Last Week’s Instagram

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. Except for the technical details beneath the pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with my cell phone and then processed in the app Pixlr-o-matic with the filter Karen. Finally in Instagram the frame from the filter Kelvin was added.

Posted in Personal Work, Photography | Tagged , | 17 Comments

Float Like a Butterfly

Munchow_1499-283_E

What we photograph is never the same as what is capture in the photo. A photo is not reality (except as the reality «photo»). A photo is never the truth. A photo is never objective. Many will even say that a photograph is not a representation of reality. Of course, this quickly becomes an intellectual and philosophical discussion, and maybe not of much value for any practical uses.

Still, understanding what a photograph is does have quite important for anyone working with photography as an artistic or visual expression. However, it’s easy to disconnect from an abstract discussion about some intangible characterisation of the inherent properties of photography. Here is an attempt to maybe make it more tangible.

I have a couple of times in this blog mentioned the book The Photographer’s Playbook. One of the contributors is Will Steacy, a photographer who’s work has been featured in publications such as New Yorker, Esquire, Time, Wired, The Guardian, just to mention a few. In The Photographer’s Playbook he has written a little piece about a really fundamental understanding of photography, which I want to quote fully and unedited:

«It’s all a big lie. All of it. The sooner you know this and accept it, the better off you will be. We, as artists, photographers, writers, academics, etc., spend our whole lives and careers devoted to the impossible task of chasing truth, a fruitless attempt to translate life into a tangible commodity.

A monarch butterfly flapping its wings in frantic spasms against the window of an uptown A train at 1:47 am on a Tuesday night in July.

Sitting there on that train with exhausted workers and drunks waiting for the next stop—when the doors will swing open and that trapped butterfly will have twenty seconds to make its escape. That is art, that is life, and it will never exist as you experience it on a canvas, in a photograph, or in these concoctions of letters we call words. The best you get is a memory.

Never forget it. Never stop allowing yourself to be there on the train and notice the silent struggle of a caged beauty flapping its wings in a desperate fight for survival.

And never forget, that despite our best efforts—despite the tireless fight to capture the details and tidbits of life and attempt to share these experiences with the world in some abstracted form, from which the world will know exactly what it felt like that night in July on the subway—nothing will ever compare to the feeling of being there. Just like the hopelessly optimistic butterfly flapping its wings, the artist in us will never stop trying to capture and share the world as we experience it. Your greatest asset is an endless inventory of Tuesday night train rides. This is the only morsel of truth in the big lie.»

Facts about the photo: It was taken with a Canon EOS 5D with a 28-135 mm set at 75 mm zoom. Shutter speed: 1/60 of a second. Aperture: f/5,0. The photo was processed in Lightroom, Photoshop and with the apps On1 Effects and Niksoft Color Efex.

Posted in Creativity, Photography, Properties of Photography | Tagged | 33 Comments

Last Week’s Instagram

Restene av fjøsveggen til Kobbeltveit bruk nummer 4

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. Except for the technical details beneath the pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

Facts about the photo: Taken with Canon EOS-5D and a 16-35 mm lens set at 28 mm. Exposure: A shutter speed of 1/200 second and an aperture of f/14. The image is actually two photos, processed and put together in Photoshop, and then further processed with the apps Pixlr-o-matic with the filter Bob and Camera Zoom FX adding a Heavy Vignette. Finally in Instagram the frame from the Inkwell was added.

Posted in Personal Work, Photography | Tagged | 41 Comments

Invent the World

Ortodokse kristne ankommer Medhane Alem katedralen for å be julemorgen

I have written about this many a time: If you want to captivate viewers with your photos, you have to invest yourself in the photos you take and in the whole photographic process. It’s paramount that you feel the photo is necessary for yourself to capture, that whatever you are capturing you have to capture. It may sound strange and quite intangible, but without your feelings and sensitivity invested in the photo you take, it will never become a photo that will interest others. It may look nice, it may be well compose, it may be lit beautifully, it may have some strong content, but without yourself present in the photo you take, it’s never going to become a meaningful photo—for others.

If you don’t care about the photo you take, from the bottom of your heart, why do think others would or should?

