Why photography?

This is a series of posts with translation of my interview published in Russian at http://landscapists.info/vitaly-prokopenko. The question from the interview: “What’s photography in your life? What do you do besides photography?”

What’s photography in my life? – It is a hard and complex question. A short answer: it is a meaning and passion, a way of self-expression.

Besides photography I have job and family. Before my son’s birth I was also snowboarding a lot. After my son’s birth one of my hobbies had to go. Photography stayed.

Best and worst moments

This is a series of posts with translation of my interview published in Russian at http://landscapists.info/vitaly-prokopenko. The question from the interview: “What are your most favorite and least favorite moments while photographing?”

Favorite moment #1: I get a photograph just the way I wanted or even better. Or a surprise – did not expect to find such beauty but nature presents a surprise and I am impressed take my camera out and start photographing.

Favorite moment #2: After hard day of photographing tired and excited at the same time after seeing lots of beautiful places, talk slowly with fellow photographers over dinner about things we’ve seen, impressions we’ve got and photographs we’ve made, relive the day’s experience and get a feeling the this day in my life was worth it.

Least favorite moment #1: When someone comes over and starts asking about my camera, lenses or simply compliment me on my gear. Gear is not why or what I’m interested in photography. It is just a tool, not a goal. Better ask me what I see, what I like about a landscape, how I compose a photograph.

Least favorite moment #2: When someone asks me if I got a good picture. While in a field I don’t know, I’ll know when I get back home. Small preview on a camera screen gives too high level overview of a photograph. I cannot say whether it is good or not.

Workflow

This is a series of posts with translation of my interview published in Russian at http://landscapists.info/vitaly-prokopenko. The question from the interview: “Could you describe in a few words how you do post-processing of your photographs? What software do you use, what workflow?”

I use Adobe Photoshop for editing and post-processing of photographs. I start with reviewing photographs in Bridge in slideshow mode. I stop slideshow on photographs that catch my attention, open them in Photoshop, touch up slightly (to bring them all to some common denominator) and save them off to a different folder. After that I continue with the slideshow. At the end I may have 10 images selected out of 500 taken.

Then I start rating selected photographs. Rating 5 is given to photographs that I think is some of my best work (not just on that particular trip but in general). Rating 4 is for good photographs, 3 – good quality but static, boring, does not move me. 2 – not good, 1 – can be deleted. (Jumping a bit ahead – in the end I show to others only photos which I rated 4 or 5 stars.)

Then I do accurate post-processing of the photographs with 4 and 5 star rating (and some with 3 stars). This can take a few days. I try not to rush thru this process.

Next step: leave photographs a side for a while – a month or two – to let immediate feelings about the trip to wear off. I always want to show them immediately but every time I do so I regret about it later.

Here is why I regret showing photographs immediately. After a while i go back and look at photographs with a fresh perspective and many of them look differently to me. Rating of some of them may change. Some need more detailed processing. I realize that some might look better in black-and-while others may look better in color. Some might benefit from a slightly different angle and I go back to originals and see if I took that photograph from that different angle.

Only after going thru this strict editing process I, finally, start showing photographs to friends, observe their reaction and listen to their comments. I rarely re-adjust photographs at this point, I do changes a rating though. For example, if I see that a particular photograph does not evoke any emotion, people just pass thru it, I might lower its rating even if I love it.

The last step I started doing only recently. In a set of photographs I look for a common theme. It might be a place where they are taken, common subject, color palette, or something else. When I have enough photographs around common theme, they become a basis for a folio. The idea is to tell a story with a series of photographs.

I do the final pass of adjustments in photographs selected for a folio, to make sure they have saturation, contrast, etc that make them look better together. I add titles, description. And then publish them on my website.

Equipment

This is a series of posts with translation of my interview published in Russian at http://landscapists.info/vitaly-prokopenko. The question from the interview: “What equipment do you use to take photos? Do you use any unusual equipment while photographing? Maybe something handmade?”

I prefer to avoid gear discussions. Canon or Nikon or something else – does not matter. What matters is the person taking a photograph. My only advice, if you want to try yourself in photography, is not to spend too much money on the first camera and lenses. The first camera is needed to understand if you like doing photography, what kind of photography you like and what you might need to do what you like.

One of unusual pieces of equipment I use is a shower cap (the one you get for free in pretty much all hotels and motels). It comes very useful while shooting in rain or next to a large waterfall – I always have a few in my backpack. It is easy to put on a camera and protects it from rain or mist. It still allows to compose a photograph and adjust polarizer. Then I open up front lenses take a photograph and snap it right back on.

Also I use my hand to cover lenses a bit to avoid glare. On a long exposures with high dynamic range I can block some of the light coming in (kind of burning image in the field. Also I can block the sun when it happens to be in a corner of my frame. That way I avoid white spot in the corner and the sky in that corner will turn red-orange color.

