What’s up with the noise…

Looking at what’s out there in terms of blogs, advice columns, how-to books, get-rich-quick books, I’ve come to realize that the one thing most of them lack is the idea that the heart matters. There’s some great ones out there that do just that, focus on meaning, and that’s what we all need more of, especially where technique & meaning cross because, if they don’t, then we tend to loose ourselves and photography falls flat. I’m totally far from perfect in this way, so take what I’m about to say knowing that I’m no angel either.

Photo = technique + craft + heart

Now that the math’s out of the way, thank goodness for that, we should always be striving for meaning, not just in life in general, but in the photographs we take. For myself, if I can’t portray the beauty of nature in my nature shots, then I begin to see that I’m losing at least some kind of meaning in what I’m getting a shot of. Now, to be clear, that doesn’t mean oversaturating the colors & editing the crap out of the shot, but it does mean paying close attention to the interplay between colors, tones & form in each scene. I know I’ve done this topic many times before, but sometimes, all this stuff just adds to the noise, detracting from us keeping our minds open to really concentrating on the meaning of what we’re trying to say with our photographs.

- Tiny Strands -
– Tiny Strands –

The above photograph really communicated the message of reaching for something with caution because of the way some of the petals extended themselves. Now, if my craft & technique wasn’t all that great, this shot wouldn’t have come out anywhere near what it did, especially color & noise wise. For me, Clarity (localized contrast) has become a key point in how I see things while editing because it’s a tidier tool/slider than contrast with its less drastic control, allowing for better fine tuning either on the positive side or the negative side.

Working with voice…

Seeing what’s out there in terms of nature photography can often be humbling, especially when in the presences of the masters like Ansel Adams & company. Too many times we get caught up thinking that we can’t compare to them because of their sheer talent and, to be completely honest, we really can’t because we can’t be them…We can only be ourselves, or we lose our originality and/or what makes us unique & different. I’m not focusing in on uniqueness here, but on using our own voice; when we want to say something with our shots, we should be using our own voice. There’s nothing wrong with using influences from others, but blending it with our own voice is where the tricky bit is; in my opinion, it should be about 30% outside influence and 70% us if not 10% outside influence & 90% us.

I’m far from consistent in this and I more than have trouble with this, speaking through my photographs, but there’s always going to be a struggle, and that, in effect, is what makes it worth it…It’s the journey, not the destination, in this case, because if we’ve made it already, then there’s nowhere left to go, nowhere to grow. The issue that constantly bugs me is that I used to have a really hard time seeing things in the smallest of worlds, but now it’s the big picture; I’m constantly trying to find a balance between the two, being able to use a mid-range focal length like 50mm on a full-frame camera. Balance between the two, while allowing my voice to speak through, is the hardest part for me, especially when that voice is trying to speak on the beauty of nature; I struggle with it because it’s so easy for my mind to wander, even though I’m nowhere near hyperactive, just prone to a lack of concentration.

Just listening to The Script song Hall of Fame makes me wonder if I’m on the right road, but I’m okay with that because it encourages me to work at it, striving to be better every time. It’s not the story of the boxer, in the song’s music video, that gets me, but the ballerina, and that’s because she’s neglected and pushed aside because she’s an outsider with a hearing issue. She finds herself when she calms down her mind, steadying herself; now I don’t have a hearing problem, but it speaks volumes when that kind of struggle has yields far beyond what the world expects of her. Find your voice and stick with it, learning to grow along the way…and seek constructive help along the way, be it in books or in mentors.

Just a touch of being lost in it…

We often make so much out of gear, or vision, that we get lost in either extreme, forgetting the balance between the two. I’m completely guilty of this and it’s often sobering when I end up going back to basics in order to figure out the balance between the two. Working at it, I’ve found, is something that is always continual & can never really be completely finished; it’s like vision, because it’s always, or at least should be, worked out with every shot we take and every edit we go through. We start to do things in editing that we’ve never done before and, before long, get too caught up in it, only to regret it.

- Rhododendron & Leaf -
– Rhododendron and Leaf –

The above photograph would not have turned out the way it did even a year or two ago because my craft & technique weren’t at the level they are now at; specifically, I would not have used the post-crop vignette & clarity sliders the way I did in editing. Negative clarity, ever so slight in this image, wasn’t something I did, or even thought of doing, and post-crop vignette in color priority mode wasn’t something I took seriously…But, for this image, they worked exactly the way I had thought of the shot when applying vision & intent for it. It’s not that I’ve never used negative clarity, it’s that it has never really suited my vision or intent before (one time it actually has & that time it was shown on this blog) and while it worked for this shot, I had to be careful and not get lost in it completely and overdo it, which would make the shot look contrived.

Working through a shot like this one, I try first to look at the light, then the color, and then, finally the form & texture. Why I usually do it this way is to keep myself in some kind of organized manner so I will not get lost in the shot, right to begin with. I usually leave this for after, once I’ve felt I’ve gotten my bearings with it, just so that I don’t muck it up (like I’m prone to do) by randomly playing with sliders to begin with. In all honesty, I’d rather be lost for a reason than just be lost for the sake of being lost because it gives me some perspective (hopefully). Thanks for hearing me out.

Rethinking…

When rethinking a shot, we often think that we should go a completely different way or just slightly tweak the exposure/composition. What does the scene say to us as we stand there with, or without, the camera to our eye and how do we want to take the shot? I’m usually not the kind of person to easily take this into account when capturing the scene in front of me; mostly, it’s because I’m either in a rush, not quite thinking too much about it, or just thinking about something else. Distractions come up and, when rethinking a scene, we tend to either overthink it, or not think too much about it at all; it’s like we ask to be distracted at times because we’re in it to get praise, not get told we’re being unique in getting a shot from a different perspective.

Rethinking a shot is more than just looking for a new angle on it; it’s looking at the exposure, the key tones/colors in the image, what’s in the image, the lighting, and the perspective in the actual photograph/scene itself. For myself, this also includes how I go about post-processing an image; do I take it for granted that I will tweak it later in Lightroom, or do I strive to get everything as darn near perfect when I take the initial photograph? Striving for the latter, it makes for easier, and much simpler, post-processing because I’ve already begun to work it out in my mind. The worst thing that could possibly happen (in my opinion) is when we rethink the shot directly in post-processing and then go for some outlandish, half-baked, approach/edit instead of what we initially intended for the photograph. The shot below was a rethink in how it should be presented: I used a Medium Contrast Point Curve, Clarity, and Color Vignette adjustments…I virtually never use the Color Vignette option in Lightroom because it comes across as way too weak of a vignette for my taste, but when I was rethinking this one, it fit just right.

- Garden Pathway -
– Garden Pathway –

Rethinking, for me, is about coming to a scene with fresh eyes & ideas, not necessarily throwing aside craft & technique, but craft & technique working with vision to improve the shot itself. Who really cares if you’ve got a $2000 DSLR that can take 10 frames a second if the images don’t speak to the heart? Rethinking is about more than gear, it’s about making photographs that actually say something more than just “look at the amazingly expensive camera I have!” It’s about looking & seeing with different & fresh eyes, something that we’re not always good at, but striving to be.