50 items found for ""
- Social Media
I joined Facebook in 2010 and rapidly acquired over 7,000 followers. Back then, Followers were free and no one was aware of the addictive nature, the dopamine hit, of Likes. Immediate feedback on new photographs was encouraging and exciting. However, within a short time, I found myself stressing over the next photograph; it had to perform better than the previous i.e., get more Likes. The pressure to post incredible photographs, when most were meh, gave me anxiety; it increasingly became all about the Likes. Rewind a decade or two: I was fortunate to have begun photography with film; waiting days or weeks for film to be developed was part of the process. I did not have an LCD on the camera, therefore, I had to make it right using the viewfinder. If an image was meh, the world never knew it existed. Likes had not yet been invented; there was no digital Cloud for sharing images. Contrast my humble beginnings with photography today and it is plain to see it is now a worldwide collaborative effort, with nearly instant feedback, whether it be from a peasant in Sri Lanka, a mom in Arizona, a programmer in Istanbul, an autonomous bot or from a colleague five thousand miles away viewing new photographs saved on the Cloud. Clearly, photography has made an enormous leap! This leap, due to advances in technology, particularly the cell phone, along with social media, led to an explosion of incredible photography, a perpetual race to post photographs for more Likes and heralded the end of steady learning at a slower and calmer pace. The leap was both positive and negative. I often post articles and photos on social media (and I will do so with this article). Sharing knowledge and experiences with others is the modern Zeitgeist. However, it is no longer 2010. Today, posts are heavily monetized, real and wannabe influencers compete for nanoseconds of attention; swiping has replaced reading. Further to this, when I post an image on Facebook, I am prompted to pay $10 to reach 826 people; if I do not submit payment, my post is severally throttled. Instagram is less useful than Facebook because it is impossible to have a clickable link on each post, in other words, viewers cannot easily get to my website unless they hunt for my bio page. Therefore, I seldom post on Instagram. I respect social media’s right to charge; it is no different than purchasing ads to drive customers to my gallery exhibition or art show. Plus, social media is awash with incredible photography; it is an enormous sea of fish and paying for visibility is a neutral way to determine prominence. Decades ago, the yellow pages worked similarly, businesses paid for a large advertisement to increase their chances of being seen and I cannot imagine an alternative. Alternatively, some photographers acquired a substantial following by performing work for an already famous individual or brand and tagging their name to every post. Social media's nature is social and I spend time nearly every day Liking art posts from other artists or organizations. Interacting with others is crucial to spreading my name, it is how the algorithm works!
- It Begins Here
I am often irritated by authors who write countless paragraphs instead of getting directly to the point; it is as if they are more interested in proving they can write than actually conveying their message. I wish they would begin with their main statement so I can read it and move on with my life. If there is something valuable to say, say it right away; do not beat around the bush or waste my time. Welcome to my journal. It is about me, photography, how I create art, how I see, my methods, how I learn from my mistakes and much more. I do not profess to know everything, in fact, I only know myself or how I do things and that is often questionable ;) I hope you enjoy reading my posts; I promise to respect your time with brief, simple and to the point articles. If something herein changes your perspective or helps you become more creative then I have achieved my goal; however, the primary take away should be to explore your own artistic style, discover the world on your own terms, not be fenced in by the restrictions of others and do not let someone’s experiences be yours. It is best to travel your own path and risk failure than to follow in someone else's shadow. We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world. – The Dhammapada When it comes to making my photographs, there is no light, no sky, no mountain, no rain and no wind. The only thing that exists is the image in my mind.
- American Graffiti
I first visited Three Rivers, New Mexico in 2007, during a snowstorm and made Into the White. I had hiked in the snow and climbed the rocky hill to make photographs of the petroglyphs, however, my foothold was not firm and I risked falling. I returned in 2022 and made this photograph of a 1,000 to 2,000 year old rock etching (petroglyph). I hiked up the hill at dusk and included the sunset in the frame. On my way back to my truck, I imagined young Native Americans scratching up all of the rocks while elders yelled at them to stop graffiti’ing up the neighborhood. I laughed at the thought that the petroglyphs reduced the value of their dwellings. The very next day, within a hundred miles of Three Rivers, I made a photograph of a spray-paint graffiti bird. It caught my attention and I made a series of exposures. It was not until several hours later that I realized both images were American graffiti, only 1,000 years apart.
- Oh, Canada
I love your beautiful landscape and kind people. I have traveled throughout your countryside, to nearly every province, and created wonderful memories along with countless photographs. In times of need, whether injured, stranded or lost, your selfless people helped me; their example elevated me to be as generous and compassionate. I am not finished with places to explore; I can live two lifetimes and not be finished enjoying you. Straight to the point: please restore your democracy; please cancel all emergency powers (including the ones made permanent!); please stop deciding which opinions are unacceptable; please reinstate freedoms my country, the United States, takes for granted; please set an example for the United States, because I fear we are not far behind your descent into the totalitarian abyss. Bottom line: dictating what people can or cannot think is a dictatorship. Your Prime Minister’s declaration of “unacceptable opinions” terrified me. How can I visit and patronize you after that? What if he deems my opinions unfit? Your emergency powers act, to bludgeon the trucker protests, contrary to the same PM’s encouragement of different protests a year earlier, reek of politics and tyranny. Opinions he does not like are diminished, scorned and assigned horrific labels i.e., racist. Your good people do not need to be restrained by hate speech laws or silenced by a Marie-Antoinette-PM. Oh, Canada, how did you get here? I was always aware you never had true free speech, not in the sense as we have it here in the US. Nonetheless, I respect your laws. I never questioned your $7 gasoline (I silently wondered why, since you are the fifth largest producer of oil). However, I respect your economics. I endured the rigorous personal searches every time I crossed the border and I gladly complied with every regulation. Regardless, I respect your need for security. It has been a long two years since I visited you last; yes, COVID19 closed our borders, a draconian decision in hindsight; I miss you and want to see you again.
- Fine Art Prints
All of the fine art prints I sell are handcrafted by me, I do not use a print lab and nothing is outsourced. Each photograph is hand signed and stamped by me personally. Each print is unique – one of a kind – I neither mass produce artwork nor inflate value by numbering or creating limited editions. I guarantee the excellence of my artwork by using museum-grade fine art archival paper with certified life permanence exceeding 100 years. To further extend the longevity and protect the value of my artwork (when not framed behind glass), I seal prints with a special museum grade archival varnish, a process I developed over the years. Authenticity is extremely important. I have learned from accomplished artists how to prepare and present artwork for buyers and collectors and have been fortunate to have experienced the importance of reputation and value from gallery owners. When I handcrafted my aluminum photographs, I knew I could save myself headaches by sending my high-resolution digital files to a print shop. However, the resultant product would be machine made and hold less of a value to the collector. I believe handmade artwork, pieces made by the artist, are far more precious than those created by a lowly paid machine operator in a store or factory that mass produces thousands at a time. When a client purchases one of my photographs, I have an obligation to deliver the best of my efforts. Anything less is not appropriate.
- Making a Photograph
People often ask, “How did you make this photograph?” There is no short answer, no secret recipe; I genuinely wish I could say, I did A, B then C and voila, photograph! To provide a truly helpful answer, I need to know where to begin, how far back should I go? Should I explain what I did after I attached the camera to the tripod? Or, should I begin with how and why I decided to visit the location where I made the photograph? The latter makes more sense; fast-forwarding to the moment I opened the camera’s shutter does not truly answer the question. First step, select the location. I use online maps such as Google or Bing (before the web I used paper maps). I look for a variety of elements; I do not select parks or curated locations designed by city-planners for public use. I prefer locations that do not have many homes or private land. Lakes or the shoreline offer wonderful opportunities, as do forests. I avoid areas that are restricted; housing developments are often private and I obey the rules, I do not trespass. When I find an area of interest on the map, I switch to Satellite view and check out buildings, the type of road (paved or dirt), boundary markers, safety concerns and more. Google is terrific; on the bottom of the map there is an option to display photos of the area. Second step, select when to go and do research. I use natural lighting and I must be aware of where the sun will be, what areas might be in shadow and the nature of the light, whether it will be a reddish sunset or a bright sunrise with intermittent clouds. I am not discouraged by rain or inclement weather; some of my best work has been created in light from overcast skies or during dramatic weather. If it is the shore, I track the tide. I also research the region, find out what is nearby or where will I stay if it is far from home. Third step, visit the location and walk around. I do not touch my camera until I know what I want to create. I consider a multitude of ideas and options; I process them mentally until something sparks my interest. Sometimes nothing comes to mind and I must return at another time; if there is no spark, it may be futile to force creativity (this is not an absolute). Often, I decide to revisit the location when the light is different i.e. dawn or sunset. Different lighting can trigger new ideas. However, when an idea or vision comes to mind, I get to the next step. Step four, translate the vision in my mind to film or digital. This involves deciding many things; where to set up my tripod, which lens, filter, perspective, slow or fast shutter speed, depth of field and more. Is the mental image wide or narrow? How much of the landscape does it include? Will I need a wide-angle lens or am I do I want to isolate a tiny aspect? At this step, my creativity switches to autopilot mode; I stare through the viewfinder, compare it, or the LCD, to my original mental image. Are they far apart? Any new ideas come to mind? My creative process is like other artforms such as writing or painting; ask a painter why he made a specific brush stroke and he will tell you it came naturally. Once I enter the creative zone, I am unaware of the time or anything else other than making the artwork. In addition to the equipment, proper clothing is important. Some photographs require getting into the water while others occur in wet, cold or hot conditions. I have made my share of mistakes that have nearly left me stranded. On the rare occasion I have come close to injuring myself because I was not prepared. While making the photograph is my primary goal, returning safely is a crucial element in the endeavor. Safety first. Sometimes my mental image requires an impossible perspective i.e. a vantage point I cannot reach. If I must hike, I select the bag or backpack that is appropriate for what I must carry. I often limit myself to two or three lenses (I have only one zoom lens and I primarily use it in wet, windy or sandy conditions). I have different tripods for different conditions (i.e. I have a tripod with sealed legs that works well in water). Many of my photographs were made with filters in front of the lens. The most common are graduated neutral density filters (ND Grads) which darken only one portion of the frame. I also use filters to darken an entire frame to slow the shutter speed. I stack filters too. Some photographs cannot be made without filters because the difference between light and dark is too great in a single frame. In the alternative, multiple exposures can be blended in the computer later on; personally, I do not like to make corrections post-op which can be made in the landscape. Every post-op adjustment degrades an image. Occasionally, nature cannot be tamed and I am forced to accept that certain elements may not adhere to my original vision. Most of the time my original thought serves as the spark that ignites other ideas. I often remain well past sunset and see different colors in the sky. There are countless decisions in the process; each one leads me down an avenue where more choices exist. Fifth step, before packing gear away, make sure there are no silly mistakes with focus, lighting and I always verify the camera is level (no photographs with the sea draining off to one side!). Countless times I have returned home, waited for the film to be developed (or looked through the digital images) and discovered a mistake that ruined the photograph. Numerous times I returned to a location to redo a photograph only to discover the conditions were different than the original moment or the landscape mood was different. It is far easier to check the viewfinder or LCD multiple times than to return, especially if an arduous hike was required. As mentioned previously, I do the best I can while making a photograph so there is little to fix in the computer. The mistakes I have made in the past have taught me what to look for or not to do; mistakes are important; welcome them! Final step, print the photographs. Check out how they look on paper. There is a difference between computer screen and paper, the former emits light, the latter reflects light. Matching a print to a screen image can require software adjustments; it is a talent in its own right! I may have described the physical steps of making a photograph, however, the artistic steps are far more elusive. During the process of creativity, I make countless decisions rapidly because they feel right. Nonetheless, for me, fine art photography begins with these steps.
