Story Telling

What is that special quality in an image that makes the viewer look more than once? Why is it that some images demand more attention, while others don’t.  Both may be beautiful, visually.  Both may have an interesting subject, but the image that stands out goes beyond all that; it makes you feel something.  It tells you a story about the subject.  That story may or may not be exactly as intended by the photographer, but it’s there.  

Whether we know it or not, if we work at our craft long enough, and take it seriously, we usually end up developing a certain “style” and set of favorite subjects. Certain subjects capture our  imagination.  We frame them in a certain way, and we process them in certain ways.  What drives us is that inner need to tell the subject’s story, and tell our own story though that capture. We want to convey that feeling that drew us to take the image.  When we get back home and begin processing the image we recrop, lighten and darken, and do our best to bring out that story. 

Excellence in photography comes from being self-aware enough to understand this process of story telling.  Think about your best images.  What do they say? When you stop to capture an image, what is it about that subject that made you look? How can you capture that aspect of the image? When you process the image, what can you do to help the viewer see and feel what you saw and felt? To  do less than that is to take “snapshots”; brainless, thoughtless, images with no feeling…no story.

Try this exercise.  When you post and share your images, give them a name; not a name describing the subject, a name describing the story.  Instead of naming a scene “Yosemite Valley”, name it something like “Where the earth meets the sky”.  I know for myself, I love landscapes and have great awe and respect for nature’s majesty and power.  I strive to have my images convey this quality.  Give it a try…name your images. 

Making Sense of our Craft

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With recent events being as horrific as they are it makes me ponder what I am doing enjoying the activity that gives me the most pleasure at this point in my life; photography.  Can we, or better said, should we be doing things as trivial as capturing the light, and spending hours studying the best way to show and process that capture to best convey our intent?  Certainly if you are a journalistic photographer and your intent is to show reality, you might feel purpose in conveying the horror and ugliness you see unfolding before your lens, but if you love landscape, wildlife, macro, travel, architectural, and many other forms of photography, where does today’s world events leave you?  My favorite form of photography is landscape followed closely by travel, and in both cases my intent is usually to convey the awesome beauty, majesty, and mystery of the world.

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When I see a great scene outdoors and raise my camera up, I hope to freeze time and take home a little of what I feel at the moment.  When I get home and sit down to process that image memories flood back in.  I am there.  I feel the same thing again, and I try to make it come through as best I can.  How is it possible to stand there looking at the sun set over a harbor today and not feel something for those who will never see another sunset?  My only explanation to myself is to borrow Dewitt Jones’s byline, “Celebrate What is Right in the World.”  Thats all we can do.  There is still a lot that is right.  Sunsets still are things of beauty, and beauty is real.  If we stop celebrating that we lose our humanity.

Old Hilda

“I wondered why it was that places are so much lovelier when one is alone. How commonplace and stupid it would be if I had a friend now, sitting beside me, someone I had known at school, who would say: “By-the-way, I saw old Hilda the other day…”

Daphne Du Maurier, Rebecca

Someone told me a few weeks ago after my wife and I didn’t join a large group on a cruise ship excursion for dinner at a loud  

 tourist dive that I was obviously a “loner”.  Well said.  He pegged that one perfectly, although probably not in the insulting manner he intended.  Years ago the company I worked for had a fascination with Myers-Briggs tests.  I always tested the same way “INTP” (Introverted, iNtuitive, Thinking, and Perceptive).  I was such a strong “I” that I remember an organizational effectiveness consultant telling me I was the last person the group ought to think of posting in the hallway as a greeter.  What gets missed by people who make value judgements about whether someone is “well adjusted” and therefore extroverted, or maladjusted, and therefore introverted, is that neither has anything to do with being “antisocial”.  Despite being “introverted” I love people, and greatly enjoy speaking and teaching to large groups.  What the terms really mean is that the introvert gets his/her energy from inward reflection and quiet, where the extrovert gets their energy by interacting with others. The night we turned down the group’s restaurant choice was because we found a nice, non-touristy, quiet place, off the beaten path.  We enjoyed a nice meal, and glass of wine, and could hear each other speak.

My recent trip with my wife to Devon for a week of walking on the Southwest Coastal path was an introvert’s dream.  We walked every day, covering almost 60 miles that week, and 8000 feet of elevation change (thankyou fitbit).  On most of those walks we saw almost no one, and those we saw were the typical British outdoor ramblers.  Friendly, soft-spoken, and unobtrusive.  The English also have a wonderful respect for the outdoors.  They tend to leave it as they found it, with little trash.  Wonderful people.  Not once in England did I get cut off in traffic, or have to fight my way through lines coming out of a theater….loved it.  I returned home thoroughly refreshed with a positive outlook on the world once again.  Of course it may have helped that we didn’t watch any TV, and knew nothing about what was going on in the rest of the world.

