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Technical Details: Canon 5d MkII, Canon 24-70mm lens, f/16, ISO100, 50 second shutter, 3 stops ND, 2 stops Reverse ND
Welcome to today’s post. This is again Ellingson Island, but shot on Christmas morning almost exactly one week after the image of it in my previous post. My how much things can change in a week.
This is a more technical post, so stop reading now and just enjoy the image if you’re not into the technical blah blah blah. The image below is the RAW file. The color in this file is the result of shooting it cool (relative to conditions), about 6300 degrees K, and the color shift over the sky which comes from stacking Singh Ray filters. I did not mind the color shift and was not concerned about color cast of the image. I knew at that time I was going to work in Black and White and could work the sky and water on separate layers. I could already see where this image was headed while I was shooting it in the field.
The reverse 2 Stop ND held back the sky while allowing me to open up the water a bit. This, along with good color management in Black and White, gives the incredible look in the water while allowing me to hold drama and contrast in the sky. This is a typical look and approach in my black and white work. The water turns to glass and is getting fairly bright, and the clouds are creating an interesting and quiet pattern in the sky. All of this allows the island to come forward as the main subject.
Welcome to today’s post. First, I guess its only fair to acknowledge my misleading statements from the previous post. I promised to bring you some photography from a place other than Lake Superior, and its coming, but I haven’t shot it yet. I’m planning a trip to the Badlands next week, weather permitting. In the mean time I want to share with you an image I shot last week at Gooseberry Falls and use it to discuss the concept of The Hero, introduced to me by fashion photog Matthew Jordan Smith.
Hero: a subject of distinguished courage or ability, admired for brave deeds and noble qualities. Often understated or unexpected qualities.
A successful image has a hero. This may or may not be in your main subject. The Hero. The hero can take many forms in all styles of photography, but its worth asking in your photography, “Who is the Hero in this image?” Not a super-hero, like Super Man, with the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound. The hero is often that understated or unexpected secondary subject, supporting subject, that makes the image move from good to great. In landscape photography it can be as simple as a small leaf of color in a big scenic that ties the image together, or a simple cloud structure that rhymes with the lines of the landscape, or the shape of rocks that repeats in some sort of rhythmic pattern. Who is the hero in your photograph? A successful photograph has a hero.
In today’s photo, the heros (in my opinion) are the two tiny falls of water flanking the larger flow. They add that certain, understated quality. They are guardians and protectors of the image, keeping it from being a simple, cliche waterfall shot. They are not random – they are intentional. They are simple, balanced, noble.
Technical Details: Canon 5D MkII, Canon 24 – 70 mm @ 24mm, ISO100, f/14, 63 seconds, Singh Ray Gold & Blue Polorizer, 7 stops of Singh Ray Neutral Density Glass
Quick reminder. Saturday, Nov. 5 is my first photography show, featuring 16 LARGE black and white images of Lake Superior printed on canvas. Proceeds from the event go to an amazing non-profit, DesignWise Medical. I hope to see you all at the event. For more details, please visit the show link here in the blog.
Now, on to today’s post.
I love photography and creating images, as many of you do. Like many of you, much of my inspiration comes from those around me, for if I had to rely on full, self-generated creative thought I probably wouldn’t get very far. Over the past couple of years I’ve blogged about the idea of finding photographers you like and trying to replicate what they have done; not so much to create what they created, but to learn from them, allowing you to put your own spin on things, to inspire you to create from a new place. Today’s post, the first of a two part series on this image, is about just that.
Today’s image/post is inspired by a good friend, great photographer and workshop participant, Gary Olejniczak (click on his name to see some of his stunning fall photography). Gary, like many of my workshop participants, has shown me a new way to see subjects that I have shot many, many times. This is what I find so invigorating as a workshop leader; I get to LEARN from my participants. Gary has shown me how to see differently. I’ve approached this feature of rocks from the same place, the same way so many times and had just about given up on them. Then comes along Gary, who in one sitting with this feature, totally new to him, shows me a composition I had yet to find. A really strong composition. I assure you, and as Gary can attest, my image looks nothing like his, but I wouldn’t have captured this image had Gary not shown me a new way to see it.
As is said in yoga, “Namaste.” The teacher me acknowledges the teacher in you.
Yet, I’m curious about this notion and how other people think of it. Do you think its inappropriate or disingenuous to take your cues from others? Fake? Fraud? Copycat? Maybe a better question is, “How do you learn?”
Part 2 of Post: A tutorial taking you through, in depth, a number of technical approaches to getting this final image.
