That one photograph…

Thinking about the one photograph that has always come back to either haunt me or inspire me, I’m in wonder at how much that one shot can inspire me. It’s not much, in reality, but it gets me stopping & thinking about just how much I admire the spot where it was taken and what it really means to me. Personally, it has changed over the years and has varied in its effect on me over the days & months; lately, it’s a photograph of a mossy rock with overgrown grass surrounding it.

- Rock & Grass -
– Rock & Grass –

Why does this photograph inspire me? This shot, taken at another angle of the spot in the botanical gardens that is so overlooked, makes me want to pause for a while and wonder just about where I am, who I am, and where I’m going. Other angles on this scene show only the rock, moss & grass, and yet they still have the same effect; they make me stop, think & want to do better just because it seems so peaceful, especially because the sun rarely hits it when the surrounding plants have come out of their winter slumber. The cool-hued shade, coupled with the sunlight that does break through on the scene, has a somewhat calming effect, especially when I actually stop to see it. Letting myself soak up a scene works much better with a scene like this and I’m thinking it’s because of the simple colour scheme.

Sometimes it’s a struggle to feel inspired, to feel something more than just okay, but that’s alright because it gets us moving & thinking; an elderly neighbour once said, without a little trouble, we don’t really grow. Of course, she said it in more of a metaphorical way, but it holds so true because without some struggle, we don’t really get a feel that we’re growing at all and we tend to become complacent…myself included. Sometimes, there’s a struggle to just get past that one photograph to make others and, for me, that’s as good a reason as any to keep trying; especially when I’m trying to learn off of what I’ve already done.

Advertisements

A moment…

Personally, a moment in time can make all the difference when it comes to photography, and I’m not talking about anything remotely close to capturing the scene in front of us. What I’m talking about is the kind of a-ha moment when you’ve been doing something else and you get an idea for doing something with a scene or a photograph you’ve already taken. For example, I could be reading a book or watching TV and then I suddenly get an idea for refining a certain photograph a certain way…That’s what I’m getting on about.

- Spots of Water, Spots of Colour -
– Spots of Water, Spots of Colour –

What got me thinking about that was when I was reading yet another badly written news article about politics and an idea came into my mind to revisit some photographs I had taken about a couple of weeks ago. It’s not like I get this kind of thing happening all the time, the need/desire to revisit my past photographs, but it helps me learn & improve (hopefully). If it works, then I usually don’t end up tampering with it, but, like usual, I can just as easily change my mind about whether or not it works or not; it’s part of the problem of double-guessing myself quite a bit. The thing is, I’m not always fully aware when it comes to colour in what I photograph, so revisiting the shots helps me learn to be better aware, even if it’s a little bit at a time.

- Spots of Water, Spots of Colour -
– Spots of Water, Spots of Colour –

The above photographs are easily an example of that specific moment when I get the idea to revisit them in post-processing, especially because I just as easily resisted refining them the first time through. Sometimes, all it takes is learning from past photographs to improve on new ones and, sometimes, all it takes is revisiting old ones to find gems that were covered in dust; it’s all a learning curve that I personally don’t think ever really ends. The thing is, I guess I’m going to have to keep on learning because that’s the only real way to grow & improve.

Respectfully…

Sometimes, it gets a bit much, society telling us who we should be & what we should be doing to get what job that society wants us to get, with governments telling us what we should think. I get that it’s not so obvious here in North America, but I’m tired of the somewhat subversive nature in the mainstream media; there isn’t a day that goes by that people who lost the election tell us what to think and those that won the election tell us what to think (I’m referring to the American elections & the recent BC elections here). The media is so full of it when they say that things have to improve now because of who won (BC elections) or how bad it’s going to be because of who lost (US elections). The last time I checked, there’s still a job to do for each of us and bills to pay; what really bugs me is when politicians & the media start to interfere in what we believe…Why was there little to no coverage of the Coptic Christians that were killed simply because of their beliefs in Egypt and so much coverage of a supposed split in the presidential couple? What’s going on with us that we’ve let it come to the point that outlets like CNN can muck around with photography in their stories, misrepresenting the facts in protests? I, personally think that it’s come this far because we’ve let the politics get in the way of what we really believe.

