Slow and Intentional

Rice Paddies - Ed Burtynsky

Rice Paddies – Ed Burtynsky

I visited the Vancouver Art Gallery on the weekend. There were a few exhibits that I was interested in but one specifically. I was really excited to see Ed Burtynsky was displaying his photographs in Vancouver. Ed Burtynsky is a world renowned Canadian photographer and I find his work very challenging. The reason is this, Ed is not your normal scenic landscape photographer. He has a very different approach to how he likes to photograph. I won’t try and explain his work to you, here is what he says from his website.

“Nature transformed through industry is a predominant theme in my work. I set course to intersect with a contemporary view of the great ages of man; from stone, to minerals, oil, transportation, silicon, and so on. To make these ideas visible I search for subjects that are rich in detail and scale yet open in their meaning. Recycling yards, mine tailings, quarries and refineries are all places that are outside of our normal experience, yet we partake of their output on a daily basis.

These images are meant as metaphors to the dilemma of our modern existence; they search for a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear. We are drawn by desire – a chance at good living, yet we are consciously or unconsciously aware that the world is suffering for our success. Our dependence on nature to provide the materials for our consumption and our concern for the health of our planet sets us into an uneasy contradiction. For me, these images function as reflecting pools of our times.”

Edward Burtynsky

This post is not necessarily about Ed Burtynsky’s work as a photographer, that could be a topic for another time. The reason for this post is something that the gallery guide said as she was taking us through his images. She said that Ed uses a manual, large format camera for most of his work. What that means is, he has to set up the camera and then go through all the processes of getting the settings and composition right on that big camera. This takes time and patience and she said it is a “slow and intentional” process.

Is your photography slow and intentional?

Those two words got me thinking. Working with medium or large format film cameras is not an easy task.  It takes time, planning, strength and patience. It means that you have to be deliberate about what you want to capture photographically. It means you have to be patient, maybe for the right light, time of day, time of year, or best year in some cases! It means that things will take time (slow) and it means you will need to do things with meaning (intentional). This got me thinking. When I first started out in digital photography, I was astounded that I should fill up a memory card and it never cost me anything. This became my goal, take as many photos as possible, cull the bad ones and keep the good ones. Sadly, many of my first attempts were pretty bad. The reason was I was being neither SLOW nor INTENTIONAL. I simply wanted to get as many shots as possible in the hopes that I might get a good one in there. Sometimes I did get a “lucky” shot, most times not. I then spoke to a photographer who was shooting on film for years then switched to digital. He said he treats his digital camera like a film camera and pretends he only has 24 frames to get the shot. I scoffed (internally) and thought that was crazy in the digital age. He went on to explain that this made him a better photographer. He was more deliberate about the shot. He thought about composition and light and what he was trying to achieve. I realised that I never really did that. I just was photographing and changing things until I felt it looked ok. After that discussion I decided to try this method. In short…it worked. Every time I go out and shoot now, I imagine I have only a few shots to get the shot. I work at getting things right first before hitting the shutter release.

Hearing this guide say that Ed Burtynsky shoots in a slow and intentional way, rekindled this idea in my mind. I still do this, but I am now even more aware of how much I need to understand the light I am shooting in. I need to know my gear well, I need to hone my craft and develop an instinctive way of shooting. I need to be even slower and more intentional. I need to have a distinct idea of what I am trying to shoot. Doing this has made my photography better. It has helped me get better results and more predictable results.

Mastery?

The word mastery evokes so many different ideas for me. My goal is to be as masterful in my photography as I can. That means, my ability and insights into photography have become instinctive. In a sense, being a master of you craft means that you don’t make as many mistakes and it is easier to get the desired shot. I think of golfers like Ernie Els or Tiger Woods. They have honed their skill in golf to such an extent, they can make the golf ball land pretty much where they want it to land. They understand their equipment, they know their capabilities, they are also slow and intentional before they swing the club. This is mastery.

How does this work when you are photographing?

