Challenge of One Road

The main part of this blog post was written last September after my trip to the Palouse at the end of August. It took me a while to come back to it to finish it. The idea of challenging myself is still very important to me and the post remains very much relevant.

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Blue sky above with a streak of white clouds passing by, yellow rolling hills covered with a patchwork blanket of fields below and I’m standing a top of a butte floating between those two. Such a familiar landscape. So many times I’ve visited the Palouse, browsed its network of dirt roads raising dust clouds behind me in the air, captured its beauty in many images. And yet I visit it again and again. Its rolling hills are comforting, meditative and relaxing.

All my visits up till last would start at Steptoe Butte. It was my way to greet the Palouse, taking it all in in one sweeping 360 degree view. It was an easily most noticeable landmark in the Palouse, a popular destination for photographers, a place where images are easy to come by. The biggest challenge is to make something new.

Lately I had noticed my photos from the Palouse had become repetitive. I had my favorite spot for sunrise photography. I had my favorite spot for sunset photography. I kept visiting them every time I went to the Palouse. No risks taken. Guaranteed sunrise or sunset image. Just the way I had done many times. To do something new I had to do something different. I had to allow myself to fail. I needed to give myself an opportunity to see sunrise and sunset in different places. That might mean that I would leave without a killer shot but I can instead leave with a sense of exploration and wonder.

That is what I had on my mind during my last visit to the Palouse.

The first morning of the trip I got up early, before the first light of the day to come had started filling the starry sky. It was dark and chilly. Rather than rushing to a familiar sunrise spot in the morning – one of those I had taken pictures at during previous visits. I got into the car, drove out of the town and then turned onto some random dirt road letting the sunrise catch me somewhere unexpected, somewhere where I had not seen sunrise before.

I managed to get a few pictures during sunrise in different places. First one was a barn with a gradient of cold and warm colors of pre-dawn light in the sky. Then the light of the sun that rose just above the horizon barely skimming the tops of the hills with a lonely windmill, with a Steptoe Butte in the background.

After the early morning exploration I got back to the hotel to have a breakfast. During the breakfast another thought came to my mind: Do I have to wander about at random places? What if I explore the same place deeper? What if I challenge myself to find new images in the same place?

So I’ve decided to visit the same route I picked in the morning… Fast forward two days ahead, I drove that route six times during the trip. Each time I found new images, noticed things that had eluded my attention before. It was fascinating to observe how my attention was getting sharper. I would not notice those things without that focused exercise.

Besides seeing new things in already familiar places I had an opportunity to see the same places in different light: see them in the morning, at noon and in the evening; see how they changed. And as I was going to the same place over and over I was giving an opportunity for something special to happen. One time I got to see a man fly-fishing in a shallow creek, another time a tractor was working the field rising a column of dust in the sky. All of it by driving the same route over and over.

The take away from this story is that it does not matter how far or how close we travel, it does not matter if we visit an old place or a new, what matters for a creativity is a state of mind. Setting some specific goals for self-improvement, setting up challenges often helps to do something truly new and rediscover yourself.

New Website

http://vitphoto.com/

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about next step for my photographic journey. I’ve gotten into the habit of visiting the same places and taking pictures of the same scenes because they are familiar and most likely to yield a stellar image. My work and my website has become a collection of bestsellers.

At the same time there have been a lot of trips with a lot of images that tell a story.

I haven’t updated my website for a long time. A very long time. The reason for that was not laziness but that the design of the website was based on featuring a limited number of best sellers and not necessarily around a story. Thus a lot of images were left out and most images were once in a while images lacking the context of a story.

Any time I want to publish new work I needed to either prune some work from an existing category to make more room or replace a category altogether with a new one. That was forcing me to revisit the work that has already been completed and never gave me satisfaction of completing another body of work.

My photography interests changed. I go to many different places and try to create a story about the place or seek images with a common theme that tell a story about particular subject.

I had to reimagine my website. It took a long time and a critical mass of unpublished material to finally spend time on website design and making the changes. That work is finally completed and the new website is live today with the three most recent photographic stories.

