Making the Photograph

06/15/2012

I'm often asked about the process involved in making my photographs. Unfortunately, there isn't a short answer to this question. Like any process, it's important to define the beginning steps; jumping ahead to the moment when I open the shutter does not truly answer the question. Over the years I have sought to demystify my work so others could easily understand it and hopefully incorporate my knowledge and experience.

 

Selecting the location is the first step. I look for a variety of elements and I use online maps such as Google or Bing (before online tools I ordered topo maps on CD). 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 with private lands that would restrict my travel because I do not trespass.

 

Next, I select the time of day and keep track of the weather. The weather also includes the tide if I'm working along the shore. 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.

 

Once I arrive on location, the first thing I do is walk around; I do not pick up my camera until I know what I want to create. I consider a multitude of ideas and options and process them mentally until something sparks my interest. The creative process is not easy to describe, suffice it to say, it's akin to writing or painting; once I enter the creative zone certain steps go into auto-pilot mode. For the sake of explaining it, if there is no spark I move on; it is not productive to force creativity. However, when an idea or vision enters my mind I have to work to replicate it. That's when I go for my camera, my lens, filters, and so forth.

 

In addition to the gear, proper clothing is important. Some photographs require getting into the water while others occur in wet, cold or hot circumstances. I have had 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 with it is a crucial element in the endeavor.

 

After I have the vision in my mind of what I want to create, the process then involves figuring out the proper tools. This part can be difficult because I am essentially translating a vision in my mind to film or digital. I have to select the right lens and get the proper perspective. Often the scene is too dark in one part and too bright in another. Sometimes the vision requires an impossible position (i.e. when I think of something from a vantage point I cannot reach). If I have to hike I will select the bag or backpack according to how many lenses I will need. Most of the time I narrow it down 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).

 

Once I'm situated and my tripod is setup, I make sure there are no silly mistakes with focus, lighting and I always verify the camera is level (no one likes a photograph with the sea draining off to one side of the picture!). Countless times I've returned from a shoot, waited for the film to be developed (or looked through the digital images) and discovered a mistake that ruined the photograph. Numerous times I've returned to a location to redo a photograph only to discover the conditions were different than the original moment or the mood or vision was lost.

 

Many of my photographs utilize lens filters. The most common are neutral density graduated filters (ND Grads) which darken only one portion of the frame. I also use filters to darken an entire frame to decrease my shutter speed. Many times I will stack filters together. Some photographs cannot be made without filters and I do not like to make corrections post-op which can be easily made to the original photograph. Every post-op adjustment degrades an image.

 

 

Sometimes 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. When I am working creatively I lose track of time. I often remain well past sunset and see different colors in the sky. There are countless decisions along the process and each leads me down an avenue where more choices exist.

 

As mentioned previously, I do the best I can while making a photograph so there is little to fix in post-op. The mistakes I've made in the past have taught me what not to do; mistakes are important.

 

I made these photographs using my cell phone and my Hasselblad digital camera.

 

 

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