Picking a Favorite Photograph

On Landscape is a great subscription based online magazine based out of the UK, and I really love their focus on photographers, photography, and promoting the art of landscape photography.

I was recently asked by their editor to write an article for their “End Frame” column. It involves selecting a favorite photograph by another photographer and explaining why I made that selection. When I first thought about it, I found it an almost impossible task, akin to selecting a favorite song. But just like there have been influential musicians in my music career, David Muench came to mind as soon as I thought about photographers whose landscape work inspired my imagination to new creative possibilities.

The End Frame articles are free to read, so you can see my selection and read the entire article here. 

Please leave your feedback as well!

Five Things I’m Enjoying Right Now

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Olympus E-M1 –  1/80 sec @f/8. ISO 400, 40mm, no filters 

I’ve posted “things I’m enjoying right now” lists before, but unfortunately never got in the habit of sharing them regularly. After seeing some good ones online from my favorite bloggers and realizing how much I liked them, I decided to give them another try. So here are five things I’ve been enjoying the past few weeks.

Reading

Louder Than Words: This new book from Todd Henry explores the importance of your personal voice as a creative person, regardless of your medium. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a while about this general subject, with the bonus that Todd provides specific questions, exercises, and practices you can incorporate to help you sustain a creative mindset. He also has a great podcast that I thoroughly recommend – it always makes me thing more deeply about my own “voice” and how I can improve it over time.

Learning

Learn to Draw EverythingI love to draw and have been slowly expanding to different mediums. I’m currently enjoying pen and ink for the immediacy it provides (no erasing) and this youtube channel by Alphonso Dunn has been invaluable. Even if you have a passing interest in drawing, learning the basics can help you improve your vision and appreciation of light – all fundamental skills for photography.

Listening

Marcus Miller “Afrodeezia” on SpotifyI’m a huge Marcus Miller fan and have been for decades. He’s one of the worlds greatest jazz and funk bass players, having worked with the likes of Miles Davis, Grover Wahsington Jr, Luther Vandross, George Benson, Al Jarreau, and many, many more. This latest album draws heavily from African influences and fuses it with jazz, funk, and Marcus’s unique sound. Can’t get enough of this.

Tech

iMac Retina 5K: After five years of heavy use, I decided it was time to upgrade my studio computer. After much research I upgraded to an iMac Retina 5k fully maxed with the fastest CPU and video card. It’s amazing to say the least, with the best display I have ever used. I will continue to use my NEC wide-gamut monitor for printing and color critical work in Lightroom (it’s attached as a 2nd monitor), but for everything else, the retina display is amazing (did I say that already?) I’ll write a separate post to describe how I have it setup in my studio.

Online

Brainpickings.org: I’m very selective in the websites I visit on a regular basis, mostly because I try to avoid distractions and make sure to use my time wisely. Brainpickings is one of those websites I always find worthwhile. Maria Popova writes from the heart about about classic and timeless books, ideas, thinkers, and how they all come together to provide a sense of the meaningful in life.

From the website:

The core ethos behind brainpickings is that creativity is a combinatorial force: it’s our ability to tap into our mental pool of resources — knowledge, insight, information, inspiration, and all the fragments populating our minds — that we’ve accumulated over the years just by being present and alive and awake to the world, and to combine them in extraordinary new ways. In order for us to truly create and contribute to the world, we have to be able to connect countless dots, to cross-pollinate ideas from a wealth of disciplines, to combine and recombine these pieces and build new ideas.

Highly recommended.

Hope you enjoy this list and look for the next one in a few weeks. Thanks for reading!

Five Landscape Paintings to Study as a Landscape Photographer

There are lots of wonderful landscape photographers that have inspired me throughout my career. Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter, Philip Hyde, David Muench, Galen Rowel – all iconic names that each and every aspiring nature photographer should become intimately familiar with. Their images continue to influence me to see and think about nature and the world around us. Whether through imitation or inspiration, studying their work is always time well spent.

But the study of other art forms, specifically painting, can also provide a much-needed change of perspective for many photographers. Painting provides a tremendous wealth of insight if you’re willing to take some time to look carefully.

Why Study Painting?

