Completion

Vårløsning i elven ned fra Tarlebø, innerst i Isdalen

Too often I don’t reach completion with my photo projects: That last step that makes photos shine. Why? Well, laziness maybe, it’s just so much easier not to make that final stage—and anyway, the photos look beautiful on my screen. I know most photographers are prone to the same shortcoming.

What am I talking about? Printing, of course—or at least showing your work to an audience. In the idea of a print lies the concept of the whole process from the very first moment of conceiving an idea of what will one day become a finalized artistic work or expression, to exactly that day, when the work is completed and ready to be displayed and shown to the audience. That is, a print, either hanging on a wall, printed in a magazine, smaller, glossy prints given to friends or relatives or even shared on social media and platforms. Or should I said ought to be. Because in reality with today’s digital world most photos never get out of the computer, we check them when we download them, and process some of them—if we even do that, I know for a fact that too many pictures are kept on the memory cards and never leave the camera—and then we mostly forget about them.

Our photos really deserve better. What is the use of all those images if nobody ever gets to see them? I am guilty of this myself too often, too, although since photography is my profession my work is often printed in magazine. And I think most of you are probably guilty too, even though, like me, you at least have an outlet through your blogs. But I think anyone creating or taking photographs should think more consciously of the completion of one’s work—as should any artist.

Completion is not only about displaying or showing our work, it’s also marking the end of one creative process in order to open up for new ideas and a new flow of work. It’s a mental transition between old and new, which makes us ready to embark on new creative tasks. Photographer Minor White likened the process of the artistic production to the phases of the moon. In the waxing phase, we are building, creating, forming and shaping the world towards its completion. The full moon represents the completion phase. And the waning moon symbolizes a new phase of the cycle: The need for release, to cut the umbilical cord and give the work its own life. For some, until they send their offspring into the world, they are not ready for a new phase of work.

In order to reach this completion and mental readiness for a new cycle, we must pay attention to the finalizing stage of the creative process. For photographers it means we need to get our work printed and displayed. It doesn’t necessarily mean a hard print on the wall, just as duChemin notes in his book The Print and the Process: «I use the word “print” here in the broadest sense, in the sense that Adobe Lightroom, for example, allows us to print to JPG or PDF». As he points out, the important thing is to get our work out there, whether it’s presented on a wall or on our website. He continues: «Ansel Adams called the print the final symphony, though he was referring to actual prints. How we get that symphony is a process and we all have to have our own ways of getting there».

The completion is also strongly connected to detachment, which I have written about before (Engaged and Detached at the Same Time). With completion we are more easily able to detach from our work, and leave it to itself. Thus we should do the best work we can do in the creative phase up until completion, and then let the rest take care of itself. Or as David Ulrich says in The Widening Stream: «When your works, founded on inner necessity, are completed, release them. Take responsibility for their passage into the world. Put them out there in whatever manner is possible, reasonable and realistic. This stage is important to move on. We must prepare the ground for new actions and fresh insights».

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Engaged and Detached at the Same Time

Gjennom den lille og trange Golden Canyon
As creative individuals we all—more or less—indentify ourselves with the work we generate. We view the work—rightly—as an extension of ourselves. Yet it’s important to understand that we cannot become the work. The work—already from the beginning of its creation—sets out on a “life” of its own. It’s not us any more, if nothing else because everybody else will not see the work as the same as us. But more importantly, if we become too attached to our work, we will not be able to make it come to its full blossom. In many ways it may be compared to the having a child. Our children are not ours and they are certainly not us, although they are created by us.

I have previously written about the need for passion in the creative process. But it’s important to bear in mind that it’s not the passion for the final product I have in mind, but passion for the process—and passion for whatever it is that we want to express. Thus, when it comes to the work itself, we must maintain a critical distance, and be capable of a more objective relationship with the content of our efforts.

This detachment is a form of freedom: We enter into a real dialogue with our materials and ideas, rather than a fragile and trembling co-dependency with the natural results of our efforts. The work comes from us, or through us; it’s not of us. This is an important distinction to recognize if we hope to continue on the creative path. We wish to attune ourselves to the process, engage our energies as deeply as possible, and allow the work to emerge as the by-product, the child, of a mature relationship between ourselves and our materials. It is thus fair to say that we need to be both engaged and detached at the same time during the creative process.

