Feb 13 2015

2/13/2015 Newsletter, Moai Standing

2015-1-1 Ahu Anakena No 2 - Final 2-12-2015 1000


I’ve just published my latest newsletter which has the first of three sets of images from Easter Island. The first group are “Moai Standing.”

The other two groups will be released via my newsletter over the next two weeks.

If you’re not signed up for my newsletter, you can do so here: 




P.S. It’s Friday the 13th!


Feb 8 2015

I’m Not Talking To You…I’m Talking To Myself

2015-1-1 Ahu Tahai 2d

People write to thank me for my blog, saying they can relate to the topics I write about. And while I’m glad my thoughts resonate with others, make no mistake about my motivations: I write this blog for myself!

What I’m doing is writing down my self-affirmations.


Because my tendencies are to be insecure, to copy others, to care what others think of my work, to seek praise, to compare my work to others, to stray from my Vision and etcetera and etcetera and etcetera.

To become the artist I want to be, I must constantly remind myself of the things that I believe in and what I hope to become.

So you see: I’m not talking to you…I’m talking to myself.


P.S. The image above is entitled “Ahu Tahai.”



Jan 29 2015

Popular vs. Great

 Harbinger vs AuschwitzHarbinger Vs. Auschwitz


Last week I pointed out that my Harbinger image had almost 40 times more Flickr “favorites” than my Auschwitz image and I asked:

What do you think it means?

I heard a lot of great ideas and appreciated some new ones that I hadn’t thought of. And now I’d like to tell you what I think it means…

It means that more people like the Harbinger image.

What it doesn’t mean is that Harbinger is a “better” image. Popular does not mean better.

Who decides which images are good, bad, better or great? I do, but only for myself…and you do, but only for yourself. What I need to decide is:

Am I going to pursue popular or great?

Creating an image that is popular can be a fleeting pleasure. But when you create an image that you love, that’s a deep satisfaction that stays with you.

Here’s an image that I’ve just finished of the Moai at Tongariki. 

2015-1-1 Tongariki Panorama Matted

I love this image and so what other’s think about it, is not important to me.

As I love to say: nobody is more of an expert than you when it comes to your Vision!



Jan 23 2015

Harbinger Vs. Auschwitz – What Do You Think It Means?

2008-7-26 Harbinger No 1 - Final 1-17-2009 750

This is Harbinger No. 1 and it has 731 “favorites” on Flickr.

2008-5-10 Auschwitz No 14 - Final 2-1-2009 750

This is Auschwitz No. 14 and it has 20 “favorites.”


Harbinger has nearly 40 times more “favorites” than the Auschwitz image. Does this mean that it’s 40 times better?

What do you think it means?



Jan 18 2015

For Sale: Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5/5.6L IS USM Lens



I just purchased the new version of this lens (II) and am selling my original. I am the original owner and it’s been well taken care. It includes the Canon box, case, lens caps, two lens hoods and manual. The lens was lightly used and everything else has been in the box since I purchased it on 10/31/2007.

I was going to keep as a backup it but my son just got home from the Netherlands and had his camera and laptop stolen, and so I’m donating this lens to him to help him buy a new camera. If you have a well cared for Canon T3i and lens you’d like to trade, I’d consider that!

If you purchase the camera and find anything about it you don’t like, I’ll be happy to refund your money. You have my word.

Price: $850

Contact me at Cole@ColeThompsonPhotography.com


P.S. Here is an image I’m working on that I created with this lens.  It’s a 6 image stitch!

2015-1-1 Tongariki Panorama 1e

Jan 16 2015

You shoot a lot, you hope a little and you’re grateful to get just one or two.

Harbinger No. 22g
Harbinger No. 22 – Tongariki

I’m back from Easter Island and have begun working on the several thousand images I shot. Many were very long exposures and that gave me lots of time to think, and one thought that I had was:

You shoot a lot, you hope a little and you’re grateful to get just one or two.

And that’s the truth: I shot a lot of images and while I’m hoping for several good ones, I’ll be grateful to get just a few. It’s funny how when you’re viewing images in the field every one looks like a killer, but the reality is that the public will only see about 1 out of every 250 images that I shoot. 

And while it’s important to create great images, it’s almost equally as important to only show the good ones!


I’ll be presenting my work to the Alpenglow Camera Club in Granby, Colorado on Wednesday, February 4th.

My presentation is entitled “Why Black and White?” and we will be meeting at the Granby Public Library at 7 pm.

If you’re in the area, I’d love to meet you!