More and more nowadays, my thinking is “quality over quantity”. I don’t try and fill the memory card with images that will simply sit on my hard drive and never be used. I would rather have 10 good images of which 5 are usable than have 50 mediocre images. I have become very specific when I am photographing a scene. I look at the lighting, composition and colour in the scene. I then think about what I am trying to convey in the scene. Do I want it to be dramatic or serene? Do I want it to be minimalist or busy? What are the predominant colours? Do I need to over expose or underexpose? Will I use HDR or shoot a pano? These are the things that I try and answer when I am photographing. When those answers become instinctive, then you will spend less time thinking about the image you want. Then the exciting part is about getting that shot.

This is my though process and I would be curious to know what you think. Do you have a process that helps you get your shot? Do you shoot and hope for the best? Are you more deliberate? Let me know in the comments what you think!

 

Trip to Tofino

I had never been to Tofino before.  I loved the idea of a Canadian Surfing resort. Most peoples understanding of Canada is that it is a frozen Tundra for 9 months of the year and then has a brief and intense 3 week summer. Well, in some parts of Canada (like the Arctic) that may be true, but thats not true in British Columbia (BC). We are fortunate in BC to have a pretty mild climate. It rains in winter (a fair amount) the summers here are great, warm days, cool evenings and some of the most pristine and breathtaking scenery on the planet. One of those special places is Tofino. I was only there for a weekend, but managed to get some great seascapes and forest scenes. The coast is rugged and makes for great shots. Here are some images I made on the weekend there. Some with my SLR and others with my iPhone!

Magnificent Chesterman Beach

Magnificent Chesterman Beach

 

Chesterman Beach - Sunset

Chesterman Beach – Sunset

 

iPhone  - Rocky coast near Ucluelet

iPhone – Rocky coast near Ucluelet

 

iPhone - More Ucluelet coast

iPhone – More Ucluelet coast

iPhone - Tonquin Trail, Tofino

 

iPhone Pano - Tonquin trail end, Tofino

iPhone Pano – Tonquin trail end, Tofino

 

 

 

On buying a new camera

Possibly one of the most daunting tasks for a photographer is buying a new camera. There are so many options and new functions. If you have never bought a camera before, its tough, but if you already have a camera and want to upgrade, that can be confusing too. So, here are some ideas that might help you navigate your way through a new camera purchase.

I often have people asking me about what camera they should buy next. Entry Level Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras (DSLR) are now quite affordable and many of these people asked if they should buy one. After thinking about this for a while, I came up with a few things that need to be considered before investing in ANY camera and especially a DSLR.

1. How much do you want to spend?

This is always a good place to start, decide how much you are willing to spend on your new camera and stick to it within 10% either way. That way, you probably won’t suffer buyer’s remorse. So first thing to do, figure out how Continue Reading →

Getty Images gives photographs away

Creative content is under threat. Getty images announced this week that you can embed any image onto your blog or website for FREE, provided it is for non commercial use. This is the first time that Getty has moved to this model and it is potentially a sea change in stock photography. Let me say at the outset, I am NOT in favour of this new model. What this means is, you can go onto the Getty Images website, find an image you like, click on it and download the embed code and paste that into your blog or website…all for free. Getty’s rationale is that this is happening already with Google search, so they thought it would be better if they offer this service. The image is free and there is no watermark on the image so all that happens is the photographer gets credited (not much money in that) and Getty gets to brand the image. In time, Getty says, they will offer overlay advertising similar to what YouTube is now running on their network.

My reaction is that this is ludicrous. Let me clear though, I am listed on Getty Images as a contributing photographer, but it is not my main source of revenue, so I wont be negatively affected. For some photographers however, this could mean a significant drop in income for them. My reaction is this, we are simply cheapening the craft of photography to the point that commercial clients will soon be asking for more and more freebies. In fact, it could mean that there is no need to hire a commercial photographer and simply use the free service from Getty to populate their websites with free images. Sad, very sad day indeed.