On a different note: Unfortunately I have not been able to catch up with all comments on my last post, and neither been able to visit any other blogs the last week. It’s just been to busy, but I promise I will get back to you all.

When Inner and Outer World Become One

En strålende dag i vinterfjellet
Artists and creative people frequently talk about the experience of losing themselves in the work at hand, being fully in tune with the process, with the heighten sense of being completely focused, being in flow—often emerging hours later as if having been in a trance. I know this from myself, and I also know that whenever I emerge from such a trance like state of mind after having worked hard during a photo session, I have been able to capture some great images. I can’t say which picture is going to stand out at the point of capture—as some photographers immediately are able to—but I know that within the batch of photos from the shoot there is bound to be some goods one. This trance like state of mind, in flow, when I lose myself, is for me the ultimate level of creativity, when everything can happen and I am not bound by my own preconceived ideas or thoughts.

I often compare this with being in a tunnel, where all kinds of unpredictable things can happen. I have now idea what happens in there before I finally emerge onto the other side of the tunnel. I wrote about this in the post “Tunnel Vision” quite some time ago. And it does resemble some of the ideas I wrote about the contemplative approach to photography in the post “Different Perspective” not long ago, in which I stated that contemplative photography in essence is about how to fully connect with the visual richness of our ordinary, daily experience.

There is a duality to this process. It’s two worlds coming together – the outside world and our inner world. We perceive and react to what we see, and then bring our inner self and spirit into the equation, almost as if in a dialectic process. In this very concentrated process we focus deeply on a single task, and at the same time something opens, deepens and widens. We are fully absorbed and present to the activity and the moment, to the exclusion of other elements and influences in our lives. But we are also equally attentive to ourselves; our responses, our impulses, and our creative interaction with the medium.

The late and great photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson has aptly described photographic seeing as having one eye turned outward and one eye turned inward. When the two images converge, that’s the moment for capturing the photograph. In his acclaimed book “The Decisive Moment” he writes: I believe that, through the act of living, the discovery of oneself is made concurrently with the discovery of the world around us, but which can also be affected by us. A balance must be established between the two worlds – the one inside of us and the one outside of us. As a result of a constant reciprocal process, both these worlds come to form a single one. And it is this world that we must communicate.

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. 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.

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. 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.

Into a Different World

After a long winter with much snow and low temperatures, I openly admit I have immensely enjoyed two weeks of the warm, dry season in Belize. It’s been two fabulous weeks of holiday. No chores, no schedules, no stress and no phone calls.

Belize is foremost know for its amazing nature, whether we talk about the lush rainforest, the many impressive caves, or the country’s extraordinary coastline protected by one of the biggest underwater reefs in the world. I got to spend one of my two holiday weeks exploring these reefs with their colourful abundance of corrals, fishes and other sea life.

The photographer in me went wild as soon as I immersed myself into this different world. Since I wasn’t on assignment I felt free to do whatever I fancied. I could play and I could let go of any inhibitions or fixed ideas about how a photograph ought to look like. The pure change of environment—compared to what I usually photograph—was inspiring in and of itself. It was just as if the different nature, literally and figuratively, of the underwater world impelled this more playful approach—all the way from the moment of capturing to the final processing.

To capture the extraordinary life you find in and around corral reefs in a compelling way requires both extensive experience as an underwater photographer as well as good diving skills. Since I don’t possess either—as I am not diving enough on a regular basis—I tried to bring my regular photographic vision down into the underwater world.

Instead of looking for amazing creatures and trying to capture them, I would rather play with many elements within the frame, whether it was divers, a fish incidentally passing by or the corral reef itself. I would try to find meaningful or funny juxtapositions and above anything I was looking for space and trying to create a stage for everything to coincide on. This idea of a stage has become one of the backbones in my visual approach. It has the same purpose as a stage in a theatre. It holds the story of the photo together and creates a three-dimensional impression. In the underwater world, instead of photographing a fish up against the corral reef, I would turn around and try to capture some of the open sea behind it or even a diver in the background. It’s like props and backdrops on a theatre stage.

With this post I have selected a handful and a half of the many photos I took at the reef in Belize. I hope you enjoy them as a glimpse into a different world.

Pure Light

Sometimes I feel I have been struck with pure luck when I am out shooting. I am sure you have all felt it at some point. When suddenly the light is right, you are at the right place and the right time and everything is just set up for capturing enchanting photos. Of course, most times, it feels like the opposite, but every so often, all variables come together as if it was meant to be.

