« Easter in New York | Main | Pink Rooster »

Sunday, 12 April 2020


As my fishing friends say, "It's called fishing, not catching."

Yes, "hunting" is correct, but I do find it difficult to understand why all the bad pictures (chafe) are taken in the first place.

I'm a long distance truck driver working the western states. I see some absolutely incredible scenery on a daily basis. I see the picture before I take it. I'll pull my truck on the shoulder of the road, get positioned, click the shutter, usually one time, and I'm done. I'm very very picky surveying the scenery while I'm driving.

Since I'm using a mirrorless Nikon Z6, the EVF shows me what the picture will look like before I take it, so it separates the wheat from the chafe. I call the pictures "RoadScapes."

It’s rare that I come back from shooting without at least some new little insight. And I’ve just always liked being out there in my subject and working on it.

I can get discouraged, but the next day that’s gone.

I lived with a painter. For her it was work, work, work. The better part of her time seemed to be spent getting everything just right. But I don’t think that she made any more paintings that really moved her than I got photographs that really satisfied me. But she understood just how much grunt stands behind exceptional work.

That much effort is never easy. But she loved painting, the doing. She was ambitious too, and she had courage, which is necessary when confidence starts to sink.

Degas said that the artist must have a high opinion of his or her work. Not of current work, but of the work that he or she hopes to do one day. He further said that without a view to the future it’s not worth going on.

Well put; well put indeed. All creative work is driven by some sort of (often painful) tension, and I think your essay gives a very precise description of the specific creative tension that defines the work of the photographer.

All the above seems to me to assume the hunt is for single pictures. Ones I have seen described as 'wall worthy'.

There is at least one alternative: to look to build a body of work in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

There's more strategies for photographers than hunting:


Mike, the most important part of that post, I think, is....
"Ok, I'm starting to feel better now"
Creative activity nourishes us.
I often tell people that' talking about Photography is different from Doing Photography'. Both can be enjoyable, but they are different.
A photographer makes pictures.
It is the doing, and not the talking that nourishes us.
This is the same for any creative endeavor with artistic intent, playing a musical instrument, painting, cooking,.....it is the doing that distinguishes us and feeds us.
We also, in my opinion, can't worry too much about what is wheat and what is chaff, do the work and it will sort itself out soon enough.
Creative endeavors can be done at lots of different levels and, if done earnestly, can produce benefits for us at every level.
Setting the bar of what is ' good' to high is as bad as setting it too low. Every song does not have to be a masterpiece to bring us satisfaction and joy.
I'm not expecting MoMA to call anytime soon, but I have lots of work that I am proud to have done. This is not to say that I'm easy on myself---like everyone else, I know when something I have done rises to the level of 'interesting'. I simply never worry about 'great'. "Great", or 'Important' is something other people decide.

Even the notion of 'Hunter' gives us too much importance, it suggests that we go after something and capture it. While I do understand it can work that way, especially in assignment work, for most of us I find the Idea of "Going Out, technically ready, but more or less empty, and allowing pictures to 'find us' more the way it works for me. Being in the right frame of mind, being 'out in the world' and being ready to be amazed by what there is to see, -if done regularly, almost never fails to result in pictures that satisfy.

All the while I was immobilized by a knee injury over the last year or two, meant I did a lot more reading and talking about photography than I did "doing it" . Of course I made pictures but they were mostly convenient ones. My pictures got worse.
It is the Doing that produces all the good.
Best, Michael


Thanks for introducing the concept of “hunting.” It helps me understand an approach to picture making I’ve come around to, and relieved me from a lot of frustration when I clarified my expectations for a camera outing. To use the analogy of hunting, whether for food, treasure, life lists (e.g., birds), personal recognition, etc. it helped me to break down the the act of hunting (over simplified) into: bagging a trophy, practice, and getting lucky.

Bagging a trophy. It may be hard to focus on a subject for the hunt (you give up some too) but that’s what a lot of serious hunters do. There are seasons, locations, events, investments to be made to come home with something valuable. I picked a trophy type (well, more than one, over time) and realized I would only get what I wanted when I planned the trips (and expenses), invested in the particular equipment, and practiced what was needed to increase the chances of success. For me, it's been a welcome and happy improvement.

Practice. Maybe the biggest, unintended benefit of defining the trophy hunt was understanding the role of repetitive, boring, and largely unrewarding practice. These aren't mistakes, misses, or chaff. The role of shooting the equivalent of paper targets, practicing fly-casting in the backyard, or long walks without seeing a bird (let alone a Cooper’s Hawk) was clearly not to come home with the trophy but to make the needed skills for success more or less automatic. What a relief to have a healthy perspective to replace the frustration! Kirk Tuck, bless his heart, practices a LOT.

Getting lucky. The more we practice, the better our chances of getting lucky. How rewarding when it happens! The error I have made in the past was getting lucky and judging all the practice that led to it as wasted effort (again as misses, mistakes or chaff). And sometimes, getting lucky also leads to a whole new category of trophies to hunt.