There is a lot of work ahead of me to sort out a large pile of unorganized work that I’ve collected over the years. It will be something to work on during the long winter nights ahead.

Thanks to my amazing girlfriend who helped me re-imagine my website with a fresh new look. She’s the best ❤

Breaking Patterns

Do you know what fascinates me in my visual world? Patterns. Here is an image I made last weekend, when I was passing by a small island of young aspen trees:

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Do you know what fascinates me even more? Breaking patterns. Just seconds after I made the image above I noticed another island of young aspen trees with one tree bent and still having leaves breaking the pattern of bare trunks:

_MG_1928

365

http://www.flickr.com/vit-photo

It has been a while since my last post. I’ve been busy, very busy. That sounds like a typical excuse. At the same time it is an explanation too. I’ve had several art fairs which turned out very successful, more successful than I expected. Just like the last year I was not prepared enough for success and had to actively print, varnish, stretch, mount, frame, in between art fairs. Then I tried to catch up on photographic opportunities of the summer that was quickly running away. Now I’m trying to catch up on post-processing of those images, while preparing for the fall season of art fairs. How’s that for explanation? Not enough? Well, I’ve also update my website, both the look and the content. And I started a couple of new projects – and that’s what I want to talk about.

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365 – that’s how many days in a year, in a typical year. Among photographers Project 365 also refers to a photographer’s personal project where he/she makes one photograph every day for a year. That’s what I started to do.

I don’t adhere to the strict rules of Project 365. I’ve relaxed them for myself a little bit to make it more enjoyable. I don’t force myself to post a new image every day. Sometimes I have bad days when I don’t feel like making a photo. And then there are good days when I post more than one. All the images are taking with my smartphone and posted directly from it without post-processing. See, I’m trying to make it simple for myself.

It is a good [almost] daily exercise. Just like athletes need to flex their muscles every day I need to flex my creativity. It has been both enjoyable and beneficial for me. My daily world now has a lot of images in it. I see more and more images along the path which I’ve worked thousands times before. The world is now filled with lines texture, shapes, patterns and colors.

I hope that it will last longer than a year. So, rather than referring to it as Project 365 I refer to it as “Daily Impressions”. I don’t seek fame and glory with it but some of you may find it entertaining.

Enough talk. Here is the link: http://www.flickr.com/vit-photo. (Finally, I found some use for my Flickr account which was sitting untouched for ages.) Oh, well, I’ve copied the link to beginning of the post for those who won’t read all my scribbling. 🙂 And you don’t have to remember it. It is on my website under “Social”.

Magic of a Print

The Bellevue art fair is behind me now. Thanks to everyone who stopped by, said hi, bought some or ordered. Thanks to you it has been very successful for me. Now I have a lot of orders and a lot of new prints to make – and I enjoyed it very much.

There is some magic in a print slowly coming out of a printer, another world appearing out of thin air. I’m wondering if it is the main reason why I do my own printing: to see it happening.

Next is varnishing. That’s pouring milky acrylic on the print and spreading it equally to the whole print. This make the print foggy, it hides it again from this world. I typically do this at night, so it can dry over night. When acrylic dries out it becomes transparent and the image becomes crisp, contrasty and full of color.

The first thing I do when I wake up is to go see the print – my baby. This is how it is going to look. There is still stretching, mounting, framing ahead but that won’t change the look of the image.

What’s left is to do stretching or mounting and then framing.

And that’s what I’m going to do for the next two weeks. Thanks to all who bought or ordered prints for giving me such an opportunity.

Over the Wing

As I wrote a while back Photography Starts on a Plane. My photographic journey to Shelter Cove starts on an airplane too. This time our seats were over an airplane wing, which limited a view out of our cabin window to pretty much the wing only. That did not stop me from photographing. I just focused on lines and graphics of the airplane wing and specular lights created by the Sun.

Flying thru a cloud:

Photographic Style

There is certain set of topics that popular on photographic blogs. Style is one of them: what it is, how to get your own style, etc.

I typically stay away from repeating what has been said already but I have something to add to a conversation about photographic style. I’ve seen a style is often being confused with consistent look, subject or concept.

