What I’m Reading This Month

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“A book is like a garden carried in the pocket.” ~Chinese Proverb

Part of keeping the creative juices flowing is being deliberate about cultivating creativity, which I’ve written about here at length before. While there are many ways to do this, one of my favorites is reading books and interesting blogs. Given how technology makes it so easy to read, whether from a tablet, Kindle, phone, or real book, there’s no real excuse not to engage in something that interests you wherever you are.

I’m constantly looking for old and new books to provide ideas, inspiration, and insights that help with all of the different parts of my life. Here’s what I’m reading this month!

  • Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky – a great read on productivity, and how to capture and execute your creative ideas with focus and clarity. For anyone who suffers from idea overload (like I do), this book provides guidance and case studies from artists, companies, and others who make their ideas happen. Consider this equation: Creativity + Organization = Impact. That explains why some “less-creative” artists seem to build successful careers more often, and why execution is more important than inspiration.
  • Letting Go of the Camera by Brooks Jensen – more than just another “how-to” book, this collection of essays by Brooks Jensen gets at the heart of what photography is all about. “If you want to become a better photographer, become a more practiced observer and then get out of your way.” Learn to “see” what really matters in photography, and how to grow beyond a dependence on technology.
  • Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain – Think you can’t draw? Think again – this book dispels the myth that only those with a natural talent for drawing and creativity can be artistic. We’re all inherently creative from birth, and as Picasso famously said, the challenge is remaining creative as adults. This books teaches anyone to draw, and in the process tap into their natural creative abilities in all parts of life.

Where do I find out about books to read? One great source is my favorite blog – Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings, which is amazing in its breath and scope. Reading and writing about any and all subjects that help enrich our lives, Maria delivers insights into creativity, philosophy, art, writing, science, and many other topics. She describes it as “a subjective lens on what matters in the world and why.”

No, it’s not a photography blog, but I get more value from it as a photographer and teacher than any other website I know of. Enjoy, and thanks for reading!

Guest Artist With Canson Infinity at the 2014 Photo Plus Expo

This coming week is the PDN Photo Plus International Conference & Expo in the Javits Center in NYC. It’s a great opportunity to keep up to date with the industry, get lots of freebies (including Canson paper), and meet new and interesting people. You can explore over 220 exhibits, attend over 80 conference seminars, keynote presentations, special events & much more.

Once again I’m honored to be invited by Canson Infinity as a guest artist during the three days of the expo. I’ll be at their booth answering questions, talking about paper and printing, and happy to chat about anything else on your mind. I’m really excited about showing an 11“x14” leather bound portfolio of 48 images beautifully printed on Canon Rag Photographique and bound by ACI Lab into an amazing book – a work of art for sure. There will also be a few of my images on display including some I have not shown in public before.

If you’re anywhere in the area this weekend, please stop in and say hello – I’m always eager to meet my online friends and supporters in person. And if you’re already a friend, stop in anyway!! For this who can’t make it, I share some photos here as soon as I can.

Place: Jacob Javits Center, NYC (34th + 11th)

Dates: Thursday Oct 28 – Saturday November 1, 2014

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Thoughts On Gratitude

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Eagle Lake, Acadia NP / Olympus E-M1, 1/125 sec@f/11, ISO 400, 24mm, no filters

Wow, I’ve finaly finished a long but enjoyable run of workshops – four in five weeks, plus a “side-trip” to Germany for Photokina. It’s good to be back home, and as I enjoyed a cup of coffee this morning before an early hike, I felt a need to share some thoughts about gratitude.

Over the past year teaching my workshops, I’ve met lots of great photographers and people, and every single one always makes me realize why I love teaching as much as I do. It’s an opportunity – a privilege really, to share nature, art, creativity, and meaningful experiences with kindred spirits. Every morning when the alarm sounds at 4:30am, I make sure to remind myself how I “get” to do what I do, instead of having to do what I do. And whether that’s teaching a long workshop, going out to photograph on my own, spending hours maintaining my website, or planning my marketing for the coming year, I try and take a moment each day to realize how lucky I am.