What do you think of this move? Any comments, ideas suggestions? I have a few which I will share in a later post at some point, but I am curious to know your thoughts on this!

What is a photograph worth?

We all know the saying ” a picture is worth a thousand words” and that may be true. Photographs can convey a sense of time, place, emotion and insight into the scene in the image. As a fine art landscape photographer, I often ask myself, what is a photograph worth? The answer is, as it often is, “that depends”. I know, vague , right? I also hear photographers discussing at length what they should charge a client to use one of their images, questions like…what should they charge for usage? royalties? type of usage? and so on. As a landscape photographer, this debate is not as complex as the world of stock photography, but it is complicated. So the question remains, what is a photograph worth?

A few mornings ago, I was sitting in one of my favourite coffee shops in Vancouver and of of my friends sitting there said he had recently been to Las Vegas and visited one of Peter Lik’s galleries there. He spent a few hours looking through the images and decided to buy two prints which he loved. He then said something very interesting. He said that he paid a LOT of money for these two prints (Crimson Tides and Tranquil Blue ) and that he wasn’t sure if the money spent was an investment, but that HE loved the images. This started a whole discussion about value and what do we see as valuable. I will tell you more about this later, but first I want to move away from the coffee shop chat and talk about selling images.

1. Why do photographers was to sell images?

I have asked myself this question for a long time. I am not sure I know the answer, each photographer will have a different reason for selling their images, so let me tell you what mine are. I feel that I like to sell my images because there is something about showing people visually, the beauty I saw in the scene. I want to share that with the viewer and to sell the image to someone means that they think my images is worth something…to them at least. It validates, in some way, what I do as a photographer. It means that the work that I have created has value to someone other than me. Would it be the same if I gave my images away? For me, the money simply is a means in which to perform the transaction, there are costs involved in printing and framing images, but if someone likes my images and I gave it to them, I think I would feel just as excited. I enjoy the fact that people like what they see in my images, its really that simple. I like to share that gift with anyone who will look at the images.

2. Why are some images more expensive than others?

This is a fascinating question. One that I think about often and I am not sure what the answer is, but here are some thoughts. I think that some PHOTOGRAPHERS can command a higher price for their images because of who they are. I think of photographers like Ansel Adams, Art Wolfe, Joe McNally, Frans Lanting, Ed Burtynsky and Freeman Patterson. Their images are iconic and their name in the photographic world precedes them. They have a tremendous body of work spanning many years of photography in some exceptional places and all of them have captured “once in a lifetime” images. Their visits to these places have significant stories attached to them and this all builds into the cachet of the images they sell. They have built up a reputation and are admired by other significant photographers and so their images have an intrinsic value because of the actual image, but they have more ethereal value because the image was made by one of these photographers. The image becomes a masterpiece, not necessarily because it is simply a great image, but because it was created by a great photographer. This is true in classical art. An original painting down by one of the masters is infinitely more valuable than a great copy of that same painting. The touch of the master on the image is the intangible and probably, most powerful element of selling images.

Now, you could do a search on each of these photographers and see their work and you will be astounded at the quality, craft and beauty of their work. It is undeniable. As a result, you might think that the most expensive photographs ever sold, would be by one of these photographers, that would be logical. The interesting thing is that of all the most expensive photographs sold in the world, only one of the the photographers I mentioned earlier, appears on the list of most expensive photographs ever sold.

Why?

Well, I am really not sure why. I look at the images in these portfolios and they are amazing. The technical side of the images is flawless, the passion is evident, the beauty is surreal, but they are not the ones who have sold the most expensive prints.