I can make my images look certain way and say that is my style. Think of Instagram and applying the same filter or set of filters to all your images, or making only HDR, tin type, etc. Can it be my style style? What make it mine?

Once, I remember, I asked a fellow photographer what kind of photography he does and his response was "I do HDR photography". I thought it was an odd way to define your own photography. HDR is just a tool, a software. Defining yourself as HDR photographer is like saying I’m feeding images into this tool and like all that comes out on the other end.

Let’s say I found my own secret recipe to make my photos look unique. Well, it will be unique just for a short while before someone figures out how to reproduce it. Second, I refuse to believe that the sole purpose of a photographer is to feed images into a tool that produces consistent look and the same look can look good on all photos.

Next thing that is often misinterpreted as style is concept, an idea that is implemented in all photos, a subject or set of subjects photographed in a certain way. For example, photos of Lego figurines repeating compositions of famous photos. Or photographing monkeys with interpreted-by-people-as-smile expressions on their faces. Or light painting.

Can the concept be your style? I feel it is much closer to style than image look itself. I’ve seen some amazing photos of water drops with interesting lighting that produced surrealistic images. Concept can be certainly more unique and harder to reproduce than look alone.

The danger though is in getting stuck with one concept and becoming repetitive. There is also a risk of focusing too much on concept and forgetting about other aspects of photography. For example, you’ve come up with a concept of photographing certain subject in a landscape. Make sure that it is a decent landscape, horizon is leveled and light is good.

Somewhat close to concept consistent subject is sometimes referred to as style. Let’s say I photograph only flowers, or waterfalls, or sunsets and call it my style. Same question comes to mind – how this can be my style, what makes it mine? Many other photographers might be photographing exactly the same subject.

So if we put consistent look, subject or concept aside what is left to define style? Style is my unique perception of the world I photograph. There is something ephemeral about images that is common thru all the photos and reveal photographer’s soul. It exposes my personality. It is self expression.

I struggled for a long time to have a style, just like many other photographers did, until someone else defined it for me. After looking at my images that person said that they all look “dreamy like fairy-tale”. That’s exactly how I feel when photographing and it comes thru in my photos.

Now a few years later I realized that the reason I’ve struggled to find my style was that I was looking for the wrong things. I don’t have consistent look, subject or concept. I like to experiment, try something new. Photographing the same makes me bored. It puts my mind in an artificial box and my mind starts a rebellion.

If you struggle to find your style, feel unhappy about what you photograph, may be you should try something new. Maybe you’ve put yourself in an artificial box while your style is outside of that box?

The Art of… Clean up

Art is not about creativity only. Sometimes you need to do a lot of routine work just because it needs to be done. Such as doing a clean up. My photo archive grew to unmanageable proportions. And for the last two months I’ve been doing clean up: removing technically bad photos, photos about nothing, photos I will never care to do anything about. I’m close to be done, almost 30% of photos deleted in the process.

The positive side of this exercise is that I found some interesting photos that I have not processed before. Here is one of them which I thought is pretty good:

Barn in a Rye Field
Barn in a Rye Field

Inspiration Help

A while ago an interesting discussion happened in one of photographic online communities which I’m a part of. One of the members asked what helped other photographers to find inspiration. I’ve written quite detailed response which I include with some edits and additions below.

Here are some ideas I have come up with (I’ve done some of it, it does not mean it will work for you):

