Sunday, May 22, 2016

What’s a Landscape Photograph, Anyway?

If you’re like most people, when you hear the term “landscape photography,” you probably conjure up images of beautiful natural scenes: a mountain rising behind a pristine forested lake; a hillside covered with brightly colored spring flowers; a slot canyon dressed in reds and purples sculpted into erotic shapes by the wind and sand; or a golden sunset over a wave-washed ocean beach.  To be sure, these and many other examples represent what we would all call landscape photographs.  What’s common among them, despite their differences, is their concentration on nature, on the beauty of color or the richness of black and white, and on the general absence of the hand of man.  For many of us, such photos are the very essence of landscape photography.
                But other interpretations are possible.  Take for example Chuck Kimmerle, who in his book Black & White Artistry defines landscape photography more broadly.  According to Kimmerle, “landscape photography is at its core a study of our environment, our surroundings.”  While these include natural scenes like those described above, they can also include images that reveal manmade elements such as roads, fences and buildings.  In urban photography, some might go so far as to include architectural studies, ephemera, and even junk as subjects since they are part of the surroundings in which we live.  Thus, as Kimmerle concludes, landscape photography can “include almost any photograph which does not explicitly include people as the primary subjects.”
                So who is right?  The answer, I think, is that each photographer must decide for him or herself.  There is no right or wrong; it is only a matter of personal preference, the subject matter that excites you and draws your interest. 
                My personal concept of landscape photography is somewhat similar to Kimmerle’s.  Sure, I love making photos of pure natural scenes from which the effects of man’s handiwork are absent.  But I’m also open to certain images that contain manmade structures where these fit the scene as though meant to be there.  Usually, these are such structures as old barns and sheds, fences, churches, lines of telephone poles, even roads.  In my view, such elements can and often do fit the scene as well as natural objects do.  But in the end, you must decide for yourself on your own definition of landscape photography and how the objects you choose to photograph will fit your personal vision.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

My Conditions for Creativity

I can’t speak for all photographers, but for me there are certain conditions that help me enhance my ability to approach scenes creatively.  I suspect strongly that many of these are true for other photographers as well.
First, I find that I work best when I work alone.  I’ve tried to photograph with other people along and in general it only results in snapshots, not the great photos I’m looking for.  I find that other people, even if well-meaning, inhibit me from taking the time and extra effort needed to be truly creative.  I find myself distracted by the need to give attention to them and the usual fact that they are disinterested in the craft of photography.  But even fellow photographers distract me.  I am often drawn to mimic their approaches to a scene rather than allowing my own creative juices to flow.  As a result, when I’m serious about making truly creative photos, I always choose to go solo.
                I also find I get the most creative results when I’ve allotted enough time for my photographic sessions.  It doesn’t work well for me if I’m feeling rushed.  When I’m in a hurry, I’ll settle for the first acceptable shot I find, usually overlooking other possibilities to express the full meaning of the scene.  Such quick sessions are fine for snapshots, but serious creative work demands both the exploration and patience that only adequate time can afford.
                My third condition is closely related to the second.  I find I get the most creative results when I settle on a single scene and work it exhaustively before moving on to another.  The fact is that although something in the scene has attracted my attention, I don’t always see the best creative possibilities at first.  It’s essential for me to consider different viewpoints and ways of capturing a scene.  To employ varying compositional elements to best advantage requires both time and exploration.  Sometimes a single scene can yield several compositions that make the effort worthwhile.  But these usually only become evident after thorough investigation of alternative viewpoints and experimentation with different lenses.
                This means also that I get my best results when I can take off any blinders I’ve brought with me to a session.  In order to be creative, I need to be open to new possibilities.  If I come to a session with a preconceived idea of the photo I want to create, I’m bound to overlook other opportunities the scene has to offer.  That means I must not be committed to a single concept, a single lens or only one viewpoint.  My best, most creative results always come when I’m open to the surprise of new possibilities that have never occurred to me before.
                Distractions of any sort are the enemy of my creativity.  In addition to avoiding other people and allocating enough time, it’s important for me to keep my mind clear of other issues while I’m photographing.  If I’m worried about some problem at home, it’s better if I stay and home and address that problem than to try to make expressive photos while my mind is elsewhere.  It’s one of the principles of mindfulness practice—when making creative photographs, be completely focused on photography and nothing else.
                This means, among other things, taking care of my own creature comforts while on a photo mission.  If I’m too hot or cold, too tired or too hungry, my mind will be on these things and they will divert my attention from creative exploration.  They may be signaling me to wrap up my session and go home much sooner than I’d planned.  So I try to be sure that my own needs are taken care of before I set out for a serious creative photo session.
                Getting fresh ideas is important to creativity.  Often it is easiest to find them when traveling to a new place, perhaps one I’ve never visited before.  I usually find it easiest to see with new eyes in a new place.  Scenes that are familiar to me tend to stifle my ability to see them afresh.  Yet because these are the scenes that are most accessible to me on a regular basis, it’s important for me to overcome the tendency to boredom and routine approaches to the subjects.  How can I find fresh creative ideas in familiar spots?  One way is to return to the scene in different kinds of weather.  Bad weather may be disagreeable, but it often yields the most dramatic photos.  In addition to variety in the weather, the variety in equipment provides fresh chances to capture a scene in new ways.  I can use a different lens than the one normally mounted on my camera so I see scenes differently.  And of course seasonal changes bring on varying looks that open up further creative possibilities.  What’s important is to maintain an open state of mind when I revisit familiar places so I’m able to see fresh opportunities I’ve not seen before.  I don’t want to claim this is easy, but it’s nonetheless essential.
                If you value creativity as much as I do, then think about your own conditions for creativity.  When and under what circumstances do you find you are most creative?  What conditions need to exist for you to do your own best work?  And what do you need to do to assure that your creativity is at its best?  It’s an exercise that is well worth doing, and it will help you assure that you can get perhaps even better results than you were hoping to produce.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Sunrise in Florida