I, for one, have many a time been guilty of just taking a photo because it looks like a photo worth taking. You know, you learn from photo books, from peers, from discussions on internet or in camera clubs what a good photo is suppose to be. And you start looking for those kinds photos. You see photos in terms of «perfect» compositions, in terms of gorgeous light, in terms of beautiful graphics or even in terms of what you think is interesting content. However, if you aren’t able to invest yourself, your feelings, your commitment, your enthusiasm, in whatever you are shooting, it becomes merrily an exercise. Instead of being honest with yourself in the photographic process, showing your face so to speak, you enter into what could be called an intellectual game. You reproduce what you think others would like, where instead they want to see what you like.

Photographers who do invest themselves in the photos they take know exactly what I am talking about here. But those photographers who still haven’t gotten to that place often have a hard time grasping the meaning. I know because I have been there myself, thinking this all appears so fuzzy and convoluted. Sure, on some level it does sound nice and snug; but what does it actually mean—to invest yourself and your emotions? This is one of the hardest parts to convey to participants in my workshops that are still tied up in a believe system based on visual rules and what they think is a good photo.

In the book The Photographer’s Playbook, the photographer Ken Schles (as one out many writers in the book) maybe comes up with one of the best descriptions of what it means to invest yourself in your photos. He writes: «Take me on journey as best you know how. Investigate the things that trouble you or show me who you love. Tell me what you think you know or are discovering for the first time. Most important, show me what you have seen as you have seen it. Invent the world for me. Reveal the nature of your curiosity. Go forth and be as convincing and compelling as possible. Muster your best argument. Go deep and go with conviction. Show your renderings in a way that I may be convinced of your vision and so that no other rendering would be as convincing or as compelling in their place. Show me your images so they enter my consciousness and I may dream your ideas anew. Change me and change yourself through your discoveries. And do this without artifice or pretension. Do it simply in a way that I can clearly hear your voice and know the power of your mind through the choices you present in the practice your have chosen to share.»

I have mentioned the The Photographer’s Playbook in previous post. It’s a book published by Aperture, subtitled 307 Assignments and Ideas. It’s a book I truly recommend for photographers looking for inspiration.

Facts about the photo: It was taken with a Panasonic Lumix LX7 with a 4.7 mm zoom setting (the equivalent of a 24 mm full frame lens). Shutter speed: 1/80 of a second. Aperture: f/1.4. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.

Posted in Photography, Travel Photography | Tagged , , | 77 Comments

Last Week’s Instagram

De gamle ruinene ved Skintveit

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. Except for the technical details beneath the pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

Facts about the photo: Taken with Canon EOS-5D and a 16-35 mm lens set at 27 mm. Exposure: A shutter speed of 1/125 second and an aperture of f/8.0. The photo was processed in Lightroom and then with the app Snapseed with the filter Drama and adding a Snapseed fram.

Posted in Personal Work, Photography | Tagged | 44 Comments

Train Your Muscle Memory

In everything we want to excel, we need to train our muscles. You want to become a marathon-runner? Well, you need to train your leg muscles as well as your cardiovascular muscles. You want to become a good swimmer? You need to train all muscles in your body. Want to become an archer? Then you need to train your brain and what is called muscle memory.

The same with photography. You want to do well as a photographer? You definitely need to train your muscle memory. Now you may ask; what am I talking about—muscle memory? Muscle memory isn’t something stored in your muscle but your brain. It is a form of procedural memory, learned by practicing something over and over slowly and as you pick up the hang of it are able to perform more quickly. It’s a way of getting an action imprinted in the memory so it becomes an instinctive move.

As a photographer, for one, all the technical handling needs to be done automatically and unconsciously. If something quickly happens in front of you, you don’t have time to figure out what exposure compensation you need to use because the scene is back-lit, you don’t have time to consider what focal length would render the subject in a way that is suitable for you, and you don’t have time to figure out the best point of view. You just need to shoot and trust your muscle memory. All the technical adjustments need to be instinctively handled, and the only way to get yourself there is by practising.

Muscle memory is also something you train to be able to see, I mean see as a photographer. It’s a way of becoming unconsciously aware of your surroundings even when you are not necessarily looking for anything to photograph. But then, if something occurs you will still be able to captured whatever it is.

Most photographers have heard the expression «the decisive moment». To be able to capture a decisive moment, which originally was defined by the renown Magnum photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, you need to train your muscle memory to be able to detect it and respond to it.