Dec 26 2014

Easter Island – Excited and Nervous

2011-9-10 Monolith No 33 - Final 5-3-2014 1000Monolith No. 33


I’m heading out for Easter Island Sunday morning and I’m both excited nervous.

Excited because I’ve wanted to visit Easter Island ever since I was 17 and read the book Aku Aku by Thor Heyerdahl. It really captured my imagination and I would dream of the Moai and those unknown peoples who created them. Going to Easter Island has long been a dream of mine.

But I’m also nervous because when I go on a trip like this I worry that I’ll come home empty handed and not meet people’s expectations. And each time someone says “I can’t wait to see what you get!” I become even more apprehensive.

And the more apprehensive I get, the more pressure I put on myself. And the more pressure I put on myself, the less creative I am because I’m focused on what others expect and not my own Vision.

So here’s what I have learned to do, to minimize that apprehension and maximize my creativity:

First: I remind myself that I’m visiting one of the most exciting places on earth and a top destination on my bucket-list. That alone is enough to make this a successful trip, no matter what.

Second: I tell myself that if I create just one image that I love, I’ll be happy.


Third: I will not look at anyone elses work from Easter Island. I do not want to have any preconceived ideas of what I should create.

Fourth: I’ll spend a lot of time alone contemplating the Moai. I am confident that if I can relax and spend time with them, my Vision will appear.

And Fifth: I will keep reminding myself that I am creating for myself and I’ll put out of my head any internal or external expectations.

What I have learned is that worrying is not only ineffective, it’s actually harmful to my creative process. I just need to relax, enjoy the trip and have faith that something will come to me. 

See you in a few weeks!



Dec 19 2014

I respect all opinions…except the really stupid ones.

2014-10-13 Release  - Final 11-13-2014 1000Release

I don’t believe in “good art” or “bad art.” There is only art that I like or dislike and like everyone, I have my opinion. 

But sometimes someone voices an opinion as though they were “the expert” and their opinion, “fact.” Here is an essay by Jonathan Jones and he does just that.


Flat, soulless and stupid: why photographs don’t work in art galleries

Photographs can be powerful, beautiful, and capture the immediacy of a moment like nothing else. But they make poor art when hung on a wall like paintings

Jonathan Jones

photos pictures show Photographers' Gallery, London
On the surface: visitors study pictures on show at the Photographers’ Gallery, London. Photograph: Alamy

Let me be clear: photographs on the page or screen are fascinating. Who can fail to be entranced by the first-ever pictures from the surface of a comet that were taken this week? The power of photography to show and to tell has never been greater, as modern technology takes it simultaneously to the far reaches of the solar system and ever deeper into the heart of daily life.

But that does not make it sing on a gallery wall.

It just looks stupid when a photograph is framed or backlit and displayed vertically in an exhibition, in the way paintings have traditionally been shown. A photograph in a gallery is a flat, soulless, superficial substitute for painting. Putting up massive prints is a waste of space, when the curators could provide iPads and let us scroll through a digital gallery that would easily be as beautiful and compelling as the expensive prints.

I try to suppress these thoughts, for photography exhibitions are taken desperately seriously. I recently joined the crowds at the Natural History Museum’s wildlife photographer of the year. It’s amazing how long some people can look at a photograph. I observed the observers, rapt before illuminated images that I really can’t look at for more than a few seconds.

That is because when you put a photograph on the wall I cannot help comparing it with the paintings whose framed grandeur it emulates, and I can’t help finding photography wanting.

Paintings are made with time and difficulty, material complexity, textural depth, talent and craft, imagination and “mindfulness”. A good painting is a rich and vigorous thing. A photograph, however well lit, however cleverly set it up, only has one layer of content. It is all there on the surface. You see it, you’ve got it. It is absurd to claim this quick fix of light has the same depth, soul, or repays as much looking as a painting by Caravaggio – to take a painter so many photographers emulate.

But we are encouraged to give it the same, or more, attention. Today’s glib culture endlessly flatters photography’s arty pretensions. The winning picture in the Taylor Wessing prize at the National Portrait Gallery “has clearly been inspired by Caravaggio”, raves the Evening Standard, as if this meant it was somehow as rewarding as the 17th-century master’s works. Sorry, but it ain’t.,

Why not try this experiment? Go to the National Portrait Gallery’s Taylor Wessing exhibition, then pop around the corner to see the National Gallery’s late Rembrandt show. If you can really see even a millionth of the vitality of a Rembrandt portrait in any of the NPG’s photos, we’ll just have to agree to disagree.


