When I speak to camera clubs, I’ve noticed that most of them have some sort of monthly competition and/or the critiquing of images. And if you’ve read my blog for very long, you know that I am not a fan of either.
Starting with my article “Art is Not a Competition” and ending with my “Why I Don’t Critique Other People’s Work” I’ve argued that neither competition or critiquing is conducive to developing one’s own Vision.
Instead I’ve made the case that rather than learning about what others think of your work, you should decide how you feel about it. And that can only come from having a Vision and then honestly appraising how well you expressed that Vision.
Recently, after one of my presentation and during the Q&A session that followed, someone asked me this question (paraphrased):
“So based on what you’ve said tonight, I’m guessing you would not agree with our club’s monthly competition and critiquing of images?”
Wow, what was I going to say? I had met with the club’s executive committee earlier that evening and had learned about their many well organized activities, which included those monthly competitions and critiques. These were nice people, good people, sincere people who believed in what they were doing.
In a split second I had to decide how to answer that question: should I avoid giving offense by offering an artful “non-answer” or should I tell the truth?
I told the truth.
As I stood there expressing my opposition to competitions and critiques, the thought occurred that I should also offer an alternative. And so here is my suggestion to camera clubs as an alternative to competitions and photo critiques.
Once a year have each person bring an image that they really love and have them explain the story behind the image.
- How they came to create it.
- Did they have a Vision for that image, and if so, when did it emerge?
- Have them talk about their creative process.
- Have them explain where they feel that they hit or missed the mark.
- Have them tell the group why they love this image (this is the most important item!)
And then let the audience ask questions and make supportive comments. Instruct the audience not to discuss the technical aspects of the image or ask technical questions and most importantly, refrain from giving advice or explaining how they themselves would have created this image.
In a sense this would be a “show and tell” that focuses on what the person intended and how they feel about their work, rather than what others think or would have done.
Initially some may find this approach challenging, because they may not feel that they have a Vision, while others may want to ask technical questions and offer suggestions. But with a good moderator and some practice, I think that it would be beneficial to focus on the creator and their Vision.
If you think this idea has merit, please suggest it to your club!
Sometimes it seems that everyone is either an expert or a critic! Show your work to 10 people and you may well end up with 10 different opinions about your image. Why? Because everyone has an opinion.
So who should you listen to when it comes to your images? Family, friends, art experts, gallery owners, curators, MFA’s, other successful photographers? Who?
My suggestion is that you ignore all criticism, praise and advice and listen only to yourself. Why? Because other people’s comments about your image reflects their tastes, their ideas and their Vision. So no matter how well intentioned or how much of an “expert” they are, their advice is going to miss the mark when it comes to your Vision.
We all know how damaging harsh criticism can be; it can discourage, demotivate and cause you to doubt your potential. But even constructive criticism delivered in a kind and gentle way can mislead you and take you off track. That’s because others don’t know your Vision of the image, only you know that.
I was once told that I should not center “The Angel Gabriel.” At first this advice caused me to doubt my Vision and I actually tried to re-crop the image off center. It was a disaster because that was not how I saw the image. Right or wrong, for better or for worse, centered was the way I see Gabriel.
Strangely enough, I also find that praise can be disruptive to Vision. Praise sounds so sweet and we so want to believe it, but it can take us off track. There are many images that I’ve pursued but did not love simply because they generated praise. Praise is addictive and hard to ignore, but you must for the same reasons you should ignore criticism.
There was a time in my photographic life that I would ask people what they thought about my work. Why? Because I didn’t know where I was going and I mistakenly thought I could find the answers by asking others. I could not.
There’s an infinite number of voices out there and even if you had the time to listen to all of them, that would not help you find your Vision. That can only come from a great deal of hard work and solitary introspection. There is no other way.
So how do I view criticism, praise and advice? I try to be appreciative of the person’s sincere intentions but take their advice with a grain of salt and do my best to not let it sway my own opinion of my work (for good or for bad). Only I know my Vision and how closely I hit or miss the mark, and for that reason I believe that my opinion is the only one that matters.
When I see people asking for advice on their images, it suggests to me that they may not have found their Vision. And when you have not found your Vision, you are uncertain and need advice and reassurance from others.
Find your Vision and ignore criticism, praise and advice.
I’ve returned from my first outing with my new Canon 5DSr and wanted to report back on what I thought of my first images.
The image above was shot at 1/80 of a second and I was impressed with the quality. I was able to blow it up much larger than images from the 5D Mk III and have it hold its detail. I am happy with the quality of this image.
The next image is from the Spiral Jetty on the Great Salt Lake, this image was shot at 240 seconds:
The quality of this image was very disappointing. I opened the RAW file and it was so noisy that I didn’t think that I could salvage this image. By using the dust and scratch filter in Photoshop and by adding grain, I was able to make this image “acceptable.”
I suspected the noise came from the long exposure and I was in fact worried about this going in. The larger number of pixels packed into the same area means that the pixels are smaller and more prone to noise, especially during long exposures. But I didn’t expect this poor of a result.