Looking at how society has morphed into this beast that shows no signs of slowing down, I can’t help but wonder at how crazy it’s gotten, all because we, myself included, have gone after the next paycheck instead of trying to help and/or inspire the person that’s really hurting right next to me. In the 80s & 90s, it was about the flashiest stuff and it hasn’t really changed at all, just on the surface of it all, being repackaged as the newest, next best thing, all with some new styling that seems to make us think that it’s different. Looking at how I think I’ve progressed in life, and photography, I hope I’ve gotten better, but hindsight isn’t always right immediately; I remember watching a podcast on photography where the challenge was to engage in a personal project that would take up a few months to help us grow and I can’t help but think that sometimes working through it is the best way to go. So, I took the challenge and I’m learning to really think about what I’m doing; now I just have to get progression in how I’m doing otherwise, growing as well.

So, to the politicians & mainstream media out there, I’ve got to say, respectively, forget you, because I’m going to try to work with others instead of worrying about the superficial crap that you want me to worry about. I’m going to start trying to inspire & comfort others instead of just worrying about myself and what society thinks of me. If I fail, I’m just trying to go about doing my best and I hope that at the end of it all, I’ve helped/inspired at least one person.

Anyone else but me…

One of the best songs, that I’ve heard in a long time, about modern society, is Hokus Pick’s Anybody Else But Me and it’s pure genius. It’s a satirical look at people wanting to be anyone else but themselves and it’s awesome, not just because they’re Canadian; sorry America, we got this one because you’ve got your teams on the Stanley Cup way too many times. We’re so focused on being famous or at least someone of noteworthiness, that we lose our uniqueness in the process. In photography, as in life, that means copying someone else’s vision, techniques, methods & beliefs blindly.

While I’ve read a lot & learnt how some really gifted professionals work through their craft, their photographs, and the way they make them, are uniquely theirs…Or at least they really should be. Forever a tinkerer, I’m going to be tinkering with the methods & ways I tweak my photographs and I’ll learn along the way, not just through my mistakes, but I’ll learn from the professionals as well; they’ve written many a book about their craft, so it’s a no-brainer using the knowledge they have to impart to help myself to grow as well. When it comes to life, we’re not out to imitate, but to grow as the Creator’s meant us to grow; we’re meant to look upwards, not downwards or horizontally…We’re not called to copy one another, but to imitate the perfect example the Creator was for us. Sometimes we’re given a feeling/impulse of what we’re supposed to do, sometimes it’s in our daily readings, and sometimes it’s in how we’re working that we’re given guidance.

Photography, compared to every other art, is so much younger than the others, but why is it that imitation is seen as flattery & striving for meaning not as important? I mean, come on, we’re not all drones or Borg here. There’s just so much out there to photograph, so that doesn’t mean we’ve got to copy others’ photographs or even their methods, but just learn from them…The same goes for life itself. It’s all in how we try not to be anybody else but ourselves…In the way we’re supposed to be.

An afterthought…

The dictionary defines an afterthought as a thought added after the fact, but how does that relate to photography? Simply put, it’s just another shot taken that doesn’t mean much and/or it’s just another shot added to a collection (or album) that just there because it was put there. Personally, I’ve struggled with this so many times that it’s getting quite annoying because I literally have to force myself not to leave images as an afterthought without thinking too much of them. I can learn so much from these shots because they’re mostly taken on impulse and they show me what my gut reaction is when I’m not really concentrating on a shot.

The bad thing about even just entertaining the idea of an afterthought in photography is that it allows for us, me especially, to just take a photograph without much thought of it at all. It allows for a who cares attitude in our photography and has the uncanny ability to make us complacent in how we go about our photography. The sad thing is that it’s all too natural to become complacent, something I’ve done all too easily and all too often. It’s almost a disease because we can easily get stuck in place and accept that we’re not going to get any better as we get older. It’s something that can really hurt our chances at growth, photographically speaking, in the long run.

One thing I’ve attempted to do (twice now) is a square composition, but so far I’ve only done so after printing out the shot; it was tricky, but it helped me to see just how a different perspective worked, not just as an afterthought & done for the sake of doing it, but because it helped me learn just how much a different view impacts the vision I had for the shot. The image began as a kind of afterthought (“Why don’t I just get out and take a shot or two of those flowers for the sake of it?”), but it quickly morphed into something stronger (“How can I make this work and how do I say something with this?”). The afterthought quickly became more than just an afterthought in this case and it helped me learn from it.

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.

