Archive for Art

The Plateau

Posted in Photography Technique with tags , , , , , , on April 7, 2014 by chamimage
Cottonwood Inferno

Cottonwood Inferno

I have been reading a book by Seth Godin called “The Dip”. I would probably have called it The Plateau because it is about that plateau you hit when you take up something new, like photography, French, tennis.

At first you learn quickly and relatively easily, but once you learn the basics you reach a plateau where your improvement has stalled, and it is obvious it is going to take a lot more time and energy to take this thing any further. And even then, you will improve in baby steps from that point on.

This is the place most people quit, or continue on being mediocre. As Galen Rowell said, the difference between whether you make the effort or not depends on the size of the rat eating at your gut. My rat is humongous.

Bitterroot

Bitterroot

The payoffs at the end are good  because so few will make the investment in getting through the slog that it takes to break through to the next level. You will be in rare company in most pursuits if you master something. Maybe not so much with photography. There seem to be a lot of very talented photographers out there. Maybe we are wired differently. A lot of photographers will tell you quitting wasn’t an option, they had to see it through.

I tend to throw myself at pursuits so it is always surprising to me when I talk to local amateur photographers and make a suggestion about how they might improve and the response is almost always negative. They can’t (won’t) invest $150 in software that would help them process their images better and open up some creativity. These are people with good jobs, it is just not a priority to them. They want to BE better, but they don’t actually want to GET better.

Agate Beach Sunset

Agate Beach Sunset

One of the points made in the book is about how the internet has changed things. It is no longer good enough to be the best artist or gallery in town. People can now search worldwide so you have have to be the best in the world now.

And the difference between the best and number two is enormous. Why would anyone settle for second best? At least with photography the best is a matter of taste, and photo editors have many factors that influence what image fits their needs.

So if you want to win photo contests, publish images, sell stock images, or sell fine art prints, you have got to put in the work to be up there competing with the best in the world, because the competition for all of that is global now. One thing that is worthwhile trying is to do an image search on-line (use 500px or Getty or Corbis) for a subject of which you have a great image. See what the competition is. See where you have to get to. Remember, yours needs to be better than the best one there. In the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs they have a contraption in the swimming pool that they harness a swimmer into and then set it to move at world record speed, just so he knows what that feels like and knows how far she is from swimming that fast. Brilliant.

Winter Storm_Coastal Range, Oregon

Winter Storm_Coastal Range, Oregon

Everyone has their own way in which they learn the best so there is not one path to get there from here. One thing everybody advises is shoot a lot a lot, and edit mercilessly. Remember, good is no longer good enough, you’re going for great. Maybe it is my humble upbringing, but I still have a hard time trashing a good image just because it isn’t great,even though it is just pixels. I’m too thrifty for my own good.

Another universal recommendation is to look at a lot of good photographs. The Popular and Editor’s Choice galleries on 500px is a good place to do that on a daily basis. Compare those images with what you see on Flickr and you will soon appreciate the difference between good and great.

My favorite illustration in the book shows one stick figure saying “But, what if I fail?” And the other stick figure says, “We all get to laugh at you.”

Grass Widow

Grass Widow

All of the above images were old chrome slides I pulled and scanned recently. Even back then, five to ten years ago, I could take a decent photograph, I just couldn’t do it as consistently as I can now. I cringe at what I didn’t throw away. But back then I was trying to get to good, not great.

Once you have mastered photography and can consistently take great photographs that everybody loves, then you will hit plateaus with your marketing and need to either work through it, or change direction with something new. It never ends.

Advertisements

Textured Flowers

Posted in Photography Technique with tags , , , , , , , on August 19, 2013 by chamimage
Queen Anne's Lace Seed Head

Queen Anne’s Lace Seed Head

It was a week of busyness last week, many stock photo submissions and some print fulfillment and meetings.

By Saturday I was feeling like it was past time for the artful side of things to take over, so I made some textured flower images.

The above image was shot at the dog park. I noticed the seed heads and meant to come back in good light in the morning. Of course there were about a weeks worth of mornings with morning marine air clouds after that before I finally got some mice light.

I used three texture overlays in varying amounts on the above image. When trying them out on the image I noticed areas of the image that benefited from each of them so I masked them in. As George Lepp says, “Escalate.” Anyone can use one texture.

Mountain Bog Gentian

Mountain Bog Gentian

I photographed the gentian a couple of weeks ago in the Cascade Mountains. They grow in boggy areas near mountain lakes.

Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne’s Lace

This is another dog park image.It had a green background that just did not provide enough contrast. One quick texture made a world of difference.