Now, the one exception to this solitude business that I would make is that I was with my wife of 46 years during this week.  She enriches my moments of wonder and solitude by giving me an outlet to share everything I see and feel.  She also listens patiently to my rants, and ideas, like no one else could or would.  No other person in the world would put up with what she puts up with.

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We Must All Stand Against Terrorism

Self Portrait_Jan 2015-EditI don’t normally include “political” statements on my site, but as a fellow human being I feel for those in France and other places who continue to suffer because of Radical Islam.  This should be the end of political correctness.  We must all stand against violence perpetrated in the name of any insanity and understand what we are dealing with so that we can address it properly.  This is not about religion, or freedom of religion, it is about insanity against civilization.  It must be stopped.

2014 Retrospective

I’ve been through too many years to do this. Set goals, forget goals, reload and try again. 2015 is here. Time to look back at 2014 and what was accomplished, and think about the future.

I follow quite a number of photographers, and at this time of year many will do a retrospective on the past year…some will include their best shots.  I thought the exercise might be good for me.  I taught quality, and Deming for a number of years before retiring.  Improvement over time is important, and improvement is impossible without constant re-assessment, planning and action.  I won’t get into re-assessing everything about my life, but I will talk about several things that are important to me.

Before going any further I will dispense with my golf.  Golf is my other passion, and it ain’t getting any better.  I continue to love the game, and my wife and I continue to play, as golf was meant to be played, on our feet, carrying our bags.  This is no mean feat in Houston’s summer heat, but we do it.  For that I am grateful.  My game is another matter.  As I grow older golf balls don’t go as far, so eventually long par 4’s turn into short par 5’s.  From a game standpoint though, I’ll count 2014 a success.  I play reasonably well, and I’m still playing and loving it.   I shot my personal best in 2014, a 76, and had a number of games under 80…of course I also had games over 90, but who’s counting?  For a game like golf, thats about all you can hope for.  Great game.  One where I can feel my father’s presence when I’m out there.  He also loved the game.  For 2015 I hope to stay healthy and still be walking 18 holes a day whenever I’m home and the weather permits.

Travel is a passion, partly because it allows me to get to places where photography is great.  2014 was great for that also with trips to such strange places as Monte Negro, and Serbia, and wonderful times walking in England, and Utah’s Zion Park. New England in the Fall was beautiful.  2014 also included a wonderful Disney Cruise to Alaska with my grand-daughter.  All had great photo ops, in addition to wonderful experiences.  2015 is planned out nicely.  I’ll be posting when those trips are complete.

What were my best shots in 2014?  The term “portfolio shot”  is a great one because it defines the shots I would include in my portfolio, if I were a professional photographer?  It enforces a certain discipline in selecting shots.  I went through my many shots from this past year (starting last December, actually), and pulled out all my “portfolio” images.  One thing I started doing in 2014 as a final step in my post processing is to keyword any special photos in that batch as “portfolio” in my attempt to be more selective in what I show other people.  Unfortunately even using this keywording step I still end up with way too many “portfolio” shots, when I go back over the entire year. Trying then to winnow that number down becomes somewhat futile because I love different images for different reasons, many have nothing to do with the technical or esthetic aspect.  So here goes.  These are the shots I chose out of thousands, both because I like them as photos, but also because they represent, in some sense, 2014.

Re-assessing how I progressed as a photographer in 2014 is somewhat easy.  I’m not sure if my images have improved, although I would like to think they have, but my understanding and appreciation for the craft has moved forward by giant strides.  I was lucky enough at the beginning of 2014 to be elected as President of our local Photography club.  Its not a small club (close to 100 members), so some aspects of this “job” have been trying.  Being involved in this way with Photography all year long has really focused my attention on reading and learning everything I can about it.  In past years I tended to back away from photography when I wasn’t traveling.  Houston is no garden spot for a landscape photographer, and in the summer its daunting for anything outdoors.  Being involved in this club has been a godsend for me.  My hope is that in 2015 I can do even more for the club, and in turn learn more from that activity.  We have many good photographers in the club, and I have a lot to learn.

My main goal for 2015?  Chill.  I need to not be as intense as I’ve been.  I know I drive some people nuts.  I thank God I’m surrounded by the people I am surrounded by, otherwise I’d find myself on a desert island somewhere.  How can I achieve that goal, other than to just keep trying?  Here goes….

 

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Gratitude

This month’s photo assignment for our local Photoclub is “Gratitude” in recognition of November being the month of Thanksgiving. That’s an admittedly difficult assignment, but worthwhile on many levels.

