Why Play with Fire?

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Have you backed up your photos lately? I am asking because I have just seen the grief of a good friend of mine who lost all his photos because he hadn’t. He had done what everybody knows one shouldn’t do, but everybody does. He had kept all his photos taken over the last three or four years on an SD-card in the camera – and had not backed them up on any other device. These were photos of family and friends, from holiday and travels, of precious moments and of big sentimental value. The SD-card malfunctioned. All photos gone.

Are you putting yourself in a similar position? Please, don’t. Go right back home and back-up your photos. Now.

Don’t expect it won’t happen to you. It’s only a matter of time before it will. Before your precious photos of which you only have one copy of will be destroyed because the storage device – whatever kind it is – breaks, because you accidentally delete the photos or because you lose the SD-card somewhere you can’t get it back from. Too many people take risks, even professional photographers. I have too often surprisingly seen professionals that play with the fire – and I know one day will regret it. I know, backup is boring, but I assure you will regret, too, not paying attention to this trivial task the day all your photos are gone – even if you are only an occasional photographer, yes, don’t even see yourself as a photographer.

I learned my lesson early on (and don’t we all have to learn the hard way). It was back in the days when my computer had a stunning 20 megabyte hard-disk, a computer that was more expensive that my quite more advanced computer of today and couldn’t even hold one of my regular TIFF-files of today, and back in the days when the computer was run on a disk-operating system call MS-DOS, the precursor of the later Windows, by, yes, Microsoft. Anyway I had been writing the majority of articles for a magazine I was editing back then, when the hard-disk crashed. I lost one month worth of work. And there was only one solution to the problem: To write all articles once again.

I learned my lesson. After that I backed up everything I wrote or created on the computer. Later on when I started photographing digitally, my photos were backed up the same way. All my originals would exist in at least three different storage devices. Back in the beginning I thought I was safe if I backed up only the original photo files. If I lost processed photos – I could always process the originals again. But then my archive of processed photos quickly grew, and I realized that I should not only backup the original information, but also all the work I had put in. If I lost ten years of processed photos, it would take me another ten years to process them again from the originals.

I had to learn one more lesson. Not long ago I was on an assignment. Every night after a day’s work my photos were transferred to my portable laptop, and the CF-cards formatted to be ready for the next day’s photographing. That had been my workflow for many years while on the road. Of course you have already seen what was wrong with this picture. Yes, I backed up all my pictures in the various ways when I got back from the trip – but I didn’t backup while travelling. One of the last days of this trip the hard-disk of the laptop crashed. Disaster! So yes, now I always backup right away every evening to an external harddrive when I am travelling. By the way, the pictures from the trip weren’t lost, but it was an expensive operation to get them extracted from the crashed laptop. Not recommended!

Today, all my photos are stored and backed up in hard-disks on different servers – and even backed up on DVD’s (there is no way you can delete a file from a DVD – and extra precaution). In addition I have them backed up on an external hard disk that is stored off site. If my house burn down, I still have my archive intact.

For any data that is important to you – photographs or anything else – there should never, ever, be only one copy of it in existence, no matter how safe you believe it to be. Catastrophes do happen, houses burn down, banks get robbed, data centres have power failures and cloud companies go out of business.

Have you backed up your photos lately – or at all?

Posted in Photo Techniques, Photographic Reflections, Photography | Tagged | 73 Comments

Pure Playfulness

© Nicolaas Kuipers

© Nicolaas Kuipers

© Nicolaas Kuipers

© Nicolaas Kuipers

© Nicolaas Kuipers

© Nicolaas Kuipers

© Nicolaas Kuipers

© Nicolaas Kuipers

© Nicolaas Kuipers

© Nicolaas Kuipers

Nicolaas Kuipers has a distinct, photographic voice. As a viewer we can see it in his playful approach to whatever he chooses as a subject as well as to the whole photographic process. For Nicolaas no angle is impossible, no rule is to be obeyed, no story is too small or too big to be photographed, no challenge undoable. Nicolaas attended two of my workshops last year, and already during the first one in Villajoyosa, I noticed his playfulness and the positivity he permeated into his photography. Already then it was possible to see the development of a distinct, photographic voice (his images from this workshop has been showcased in the post Stories behind Stories). Half a year later when he attended the Cuba workshop, this voice was even more developed. By then his visual sense and understanding had grown and every day he returned with amazing pictures. Part of this is he outgoing persona, his willingness to engage with anyone and give of himself in any situation, part of this is the pure joy he infuses everything around him with, and part of it is his photographic understanding. The outstanding photos following this post here, are all from the Cuba workshop. As I wrote in my last post, we as photographer, should not chase any style, but let it come to the surface by itself, through time and experience. For me Nicolaas Kuipers is the true embodiment of this understanding.