Adding textures can be done in a mouse click with the Adobe Paper Texture panel (https://www.adobeexchange.com/store/products/264#.UhKERz_8DZU), which I believe is still free (there is a pro version that you have to be a “cloud” member to download). Just click on a texture you want it sizes it, orients it and applies it for you in whatever blending mode you choose. Overlay is the default blending mode and once the texture is applied you can cycle through different blending modes quickly to find the best one. If you don’t like the texture, just click on it in the panel again and it removes it. Since they are placed on separate layers I usually apply two or three and then toggle the visibility on and off to compare them. It comes with some sample textures, or you can use it to apply your own from a folder in your files.

It felt good to do something artistic again. Now I am in printer hell with Epson 4900 – again. I can’t get a couple of nozzles unclogged and there is no Epson repair closer than 56 miles away. The printer guys in my area can’t get parts for Epson so won’t even look at it. From what I read on the internet my problem is the norm for this printer and the only fix is to replace the $1300 print head. Since it weighs 150 pounds, taking it to Portland for service is not an attractive option. I think I see a new printer in my future. Probably a Canon.

The Practical Joke

Posted in Photo Stories with tags , , , , , , , on December 26, 2012 by chamimage
Red-eyed Tree Frog

Red-eyed Tree Frog

I’m not much of a practical joker, but once in a while someone innocently sets one up and it really seems a shame to waste a ripe opportunity. Just such an opportunity presented itself to me last week.

I have framed photographic prints on the walls at work. In one hallway are a half dozen of them and as part of her Christmas-ification program after Thanksgiving my assistant likes to take them down and gift wrap them and hang them back up in her spare time, which she apparently has way too much of.

These six framed prints have been there longer than I care to admit. Most of them were shot on film and switched to digital in 2006. One is from Laos in 2003. Not that they are bad images, they have just been there for years and everyone is prone to ignore them.

I sensed an opportunity to hang new prints and have a little fun at the same time, so I went in last weekend and carefully unwrapped each print and replaced it with a new one and carefully re-wrapped them. I left a couple of them; one because it is the most discussed image of a pool with an eddy of autumn leaves in front of a waterfall and every body wants to know how I did it (threw everything in the bag in front of the lens that would slow the shutter speed because you could barely notice the eddy with the naked eye). The other was an 8.5 x 11 from France and I didn’t bring an 8.5 x 11 with me.

Japanese Garden

Japanese Garden

This morning I thought I had blown it because I also hung new prints elsewhere and they were noticed right away. Should have waited to change those. But when my assistant unwrapped the first two they were the two old ones so her surprise when she unwrapped the third one was genuine. I told her the rest would be just like Christmas all over again because she didn’t know what to expect.

Truck Full O' Muddy Dogs

Truck Full O’ Muddy Dogs

In the end what saved me was that she couldn’t believe I would actually go to the trouble of re-wrapping all of those prints.

Like I said, these prints are pretty old. The yellow lab above has passed on from congestive heart failure. The golden retriever is looking kind of wary because the yellow lab is the alpha and not above playing a few practical jokes of his own and being trapped in the back of a pickup with him is not the golden retrievers idea of a good time. Actually the black female is the real alpha, she just lets the lab think he is. Any perceived infraction and she will let him have it. Even if he strayed too far out and had to be called back, she would be there waiting to light into him for it. She was my enforcer. She’s mellowed a bit with age. It all just rolls off of her now.

Big Ben_London

Big Ben_London

Bonding with Art

Posted in Philosophy and Spirituality with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 10, 2012 by chamimage
Face Rock

Face Rock

Our gallery exhibit opening on Saturday was well-attended. So much so that I was exhausted at the end of the day from being so charming all afternoon non-stop. Being an unnatural state for me I’m sure it took a more concerted effort on my behalf than for a normal person.

I recently read an article on what makes people connect to a piece of art enough to buy it and take it home and hang it on their wall where they look at it every day. The article made me even more attentive to the comments I overheard Saturday on my prints.

The above image sold and was the print most people wanted to discuss (I wish I had photographs of the framed prints because my framer did an outstanding job). The blues kind of sucked them in, and then the surprise of finding the face in the rock kept them looking. I know for me it is the color that I relate to. I’m a sucker for blue.

Del Norte Redwoods

Del Norte Redwoods

This image also sold. It can have so many meanings to different people. For a spiritual person the cathedral lighting might represent the presence of spirit. An interior designer might just like the color or a pattern. I think this one is harder for me to articulate why I love it, I just do. Probably because I have the memory of coming upon this scene one evening and being just awe-struck by it.

