Don’t Fall Down a Tripod Hole

•November 25, 2017 • Leave a Comment

As photographers we we used to to talk about the “tripod holes” at some locations. What we meant is that so many photographers set up to take the same picture at certain iconic spots that the feet of their tripods wore indentations into the ground. We were talking about places like Tunnel View or Valley View in Yosemite, Delicate Arch in Arches National Park or the Maroon Bells here in Colorado. These places are icons for a reason — they’re absolutely beautiful. If you have a chance to visit any one of these spots, do so. If you want to photograph a memory for your wall, do so. But how many photographers go to these spots, take the same photo as everyone else and then like to show it around. Put it on Facebook and you’ll probably get more likes than one of my grass pictures.

We’re a funny species in a funny country. Being a good sheep is highly prized. Most of us who have no interest in being sheep are usually scorned, unless we’re successful. Then we’re highly prized and we develop our own sheep followers.

I for one have no interest in being a sheep and if you’ve gotten this far without thinking I’m an a-hole, then I expect you don’t, either.

As artists, we try to be innovators. We may get praise, blame or nothing but if we’re lucky we won’t let people’s opinions sway us too much in any direction and will only listen to ourselves. We need to be forces of nature.

Listening to ourselves doesn’t necessarily mean our art will be any good. I have plenty of ideas and opinions as I work on images, but I’m wrong as many times as I’m right and all I have are my own opinions. I may post them to Facebook and get your opinions. You may agree or disagree with mine. No matter whether it’s praise or scorn I get, it always comes back to me: Do I like the photograph or not?

For me, a good photograph should end up as a print on a wall; and in my exhibits, I’ve found in general that my opinions have been validated.

Being an artist like this is lonely work, but i find it very satisfying and fulfilling.

Why do you take photographs? What do you want?

 
Continue reading ‘Don’t Fall Down a Tripod Hole’

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Quiet

•September 24, 2017 • 1 Comment

Most of us who photograph the natural world are lovers of quiet.  We can hear the sounds of rushing water, the wind and animals — but being in nature brings us an internal quiet that we all crave. The things that usually claim our thoughts diminish in their power and we just relax and feel good.

We don’t have to be in the wild to experience this kind of quiet, but for most of us it’s more difficult in other circumstances. There are times I fall into it working on photographs at my computer. I can even experience it at work when I’m programming.

This quiet is the source of many and all things, but since this is a photography blog, we’ll focus on it as an infinite source of creativity.

We all give lip service to this quiet, but if we really wanted it so badly we’d have it whenever we wanted it. The reality is, we give a lot more energy to what we want and what we want to avoid than this quiet space.

To fall into this quiet, we have to let all these desires fall into the background and not put any energy on achieving their goals.

When we go out with our camera, what is our desire?  Are we going out to have an adventure or going out to make a specific photograph? What types of images are we drawn to making? Are we drawn to making images we’ve seen before or images that are fresh to us?

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. It’s just good to be clear about what you want to accomplish when going out into the field.

There’s this famous quote: “When a pickpocket meets a saint, all he sees are pockets.”  What do we see when we go out with a camera? It’s rare for me to just go out without any pre-visualized photographs in my mind.  That’s why I usually pick a particular location to begin with. Where I get lucky is that usually through the act of focusing on looking at and making images, I’m able to react to what’s in front of me rather that looking for a particular image.  

When we stop looking for something and just see what’s in front of us, that’s when we can really start to be creative. With little preconceived notion of what we should be photographing, we can just see and appreciate what we see and then decide if we want to make a photograph of it or not.

This is the kind if quiet I’m speaking about:  just quiet appreciation our our surroundings.  For this you don’t have to be in nature — you can be anywhere. I’ve experienced it photographing on the streets of New York and in museums.

Maybe this kind of approach is not for you. But if you think that it might be, the next time you go out with your camera ask yourself what you want to accomplish and what kind of image are you trying to produce. See how much of that you can push to the background. Then go out and have a great time.

Many times you’ll be surprised at what attracts you. You might find yourself making images that don’t make sense to you. I went up to Lake Isabelle thinking of the sun on mount Apache and wondering what foreground I could put with it. I did photograph Apache a lot, but then I got to Isabelle and was suddenly I was drawn to these trees at treeline and the turning colors of the tundra. My Apache images are so so. But I’m very happy with how this turned out.

