July 2015 Free Desktop Wallpaper – Dragonfly Canyon, Utah

The July 2015 Free Desktop Wallpaper is now available for download. While Dragonfly Canyon is almost always dry, a quick decision to visit after a rare thunderstorm provided me with a beautiful experience of sight and sound – definitely worth the wet clothes!

As always, come closer to nature in the southwest.

WP-July-15_700

1920 x 1200

1920 x 1080

1680 x 1050

1280 x 800

Instructions:

First determine your screen size. Your Current Resolution Is:

Then click on the link for the correct size. When the image opens in a new browser window, right click on the image and select “Set as Wallpaper” (on a Mac, select “Use Image as Desktop Picture”).

Photo Journal: Canyon Lines, Utah

Canyon Lines, Utah – Olympus E-M1, 1/80 sec @f/8, 90mm, ISO 200, no filters

One of the things I see students struggling with most often is knowing where to start—the equivalent of the writer’s blank page. As any writer knows, that’s the most intimidating part of the writing process, where the fear is greatest.

Photography is very much the same especially when we’re in a new location for the first time. Or perhaps you’re revisiting a familiar location but don’t quite know where to start so that you don’t feel like you’re repeating yourself. I’ve been in both situations countless times, as a photographer and a workshop leader. What I can tell you is that there is always a solution, depending on how you look at the problem. “Looking” is the key, and it’s where and how you look that can help you get past the blank page, whether on paper or in your minds eye. But first you have to be in the right frame of mind.

Here’s a recent example. Hiking through a canyon just outside of Moab, Utah one evening, I was struggling with the blank page. I was enjoying the scenery, but nothing seemed to engage me visually. I kept exploring, looking at the beautiful textures and colors everywhere, just trying to get a sense of the place in general. It was a canyon I had never visited before, so while I was excited, I didn’t know where to begin. I thought about how I would handle this situation with a student.

  • The first thing I always suggest is to take a deep breath, and let go of any pressure to do anything. Forget the camera, and focus on being there.
  • The next thing I suggest is to start with light. Where is the light? What’s its quality, its direction? Its mood and feel?

There is always light if you look closely enough. You may not have the right combination of light and subject matter, but there is always light. It may be bright or dark, hard or very soft, but it’s available if you take the time to notice. Before you start photographing a great subject, whatever that is, you need good light. Great light is even better.

So I wandered further along and thought about the magnificent space I was in. The only place I noticed great light was in the sky. In the canyon, however, everything seemed rather flat from a light and shadow perspective. Then I came across this small puddle of water, and I knew I had my first sentence on the blank page. Here was color, contrast, and great light surrounded by the lines and textures of the canyon. But if I photograph just the reflection, then I really remove the context of what I’m trying to capture, namely how it feels to be inside this canyon looking up at the window above me to the sky.
What I wanted to capture was my experience wandering through this canyon. What’s it like to be in such an intimate space given the vastness of the surrounding landscape?

I pointed my camera down at the reflection and reacted to the lines and shapes I saw in the viewfinder. I found a perspective I liked, then mounted my camera on my tripod in roughly the same position. I find working handheld in very limited spaces helps to visualize potential compositions more easily, similar to using a cardboard viewfinder. How do I balance the blue of the sky with the red of the rocks, the organic s-curve that I now notice, which breaks the jagged nature of the rocks and adds a sense of smoothness and rhythm to the composition? S-curves are the first compositional tool I use.

I decide to split the image in half, reflection on one side and rock surface on the other. This creates lots of tonal and textural contrast and also creates three shapes in total, the rock, the sky, and the darker reflection of the rocks above my head. Groups of threes are second compositional tool.

I often talk about anchoring images in the corners, and here I use broad areas of the large shapes to create the four corners—the bottom left being the main entrance into the picture, with the smooth and less saturated area of the water on the bottom right. Both of these lead-up and into the center of the image, where the light and color is strongest. The two shadows in the upper left and right act as resting areas and counterpoints to the texture and color in the center. Diagonal anchors are the third compositional tool I use.

Overall, what I’m really trying to do is make the composition as strong as possible. By surrounding the texture of the rock on the left with reflections, it helps to add depth to the image and keep the viewers attention on the balance between red and blue, highlight and shadow. Simplicity is something I try to achieve in every picture I make. In fact, I would say it’s the first thing I start with and try to maintain throughout the process.

I tried four or five variations of this picture, but it’s the simplest one that I prefer. Ultimately I want the viewer to see more than just what I’ve photographed. I want to convey what I saw in the canyon as a whole. That is more of an experience than a single picture. It’s my interpretation of a hike in a canyon that I found surreal and beautiful.

2015-06-29 12.15.01

13″ x 19″ printed on Epson 3880 with Canson Infinity Platine Fiber Rag – a beautiful fine art paper with a luster finish, slight surface texture and great color and contrast that really helps emphasize what I want the image to convey. 

Feedback or questions, please let me know below. Thanks for reading!