Posted in Photo Workshop, Photography, Travel Photography | Tagged , , , , | 59 Comments

Don’t Chase Style

Gatelivet i San Querico går i et langsomt tempo

A personal style is like a signature for any photographer – any artist for that matter. As we at a young age set out on our photographic endeavour this easily becomes a major mantra, and we start searching for our own style. We think we can skew the horizon, and that becomes our style. We think we can make dark and mysterious pictures, and that becomes our style. We think we can increase the colour saturation or do some other post production trick and that becomes our style.

I remember at one point I became very good with my handheld flash, I would even say I became an expert getting the most out of this devise that many photographers otherwise struggle with. Particularly I got very enthusiastic about the result from using open flash. In the end all my picture ended up being shot with open flash. Open flash became my signature – or so I thought back then. But I was only fooling myself. I finally realized that style is not something we force our pictures through, like a filter or some magic transformation, in order for it to become «our» signature. Instead of becoming a signature, it becomes a limitation. When my mantra was open flash, I stop looking for other qualities of light that could be used – and better used in many occasions – in my pictures. My craving for a personal style turned in to a self-inflicted inhibition.

Yes, we can impose various styles on our pictures, and should do so to enhance whatever we try to tell with the pictures. But that isn’t the same as a personal style our an artistic voice. It’s just using tools we have to our disposal. Chasing style in one way or another is never going to give us a personal signature or an artistic voice. There isn’t any quick-fix to the outcome. The artistic voice comes with time, and it comes from within. When we stay honest, authentic and true to ourselves in the way we photograph, over time our voice will crystallize and become apparent. We get a signature that is not depending on various tricks and enhancements, but is by character a reflection of ourselves. With time we develop our vision – we look for certain aspects of life and emotions and graphical qualities that we related to, and this vision again will develop our personal voice. The more conscious we become about our vision, the more clearly our personal style will develop. Style is – put simple – an outcome of becoming aware of our vision.

As for me, open flash has long time ago ceased to be the all-encompassed answer to my lighting needs. As a matter of fact I hardly use flash any more. Today I prefer available light, which is so much more varied and full of depth and tonality than anything I could do with a flash. Nevertheless, available light hasn’t become «my» signature, I still use flash when I think it’s appropriate or when it will enhance the visual expression in my pictures.

Posted in Creativity, Photographic Reflections, Photography, Properties of Photography | Tagged , , | 97 Comments

A Different Perspective

© Ingunn Trones

© Ingunn Trones

© Ingunn Trones

© Ingunn Trones

© Ingunn Trones

© Ingunn Trones

© Ingunn Trones

© Ingunn Trones

© Ingunn Trones

© Ingunn Trones

Ingunn Trones has a very intuitive approach to her photography. The result is both surprising and startling. She sees the world in her on way, makes visual connections that are both expressive and stark. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a pig about to be weighed in a back alley or an overview of Havana by night, Ingunn are able to see – and create – images that others would have bypassed. She attended the photo workshop in Cuba I and my colleague and friend, Sven Creutzmann, taught last autumn. These photos showcased here are but a few of her lovely photos she took during the workshop, some captured in Havana and some captured in the beautiful, colonial town of Trinidad.

Posted in Photo Workshop, Photography, Travel Photography | Tagged , , , , | 49 Comments

The Courage to Create

I am soon starting my fifth year as a blogger (and since the start of this blog I am now contributing to three more blogs…). In kind of a celebration of the fact, I want to go back to the roots, to why I started writing this blog in the first place. It all has to do with creativity.

As photographers (remember I am a photographer – but of course, what I am writing here is just as valid for any kind of artist) we all want to be creative. For me to be able to understand creativity, or more correctly to explore the realms of creativity, is so important that I even created (excuse the pun) this blog about it. The main theme for the blog has basically been and still is creativity; that is finding out what creativity really is, how the creative process works and how we can stimulate this creative process in our work. I have had no definite answers to post but I have just been trying – and still am – to walk this road of more or less unknown territory of which we all have so many views, some more qualified than others.

Of course creativity is the driving force behind our attempts to make lasting images, to articulate our innermost thoughts, dreams, worries, concerns or ideas of the world through the language of photography (since I am after all talking about photography here), it’s the driving force with which we express ourselves and what we as human beings stand for. But it’s also intimidating – at least can be at times. When we try to force or squeeze creativity into being, when we so want to be creative that instead it vanishes into thin air, then it becomes an inhibition. Because we cannot force it, we can’t even think about it while being in the moment of creation, without it fading away.