I’ll be starting workshops on silence and photography next spring and summer. You can get more information about them here.

 

Don’t Read This

•August 20, 2017 • 1 Comment

I’ve been making photographs for something like 50 years. I sometimes think I know a lot. My wife, who does excellent photos of dogs and other animals, has been seriously taking photographs for five years and she thinks she has a lot to learn. She is always watching some video about someone’s technique to do something. When I see this, I usually roll my eyes and explain how she doesn’t need that technique and sometimes how totally wrong both artistically and technically the person in the video is.

My wife, being at least my equal, politely ignores me most of the time. And, most of the time she is right to do so. As an artist, she knows instinctively her most important teacher is herself and her experience producing her art.

Being an artist, making art, is a life that very few aspire to. I tried to avoid it for years. There’s very little promise of money or worldly renown and the more we are concerned with those outer indicators of our success, the less free we are to create.

Basically, being an artist is doing it our way. There’s a lot we can learn in mastering the craft of of photography. All that will take us to the top of the mountain. Then we have to jump.

We’ll land poorly many times and have many hurts and disappointments, but there will also be times we fly, and the more we fly, the more we want to take those jumps.

When we jump, we leave the worlds of “rule of thirds”, “expose to the right of the histogram”, “depth of field tables”, “magic hour’, “zone system” and other rules that are supposed to produce good art and we’re alone with ourselves. What kind of image are we trying to produce; what moves us; what gives us joy; what are we trying to say and how best to say it.

What do we do? We try and try again. We experiment continually. Some things come easily and some things don’t. We need to believe in ourselves but at the same time be critical of what we do. We have to accept when we do something good, but also accept when we make a piece of crap. If we work at it, eventually we’ll develop a style that is unique to ourselves.

For me, the hardest part is probably self doubt, but I’m getting better at not paying the doubt much attention.

If you’ve gotten to here, you like my wife have chosen to ignore my counseling. Then take this advice. Listen to yourself!

My wife, Emily’s, web page is www.chayadigitalarts.com

I was always attracted to photographing the grasses here in the foothills but most of the time the photos were either boring or too busy. One day things just clicked and now it just gets easier and more fun.

Quiet and Creativity Workshop Dates

•July 17, 2017 • Leave a Comment

The Quiet and Creativity workshop will take place from Friday evening June 8, through Sunday afternoon June 10, 2018.

You can find a workshop description here

There’s still room in this workshop and there will be others. If you’re interested in being on my workshop mailing list You can send me an email here.

Workshop Announcement

•June 29, 2017 • 1 Comment

I have been taking photographs my entire adult life. What keeps photography fresh for me is that I’ve learned to approach taking photographs as a process of discovery. Of course I’ll go out with a certain type of image in mind or because I saw something that I’d like to photograph. But when I get out with my camera, and if I’m lucky, all those desires will move to the background; I’ll just be present, taking everything in, and shoot what resonates in that moment.

In my quiet state I’m able to see a lot that would ordinarily pass me by. Things that might seem quite ordinary now grab my attention. I look at them, see if I can make a photograph, and if so, then I determine how I should position my camera and set my exposure. If not, I just wander on. I lose myself in the process of discovery, and capture, and in that process, I have a wonderful time.

Some say what I do is Contemplative Photography. There is a school in Boulder, called Miksang School of Contemplative Photography. I’m very aware of the beautiful work done by its teachers. I gave a very positive review to one of their books, here on this blog.

We are similar in our approach of going out and shooting with a quiet mind. The way they work is that the process of seeing and creating occurs when we’re out with a camera and taking a photo. Post-processing should only consist of actualizing what the seeing experience was. Anything else should be discarded.

For me, absorption and discovery does not have to stop with the taking of the photograph. When I’m later working with my images on my computer I can also drop into a quiet space and let each image guide me to the best way to present it. This simply becomes the continuation of a process to represent the best I can bring to the image.

This approach has worked well for me over the years. If you would like to explore this to see if it works for you, I’ll be offering a workshop this spring in late April or May.

We’ll meet in Boulder over a weekend with sessions starting on Friday night running through Sunday afternoon or evening. We’ll spend time getting to know ourselves a little better and what keeps us from being fully present when we’re working on photographs. We’ll go out shooting in the foothills around Boulder, CO, as well as the high country; west of Boulder, and if there’s interest we’ll have sessions in populated city areas as well. We will then work on our photographs with the same intention, and devote time for discussion and critiques of the works we have created.