I then found the same image that I had shot at 120 seconds and compared a blown up section of the two:
The noise at 120 seconds is reasonable while at 240 seconds the noise is completely unacceptable. I only have a few shots to judge this by, but all of my longer exposures have this noise and so I’m sorry to report that my first results with the 5DSr are disappointing from a long exposure perspective.
I will do some formal testing to see how exposure times affects noise levels. As I learn more, I’ll let you know what I find. And if you know something about this issue, please share it with everyone.
I’m on the road in Utah and Nevada with my 5DSr and I wanted to report in with some first impressions. Unfortunately I cannot post any images until I return home.
The new camera looks, feels and handles like the 5D Mk III and so I was able to get up to speed relatively quickly. That was nice. However to take full advantage of the many new features, I will have to spend some time going through the menus. As always, the number of features is overwhelming.
There are two new features that immediately caught my eye and got me excited for long exposure work, they are:
Delay After Mirror Lockup: You can set the shutter to trigger after the mirror has flipped up and settled down, making sure the vibrations are gone before the shutter opens. I have mine set to 1/2 second.
This means that mirror lockup can now be a one button press just like a regular shutter! I cannot tell you the number of times I had forgotten to turn off the old two-button mirror lockup and then pressed the shutter once thinking I was taking a picture, when I was not. This new feature will help avoid that mistake.
Bulb Timer: You can now set the length of your bulb exposure in the camera! No more using your watch (and forgetting where you started) and I can now ditch the digital kitchen timer that was always going off in my camera bag just as I was going through security.
Now let me combine these two features and show you why I think this is so great for long exposures. I can now press the shutter button once and the following occurs:
- The mirror flips up and settles down
- A half second later the shutter opens
- The shutter stays open for as long as I’ve programmed it for
- The shutter closes by itself
I can still choose to shoot with a cable release, but now if I forget to bring one, lose or break it, I can still shoot long exposures. I had this problem on Easter Island when both of my cable releases went bad and I was really in a pickle.
These new features means that I no longer “need” a remote shutter release (although I still choose to use one for convenience) but the important thing is that I’ll never be stranded like that again.
One issue Canon did not address is the light entering into the camera through the eyepiece which caused internal reflections on the left and right sides of the 5D Mk III images. I had suggested to Canon that they put a small shutter on the viewfinder that automatically triggered during long exposures…but they didn’t.
To address this I had been using a hat to cover the camera during exposure, but in wind this didn’t work too well. So I build a “flap” that mounted to the hot shoe:
Unfortunately the flap doesn’t seal well enough around my Hoodman HoodEYE eyecup and so I ended up using the hat trick again. I’ll need to work on this contraption some more.
Note: Many people point out to me that Canon provides a small viewfinder block that you can slip into the eyepiece. Unfortunately this block does not work with the Hoodman HoodEYE installed and the eyecup is required to get an accurate long exposure meter reading.
Summary: I purchased the 5DSr so that I could print my images larger and so it was an unexpected treat to find some new features that makes long exposure work easier. I like these new features very much!
I’ll not know what the images look like until I get home. I’m curious how the new 50mp sensor does with noise during long exposures since I found the Mk III to be noisier than the Mk II.
“Blizzard” is a favorite image of mine and yet it’s never been very popular. I often wonder about this; is the image only special to me because of my experience creating it or is it because seeing it on an electronic screen just doesn’t do it justice?
Here is the story behind the image:
It was springtime and I was headed to Washington, DC with appropriate spring clothing and my photo gear. I was anxious to create some new images, however once I arrived a late snowstorm rolled in and my “appropriate clothing” soon became inappropriate. In fact, calling it a snowstorm is an understatement, it was a blizzard.
It was 20 degrees but hadn’t started snowing and so I decided to go out to photograph. Here’s a self-portrait I created that evening:
As I arrived at the National Mall it started snowing heavily and soon I was the only one on the Mall. It was eerie feeling so isolated in the middle of a city and it being so quiet that the only sounds I could hear were the crunch of my shoes and sound of snowflakes hitting my face.
I was so poorly dressed for the weather, wearing only a hoodie with no hat or gloves, that my hands were soon frozen and I feared frostbite. But as I prepared to return, I saw this scene and just had to have it. However the image was easier envisioned than executed as my hands were numb and failed to respond. It was painfully difficult to work the camera controls, but I was able to get this shot which I called “Blizzard.”
I started walking the several miles back to my hotel but soon realized that I could not make it without thawing out my hands and warming up. Unfortunately it was late and I couldn’t find anything open. But then I saw what appeared to be a government building with a large lit lobby and security guard. I decided to go in and hoped they would take pity on my situation and allow me to warm up for a few minutes.
I entered the lobby of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and fortunately the guard who was to my right was preoccupied, so I went to the lobby on the left to shake off the snow and recover. But after only a few minutes the security guard discovered me, and apparently thinking I was a homeless person, headed my way with a loud “Hey! What are you doing in here!” It wasn’t really a question, but an accusation.