Such was the time when I was out enjoying the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, USA, between Christmas and New Year. My love one and I had decided to spend a handful of days at the north-eastern-most point of the contiguous United State. It wasn’t a photo trip as such, but of course I had brought my camera and some lenses.

One day when we visited Shi Shi Beach, the afternoon sun bathed the coastline with golden and forming light. It came out through layers of clouds, streaming like ethereal rays from the sky above. Even I, who don’t regard myself as a nature photographer, felt the majestic pull of the landscape.

The afternoon went flying with capturing the scenery. I concentrated my approach to capture light and shadows together with the structures and forms of the landscape; the rocks, waves that hit the coast and the beach itself. It was all about graphics and lights. However, the intense and low sun made for such immense contrasts that it was at times almost impossible to capture it all. I set the exposures so that the highlights would be rendered within the latitude of the sensor’s capabilities (and even a little overexposed since I am working with RAW files that allows for some recovery of burned out highlights). Still the shadows would grow almost completely black. That was one reason why I concentrated on capturing strong graphic images rather than rich and full sceneries or details.

To further enhance the challenges with the harsh contrasts, the best images were captured with the sun streaming directly into the lens. Backlight creates dramatic photos but is also challenging to control. If nothing else, it surely widens the contrast significantly. Sometimes I didn’t even had to take any photos—there was no way I could handle the contrasts, but at other times when I overcame the challenges, I surely was rewarded with spectacular images.

I am usually a wide-angle photographer, but this time I had brought my 100-400 lens in addition to my regular lenses. It’s a lens I rarely use, but I knew with the rock formations at the coast of the Olympic Peninsula it would come in handy to compress the perspective. On the other hand I had to work harder to render some feeling of three-dimensionality since the long telephoto lenses flatten the images. However, challenges are always fun, and working to overcome both contrasts and two-dimensionality increased the sensation of being in a special place and time.

I hope you enjoy the handful of images I show here from the trip.

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 a Panasonic Lumix LX-100 with the zoom lens set at 20,6 mm (the equivalent of a 46 mmm for a full frame camera). The photo was transferred to my cell phone and processed first with the Snapseed app with various adjustments before uploaded in Instagram.

The Magic Pond

© Lee Cleland
© Lee Cleland
© Lee Cleland
© Lee Cleland
© Lee Cleland

Over the next couple of weeks, I will present the work of participants of last year’s online photo workshop «Finding Your Photographic Voice». First out is Lee Cleland. During the last four weeks of the workshop each participants work on their own personal project, and Lee chose to photograph a small and elusive pond, surrounded by an open cluster of trees. The pond is situated in a large and lush landscape, and provided Lee with amble opportunities to convey its magic trough a gentle and distinct vision.

Lee approached the project from a variety of angles, capturing the open landscape, details in and around the pond, the small animals living of the pond, its plants and the different ambiences that occurred over time. Her photos have a quiet aesthetics, using a subtle and secluded colour palette. They clearly show she has a refined eye which radiates through her sensitive and unique voice.

What I really like about Lee’s work is that she constantly tried out new approaches over the four weeks she was working on her personal project. In the beginning, she came back with some beautiful landscape pictures, one that can be seen in this little selection above, and she also quickly started to shoot the small inhabitants of the pond. Soon she started to experiment with various techniques, such as using flash, using long handheld exposure time, and using different aperture.

The final product is a beautiful series of quiet landscape and nature photos. They convey the magic of the intriguing pond—they are magic in and of themselves. For more of her photography, please look up Lee’s blog Beyond Purgatory ~ A Photographer’s Paradise.

Later in the spring I will start up another round of the online workshop, more specifically May 22nd. If you are interested, you will find more information about «Finding Your Photographic Voice» on the web site of Blue Hour Photo Workshops. Furthermore, if you sign up before the end of April you will get the workshop for a discounted price.

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 (this photo is actually more than a week old, but I haven’t posted any new material 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 a Panasonic Lumix LX-100 with the lens set at 27,2 mm (the equivalent of a 60 mm for a full frame camera). Shutter speed: 1/100 of a second. Aperture: f/13. The photo was transferred to my cell phone and then processed with the Snapseed app with the Drama filter.