The most expensive print ever sold was a print by Andreas Gursky called Rhein II and it sold for $ 4.3 million in 1999. Thats right, one print, 4.3 million dollars. Wow, just think about that for a minute. Think of what that type of image would look like. It would surely be spectacular, it would have to be right? It must have been something very unique…these are the things that I thought when I first heard that. I then noticed that Mr Gursky has also sold the fourth most expensive print ever, for $ 3.3 million, WOW! So I had to take a look at the images that have made over $ 7 million dollars for the photographer. I was astounded, but take a look for yourself, they are below:

Rhein_II - Andreas Gursky

Rhein_II – Andreas Gursky

99 cent II diptychon - Andreas Gursky

99 cent II diptychon – Andreas Gursky

 

I don’t want to fall into the trap of being a bitter critic, but I was not Continue Reading →

Wide angles and Landscapes…

A wide angle image of a seascape with a foreground subject

A wide angle image of a seascape with a foreground subject

I love breathtaking images of a wide vista from a place I have never seen before. I especially love an image like that if it is full of visual information. As a landscape photographer, I love my wide angle lens. I love it for a few reasons, I can fit more into the scene than with a normal lens, I also like the way that wide angle lenses deal with light. Wide angles take a little getting used to though. When I first started using my wide angle lens, I had more images destined for the trash than for print. Over time, I began to understand what the lens was good for and what it was not good for. Here are some pointers on how to make your landscapes look great using a wide angle lens.

1. What is “wide” angle.

There is no exact definition of what a wide angle lens is, but at a high level, if you are shooting on a full frame camera, a 35mm lens could be considered wide angle, on an APS-C sensor 18 – 25mm is considered wide. I use what is sometimes called “Ultra Wide” and that is a 10-20mm lens on an APS-C sensor. This is not a fisheye lens, however, I do need to be careful of barrel or pincushion distortion. I like shooting wide vistas showing vast skies and I find that this lens gives me that flexibility to be able to capture scenes dramatically.

2. Why a wide angle lens for landscapes?

Wide angle lenses are good for a few reasons. The first is they have the ability to have deep depth of field at most apertures. That means that your foreground to background will be in sharp focus throughout. This is really important in Landscape photography. If you have a big rock in the foreground that is sharply in focus, but your horizon is a bit soft, your image may not be impactful. Secondly, wide angles make subject in the foreground seem bigger than they are and subjects in the background smaller than they are. So they give some perspective distortion. If used correctly, this can make your image seen very dramatic.

Seascape with no foreground interest, but a strong sky

Seascape with no foreground interest, but a strong sky

Quick tips on using a wide angle lens

A. Have some foreground interest

This is a good idea for most landscape images, but especially true for a wide angle lens. Your image may work without a foreground subject, but most times the foreground subject Continue Reading →

5 edits you NEED to know in Photoshop…

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you will know my stance on Photoshop. If you are new to this blog, let me explain what I mean…

Photoshop is a critical part of the image making process and learning to use it properly is important. Photoshop is not an excuse to make bad images  in the hopes of trying to fix them up afterwards, thats a bad way to make photographs. In a nutshell, Photoshop is there to make your good images (made properly in camera) look spectacular. So, this not a going to be a “cheat sheet” of how to fix blown out skies or change colours that are messed up because of bad exposure, this post is about getting some basics right in Photoshop.

Obviously, there are far more than 5 techniques to edit your images, far far more. I believe that these 5 techniques will help you to build up your repertoire of Photoshop skills. Yes, 5 may seem simplistic, but in many ways they are a foundation. So, come along with me on this first step.

This post will be done over 5 posts, so I can go into some details about each tool. We will do this in a specific order as follows:

1. Levels
2. Curves
3. White Balance
4. Noise/Sharpening
5. Crop

Here goes…

Levels tool

Your levels tool in Photoshop is an invaluable tool in getting your exposure spot on. Yes, you want to get this right in camera, but sometimes you can really make the image “pop” by using the Levels too. Levels is a great way to adjust the general lighting in your image, to brighten things up or to darken some areas. When you adjust Levels, you will also notice that this affects the colour in your image, so be aware of the changes being made in your image as you make adjustments. Levels is based on a histogram. The histogram looks like this.

Basically the histogram is a representation of the pixels in you image. It reprints the Highlights, Midtones and Shadows.