Here is another opinion, a rebuttal by Sean O’Hagan.


Photography is art and always will be

Do Jane Bown, William Eggleston and Diane Arbus not sing on a gallery wall? Photography critic Sean O’Hagan hits back at Jonathan Jones’s damning claim that photographs cannot be considered fine art
Sean O’Hagan
Samuel Beckett.

Still intensity … Samuel Beckett. Photograph: Jane Bown

Robert Frank in America.

In November, our art critic Jonathan Jones went to see the wildlife photographer of the year show at the National History Museum and the Taylor Wessing prize at the National Portrait Gallery – an open submission award known for its eccentric shortlist, usually featuring people with their pets. Quite why he chose to visit these two shows eludes me. Did he think they were art photography exhibitions? He castigated both, as I, a photography critic, would probably have done had I the energy to kick a few dead horses.

I did not respond back then for two reasons: the “photography is not art” debate is so old it’s hardly worth revisiting, and the idea of using a wildlife award show as a yardstick just seemed bizarre. But, alas, he has repeated his claims this week,discussing a rather boring photograph by Peter Lik, which sold for £4.1m, becoming the most expensive photograph in the world. To which my response is: so what? It’s global capitalism – obscenely rich people with more money than sense. Or taste. For Jonathan, though, “This record-setting picture typifies everything that goes wrong when photographers think they are artists”. No it doesn’t. Here are a few artists who use photography: Cindy Sherman, Jeff Wall, Gillian Wearing. Here are a few photographers, off the top of my head, whose work is art: Julia Margaret Cameron, Edward Steichen, William Eggleston, Nan Goldin, Robert Frank, Stephen Shore, Diane Arbus, Paul Graham, Hiroshi Sugimoto. Their work sings on the gallery wall. Their work makes you look at the world differently.

Photograph by William Eggleston, 1972.

Several things are wrong about Jonathan’s reasoning, not least that he still thinks painting is in some sort of competition with photography. How quaint. He also seems to think that all photography is derivative of painting. This is plainly not so. A great photograph by William Eggleston, though he claims to be influenced by abstract painting, occupies its own space, makes its own rules.

A group of Kalutara peasants, 1878.

A group of Kalutara peasants, 1878. Photograph: Julia Margaret Cameron/Royal Photographic Society

Jonathan writes that photographs look better on a computer screen than in a print. Some do, but most do not. Has he never stood in wonder in front of a Julia Margaret Cameron portrait? I doubt it. Has he ever seen a painting or drawing of Samuel Beckett that possesses the stillness and intensity of the great photographic portrait of Samuel Beckett by John Minihan or Jane Bown? I expect not.

He makes no distinction between types of photography, and seems unaware, that photography has changed utterly since Henri Cartier-Bresson. Look at the politically charged conceptualism of Broomberg and Chanarin, the playful invention of a fictional series by Joan Fontcuberta, the wonderful artists books made by the likes of Cristina de Middel or Viviane Sassen. Photography is as vibrant as it has ever been – more so in response to the digital world, which Jonathan mistakenly thinks has made everyone a great photographer. It hasn’t. It has made it easy for people to take – and disseminate – photographs, that’s all. A great photographer can make a great photograph whatever the camera. A bad one will still make a bad photograph on a two grand digital camera that does everything for you. It’s about a way of seeing, not technology.

Why damn photography because of the excesses of the auction houses and mega-rich collectors? Do we measure the health of contemporary art by the price paid for Hirst’s vulgar diamond skull? Or a Jack Vettriano? I have seen some idiotic installation pieces over the years, but that doesn’t mean that all artists who make installations are idiots and their work dull and stupid.

If anything is anachronistic, it’s the “photography is not art” debate. Warhol’s Polaroids and Ruscha’s deadpan photography books put it to bed years ago. I wish Jonathan had come with me to a group show I saw at Purdy Hicks this year called Natural Order. There were some good paintings and uncannily detailed drawings, but Awoiska van der Molen’s nightscapes made on long exposures in the volcanic islands of La Gomera and La Graciosa were breathtaking in their stillness and sense of mystery. So strong that everything on the walls around them seemed muted. I think that’s what art does, right?


In truth I have no interest in such discussions and I don’t care what the “experts” have to say about photography, art or anything inbetween. These opinions have no bearing on my life or my art.

For some time now  I have been developing the “opinion” that there are those who create and those who pontificate. I’m committed to doing more of the former and less latter.


Dec 12 2014

What was Photography Like in 1955?