Forgive me; this is not about racial diversity. Creative diversity is extremely important for an innovative artist; I must keep reinventing my style, technique and ultimately the outcome of my efforts otherwise my artwork will become stale. I pursue diversity by being open minded, welcoming of new ideas or learning how other artists express their creativity. Moreover, I enjoy being an artist and it brings me pleasure; if my work becomes mundane, I will no longer enjoy it. Abstract photography has always offered me a new way of viewing the landscape and I am frequently amazed by new ideas that come to mind while exploring. Any subject can be turned into an abstract photograph and it can be done through a variety of techniques, including camera movement, focus blur, juxtaposing different elements that would not ordinarily be together, just to name a few. There is no artistic limit when it comes to abstract photos. Embracing diversity as an artist means exploring new ideas. One way I approach this is to imagine a new project and conjure up ways to photograph the subject. For example, if my project is about reflections, I explore different ways I can portray my vision of reflections. Another way to introduce diversity into my process is to explore subject matter that draws me away from my comfort zone . The majority of my artwork includes water or the forsaken landscapes; for a time, I mixed it up by making photographs of the city. I am uncomfortable photographing people; sometimes being uncomfortable is a good thing. It can be as simple as changing the location where I make photographs, normally I travel; working locally puts me out of my element. Other ideas include changing up the depth of field or focal point. Using a seldom used lens. Switching from a rigid tripod to working handheld. I also consider the perspective of other elements in the landscape i.e. what does the tree see or how does a flower view the world? These are just a few suggestions; you get the idea. A diverse portfolio of work can show the depth of your style. Often I see repetitive artwork at galleries or online, the artist has twenty pieces of the same design or pattern with slight variations; I wonder, can they can do anything else? I have stepped into that crevasse too; my mind gets stuck on something and I do the same thing repeatedly. People have told me, “Derek, please, no more photographs of water." They were right. Making the same photograph over and over again will never garner more Oohhs and Aahhs for my artwork. Unfortunately for artists, there is a downside to having a diverse portfolio: some critics may be unable to perceive a concise body of work. I ignore the dolts; creativity and diversity are always the path to follow. A diverse portfolio keeps me interesting to the viewer (yes, I said me); it shows there is more to the artist than the art. It creates excitement and wonderment for what will come next.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to print my photographs after I return from working in the landscape. Printing gives me an alternative perspective to my work; instead of merely viewing an image on my computer screen or camera LCD, a print can be handled and examined physically. Notwithstanding the obvious difference between a computer monitor and paper, the former emits light, the latter reflects light, printing is my next step in creating artwork; it allows me to further refine color, check for issues, verify resolution and print size among other essentials. Back in film days, there was always a physical print, film contact sheet or transparency after the film was developed; quite often I discovered my mistakes many weeks after making the exposure, at the end of a photography trip, and I learned what not to do next time. Some were quite costly lessons. Nonetheless, just because I can now see an exposure instantly does not mean I stop a practice that helps improve my photographs. Today, there are countless books and videos on how to color match your monitor and printer output. Not to be the old guy who remembers when things used to cost a dime, but when I began printing, color management was not yet a thing.** For best results, I would repeatedly print my TIF or JPG files and make slight color or brightness adjustments until I was satisfied; not surprisingly, this mimics chemical darkroom workflow. If areas of an image are too light or dark; those areas may be improved by darkening or brightening, respectively, either in Photoshop, Hasselblad’s Phocus or CaptureOne software. I can make four or five draft prints before I begin to feel satisfied with an image. Most of the time I have monitor-printer color management settings turned off because it is faster for me to avoid dealing with it; however, monitor calibration may be the right way for someone else. Zooming in on a paper print means physically looking more closely or using a loupe; it is very different than software zooming on a computer monitor or camera LCD. Frequently, I will notice issues that must be resolved i.e., sensor dust spots, scratches from my graduated neutral density filters that ruined a small area or perspectives that do not translate well on to paper – yes that occurs – a 30x40 print is extremely different than a 30 inch monitor with a 3240x2160 resolution. Each issue is different; dust spots and unintended detritus can be easily removed using software; unfortunately, larger blemishes can ruin an image entirely. Sometimes my enthusiasm is drained when I realize an image that looked incredible on screen needs to be discarded because I no longer feel it represents my original intent when printed. Printing is essential for seeing issues that can be overlooked on screen. Long ago, I printed directly from Photoshop software. I have tested several versions of RIP printing software and made comparisons to determine whether the substantial financial investment was worthwhile. For many years I created my own printer ICC profiles for different papers. Fortunately, I discovered a product named Qimage Ultimate which offers a plethora of print options and controls; I am very impressed with its features and output quality, among other things. I highly recommend it. Now I use paper manufacturer ICC profiles for printing, I no longer create my own because I do not notice significant differences. I have never farmed out printing to a third party or print lab; I do not want to lose artistic control over my images plus I do not believe a printer operator will be as passionate about my artwork as I am. This is merely my personal preference; I realize many do not have the opportunity of owning professional wide format printers and have no choice but to utilize the services of a printshop. Nothing wrong there. Lastly, a word on print resolution and image sharpening. I almost never sharpen images in Photoshop (sharpening is done in the RAW converter prior to exporting to TIF). When I sharpen in RAW, it is in small increments; if I see artifacts in my photograph i.e., white edging, I have sharpened too much. The sharpening function will not fix problems. Print resolution is a widely debated topic; some will recommend never printing below 300 DPI while others offer differing opinions. From my years of experience, it is not something that I focus on. Keep in mind, long ago, wall size prints were made from 35mm photographs. Printing is an extremely important part of my workflow; I strongly recommend all photographers spend time printing their photographs, at least as much time as they spent staring at them on the computer monitor. ** Going way back... I programmed graphics in assembly language for CGA, EGA and VGA video cards in the late 1980s and early 1990s!
Years ago, I was a member of an artist collective gallery, a small storefront in the heart of Philadelphia. I worked there one day a month (open up, talk to clients, process sales and close). My artwork was always on display; I had several solo exhibitions and I sold many pieces. Also, part of the responsibilities included a monthly membership fee of $100, which went towards the rent, electric, heat in the winter and similar. It was an incredible experience and I learned a great deal; I am still friends with a number of the other artists (there were twenty members). One day, while working at the gallery, an older woman walked in. I greeted her, let her know all the artwork was for sale and to feel free to ask any questions. I stepped away so she could browse without feeling hounded. After roughly five minutes she approached me and mentioned she was an artist; she asked about showing her work in the gallery. I explained the nature of the artist collective, the duties, including the monthly portion of expenses. Her reaction was obtuse; while pointing to the pieces on the wall she said, “So all these artists sold out?” I understood her unspoken point; art should not be done for money. Why was she in my gallery asking for her artwork to be on display? (I did not engage her and she left moments later.) Galleries are all about money; they pay rent or have a mortgage. They have property taxes, a wide assortment of expenses and other costs. The fantastical movie depiction of an art gallery putting on an exhibition because they are altruistic and want to spread art around the world is not real life; the bottom line is always money (either the art will sell or someone wrote a check to cover the costs). Artists need to care about money too i.e., if no one buys my artwork, I am doing something wrong. To be blunt: no one gives a rat’s arse if your mommy loves your artwork; it needs to sell. When someone purchases my artwork, they are directly telling me that they love it. I fear this is not taught in a Master of Fine Arts program; universities always love student artwork, I suspect almost as much as the tuition! Some graduate owing over $100,000 in student loans; my education cost was $100 a month plus the one day I had to work; I learned from actual clients. Who truly sold out?
- The Problem with Cameras
Cameras are technical devices and, to a significant degree, can be configured to work in automatic mode with little input from a user, except perhaps, pointing it in a specific direction and pressing the shutter release; however, these too can be automated. It is this sophisticated engineering, mechanics, software and automation that makes it difficult for viewers to notice or appreciate decisions by the artist and accept the resultant image as authentic artwork. Fine art photographers have an uphill battle defining their role in the creation of their artwork; even the esteemed Ayn Rand was ill informed regarding photography as art. From The Romantic Manifesto, Ayn Rand states: A certain type of confusion about the relationship between scientific discoveries and art, leads to a frequently asked question: Is photography an art? The answer is: No. It is a technical, not a creative, skill. Art requires a selective re-creation. A camera cannot perform the basic task of painting: a visual conceptualization, i.e., the creation of a concrete in terms of abstract essentials. The selection of camera angles, lighting or lenses is merely a selection of the means to reproduce various aspects of the given, i.e., of an existing concrete. There is an artistic element in some photographs, which is the result of such selectivity as the photographer can exercise, and some of them can be very beautiful—but the same artistic element (purposeful selectivity) is present in many utilitarian products: in the better kinds of furniture, dress design, automobiles, packaging, etc. The commercial art work [sic] in ads (or posters or postage stamps) is frequently done by real artists and has greater esthetic value than many paintings, but utilitarian objects cannot be classified as works of art. Ayn Rand’s opinion on artwork versus technical creation is valid and many photographic disciplines pursue perfection in documenting how a subject appeared at a moment in time with disdain for any injection of creativity or opinion by the camera operator. The notion of the camera as a tool used to document an event, for instance, as used by a newspaper photographer, is widely accepted. Ms. Rand’s deeper point, that a painter must conceptualize prior to painting (because the canvas is blank) is termed previsualization in photography i.e., the photographer deciding what and how to photograph from his or her mental vision; previsualization is conceptualization. The assertion a camera is limited to angles, lighting or lenses conveniently overlooks the role of the photographer. Cameras do not decide what to photograph; it is purely a function of the human mind envisioning an image and then using a tool to create it. The mental image may arise from the landscape in front of the photographer, spring from a childhood memory, spark from emotion and so on. If photography were limited to merely angles, lenses, lighting, then there would be a finite potential, and, to the contrary, photographic creativity surprises time and again. Humans use tools to create. A sophisticated tool, such as a camera, does not make its resultant creation any less creative; any statement to the contrary is ill informed. I further posit that many painters (all painters that I know) work from a photograph and their artwork is no less authentically artistic because they painted from a photograph. This fact presents an interesting conundrum for Ayn Rand; if a painter paints from a photograph, is the painting a “copy” of a photograph? Were Ayn Rand alive, I imagine her dismissing me (a devotee) and ending the conversation out of frustration, as she often did when challenged with facts she could not refute. Photographer Galen Rowell’s Inner Game of Outdoor Photography hammers home the fact that photography is art and I highly recommend it for any serious fine art photographer. Photographers are often considered stepchildren in the artworld. Besides seething jealousy of unaccomplished painters, who feel threatened by photographic clarity or the ability to rapidly reproduce a photograph in either the chemical darkroom or digitally, rareness and collectability are also very different for photographs than for a painting or sculpture. I have not even mentioned Photoshop and how software further complicates photography because some shun adjustments to photographs; every photograph is edited before the final version. As a fine art photographer, I must work harder at being creative because the camera can do so much on its own.