Technical Details: Pouring rain, slippery granite, treacherous, but in the game (feel free to click on the image for a larger view)
Last weekend my good friend Travis and I spent three days on Lake Superior battling non-stop rain, fog, mist and generally poor photography conditions. I shot over 300 frames, mostly pure garbage. This particular image was shot out of stubbornness and as I consider getting into the rain to take it, I heard in my head the words of another dear friend commenting on an entirely unrelated situation. “Pissy Shmissy. Grab a mit and get in the game.” These words stuck with me right down deep in my gut and I spoke them to Travis as I headed out to set up the shot. To avoid the wind and rain falling on my equipment and on me, I posted up underneath the Hwy 61 bridge over the Beaver River. Equipped with decent rubber boots for footing and paper towel to dry my lens, I began to shoot. I was in the game.
Travis and I had to take whatever each day gave us, which was mostly rain and thick clouds. We’d end each day with a volley of sarcastic comments like, “worst shit I ever shot” or “I’m going to sell my equipment” or “Lake Superior can sure humble a photog.” I’ve spent hours mining my images for something I like from this trip and perhaps this is the one gem of the entire 3 days. It is my visual response to “Pissy Shmissy…” and the motivating quality of that comment. The words we choose matter and can stick with those around us. I’m constantly reminded of this fact. Perhaps some images have the same stickiness.
technical details: Canon 5Ds MkII, Canon 24-70mm, Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter, ISO50, f/11, 150 sec
I was having a few beers on the patio with a good friend recently. It seems we’re both going through some career transitions and he said, “We’re resetting our North Star.” This struck me. We get lost for many reasons: job circumstances change, relationships change, priorities and interests change. For any of us to grow through times of change we are well served to revisit the point of focus that guides us to bigger and better things. We need to reset our North Star.
The metaphorical North Star isn’t a goal or outcome, its a guide. A thing, a belief, an idea, or philosophy that guides us through transition. As a professional and fine art photographer, I find myself getting lost about once year, in transition from one place to another and always revisiting that North Star to guide my path from point A to point B. Choosing a North Star isn’t always a conscious, intentional act. Sometimes its identified after the fact, during some level of reflection. For me, it began while preparing my tax returns!!! Like Polaris, our guides can change over time and what served us in the past may not serve us today. I’m still searching for my new photography North Star for 2011.
A North Star for my photography that served me well in the past is I Am Not A Commodity.
Today’s North Star might include: Fine art or time with friends or zero commercial or different commercial projects or travel or educator or experimenter? A guide helps me direct my time, energy, and intention and I’m leaning towards Intimate Relationships. Let me explain while the snickering subsides.
In my photography this idea would imply that I don’t shoot anything that doesn’t create or arise from an intimate relationship. This might include dramatic effect, camera positioning, a preexisting and deep understanding of the subject (landscapes or people), all of them together. For example, tomorrow I’m shooting two UST athletes because of who they are as people. I feel a connection to their drive, passion, competitive spirit. I want to capture these ideas. My camera positions and lighting are all conceived for this idea of intimacy.
Well, in the course of writing this post I’ve reset my photography North Star. Intimate Relationships. What is your North Star?
Today’s image came at the tail end of a great, but interesting day. Weather on the North Shore was gorgeous and I had been out all morning looking a property to purchase. I went into Two Harbors for lunch and decided to return to a few lots for a second look. Upon returning I parked the truck into what could only be described as quick sand.
With no one around, no one to call, I got down on all 4′s and starting digging with my hands, uncovering both front wheels enough to insert some large rocks upon which my 4WD could find purchase. Of course I got out, but then the noise under the front end began. A mile down the road and I found myself here:
A guy I know who lives on this road came by with some pliers and I was back in business in no time and in need of some relaxation. I arrived at The Landing just in time to watch the Kentucky Derby and a little of this:
(sincere apologies to all my packer friends. The other side of the glass said “Miller Lite” and I had to make a quick photo decision). After all this I drove 25 miles back up the shore to the Beaver River, well above the lake to area some locals refer to as Avon Glen. My research reveals that an “Avon” is Celtic for river, and a “Glen” is more like a gorge and less like a valley. The area I was shooting was certainly more valley than gorge, but I do like the sound of Avon Glen, so we’re sticking with it. Some of the finest stretch of river I’ve seen yet on the North Shore. It will take me days to shoot it properly, but today we have an initial take on it.
Technical Details: 10 Minutes after sunset, ISO50, f/5, 10 seconds, Canon 5D Mk II, Canon 24mm Tilt-Shift, Adobe Photoshop Black and White Adjustment Layer Conversion
Technical Details: 10 minutes after sunset, ISO100, f/14, 10 second shutter speed, Canon 5D MkII, Canon 24 -70mm, Adobe Photoshop Conversion to B/W, with Blue/Orange Gradient Map applied in Soft Light Mode, 50% opacity.
Reminder, The Lake Superior Landscape workshop is starts August 8 and there are only 4 spots remaining. Click here for more info.
Well, as I write this post we’ve just come off another epic spring storm which brought several inches of snow to the north shore of Lake Superior on April 15th/16th. Also, the weather report has more snow in it for the upcoming week here in the Twin Cities. Might as well enjoy the ride, right?
