Nov 21 2014

Which is the Best Camera, Lens and Paper?

2014 10 13 Isolated No 7 Final 11 13 2014 1000 Which is the Best Camera, Lens and Paper?

I’m often asked: what’s the best camera, lens or paper?

My answer is always the same: there is no “best.” Most cameras are excellent, almost all lenses are better than their masters and choosing a paper is simply about personal preference.

It’s easy to buy into the notion that the right equipment: camera, lens, accessories, plug-ins, printers or paper will transform our ordinary work into extraordinary images. However from my perspective great images are rarely great because they are technically perfect or printed on the right paper. 

Or put more bluntly: I don’t think it really matters which equipment or paper you choose because they are not the critical component in a great image!

If you find yourself spending a lot of time researching the “best” (fill in the blank)…let me suggest another approach to improve your images.

Focus on the Image

Focus on your Vision

Focus on Composition

I believe a great image is created mostly from Vision and composition, and that technical skills plays a much smaller supporting role. 

75 25 Vision Technical Skills Which is the Best Camera, Lens and Paper?

Which do you spend most of your time on? 

But some will say: can’t I seek both a great composition and technical perfection?

Yes, of course you can. But what I found in myself (and what I often see in others) was a tendency to spend the majority of my efforts on equipment, processes and technical issues, and very little time was spent working on my Vision or improving my composition.

I think the primary reason I did this was because I was insecure about my creative abilities, and I thought that I could compensate by excelling at the technical. And also let’s be honest, playing with equipment and learning new processes is just plain fun!

But Vision and composition is where the action is, and it’s how great images are created.




Nov 14 2014

Newsletter: 23 Images from Oregon

2014 10 13 Monolith No 82 Final 11 13 2014 1000 Newsletter: 23 Images from OregonMy newsletter is out and I’m introducing 23 new images from the Oregon Coast.


Nov 7 2014

Why I Create

2004 11 5 Bent Grass Against Barn Final 4 4 2011 750 Why I CreateBent Grass


When I was 14 and discovered photography, I created images for just one reason: for the pure joy of creating and personal satisfaction.

But over time I found that my motivations changed and I started to create for others and for praise.

Then I found myself creating to build a resume. I thought that I needed to prove, by the length of my resume, that I was a good photographer.

Then came the desire for fame. I created because I wanted to become famous and to be known as a great photographer.

Now at age 60 I have come full circle and it’s like I’m 14 years old again.

Once again I am creating simply for the joy of creating and for the satisfaction that comes when I craft an image that I love.

How ironic that a 46 year journey would take me to the same place where I started from.

I am so glad that I found my way back.


P.S. The above image was created a couple of years ago and it has always been a favorite of mine, but only today while writing this blog post did I understand why. It reminds me of what it was like to be 14 years old again, when I created for myself and didn’t care what anyone else thought.

Oct 31 2014

Extraordinary Vision Magazine – “How I Found My Vision” by Cole Thompson

image1 Extraordinary Vision Magazine   How I Found My Vision by Cole Thompson

I’m so happy to learn there’s a new magazine out about Vision! It’s great that more and more people are focusing on Vision and less and less about equipment.

I know about this publication because they asked to publish my blog post on “How I Found My Vision.” They did a wonderful job with the article and even gave me a full page ad!

It’s a free publication and here’s where you can find it for Apple and Android:




Also, here is another new image from my Oregon Coast trip, one I created just for fun:

2014 10 13 See No Evil Hear No Evil Speak No Evil and Photograph No Evil d Extraordinary Vision Magazine   How I Found My Vision by Cole ThompsonSee No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil…and Photograph No Evil

Oct 26 2014

Why Black and White? Presentation on Tuesday October 28th, 2014

2014 10 13 Isolated No 8i Why Black and White? Presentation on Tuesday October 28th, 2014Isolated No. 8

Please join me this Tuesday at The Center for Fine Art Photography where I’ll be presenting “Why Black and White?”

The presentation is 90 minutes long and in this time I’ll be talking about why you might consider black and white, offering my photographic philosophies, discussing my views on Vision, giving some b&w tips and illustrating all of this through my favorite portfolios.  In addition, at the end of the presentation I’ll be giving away these three prints . 

Three Prints for Giveaway Why Black and White? Presentation on Tuesday October 28th, 2014


When:         Tuesday October 28th, 2014 at 7 pm   

Where:       400 North College Ave., Fort Collins, Colorado

Why:           Because you love black and white…or you’d like to.

There is no cost for the presentation and I hope to see you there!


P.S.  The image above was created last week during my annual Oregon Coast trip and is a part of my developing portfolio entitled “Isolated.”



Oct 23 2014

Dunes of Nude No. 10

2011 9 10 Dune Detail No 10 Final 2 3 2012 750 Dunes of Nude No. 10

Oct 17 2014

Bandon Report

2011 6 1 Stone Jetty Kihei No 4 Final 6 16 2011 750 Bandon ReportStone Jetty No. 4, Kihei

I’m having a great time in Bandon.  The weather is wildly mixed, hard rain one day and beautiful sun the next. I’m working hard to look for the image that presents itself…yes even in the rain.

Today I solved a small but persistent problem: how to get a long exposure when it’s raining. Raindrops on the ND filter are in focus enough to ruin the image. I’ve tried shielding the lens with my hat, but the driving rain still got through.