We can learn a great deal from painters and their incredible ability to create what we as landscape photographers strive to capture in nature. Although the subject matter may be similar, the way they create their work is fundamentally different. Painters start with a blank canvas and work towards complexity, whereas photographers work in reverse, eliminating and simplifying a scene to its essence.

These are two very different ways of arriving at a compelling picture, but both seek the same outcome; conveying an emotion to the viewer. They are also similar in that both require an understanding of the visual language to be effective. I can tell you that my photography has improved tremendously ever since I started to invest significant time in the study of my favorite landscape painters. Their use of light, shadow, contrast, and storytelling is a lifelong study that will always yield new ideas and insights.

I’ve chosen five paintings that I think are great examples of true masterpieces, and hopefully they inspire you to look at and appreciate this visual art form that is so similar to our pursuits as photographers. It’s no coincidence that most are from the Hudson River School of Painters, some of the finest landscape painters that have ever lived. What can I say, I’m biased since they worked in many of the locations I regularly visit to photograph.

Five Paintings To Study

A Gorge in the Mountains - Sanford Robinson Gifford - 1862

A Gorge in the MountainsSanford Robinson Gifford – 1862
This breaks all the “rules” of composition, yet looks and feels beautifully balanced and lyrical. Space is used to emphasize the edges and also allow the warmth of the sun to convey meaning.

In The Blue Mountains, Jamaica - Frederic Edwin Church (1865)

In The Blue Mountains, JamaicaFrederic Edwin Church (1865)
Shapes and lines dominate this composition, creating a wonderful rhythm that adds lots of depth and space to the landscape. Notice the use of diagonals – even the foreground tree bends to create a graceful gesture.

Forest In Morning Light - Asher B Durand, 1855

Forest In Morning LightAsher B Durand, 1855
Durand was masterful with forest scenes that often as so difficult to photograph successfully. But rather than remove chaos, he demonstrates how to carefully use lines and repetition together with light and shadow.

El Capitan, Yosemite - Albert Bierstadt - 1875

El Capitan, YosemiteAlbert Bierstadt – 1875
Wonderful lines, repetition, rhythm, texture – this painting has it all and yet it’s the light that creates the depth and divides the image diagonally. Notice that all the corners are used to make the composition as strong as possible.

Loch Coruisk, Isle of Skye - Sidney Richard Percy, 1874

Loch Coruisk, Isle of SkyeSidney Richard Percy, 1874
Another great example of repeating strong lines and repeating shapes to lead the viewer through the image.

Going Further

Of course, this is not an absolute list, but merely my suggestions to get you started. Most importantly, visit museums, read art books in your local library, and take advantage of the internet to discover and learn about painters that inspire you. If you have an iPad, “Art Authority” is a must buy app, a true gold mine for learning about paintings throughout history. Also check out The Athenaeum, a free website that is cataloging the worlds paintings.

The best part is that regardless of whether you shoot landscapes, wildlife, portraits, or weddings, there is a wealth to learn from painters. Take advantage of it, and take time off from Flickr and other photo sharing sites – I promise it will be worth it.

I also lead a unique workshop in the Hudson Valley where we study the painters of the Hudson River School and use their approach to photograph and interpret the landscape in a contemporary way.

Explore your vision Visit this  page to find out more about the upcoming  workshop in September, 2015. 

Any ideas or suggestions for paintings? Do you have any comments, questions, or feedback? Need more suggestions? Let me know…I’m always happy to help.

How to Avoid Burnout and Make Your Photography Meaningful

At the very first art fair I exhibited in, I met another photographer who was a veteran of the art fair circuit. I introduced myself, and we chatted about his work, past experiences, and what to expect from the weekend ahead. He was pleasant and laid back, and willing to answer all of my questions. Naturally I asked him for some advice about pricing and sales. He gave me some general advice about making a good first impression and being professional. We talked about demeanor, confidence, and developing a thick skin for criticism.

But he also said something that caught my attention and has stayed with me ever since. He said he had similar discussions with new photographers eager to sell their work every year. But by the following year most were gone replaced by a new crop eager to try their hand at selling. He said the key was sticking around long enough to build a good reputation, developing a solid following, and showing up rain or shine.

“They come and go every year…only a few stick around when things get tough, and they realize it’s a lot more work than they ever imagined.”

