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Tuesday, 25 April 2017


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That farm photo makes me "nostalgic for now."

Photography is Seeing the Picture; Taking the Picture; Making the Picture.

In my experience, seeing is the easiest part.

An intriguing photo, Mike. Thanks. I can *see* why you were captured by it. But hard to *say* why. Maybe it's just the Platonic ideal of a farm, partly because it's seen from far enough away to get a sense of the vastness of the land around? Hmmmm. Needs more study.

I tend to take batches of pictures, obsess over culling/cropping/etc. for a while and then forget about them.

I've returned to the same place for many vacations over the past 15 years and when I went through all of those photos the other day I found that I've taken many photographs of the same tree. Just a tree, in a yard, with phone lines running annoyingly through the top branches. Utterly unremarkable, yet I return to it year after year.

It's oddly enough quite difficult to take a good photograph of farmland that doesn't come off as too sentimental or saccharine, that conveys a bit of the flinty reality of farm life yet still has some claim to beauty. I know, because I've been trying for 25 years.
Todd Hido's work is about as far from mine as you can get, but his odd combination of formal pictorial beauty with droll subject matter has given me a few ideas about photographing farms and farmland.
Sunburst photo

Ohhhhh, for years, mostly when I was in high school and college, I was obsessed with photographing my family's farmland, especially the pasture and grove.

There's something deeply compelling about farmland as a subject. When I look at my photos, with decades between making them and seeing them, they look and feel like portraits to me, not landscapes.

Anyone else have that reaction?

Here are my favorites from that period:

Trees and Gully, Craig, NE, 1980

Tree In The Pasture, Craig, NE, January, 1987

Creek and Bridge, Craig, NE, January, 1987

Trio, Craig, NE, January, 1987

The Culvert Pond, Craig, NE, January, 1987

Trailer And Wagon, Craig, NE, January, 1987

The Road Home, Craig, NE, January, 1987

Nice picture
One of the great Joys of living in temperate climes is watching the world be born again each spring. It fills you with hope and anticipation.
If you do much landscape photography you quickly learn that 'going back' is often a good Idea. Like the sentiment expressed in the idea that "You can never step in the same river twice" Landscapes are ever changing. They always offer something different--not necessarily better or worse-- but a different facet of the same diamond.
In situations like that, attempting to pick "The One" is a fools errand. It is quite possible over the years to build up many equally excellent and equally representative pictures of a special location or subject.
I'm not for a moment suggesting that we consider all of our attempts to be good. Good is rare for a reason. But that multiple efforts at the same place or location can in the end result in a more effective body of work.
I say, if you are drawn to a place, go back, and you will often be rewarded.
I also totally agree with the notion of "using the camera you love, no matter what it is'
This buying new cameras all the time was one of the (somewhat necessary) aberrations of the big digital switch.
It can now be regarded as a bad habit.
All modern cameras are both sufficient and deep, the better we know them, the better they work as an extension of our eye.

I enjoyed this piece a lot, thanks

Hi Mike, a post that speaks to me, I've been following the farms for a while, it's hard to make a good photo of something I think is so familiar. (I'm in Western Monroe County near Rochester) http://www.frankpetronio.com/localfarms.

As for the Pany I'm sorry, I don't get it for slow moving landscapes when there are nice full frame cameras and superb lenses that would get just that much more. But then again I do shoot more with the FX body than the view camera these days, and quantity equals quality, over the long haul.


As they would tell you at Ma France, the local import fromagerie here in Lexington, Massachusetts, it's "c'est ma vie" (I'm always getting my cheese genders wrong). Life, as we know it, is feminine in French.
Don Craig

So why not put up a picture a week?


"C'est ma vie"

[Fixed now, thanks to Bert. EVERY TIME I assay a phrase in French I get it wrong! I have a hard enough time with English; I should just stick to that. :-) --Mike]

Mike, I think I can see what you may like about the farm as a subject. How about cropping most of the sky and make it a pseudo panorama?

C'est ma vie.

Not only is the cedilla superfluous here, but vie is feminine in gender, always.

You might also want to revisit "Today's it's rainy again"...

No need to post this comment, was just the easiest way to contact you.

Thanks for your work!

Farmland does hold some attraction for me too, photographically. Being in the suburbs of Chicago, its an easy drive to the city or the farms. The farms in Spring, when the first plantings are showing in neat spring green rows, really is beautiful. I too, just added a used Olympus E-M1 Body to my m43's kit to compliment the Fujis and to offset my own YIPS issue. I found this Olympus fell to hand easily for me, and it will serve well for Macro work as well.
I like the photo you posted - it will make a lovely print.
I've been out as often as time and the wind allows this April- it is the magic month of Spring.