- Fuji GFX100
Before getting into my thoughts and experiences using the GFX100 and GFX100S cameras, here are a few photographs. I originally wrote the GFX100 and GFX100S were plagued with too many buttons and a level of complication that hampered my creativity. In short, I felt the cameras have a bad user interface (UI). Coming from a Hasselblad camera with far fewer buttons, the transition was a challenge for me. Notwithstanding, I am thoroughly satisfied with my decision to upgrade to the GFX system and I feel it a worthy tool for my fine art photography. Below are my original thoughts. Since its writing, Fuji has added an update to its firmware which controls when any changes to some settings are saved to their Custom Settings feature (their version of Profiles on the Hasselblad). The update is a band-aid. The heart of the matter: not all settings on the GFX are savable and, while working in the landscape and after changing a setting or two, I might need to reset to my original setup without remembering that one or two configurable features do not reset. Ultimately, I believe the camera should help me, not slow me down. Original Thoughts I have migrated from my trusted Hasselblad H3DII39 to the Fuji GFX100 system; it was not an easy transition. My H3DII39 camera still works incredibly well and it is transparent while I work in the landscape, it performs as if it were an extension of my body. Nonetheless, my Hasselblad is over thirteen years old, I worry about its longevity and it has substantial sensor dust that requires extensive removal in Photoshop (a minor inconvenience). Worse, occasionally it suffers from a sensor problem that can create a vertical line down the center of the image (Hasselblad never resolved this issue). I considered upgrading to Hasselblad’s newest H body, unfortunately, the cost was prohibitive and the company is primarily focused on its new camera system, a mirrorless body that requires the purchase of a whole new set of lenses. Worse, it would only be an eleven megapixel increase from my H3DII39, hardly worth it. Over the past year there has been substantial news about the new Fuji GFX system and it caught my interest. Most exciting to me was the ability to use my Hasselblad lenses with an adapter, thus preserving my investment in incredible glass. Further, the GFX100 upgrades my photographs from 39 to 100 megapixels, it offers a medium format style sensor and delivers technology that is fourteen years newer. Another plus, my ancient Canon L lenses work on the GFX100 (also with an adapter). I pulled the trigger and made an investment in the GFX100, along with prime lenses from 23mm to 110mm. I anticipated a learning curve; I did not expect it to be very steep. After reading the entire manual I realized the GFX100 was plagued with too many buttons and countless features – maybe a dream come true for some photographers – a nightmare for me. I needed to figure out a starting point, a way of using the camera so I could learn, however, its default configuration was alien to my style of working. Where Hasselblad gave me simplicity and did not mire me down with technology, the GFX100 was complicated and took me away from creativity. I needed to configure the GFX100 to be simple to use and then expand on the features as I needed them. Until I could do that, Hasselblad remained my go to camera. As I began changing various settings in the menus, I wanted to make sure they were saved. The GFX100 has Custom Memory Locations and I incorrectly assumed they worked like Hasselblad’s Profile feature. On the GFX, only certain settings are saved; worse, if a saved setting is changed, reselecting the Custom Memory Location does not restore the setting. This is the opposite of Profiles on the Hasselblad; in fact, the way the GFX100 works makes no sense to me. To be specific, I work with Aperture Priority. I can set the Shooting Mode on the GFX100 to Aperture and save the configuration to Custom Memory #1. If I change to Shutter Priority, the GFX100 keeps that as the new setting for Custom Memory #1. If I switch to Custom Memory #2 and then back to Custom Memory #1, Shutter Priority remains as the Shooting Mode (with Auto Save off too). On the Hasselblad, when I reselect a saved Profile, the Shooting Mode is restored to Aperture Priority. This is a serious “bug” with the GFX100; for example, I often work in low light and occasionally I will switch to Manual Shooting Mode and change the ISO to 400. When I pick up my camera the next morning or evening (likely also in low light), I should be able to simply select Custom Memory #1 and have all settings restored. On the GFX, if I forget to specifically reset each changed settings i.e. Manual to Aperture and ISO to 100, then the camera is not saving me any time, it is making me work harder. Fuji should fix this bug because the GFX100 needs to make life easier, not more difficult. Perhaps this sounds like a minor issue, it is not; a camera with hundreds of setting combinations, should be resettable easily. Posts in online forums and an email and phone conversation with Fuji directly confirmed this. This bug was disappointing and gave me pause; the GFX100 collected dust. Many months later I came up with a solution. Since the GFX100 would not restore my settings, I decided to configure all the displays to show the most important settings and make them readily viewable and rapidly changeable. This way I had a better chance of finding a changed setting. Those settings are: Aperture Priority, Spot Metering, RAW, DR100, ISO 100 and film simulation Velvia, among others. I configured the GFX100’s My Menu and Q button to have all of these settings available and in the same sequence. I hope Fuji fixes this bug so I can focus more on creativity and less on camera settings. Even after all the above, the GFX100 sat unused next to my ancient and trusted Hasselblad; the H3DII39 was easier to use. Until one morning many months later, while working along the shore, my Hasselblad 300mm and 1.7x converter (together 500mm) did not click right. When I looked through the viewfinder it was blurry; I could not manually focus the pair. On the verge of surrender, I glanced at the GFX100 and muttered, “time to shine dude!” I attached my Canon 400mm, turned it on, confirmed all the settings and began making a series of exposures. I had to mentally think through each button press, but that did not bother me, I knew in time it would be second nature. The GFX100 saved the day! When I finished the session and returned to my truck to put the gear away, I took a closer look at the Hasselblad blur issue. I immediately realized the problem; the diopter dial on the viewfinder had been turned; how fortunate for me! From that fortuitous day onward, I used the GFX100 over the H3DII39 and it gets increasingly more comfortable and transparent. There are many aspects of the GFX100 that I appreciate. The image quality is truly outstanding. One hundred megapixels is a tremendous amount of data. File sizes are more than double the size from the H3DII39. The dynamic range is incredible; low light areas that may appear black have recoverable information. While the color is slightly different than Hasselblad’s color, I believe that is something only I will notice. THE GFX100 viewfinder is electronic - a tiny LCD - very different than an SLR camera that uses a mirror to allow the photographer to see the landscape through the lens. I did not know what to expect; nonetheless, it works very well and I have gotten use to it. I love the fold out LCD on the rear of the camera and the level feature does away with the need for a hot shoe bubble level, although sometimes out of habit I still use one. My H3DII39's rear LCD is very old technology, no live view and not fair to make a comparison. On the GFX, I find I am able to work from the viewfinder or the LCD while composing, the camera shines here; it is a very responsive touch screen. Long exposures at ISO 100 TO 400 are not grainy (maximum 30 seconds in Aperture Priority, anything longer requires Manual Mode). I wish long exposures did not require the same processing time for the black frame i.e. an eight minute exposure is actually sixteen minutes); I know I can turn it off, however, I prefer quality over speed. Incredibly, I was even able to photograph stars (see two photographs below). The ability to select the focus point and meter in the same fashion is wonderful. I configured the GFX100 to focus only when I press the AF-ON button, not the shutter release button (same as my H3DII39 setup.) The zoom in focus check is superb and makes manually focusing with a Hasselblad lens very easy. I licensed a full version of CaptureOne to process GFX100 photographs. It is excellent software; I am still learning how to use it. Color control is powerful and I find certain features easier to use than the same in Photoshop. In my research about the GFX system, I found many articles about the camera's capabilities, additional accessories and options. I do not want to be duplicative, however, notwithstanding the Custom Memory Location bug I detailed above, I am extremely impressed with the GFX system and I am glad I chose it. I know there are many other aspects of the GFX100 that I like and have failed to mention; I’m sure there will be even more I discover in time. Kudos to Fuji! Update It has been over a year since I wrote the above. My camera settings have evolved i.e., I shoot in Manual over Aperture mode often, I use 50L ISO, among other settings. I have also added the GFX100S to my kit as a backup, however, I use both bodies interchangeably. I have grown accustomed to the GFX camera system and it is increasingly closer to how I feel about the Hasselblad system. As an artist photographer, my use of cameras may differ than other types of photographers i.e. architecture or portraiture. My use of a camera must be fluid, it must not be about the technology, my art is about my creativity, not a camera's performance. Therefore, this review is more about my experiences adapting to the GFX as opposed to a technical review, of which there are thousands. Suggestions for Fuji Make a quick button sequence, like the 2-step format card, to bring up My Menu so I do not have to arrow several times to get to My Menu. When saving a Custom Setting, save all menu settings, all of them, to that memory bank. When reviewing changed settings, before saving, do not make me, the user, rifle through every menu looking for a red marks to find what was edited - just list all changed settings. I work in manual totally now, however, when in Aperture priority mode, it made absolutely no sense why I had to press the Exposure Compensation lock button to be able to dial the EV up or down, it just delayed me, why even lock that? Or make a setting to get rid of that. Dials? Some settings are menu and others are set with a dial? Why? That makes dial settings impossible to save in a Custom Setting. This applies more to the GFX100S; why even have dials in the 2020s, make everything software settable, is this a nostalgic thing? I use your equipment as tools, I do not buy them to feel nostalgic.
I often break apart the elements that I see in the landscape, I mentally substitute each for another object; doing so helps me see. For instance, frequently I view clouds as cotton, a large expanse of green, such as a field, as the sea, trees and leaves as heads in a crowd, autumn colors as crayons, water as glass unless it is wavy and if it’s wavy, what juts out as hair and so forth. I also notice the wind i.e., movement of the elements; often I accept movement as a crucial element. The same applies to rain, mist or fog. The substitutions change based on what comes to mind, this is not scientific; each landscape begins with a reboot of my imagination and the ideas are always different. Viewing each element independently allows me to consider a dynamic perspective towards each, as opposed to choosing a perspective of the entire collection of landscape elements. Every so often I will be drawn to one element over another. Dividing up the landscape helps me choose my primary subject, its placement in relation to all of the other elements and what to exclude or accentuate. I do not accept the landscape as it presents itself upon first sight. By mentally cataloging landscape elements, I can decide how I feel about them individually and where each should go; I creatively consider element relationships with one another and this helps me previsualize my ultimate photograph.
People complain that digital cameras destroyed photography; they lament, film photography is more authentic. Some whine that everyone with a cell phone is a photographer, as though they are aggrieved by that notion. I have watched grown men fight about Nikon versus Canon. There are endless online forum posts, written by highly intelligent PhD folks, arguing Epson is better than HP or vice versa. Name the brand and you can find lovers and haters who will argue their opinion is right and yours is wrong. Mine is better than yours; this is better than that. It is no different with art. In the mid-1990s, I belonged to a local artist group in the town where I lived; it was predominantly painters and a few photographers. We would meet monthly; I was active and participated in writing for their newsletter. I also enjoyed learning about other artists’ perspective. Often I would consider a painter’s point of view for my photography. They liked my photographs too, as long as I did not call them “art” because some held the opinion that photographs were not art, they are captures of light, a moment frozen in time. Sadly, their heightened assessment of their own art or style made many of them extremely opinionated, some even envious; quite a few of them could not set aside their opinions to appreciate a fellow artist. Their opinions got in their way. Arguing, what I do is better than what you do, is necessary for some people even though opinions are subjective. When it comes to art, there is no right or wrong; like an opinion, it is subjective and art is in the eye of the beholder. However, knowing that fact does not deter some artists from bickering or arguing their art is better (or their camera is better, their printer better, their car, blender, etc...). Should we judge them harshly for being so emotional or passionate? I prefer to devote my energy towards making fine art photographs. My artwork is my opinion.
From time to time, while staring into the viewfinder, I notice distinctive layers in the landscape and strive to accentuate them. Sometimes the layers are truly there, other times they are merely an aspect of perspective. Perspective is a creativity tool; I think of it as if it were another dial on the camera, for instance, turn it to make something appear higher or lower. An obvious example is my photograph Storm Tide. In the above photograph, I am standing on the shore; the sea is not actually higher than the pilings or the beach, however, it appears almost as if the waves are a looming tidal wave. Another example is Calm Dusk, which I made while standing on a cliff. Below is a snapshot of my camera set up on the cliff for Calm Dusk. It is obvious the horizon appears higher than the cliff with my tripod. However, sea level is always lower than a cliff (can a cliff’s edge ever be lower than sea level? Probably, but that's not the point.). One more example, Dusk Rivulet below, the outbound tide stream flowing to the sea is beneath sea level in my photograph, however, it is really on the same level. Where I decide to place layers effects the aspect for the viewer. Layer placement can make a photograph more or less dramatic. By placing the horizon at the top or bottom of a photograph, as opposed to the middle, tells the viewer, this is how I want you to see the landscape. Accentuating sky or land via placement emphasizes its importance. Likewise, placing the horizon in the center of an image lets the viewer decide which half is more important to them. As the artist, everything it is up to me; if the viewer is captivated by my photograph then I have succeeded.
- What Is It?
While studying a scene or subject in my viewfinder, I often ask myself, What is it? What am I looking at? What is the subject? I want to pull more creativity from my vision, further refine the photograph; I question everything I see. There may not be a single answer, however, after I figure it out, I push myself further, What else is it? Will others see the same subject? What else is in the scene? Is there more here? What am I not seeing? Is there anything beyond my first impressions? These questions help get me to the final photograph. While scrambling along a rocky gorge I found tiny bowls of water on the boulders, each filled with leaves. I immediately saw a photograph in my mind of a tight or narrow close up isolating the rock, bowl of water and leaves. I ran back to the truck, got my camera and tripod and then returned to work on the original subject in my mind. My Hasselblad camera workflow involves the use of Phocus, Hasselblad’s proprietary software; in the above screen capture it is easy to see in the film strip how I progressed until I finished with the right most (and selected) version. My exploration of the scene demonstrates my steps. I progressed from image to image by asking myself the above questions. Is it a photograph of a leaf? Is it a photograph of the bowl of water? Is it a photo of the rock? How important is the leaf to the rest of the content in the photograph? Is it a photograph of a single, lonely or trapped leaf? Do I fill the viewfinder with the subject and accentuate the lines and rough surface of the rock? Every question leads me to a new photograph; this is how I push my creativity.
