Rights…

One thing that had really begun to bug me as of late is the price of real estate on the West Coast where I live, the ignorance of the mayor & council in taking care of issues, and a resident saying through a published news article that living in this city isn’t a right. When I first read that article, I have to admit I was mad as could be, knowing that the author and/or the people that agree with him/her most likely aren’t born in this city, made their money through lots of investing, donated a bit to a corrupt city hall, and don’t really care. I hate to say this, but I was born here, went to school here, work here, drive here, go to church here, worship in my home church here, and put up with the crap from politicians here, so go fish! But yet, I’d count it all as loss because it’s not a right to live anywhere, only a privilege that we’ve been afforded; it’s not a right to live here, nor is it a right to put up with the crap from city hall.

- Lynn Canyon Waterfall -
– Lynn Canyon Waterfall –

The same goes for being able to get a shot like the one above because it’s not a right, only a privilege that I happened to listen to the still small voice & capture the shot while out on a hike through the canyon with a family member. If family hadn’t suggested the hike to me, I’d never have been able to get it when I did, or even the way I was able to get it. I listened to the still small voice & my gut when it told me to take another shot at it the day after I first went through it & refined it in Lightroom; otherwise, it wouldn’t have ended up like it did. That still small voice isn’t a right, it’s a privilege. Will it inspire others? Maybe…I just hope it convinces at least some to get out & explore their surroundings, whether it be in the urban forests, natural parks, or botanical gardens.

Thinking back on the idea of rights & privileges, both issues should take a backseat to how we go about our lives. Why? Because it’s not about us and if we go about it like it is about us, we lose sight of one of the key things that we’re supposed to be doing: inspiring others, trying to lift them up, and not putting ourselves front & center.

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.

Translating vision…

How is it that with all the tools at our disposal for making photographs, we end up making something appear so unreal, that we still think we can get away with calling it a photograph? I’m taking about overblown, overcooked HDR images that have little or no contrast and are still referred to as photographs. If that’s your vision, then at least call it a photo illustration because it is so unreal due to the high level of editing; but if you’re aiming for a real, impactful image, there’s nothing wrong with tweaking an image, but not so much that it looks like there’s no shadows, no highlights & no real contrast. The problem in all of this is how vision is translated into the image, something that I’m by no means good at.

For me, it includes not changing the composition (cropping isn’t included in this, but it’s a gray area), adding in elements, or changing the colors to something quite different. The methods & definition vary for every person, but there’s always the above three points to start from as a base. Now if you want to edit, edit to your heart’s content, but realize that there’s a limit to what can be called a photograph and what can’t be. When it comes to translating vision into a photograph though, most of that (+80%) should most likely be done in camera or you/I might risk losing it when it comes to viewing the shot later on…Photoshop, Lightroom and/or Aperture don’t have a fix everything filter.

Clouds Over the Park
Clouds Over the Park

Continuing on with the theme of editing & vision, I’d be a complete jerk if I didn’t abide by them as well. For me, it’s tweaking (NOT changing) the color, fixing horizon lines (if need be), and slightly adjusting shadows & highlights. The above photograph had three things edited to it: shadows (it was WAY too dark), highlights (the clouds were blown out) and straighten/crop (bad horizon, which was completely my fault). While it isn’t my best from that spot, it illustrates the most editing I would do (apart from using the clarity slider for localized contrast, which could have hurt this image more than helped it). So in the end, it’s about translating vision into the print and making someone feel what it was like to be there, not just telling them outright (something I’m nowhere near perfect at).

For more information, check out David duChemin’s Vision & Voice: Refining Your Vision in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. You won’t be disappointed!

Shutting up…

Okay, so this title’s a bit harsh, but the statement rings true when everyone’s chiming in on what they want you to do, instead of letting you listen for that guiding voice that will tell you where you should go and what shot you should get. Personally, getting too many voices saying different things is really confusing no matter what the task at hand is. In photography, the problem with so many different opinions is that it can get quite confusing…I’ve mentioned it before, I know.

With so many different lenses for so many different subjects, there’s varying opinions on which matters, prime lenses (one fixed focal length) or telephoto/zoom lenses (varying focal lengths), for every different subject under the sun. The issue I have with this is that we end up getting the typical shot and think that’s all we can do because we’re supposed to use only one type of lens and not another. Following this rule/opinion logically, this means that there an really not be any vastly different takes on the same scene that are deemed as acceptable; this is basically photography’s version of tech snobbery because it’s basically saying that you/I can’t get the shot because we don’t have a particular lens.

So the point of what is quickly becoming a rant is pretty simple: watch & listen to what the varying opinions are on photography, but somehow make your own informed opinions without stomping on others’ own opinions. The hardest part about this is that there is just so much noise out there that just won’t shut up; it takes time to sort it all out, something I’m still doing, because it doesn’t really go away, but there’s always flip side to the argument in photography and it’s up to us to figure out what exactly it is. Informed decisions about what to shoot are great, but if you’re just taking your first few shots, work at it and try different things to see which works best for you.