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Thursday, 15 September 2022


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When days like these occur, and it can be writing, shooting photos, really anything creative, it always precipitates the fear that it's over. 'It' being the ability or having the capacity to do or create something original that's good. When younger, those days were rarer and, with a longer shadow of the future, less worrisome. These days, they are sometimes deeply saddening, even worse than the physical infirmities that go along with the aging process. But on the bright side, so far anyway, the creative muse always returns! Hence the need for various kinds of faith in our lives.

"Either the picture works entirely or it doesn't work at all. Everything's a no that isn't a yes".
I just started the process of culling over 20 years of digital photos, and some old film scans. I've always leaned toward the idea of "If in doubt, DON'T throw it out". As a result, I've now got gigabytes of photos to go through.
I'm gonna take your advice to heart as I clean up my mess. Thank you!

Ansel Adams said in a interview that 12 good photos in a year was a good goal. So you're less than a dozen away from that.

As a hobbyist, this should bring joy. If it doesn't...

We’re walking in the same shoes. My antidote to this is two fold: go out and make MORE pictures, but somewhere different if I can; and review a my old work to remind myself what my good pictures look like.

But here’s the thing I’ve decided is most important to me: making pictures, period. I just like to be out with a camera in my hand, surveying the world for possibilities, raising the viewfinder to my eye to frame a photo, and then pressing the shutter. I am so accustomed to spending time that way outdoors that life feels almost ‘flat’ to be outdoors without a camera (though my eyes are still finding things that make me wish I had a camera with me). While I’m always hopeful I’ve captured something worth looking at I nevertheless enjoy the effort.

I went out today and I know that I got several "ok" shots but no real good keepers. Still need to look at them on screen though...there's always hope.

Inspired by your "punk commitment," I've started to shoot using my Nikon's tiff option (both black and white and color). If I ever shared that on a certain forum, I'd be widely scoffed at, but the large files give me a psychological boost, and according to Thom they also take a little more abuse in post-processing. The trick is to set them to fairly low contrast and then adjust later. It's fun so far.

I like to go out for walks, and if I get a good photo, so be it.

I'll always have accomplished at least the walk, that way.

The very best major league sluggers only hit the ball 30% of the time but they keep swinging anyway.

I guess carrion is very a propos, then!

I have an insightful friend who always seems to be able to tell when one of my pictures is merely an exercise or experiment as opposed to something more substantive or authentic, even when I'm in denial. Neither of us thinks there's anything wrong with the practice of practice, but we help keep each other honest about it.

I suspect that at least some of my "empty" outings are the result of neglecting regular workouts--time set aside to exercise, experiment and play with the tools and skills, including feeling and seeing. So it's not something I should get too bummed about. At worst, I got in a workout. Maybe I even learned something. As for the rest, just plain off days are gonna happen, too.

Sometimes I look at my pictures and think... Meh... but I try not to delete them straight away as I must have seen something there to bother to take the picture. Right?

So, I keep them for a while and I go back to them after a few days or weeks and sometimes I see that something, and if I still don't it's only then that I delete them.

I do have so many pictures that I now enjoy that only survived because I didn't initially give in to the Meh and delete them.

"When I come home "empty" like that, though, something strange happens...I find that instead of working less over the lot, I'll struggle and work and worry over the files in that folder more."

I guess you are an optimist. From the old joke: "With all this manure, there has to be a pony in here somewhere!"

When you don't wander off topic, you write about photography. Yesterday's experience gave you a topic and an illustration. I'd say that was a successful day.

What I find helpful in my own practice is to work in terms of projects. The benefit is twofold: firstly, it gives me a clear direction what to look for and photograph. A "good picture" is one that delivers what I want to show, and is visually appealing. Secondly, the photographs will be put together into a body of work. The latter relies on the combined effect of all pictures to become more than the sum of the parts. You can focus on collecting "small pictures" rather than the "single masterpiece", saving you lots of frustration. Even if a picture has potential but doesn't quite turn out, you can always revisit that idea and retry.

With this style of working, I get some "keepers" from each excursion. Of course, the vast majority of them will not be part of the finished body of work. But returning completely empty - no, doesn't happen.

Best, Thomas

Everything’s a no that isn’t a yes. I love that. This is a great post of yours. Your writing and your photographer’s skill and experience.

Agree with Gordon Reynolds on just being out there. Giacometti: “I now work only for the sensation I have while working.”

Mike, my old friend and photography mentor always had words of wisdom for me and I remember most of them. One of many was when I sometimes went out for a day of shooting and on many occasions came home with nothing fruitful. He reminded me that to go out shooting with no real goal or a destination was always bad practice. He reminded me to pick a location or a plan of what are you going to shoot today, abstracts, people, closeups, insects, flowers. With that in mind you may find a gem along the way but at least I had a prime objective. It worked most of the time, and when that was not an option I always went to my go to spot. This was a beautiful trout stream with large boulders, a gravel road and heavily wooded. I have a large image bank of that place and you know what no two days were ever the same there, always something new. But I don’t need to give you any advice you surely know all these things, but it’s good to remember my old friends words of wisdom.

This is a very timely post. I've managed to carve out a day in the field tomorrow to shoot for a project. I understand that I may come back with nothing. That's always the risk. I hope not though because these days are hard to find.

I'm with Thomas Rink on the subject of projects. I do best when I'm shooting for a project. The chances of coming back with what I need tomorrow are that much better because I have some ideas about what I need.