- Creative Block
Sometimes I have periods of lackluster or limited creativity; authors call it writer’s block. It is quite frustrating to lose the ability to create new work and it often leads to a downward spiral of aggravation, doubt and pressure. It is always a challenge to dislodge myself from the malaise; I cannot force creativity no matter how hard I try. Fortunately, over the years, I have developed a few techniques that have helped me. One way to move past a creative block is to get out into the landscape and produce something, even if it is meaningless or below my standards; it gets the garbage out of the system. Sometimes I must clear the out the junk before quality can flow freely again. Once the bad photographs are flushed, the next photograph will be spectacular; I have experienced this time and again and I believe the process is similar in other creative pursuits. My mind cannot produce engaging art all the time, it is a machine like any other and requires downtime. I also try to understand or dislodge whatever is blocking me; if I am worried about something or thinking about other pressing matters then my mind is not free to be imaginative. For example, if I got a flat tire while travelling and working in the landscape, my mind would be focused on fixing the flat, not on creating new photographs. Some things are unavoidable and I do not get upset if I am preoccupied; I trust myself, if I am spending mental energy on something then it must be important. When I am devoid of creativity, I remind myself that the photograph does not make itself; photographs come from within me and are created through my efforts. Of course, the landscape has a myriad of perspectives and creative aspects, however, it is up to me to see them; if I do not observe them, then they do not exist. Seeing is not done with my eyes; my eyes merely collect light and transfer the information to my brain. My mind either ignores the input or focuses on what catches its attention. It is also important to look at what I am producing during a creative block. What are the photographs of? Is there a common theme? Do the uninspiring images say something about what is going on inside of me? What are they a reflection of? Are the photographs decent, however, I do not like them? Asking these questions gives me a glimpse into myself. Sometimes I just need to step away and take a break; there are other forms of creativity – I enjoy writing for example – that may not be blocked. Alternative creative pursuits can ignite new ideas. Revisiting a spark that launched previous bursts of creativity may help too, however, in my experience, they can be elusive; I prefer not to relive the past or duplicate successful photographs; I prefer moving forward. Creative blocks are difficult to overcome; I put a lot of pressure on myself and by doing so, I often make things worse. To ease the tension, it helps to forgive myself and accept that I need to be where I am to get to where I am going.
- After Sunset
One of my not-so-secret secrets for a dramatic sky or brilliant colors is to remain in the landscape long after the Sun has set; the colors are often deeper and more vibrant. The lesser-known secret is to photograph the post-sunset light reflection; water is perfect for reflections. A photograph of an intense sunset may be nice, and it is very commonly done, however, a photograph of its reflection can be creatively unique. Depending on the location, light quality or intensity may change rapidly or slowly i.e. in northern Canada post-sunset colors linger longer than at lower latitudes. It is difficult to rush creativity and the last thing I need to interfere with my process is fumbling for my gear in the dark. I keep everything I need readily available and in the same location in my truck, so I do not have to waste time searching. When my creativity is flowing, I must operate like a well-oiled machine. Sticking around long past sunset has its challenges; the worst is working in twilight or darkness and then finding my way out of the landscape without getting into trouble (i.e. falling into a ditch or crashing my truck). My creativity is sparked in remote landscapes which are normally far from the hotel; it is always a long drive back in dark. Some off-the-beaten-path locations are accessible only via dirt roads; I am very careful at night and I am always on the lookout for animals. I enjoy experimenting and exploring; part of that process is patiently watching the landscape change over time.
- Wide Angles
Camera lens technology is incredible; with a 300mm, 400mm or 600mm lens, I am able to make a crisp photograph of an object that is very far away. In my early years, long lenses were the first I would reach for while working in the landscape. Back then I owned a couple of wide angle lenses, however, they were more challenging to use because they made me work harder; with a wide angle lens I was forced to travel to my subject and spend time exploring my surroundings. With a long lens I could easily isolate my subject; a wide angle lens requires me to deal with distractions and elements that detracted from the subject. Over time and as I grew as an artist I began to depend less on technology and more on my ability to see what goes on in my mind i.e. how I react to the landscape immediately in front of me. I used long lenses less often once I realized there was a world of creativity in my vicinity. I use wide angle lenses to explore; I get close to the ground or on my knees; I ask myself, what is the perspective of the world to the rock, tree limb or the grasshopper. I fill the viewfinder with as much of the subject as possible. With a wide angle I can be more creative with perspective. Long lenses produce flatter photographs because the angle to subject is lower. Being able to place a subject at a wider angle increases imaginative choices. Creativity is unique and I have not forsaken long lenses. I use them frequently when I cannot get close to the subject or if I want to limit the photograph to a narrow perspective unachievable with a wide angle. Lenses are like a painter’s brushes; each has a purpose and collectively they make up the tool palette.
- Fill the Viewfinder!
Did you ever look at one of your photographs and feel it was not what you originally saw? When I am in the landscape, working on a photograph, I can spend as long as forty-five minutes looking through the viewfinder on a single image. I spend the time to make sure the photograph is how I want it and so I do not need to edit it when I am back at my computer. My goal, while in the field, is to create as close to a final version of the photograph at time of exposure. This includes filling the viewfinder with as much or as little as I want so I do not need to crop later. I do not like cropping photographs; the loss of resolution bothers me and I feel like I made a mistake. Therefore, while making the photograph, I crop out the unnecessary i.e. undesired empty space, open regions or areas that do not add to my photograph (or detract from my subject); I remove anything that clutters the image. When I exclude unnecessary elements, the ultimate viewer’s eyes will not wander and he or she will be more engaged with my photograph. Filling the viewfinder can be done by controlling the perspective, selecting the correct lens or changing the distance to your subject. Perspective is the position to your subject, not just distance; it is angle too. A zoom lens may be helpful, especially in inclement weather; with a prime lens, get closer, if possible, to fill the viewfinder with your photograph. I prefer cameras that have as close to 100% viewfinder coverage as possible. Coverage means, what I see in the viewfinder is what will be exposed to the film or sensor when I make the exposure. Cameras will less than 100% viewfinder coverage will have more on the top, bottom and sides of the resultant photo; this may change the perspective. When I look at my photographs, I want my subject to be how I decided it should be, I expect to see my decisions. Often, after I make an exposure, I use a loupe on my camera’s digital LCD and study the photograph to make sure it matches what I want. I check the perspective, light and dark areas, the edges, corners, center and more. As the artist, I make every decision, nothing should be decided by the camera.
When I say the word contrast, what comes to mind immediately? Color contrast? Light and dark contrast? There is much more to explore. I apply the definition of contrast to other elements in the landscape, for instance, creating a photograph with movement and stillness in the same frame. How about contrasting focus and blur? Old and new? Color and monochrome in the same exposure might be interesting too! I ask myself often, what can I contrast, or juxtapose, in the viewfinder? Here are a few examples of contrasting elements. When I put two strikingly different elements together in a photograph, I am asking the viewer to see the difference too. The possibilities are endless and my imagination’s creativity is the only limit.
- Nebraska Dawn Lake
This peaceful lake was just off a dirt road and I was fortunate to have discovered it. I had arrived in the area the previous evening, my hotel was roughly fifty miles north, and before going to bed I scoped out the region and took note of several spots that piqued my interest. The following morning, I woke up well before dawn so I could be on location as the landscape became illuminated. The weather forecast called for dense fog and it proved to be accurate. I became worried when I first saw this lake covered in fog; I feared becoming overwhelmed. I decided not to make any photographs until I had a clear vision of what I wanted; I continued driving down the dirt road. I waited for over an hour for my creativity to ignite and when I returned to this lake, I immediately knew what I wanted. My game plan was to juxtapose the lake reeds with the emptiness created by the fog; an exposure of several seconds would smooth out the lake. To achieve the desired effect, I selected my widest Hasselblad lens, the 24mm, and attached my tilt shift adapter so I could shift the lens downward. I put my boots on, waded nearly knee deep into the lake and set up my tripod immediately in front of the reeds. I metered he scene in the viewfinder; because the sky was too bright, I added a 0.90 ND Grad filter to reduce the light on the left. I made several test exposures to verify I had the correct exposure.
- Slow Down
Making a truly outstanding photograph takes time. Seldom is anything of value achieved when the process is rushed; I have taught myself to slow my process; working deliberately gives me time to consider different perspectives, both literally and figuratively. Moreover, patience is extremely important when light is rapidly changing because one slip up can cost me the photograph. By slowing the process, I afford my mind the time to do the work instead of giving my camera the decision-making power. In other words, I do not shoot and look, I look and then expose; looking requires time. When I see a waterfall, my initial reaction is to appreciate the beauty and move on. Waterfalls as subject matter are grossly overdone; it is quite challenging to create a truly unique or engaging waterfall photograph. While working in the Northwest Territories in Canada I came upon several enormous waterfalls and after much thought and consideration, I decided to photograph a narrow perspective instead of including every ounce of falling water and surrounding landscape in the frame. While using film I had to get things right the first time because I could not see the result (i.e. in an LCD) while in the landscape. I had to think through the photograph, step by step, because the conditions and location were often not repeatable or too far away. The above photograph took over an hour to realize. I sat on the shore and considered different perspectives. Straight on, the waterfall looked like any other; mundane! However, from the extreme edge I was able to include the wavy lines of the water flowing over the rock wall on the right side and I was also able to include three the waterfalls. With the below photograph from Rhode Island, I noticed the shadows from the trees and, after much consideration, decided they were enough of a reason to make a photograph. I felt they might help lead the viewer's eyes towards the rocks and water and wanted to include them in the photograph. (As an afterthought, not only do they achieve that goal, but they also help keep the viewer's eyes within the photograph.) I packed two lenses because of uncertainty and slowly climbed down to the base of the falls. I used a 6-stop ND filter plus a 0.9 Grad ND to manage the brightness of the light and to slow down the exposure to 6 seconds at f5.6. I am extremely fortunate, working with film trained me; slowing down and taking my time helped me create better photographs. After switching from film to digital, I continued to think before making an exposure. Even though the LCD makes life easier, it also makes it more convenient to give up control to the camera. I always remind myself, I am the artist.
- Do Not Xerox
I push myself to make photographs of what I see in my mind; I often avoid the typical photo that other photographers have made. I refrain from the mundane or boring image that I have seen countless times before – the lonely rock, the winding brook, the tall mountain, the gnarly tree, and so on. Yes, I do make such photographs too, however, I get them out of my system and sincerely try to hide them from my audience; I do not want to bore you. Further disclosure: there was a time in my early career when that was all I did, I photographed everything that was in front of me. I would return from a photography trip with hundreds of rolls of film and look for that one special image. It was the machine gun approach: shoot as many frames as possible, I was bound to hit something. Over time I began to realize that if I ever wanted to be more than a landscape Xerox machine, I had to bring my A-Game to creativity; I had to see and think differently. The simplest analogy: if I were a painter, was I painting houses or painting paintings? I wanted the latter for my photography. Being creative is not easy; it takes serious effort and focus. Often, when I look at the landscape, I see images that have been done before (by me and others). I avoid those photographs because they detract from the time I have to create the wow image. In the above image, I was captivated by the stark Canadian landscape. I drove along the road for countless miles without stopping; I knew that without a mental vision for an image I would merely photograph mundane elements and waste the time that could be used when I thought of an original idea. And then I found these animal tracks and made this photograph. If I spend time making a photograph that began from a vision within me, the result will have a value that transcends the landscape that was physically in front of the camera because I will have added to it. My photographs should have at least these elements: the landscape and my contribution to it or my interpretation of it. If it lacks these elements I failed. Before creating this photograph, I was faced with a brilliant sunlight filled landscape after a morning of rain. I could have easily included the Sun, the misty reeds in the water and the surrounding elements. Instead of doing what everyone else does, I isolated the reeds in the brightness and made a series of exposures. By doing so, I have contributed something new to our world; my art is not the 433,820,287th photograph of reeds after a rain. Please note, I use the word Xerox here to represent my impression of the most popular or commonly used photocopier machine. When I write, "do not Xerox" I mean, don't be like a photocopier, hence, Xerox is positively used.
- What Are You Doing?
When it comes to photography, what are you doing? Are you creating art? Does the technology excite you (having the latest or greatest gear and discussing (or arguing) online)? Do you feel like you are capturing a moment in time with your camera? Are you chasing the light? Do you think of yourself as a shooter? Is photography fun for you? All answers are correct. I am an artist. I am in pursuit of creativity with the goal of making a work of art photograph. I am not capturing a moment in time or chasing light, I am creating a photograph of the unique image in my mind. The most enjoyable part for me is translating my vision into a photograph, although, sometimes the process is extremely frustrating and challenging. More often than not, the result comes close but falls short of my high standards. However, when I have created a photograph that I love, the elation and satisfaction is worth all the effort. What are you doing with your camera? Only you can answer that question. If you are a gear-geek and love gadgets, then you should save your money and buy the best every year. If you want more from photography, I suggest you focus on what you love to do, even if the initial results are limited and frustrating. Trust me, I know the feeling; I spent many years hiking with a backpack full of camera lenses only to come back dirty, sweaty and with a painful back. It took over a decade to realize what I was actually doing; it was a process that needed lots of time. I would not be where I am today without those painful years and I am thankful and without regrets. If you are an artist like I me, put yourself near your favorite subject matter and take a hike, walk or a drive. Do not carry the camera or even touch it until you feel creative. I use my imagination to conjure up ways to use my camera to be creative. Your process may be different. Nonetheless, find what makes you happy and repeat. Each journey is unique; most require the investment of time to achieve worthwhile results. Allow yourself the time to explore your enjoyment and improve along the way; being disappointed and wanting to give up are feelings that force you to change and grow. Figure out what your goal is and ignore everything else. Becoming incredible takes a very long time; you might as well enjoy the journey!