  1. Shift thinking from gear to thinking about idea/message.
    • Limit yourself to a single camera, single lens, polarizer and ND, and natural light for a while.
    • Shift from reading gearful info sources to gearless. For example, instead of reading about latest cameras, lenses, etc, read about history of photography. Delete all mails that mention gear without reading.
    • Read photo books by film photographers. Unfortunately, most digital photographer books I’ve seen fall into technology trap. Somehow film photographers were not writing books on Velvia or best processing of the first 1 inch of a film but on what they felt in the field, how they tried to capture that feeling and how to transfer it during processing.
    • Don’t do whatever is the latest wave in photography: HDR, astro-photography, etc. Just because it can be done does not mean each of us should do it. Try to do what photographers did 20 years ago. They were still doing great photography without latest and greatest we have.
  2. Think about the moment.
    • What’s so special about a moment that you’re photographing? Is it in any way different than an hour ago, a day ago? How to express what’s special in the best way?
    • Who is it special for? For example, I have a lot of photos of my son, but I have not published them or shown to anyone except my family and close friends, because they capture moments special for very narrow group of people (really only me and my wife).
  3. Be very critical in selection process.
    • Set a limit on number of photos to publish after weekend long trip to 2, after week long trip to 10. Make an effort to select those best and not more than that.
    • Jay Maisel once said something like “[Good] photographer is the one that does not show bad photos.” I love this saying.
    • Set some quality gates on photograph that you show. I value color, texture and subject in photograph. If something is missing, sorry it does not pass my quality gates and I’m not going to show it. For example, I have photographed a great texture of clouds, rocks, frost but they were just that – great textures. They did not have any subject – thus I don’t show them. But they come useful in my exploration of impressionism in photography.
  4. Study something related to art but not photography, like painting.
    • No need to learn how to paint, but read about artists, see documentary, look at paintings, read about paintings.
    • What is helps it to think about idea (back to my first point). When I look at paintings I think about color, light, composition, look at brush strokes and try to move my hand like that, imagine what was artists emotional state (I don’t think about brand of paint or brush they used, since I’m not interested in that).
  5. Block yourself from social photography.
    • Don’t look at Flickr, Facebook, etc. Look at photo books, magazines (that don’t mention gear).
    • It is easy to get overwhelmed by all the images we look at on websites (especially if not everyone in your social circle is critical in selection process). In some sense I feel like a composer trying to write a new tune after listening to a cacophony of an orchestra where each musician played a different tune.
  6. Analyze photographs.
    • Analyze your own photographs. What can be done better? After first time I photograph new subject or place I bring a bunch of photos none of which I show to anyone. I use them to learn what kind of photos I’d like to make. For example, I was very disappointed with photos I took on my first visit to the Palouse. Then after a while I started seeing in those photos the photos I’d really like to take.
    • Decompose someone else’s photos that you love. Why you love them? What makes them work?
    • Try to repeat someone else’s photos you love. Compare. Is it as good? If not, why? Repeat. That’s what I largely did during my first couple years of photography beyond snapshot. This made me learn a lot about interplay of objects, textures, light, color, etc.
  7. Find a local group of photographers like yourself.
    • Meet regularly in a small group to discuss each others photographs. Give a little walk out with a lot. You may contribute a little but once each member contributes a little you walk out with a lot of ideas to think about. You’ll grow together as a group.
    • Have prints that can be written on. What you might come out with from such meetings is a plan of how to improve a photograph written right on the print.
    • I was lucky enough to find such group of photographers early in my photographic journey: http://www.groupf56.com/. Thank you, everyone in Group f/5.6.

One idea that might help you but did not help me:

  • Work in projects. Put a goal to create a series of photos about something: particular kind of events, particular light, subject, time of day, etc. And produce 10-20 good photographs, each showing it in unique way. It cannot be something short lived, like a single wedding, but it can be single element of a wedding shown thru multiple weddings.

The reason it did not work for me is because I’m not systematic in my photography. I go to photograph something for a project and end up seeing something else that I’d rather photograph in that particular moment. Or my mood changed and I’m not interested in photographing in the same style or mood.

Hopefully, some of you might find this helpful. Happy photographing!

Getting off a Beaten Path

How much time changes landscape. Last time I visited Zion 7 years ago. Two friends-photographers and me were the only ones photographing at sunrise behind old visitor center. Here is the photo I took that morning: Zion in the Morning.

Just a couple of weeks ago I visited Zion again. This time there were 40 photographers there waiting for sunrise. It looked like a line of people attacking the landscape. I’m glad the popularity of landscape photography grew so much over the years. At the same time I start missing serenity and serendipity of some landscapes.

Nevertheless it was a good thing for me because it forced me to leave that place and go on the search for new places. And I’m glad I did. I found what I think is much stronger composition:

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