The guard was a very large woman and it was clear that I was no match for her! I tried to explain my plight but she would hear nothing of it and I was physically escorted back into the hostile world by the scruff of my neck. Fortunately those few minutes of stolen warmth were enough to sustain me and I did reach my hotel without permanent damage to my shutter finger!
I’m glad I stuck it out because I was able to create an image that I love, and I always tell myself that if I come home with just one good image, that my trip was successful.
“Blizzard” is a subtle image and viewing it on a monitor just doesn’t do it justice. As I write this blog I’m looking at a print and wishing that you could see it. I’ve printed it on Premier Platinum Rag which is a semi-gloss stock that you use matte inks with, which makes the blacks very flat and gives the highlights the most wonderful platinum sheen.
No matter how good an image looks on screen…it’s a revelation to hold a real print in your hands.
P.S. In a very small way I felt the indignity of being homeless. Here I was, harming no one and simply trying to stave off frostbite when I was treated like a thief and interloper. I know there’s always two sides to every situation, but this experience made me think about the plight of the homeless.
SOLD! SOLD! SOLD!
I’m selling my Canon 5D Mark II which includes only what you see in the picture above:
- Camera Body (no lens)
- Body cap
- Hoodman Eye Loupe
- Pocket Manual
The camera works perfectly and cosmetically is in excellent condition. I purchased it new and it’s the camera I’ve used to create many of the images on my website. For the last couple of years it was the backup to my Mark III and so recently was only lightly used.
Why am I selling it? Because my primary camera is now the 5DSr and my Mark III is my backup camera.
There are two things about the Mark II that I preferred over the Mark III: First the menu system is much simpler and second, the noise seems to be lower.
Many will ask what the shutter count is, but unfortunately Canon does not allow the user to obtain that information. There are third party apps that may be able to access that info, but I’m not comfortable using them.
Price? Research this for yourself and let’s talk.
I’d love this camera to go to someone I know and wants to go full frame. I’ll make the right person a very fair deal.
P.S. I’d prefer to keep this in the US due to shipping costs, but we can discuss this if you’re really interested.
Hello Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, I’m coming to speak!
What will I be speaking about? Black and White and Vision, of course.
If you live in the area, I’d love to meet you!
Nevada Camera Club in Las Vegas
Date: Friday, July 10th, 2015
Time: 7 pm
Location: Nellis Masonic Lodge #46
Address: 2200 West Mesquite Ave., Las Vegas NV 89106
Wasatch Camera Club in Salt Lake City
Date: Thursday, July 16th, 2015
Time: 6:30 pm
Location: Salt Lake Public Library
Address: 210 East 400 South, Salt Lake City, UT – 801-524-8200
My presentation is 75 minutes long and I’ll showing lots of images, telling lots of stories (some of which are even true) and talking about a lot of things including:
- Why B&W Appeals to Me
- What I Look for in a B&W Image
- My Conversion from Photographer to Artist
- Copying Ansel Adams
- My Vision Epiphany
- What is Fine Art?
- The Role of Equipment and Processes
- Listening to Other’s Advice
- Asking Others for Advice
- Photographic Rules
- Cole’s Rule of Thirds
- Photographic Celibacy
- How Long do Projects Take?
- Some Before and After Images
- My Six Photoshop Tools
- Always Stop!
- Comparing and Competing
- How I Choose a Project
- Be Open to New Possibilities
- How I Found My Vision
- Why do I create?
- How to Make Money From Your Photography
- And Many Stories From My Portfolios.
Whew…all this in 75 minutes!
And at the end, I’ll be giving away three prints.
I do hope that I’ll get a chance to meet you.
It was a rainy day up in the Colorado mountains and I decided to shoot indoors. I collected some seeds and leaves and placed them on this great wooden plate that I had purchased for such an occasion. I was shooting on the kitchen table using available light, which was the kitchen ceiling lamp.
So how did the image look to my camera?
I think the color image is rather boring and unremarkable. At first glance and without Vision, you might be tempted to throw it out. But I had a Vision of what it was to be.
A lot of this image’s “look” was obtained in the black and white conversion process, where I play with the color sliders to bring out or hide details. Click on the image above and look at the leaf just left of center, see how the veins have been brought out? The green slider had a lot of affect on this image.
For me, the step of converting the image to black and white is a critical part of fulfilling my Vision. That’s why I never accept the default b&w conversion or simply desaturate the image. I know what I want the image to look like, Photoshop does not.
Then after I had done as much as I could with the b&w conversion, I dodged and burned to bring out the contrast and highlights. I worked with a very small brush and worked every leaf, seed and nut individually. Sometimes it’s tempting to use a global tool such as the contrast adjuster, but that affects everything in the image equally and it rarely can produce a look equal to good dodging and burning.
The challenge was to take that boring color image and transform it into the black and white image that’s in my head.
For me, a black and white image is so much more interesting than a color one!
P.S. There’s something else interesting about the before and after image…it’s the sharpness. Did you notice that the b&w version seems so much sharper than the color image? It’s what I call “apparent sharpness” and it comes from contrast. This image has not been sharpened.