No doubt, previsualization is a fancy word, however, it is an important step during my creative process. It literally means seeing something before creating it. As an artist, the previsualization step must occur before I reach for my camera or lens. It is the step in which I get an idea or see a mental image of what I would like to create, using the landscape as a prop and the camera as a tool. Previsualization is not a term exclusive to fine art photography; it is used in other creative endeavors and professions. An architect cannot draw a building without first seeing the design in her mind. A programmer first learns about the problem that needs solving before writing source code. A lawyer writes his legal brief only after first understanding the case law. Similarly, you need to see the screw to know whether you need a flat head or Philips head screwdriver. Before driving your car, you must know your destination. A doctor must make a diagnosis before performing surgery. These are examples of previsualization and it is not any different for the fine art photographer; previsualization is seeing the final photograph before making exposures with a camera. As a photographer, I need to know what I want to create so I can use the correct lens, shutter speed, aperture size and filter. It took me over a decade to finally begin previsualizing my artwork; until that time, I was more a camera operator than an artist. It also was not a lightbulb moment; it was a gradual experience in which I noticed some photographs began occurring pre-visually. Today, after nearly 40 years of making photographs, I wander the landscape without a camera until I know what I want to do; I am constantly imagining new ideas and fluidly previsualizing. Knowing the definition of previsualization and being an accomplished fine art photographer are two different things. If you want to transition from camera operator to artist i.e. go from house painter to art painter, then previsualization is a process I recommend learning more about. An excellent and detailed analysis can be found in Galen Rowell's Inner Game of Outdoor Photography.
- Fluid Sunset
I made this colorful windswept sunset photograph while exploring a remote region in northern Quebec. While driving along the shore, I noticed two land masses off in the distance and imagined a photograph using them as an anchor with the sky accentuated. It was windy and both the water and clouds were moving; I decided a long exposure would smooth the water and make an interesting pattern with the clouds. It was not quite sunset and there was still quite a bit of light. To obtain a long exposure I added two neutral density filters, a graduated neutral density filter and stopped down to f51. The combination gave me an 81 second exposure. The combination of the filters in front of the lens deepened the saturation considerably, I worried too much! The more challenging issue with this photograph was the dirt on my Hasselblad camera’s digital sensor that becomes terribly obvious at extremely small apertures such as f51. I had been working in sandy and windy conditions for a while and I do not risk damaging a camera back by cleaning it in the field or mid-trip. I once accidently put a deep scratch into the glass cover that sits in front of the camera’s sensor; Hasselblad took a month and $1,000 to repair it. I play it safe and remove all dust spots in Photoshop.
- Escaping Brilliance
It is easy to be captivated by a beautiful sunrise or the brilliant colors of sunset. Such moving scenes last for moments and I often must put aside my awe of nature, get working and push my creativity. As an artist, I am not content with merely duplicating the landscape, I am not a Xerox copier; I seek to portray it from my unique perspective. Of course, this is easier said than done, however, when I focus my efforts, the result is art. I have been to this location on the western shore of New Jersey numerous times and it has always been a challenge to escape its brilliance. On this occasion, I patiently waited until the sun had set. I hiked a short distance in the thick shore grass and located a perspective that included the water reeds; I liked the way they led my eyes up towards the water. I made a series of long exposures to smooth the water and give the clouds some movement. I must put aside my emotional reaction to the landscape and remind myself that I am there to produce something more i.e. create my own brilliance. Being spontaneously creative is incredibly difficult and often I feel tremendous pressure working in rapidly changing light or in an inspirational landscape. What image do I see in my mind? What do I create? What lens matches the ideas in my mind? What filters will blend the light properly? The questions are endless; their job is to cajole my creativity. This is neither lofty nor esoteric; standing in front of a brilliant landscape and thinking, "I can’t beat this," means I have already declared my failure without even making an effort. In other words, if I tell myself I cannot do something then I will most certainly fail. Instead, I accept the challenge and do what is necessary to portray my vision. Once I escape the brilliance and my own stumbling blocks, I am ready to use all of my energy to get the job done.
- Tripods and Heads
It is extremely frustrating to discover a photograph is blurry after I've returned home from the landscape, when I am back at my computer. Making an incredible photograph is hard enough and I do not need blur to ruin it. Often there is a tremendous effort spent driving to a faraway location or a long and arduous hike with unique weather conditions that cannot be duplicated; regardless, I do not take chances or waste my time, a sturdy tripod can help reduce blur and I always carry one with me. My tripods must survive sea water, sand and mud. In wet environments, I plant the legs firmly (think deep) into the ground to reduce movement from waves or wind. Some of my tripods have sealed legs that do not allow water and particles in, they easily shake dry and are lighter, however, my default tripod’s legs are not sealed, everything gets into them and they require frequent deep cleaning. The weather and landscape dictate which tripod I use. In sand, I frequently reach for sealed legs, however, if it is very windy or a strong surf, then I must use one of my heavier non-sealed tripods; a strong wave can topple a tripod and it is not worth the risk. Tripods are useless without a head (same with people!). The head attaches to the camera via a clamp and plate. There are many different types of tripod heads; each has a purpose and a set of advantages. I personally prefer ball heads because I can rapidly setup and reposition my camera or keep it loose while I stare through the viewfinder. I use an Arca Swiss style clamp with Wimberley brand plates. The plate is attached to the camera or lens. With a quick twist of the knob I have a tight lock. I also use a bubble level on the camera (in my camera's hot-shoe flash mount) to ensure my camera is level (a bubble level on the tripod is useless when using a ball head). Over the years, I have realized there is an unintended benefit to using a tripod; it allows me to work without having to hold the camera all the time. Both hands free offers me the option of changing a lens if the perspective doesn't match the image in my mind; I can also easily add filters to the front of the lens without needing a third hand. I can roam the nearby landscape without worrying about or tiring from an expensive and heavy object. Most importantly, with my camera on a tripod, I can stare through the viewfinder, slow the process down and spend time considering the next exposure. I have used Arca Swiss ball heads for many years; I was fortunate to find an original B1 monoball (not the smaller B1 that is manufactured today, the huge version). I also use a Manfrotto Proball, which is no longer manufactured. These ball heads are extremely well built, very reliable and fortunately spare parts are available; I’ve ordered replacement parts from Manfrotto Spares (www.manfrottospares.com). Lastly, I never carry my camera on my tripod as I hike or walk around. I know it looks cool, but it would not be cool if I smashed a lens or hit the camera on something hard, therefore, I recommend you never do it either.
- Ice Hole Fishing
I was at the right place at the right time, somewhere on the frozen Saint Lawrence River, between Canada and the United States. I had been exploring the area and noticed people heading onto the ice to fish. Some had ATVs while others dragged shacks on sleds. I was very interested in what I would find out on the ice; it was a unique opportunity and a very unusual landscape for me. I ordinarily carry a lot of equipment in my truck for various situations and to work on the ice I grabbed my ice cleats. The cleats gave me stability and grip on the ice or slippery trails. I packed a couple of wide-angle lenses and my Hasselblad 100mm lens. I also took a few batteries because the cold drains them rapidly. I was heavily loaded up plus the tripod. You would think a frozen river would be frozen, however, it's very wet. It did not take long for the cold to zap me, however, I was enjoying myself too much to care. At first, I stayed away from the people who were fishing because I didn't want to bother them and making photographs of people is not generally my thing. A person alone is rarely enough of a subject for my taste. However, when I met up with this young man, I was inspired by how his presence and chair altered the stark landscape. I asked if I could photograph him while ice fishing and he said he did not mind. I switched to my Hasselblad 35mm lens, which is extremely close to my natural perspective, and I began making exposures. I worked on my tripod but I kept the ball head loose so I could easily reposition the camera. I also added 2.0 EV to my exposure to account for the brightness of the ice and fog. Had I not explored the ice and put myself into a new environment, I would never have created this photograph in which I juxtapose the cold stark desolate landscape with the colorful chair and boy ice fishing.
- Labrador Man
I was on a photography shoot in Labrador, Canada exploring the communities that dot the region. It is rare that I photograph people, however, when I saw this weathered old man, I knew I had to make a photograph of him. He had been slowly walking along a muddy road and I found a spot far ahead of his path; I inconspicuously setup my tripod and made a short series of exposures using my Hasselblad 300mm lens and 1.7x extender (this lens combination is manual focus). I didn't want to raise suspicion so I worked rapidly and then quickly packed up and drove off. I generally worry about including people in my photographs because they may not appreciate being photographed and I want to be respectful; I also do not want to have any licensing or usage issues down the road. Several weeks later, when the film was developed, I felt it would be better if he were looking to the right (his left) so I flipped the image. I am satisfied my photograph of this Labrador man details his wrinkles, dirt stained coat and expressive vacant stare, moreover, this photograph conveys my impression of his arduous, true or otherwise; I wonder about his life sometimes.
- Bad Weather
I do not think of rain, snow or stormy weather as bad; I rarely shy away from difficult conditions or inclement weather because often, those environments offer seldom appreciated perspectives. As an artist, I look for landscapes that help spark my creativity. Moreover, cloudy conditions (a sky with diffuse light) allow me to work more deliberately, the light conditions change gradually and overcast skies offer even light as opposed to sunny days, where the light and shadows can be harsh. When I am not rushed, there is more time to be creative. Instead of hurrying a photograph, I can explore ideas, think things through and create an action plan. The difficult issue is keeping my gear dry. I use a Kata brand rain cover, which fits over the camera and lens and has a clear top; I purchased it many years ago and it is an essential tool for me. I keep it in a bag that holds my gloves, hat and other extreme elements gear (wet items never go near camera or lenses). Alternatively, in light rain or mist, I use ultra absorbent microfiber dry towels and drape them over the equipment. Using a dry towel is easier than my Kata because I can rapidly move it around or lift it up. When I return to my truck, every thing gets wiped down before going back into a bag or case; I do not want mold to grow on lenses or digital sensors. If I'm drenched, my gear needs to be air dried. To help keep things dry I keep several moisture absorbers (silica in small aluminum canisters) inside my gear cases. I know some camera and lens brands promise waterproof or weather resistant features. Nonetheless, I still protect my gear as much as I can while working in the elements to prevent mold or fungus (both thrive in moist and dark spaces like a camera bag or trunk!). Furthermore, while the outside of a camera or lens may be protected, according to the manufacturer, when changing lenses, or even inserting a memory card, the internals may get exposed to dampness or sand. Better safe than sorry. One last note, be careful in inclement weather and always remember, safety first.
- No Meh
One of the contributing factors to the quality of the photographs in my catalog is my critical review of my own work; I eliminate the “almost” photographs. Over the years I have pushed myself to improve by being very selective over which images to keep and which to discard. Sometimes I have worked the landscape for an entire day only to decide later that none of the photographs were good enough to publish. What did I do wrong? What can I do differently next time? What did I not see? I take full ownership; it is my responsibility to create the photograph, art does not create itself. Being honest is extremely important; it includes not falling in love with a photograph that’s meh just because it was difficult to make or because I personally appreciated the subject. Often, while in the landscape, I will have an idea only to fall short in translating it into a photograph; those failures must be discarded too - no almost photographs - I only keep the great photographs (after learning from my mistakes, of course). Ultimately, there is no difference between being a great photographer and having a catalog of great photographs.