The Importance of Imitation


Tivoli Bays, Hudson Valley

I have gathered a posy of other men’s flowers, and nothing but the thread that binds them is mine own.- Montiagne

There’s a lot of  focus today in making “original” images, but is that really the path towards developing a personal style? Perhaps a better way is simply to steal, in the most benevolent way, from others who inspire us until our own voice emerges.

After all, isn’t this the way most if not all great artists became innovators in their respective creative pursuits? Theres’s no shame in imitation, except when it becomes a means to an end. At it’s best, it will help you to see how to be different, and more importantly why.

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Making Every Detail Count as a Photographer

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I walked into my local coffee shop recently and noticed a new photography exhibition on the walls. Most were fairly large (20″ x 30″) images of urban landscapes featuring trees, footpaths, and other similar scenes. They were mounted in nice wooden frames with a standard white mat.

At first glance, I liked the perspectives the photographer used for many of the images, using a wide angle lens to create a dramatic perspective. Get close enough to a tree, as several of the images did, and the branches take on a life of their own, creating bold lines and repeating shapes throughout the image. It’s a perspective I don’t see often enough, and I appreciated the photographer’s vision in trying to capture the essence of the subject.

As I looked more closely, however, I noticed the paper was warped on most of the images. From an angle, it looked like the paper had buckled in varying amounts depending on the size of the print. I’ve seen this problem before, and it is usually due to

  1. lightweight and poor quality paper that warps and swells with environmental conditions, or
  2. poorly mounted and framed prints.

And a combination of the two is a recipe for poor looking exhibition. In my opinion, that doesn’t reflect too well on the artist.

The weight of a paper, or its grammage, is expressed in grams per square meter, commonly denoted as “gsm.” Most fine art papers are available in lightweight (150-200gsm) and heavier weight (300+gsm) versions. While there is nothing wrong with lightweight paper, it’s important to consider the paper brand. Papers from the best manufacturers use better paper structure, as well as better materials that resist warping and are more stable in varying conditions. Even so, there’s always the chance of slight warping of the papers surface since you can never predict the extent of changes in the environment.

I remember a few years ago we had an extremely hot and humid summer, something like 75% humidity and higher for about two weeks. After making some prints, I noticed swelling in some of the papers I had stored in my studio, which is partially below ground level. I now store all of my paper stock on the second floor of my home until I need them to make prints. This keeps them in a more stable environment and prevents any surprises after I’ve spent valuable ink making a print. Plus I only use the highest quality papers available.

I also prefer heavyweight paper (300+gsm) for several reasons. The paper lays flatter when framed, and its density and thickness helps keep it that way over time. But another reason is so that I can mount the prints to the backer board without dry mounting. This means the print is never compromised in any way, and simply floats between the backer board and mat. I use Lineco Archival Clear Photo Corners to hold the prints in place, and they allow a print to be removed in the future without any damage to the actual print.

If you’re using lightweight paper, and making fairly large prints, then the optimal way to mount them is by dry mounting. This creates a permanent seal between the print and backer board and eliminates any chance of warping or buckling. Of course, this is a permanent process, and severely compromises the longevity of the print, as well as its value to potential buyers and collectors. But if those issues are not important, then it’s the best looking presentation for an exhibition.

As I thought about the prints on the walls, and photography exhibitions in general, I thought I would share some principles that I feel strongly about.

  • First, if you decide to exhibit your work, take pride in your work. Learn what differentiates a good paper from a mediocre paper, a good framing job from a bad one. Show that you care about excellence – it makes a difference.
  • Second, just because it’s your first show doesn’t mean it’s any less important than your fifth or fiftieth. It’s critical to create a positive first impression. I totally understand improving over time and refining your presentation, but in todays world of limited attention spans, you need to put your best foot forward at every opportunity. As I’ve said many times, show the work you’re proud of, without excuses or explanations about missed opportunities or subpar print quality. If that means you only show half of the images you normally would, then so be it – but make every one count. Quality always trumps quantity.

Maybe I’m being too hard on the photographer. Maybe I’m missing the point of exposure and getting feedback. He/she was trying to do something courageous, which is what exhibiting your work is. Just showing your work in public can be a huge step for many, and I congratulate him/her for taking that step. But don’t hamper that courage by taking shortcuts, or worse not realizing how simple improvements can make a huge impact in how others perceive your work. In a world of perception, that often makes the difference between just good and truly great.

I obsessed over my very first exhibition and made sure it was the best I could produce at the time. That was one of the best things I ever did for my career. Photography is hard enough when things are out of our control, so make sure what you can control is the best it can be. That small margin will make all difference.

People ask me all the time for advice about how to be successful as a photographer. One answer I give: make every detail count.

June 2015 Free Desktop Wallpaper

The June 2015 Free Desktop Wallpaper is now available for download.

As always, come closer to nature in the southwest.

WP-June-15_700

1920 x 1200

1920 x 1080

1680 x 1050

1280 x 800

Instructions:

First determine your screen size. Your Current Resolution Is:

Then click on the link for the correct size. When the image opens in a new browser window, right click on the image and select “Set as Wallpaper” (on a Mac, select “Use Image as Desktop Picture”).