It’s been said, ” The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.” If that is true we as artists ought to be able to reflect our own personal gratitude in our images.

Kennebunkport Sunset
Glad to be alive

Attempting to portray gratitude this month has an important effect on our members beyond merely the pictures we will take or select. Attempting to portray gratitude makes us think more deeply about why we take photographs and by doing that explains us more clearly to our fellow photographers.

I personally believe the best photography comes from a deep sense of awe within. That sense is simply our inner gratitude for what we see. We may not call it gratitude, but what else is it? If we recognize it as gratitude, we’re richer for it because gratitude recognizes something greater and more important than ourselves. Our images attempt to show or connect with greatness, hence the awe.

It starts with pre-visualizing the shot. We imagine or see something that touches us. We frame and compose the shot to capture what caught our eye and imagination. As a rule the best images focus on what it was that mattered, and eliminate the superfluous.

More often than not, at least for me, I don’t succeed in fully capturing what I saw in my head, hence the power and reason for re-visualizing in post processing. Even then the final result rarely reaches the heights we’d like to achieve.

The power of Gratitude as a photo challenge is that it makes us strive; to think. Not a bad thing when trying to create art, and even a better thing in light of the Thanksgiving holiday. My hope is that this assignment will cause some of us (including myself) to attempt a deeper connection with our art.

Photoclub Week

As President of our local Kingwood Photoclub the week of our monthly meetings is a busy one.  I love the job, don’t get me wrong, but for an “old” retired guy, this is work!

As an aside, before I get into my week, I read a recent article extolling the virtues of a “large” club in New York.  There were two things that struck me about this article.  First and foremost was a paragraph describing the club’s success, “It’s likely that the Huntington Camera Club exemplifies the best that camera clubs can achieve: active and vital participation by members; an eye on the next generation of image makers; and visibility and service within the community.”  That statement exemplifies what I’d like our club to become.  The second thing that struck me about the article was the size of that “large” club. “The Huntington Camera Club is the largest on Long Island, with 120 members“.  Our little local club has over 90 members and over 140 on our mailing list.  The point is we are “large enough” to also be a factor in the community, just like the club in the article.

Enough of that, now you know what motivates me.

My week starts a week before the meeting with reminders and notices going out to the members about the meeting.  As it seems we always have last minute issues with speakers and programs.  Members submit their images monthly along the lines of the themes for that month.  This last month was a double theme of either/or Macro photography or Roadways and Byways.  I am always quite pleased to see the images roll in for this Share and Learn activity.  Our members are creative and many, quite good.  Its always somewhat humbling to see their material, when I think in my own head (I’m sure we all do this, no?)…this month my stuff is really good, its going to blow the socks off everyone.  Then I see their stuff…darn.  Oh well, that’s why I joined this club, to learn and not become to enamored with my own stuff.

As the weekend rolls around before the meeting on Tuesday I’m receiving member images, and organizing them.  I’m also going through notes I keep all month on potential items I want to bring up at the meeting.  I also keep a list of potential Share and Learn challenges (assignments) for the next month.  I get my ideas from other members as well as just browsing the internet.  With these notes and ideas I begin building my “agenda” for the meeting.

I actually write out an agenda and prepare a slide, or set of slides.  It keeps me organized.  That agenda is finalized on Monday before the meeting, as is all the organization of images.  Tuesday during the day is sacrosanct for for me.  Its the day I spend playing golf with my men’s golf group.  After the golf, I typically get back and make sure I’m ready for the meeting, and if I have time, go to the gym to blow off any steam…I tend to get wound up.

The meetings are always fun for me.  My personality type (Myers Briggs) is a strong “Introvert”, so it is a lot of work.  I don’t take to large groups of people easily, but its also a therapeutic challenge.  It forces me out of myself, and I love the group.

After the meeting I try to unwind, since, if I don’t, I won’t sleep that night.  Unfortunately I’m not always successful.  I usually come home and immediately begin working on putting out that month’s “newsletter”.  Putting out that newsletter is not really a simple matter as there are several things that have to happen concurrently for it to work successfully.  Our web site (kwphotoclub.com), needs to be fully updated.  Our images need to be uploaded and linked back to the website.  The next month’s scheduled events, as far as they’ve been confirmed, need to be set up in Eventbrite, and linked back to the site. Then, finally the newsletter is written…linked with the site, images, and events, and sent out.

After all that, its not time to relax, as we scheduled our monthly Post Processing Special Interest group on the same week as the monthly meeting, for the convenience of members attending, but not for the convenience of the person leading that group, me.  Another prep cycle then starts for the SIG meeting, but that’s another story.