Why stop? Why not photograph nothing BUT this farm for a year?

Get away from the desk, get some spring air, take more photographs. Your writing might even come easier for it. I know I feel more energized and ready to work after a nice hike.

In England and Wales, as a rule, land is either built on or it's farm land. So if you take non-urban landscape photographs, you'll be photographing farmland, like as not.

I agree, the bokeh in the first shot is outstanding.

nitpick: "La vie" is feminine - so it's "C'est ma vie"

There was an article in the newspaper today about the conflict between Wisconsin dairy farmers and Canadian milk policy. I was struck by an interesting statistic that said that the number of dairy farms in Ontario has declined from 140,000 in the late 60's to 12,000 today.

I've been driving around southern Ontario capturing images of abandoned farms with dilapidated farm houses and falling down barns. It's so sad, even though the images can be haunting. This subject seems to have struck a chord with local curators and I've got a solo gallery show later this summer. There are some people who find farms interesting!

Enjoy shooting these lovely farms while you can Mike. They may not be around much longer.

I've lived in DeKalb, IL for 35+ years and have always been attracted to the flat farm country and farms surrounding me. I've taken many many pictures like yours, more or less, and can't think of one that is memorable... well maybe a few where clouds/sunset made the shot work, I guess.

Panoramas never seemed to help, either.

Wind turbine farms show some visual promise, although I guess the farmers don't like them. They probably won't sprout on Amish or Mennonite land.

Anyway, you are not alone in trying!

I like that picture! Understand what you mean, I do the same thing, being drawn to the same subject repeatedly. :-) I even have decided that I have the image I want in some cases and decided not to make more images of it. :-) This one is on a farm just a few hundred meters from my home:


Mike, I keep returning to this photo, so please forgive the double comments. Apart from the essence-of-farmness in the evident arrangement of the buildings on the land -- which is so attracting to the photographer -- this photo in particular has a fabulous play of light-and-darker. So good to look at.

[Thanks. I like that it's subtle, too. We live in an era of crank-it-up, which makes me want to go the other way. --Mike]

It always shocks me a little to see such photographs of such farms. Is it on what you would refer to as 'the praries'? It looks like it. Desecration of the landscape is what immediately comes to mind, even if it may have a stark beauty under certain skies or lighting conditions. Is the land really so exposed to wind and erosion and consequent soil degredation? Please tell me that there are some hedges or walls or trees somewhere nearby to mitigate the effects. Sorry if my comment is not really photographically related.

Lovely photo, Mike.

"It's not like it's obviously such a great subject. It's just a subject I needed to understand, for some unknown reason."

Perhaps all you need to understand is that it is a great subject?

Take a look at crops. 3:2, better, 16:9, better yet, 8:3 - yowsa!

Mike, thank's a lot, for doing such a great job, The Online Photographer it's the best, blog, for those who enjoy photography.
For me, the pleasure to read, about photography in general, being articles about techniques, or esthetic, it's a must.
I hope you can keep both activities, photographing, and writing this wonderful blog
Best regards
Vasco Riobom

Oh Mike,

You were weaned on REAL farmland.. What better image can be captured than a Wisconsin dairy farm, field full of Guernseys, grain bins full of corn, and all buildings painted with the same, traditional UW Badger Red!

Yes, the farms in Up-state NY are very picturesque, but don't you miss the the aroma of the fields as the John Deere spreader flung their semi-soft natural fertilizer over the fields? Or the tarp-covered-tire-secured piles of fresh manure, waiting for just the right time to be slurried and fed to the rich, dark brown glacier deposited earth of America's Dairylnd.


Sincerely from,

A now Tennessee resident missing the squeak of fresh curds!

P.S. This missive will not make much sense to anyone that has never been a cheesehead...

About those Mennonites. Go ahead and strike up a conversation. I'm almost positive they will enjoy the photo. It could easily be an ice breaker to open conversations with a group of people that can be shy about relating to outsiders.

It's only certain strict sects that don't like photos, and it's only images of people that they are against. If those Mennonites have vehicles of any kind (cars, tractors) or have power lines into their farms, they won't be against photos (just a simple correlation rule based on what's true in my area). Even if the church group is against photos, many of the members would secretly enjoy them. See I grew up Mennonite, but we never had an issue with photos. Just spending money foolishly on them!