And of cause I always have a flashlight with me. It has three main functions: light my way to where I’m going to photograph sunrise or when I come back from photographing a sunset; helps me focus camera at night and, finally, light up a subject while photographing at night.

Also I always have a compass with me to help me figure out where a sunrise or sunset is going to be.

Photography and Family

This is a series of posts with translation of my interview published in Russian at http://landscapists.info/vitaly-prokopenko. The question from the interview: “What your family thinks about your photography and travel?”

My wife is into photography too – she likes portraiture. She is also my best critic. As authors of our photographs we often see in them what is not there because we still remember the world around the photograph and what we felt when we took the photograph. The photograph might not have captured all that. I often ask my wife to look thru photographs that I’ve selected. She has good taste and she honestly tells me what she thinks. To have such critic close by is a blessing.

My tree year old imitates me. We presented him a real camera (while he is only three he can understand the difference between real things and toys). He takes pictures of everything he sees around. When we go somewhere together and I take photographs, I let him take click a shutter release button. Then with a proud he tells his mother that he has just taken a photo on a dad’s camera.

With the birth of my son of cause I do much less fine art photography. But I don’t regret even for a second. Right now raising my son is the most important thing for me – I want him to rise a good person. Maybe, when he grows up, he’ll share my interest in photography and we’ll be photographing together.

Taking Photographs

This is a series of posts with translation of my interview published in Russian at http://landscapists.info/vitaly-prokopenko. The question from the interview: “How do you prepare for taking a photograph? Do you see you image in your mind’s eye first and then wait for the right light, or take a photograph immediately as you see something?”

This differs from time to time. Sometimes I have an images in my mind’s eye even before I see it and take a photograph. And then I search for a place where I can make that photograph.

Sometimes, after studying a location at home, I imagine a lot of different photographs I’ll be able to take. Then when I arrive to the destination I find it looking completely different from what I have imagined. That is often disappointing. The important thing is not put camera aside. I almost make myself to start photographing in that case and after a couple of days I start seeing photographs around me my own way. Still after the first trip to a location I rarely bring good photographs, more often I use them to study the place at home and be clearer vision next time.

Sometimes I find a beautiful place but the light is not right. I take my compass out take a not of how the sun is moving across the sky, where I’d like it to be to get better light and most importantly when it is going to be there. Sometimes it means that I need to wait for a summer or winter.

Sometimes a place is beautiful, the sun is where I’d like it to be. It is just covered with clouds. I’m watching how clouds sail across the sky, how light and shadow moves across the land. And I wait until a sun breaks thru the clouds and shines on a particular rock, hill or tree. Here a spot of light is getting closer, it looks like in just a moment it will light up your subject. But not – a miss. Next. Again a miss. It seems like the light plays with you, does not let to catch itself. I can spend an hour like that – observing light and shadow. When finally a ray of the sun falls on that rock, hill or tree it is such a joy – here it is what I have been waiting for.

Sometimes everything looks dull, the sky is filled with clouds so thick they form one big cloud. Everything around is grey and flat. It seems like there is no chance there’ll be any sunset. Then suddenly just before sun drops below horizon, the last ray of the sun finds a tunnel in the clouds, breaks thru and lights up the sky in unbelievable hues.

Trip Checklist

This is a series of posts with translation of my interview published in Russian at http://landscapists.info/vitaly-prokopenko. The question from the interview: “You travel a lot. Could you tell a little bit about organizing your trips: how do you prepare for a trip, how much time it takes?”

It depends on how far I travel. If it is somewhere close by car, I almost always have everything in the car. I can without additional preparation just go somewhere for weekend. (After my son was born I need to discuss with my wife ahead of time if I want to travel somewhere.)

If I travel farther away by plane (alone or with my family), preparations take a week or longer. It is typically include the following (always in the order below:

  1. Study the place I’m going to. What to expect in terms of photography. I look at photographs of the destination made by other photographers, read travel guides, study terrain from satellite photos. For example, if it is near the ocean, what’s the ocean shore line is like, interesting rocks, where I’ll be able to walk to the shore.
  2. Decide what to take (if flying by plane, if going by car I take everything). Since there is a limit on carry on and lately I also need to carry my son’s belongings (and sometimes my son himself), I try to take a bare minimum. I make compromises without doubt. For example, I’ll leave macro lenses at home and take macro filter instead to use on another lenses, or don’t take lenses for some focal length.
  3. Sunset and sunrise times. What can get into the sun way during sunrise or sunset, can it be blocked by mountains, do I need to get to higher elevation. Moonrise and moonset times. Tide table – especially important if some parts of the shore are crossable only during low tide.
  4. Cleaning up equipment: cleaning sensor on camera, cleaning lenses and filter. Charging batteries.