I couldn’t help but think of my own mindset, and told him committed I was to being one of the rare few who stick it out. It was a somewhat discouraging end to the conversation, but he was right about the fact that most don’t get past the first year or two. It reminded me of the well-known statistic that most business’ fail in the first three years.

In retrospect, it was just the thing I needed to hear. It was like fuel for motivation, and I became even more determined to succeed. Part of that came from my previous career as a music producer where I had faced many of the same challenges.

Fear, discouragement, lack of focus, and mental and emotional burnout.

The reason I transitioned to photography wasn’t because I gave up on music, it was because I needed to find a creative outlet that gave me a better sense of personal fulfillment. I didn’t have a clear sense of identity. I needed to find more meaning in my creative work, and the music career I was in just didn’t provide that for me. But the fire still burned inside, and over the course of a few years I discovered what I’m sure is my true voice.

I did the art fair circuit for five years and over 30 shows. I met lots of great people, developed some great friendships, and sold more prints than I ever imagined I would. It also taught me a great deal about confidence and identity, things I would depend on when I questioned my commitment and my abilities.

Do you photograph for the public or yourself?

You learn there is only one true choice. Following the whims and tastes of the general public will result in work that is less fulfilling, not more. And those that do put their money where their mouths are buy your work because it resonates with them, not because you’re trying to please everyone.

“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” – Mark Twain

Eventually I decided to stop and pursue other goals, including writing books and teaching workshops, both of which I love to do. I also got tired of the travel and time commitment required to be successful. But I don’t regret doing the fairs at all, and I advise those who are ready and committed enough to consider them. It’s a great way to grow as an artist and business person, and will make you think deeply about selling photography to the general public. It’s not as easy as it may appear.

I share all of this to make a similar point about succeeding as a photographer. Success, whatever that means for you, is largely a function of showing up over the long term. It’s not about the cameras you buy, the gear you carry, the software you use, or even how good your images are. It’s also not about how many likes or shares you get on social media outlets.

“The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.” — Bruce Lee

I’ve seen lots of photographers excel at all of these over the years, spectacularly so. Some were students, some were online acquaintances, some were just names I came to recognize. But a regular thing happens. They seem to come and go. Only a handful seem to remain beyond the short term successes of making good photographs and grow as creative photographers . I think that’s because they consider what success means for them. They commit to developing their voice.

The rest burn out.

2015-08-05 06.28.31
Showing up every day means committing to the work regardless of whether you feel inspired or not.

For me, success is about consistency, showing up every day to do work that matters. As a photographer, that’s more than just taking pictures though that’s important to do regularly as well. Many think that’s the only thing that matters. You’ll hear things like practice makes perfect, and carry your camera with you all the time. But only perfect practice makes perfect, and to do that, you need to define what perfect practice is for you.

“Your work must be rooted in something of substance so that you don’t blow with the winds of change or challenge.” – Todd Henry

If you don’t feel compelled to photograph a particular subject, then you won’t do it consistently.

If you float around from one genre to another, then you won’t photograph any of them consistently.

And if you don’t take the time to decide what you want to accomplish with your photography, or for that matter your creative potential, then you can’t work on it consistently.

Growing the level of awareness of your work can only take you so far. Without a clear sense of what you want to say, you’ll run out of steam, become inconsistent, and become uninspired. I’ve seen it happen too many times. I’ve experienced it myself.


I love nature, and try to explore that connection in as many ways as possible, including drawing.

Many of us get into photography for the gear and technology, the excitement of being in nature, or the false lure of endless creative possibilities. But I think the primary reason we choose to become creative is to share our vision of the world with others. To make a difference, large or small. It doesn’t matter whether you are a professional photographer, aspire to become one, or simply enjoy photography as a hobby. It’s too difficult to sustain over any significant amount of time without it giving you some valuable rewards.

I would suggest that not only do you want it to be meaningful, it must be meaningful to make you feel like you’re investing your time and energy into something that matters. If that’s the case, then you must consider these deeper questions.

To develop a healthy commitment requires having a solid foundation. Discover that first, and then think about how you can manifest that every day. It will change your life for the better.

Questions or comments? Please share them below, I’m always happy to help.

August 2015 Free Desktop Wallpaper – Mohonk Preserve

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

As always, come closer to nature in the Hudson Valley.

WP-Aug-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”).