Recovery…

We often think that we’ve got it all right and there’s nothing that can stop us, but that’s further from the truth, as I have often discovered. This is perhaps the worst way to approach photography, and most of life, because the further we get into this way of thinking the worse off we become, putting & pushing others aside. How do we get away from this & how do we recover from this? We can’t learn much if we think we know it all and usually the first step, as painful as it is, is to fail at something…something I’ve done all too often.

Failure helps us to realize that we need to learn more, but it’s a whole lot harder if we don’t get to the point where we want to learn. I’ve struggled with this so many times, thinking I should just give up and toss it aside, but then there’s something always bringing me back to it. I can’t always explain it; sometimes it’s a voice inside and other times it’s a swift kick in the backside, but there’s usually something, or someone, behind it that sparks an idea that fans the flames of creativity. This is, at its core, where recovery really begins. I don’t always listen, hence the good swift kick, but there’s usually a push & a drive to work at it, continuing to try to do at least something with it. Sometimes, we just need to ask a friend, or someone close…That’s usually all it takes.

Recovery doesn’t come easy and I’m far from it, but the best part about it is that we’re growing along the way, whether we realize it or not. And if you’re anything like me, realizing it is the tough bit. Most of the time, how I’ve learnt to shake it and begin recovery is just by reading unrelated books (Stand for Something by John Kasich or Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien are two great starts) or just getting out & going for a walk; listening to good music is another good way to beat recovery time.

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.

Vision…

Now comes the good post, right? In a way yes, but they’re mostly all about vision to begin with anyway. When it comes down to it, even if we’re just snapping a simple shot, we’ve got intention & vision for what the shot is. It’s intertwined with the image because we have an intention for what the shot is supposed to be & look like, even if it’s subconscious. Sometimes it’s just for the sake of having a memory of that exact moment, other times it’s for having something to hang up on the wall, fill an album, or something else. It comes down to what we’re eventually going to use it for: to display, to print, to give out, to distribute, and/or to use as desktop wallpaper.

- Garden Pathway -
– Garden Pathway –

When I look at a shot I took that amazes me, even before getting into the post-processing, I sometimes wonder what I’m going to use it for…Not each & every time, but hopefully most of the time. Take for example the above photograph, very similar to the one in the previous post; this one has gone through editing (Clarity, Color, & Color Vignette) a week or so later than the previous one and there was no specific plan, or vision for it, when I originally took it just over half a month ago, but now, revisiting it, I just might do more with it, mostly because it speaks to me more after some time has passed than when it did originally. Why? I’m not altogether sure, but maybe it’s got more to do with the barely visible pathway and I’m thinking I’d do more with it then use it as just desktop wallpaper.

Sometimes, vision for a single photograph (or more) does indeed change with time and, as the above photograph is an example of this, we should always try to see how we can learn from it; not just realize that things can change when it comes to the photograph, but seeing that vision isn’t always set in stone at the time of capture. The photograph above became more than just about light & shade around a seemingly overgrown path in a botanical garden, but about the interplay of colors between the various greens of the foliage and the various oranges & browns around the two large rocks. Just go into it with an open mind and sometimes the results & possibilities will surprise you.

On origins…

Ever feel like you’ve gone so far off track with your photography that you wonder what ever got you started in it in the first place? It’s happened to me, especially when I’ve gone beyond shooting a specific kid of object; I started in gardens and then branched out to nature & landscape as well as landscape & architecture, and now some wildlife. The best thing to do to keep yourself remembering what got you started is going back to what you first shot.

Reading also keeps you/me learning one different photographers’ approach to shooting and can often help broaden our horizons, but it can also make us think that we’re wrong and go completely off track by copying what other photographers do. The hard part in all of this is keeping it in balance, especially for myself, because opinions are about as plenty as sand in the desert and they sometimes just add to the noise while not doing anything to refine the field of photography. While growing in photography is a good thing, origins (or what got you started) shouldn’t be forgotten, especially if it was a good thing; the idea & goal is to be able to move on & improve while learning from your past.

Crocus & Branch

Like in the above shot, taken quite recently, it was a matter of applying what I’ve learned over the years to what got me started in photography in the first place; technique & methodology can change/morph over time and effect how you/I get the shot. The reason for going back to the gardens in the first place for me was to do something that got me back to my origins in photography and seeing how it has changed over the past few years. The definite result was that the overall mood & color has improved quite a bit, even using the same equipment. So going back to origins can also help you see how you’ve changed over time and see if it has gone off track or gotten more focused.