Finding you Favorite Photographs

Riding the Rails, Rock Island State Park, Tennessee

How do you decide if you really like one of your own images?  I’ve found that my first response to an image is not very reliable in the long run. Some, of course, are instant favorites and remain a favorite in the future. But frequently I’ll find that my initial infatuation with an image quickly fades.

I also find that when I revisit my images at a later date, I find favorites that I may have passed by at first. The image above is a good example. When I first reviewed that day’s take I thought it was OK, but it didn’t really sing for me. It was only later when I returned to the image later and spent some time with it that I began to really enjoy the color and symmetry it offers.

The photo, by the way, is from the Rock Island State Park in Tennessee. It’s a little off the beaten path and takes a bit of back road navigation to find, but it’s well worth the trip.

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Is Photography Art?


Antelope Canyon Winter Colors - is photography art?

I describe myself as a “fine art photographer.” A few years ago I would have felt awkward and pretentious using that description, but success selling my work in art galleries has helped me feel more comfortable. However, there are still those who contend that photography is not art, and certainly not “fine art.” (See this recent article on “The Online Photographer” blog.)

So, what is art? The Wikipedia definition reads, “Fine art refers to a skill used to express the artist’s creativity, or to engage the audience’s aesthetic sensibilities, or to draw the audience towards consideration of more refined or finer work of art.”

For me, I simply like to think of art as the confluence of craft and vision. The best art is created from an abundance of both. Likewise, a piece will fall short if either component is lacking.

Consider Michelangelo’s “David.” It’s a widely considered to be a masterpiece, and exhibits Michelangelo’s mastery of his craft (carving), but much of the appeal also comes from the pose and expression (vision).

When you admire a painting, you admire the craft and precision of the brush strokes, but you also look at the scene. If the scene doesn’t appeal to you, then the craft of the painting doesn’t mean much, at least not to you. A perfectly forged copy of a masterpiece is nearly worthless; it exhibits great craft, but no original vision.

Likewise, photography is a combination of craft and vision. Ansel Adams once said, “There’s nothing worse than a sharp photograph of a fuzzy concept.”  In some ways, the advent of digital photography has made the craft easier, and in some ways it’s harder. Today’s digital photographers need to also be digital technicians where in the film days most relied on specialized custom processing labs to develop and print their images.

I think one reason many people don’t appreciate the art of photography is that they’ve never learned the difference between a snapshot and an expertly crafted  fine art photograph. After all, it looks easy if you don’t really know how it’s done. We’ve all tried our hands at drawing and painting. Some of you found you had a real talent for it.  The rest of us learned we don’t have that talent, but we have a better understanding of the level of craft it takes to create a painting.

Vision is the other differentiating element. When you feel moved or inspired by a photograph, remember that image wouldn’t exist but for the vision of the photographer. The photographer made decisions about where to place the camera and knew what camera settings were important. They also may have had a hand in creating the scene through posing and lighting. And they certainly choose the moment in time to snap the shutter.

After the image was captured, the photographer continues to apply their vision during post-processing. Should the image be cropped? What about the brightness and colors? Should some of the colors be modified to be more harmonious or give the scene a different feel?  What about black and white instead of color? Again, it’s the photographer’s vision that shapes the final rendering of the scene.

Of course, scarcity is another parameter that adds value to artwork. Paintings and sculptures exist as copies of one. Music, on the other hand, is typically recorded, and the more copies sold the better. With the internet, many things are readily available - and hardly scarce. Anyone with access to the internet can see the photo at the top of this post, but a large, finely prepared archival print with my signature is somewhat rare. (Actually, more rare than I’d like it to be.)

My fine art photography may appeal to you, or it may not. That’s OK, we all have different tastes. Either way, I hope we all learn to appreciate all forms and styles of art and creativity, even those forms that aren’t necessarily our favorites.


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A Simple Image with a Little Something Extra

Edisto Beach State Park, South Carolina

I describe many of my fine art photographs as “graphically simple; technically precise” and this image from Edisto Beach State Park in South Carolina is a good example. A quick glance at the image reveals an arc and two straight lines, one line at a diagonal and one horizontal. There are distinct textures within each shape bounded by the lines creating distinct foreground, middle-ground and background regions. And as always, I love the warm/cool color combination.

This image is also provides a good lesson in persistence. Edisto Beach is pretty featureless, so there weren’t rock piles and driftwood formations to use to make a dramatic image. This particular morning the sky was devoid of any clouds that would add to the sunrise.

What the beach does have though are lots of shells, and many of them are grouped into shallow mounds spaced every 50 feet or so along the beach. By locating my camera on one of the mounds I was able to set up an interesting texture in the foreground, create the conditions for the waves to wrap around to create the arc, and also keep my feet dry. Then it was just a matter of finding the right timing for the waves to create interesting shapes.

Then the bird came hopping along. It seemed to have a finely tuned sense for which waves would be a threat and which it could safely ignore. Eventually it worked its way into my frame and posed for a few quick exposures before being chased off by the waves. For me, it’s the bird that really makes the image interesting.

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A Colorful Sunset in Southern Illinois

Garden of the Gods, Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois

It’s hard to believe these rocky cliffs are located in Southern Illinois. The Shawnee National Forest has lots of beautiful areas, but the Garden of the Gods region has to be near the top of anyone’s list.

When I teach photography I like to spend some time talking about sunsets and sunrises. I think a lot of people miss the best part, and the evening I took this photo was a good example. There were quite a few people gathered on the rocks watching the sun go down. But, as soon as the sun dropped below the horizon, 90 percent of the people packed up and left – and they missed the dramatic light show that happens about 20 minutes after sunset.

The same goes for sunrise, but then the best time may be 20 minutes before sunrise. Those periods before sunrise and after sunset are called “civil twilight” and that’s the time when the most dramatic colors develop.

The next time you’re watching a sunset, stick around a little while and enjoy the show.

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Photographing a Figure of Speech

Colder than a witch's tit

With the approach of another cold Illinois winter I thought I’d revisit one of my fine art photos from 2013.  There’s a saying about how cold it gets around here along the lines of, “It’s colder than a witch’s …” Well, you know the rest.

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