Unsellable

•May 31, 2018 • 2 Comments

I was recently in discussion with an online gallery to handle some of my images. They were interested in my grasses and maybe another portfolio. Then they took a look at my web page. It wasn’t organized around portfolios and had too many images which they considered unsellable.

I have no argument. My web page needs upgrading. A lot of people are now presenting their work in terms of portfolios or projects instead of locations and subject matter like my site is. On top of that, it would help if I had a beautiful description of my intent for each portfolio.

I’m okay with all that. If you want to sell your art, you have to present it to possible buyers in a way they can be open to it. And, if portfolios and descriptions help, I’ll do it.

To me, portfolios and descriptions are all about marketing. I don’t shoot in terms of portfolios. Portfolios take shape as I find myself gravitating towards a particular kind of subject matter. What bothers me is, what about all the images I want to make that aren’t so easily categorized? Do I not make them because I can’t sell them? If art were a business to me, I’d say the answer is yes. But to me, making photographs is not a business—it’s a love affair.

So, this past week I was at a sublime retreat in the Sierras. The Sierras have their own beauty that is so different from the Rockies. I wandered around with my camera, got quiet, and looked at everything. There were some beautiful grasses, some interesting rock faces and the little creek run-offs were captivating. And I gave into my lust and took photos. Now I wonder if any of these photos will fit into my “portolios.” Since I don’t spend a lot of time in the Sierras anymore, will I ever be able to put these images into portfolios? Am I wasting my time making unsellable images?

The photo above of a Russian Olive tree is one of my favorites. Russian Olive is an invasive tree here in Boulder and I have no other images that will work with it in a portfolio, But have an idea. Along with the Grasses, Leaves and other portfolios on my new website, I will also have a portfolio called Unsellable.

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Creativity

•May 26, 2018 • 6 Comments

I grew up in a home where creativity was considered the norm. My dad was an artist and he would spend most days painting in his studio. He had good days and bad days but I never heard complaints about dry spells or difficulty coming up with ideas.

My dad, like myself and many artists, had difficulty distinguishing between creativity, inventiveness and recognition for one’s creativity and it took a toll on his self worth. His lack of material success caused him great suffering.

I wanted to avoid that suffering, so I got into commercial art. However commercial art is about producing a product and being creative is for the enjoyment of creation. So I left photography for many years.

When I got back into photography, like so many others I tried to imitate the kinds of images that I liked. I was a big Galen Rowell fan so I did a lot of near/far landscapes. To give Galen credit, his work is much more diverse that that.

At some point the artifice of my approach dawned on me, and quite naturally I started using longer lenses and focusing on more intimate scenes. The change heralded something in the way I related to myself in that I became very conscious of wanting to do my own images and not imitate others. I also gave a lot less credence to feedback from others. My process and my discovery became more important. With this increased inwardness, my style became more inventive and unique; and going out with a camera on many mornings became a regular part of my life, like eating and sleeping.

Obviously there are times when I’m more productive than others, but I don’t experience dry spells. There’s rarely a time I spend in the field that I don’t find enjoyable, enlivening and life enhancing.

I have a pretty active mind. I can hike down a beautiful trail and if I’m going over things in my mind, I’ll see very little.

However give me a camera and put me on the same trail and I’m a different person. Whatever may have been troubling me is put on hold or dropped altogether and I’m quiet and focused on my surroundings.

Yes, I consider myself extremely fortunate.

I think the biggest obstacles that we have to creativity and originality is thinking that it means more that it does. Don’t get me wrong, creativity is extraordinary, but it is no guarantee of our producing great art or getting recognition for it. If we pursue creativity, and expect to get into it, we must pursue it for an end in itself.

In this country, success is everything and those of us who follow a different path are generally not appreciated, to say the least, unless we’re successful. Then we’re lauded as great thinkers and inventors. But if success is not in our cards, we’re considered failures for not being good sheep.

Neither success or failure will make you a better artist. Actually going inside and listening to yourself is a lot easier than listening to others and trying to please them. We’re just conditioned to think the other way.

So, what do you want? Do you want to be successful? Do you want to be liked? Do you want to produce great art? Or do you want to be an artist? I have those other desires too, they’re just not as strong.

I’ve made my choice. I love being an artist.

Beauty

•May 14, 2018 • Leave a Comment

I originally got back into photography because I saw a lot of beauty around me and I wanted to capture it in photographs. I soon learned that photographs of beautiful places rarely capture the specialness of the place and I started to look at my surroundings more critically and deeply. I realized that for a work of art to stand on its own, it’s not enough for it to represent something that’s beautiful, the work of art has to have its own intrinsic beauty.

I don’t mean pretty. Pretty you can tire from relatively quickly. I mean a beauty that draws you in, takes you out of your present occupations and takes you on a little adventure, if only for a moment.