Big Ben_London

Big Ben_London

This was not a new piece for the opening, but was still hanging nearby from the exhibit last spring and it was commented on a lot. I take it as a compliment that people had a hard time believing that it was a photographic print and I did not paint on it.

 

Moonset on Bow Valley Parkway

Moonset on Bow Valley Parkway

I used this image on the announcement and many people wanted to see it in person. For some reason it didn’t resonate with most people, but was deeply loved by at least one person. I knew going in that this one would be a love it/hate it piece. Photographers wanted to know how I got that intense blue color. Well, I intentionally under-exposed it (meaning at the time to make a composite with a properly exposed image) and I used auto white balance, which failed to compensate for it being o-dark-thirty in the morning. I liked it so much I didn’t dare color correct it in post or make the composite image.

TC

TC

I did sneak a print of my dog into the show, and the gallery owner liked it best, and many people wanted to discuss my dog, which was fun, but nobody seemed to bond with the print. But if you showed this print to enough people, it would trigger a memory in someone of a dog or a time in their life, or a relationship, and they would love it. You just need to get your work out there for people to find.

And what have I bonded with lately?

Lake Louise Boat House

Lake Louise Boat House

I just printed this image and I’m taking it to the framer’s today. I’m a sucker for blue.

Overlays & Textures

Posted in Photography Technique with tags , , , , , , on September 3, 2012 by chamimage

Telephone Poles

I have had the image below of telephone poles on a foggy morning for some time – since 2008. I have meant to do something with it and I knew it would involve adding some kind of texture.

Telephone Poles in Fog

I finally got around to working on it this weekend. I tried some textures I bought from Florabella. I tried some textures I got with Russel Browns Texture Panel for Photoshop from Flypaper Textures. I tried adding a bit of both. They were all very nice, but the result looked too familiar.

Panning Blur

Then I ran across the panning blur file I had stuck into my Overlays &Textures folder for just such an occasion and went Hmmmmm. That is usually a good thing when I go Hmmmm. I popped it on and voila! I like to go “Voila!”

When I bought my first collection of textures from Florabella I immediately thought, “I could totally make these myself.” No rusty metal or aged wood is safe from me now.

Dirty little secret – a lot of what I stick into my Overlays & Textures file are mistakes. The one above? Accidentally triggered the shutter release while handling my camera. I can’t even remember if it was grass or dirt. I tend to be too lazy to lock the shutter button on the vertical grip on my Nikon D3 and the result is that I depress that shutter release button on a regular basis with the bottom of my palm. Sometimes several frames go by before I figure out what the heck is going on.

Add to that the advice I got from David Stoecklein to never delete images in-camera. His thought is that deleting on your memory card introduces gaps in the data and leads to more of a chance the card will not be able to be read by the card reader. One of his sponsors is Delkin so I assume he got that information from somebody who knew something about memory cards.

Sometimes it’s hard to resist the urge to immediately delete images when your camera starts firing all on its own. So, I keep my little oops’s and sometimes they turn out to be interesting blurs and textures.

I just this week learned from Dave Cross (in the latest issue of Photoshop User magazine) that if you open the texture you want to overlay on your image from Bridge using File>Place>in Photoshop, or do as I did and just drag and drop it from Mini Bridge right onto your image, it will open the texture as a Smart Object that is scaled to one of the dimensions of your image and you just have to drag the size of the other dimension to fit. Don’t forget to then hit Enter to exit Transform mode or you can’t do anything until you do.  Much better than opening it as a separate image and dragging it over onto your other image and then having to scale it.

The Russel Brown Texture Panel now gives you twelve free samples from Flypaper Textures, and you can import any texture folder you want. It will scale the texture to your image automatically and you can set the blend mode before you apply the texture or change it afterward. I encourage you to see the video and download it for free at http://www.russellbrown.com/scripts.html. He is a senior creative director at Adobe so rest assured it is safe. You will need to install it using the Extension Manager but if you double click the file once it is unzipped it ought to install automatically. You open it in Photoshop under Window>Extensions>Adobe Paper Texture. A cool little turquoise fly icon will magically appear, waiting for you to click it.

The last important thing is to be sure to experiment with the layer blend modes (Click on the down arrow next to the word Normal at the top of the Layers Panel. None of this texture business has anything to do with being normal.) on the texture layer once you have applied it. If you add your texture from Bridge or Mini Bridge it will be opaque and you will want to start at Overlay blend mode to mix it into your image. Any blend mode except normal is fair game after that. I ended up using Subtraction blend mode for the image at top and have never used that blend mode before in my life so experiment and see what works. Some blend modes turned the image purple. I don’t know why, and not a bad effect, but not what I was going for with this image.