Finally I came up with a crazy but effective solution: during the exposure I would look for any drops that landed on the filter and then quickly and gently wipe them off with a microfiber cloth. A fast 1/3 of a second swipe has no effect on a 30 second exposure and I do not press on the filter, just lightly brush the surface with the absorbent cloth.

Crazy, but effective. 

I think this allowed me to get a couple of images that might not otherwise have been possible.

So far, it’s a good trip.


Oct 10 2014

On My Way to Bandon, Oregon!

2011 6 1 Stone Jetty No 6 Maalaea Harbor Final 6 11 2011 750 On My Way to Bandon, Oregon!Stone Jetty No 6, Maalaea Harbor

I’ll be spending the next two weeks in Bandon, Oregon for my annual retreat. 

This is a sacred time for me.  It’s a chance to be completely alone, with no distractions and only one thing to think about: creating images.

At first it always takes a couple of days before I begin seeing, and often I’ll worry about the process and why it isn’t coming along. But then it comes…as it always does.

As I prepare to depart for Bandon I’m wondering if I’m finished with my Monolith series which I’ve been working on there for the last several years, or if I’m ready to move onto a new idea. I’ll find out soon enough as I walk those beaches and see if something else catches my eye.

In the past I’d need to go on these trips with a plan and preconceived ideas of what I’d be working on.  Now I simply go and trust that I’ll see something and if I’m meant to go in a new direction…then I’ll be carried away with excitement and inspiration.

As I look at my portfolios, that is how it has always happened: spontaneously and through a sudden burst of inspiration.

It’s taken me a long time to learn to trust in the creative process and to realize that it cannot be manipulated or rushed. 



Oct 5 2014

Low Sun on Trees

2011 1 22 Low Sun on Trees Final 1 31 2011 750 Low Sun on Trees

Low Sun on Trees

Sep 18 2014

Five + Ten + Fifteen + Twenty + Vari-ND = Perfect ND Kit

2014 09 13 Utah Hills 1b Five + Ten + Fifteen + Twenty + Vari ND = Perfect ND KitUtah Hills, Created with the Singh-Ray 15 Stop Fixed ND Filter


After years of experimentation and trying various ND filter combinations, I have assembled what I believe to be the worlds perfect ND kit.  It consists of the following:

  • 5 stop fixed ND filter in 82mm
  • 10 stop fixed ND filter in 82mm
  • 15 stop fixed ND filter in 82mm
  • 20 stop fixed ND filter in 82mm
  • Singh-Ray Vari-ND in 82mm
  • Step up rings on each of my lenses so they all can use 82mm filters

Those of you who are shooting long daytime exposures will appreciate what this means. I can now shoot with 5, 10, 15 or 20 stops of ND without stacking two filters together or vignetting! 

I am in pig heaven.  Seriously.

But my perfect kit would not be complete without a Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter. This is a variable filter that gives you between 3 and 8 stops of neutral density and it works just like a polarizer: turning it one way gives you more ND and turning it the other way gives you less.

It is critically important for me to have this variable filter because it allows me to photograph dynamic subjects (eg: people or other moving objects) quickly without removing the filter to compose the image.

With fixed filters the viewfinder is so dark that I cannot compose without removing the filter. And taking filters on and off takes precious time (which I may not have when photographing people) and sometimes I accidently change the zoom or focus settings, which ruins the shot.

With the Vari-ND I can dial the filter open, compose, and then close the filter down to shoot. I can do this very quickly which is critical.

The Vari-ND filter is the one piece of equipment that allowed me to photograph the ghosts at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

2008 5 10 Auschwitz No 3 Final 8 11 2008 750 Five + Ten + Fifteen + Twenty + Vari ND = Perfect ND Kit

If had I visited the camps armed only with my fixed ND filters, I could not have created these images.

Now some of you looking at this list of filters might be thinking: everyone has heard of a 5 and 10 stop…but a 15 and 20???  

Yes! Singh-Ray offers a 5, 10 and 15 stop filter and then they built a 20 stop filter for me (which I think they’ll be offering to the public before long).

Why would I want a 20 stop filter? Because it allows me to get an 8 and 16 minute exposure in bright daylight, and now I don’t have to stack to get it! Stacking creates some serious vignetting when shooting wide, here’s a before-and-after of a two stacked filter shot to illustrate:

2010 9 17 Monolith No 10 BEFORE and AFTER Five + Ten + Fifteen + Twenty + Vari ND = Perfect ND Kit

Being able to go from 5 to 20 stops without stacking is a huge deal for me.

I hope this doesn’t sound like a commercial for Singh-Ray because it’s not, but it is an honest plug. I’ve long depended on Singh-Ray’s filters, they are top quality and the customer service is unbeatable. 

So if you’re wondering what ND filters to buy, here is the perfect combination of filters to aspire to. 


P.S. Just to balance out all this technical talk, here is a favorite story of mine that puts equipment into perspective:

A photographer went to a socialite party in New York.  As he entered the front door, the host said ‘I love your pictures – they’re wonderful; you must have a fantastic camera.’ 
He said nothing until dinner was finished, then:
‘That was a wonderful dinner; you must have a terrific Stove.’” 
Sam Haskins