I love that farm scene. It could well be in Waterloo Region here in Ontario.

The top photo tells quite a story. To the right a dairy farm started over a century ago, good times in the 1920s bought then that nice dairy barn in the center and the big hay/horse barn behind it. Then they got tractors and a cement stave silo to put the corn in. Lots of investment in the 1970s with the two big blue Harvistore silos. Maybe they made it through the 80s when so many of those dairy farms died. Still growing the corn but don't see any cow pastures. Seems pretty tidy for an ex dairy farm, so perhaps the cows and pasture are hiding behind a subtle hill?

Nothing sadder than a former dairy farm, so I hope they are doing ok.

I can see why that particular farm would be appealing as a motive, I can feel it, too. The different buildings and other elements with their varying heights and sizes and colours and mass have a certain rhythm to them, have pauses and emphasis, something almost musical.

You're just trying to figure out how that particular score wants to be played.

And I don't see why there should only be one perfect answer to that. If you feel drawn to the scene, why stop? Just think of the two recordings of Glenn Gould playing the Goldberg Variations, 26 years apart. The same piece, by the same piano player, yet still something entirely other, because the person interpreting it was feeling it in a different way than before. What a shame would it be had he decided that recording it once was good enough because it was just right.

For certain things, it's perfectly fine to not have a definitive version and to keep playing.

If you want Farm images try North Dakota. #1 in 8 farm crops and top 5 in 20 of them. NO big corporate farms - it is illegal. Have to be family owned by a legal NoDak resident so no Monsanto, etc factory farms.
Small rolling hills to flat rich farms with Shelter Belts to protect the soil. Old farmsteads, modern farmsteads, old and new machinery all across the State where Agriculture is the #1 industry.
A good reason Tillman Crane does a workshop in North Dakota each year - Abandoned Farms in North Dakota.

I have a handful of what I call my "usual suspects". I shoot them constantly because, sooner or later, they're gone or change in a way that, unlike the seasons, we can never go back to. I took this photo of one of them in January this year:

In February it was gone.

The barn I used to shoot just outside of Madison is probably gone by now but with luck the oak in the middle of a set of corn fields, atop a rising ridge line, is still there for another try someday.

Mike, your writing is brilliant! It is interesting and not too serious. You absolutely know what you are writing about and if you don't you are open about it. I learn something new and it doesn't have to be about photography. That's probably your real strength, the mix between photography and something else. Sometimes they relate, sometimes they don't. My favorite insight today was the point you made about how we return to photograph a subject time and time again because we have a need to understand it. Thank you! And please let comments be comments and go shoot some more pictures or take a break sometimes. You'll just end up writing more interesting texts afterwards. Btw. here in Norway the spring is on its way. We got 5 cm of snow yesterday (2 in.) and today it's gone. Love that!

Mike, the blurred pictures you're getting are likely a result of mechanical shutter bounce, a feature of the GX8 and the GX7 that I have.

Easiest solution is using the electronic shutter. I leave my GX7 on electronic shutter all the time now. Silent as well so you don't disturb the subjects - not that landscapes will notice.

dpreview has commented on this problem in their camera reviews.

I've spent more than 20 years documenting life in Indiana's rural areas and small towns. Farmland is an interesting subject. There is a beauty to the landscape of the midwest that many people discount or overlook.

This is a photograph that I made last May on a foggy spring morning in rural Allen County, Indiana. It's actually just a few miles outside the city of Fort Wayne, Indiana's second largest city.

A lot of people who live here insist that there are no landscapes worth photographing here. Our rural lands have so much beauty, if people would just let themselves see it.

My work is mostly social documentary, and the landscapes help establish a sense of place for my photographs of people and manmade things that are expressions of rural culture, like the photos below.

I often go back to the same places and photograph them over a period of years. Sometimes, there are dramatic changes, often there is not.

'It's just a subject I needed to understand, for some unknown reason.' Very well said, I know that feeling. And about April, 'the cruellest month' (I don't agree with T.S. Eliot here, not at all. He had his very personal reasons for saying so, it seems), its beautiful ever changing light just made me spend 400 euro's: my Fuji X-Pro2 is out for a small repair that unfortunately may take three weeks - sending, judging and repairing it, is a three country affair here in Europe. It being my only camera, I realised I would miss almost all of April. Couldn't live with that, so bought a used X-E2.