So, storms it is. I got my tax return, which was just enough to cover gas to Silver Bay, MN and back, plus a flat tire and a few cups of coffee this weekend. What a storm it was…I started shooting at Lester River (Duluth) around 6pm, but the wind and spray were beyond manageable so I made a last minute decision, packed up and headed north to Silver Bay hoping to find shelter in a secret cove I found a few months back. There was no protection when I arrived and had to orient my camera to minimize the spray which was blown by 40mph + winds off the top of 10 foot + surf. It was HUGE surf. You just have to stand on the shore and experience its awesome power. From a photographer’s perspective it was all a Hail Mary. Wind shaking tripod, spray covering the lens, getting swamped by large wave sets. I did make a good decision to buy some rubber boots at Marine General and few hours earlier and they proved very very handy. I like getting in the water to shoot, but the conditions were so extreme that it would have made a boy out of Peter Lik (Weather Channel Reality TV show about a photographer). Sorry Peter, but its true.
These first two images were shot using a Singh Ray Blue/Gold polarizer. The first image was a 6 second exposure and the second was a 60 second exposure at f/11 processed with some fill light and range adjustments in raw converter. Canon 5D MKII and Canon 24-70mm lens.
That evening, April 15 the snow started falling and when I woke pre-sunrise there was nothing to shoot. So I grabbed some coffee and made my way from Grand Superior Lodge back down to Stoney Point to meet some friends coming up to surf. I’m including a few shots of that just for documentary sake.
By the late afternoon, after a flat tire repair and wonderful brunch with friends, I made my way back out to Lester River for some calmer surf, melting snow and clearing storm light. A great way to finish the trip. This image was shot using the Singh Ray Blue Gold polarizer along with a Singh Ray 2 stop HS split neutral density filter. Shot at ISO50, f/16 and 2 seconds shutter speed, Canon 5D MKII and Canon 24-70mm lens.
And a little chunk of video with filters for how this shot was made. Blue Gold on lens, 2 stop split brought in over that.
“There are some people looking to play the guitar. There’s other people looking for a sound. I was looking for a sound…”. Keith Richards, from his biography, “Life.“ This quote really struck me as I was in the process of thinking about this post. I’ve been grappling with the idea of finding my voice in photography, and I don’t think I’ve found one yet. That feels like a question for others to answer. At the same time I wonder if it matters?. Maybe a better question is to ask when does it matter? I’ve reached out to a few artists in pursuit of a perspective to share on this issue. Here is what the early, and maybe predictable responses, are:
1) “If I develop a style, I’ve stopped evolving.” Christian S., founder of the band Catchpenny;
2) “I shoot all over the map. I hope that never stops.” Martin B., photographer;
3) “You need to have a unique voice in your work.” Debra W., Creative Consultant to the advertising industry;
I can remember a moment in a photo workshop, early in my workshop process, a teacher challenging us to “examine what it is you want to say in your photography.” At the time I thought, “I have no bloody idea. I’ve already failed. I just like taking pictures, pretty pictures, fun pictures. Landscape pictures. Isn’t that enough?” It was frustrating? No one talked about the what where when how or why of finding my voice. It was just asserted that I must find one. This caused problems for both hemisphere’s of my brain. The right just wants to create within the moment, damn the idea of what I want to say (which may or may not be coming through) and the left brain says, “wait a moment, you must shoot this to your style.”
Then came an evening recently when the image above was shot. I’ve decided to do a lot of experimenting with my studio/portrait photography and dragged my friend John into the studio to experiment with some unusual lighting conditions. The experiment quickly failed and I became a little frustrated. John was great and helped talk through what it was I didn’t like. What I didn’t like was that I kept wanting to run from the experimental conditions right back to what I knew. My style, my voice, my look in the studio. There was quite a little battle taking place in me. An important battle.
So, the rhetorical questions I’m still struggling with:
1) Am I taking pictures or creating a sound, a voice?
2) Is it important to have a voice and if so, where when and why?
3) How do I manage the struggle to fall back on what I know how to do, what’s comfortable, what I shot a hundred times before vs. trying something truly new to me? There are real costs associated with failed experiments.
I’d love to hear from you on these questions – as they relate to your own photographic process, your life process, your entrepreneurial process.
About the image: John is a part of a small, brave group of souls who surf Lake Superior during the late fall, winter and early spring storms. By most accounts, totally insane. We wanted to capture a look – a feel consistent with the idea and I was inspired by some lighting I saw recently that I thought would be a great fit for the mood. It quickly failed in my eyes and we decided to finish on some more conventional approaches, just to keep productive. The final look of the image is my own secret sauce of editing, not a photoshop/lightroom plugin – no “auto awesome” button here. (Quoting a good man, Markus Mangold).