John Merlin Williams

The process is pretty much, "Throw a lot of stuff (or something) onto the wall, and see what sticks."

I've given up trying to capture "keepers." For the duration, I have two cameras going, while I pretend that they are loaded with 35mm film, which some day I'll take to get developed. I'm finding it to be a relaxing change of pace.

It is demoralizing when I get back with a whole lot of nothing after a lot of hard work. But I've come to accept that as part of the process. You have to be ruthless. If it's not good, it's not good. Let it go and keep trying.

I've lost the source now, but the quotation I like goes something like this: "It's called art work, nor art f*cking around!"

Found it! That quotation was in David DuChemin's book, "The Soul of the Camera". He attributes it to Chase Jarvis (but isn't sure either).

For a while I owned the domain lighthunters.net (I think it was the .net I owned), but we never managed to do enough with it to make it worth keeping. But the idea that it's a hunt, yeah. That's what it is.

Well, in that old adage “f/8 and be there.” The “be there” is the important part.

Art comes from the heart and not from intellectual pursuit. It arrives from awareness. Self help for photographers.

I used to get very frustrated when I didn't get anything for awhile, truth is, still do- it's what keeps you motivated to try again the next day. Sometimes, it can be a long dry spell with not much to nothing, and then there are those rare, blessed occasions when they seem to fall from the sky.

On even rarer occasions, you can even find one you missed or unknowingly rejected when looking back- like finding a twenty on the sidewalk!

I’m not sure that “chaff” describes the value of the pictures that seem to do nothing. There’s always at least a little something of personal vision in them, even if to start with various problems prevent effective expression of it.

Maybe it’s helpful to figure out the merits of these flawed but at least somewhat connected efforts, to learn from the problems, and to admire and develop the gleam of personal vision in them.

Getting away from a day’s work that seems flat at first can help. Come back to it after a few sleeps.

“What was I thinking when I did that?” “Well let me see.”

Hunting or not, the issue it seems to me is, why do we photograph? Many people online quote Winogrand’s dictum, “I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed.” But I doubt this is what Winogrand was thinking, considering the sheer volume of his shooting; rather, he must have been reacting to the moment, in his search for immediacy. The Winogrand statement is an a posteriori rationalization that, for me, is inane and unreal — a throwaway line. Better to look at photographers’ work rather than reading what they write they say.

On the will to shoot, or to find a direction, it’s more fruitful to consider Daido Moriyama’s book, Light and Shadow, published in 1982, ten years after his previous book, and three years after he stopped shooting altogether — a time in which he had been strung out on opioids. He got back to photographing after studying  the first photograph ever made, the one by Niépce, which was an eight-hour exposure out of his window, showing just some light and shadow of a building that barely can be made out as such. Moriyama then got started on his return to photography by shooting a macro of a peony on a dark background and continued with the concept of light and shadow, in his high-contrast style. The accompanying text in Light and Shadow states that Moriyama created a narrative between light and shadow, and continues that, rather than trying to illustrate an idea or concept through the photographed objects — through his obsession with the objects themselves — Moriyama took photography “as far as possible from the realm of words”. 

Granted, this can sound like the cant of artspeak; but this idea is also expressed in Roland Barthes’ book about Japan, Empire of Signs: that meaning can be transmitted without words, without description, without explication — the way it is with photographs, or with haiku poems, which for Barthes represent the end of language.

All this resonates with my feeling that the visual impulse, the configuration of form — light and dark — seen directly by the eye, is what drives me to photograph, removed entirely from words. One can formulate various types of reasons for photographing: recording, documenting, memorializing, expressing, communicating and so on. Ultimately, for me, the most basic one is this visual impulse — specifically, when I see a configuration of light and dark that appears as a form which attracts me. That’s when I’m driven to take a picture. And this visual image, its feeling, is what I remember, visually, years afterwards. Looking today at the images I like the best, I remember the feeling I had when I originally pressed the shutter.

When I finished my book last November, Frog Leaping, and started considering what to photograph, I was thinking about this visual drive to shoot and embarked on a series called Empire of Signs.

You'll never have wheat without chaff. The good photos are just past the bad ones; you have to cross through to get at them.

I also have to say that for me, the photos are the hunters; I am the prey. I just go about my life, and sometimes they strike.

Kirk Tuck, of The Visual Science Lab and a frequenter these parts (in fact I think it was his site that brought me here oh so many moons ago!) did a post about 'Lonely Hunter, Better Hunter' https://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2011/10/lonely-hunter-better-hunt.html?m=1 Which I've quoted to my wife so often now, that she quotes it back to me, when I get that itch to wander and look...and hunt.

Just to expand on Mike's hunting analogy, FWIW, you don't go out and spray ammunition around hoping to hit a deer. No, you isolate your prey, wait for the precise moment, then pull the trigger, click the shutter. And since with modern mirrorless technology you know how the image will look beforehand, why even photograph when you know you have nothing worth photographing?

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007