2014-10-13 Jetty, Depoe Bay  - Final 11-13-2014 1000Isolated No. 9

I was dropping off an image to be framed at Lloyd’s Art Center here in Fort Collins when I noticed an old 1955 issue of Popular Photography sitting on the counter. The owner Alan Kinney had a stack of them and let me choose one for myself.  

As I looked through that magazine, I marvelled at how much photography had changed in thee last 60 years.  Let me share a few pages with you:

1955-2 Front Cover SMALL

I chose this February 1955 issue because it had a special feature on Black and White and another on Edward Weston.

1955-2 Camera Ads SMALL

I enjoyed looking at the ads as much as I did reading the articles. Equipment was so cheap by today’s standards, but of course a dollar went MUCH further back then! (I won’t bore you with how much I could buy with a nickle)

What I would give to have a new Exacta VX for $189.50, or an Omega enlarger for $72.95!

1955-2 Camera Ad 2 SMALL

I’ve owned many of these East German cameras and their variations: they were basic, cheap and reliable.

These ads remind me how convenient modern cameras are. I remember the days when every shot required a handheld meter reading, manually setting the shutter and aperture and then manually focusing (often on a moving subject) before you took the  shot.

No auto focus, no auto exposure, no auto white balance…no auto anything.

Modern equipment is so much better and convenient in every respect, except for perhaps one. The old cameras were durable and built to last several generations. I cannot imagine handing down my digital camera from generation to generation. If I get 5 years out of a modern camera, I count myself lucky.

1955-2 The Coming Revolution in Black and White SMALL

This article is about the coming revolution in black and white due to advances in available light photography. A prominent development was the introduction of Tri-X film in 1954. Tri-X was very fast with an ASA of 400 which we often pushed to 1600 and sometimes even 3200, but the grain was terrible at that speed!

Could 1955 photographers ever believe that one day we could shoot at 25,600?

1955-2 Edward Weston Retrospective SMALL

In 1955 Edward Weston was 68 years old, was seriously ill with Parkinson’s disease and would leave this world in less than three years. Popular Photography dedicated 12 pages to his images.

1955-2 Pepper SMALL

A favorite image of almost everyone is Pepper No. 30, which they oddly identify as Pepper, 1930.

There were a lot of helpful tips and news items in this issue:

Kalart introduced a new flash unit that automatically ejected hot spent flashbulbs.

Coating your Kodachrome glass slide holders with talcum powder will keep them from sticking together.

You can use tungsten film outdoors with the help of a No. 85 filter.

They explained how to adjust contrast when using Kodak Medalist paper by varying exposure and development times.

Instructions were provided on how to convert an ASA film speed index to a Weston speed number.

Tips were given on how to “push film” using D-23, D76 (my developer of choice, diluted 1:1) and Promicrol developers.

I’m sure this is Greek to anyone who is under the age of 50!

1955-2 Kodak Chevron Camera Ad SMALL

Kodak really ruled the world back then with many of the articles clearly written to promote their products. Kodak also had several large ads including this one on the back cover.

I wonder how this ad would sell today? Can you imagine Canon marketing a “Man’s Camera?” (I had never heard of the Chevron camera, does anyone remember it?)


Looking through this issue of Popular Photography was so much fun! The ads reminded me how much things have changed in the last 60 years and the article on Weston reminded me how much remains the same. 

And despite my wonderfully nostalgic feelings for the good old days of 1955 photography, I’d never go back. 



Dec 6 2014

Sandbar and Yoda’s Advice

2014-10-13 Sandbar  - Final 11-13-2014 1000Sometimes the strangest things can catch your eye and make for a nice image.  

I was driving down the Oregon coast when I saw this sandbar. I liked its shape and how it contrasted against the water, and how it provided balance to the land in the background. It was a simple image and I further simplified it by using a long exposure to mute the detail in the clouds.

When I compose an image, I compose simply by how it feels and when it feels right, it is done. I never give a thought to the so-called rules of composition.


Thinking that following rules will produce a great image is like believing that following the instructions and staying within the lines on a paint by number kit will produce a masterpiece.

Mona Lisa Paint by Numbers Comparison

Following those rules may produce a “competent” image, but not a masterpiece!

I have no doubt that Apple will one day program the rules of composition into an iPhone so that every image we take is a competent image, but it will never create a great image. Great images are created by feeling people whose images cause others to feel.

Remember the wise words of the philosopher Yoda: 

“Feel the force.
A photographers strength flows from the Force.
But beware of the dark side.”

Feel the image and beware of the dark side (rules).