It’s like a divine spirit, it’s there but we can’t capture it, and the more we try the more it will slip away instead. When we really try to be creative, that is when we are the least. But with trust, patience, honesty and humility, and without expectations, the divine spirit of creativity eventually will show up – for all of us. The excellent photographer David duChemin talks a lot about the muse in his blog (and if you haven’t checked it out yet, I strongly recommend you to do so here). One place he writes: «Don’t worry about getting inspired, being original, or any of the other things that haunt the creative mind. The muse will show up, she always does».

But what is this muse? What is creativity? Many bright minds have spent long hours trying to find an answer. Some might have come very close, not necessarily all by themselves, but their combined wisdom does say quite a bit about this very abstract and yet so very forceful spirit. As for myself I only know that creativity is an underlying, in-dwelling force infusing all of life, included ourselves. A lot of us lose contact with this creative force, though, when we grow out of childhood. And why should we bother about it? Why even try to ride this power that can be so evasive and so demanding? «Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, bold and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money», according to Brenda Uelanda, now passed away journalist, editor, freelance writer, and teacher of writing, best known for her book If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit. Or as the writer and poet Alain Arias-Misson puts it: «The purpose of art is not a rarefied, intellectual distillate – it’s life, intensified, brilliant life».

One more thing I know about creativity: It doesn’t come by itself. You can’t sit down and wait for creativity. The only way it shows up is by working, and usually by working hard. Not only do we have to work and work hard, but for the muse to really show up, we have to challenge ourselves during the work, we have to go down that road we don’t even dare to. Such as George Bernard Shaw stated in a letter to the violinist Jascha Heifetz, that the authentic creation is an active battle with the gods. In other words; to be creative takes courage. The American existential psychologist Rollo May has written a very reflective and philosophical book about this, called nothing but The Courage to Create. In this book May not only elaborates on the courage to create, but also tries to define what creativity is – and strongly connects it with the same courage: «The Creative Courage is the discovery of new forms, new symbols, new patterns on which society can be built», all according to Rollo May. Of course it’s a very intellectual statement, but I still find it compelling. Anyway, according to him the fundamental purpose of the creative process is to express one’s inner vision and the spiritual meaning or understanding of one’s culture. For me this is really the driving force behind what we do. Why we photograph, or paint, dance, compose, sing, perform or whatever we do. Creativity is, put simple, bringing something new into being. The reward itself. A reward, though, that it will only come to us if we don’t force it, if we let it come to us, through work and an open mind.

In many ways it’s just like love, isn’t it? Actually, it is love.

Posted in Creativity, Photography | Tagged | 89 Comments

Workshop Returning to Villajoyosa

Gamlebyen i Villajoyosa er en fargerik Kardemommeby

For the second time I am launching the one week photo workshop in Villajoyosa, Spain. I taught the workshop for the first time in spring last year. This time we return in the autumn when the temperatures are cool and just right.

Do you want to come along with me to the picturesque town of Villajoyosa? This town is such a lovely, little pearl. It’s a perfect place to participate in a photo workshop. The charming old town is like a dream for any photographer, life goes on as it always has, kids are playing in the narrow alleys, and fishermen talk about the weather, while older people sit outside following life as it unfolds throughout the labyrinth of streets. As always in my travel photo workshops the focus will be on the creative process and how you can develop your personal style and photographic vision.

Sounds interesting? Why don’t you come along? Last year’s workshop got excellent review from all participants. This is some of the feedback: «This was impressive, Otto.» «You consolidate and reinforces the role as my hero!» «Thank you for another fantastic workshop.»

You may find more information about the photo workshop «Street Photography in Villajoyousa» here.

Posted in Photo Workshop, Photography, Travel Photography | Tagged , , , , | 39 Comments

A Tribute to a Season about to Vanish

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Fra det flotte nedrennet ned fra Vassfjøra. Uppsete, Ulvik, Hordaland.

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Nysnø og perfekte forhold opp mot Kvittingen

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In my part of the world we are about to change seasons. Winter is slowly fading away while spring is already announcing its first coming. Whatever snow we have had is melting while the first flowers have already sprung out from winter’s hibernation. For me one is not better than the other, nevertheless spring brings with it both optimism and bliss. Days get longer, the temperature rises and life feels more laid-back. Still I wish we could have just a bit more winter. My winter has been disappointingly mild with a general lack of snow this season. Could we just have a couple of more really heavy snow falls – before spring takes over? Please? In the wake of more winter, I have made a little visual tribute to the season that never really came this year. At least not around me.

Posted in Personal Work, Photography | Tagged , | 116 Comments