For many years I've gone to Florida in the late winter for recreation--OK, the 24 hour auto race at Daytona International Speedway.  But that never dampened my enthusiasm for snagging a few photographs of the surrounding area while I was there.  Here's a favorite, of the pre-dawn coloring the sky through dense clouds over the beach at Daytona.  I think it has a lot of drama to it.

I've got more photos in my web store that would make nice gifts this Christmas.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Sand in My Toes

I must confess that there's something about being at the beach that's especially inviting in the summertime.  This photo, taken just before dawn in Delaware on the Atlantic coast of the U.S., shows the peacefulness of the hours before sun worshipers begin to arrive for the day.  It's the time of day I love the best.
Delaware beach in the pre-dawn
What about you?  Do you love the seashore?  If so, what do you love about it the most?

You can see more of my photos at my web site.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Another Lighthouse

I don't get to locations that have lighthouses very often, but when I do, I always try to make a photograph or two.  Here's another, the Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse on the rocky coast of Maine.
Bass Harbor Head Light
I'll share more photos of lighthouses in the future.  And for more photos, visit my web site.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Portland Head Light

Lighthouses are a favorite subject for many photographers, and I am no exception.  This one--taken in the dwindling light after sunset--is of Portland Head Light, outside of Portland, Maine. 

I was fortunate to capture not only the color of the dying day but also a bright moon centered over the lighthouse. 

Here's another view of the same lighthouse, this time taken from the opposite direction and during daylight hours.

I especially like the curving shoreline as it leads the eye into the central focus of the picture, the lighthouse itself.

To see other photos of mine--and perhaps to purchase copies that are ready for framing--visit my website.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Is There Only Darkness, or Will Light Prevail?

In the wake of the tragic Paris massacre, this photograph seems to sum up my feelings, and perhaps those of many others.  Its dramatic contrast of darkness penetrated by sunshine suggests that although the times are dark, perhaps oppressively so, light is struggling to shine through. 

We cannot now know the outcome of the struggle.  We can only have hope that brighter days lie ahead.  Until then, courage--and compassion for those who are most affected--must prevail.