Be careful with the G8. I bought a new one last summer and was not happy with the results, too many out of focus shots and having to keep to relatively high shutter speeds 1/60 second upwards. I returned it and have purchased a G80. What a difference, I can handhold right down to 1/15 sec with no issues. A cheaper camera and a better camera as far as I am concerned, but I agree the G8 is a beautiful camera.

I know exactly what you mean about a scene that just won't leave you alone. I have one of those on Route 7 in Vermont north of where I live. It hits me in the head almost every time I drive by it. I keep telling myself that one of these days I will actually put a camera and tripod in the car when I am going to be in that neighborhood. . . . and this from a guy who doesn't really "do" landscape. With this one, it is more like the landscape did me. . .


I feel the same way about our local wetland nature park. It's swamp and marsh and scrubby southern woods. There's not a majestic view in it. But I've been taking pictures there for five years now, trying to get my head (and a picture frame) around what I like about the place.

James Ravillius, son of Eric photographed little else but farms and farmland, using a Leica and a 35mm lens. Brilliant pictures; see" Down the Deep Lanes", Devon farm life in the 50s and 60s.

Definitely talk with the Mennonites. I've taken (with permission) several images of them in Virginia that are some of my favorite portraits/candids. Amish, on the other hand, generally do not like to be photographed. Regardless, always good to ask.

I have a thing for getting the pantograph of a moving streetcar or train in my photos of such, maybe because it glides along the wires conducting the electricity that makes everything happen. It's almost an emotional thing. So I certainly can understand a compulsion for photographing farmland or any other subject, e.g. a red chair.

Let me guess: Along the road North out of Penn Yan, but not too far out, and towards Geneva.

Very nice photo. How about OCOLOF?

I jest, sort of. When I was young, my mother took up ceramics and we heard tell of a master Japanese ceramicist who required his new apprentices to throw nothing but (Japanese style) tea cups for five years before they could move on to other projects. I find the idea of photographing the same (simple) subject exclusively for a year appealing - I think that I would learn a tremendous amount. But I lack the discipline.

One camera
One lens
One farmland
One year

I like the photos Mike, I think you do these farm landscapes well. I hate to mention it, but am I the only one who sees a big purple splotch in the clouds in the second photo? I'm used to seeing that in my Sigma Merrill photos and it jumped out at me.

[Yes but it's still pretty amazing performance. The sun was TREMENDOUSLY bright that very clear day, and was shining full on the front element of the lens--it was just above the picture area. I'll tolerate a bit of purple if that's all the flare there is. [g] --Mike]

I live on a farm in the Loess Hills of Western Iowa and so have a real weakness for farm shots. Here are a couple from the neighborhood.



The scarecrow is from my vegetable garden. When the3 county 911 service was computerized we had to have a street name so Rural Route 3 became Nixon Avenue which is a bitter pill for one of the last Democrats in Harrison county. It's been ten years so I'm over it now but it really hurt at the time.

I agree with Joe, talk to them. I've sold photographs to Amish who share similar beliefs. What they don't want is any photographs of themselves. I accidentally included a couple of them in a photograph of their steam tractions engines. It's hard to figure out cropping with a Cirkut camera. I explained that I had accidentally included them but would crop them out of the final image. I think I even cut off the offending end right there. They seemed happy with that.

They do like photographs of their traction engines and would expect them to like farm photographs. Of course that was Amish and really each church is slightly different anyway.

Stuart Klipper has done a number of shots of farmland that I like. There are some in the "selected work" on his web site I linked, but the ones I really remember were in a show last year at a Wisconsin college. For him, panoramas do help.

Nice work, Mike. I've spent most of my life in upstate NY and now that I rarely visit there, I find myself thinking about the landscape where you live more often. I've always found it challenging subject matter; I have many bad pictures and a few very good; and I wish I had the chance (time) to do that subject justice. So keep up the good work.

The thing about April that I like most (I have not read all the comments, so pardon me if this is repetitive,) is the budding of the trees. So much laced goodness! Alas, since I work full time and don't seem to have much energy after work and household chores consume much of weekends, I rarely get to try and photograph those trees in one of Rochester's several Olmstead parks.

And here I sit with a new-to-me Nikkor Fujinon 75 that has yet to have its shutter tripped by me!

Other than that, I'm a big fan of May. High heat days are not so common, but cold days are rare.

That's a lovely picture, Mike. Really nice.

You've seen Larry Towell's book on The Mennonites haven't you?
It's a masterpiece.

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