Candidly, this is my first workshop, so I’ll be keeping the price low ($100), as your feedback to me about the efficacy of the course and its refinement will be very valuable for me. The approximate number of participants will be 5. Together we’ll see how we can become better, more involved artists. Technical aspects will be covered, too, but only to see what equipment and settings can better reproduce our visions.

If you’re interested in being part of this workshop or want more information, click here and send me an email. Let me know what weekends in April or May work best for you.

Priorities

•June 20, 2017 • 1 Comment

After a lot of snow this winter, my favorite places in the Colorado high country are opening up.  Yesterday I got up to Brainard Lake just at sunrise.  It wasn’t too cold, but it was so windy that I immediately thought of turning around and going back.  I got out and started wandering around, but the wind made it very difficult to take photographs. 

I liked what I saw where Brainard Lake emptied into St. Vrain Creek, but there was no path to follow and there was still snow all around.  It was so windy that I just ducked into the forest surrounding the creek because it was calmer, there and as I quickly noticed, so beautiful.

I just came back from the Sierras.  I lived in California for 30 years and we used to go there up to the mountains a lot.  When I’m back there I always wonder why I left.

This morning wandering the forest that question was easily answered.  I Love It Here!  The Rockies are so different from the Sierras.  I’m wandering around this dense forest just marveling at the trees and the colors.  We’re at 10,000 feet here and you can see from the trees that only the strong survive.  Just looking at them you can feel how rough the winters here must be.  There are dead branches and brown needles everywhere but the forest survives beautifully. 

I’ve tried to photograph pine forests before and it’s very hard.  They are beautiful, but it’s hard to make compositions and there are always odd branches pointing everywhere.  However I’m so enthralled among these trees that I decide to try anyway.  I had cataract surgery two months ago, and I’m still finding some of the greens beautifully intense.

It’s hard moving through the trees, and there are banks of snow everywhere.  The snow is hard packed but the top is slippery and if I’m not careful I could just slide down the side.

The sides of the creek are pretty steep and there is no bank so it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to get down to it.

It’s still windy and cold but this forest has completely taken me in and I just want to capture how magnificent it is.  I’m very conscious of the pitfalls of no compositions, too many dead branches, and the fact that a bunch of pine trees on a flat photo just doesn’t look like that much, but I’m so into it I don’t care.  I’ll just do my best and see what comes of it.

Through some luck, a way down to the creek opens up and I can just put my camera between some bushes to get a photo.

Finally the cold is getting to me.  The tips of the fingers of my left hand are numb.  I figure it’s time to go home.

I really don’t think I got anything, but I was so taken in by the forest and its beauty that I don’t care.  This is what I consider a good time taking photographs.  If I have some goal that I’m unable to drop, then that goal will be foremost in my mind and inhibit my experiencing what’s in front of me.  If I can’t see what’s in front of me, how can I make photographs.

As it is, I got lucky and got some images that I really liked.

No 10 Best

•January 2, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I won’t be posting a best of 2016 this year. Posting best or favorites of the year has more and more seemed meaningless to me. For one thing, the year is in the middle of winter and I’ll be taking the same photos of ice. or grasses. or trees. or skies. or whatever on December 31st as I’ll be doing on January 1st. So this best of the year ending in December seems totally arbitrary to me.

I’m all for learning from my mistakes and improving. I can look back at my work and cite plenty of times I became obsessed with types of images and wasted way too much time on shooting them. Time can also show me what I want to explore more, too. I just don’t feel proudly showing my 10 best is the best way to do it.

I’m not someone who has a lot to say with my art. I am only interesting in presenting a quietly beautiful image and hope that its quiet beauty makes you quiet and appreciative. I’m always looking to get better at that. Learning from my mistakes, getting excited about ways of presenting my subject matter and becoming more internally quiet myself are my ways of doing that.

I’ve had two opportunities to do major exhibits in 2016. Before making and framing prints, I would go back over my work, pick out images, make small prints and look and look at them, trying to decide which images I should blow up and frame. These opportunities provided me with plenty of assessment of where I was going and how I was doing.

If you are interested in seeing more of what I am doing from day to day, I suggest to like my Dan Baumbach Photography page on Facebook.