In October 2005 I was working with 35mm film along the coast, slightly north of Boston. I arrived at the shore before dawn and could feel the wind gently rock my truck; it was cold and dark. I grabbed my tripod, camera and one lens and walked towards the beach where I saw several men fishing in a soft reddish mist. The fishermen were sporadic; there was a loneliness. I stood and stared. It sparked a memory of my father; he enjoyed dawn beach fishing. It was bitterly cold; I had no gloves and the surf spray was biting; I was locked in the memory. My dad would shove three or four tubes in the sand, cast into the sea and set the rods in the tubes. Sometimes there were one or two other men off in the distance doing the same, or we were alone. I would explore the surrounding beach, frequently looking back to check if he was packing up to leave; most of the time he either stared at the tips of the rods or gazed into the ocean, seemingly deep in thought. My father loved photography; he taught me about exposure using film speed, aperture and shutter on his Nikon Nikkormat. The right side of the viewfinder had a simple light meter and correct exposure showed as a horizontal line; the line tilted downward if it were too dark or upward if too bright. The Nikon was off limits without him nearby, but I did not obey. Often, when at his apartment, I would open the case, practice changing lenses and learn the effects on exposure by turning the dials. It was a heavy camera for a small boy. I always put it back carefully, to avoid getting in trouble. When I was ten or eleven, he tasked me to be his photographer; he needed the perfect photograph. I was very excited. Later that evening he took me to a basement disco party, told me where to sit, gave me his Nikon and walked away. Moments later, he emerged with his African American girlfriend, dancing and kissing. I raised the camera to my eye, focused and did my best to set the correct exposure in the low light. Unfortunately, the contrast between his white skin and her black skin, plus the dim basement light, made it impossible to photograph. I decided a silhouette of the two of them doing their thing was best; I shot through the entire roll of film. Weeks later, dad told me that he was thrilled with the photographs. Back to 2005; I positioned my tripod to accentuate the men as separate in their solitude. The dawn light on the sand was important to me. I knew how to set the correct exposure and I kept the shutter open for nearly one second. Then nearest man looked my way, as if wondering what I was doing; he returned his gaze to the sea, and to his thoughts. My Fishermen photograph was a turning point; up until then I had taken thousands of photographs hoping to capture the right moment of what was in front of me. Here, I made a photograph of something that was inside of me.
- Did it really look like that?
I am often asked, “Did it really look like that?” My answer is always the same, “Yes, it looked like that to me.” I am not being snide, merely honest; I use my camera like a painter uses his brush (no one ever asks a painter, did it really look like that?). My imagination decides perspective, time of day, aperture, shutter speed, lens, filter and so much more. I make countless imaginative decisions before I make my first exposure. In the chemical darkroom, photographers could creatively edit photographs. Today, with Photoshop software, photographers can do much more. (I use Photoshop to remove sensor dust spots, adjust colors, sharpness, contrast, brightness and more; I use layers to selectively alter areas of a photograph too.) My long exposure photographs include time, motion in the landscape i.e., the movement of wind or water (our eyes cannot capture the effects of movement over time). A common misconception is that a camera faithfully reproduces the landscape as it truly appears. As it truly appears? Appears to whom? Cameras are incredibly powerful devices; they are superb at documenting binary conditions i.e., did the car go through the red light (traffic camera) or whether uncle George wore the red flannel shirt, green sweater or no shirt at all. We generally accept such images as truthful; therefore, it is easy to conclude the camera should be used by artists to produce truthful photographs. However, truthful images and art are not the same; if they were, there would be galleries filled with Ring® Doorbell artwork. “Did it really look like that?” The answer is a resounding “Yes!” The photograph is the proof!
- Shore Rocks
I was uncertain about the cloudy sky, unsure whether the Sun would peak through; I had already checked out several locations on the island. While much of the shore is privately owned, I managed to locate this public boat ramp with a colorful man-made rock wall. I imagined the rocks being a layer in the photograph, however, the sky was the unknown. I tried several different perspectives, one where I set the tripod on top of the rocks and another with it in front of them. I selected the latter and used a wide-angle lens, plus a tilt-shift adapter, so I could shift the lens downward to include the rocks. I chose a long exposure to smooth out the water and give the clouds a swept look; to achieve that effect I used a 0.6 neutral density filter to reduce the overall light plus a 0.9 graduated neutral density to darken the sky (this combination of filters also reddened the photograph). I focused on the farthest rock because the water and sky would smooth over time and my exposure was one 1 minute and 4 seconds at f25. I was not satisfied with the result in the LCD; I then used my high-powered LED flashlight to brighten the rocks during subsequent long exposures. By sweeping the light across the rocks while the shutter was open, I accentuated the foreground which otherwise would have been very dark. It was dark and chilly after my last exposure; I packed up and drove off. Ultimately, after careful consideration, I felt my efforts with Shore Rocks did not produce a photograph that was commensurate with my artwork; the colored rocks were not enough of a subject, therefore, I decided not to include it in my Catalog of artwork.
Disclaimer: I am not an attorney. End of disclaimer. Now for the unvarnished truth… Registering a Copyright does not prevent the theft of a photograph. Cash, lots of cash, will stop the theft of a photograph. I had the unpleasant experience of learning this the hard way; I spent three years in a nasty and expensive legal battle fighting for my intellectual property rights. Fortunately, I won my case, however, that is not always guaranteed. I Copyright my photographs and so should you. If I do not, and a photograph is stolen, I would not be able to file a lawsuit; the court will dismiss it. Therefore, registering a Copyright is the first step and I strongly suggest hiring an attorney to help explain the process. Read more about Copyrights at the U.S. Copyright Office: https://www.copyright.gov/ Some copyright infringements are accidental, innocent or unintentional; in fact, most people do not know about an artist’s rights or they think their use is allowed. Most people, when confronted, will correct an infringement immediately without the need for litigation. If you discover one of your photographs being used without authorization, hire an attorney. A simple cease and desist letter might be all that is necessary; it might cost as low as $500 (this is what I meant by cash). If ten different people steal a photograph, and if each case is slightly different and requires time, it may cost $5,000 (10 X $500, hence, lots of cash). In my lawsuit, the defendants were nauseating spiteful people who were upset with being caught and did not feel my work had any value (although they did steal it); they fought back and lost. I do not recommend litigation; in addition to the financial burden, there is an emotional cost too. Worse, you may not win, and you may have to pay the legal fees of the defendant. Get a realistic perspective from an Intellectual Property attorney (do not hire a real estate or divorce lawyer for copyright matters). In my case, the defendants spent considerable efforts to invalidate my copyrights on technicalities, however, the judge was not convinced. After the case was over, I was left with a mountain of paperwork, tens of thousands of pages of legal briefs and motion replies; it was cathartic to burn them. Copyright law is complex; while designed to protect the artist’s rights, it also permits fair use in certain circumstances. Further complicating the matter are agreements you may enter into by using social media websites such as Instagram or Facebook i.e. the Click I Agree agreement. Read more here and here. Should you worry? Should you lose sleep at night or get angry? In my opinion, no. Learn how to Copyright photographs and enjoy sharing them with everyone. It is not the end of the world if one of your photographs is used by someone else, do not let it ruin your life (I say that from experience).
- Working Questions
Early on in my career, back in the film days, I created a booklet of helpful questions that I would ask myself while working in the landscape to help focus my photography. I compiled the questions over several years; many came from mistakes I discovered after the film was developed. A few were reminders to help guide me and some of the questions came from books or articles. Ultimately, the questions became a booklet of index cards with one question per card; I could easily whip out the booklet and flip through the cards while working, I’d read and answer each question out loud. Often, the booklet of questions helped cajole better images out of me. Eventually the questions became ingrained in my workflow and I did not need the booklet anymore; yet these basic questions serve as my foundation to this day. I have included some of my working questions here and hopefully one or two may help you. Working Questions What is the photograph of? What is the subject of the scene? Is there a single subject? Is the subject obvious or cluttered? Will the viewer see the same subject? Is the subject in the center of the scene? Should the subject be in a different location? Is the subject stationary or moving? Is the scene interesting or exciting? What special characteristics exist in the scene? Is there a “wow” factor to the scene? What is the main focus point? Is the foreground and/or background focused? Will focus be lost with a slower shutter speed? Should the mirror be locked? Does selective focus hurt or help the scene? Are there lines in the scene? What kind of lines are they? Are they straight, wavy, transparent? Are the lines the subject of the scene? Do the lines lead the viewer’s eye to the main subject of the scene? Do the lines lead to a resting point for the viewer’s eye? Do the lines go out of the scene? Is the horizon in the scene and is it level? Can you hint at the existence of the horizon without including it? How does the horizon look when it is higher or lower in the scene? Is there texture in the scene? Can changing the angle of the camera enhance the texture? Is the texture illuminated by low angled light? Are there shadows to the texture? Can a foreground object be illuminated by background light? Can a silhouette or outline be the subject? Can the subject be framed by changing the position or angle of the camera? Is there a natural or man-made frame surrounding the subject? (Always meter the part of the scene you want to accentuate) While looking through the viewfinder, what is not necessary? What can be removed from the scene that clutters the subject? Can elements be removed by filling the frame with more of the subject? Should the subject take up the entire frame? Can another angle help to remove items that distract from the subject? Is it difficult to judge the size of the subject? Is there anything in the scene that determines actual size? Is there another perspective of the scene? What is the eye drawn to first while looking through the viewfinder? Can the scene be made less predictable? Are there unexpected qualities of the scene? Is there anything beyond the predictable first impression of the scene? Are there bright colors that divert the eye? Is there a class of colors? Is the weather, lighting or exposure effecting the color of the scene? Are the colors saturated, brilliant or faded? Should the colors be intensified or subdued? Do the colors need exposure compensation? What effect will a slow or fast shutter speed have on the photograph? What effect will a small or large aperture have on the photograph? Are different brightness levels larger than four stops? Is this an easy shot or did it require effort? How many exposures have been made from the same position?
- Do Not Try, Just Do
I do not try my best; I do what is necessary. This applies to all endeavors, from making photographs to being kind to others. I am not naïve; the politics of today shun this arrogance, nonetheless, it is how I am. My ESL mother (she was born in Peshawar) indoctrinated me with the words, “Do not try; people who try, fail. Just do.” Years later, in one of the Star Wars movies, I watched in disbelief when Yoda said, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” The directive was obviously not that uncommon. I frequently hear people say, “Do your best.” Everyone is free to live their own way; however, I cannot imagine an airplane pilot doing her best to land the airplane. She should just land, otherwise, not fly in the first place. Why is this attitude shunned when applied to other endeavors i.e., creating art? I must push myself to make a photograph that meets the image in my mind; there is no risk versus rewards analysis beforehand. I do what I must. This might mean sliding down a ravine for a specific perspective and worrying later how to climb up, driving hundreds of miles on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, crawling on a wet sea boulder in the rain or waking hours before dawn to drive to a remote location to see if the scattered sunrise colors match my vision from the previous evening. My artwork is built on decades of countless failures; I kept my nose to the grindstone instead of packing my bags and going home with a participation trophy. Art collectors do not buy participation trophies; they buy the best. I want my artwork to be appreciated, admired and valued. If it sucks, I want to know so I can learn, work harder and improve.
- The Writer
Notwithstanding my creativity with fine art photography, in my early teens, twelvish, I wanted to be a writer; feelings were indeterminate prior, although, at four or five, like boys of that day, there were bouts of wanting to be a fireman or policeman. I had the plastic sheriff’s badge and the leather holster on my hip – no gun, dad did not allow me to play with toy guns – I shot at boys with my index finger and cocked thumb. But I digress, back to being a writer; I wrote proliferously, I loved expressing myself and I dreamed, one day, my words would impart significant relevance. inc bl movzx edi,sptr shl edi,1 lea edi,ptr[edi+edi*4] cld movsd movsd movsw popad iretd It was also around then that I discovered another creative pursuit, computer programming. In sixth grade, while at PS 144, the school installed six or eight Tandy Radio Shack TRS-80 computers. I asked when I would be taught how to use them; I was told they were for select students, not me. A year later, at twelve, I was programming in Basic and inline Assembly language on a Commodore PET computer. Just simple programs for graphics and reading or writing blocks of memory to a cassette. I had limited access to computers, I spent far more time reading and conceptualizing how code would execute than seeing it run on screen. For a brief time I had a Commodore 64 computer, however, it died after a few months and never booted again. Writing programs became entirely cerebral. My dreams of becoming a writer had not waned. To read more books I took the Evelyn Wood Speed Reading Course. However, writing eventually took a back seat when I accepted a programming job with a startup company at 50 Broadway, half a block from Wall Street. School got out at noon and I programmed until 8PM daily (plus weekends); I wrote inventory and accounting software. A year later, after turning sixteen, the company closed due to a partnership dispute; the customers asked me to continue with them directly. I took retainer deposits and worked independently and as needed. My school grades suffered tremendously, nonetheless, I refused to be hindered by a lagging educational system that failed to keep up with my drive. Mom was furious. I rented a basement apartment in Queens at seventeen and I incorporated my first company shortly thereafter. cld mov ecx,9 xor eax,eax mov edi,esi repz scasb jnz short testsignbit mov cl,[edi] and cl,07fh setz ah ror ah,2 testsignbit: bt word ptr [esi+9],7 setc bh or ah,bh and sstat,_c3210mask or sstat,ax popad iretd I never stopped writing; I took creative writing classes at the Learning Annex and continued with a journal and dabbled in short stories. Programming for increasingly more customers became even more stressful when, at nineteen, I started my second software company with one of my college professors. We programmed non-stop for over a year and a half, writing obscure and abstract Assembly language code, hundreds of thousands of lines; it left me isolated, reclusive, i.e. jailed. I also wrote my first book, a four hundred page software manual for the company’s product. However, two companies were a prison cell, so I sold my half to the professor. I continued writing software for the next three decades. My programs are trusted worldwide: New York, Illinois, California, China, India, Europe; they work 24/7 and are used by countless people. For most of my life I felt as though I had put off my childhood dream; I realize now that I have always been a writer, I have written millions of lines of intensely creative programming language. I guess I never let that twelve year old Derek down. I had fulfilled his dream all along.
