Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Craft of Photography

Looking at all of my old images has gotten me thinking a little more philosophically about photography.  Now, to snap you a clear picture up front, I am not the most technically proficient photographer.  I’ve always struggled with the mechanics of photography and the superficial quality of my images suffers accordingly.
I’ve been told I have a good eye for photography and I’ve tried to develop that over time.  My personal feeling is that I have a long way to go in developing it, but every once in a while I accidentally capture an amazing image.  My great images get buried in a deluge of mediocre-at-best photos and some bad editing.  I’m weak at color balance.  I can crop out bad composition with the best of them, but I have ruined good pictures with a heavy hand on the photoshop buttons.
What I’d like to delve into is how I get images.  I touched on it a little yesterday, but I have a deep philosophy on the who, what, when, where and how of taking good photos.  Of my two photographic skills (the other being an eye for composition) this might be the stronger.
Basically my philosophy is to be in the right place at the right time.  It’s being ready to capture the images as best as I can.  Sometimes I know I’m not going to get the image I want because I don’t have the right lens or that I don’t have the knowledge.  The internet has been great at providing some good on-the-fly education as well as helping me to plan for some big images I wanted to capture.  Most notably has been the attempts to capture meteor showers and other night sky phenomenon.  


The photo of the fireworks in downtown Denver in my previous post exemplifies my philosophy.  We had heard that the city was going to put on a “family” fireworks show at 9pm on New Year’s Eve.  I did my research, found out where the fireworks were going to be fired off from, and then determined the best place to set up and get the shots I wanted.  I’d had some meager experience shooting fireworks from the Fourth of July that year.  I knew where I had made mistakes and I was prepared to do better.
Everything went off without a hitch.  I love the image I share in my last post.  Technically it was an order of magnitude better than my previous efforts.  I snagged the image I wanted.  But of course I had to go to the image.  I didn’t wait for it to come to me.
The photo of Tomahawk on Furnace Mountain was an image I had in my mind for a few months, but it was totally providential.  I was on my way home after picking Boone up from my sister-in-law’s house and saw Tom headed for that overlook on his bike.  I slowed down and told him what I wanted to do, turned around in the middle of the road, and went back and waited for him to ride past.  It was impromptu but also staged.  The light was bad, and I hate Tom’s shirt, but I got a decent representation of the image I wanted.
I go into the evolution of an image in this post from the Pavement’s Edge.  It’s possible you might see a more advanced form of the Furnace Mountain image at some point in the future, but my real point is that sometimes a good image comes from months or even years of development in the mind and through moving yourself to better and better locations to find the more perfect composition, lighting, and subject matter. 
Sometimes it’s difficult to get the right lighting and that takes the determination to revisit a place, no matter how difficult to get back to, to get the best conditions.  Better yet to plan ahead and be there in good light the first time.  
Another key to capturing good images it to be willing to step out of your normal life stream and take the image.  Early in my photography someone told me to take my camera everywhere.  I don’t do that—except I do carry my iPhone everywhere—but I try to have it when I know I’ll be inclined to take photos or when the possibility for good subject matter or good light will exist.
But the other component of that is to be willing to pull the car over or even turn it around and stop and take the photo.  The black and white chapel photo in yesterday’s post was like that.  I was returning home from a conference in Estes Park in some heavy, wet, early season snow and we drove past the Chapel on the Rock in Allenspark.  With the snow coming off Longs Peak, the shining snow white of the roof, and the rough texture of the stone walls I was stricken.  Mandy said: “So turn around and go back.”  So I did.  My family sat patiently in the car as I snapped four photos of the building.  They are some of my favorite photos to date.  There’s something about the ambiance.  It looks a like a storm off the mountain is getting ready to overwhelm the building even as it shines in the sun. 
To me it’s worth the effort to carry the camera along on my adventures.  That image of Mandy summiting the Third Flatiron is one I love.  There is a lot of personal history there.  It hearkens back to our childless days when we were mostly carefree and had some great adventures.  That day was special to me because we got to relive the “good old days” for a brief moment and it was a big adventure to boot, not just some pretend mock up.
I’ve learned to take decent photos from the saddle of my bike.  That photo of Tom on the Switzerland Trail was taken as I rode along the rough road behind him.
My propensity for lonely places has taught me to get clean photos like the one of the crowdless panorama of Chicago’s Millennium Park and the Cloud Gate sculpture.  I had to get up really early to get that and a few others of the famed sculpture.  Of course I was out on a run and took them with my phone.  I’ve learned not to instantly discredit images because of the device used to capture them.

Sunrise from Natural Bridge taken with phone camera

Well, that’s another good rambling non-lesson on photography.  I hope it might inspire you to go out and capture some good images of your own to share.

On a side note: my wife and I used to be notorious for taking good self-portraits.  We have a lot of photos of the two of us in places we visited because we stopped to take the photo.  I had learned how to take arm’s length self-portraits back in my film days so we have a series of photos of the two of us in good focus with some stunning backdrops.  My all-time favorite photo of us (and of myself I might add) is in the fading afternoon light on top of Table Rock, North Carolina after climbing Helmet Buttress and Block Route. 

We have the original color print hanging on our fridge

Last night was a crazy moon and storms were rolling through.  I stepped outside and saw the moon illuminating huge white cumulonimbus with silver light.  I ran back in and grabbed the camera and tripod but nasty gray lower clouds obscured them before I could get setup.  I grabbed the best images I could get.  The clouds were moving so fast that at a long shutter speed I just couldn't get a clear image.  These were the best two.


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