in the resulting image on the LCD.

Boy was I surprised when I saw the above image in my raw converter. I loved it, but it wasn’t the result of my brilliance, it was because of my mistake in choosing a shutter speed that was too slow.

As artists and good human beings, we try to learn from our mistakes. One lesson learned was to be more careful with my choice of shutter speed, but the more important lesson was don’t be concerned with sharpness. I thought the above photo was one of the best I’d taken in a long time.

Now I’ve been shooting a lot more macros and being more experimental with shutter speed and lens opening. I’m very excited with what I’ve been getting.

If I had to choose where I’d most like to photograph and my favorite subject matter, both answers would be the Colorado high country. Whenever I go up there, I just want to stay there forever. Maybe it’s my lack of opportunity to go there as often as I’d like or maybe it’s just that I’m finding more and more nature photographs looking more and more the same that these days, that I’m finding I’m being much more creative closer to home with simpler subjects.

With our recent floods, all trails low and high are closed, so I’m contenting myself with grasses by the side of the road.

 
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