Friday, July 27, 2012

Taking Time Out

"Chipmunk Crossing"

Don't you love it? Took this on the Cherry Hill Gate trail down to the marshes last week with my friendly photography rambler Kelly. Someone working on the local bridge construction definitely had a sense of humour! And questionable spelling skills but I digress. We howled as we both raised our cameras...

How has your summer been friends? I hope it's been full to the brim with vacation days, dining out on patios with oodles of friends, quality time with the family, days spent pursuing a good book in the shade somewhere with a cold Dr.Pepper beside you. Well, something like that...

I get a week off next week and I find myself trying to decide what small photo project I want to set for myself as we take our family hiking, and on day trips into Toronto or Niagara... getting images of the family hanging out before one goes off to university and the other starts high school... and before my August bookings take over. I'm thinking I will keep my eye out for all things humorous... it lifts you up, giving you the chance to take a breath, and feel good. If the rest of my summer felt like that... I'd be laughin'! (Literally and figuratively... I know, I can hear you all groan...)

So enjoy your summer days... I'll be back with some new things on the blog in a week! Thanks for the ramble!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My Time In The Flowers...

"Eating Up The Sunshine"

When was the last time you sat down and reviewed your own work? A deliberate breakdown of what still works, and what has to change before you become stale or appear as if you aren't growing. Deciding what's unique to you, what you'll never change or what your images will always challenge. It's not on our list of the top ten things we enjoy about photography, but when I first started out as a photographer it was a practice I saw being mentioned constantly. But it's been a while since I've heard of anyone actively doing this, so I wanted to mention it today. I even reviewed my own recent work with a critical eye and mind set from my trip to our local perennial gardens, and thought I'd share what I found about my own journey into photography so far....

1) I go with my visual gut every time. And I get consistent results. Sure, I try to use guidelines and principles as my jumping off point for framing up a subject or view... but that's where it stops. If I'm forever trying to shoot within the rules, then I smother the creativity attempting to explore itself and expand itself. Take the above photo for instance. I know it's said that most scenes are better responded to when the viewer can explore the image from left to right... but this one doesn't need to work that way, your eye acknowledges that there's enough to balance out the left with the right side foreground subject. My natural eye didn't flip the scene in the garden before it felt interesting. So don't compromise what excites you for what's considered a normal practice. Sometimes the opposite is the best choice. Not every time, but often enough.

2) My best work is always grounded solely in who I am. I admire many different styles and approaches of photography and digital darkroom. But my art suffers when I try to emulate them too closely in an attempt to remain trendy. This isn't to be confused with choosing to remain stagnant or never grow in my craft, it's a choosing to make sure that when people see my images, they know without a doubt they're mine. There should be telltale signs. I love rich color, I love design elements and height in my B&W's, I love close, low perspectives, I always go for simple shapes and negative space to emphasize nature at it's best. These are tools that stem from my personal approach. If I deny that, my work will never really be mine. And for heavens sake, if you're out there mentoring another photographer, stick to critiquing on skill, not style. You don't want a Mini Me, you want to be able to call them on practices that affect how they shoot and work, not how the end result looks or feels. That should always be uniquely theirs.

3) I still have some stretching to do. I've told myself I need to get back into some street photography and more portraits to hone some skills I've left for too long. Flowers are a great confidence booster, there's no pressure to perform, you can take all the time you want, and you don't have to come out of your shell to talk to them. But if I want to use my photography in the real world I need to be fast with sizing up great light, flattering angles, and anticipating revealing moments... so time to get out of the gardens and into some projects where I'm still learning. Low light is on my radar for self improvement, as is more intimate portraits done right on the street within the community. I'm also still learning how to do a proper panorama, and adjusting B&W portraits for a better, more subtle wow factor.  These are all weak areas that need improvement and I'm not afraid to say it.

I have made a regular habit of peeling apart my little rambles, and sizing up what works and what gets neglected... it gets easier every time I do it. Go back to your last shoot and observe who you currently are behind the lens. It's always revealing!

Thanks for the ramble, and have a super day friends!!!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Nature and Floral Studies...

