In early December I traveled to Carmel then on to San Francisco to visit a photography exhibition of the work of photographer Evan Walker at the San Francisco Museum of Art. This route took me through Moss Landing, where Sea Otters can often be found frolicking in an inlet near the tiny town of Moss Landing. On prior visits I went to a platform just past Moss Landing that I thought would allow me to get close enough to photograph these wonderful creatures, but was always disappointed with the results: they were too far away. This time, I drove into and through Moss Landing (which maybe took one minute!) and found that I could actually get on the rocks right near where the funny little creatures fished for food and played. The timing, light-wise, was not the best but I was willing to give it a try anyway and it actually turned out that I had about an hour to photograph the little guys.
It is really difficult to get Sea Otters in an attractive position. They move constantly and many of the photos showed the Sea Otter looking more like a wet rat than anything else. Also, and I ask myself why this is but I have no answer, I did not set my camera properly for the best results. I did, however, manage to get a few good shots where the otter is looking pretty cute. I guess I’ll just have to plan another visit to try it again sometime soon!
Composition and Art Form
I attended a weekend photography conference a couple of weeks ago. One of the speakers was a man named Seth Resnick, someone that I had never heard of before. I loved his presentation and it helped to continue my already started push in the direction of composition (this includes many things) as everything in a photo.
While I know about composition and shoot with it in mind, I was not fully aware of the power of photographing through the eyes of composition. I saw this clearly when I viewed some proof sheets during an exhibition of the prints of Werner Bischof, one of the first members of Magnum Photos. Every single proof sheet reflected compositionally correct photos, sheet after sheet, I could see the compositional elements in every little proof sheet photo. It was hammered into my head yet again during the Seth Resnick presentation.
Seth told a story about someone coming up and asking him what he was shooting and he said,”texture.” The person asked again and Seth said again, “texture.” It’s not the actual subject that we see as artists but instead the composition and art elements surrounding a subject that makes the image come together and work as a whole. This is called vision and this is what we should strive to shoot for, our vision of the scene with the subject in it but surrounded by whatever other elements make the scene work.
I gave some thought to what does make a scene work and I came up with five compositional categories: Spatial Relationships, Weather, Art Form, Symbolism, and Emotion. I’m still defining what this all means to me but I think the best photographs will mostly fall into one or the other (or maybe more than one) of these categories. I will continue to give this some thought and ponder how it might affect my ability to create fine art photos. Perhaps really great photographs are about the situation you find the image in more than about the image itself.
Some of the examples below include form, texture, weather, emotion, color (what other elements of composition and design do you see?). As I shot each photograph I thought of all the things named prior to taking the shot and each shot ended up being what I wanted it to be. If you are not currently shooting with this in mind you might consider giving it some thought: it could be a new way of seeing the potential of your images.
I had the opportunity to see the most amazing thing, short of heading out to Antarctica or Greenland perhaps, right here in the USA…beautiful rainbows riding in very turbulent waves. This happened at Goat Rock Beach on the Northern California coastline. Gives credence to the right time and right place saying! It was around noon and there we were at the beach, so we were all looking for something that might work in the bright afternoon sun. I started with simply shooting the giant waves, mixed with dark sand and grit due to the undertow in the area, and some of the photos were looking pretty good, so they were a “maybe”. Then I realized I was seeing rainbows on the waves and I got really excited, jumping around like a kid in a candy store. I shot over 1,000 waves in the sequence. When I shoot sequence shots I generally start right at the beginning and go until I’m certain the sequence is over; it’s easy to delete and I have more certainty of getting a decent shot.
I started shooting the rainbow waves with my Nikon D800 as I normally shoot my landscape shots with that camera. I realized quickly, however, that I would not get the sequence shots and that is what I wanted. I ran to the car and changed to my Nikon D500. I shot wave sequence after wave sequence and got many usable shots. The fast action and large buffer of the D500 was right on target in getting the shots in action.
I processed the shots using Lightroom, my normal go-to processing program and it did a fairly good job overall. The brush tool worked well on the rainbows and the neutral density filter tool worked to take down the highlights on the hillside. All-in-all, a good day of shooting on the beach.
Venice is a city of doors, alleys, windows, bridges and more. You can get lost within minutes, even when attempting to follow the signage. The mostly narrow main streets are filled with throngs of people as are the mostly narrow canals, although in the canals, of course, the people are in motorboats or gondolas. There are several hundred gondolas and the operators offer gondola rides from morning light to end of day. The buildings are massive in some cases, mostly the churches, and very tiny in other cases, mostly the “fast food” places, pizza, gelato, coffee, etc. Then there are the plazas, which are wide open and spacious and most offer benches to sit on. People gather in the plazas to chat, let the dogs and kids run, and to eat gelato or have a drink, coffee, wine, or beer mostly. The plazas always have a sit-down restaurant or two with linen covered tables and hard chairs, maybe so that you do not sit too long!
As a photographer I was drawn to the open windows and doorways, the dark and hidden pathways, the laundry (there are no dryers, or so it seems), to shapes, to color, and to reflections. I was also drawn to taking photographs, for the most part, without people as the primary subject, although I do have a few of those, too. The early mornings were good for this and the light, at times, was beautiful.
I do not take photographs to win awards, but I do like to take photographs that win awards. I always try to take the best photograph possible and I always hope, once I've entered a competition, that one of my photographs will receive an award. Over time, I've been lucky in that numerous photographs have received awards. On September 14th I found out that two of my photographs, entered into the Madera County Arts Council's Celebrate Agriculture, both won awards.
One of the exhibition categories was California Crops and my photo, Dancing Cherries, won First Place. Another category was Water and my photograph, More Than Enough, won an Honorable Mention. I love taking agricultural photographs and was very happy to receive both awards in this always very well-managed competition.
Dancing Cherries, see photo below, was taken in my office using a Nikon D800 camera and a Nikon 105mm f/2.8 Macro lens with an ISO of 100 on a Manfrotto tripod. I bought 2 pounds of cherries from a corner vendor with the idea of photographing them, although I was not sure at that point what the setup for the still life would look like. When I got home I brought out some props, including some old-fashioned looking paper and glass Ball jars, and begin arranging the cherries. I knew that I also wanted to try photographing the cherries on a mirror to see how that might turn out. I do not have a lighting setup and usually use whatever light or lights I can find around the house, always setting the still life up on a table by a window with light from the east (the only window direction I have in my studio). I played with the props I had and took several photographs of cherries in a bowl and in glass jars and I liked the end result of that grouping. Then I set a small group of cherries on a mirror and started to work with that, turning the cherries and arranging them in ways that I thought were attractive. I kept working with the arrangement and the light until I got something I believed I could work with in Lightroom and Photoshop to finalize the product. I had to “clean up” the image in Photoshop and then worked in Lightroom until I had the final product I had envisioned, Dancing Cherries.
More Than Enough, see photo below, was a product of the torrential rains in our area; after a long term drought though, the rains were more than welcome. I was driving east on Hwy. 12 through agricultural land toward the town I live in, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The heavy rains the day prior had flooded the valley orchards. I couldn’t help but stop at a walnut orchard to get some photos of the trees. The large ponds of rainwater were holding fairly clear reflections of the orchard trees. The setting seemed most appropriate for a black and white photograph and More Than Enough was created. This photo was shot with my Nikon D800 and a Nikon 24-120mm mid-range lens, on a tripod at 100 ISO.