How does one achieve that? I don’t know, but I know it when I have achieved it and the more I take photographs, the more I’m somehow intrinsically drawn to making these kinds of photographs.

Most of my work is posted online these days, but I really like to appreciate photographs on a wall where I can spend some time and enjoy them. Sometimes, even just in passing, I can glimpse an image and it can give me joy.

These days, beauty for me has a lot to do with quiet. A beautiful work of art or a beautiful piece of music can take me out of my busy mind and lead me to feeling peaceful and expanded. I think we can all use a lot more beauty in our lives.

The Landscape Photographer’s Guide to Photoshop by Guy Tal

•February 18, 2018 • 2 Comments

I’m very familiar with Guy Tal as a wonderful photographer and writer, but I originally was not interested in reading his new book, The Landscape Photographer’s Guide to Photoshop. Boy am I glad I took a look at it. I’ve been working in Photoshop for over 20 years. I know that there’s always more to learn about it, but I was very comfortable with my workflow. Guy’s description of his techniques are so clear and simple that it was a joy to try them and incorporate some of them as regulars of my own. There are still more that I’m looking to try out when the need comes.

There’s a lot of information and technique in Guy’s book but it’s not your standard how-to cookbook. It’s more of a prolonged one-on-one workshop with Guy.

The first part is not about Photoshop at all. Guy leads us into how he works—how he looks at landscapes and envisions the photographs he can make of them, how he captures the landscape with composition and exposure with his vision in mind.

He shows you how he looks at the raw image in Lightroom and Camera Raw and makes a list of each aspect of the work it needs. He does very little in these raw conversion programs except open shadows or bring in highlights. Everything else is done in Photoshop.

So instead of a cookbook of different techniques, we’re instructed in how to see, how to visualize and how to actualize that vision. Photoshop tools are not taught so you can have more techniques in your tool belt. They’re taught with very clear examples of how to take the raw material that your camera gives you and actualize your vision.

A lot of plug-ins and applications are out there that are readily available for making different tricks in Photoshop easy, but that’s not Guy’s way. Off-the-shelf plug-ins often make the same types of adjustments for everyone, making our images look similar. Guy leads us step by step to make these adjustments ourselves, always using his own images as examples.

I was always nervous of blending for dynamic range or focus, but Guy makes these jobs so easy, I’ll never use an external program again.

No matter what kind of photographs you take or how much you think you know about Photoshop, I think that most of us will find something valuable to take away from this book.

Here’s a link to it on Guy’s website.

Forces of Nature

•February 11, 2018 • Leave a Comment

If you ever have doubts about your life—you’re at the wrong job, with the wrong mate, you need to radically change your personality, etc; just log onto Facebook or the social media platform of your choice and you’re sure to find that your doubts are well-founded.

You’ll be told how to think. What affirmations to use. How to visualize your perfect life, etc.

Or, if you’re like me and still have all these doubts, but have done all the self improvement crap and realized that most of it is crap, you might be lucky enough to just stop and realize how lucky you are. And in that realization you might be lucky enough to accept the messes that we are and move on.

What does this have to do with photography? This is life and photography is part of life. Photography is one way for us to be creative and this is about being creative. How does one be creative? There are lots of theories about independent thought and not following the crowd, but that’s all looking at it from the outside. And just like self-improvement from the outside is ultimately unsatisfactory, so is creativity from the outside. We can’t do creativity. We can’t follow certain rules to be creative.

I think of creativity as a lot like love. You don’t affirm yourself into love, though I’m sure we’ve all tried it; we fall in love. We don’t make ourselves creative—we’re naturally creative. We just stop doing uncreative things like thinking about being creative and let creativity arise.

I was lucky enough to do a workshop with Galen Rowell a year before his untimely death. He taught us how to see like film, how to use split neutral density filters and such, all things that I already knew. I didn’t learn any techniques at the workshop; I got so much more: I got to spend time with a truly creative person. I saw a person so confident in his creative self that he just ran with it without looking back. I spent time with a force of nature.

When Galen was out with his camera, you could say he worked very hard, but it wasn’t what we call work. It wasn’t drudgery. He wasn’t working on being more open to his surroundings. He wasn’t working on being a better photographer. He was just letting his creativity come out and take him over. In being around him I too chose to trust myself more and just let my creativity flow.

How do we allow ourselves to be more creative? Being creative is not something that we do. It’s natural for us. What we can do or at least observe is how we stop ourselves from being creative. How we try too much. How we over-criticize ourselves, how we try to limit and protect ourselves.

Go out and be creative. Make mistakes. Get embarassed. Feel stupid; but don’t let any of it get to you. Keep going.