- Image Organization
Often, I need to locate a photograph’s original file, either the actual film strip or the digital camera’s RAW file. With tens of thousands of images, spanning over twenty-five years, it can be quite challenging to organize and group film or digital files. To make my life easier, I use a unique identifier for every roll of film or series of digital images (by “series” I mean photographs made on one day). Back during film days, while on a photo trip, rolls of film were all kept together in a bag which then went to the lab upon returning home. For every box of slides or 120 or 220 roll of film, I used a coded system that included information about the images along with a spreadsheet that managed the list. If I needed to know more about the film, I would search the spreadsheet. This process eventually became tedious. When I switched to digital, I was concerned I would lose control of so many files and I needed an easier system; I devised a method of pre-numbered DVDs that I would use while on a photo shoot (long or short). Before leaving on a trip, I print a series of numbers on blank DVDs (i.e. 47xxxx for a 4.7gb DVD and 85xxxx for 8.5gb). At the end of every day, I burn the photographs from each memory card onto the DVDs. Each photograph file name has the DVD number as a prefix (i.e. 850088_12345678). When I return from the shoot, the DVDs go into a library of DVDs. Since each photo file name has the DVD number (i.e. 850088), it takes a matter of seconds to locate the original DVD when necessary. I refrain from using larger capacity DVDs (today 50gb or 100gb are relatively inexpensive and readily available) because if the DVD is scratched or damaged the quantity of images lost forever can be quite enormous. I have DVDs from over 15 years ago that still work and I have not lost any DVD to time. I have considered switching to M-DISC type discs, which are more permanent than standard optical discs. Unlike the standard DVDs, data stored on an M-DISC is engraved on a patented inorganic write layer that will not fade or deteriorate; this renders these archival grade discs, which are practically impervious to environmental exposure, including light, temperature and humidity. M-DISCs have withstood rigorous testing by the US Department of Defense and have a projected lifetime of several hundred years, if not more. The physical storage media is not the only thing to consider when it comes to image organization. Another major factor is the software that organizes my digital assets (the term Digital Asset Management, or DAM, is often used). Over the decades, I have tried several software programs to track images, including Media Pro and Adobe Bridge. Based on my experience, at this point in my career, I have stepped away from using any software management products because I cannot keep up with software updates (that feels like job in itself) and I need the flexibility to move (or backup) my images without having to remember complicated proprietary procedures for doing so. Further, several companies went out of business and with them went the support for their software. Instead, I organize my photographs in folders on large hard drives and I can rapidly search by title, DVD number, year or volume; using the file numbering system described above, if necessary, I can easily locate the original DVD in few moments. I backup the drives using a simple copy (I also mirror them) and keep backups in a different physical location. I also created an online web page that stores snap shot versions of hundreds of my top photographs along with a categorization system. Ultimately, I decided to uncomplicate my life and I prefer to keep image management simple with no stings attached to any product or company. When I first began making photographs, I only needed boxes for film. I realize that new or young photographers today need much more because digital cameras can create tens of thousands of files rapidly. (Personally, I only need one incredible photograph per shoot and I rarely create over 100 photographs in a day!) Other successful photographers use cloud storage, which is wonderful for instant access from anywhere. There are a plethora of options and I recommend exploring them all; choose the best for your process, however, make sure you do not get married to a system that depends on one particular company or will be restrictive down the road, in other words, make your system is easily movable or convertible to something else if necessary. Lastly, I never let image organization get in the way of my creativity or take time away from my process.
- Making or Taking?
Some say making a photograph; others say taking a photograph. Which is correct? Microsoft believes it is taking, check out their grammar tool in Word. I respectfully disagree with Microsoft. I make photographs. My photographs do not make themselves, I decide nearly every aspect. Taking implies that I removed something from the landscape; the opposite is true, I memorialized the landscape for eternity and nothing was taken away by my making the photograph. Nonetheless, many incredible photographers believe their involvement in image creation is limited to pointing the camera and clicking the shutter button. I would argue that those two actions, pointing and knowing when to click a button, require a creative mental process, however, I am fine with people thinking differently. Have you ever looked at one of your photographs and thought to yourself, that is not what I saw; the landscape was beautiful, however, your photo was disappointing. Did you ever wonder why? It is because the photo does not match the image in your mind, the image you wanted to make. Why harp on a figure of speech? Does it really matter? Yes, it does. I use language accurately and so should you. Using taking instead of making detracts from the artists effort and reinforces a false notion that the camera does the work, not the artist.
I am ambivalent about this topic; it may appear paranoid and, simultaneously, reveal some of the things I do to protect myself and my valuables while I am alone in the landscape. On the flip side, some of my experiences may help others. Regardless of whether I am traveling with a cheap or expensive camera - the value does not matter - nefarious individuals may view me as a target because I am alone with property. I always cover my property in the truck with clothing or towels; this curtails the imagination of someone looking for an easy opportunity to smash and grab. While staying at a hotel far from home, the last thing I want to wake up to is a broken window and property missing. While staying overnight somewhere, I never open my truck and touch my camera gear in the parking lot. If I need to put a camera or lens back in the case, or if I need to grab film or a memory card, I stop a couple of miles away, long before I get to the hotel. Furthermore, in the event of a break in, it is not easy for criminals to remove my property; equipment cases are chained to the frame and it would take many minutes or more to break them out. Most opportunistic criminals look for easy or fast targets; if they are not certain, they will likely look for a better mark. Nonetheless, better safe than sorry. Sometimes I leave one or two valuable items in my hotel room when I am out in the landscape working. To help prevent theft, before I head out, I always put the Do Not Disturb sign on the door knob and turn the TV on low but high enough for someone to think the room is occupied. I also keep my items together in the room so when I checkout, there is less of a chance of leaving something behind. Trouble can occur in a city or in the forest (have you ever seen the movie Deliverance?). When I am alone, it is my responsibility to maintain a low profile i.e. I do not flash my camera around as if it were a Gucci handbag. I am not in the landscape to show off or play with expensive toys. I take my camera out of my backpack only when I know what I want to do with it; then I put it away when done. I keep my camera and lenses in a padded backpack to prevent damage if I slip or fall; if the camera is in my hand while I hike, it will be the first point of contact with the ground. I am always courteous with the people I meet on my travels. Sure, it is important to be polite, however, I may need their help if I have truck problems or similar. If I greeted them previously with a friendly smile, they may be more inclined to be kind. On several occasions I have had to avail myself of the help of a local resident. While in the Gaspe Peninsula, my Jeep died; I rammed it into a snowbank and locals found a lady who spoke English. She invited me into her home while the Jeep was towed and repaired. Be kind and it will be returned to you tenfold. I also do not trespass on private property (if there are no signs I ask or proceed cautiously); not following the rules can lead to trouble or worse, delay my work. Some of my journeys are multi-day drives to get to my destination and it is extremely important to carry extra supplies, including water and food. A proper diet is crucial for keeping me alert and I must stop when I am tired. When I plan my routes, I look for multiple stops along the way just in case I cannot drive the intended distance for that day. I also carry extra tools, a floor jack, air compressor and extra tire plugs in the event of a flat tire. I also keep two quarts of motor oil, engine coolant, wood blocks, a couple of tarps, five gallons of water, snow chains, rags, rope, medical kits, hand warmers, blankets, heavy duty work gloves, work goggles and a breaker-bar with a long pipe to unstick tight lug nuts (I injured my lower back getting a lug nut off my tire while in Labrador). While I would rarely use most of these items, when I might need them, I am nowhere, and one of them could help prevent a bad situation from getting worse. By preparing for the worst, I ensure a greater chance of success. With regards to my work, I make multiple backups of files; I carry several 2TB or 4TB drives and copy images onto them every evening. Fact of life: mechanical and electrical devices fail. I never want a device failure to stop an entire photography trip. I also stay connected while travelling; while it is much easier to find Internet today, I also use a WeBoost in my truck to boost cell signals when I am far from civilizations. When I am outside of the United States, which most of the time means Canada, I am respectful of local customs and differences. For example, in Quebec, I first apologize for not speaking French (even though I took four years of French in high school!) before asking if they speak English. A little humility goes a long way! All my travels are a learning experience; I am observant, take precautions and do not to panic when something bad occurs.
- Missouri Road
I discovered this beautiful old country road while working on a shoot in Missouri. It immediately offered a picturesque view; I experimented and made a series of exposures using several lenses, my Hasselblad 210mm, 300mm and my 1.7x extender on the 300mm (effectively 500mm). Each offered a different perspective and I figured I'd select the best version later on. Ultimately I could not determine which of the three photographs I liked best. None of them made it into my catalog.
Years ago, back in the film days, I worked with a Canon brand camera. Then came the digital revolution and many photographers upgraded from film to 8 or 12 megapixel cameras. I did not need digital; I needed to upgrade my artwork. In 2005 I visited my local camera dealer to discuss upgrade options. He showed me Hasselblad’s H2 medium format film camera; I fell I love instantly. Medium format film is larger than 35mm film; the H2 was intuitive, simple and well designed. The lenses were spectacular and the viewfinder was huge and bright. The H2 had a Profile function which saved all settings to a user Profile (every camera should have this, surprisingly, for instance, the new Fuji GFX100(s) does not have a Profile feature! Read more about that here.). The H2 was extremely different than my Canon camera: far fewer technical bells and whistles (none of which I ever needed) liberated me from technology; I could see more through the viewfinder – it was like staring at a transparency through a loupe on a light table – which allowed me to see more. I worked more creatively and became more methodical, more deliberate; I focused on the artwork, not the tech. I learned quickly that the upgrade was not without issues. There were some film advancing issues, among others; Hasselblad marketed the H2 as the world premier camera system, yet the H2 locked up randomly. Figuring out technical stuff while in the middle of a creative stream of conscious killed the mood. Thankfully, after talking to someone at Hasselblad in Sweden, every issue was resolved with either a firmware update or work around. There were no more frustrations afterwards, the H2 felt natural, like an extension of my body; I used it in all types of conditions, from -18F to 115F, sand, dust and sea. The H2 had traveled with me from Cartwright, Labrador to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories and countless places in between. By the end of 2007, I needed out of film. It was increasingly more expensive and most developers in New York City had gone out of business due to the industry’s switch from film to digital. Development costs ran me between $1,000 and $2,000 after a short three week journey. Hasselblad’s new 39 megapixel camera, the H3DII39, seemed like the obvious next step and all my Hasselblad lenses worked with it. While incredibly expensive, it was totally justifiable. My local camera shop did not sell Hasselblad digital and I was forced into a “pro” camera store in Manhattan (not B&H) that boasted connections with famous photographers. Not being famous myself, I was nothing to them and they treated me like so. They had to "legally inform me" that the H3DII39 was not rated (by Hasselblad) to work in less than 32F degrees. Really? Yes, true. Also, the H3DII39 had a maximum shutter of 32 seconds – a deal breaker – however, a firmware update would extend that limitation soon. The store also wanted to sell me a next day replacement loaner program in the event the H3DII39 broke down, however, they refused to explain how it would get to me if I were in South Dakota, Nebraska or the Yukon. I realized this was a "pro" vanity camera store that serviced pretentious New York City photographers who had assistants that wiped their nose, arse and supplied the cocaine. Unfortunately, Hasselblad had a limited dealer network; with nowhere else to purchase, I reluctantly made the deal. The initial experience with the H3DII39 was like the H2; there were several irritating malfunctions. Obviously, Hasselblad did not work out the bugs. This time, Hasselblad refused to work with me and pushed me back to the "pro" vanity camera store. The store acted as if they had warned me beforehand. I pleaded for help. I wrote nice emails instead of taking a harsh and demanding stance, get more with honey than vinegar; the next step would have been litigation. The store took the H3DII39 body back, shipped it to Hasselblad and gave me a brand new one. Idiots! Same problems with the replacement. The problems were firmware related. It was sad to realize Hasselblad was not the company their marketing portrayed them to be. Gorgeous landscape photographs of faraway places? Who shot those images if the system randomly locked up or frequently failed? I felt like I was Hasselblad’s field equipment tester (again). Walk away from Hasselblad? I would have lost my investment in the lenses. How do I make lemonade? I reached out to Hasselblad’s New Jersey office and spoke to Paul; his dad had worked at Hasselblad too. Paul was the right man. I drove to New Jersey, showed him the issues and Paul realized immediately the issues were firmware related. He talked to Hasselblad in Sweden and shortly thereafter the firmware was updated. Getting the 32 second shutter limitation lifted was another affair; the limitation meant the H3DII39 would be useless for much of my work. Fortunately, they did not forget their promise and sent me a special firmware version just for my camera (all other H3DII39s remained limited to 32 seconds). It allowed me to work with much longer exposures i.e., several minutes. Hasselblad was also extremely apologetic about my experience with the "pro" vanity camera store. As of this writing, 14 years later, my H3DII39 camera is still working like a tank; I have worked in subzero temperatures, as well as other environmental extremes, without failure.