"Just Beginning..."

Our local park will never cease to be a source of inspiration to me. When I can't get away, or only have a small amount of time available, it's my go-to locale to dust off my skills and have some me time.

This study of a new sunflower is from a ramble I took last weekend. This was not done in a studio. This was out in a perennial bed at Gage Park. I love its color and the elegant way the greenery stretches to each corner or the frame. As I hovered near each brilliant flower or bud with my telephoto or prime lens, I noticed a gentleman watching me work as he wandered around the gardens. Finally curiosity got the better of him and he asked if I was busy taking pictures of only the flowers. I always find this question funny... I'm bent down, crawling on the ground at funny angles, aiming into clumps of flowers I'm obviously photographing classic cars. I said I was indeed and his next question was, "why so many?"

Where would I start? Nature studies are intense and fun at the same time? Floral studies demand I pay close attention to clean exposures, tiny details that will draw the eye, and to feed my need for beauty and color? By the time I'm done I always smell nice and flowery?

Instead of attempting to explain myself, I held up the back of my camera and showed him why. This image was on the view screen and he looked at it carefully then said, "That's THIS sunflower?" and pointed to my subject sitting across from us in the sun. I asked why he was surprised. He pointed to the stalk in the sun and asked why in my photo it was only black in the background, but clearly we could see all the bushes and greenery surrounding the sunflower not five feet away from us. I carefully explained that the bush just behind the flower was in shadow, and if I was careful about how I used my settings, I could use it like a dark screen and make the flower pop.
To my surprise, he asked me to take another one in front of him and prove it. I laughed and agreed. I set up the shot again, and then showed him my result in the screen once more. Satisfied, he shook my hand, asked if I had a website, and said he will watch for more photos from the garden.

We parted ways, and it got me thinking about how we intentionally use exposure to provide the viewer with the story and feelings we wish to create in a photograph. Not just because we know it's good photography to have a good exposure, but because it's a way to showcase the beauty around us. The visitor was expecting to see the rest of the garden within the frame along with my sunflower, and instead he experienced something dramatically different. And that's why I love floral studies.

Photography on any level should be able to do that for you too. Keep that in mind the next time you raise your camera to your eye. Have a great week, and thanks for another ramble, friends!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Whatever Makes Your Heart Soar...

"Sunshine in Your Heart"

I am seeing many blogs and articles lately that I suppose are there to challenge the average photographer. Posts about what's long out of style, what's the latest cool look, where the money is being made, where the money should be spent. Some make a living out of sticking their nose up at the learning photographer still calmly mucking their way through the world of pro photography, and some make a point of telling you to embrace every obstacle and seeing where it all leads.

In all of the mumblings, and overwhelming advice, I hope there are those who still encourage all artists and hobbyists alike to embrace whatever makes their heart soar. I mean it. If art is an expression of the artist's vision and purpose, then how important is it to stop emmulating everyone around you and just be you. Don't worry about what the trend is on 500px, don't fret over the fact that everyone else seems to have their act together, and don't sacrifice what only you can bring to your art for the chance to blend in with the thousands of others who are desperate to copy anything deemed the very best. Because at some point, on a whim, the powers that be will suddenly have a new "very best"... and it starts all over again.

As I work on a new business strategy (yep, STILL working on it... but that's okay in my world) for my photography, I still try to retain a grasp on who I am as a photographer and artist. Yes, I strive to grow. Yes, I try to hone my craft. But I cannot do well if my best is someone elses. Sometimes my need to just be me results in wandering through the local park and coming back with an image like the one above. An image to remind me that no matter what else I do with my skills, this is who I really am. I'm not sure we make an effort to know ourselves that well. We're too busy trying to keep up with everyone else and an industry that seems to be gathering momentum faster than a tornado in a trailer park.

Before you do anything else with your craft, make sure you remember to do whatever makes your heart sing. Whether it hangs in a gallery or hangs out on a website (or just hangs out in your craft room at home), make sure it's all you baby.

Thanks for the ramble gang.... and I'll try never to end a post with "it's all you baby" ever again. Well, hardly ever.