The Histogram gives an indication of the tonality of an image. There is no “perfect” histogram. Some photographers say that perfect tonality will be represented by a “bell curve” shape to the histogram. This is not true as each image captured is individual as is the light in which an image is captured.

How to read a histogram:

Levels Dialogue Box - Histogram

 

The histogram is broken up into 3 areas:

Darks – Far left of graph

Midtones – Middle of graph

Lights or highlights – Far right of graph

The height of the graph represents how many Continue Reading →

The end of the DSLR?

It is never easy to predict the future, at best its risky. However, if you get it right, you are seen as a guru, get it wrong and you are a charlatan looking for attention. So, most people avoid trying to predict the future as it is notoriously difficult to know (Just ask any meteorologist!)

So, why am I trying to predict the future as the title of this post suggests. Well, I am not wanting to put any predictions out there, I am simply going to comment on some trends that might change the way photography works in the future, so here are some trends I have been spotting lately:

Sony A7R

 

1. Mirrorless cameras are getting better

When mirrorless cameras first launched, they were not bad, but not “wow”. This has changed, the new generation of mirrorless cameras is really, REALLY good and they have the specs now to compete with DSLR’s

2. Smaller is getting bigger

Lets face it, carrying a bag of heavy camera equipment is not fun. Its even less fun if you have to carry it for a a few hours. Much of the new technology means that smaller equipment is getting the same results as bigger equipment. As an example, the new Sony A7R has a full frame 36 megapixel sensor in a small body. So, great image results from a lighter, smaller camera

3. Cost is a factor

DSLR prices are not coming down. The latest versions of the Nikons or Canons are not getting cheaper than the previous versions. The smaller cameras are cheaper and will possibly get even cheaper as people begin to buy more of them.

4. Quality is still king

Yes, image quality is what counts. In the previous versions of mirrorless cameras, Continue Reading →

Ten ways to bring back the magic!

 

Gastown, Vancouver

Gastown, Vancouver

Do you ever get into a creative slump? You know the feeling…you take your camera out for a walk (in a manner of speaking) and get five or six images that are, well, uninspiring. You get home, pull them up on the screen and they look just like all your other images, same feel, same ideas and everything seems stale. You keep trying, but it feels like your attempts are forced and you simply go through the motions. This is normal, it happens to all creative people and often you will hear photographers and artists say that they are in a “rut”. Once you identify this you can do one of two things:

1. Wait for it to pass
2. Get active while you are in it.

I have found that waiting for it to pass very rarely works. The reason is that self doubt starts creeping in. You don’t pick up your camera for a few weeks and suddenly, you feel like a beginner again. The camera feels foreign in your hands and you start wondering about whether you should take up golf or something. My view is that even if you are in a slump, get out there and photograph, even if it feels false or “wooden” as I like to call it. When something feels “wooden” it means that things are stiff or rigid. It feels difficult to do, there is no flow, you want your photography to flow like water, BUT thats not always possible.

So, when the slump or the rut comes, what do you do? Do you simply stay at home and wait for inspiration to come and knock on your door and invite you out for a photoshoot? Well, that’s not going to happen. No, the creative process is a fickle mistress. It will elude you when you most want or need it. The best way to counteract this slump is to get out there and perform your craft. Go out and do the act of photography…even if it feels false, even if you feel like watching the game on TV, the act of doing will start unlocking the creative part of your brain and soon (not immediately) you will start feeling that familiar flow. I know that if you are in this slump, sometimes it is difficult to know where to start, so here are some ideas: Continue Reading →

More on Light

Light is the most critical component of your photography. I use a system for every image called the 4C’s, it helps me to put everything in place when I have time to setup the shot. The 4C’s are Colour, Contrast, Composition and Control. More on this in later posts, but without Light, you simply cannot make an image. This is the introduction passage to my eBook about working with Light (Coming Soon!) So here it is…

Light is the magic entity in your images. This is the reason that I chose to start off by talking about light. Light is the most important ingredient in your photography. Yes, you need a camera, yes, you need good lenses and of course if you will need to know how to use the camera, that will improve your photography exponentially.