- Yada, Yada, Yada
It is easy to be in awe of a photographer and judge him or her as a genius or a natural. As the viewer, I rarely know the artist’s influences or life experiences i.e., I only see the art, not the recipe or the raw ingredients that shaped the vision. Artist biographies often neatly package the most compelling life events: he drank, it altered his perspective; her child died, it changed her profoundly; he went to a remote island, the simplicity changed his life – yada, yada, yada – ultimately the artist had an adventure or overcame adversity and frequently, the steeper the challenge, the more impressive the story. Moreover, biographies are often created for marketing purposes; messy parts of life are thoroughly cleansed, the artist is portrayed as esteemed with the truth cloaked. It can feel unlifelike; it leaves me wondering, what are the real bricks in the artist’s foundation. We are no different than publicized artists; our lives are as rich and have similar depth. Events in life are links on a chain, each depends on the previous and a magnifying glass on one link is an incomplete image. I can point to events in my life, had one not occurred, I would be an unfamiliar Derek. Why do I see how I see? What has shaped my thinking? Like the promoted artists, we all have turning points in life – our very own yada, yada, yada – which shaped how we perceive. My yada, yada, yada? Mom and dad were emotionally transparent; they smoked lots of pot and were pathological narcissists. As the only child, it fell on me to recognize their achievements and bestow admiration; encouragement and praise flowed backwards. Each used me against the other in their divorce when I was seven. Mom had a tough childhood – born to misogynistic parents in British India (now Pakistan), she was denigrated for not being born a boy and was ill-equipped for a son (I was supposed to be aborted, however (fortunately?), she said, “I did not want them inserting something into my vagina to get you out.”). Dad’s youth was not much better, he rebelled against his racist mother by embracing African American culture, exclusively dated poverty-stricken Black women after my mom and developed an extreme form of Antisemitism; all a contorted conundrum he took to his grave. Having been deprived of acceptance by mom and dad because of their yada, yada, yada, I overachieved to get noticed, ultimately discovering relief through work, at thirteen, carrying golf bags at Deepdale. Getting paid was my only acknowledgment; currency was the only appreciation I received. More yada, yada, yada? There were two extraordinarily influential men in my childhood, neither of whom appeared through happenstance; Coach at Highland and Julian, my teacher, at Deepdale. Both unwittingly helped me build my foundation, one brick at a time. Coach was a brutal authoritarian who taught me how to push myself past breaking point, to find inner strength after I was depleted; Coach taught me how to be a man. Julian introduced me to my Self. I am a mosaic of both men and their teachings made up for the deficiencies at home. It would be woefully insufficient to merely say I had a tough Coach and a Carlos Castaneda-style spiritual teacher; these men were more. The events of my life – my yada, yada, yada – have shaped my perception; how I see and how I think. What is your yada, yada, yada?
- Old Car on the Prairie
I spent many weeks making photographs throughout South Dakota. The conditions were dusty, windy, hot and cold. Many roads were not paved; I knew if I did not venture into the unknown, I would never see anything; I had to check things out. I also had to keep an eye out for rattle snakes! I spotted this shot-up old car and parked my truck as close as I could. It was shortly before sunset, however, I took my time considering a perspective. I carefully walked around it many times, mindful of the holes in the ground (snake holes?). Was it safe? I ultimately decided to fill the viewfinder with the old car without any of the surrounding landscape. I fetched my tripod from the truck along with my Hasselblad 120mm lens. I put the setting sun behind me and made a series of exposures accentuating the years of texture and age. As I was working, I realized there were countless prairie dogs peeking their heads out of the holes in the ground; they were cheering me on! I have travelled to South Dakota numerous times after making this photograph, however, I have not revisited this old car.
I used to be offended when people would refer to my photography as a hobby; it belittled my artistic endeavors. Often, I would step away from a larger argument and brush it off; it helped to imagine my painter friends’ reaction to the same, to being called hobby painters. I suspected they would not feel good about the label either. It is belittling to call someone’s artistic expression a hobby, whether it be a sculpture, photograph or a painting; most artists put tremendous effort into their artwork, thousands of hours thinking and revising, we are met with failure most of the time, countless do-overs. Artists must have a high level of bravery to create something and then put it out into the world to be judged. I persisted; I did not let the words of others stop me. It would have been easy to give up and spend my time doing something else, i.e. playing video games, smoking dope, getting stoned. I stepped away many times, thinking I would not return. However, the passion and joy I felt every time I made a photograph, kept me hooked and outshined any prior disappointments. That emotion drove me to create the next photograph. There is nothing wrong with photography as a hobby. Everyone is unique. If you ever feel discouraged, if someone diminishes your work, do not give up; the world is a better place with more artists!
- Ring Bell
Creativity is not always a lovely sunset or a beach at dawn. My creativity is often sparked by looking at the world from my unique perspective and noticing something that makes an impression or gives me pause. While on my way from one place to another I caught a glimpse of this doorway from the corner of my eye. I drove by quickly and did not stop; after a few blocks of thought, I turned my truck around and went back to check it out again. It was not in a safe neighborhood; I did not want to get too close to the entrance and put myself at risk. I knew I could not make this photograph quickly with my Hasselblad gear. Luckily, I also had my Canon 35mm camera in my truck. I found a parking spot across the street and loaded a roll of film into the camera. I attached my 400mm lens, nonchalantly setup my tripod in the street and then quickly made a series of exposures and got the heck out of the there.
- Storm in New Mexico
I made this photograph in Three Rivers, New Mexico, a barren area known for petroglyphs. I had arrived in NM the prior evening after a hard 3-day drive from Pennsylvania. I was exhausted yet anxious to get working. I woke early and drove into the small parking area at sunrise; the snow blanketed the desert-like landscape and quieted all sounds. There was only an RV camper off in the distance and I figured I was alone. I packed my backpack in the falling snow, selecting only wide angle lenses; I got back in the truck to load a roll of film into my Hasselblad (to prevent snow from getting into the camera). Just as I was ready to hike off, out of nowhere, an old man appeared and said, "I wouldn’t go up there, the rocks are slippery." He started back towards the camper without waiting for a reply. I said "thanks," locked the truck and headed off towards the hills. Within several hundred feet of the hike I came across this serene image of telephone poles disappearing into the whiteness. I dropped my backpack, set up my tripod, covered the camera and immediately realized I had the wrong lenses with me. The wide angles I had packed were not right for what I had envisioned. I carefully rushed back to my truck without sliding in the snow, grabbed my 300mm lens and returned to find everything completely covered with snow. I carefully changed lenses; then I exposed a few frames. I had to get it right with one roll of film; no way I was changing out a roll in the wet environment. (Back during film days there was no LCD preview; I had to get it right without confirmation.) I packed up and restarted up the hill to the petroglyphs, slipping here and there; the old man was right, I had to be careful. After 15 to 20 minutes I was high up on the rock hill. I set up my tripod in front of a petroglyph and from far away I heard the old man yelling at me, "Get off there! Get down! I told you!" I ignored him. Moments later I heard a cranky old woman’s voice, "Call the police! Call the ranger!" I tried to concentrate on making a photograph, however, after about 10 minutes I saw a ranger truck pull into the parking area. I was angry; I just wanted to work in peace and be left alone. I packed my gear up and slowly hiked down the rocky hill slipping every few steps! I assumed it was not going to be a pretty situation, however, to my surprise, when I got to my truck, the ranger said nothing. Unfortunately, the crotchety old man was screaming nonstop. I put my backpack down and stormed within an inch his face. I stared directly into his eyes and said with a firm voice, “This is a free country. Who do you think you are telling me what I can and cannot do? How dare you! Are you a dictator? Are you a communist? If so, then you don’t belong here!” He stammered back in shock and I returned to my truck. To my shock, it was not over; he said to the ranger, "I saw him deface the petroglyphs!" I was in shock, I knew such an accusation could lead to trouble. I said, "You couldn’t have! I was half a mile away on a hill in a snowstorm!" He said, "I have binoculars!" His nasty wife chimed in, "I saw him do it too!" OMG! I realized I could be in real trouble. However, the ranger did not say a word. I knew the smart thing to do was get away as quickly as possible. I put my gear in the truck and started it. Then, before pulling away, the ranger approached and said, "Don’t mind him, he’s a Korean war vet and he's not right in the head." He continued, "In 20 years, I’ve never seen snow like this, I’m sure you got great pictures." I drove off thankful and relieved. I was extremely fortunate the old man's lies did not stick and a couple of miles down the road I noticed these snow-covered irrigation wheels. I stopped to make this photograph. Into the White, the title of the poles in snow photograph, received an honorable mention award about a year later at a respected annual art exhibition in New Jersey.
- Going Aluminum
Being a photographer is not always about making new photographs with a camera; here is "Moonrise Over Twilight" (roughly 33" x 25") on hand sanded aluminum. The process of creating aluminum prints took several weeks of experimentation. Other photographers have done this before, however, information regarding the process was quite limited back in 2010 and it was a learn as I go. Sometime in 2010, a wholesale client asked me about printing on aluminum. It piqued my interest; however, I found no resources or information. Fast forward to the spring of 2012 when I found an online article about a photographer who created several aluminum prints; I immediately emailed her asking about her technique. No reply! I emailed again, silence. I then found another artist doing similar and sent another kind email asking for information. Nothing! They probably did not want to share their ideas. Fine! I began scouring the Internet for any additional information. Luckily, I found a chemical that can be applied to surfaces, and when dried, would accept a printed photograph. Incredible! Could it be this easy? Wow! I began experimenting and it was not as easy as I had envisioned. I tried various types of aluminum; I even ordered test rolls from an online wholesaler. Nothing looked good. I tried sanding the aluminum in different ways: I used a belt sander, rotary sander, a finishing sander and nothing impressed me. I even tried sheets of stainless steel. These disappointments discouraged me; I then searched the Internet for aluminum that was ready-made for inkjet printing. I located two vendors who sold such materials however, unfortunately, they were not for me. One company sold sheets of aluminum with a maximum width of twenty inches (which was too narrow). A second company sold rolls of very shiny vaporized aluminum particulate (it looked too shiny in my opinion) which were priced at over $600 a roll, not including shipping. Nether were viable solutions. Ultimately, I discovered 36x36 aluminum sheets that were thick enough to sand by hand without creasing. I tested a variety of sandpapers, including several fine automotive grits. The best finish was achieved by hand sanding with steel wool. Wait, I almost forgot, I also had to degrease the aluminum before sanding because it was coated with a thin layer of oil or grease. Once the aluminum was fully sanded and then thoroughly cleaned a second time, I coated it with the special chemical. Then it was ready for use. My first print was Moonrise Over Twilight and it looked stunning. The radiance of the aluminum gave the photograph a different look and feel. I let it dry, varnished it and then trimmed the excess metal from the sides. The hand sanding gave the artwork a unique texture. While the procedure was quite tedious, I was extremely satisfied with the results. The aluminum added a luminescence to my photographs; the print was permanent and durable, unlike a paper print. I went to work preparing more aluminum sheets, a process that consumed a great deal of time. I produced sixteen Aluminums (half roughly 34x26 and the rest about 14x10). I was extremely pleased with the artwork and then all were framed with floater frames. My hand sanded Aluminums are unique pieces of art and each is a one of a kind. My Aluminum prints sold well at a solo exhibition in Philadelphia; I only have a few remaining. I will not be making new ones. Today, aluminum photo printing has become popular and there is a plethora of online companies that will create prints on metal surfaces (you send them a digital file and they ship back a finished product). Such services were not readily available in 2012 and I’m glad I went through the process of creating my Aluminums by hand, they hold far greater value than lab-created copies that lack an artist’s personal touch.