We train our memory muscle by practising over and over again, starting slow and then increase speed when we get better at it. Have you ever photographed sports events? As for myself, I am not a sports photographer, but there have been times when I had to shoot sports for some of my clients. I remember one of the first assignments was shooting a volleyball match. I lost all the peak moments, plainly couldn’t capture them. Not because I didn’t know volleyball—and I practise a lot of sports myself, too—but because I couldn’t get the timing right. I simply didn’t have the mind set in a way to handle the fast moving sport (and you think volleyball is a slow sport? Try shooting the action with a 500 mm lens, then…). Unnecessary to say, that client never asked me to shoot sports again.

So as a photographer, how do you train your muscle memory? The simple answer is by shooting a lot. However, there are also more deliberate ways to train your muscle memory. One is to take on a long term photo project, where you have time to be slow and simply train your muscle memory by going back and reshoot the same theme over and over again. This is one way that Stanley Leary recommends in his blog post How to develop muscle memory for photographers. Look up his post for poignant thoughts about using a project to train muscle memory.

In the post Leary writes: « Professional photographers need to take on projects that they can move at slower paces to help keep those muscle memories sharp and accurate. If you practice over and over the wrong way to do something then when you tap into your muscle memory you will perform poorly. One of the best things I have learned to help me stay sharp is shooting photo stories on my own time. It maybe me shooting a self assigned project or taking on an assignment that gives me the luxury of time verses a quick deadline.»

Another way is suggested by the photographer David la Spina in the book The Photographer’s Handbook. He writes: «Within the next twenty-four hours, take twenty-four rolls of photograph on black and white film. Develop the rolls and select twenty-four images from which you make twenty-four prints. Be prepared to share your work at this time tomorrow.»

This is quite the opposite approach than Leary’s with a short time limit and a lot of work to be done within that short time limit. I think for la Spina’s exercise it’s best to shoot on film, but of course, you may shoot it digitally as well. And, as he writes, this assignment can be modified as eight/eight/eight or twelve/twelve/twelve, depending on the commitment you are willing to put into the assignment.

Both suggestions are good practices for training the muscle memory to be used photographically. Are you ready and willing to do the necessary training?

Facts about the photo: It was taken with a Canon EOS 1D with a 28-135 mm zoom set at 28 mm. Shutter speed: 1/15 of a second. Aperture: f/13 and a exposure compensation of -1/3 EV. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.

Posted in Photography | Tagged , | 55 Comments

The Magical Pond

© Leonne Cleland

© Leonne Cleland

© Leonne Cleland

© Leonne Cleland

© Leonne Cleland

© Leonne Cleland

© Leonne Cleland

© Leonne Cleland

© Leonne Cleland

© Leonne Cleland

Lee Cleland participated in my last round of the online workshop «Finding Your Photographic Voice». In the second part of the workshop, the participants work on a personal project for the remainder of the course. Lee chose to shoot a project close to home. She called it the Dam-project, and that is exactly what it is. Lee photographed a little pond or dam on her property, and wanted to capture images of the dam at all times of the day and in all weathers with an emphasis on the details and moods she saw there.

The pictures in this post are a little edit of Lee’s project. What really impressed me was her willingness to try out new approaches each week and how she was able to come up with different images of the pond through the last part of workshop. Lee created a coherent and beautiful body of work of the dam. She captured lovely overviews for the viewer to get a sense of the special pond and then focused on enchanting details. Some where small snippets of moments when for instance a dragonfly had settled on a leaf on the pond, some where much more impressionistic, using different techniques such as long exposure time or flash. The project came delightfully together as can be seen by this edit here. Lee was able to capture the magical feeling that radiates from the pond, she brought her own vision into the equation and produces a tantalizing photo essay about this little pond she has on her property. Her project is an example that it is not necessary to travel far and long to be able to create wonderful work. You can see more of Lee’s photos on her blog Beyond Purgatory.

Next week I will be starting another around of «Finding Your Photographic Voice». There is still space if you feel like developing your photographic vision. However, hurry up, then, so you are ready for the first lesson I will send out on Monday. You find more information about the online workshop here.

Posted in Photo Workshop, Photography | Tagged , , , , | 50 Comments