Beautiful Vancouver, bathed in evening light

Beautiful Vancouver, bathed in evening light

We need to go back to the beginning though and rediscover what photography is all about. At its most basic, photography is about light. Without light, you cannot make an image. In a black, dark Continue Reading →

My favourite iPhone apps…

Sunny Yaletown, iPhone image...

Sunny Yaletown, iPhone image…

As you may know, I really enjoy taking photos with my iPhone. It truly is a great tool for some quick photography and sometimes you may surprise yourself at the images you get (I still get amazed at some of the images I get). Over the past year, I have spent some time experimenting with different combinations of apps and “cameras” (really just apps that enable you to do photography better) and I have a shortlist of apps that I have found I use the most. This is by no means an exhaustive list of apps for the iPhone, just do a search on the iTunes store and you will find thousands of options. These are simply the apps that I have had recommended to me or have read about and have found that they add value to my image making process. Yes, there is a process to making an image on an iPhone, much like there is a process to any photography. My high level process is as follows:

1. Capture an image
2. Enhance the image
3. Share the image

So lets look at these three separate steps and the apps I use in each:

1. Capture the image.

There are some really great iPhone cameras. I have over 10 different camera apps on my iPhone, but I really only use two or three of them the most, so here they are…

a. Camera + ($1.99)

This is a FANTASTIC camera app. I use this one the most. It is intuitive, easy to use and lots of fun. I use this to capture an image and to enhance the image. Camera + also has real great editing software, so you can achieve a lot just by having this app. The clarity function is really powerful and can turn an average looking image into something that pops! In a later blogpost, I will give you my workflow on this app and others, but I generally capture the image in this app and then enhance it there too. One of the best functions I have seen on this app (or any camera app for that matter) is the ability to have exposure and focal adjustments on the screen before you take the shot. So, you simply tap on the screen of the app in camera mode with two fingers and two adjustments pop onto the screen, namely, exposure and focal point. You can then slide the exposure onto the part of your scene you want to expose for, the same for the focal point, simply move the focal point to what you want in focus. Simple, easy and effective. Take a look at the screenshot below to see how it works…

Camera + screen shot

Camera + screen shot

Camera+ has a large amount of adjustments, filters, frames and edges. If I had to choose 1 app for photography, Continue Reading →

Are you a light snob?

Incredible light on a great subject made this image work

Incredible light on a great subject made this image work

Its not a very flattering description, but it works. In my opinion, photographers should be “light snobs”…what do I mean by that. Well, being a light snob is like being a food snob. You seek out the best light (like seeking out the best food), you only shoot in the best light (think…best restaurant) and you are very careful about the light that you use to shoot. If the light starts getting bad, you stop shooting. In other words, you become hyper sensitive to the light in your scene. This, I believe, is one of the things that separates a good photograph from a SPECTACULAR one. We have all seen them, those photos that literally jump off the page or screen at you. Sometimes I have even photographed the same scene, but in very different light and the result was…meh! Average to poor. If the light was right, then the image would have been amazing. Here are some ideas around light…

1. How do I know when the light is good?

Good question, and its a simple or simplistic answer… you will KNOW. I have been fortunate to shoot in THAT kind of light a few times and it is amazing. Your image on the LCD screen of your camera looks fantastic, the light around looks incredible and the scene is impossible to forget, you will know it when it happens, also, it doesn’t happen every sunset. Sometimes a sunset or sunrise can be a spiritual experience, other times, it goes from yellow to dark in 5 minutes…but when it is good, you will know and then you need to perform your magic.

2. Ok, but that kind of light doesn’t happen all the time.

True, that doesn’t mean I don’t photograph in normal light, I do, sometimes I can’t avoid it. When I have been travelling and I arrive at a place at midday and it is bright and contrasty, I still take some photos. Why? Continue Reading →