That Dirty Word

•January 10, 2018 • 4 Comments

We’re tough here in the US. We don’t run; we fight. We’re no nation of wimps. As photographers, we get the shot. We nail it. We’ll stay up nights in freezing rain at 12,000 feet, but we’ll get it.

I’m going to talk about a concept that is an anathema to the “American Way”. It’s called Surrender.

When I speak of surrender, I’m not talking about our lying down and having people walk over us. I’m talking laying down all that keeps us from being open and responsive.

Take gratitude. Gratitude is very in vogue these days. Gratitude is good. We feel good and peaceful when we feel grateful. Well, in order to feel gratitude, we have to lay down all our striving and hunger that tells us that things aren’t good enough as they are and surrender into gratitude.

Take love. Those of us who’ve been fortunate enough to have some good relationships know that love is not a competitive sport. It’s not about getting more. It’s about letting go of “my needs” and surrendering to our true nature which isn’t greed or competitiveness, but love.

All right, alright: finally I’ll talk about photography. Surrender is key to any kind of creativity and that includes photography

We choose a location, we choose a time, and we bring certain equipment with us when we go out to take photographs because we have some idea of what we want to photograph and what kinds of photographs we want to take.

What if the light doesn’t turn out the way we expected? What if there’s too much wind? What if the sunrise/sunset is a dud? We can be disappointed or angry and go home, or we can surrender. Even if all the conditions turn out the way we want them to, it would be better if we surrendered.

By surrender I mean dropping all the mental crap about what we’re trying to accomplish. Surrender our desires that tell us what a successful day shooting will consist of. Surrender everything in our minds that keeps us from being where we are and responding to what’s in front of us.

So now our minds are relatively quiet and we can see clearly and respond to what we see. Now we’re ready to take photographs. Maybe we see something we didn’t plan on photographing but looks more compelling. Let’s go for it. Maybe it’s too windy so we have to look for stationary objects. Lets go for it. Maybe the sky looks awesome. Lets go for it.

Who knows what will grab our attention when we’re able to see and respond. Lets go for it.

I was planning of photographing ice this morning, but the sky was so interesting I managed to squeeze this out between the trees.

Seeing and Execution

•January 3, 2018 • Leave a Comment

With my first workshop — Quiet and Creativity — coming up in June, I’ve been reading a lot about the topic. I’m not terribly articulate about my photographic process so I was hoping that I could learn how to explain things better from others. I’ve been looking at everyone from Minor White in the the 1960s to the Contemplative Photographers of today.

And, in the process, I’ve realized that what I’ve been doing with writing is what I’ve been preaching against in photography: namely, that someone else can articulate for me and I don’t have to use my own words and experience to say it. So, here goes…

To me, creativity has two aspects: Seeing and Execution.

Execution consists of knowing how to use your equipment — how to operate you camera, how your camera sees things. How different lenses see things. Then there’s post processing. How to take the raw material that your camera produces and make it into a beautiful photograph. The thing about execution is, all of it, can be learned by study and practice. Because it’s something that can be learned, that is where most of us spend our time. We need a better camera, better lenses, better locations and subject matter. We need a more powerful computer. It has to be a Mac, not a PC. And so on.

Most camera magazines are geared toward execution. We’re led to believe that if we could spend some time in Yosemite, or Denali or Arches, and if we had that new Sony mirrorless, we could be as good and proud as the others. Execution is easy to write about because it’s all about conveying information. And, with convincing readers of their need for new equipment and special locations, magazines can sell ads.

Don’t get me wrong, execution is very important. You need good equipment. You need to know how to use it properly. However execution without seeing will produce empty and me-too photographs.

Seeing is hard to teach because seeing is unique to each of us. I can’t teach you to see like me. It’s a waste of your time for me to force you to look at some grass fronds till you can see the beauty in them that I can.

What I can’t teach (but I can try to describe) is that state I get into where I can look at grass fronds — or as in the photo above, ice — and see their beauty and grace.

Just like I have to drop what I’ve learned and read and try to write about seeing from my own experience, so we have to do the same when we go out and take photographs.

The difficult thing about teaching seeing is that it can’t be “done”. It’s about un-doing. It’s about not looking for a certain type of photograph. It’s about not trying to take a certain type of photograph. It’s not about doing anything. It’s about being quiet and responding to our surroundings. Some have described it as like seeing things for the first time, but I think it’s more like noticing things you might not have noticed before.

I’m no zen master or Buddhist. When I go out with my camera I have all sorts of crap running through my mind. The thing is, I love taking photographs so much, and I so love looking around at my surroundings, taking it all in and being filled with joy and excitement, that I’m willing to drop my crap about success, money, power, and security at least for a while and just get immersed in responding and photographing. Those desires and fears may be waiting patiently to occupy my mind when I’m finished, but at least for a while, I’m free.