Practice

Posted in Philosophy and Spirituality with tags , , , , , , on March 12, 2012 by chamimage

It takes time. According to one book you need to do something 10,000 times to be proficient at it. This is not what people want to hear in our age of instant gratification. If you are passionate about it, you’ll be happy to put in the time.

“Even Mozart, with all of is innate skills, his passion for music, and his father’s devoted tutelage, needed to get twenty-four symphonies under his belt before he composed something enduring with number twenty-five”

Twyla Tharp in The Creative Habit

Red-eyed Tree Frog_Costa Rica

Return to Innocence

Posted in Philosophy and Spirituality with tags , , , , , , , , on December 19, 2011 by chamimage

Rudolph?

It was a dark and foggy weekend. Just right for curling up with a good book. I read “Walking on Water, Reflections on Faith and Art” by Madeleine L’Engle. It was written in 1980, but the topic is timeless. And it still came up twice recently in lists of recommended books by other photographers. It was heavy on the faith and light on the art, but that was okay. If she had been giving the church sermons when I was a boy I might still be attending church.

Like many books on art, she lamented the loss of creativity we have as very young children. I’m not sure where the statistics were obtained, but she quoted that 90% of 5 year olds are deemed creative, but only 10% of 7 year olds, and 2% of adults.

The common theory is that creativity is beaten out of us very early by well-meaning adults, and that may be mostly true. Chris Orwig likes to talk about when he visits grade schools and asks how many of the kids draw and all of the hands shoot up. How many can draw a house? All hands shoot up. He then asks his photography classes at Brooks Institute and only a half dozen admit to drawing at all and one or two can draw a house. He didn’t say it had to be an architectual drawing of house with three views, but by the time we are old enough to attend Brooks Institute we are led to believe the house would have to be perfect or we aren’t allowed to draw it.

Drawing, beaten right out of us. It starts with “Well, if that’s Mommy where are her ears and why is her hair green?” You learn that there is no leeway there. You have to use the damned flesh colored crayon for the skin or you’ll be chastised. The purple crayon goes unused.

The numbers above on where we lose creativity made me wonder how much is actually natural. In medical school we were taught about plasticity of the brain. We lose plasticity, to a large degree, by age 7. It turns out that we are fairly loosely wired when we are born. The neurons get connected as we age, which is why newborns and toddlers are not gifted with a large degree of gracefulness.

I was going to say grace, but the author reminds us “We are suspicious of grace…But a child rejoices in presents!”

During those loosely wired years we can pick up a foreign language with ease. Plop a five year old in France and he’s talking French in two weeks. It’s just not fair.

Just Hangin’

I guess Chris Orwig’s comments make me lean more toward the nurture part in quashing our creativity.

More quotes from the book – “We are more than we know…” Meaning we have a hidden knowledge we are not aware of. Many spiritual books refer to this as lost knowledge. The thought is that we are all knowing as a spirit, but when the spirit enters the mortal flesh we are made to forget. We spend the rest of our lives re-discovering the lost knowledge, which may explain why some it sounds vaguely familiar. In Walking on Water it is referred to more in the sense that the author discovers meanings she never intended in her sentences when she reads them later in life.

“Only the most mature of us are able to be childlike.” I believe it was Picasso who said that we are most creative as children and the successful artist is the one who is best able to re-discover that child within.

“I am am 61 years old, and I am also 4, and 12, and 15, and 23, and 31, and…, and…, and…” Priceless quote. Sigh.

The author also introduces a new concept for me – kairos. We all know about chronological time, and wish we could stop it. Kairos is the time spent contemplating art; being lost in thought, “touching on the wonder of creation”, the time we lose when we ‘lose track of time’. Maybe that kairos time isn’t factored in and we can subtract it from our age.

I had a deja vu moment when the author talked about going down the stairs at her grandmother’s house without touching them. I totally remember doing that. I’m sure it was probably just a recurring dream (later I resorted to just skimming off of the front of the steps. I actually did do that and could go down a stairway really fast.), but she is convinced she did it and lost the ability as she grew out of childhood. Likewise, she is convinced we could walk on water – if we could just remember how. “The child is aware of unlimited potential…”

Spitsbergen

If Madeleine L’Engle sounds familiar, it is probably because she wrote a very popular novel for young adults called A Wrinkle in Time. It was rejected by about 30 publishers before becoming famous. Too difficult for adults to understand. That’s why the publisher who bought it marketed it to teens. Teems can still suspend disbelief, which may be what is necessary to be a good artist. Unlimited potential.