Gratitude is one of the best things you can express, with huge benefits for yourself and others around you. I haven’t always known that, but it’s one of the best practices I’ve ever adopted, personally and professionally.

“The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

“No one who achieves success does so without the help of others. The wise and confident acknowledge this help with gratitude.” — Alfred North Whitehead

The Challenges of Simplifying

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“Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful.” -John Maeda

I’m in Acadia National Park leading two workshops, and happened to make this image in order to illustrate the importance of simplicity to students. I also share that quote by John Maeda, which is one of my favorites and gets at the real essence of what simplicity really is. Certainly it is difficult to achieve, and often elusive as we try and capture everything we see and feel in a landscape. But what we truly see is usually not the entire landscape, but the most compelling aspects that create our experiences. The rest becomes the backdrop, the supporting “harmony” that lets the viewer clearly see what you reacted to when you pressed the shutter button.

For me in this image, it was the calm lying just underneath the turbulent drama of the clouds, the stillness of the rocks and water, with splashes of color to add to the richness of the moment. That’s it. Breaking those feelings down to basic visual components is what simplicity is all about, and this lets the viewer look beyond the individual elements, and maybe, just maybe, imagine that same sense of wonder. Whether or not you achieve that is not the important part, it’s whether you start out with that intent. If you do, you have a greater chance of making simpler images more often. That’s the whole point of the creative process.

I’ve made many images of Jordan Pond, but the simpler I make them, the more I feel they convey what I love about the place. It’s a journey – not always moving in the direction of success as quickly as we’d like, but definitely one that adds more meaning to the effort and the results when they do come our way.

Photo Journal: Autumn Hudson River

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I’m always amazed at how light can make the same places I’ve visited and photographed over and over again look and feel completely different. And while that’s a rarer experience the more you do visit a location, it doesn’t make that place any less attractive in my mind.

This spot on the Hudson is a prime example, and I’m often hesitant to visit thinking I’ve made all the possible images I can. Once again I was proved wrong, and I left with that familiar smile on my face that acknowledged how silly it is to try and predict nature, or assume anything at all about what might happen. As usual, patience was the deciding factor.

The morning started off dreary and gray, and I figured I’d just get out to see what the autumn colors looked like. When I reached this rocky perch after a very short hike, I could see warm patches of light starting to appear in the sky, and as they became stronger, I could also see their effect on the landscape – that beautiful warm glow on foliage and vegetation. This was almost an hour after sunrise, so I wasn’t thinking about the time, but focusing on what was actually happening in front of me. (You can photograph after the golden hour, contrary to what so many others suggest is not worth the time.)

Once I saw I had an opportunity because of the great light, I tried to create a composition that took advantage of the many layers already in the scene. The foreground rock I was standing on, the forested area in front and below it, the river, the mountains. But what attracted me the most was the dramatic sky, with big dark clouds breaking to reveal lighter clouds and blue sky towards the east. Dividing the image in “layers” like this adds depth, and allows the eye to move through the image easily without any distractions. While I tried a few shots without the foreground rock, it certainly added a textural and dimensional component that expanded the image to my liking, like a musical composition building in layers.

I exposed for the sky, making sure not to clip any highlights whatsoever. I could see the cloud textures easily, and so wanted to make sure I captured them completely – they would be the key to adding the drama and feeling I wanted to convey. I used a 12mm lens on my Olympus E-M1, no filters, and shot at f/11 to make sure I had plenty of depth of field. I focused about 8’ in front of the lens, to make sure I had good detail on the foreground and background mountains.

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Original raw image in Lightroom

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Adjustment brush used to mask the sky – I adjusted exposure, highlights, and clarity. Graduated filter does not work here since I have too many contours in the mountains to work around. 

Processing in Lightroom was straight forward, where I darkened the sky to bring back the drama and mood I wanted to convey. A little extra contrast and clarity help the textures become more significant, and I used some light dodging and burning to help add separation between the different layers.

Hope that helps, and please feel free to leave your questions and comments below.