A couple quick thoughts. The piece of the process that is luck. The shot above was brought over the edge because that hawk happened into the frame and to be in a nice, majestic form. Without him, shot loses some energy - as you say.

Next, just as some days you can't find your groove out there with the camera, sometimes you might not be in an editing groove? Is there a chance that you revisit this batch of images a year from now, with some distance, and change your mind about some of the images?

I believe it is vital to have an aim when I go out on a photographic expedition. If I find myself aimlessly out and about with my camera, I come back with nothing worth saving, always, without exception.

I tend to set myself projects concerning things that interest me, outside of photography. My present project is Romanesque architecture. I set out to visit the location having previously studied the location in some depth, and my photographic goals are more or less clear. The resulting set of pictures of a location hang together as one.

A project can be more abstract like my Gonzaga project, where I wanted to explore a sleepy area around Mantua in Italy, and try to convey the atmosphere of the place.

If there is such a thing as "writers' block", then there must be such a thing as "shooters' block".

[Hmm, I don't know...it seems like one of the main advantages of photography is that the camera always gets something. So you can always get out and take pictures. The solution to shooter's block is just to get out and shoot. --Mike]

The good pictures you print once, enjoy them for a week up on the corkboard, and then put them in the art folder. The bad pictures you never print at all. But the almost pictures… You print them over and over with variations and still end up throwing them away.

Now that I think of it, most of my most skillful use of Lightroom is trying to rescue an “almost” picture. The good pictures generally don’t require much work.

Can't tell from the picture, because it's ... er ... not in color, but one easily recognized distinction is that turkey vultures heads are red, like their namesake. If not red, then they're black vultures. Similar range, similar diet, may be seen roosting in the same place.

Channel your inner Jane Bown - 'The best photos arrive uninvited'

Although this kinda knocks on the head the idea of going out with the intention of coercing a photo from your environs.

Of course this also emphasises the many rooms of the photography church. Landscape, Portrait, Street (whatever that is), Abstract, Still-life, Wildlife... etc etc

"Get out" is so true. I've been staying in the mountains for the past week and up untill yesterday its been nothing but rain. Because I'm in such a beautiful setting I felt obligated to venture out into the rain with my trusty 6D and after several days if finally payed off. The clouds momentarily parted and I managed to capture some high mountain landscapes with stormy skies. I don't think I would have gone out in the rain if I were closer to home so it was a good lesson.
Yesterday was cloud free and I found myself standing in a high mountain meadow at sunset photographing spectacular wild horses and bugling bull elk. It was a truly great and rare day and I felt I had earned it after all that slogging in the rain. I'm anxious to get home and process these files to confirm what I'm seeing on my 6D's battered LCD.

Just standing in that meadow at 9000 feet listening to the song of the rut made me happy but if I didn't have my camera with me I know my joy would have been diminished. While shooting the elk I found myself pining for the new R7 to extend my reach and allow me to use my 1.4x teleconverter with my EF 100-400. My 6D can only autofocus at f/8 in Live View. Uh-Oh, wilderness GAS attack...and not a TUMS in sight. This is gonna cost me.

The joy of being a “fine art” photographer is that if I have a hit rate of zero, I don’t care!

BTW- Wessel's were the most technically proficient and 'perfect' prints I've ever witnessed in my life (taken with 35mm). The low contrast reproductions in his book are a real disservice.

Reminds me of one of Thom’s articles about the photography business, or any business.
To paraphrase - badly - the market is always changing, so you have to try new things, take a chance, take a risk. Yes, it may fail, but it may work. You won’t know unless you try. To not try anything new is to guarantee failure as the market eventually leaves you behind.
If you don’t get out and shoot, you’re guaranteed to not get a shot.
You have to chance your arm - or is it finger, for photo dawgs :~)

I really like that image.
Any interest in a print sale?

THanks very much for posting the link to the Wessel video. What a guy.

That KQED video really resonated with me. Thanks to Ernest Zarate for the link. Damn, I wish I had had him for a professor. I taught as an adjunct instructor for 16 years and I am humbled. I hope I imparted a fraction of the wisdom to my students as Henry Wessel did to me in that brief video.

@ Ernest Zarate: Thanks so much for sharing your anecdotal recollections of Henry Wessel! My first awareness of Wessel was, in fact, watching that 2007 KQED piece you posted. I suspect I'm among the top-ten viewers of that video. (I even quoted him from that video in my 2021 book!)

Since then I've purchased several of his books. Like William Klein's work, I can spend hours looking at Henry Wessel's work...but with a difference. When I look at Klein's work I ask, "What did he catch in that frame?" But when I look at Wessel's images I ask, "What did he see in that frame?"

I grew an enormous admiration for Wessel's eye and his thoughts on post-capture gestation of images. I so hoped I'd have the chance to meet him during a trip to the Bay Area. But it just didn't happen. I was very sad to learn of his death in 2018.

I envy your long relationship with Henry Wessel. Thanks again for sharing it.

Keep calm and carrion. (Sorry, I'll get my coat) Mike, looking at the photo you posted, it strikes me that 'the picture' may have been beyond the deer carcase and the vultures. If you had kept calm and carried on down the road closer to the fork in the road ahead, I see some possibilities, especially with that sky. Like your mono treatment. Was it from the 'new' camera?

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