Here is my current line up of workshops for 2019. I will be adding maybe 2-3 more for 2019 as they become finalized and workshops for 2020. You can also stay current with my workshop and class offerings on my workshop page and by signing up for my monthly newsletter. Your subscription is only for the newsletter(s) you select and you will only receive communications from me via your selected newsletters. Links open in a new window.
For a trip to Iceland in November, I rented a Canon EOS R mirrorless camera as my workhorse for 10 days. I hadn’t shot with a mirrorless camera before and my expectations were mixed. I’d had a Sony Ar series in my hand at one time and didn’t like it. The small form factor ergonomics and menu-driven operation turned me off, as did the off-balance feel I had with long lenses attached. But, recently I read a couple good reviews of the EOS R and decided to give it a go. What pushed me over the hesitancy is the larger body. I’m used to shooting with larger DSLR bodies with controls ready to hand, relying on the menu system only for specific situations and for “set it and forget it” types of operational controls.
So, here we go. I received the camera on rental from BorrowLenses, a company I have rented from several times in the past. I’ve recommended renting gear, camera bodies, lenses, etc. if you’re deciding whether to buy. Renting for a weekend or a week is an easy and inexpensive way to “try before you buy”. Anyway, if you followed my posts on Facebook and saw my first Facebook Live video from that trip, you might guess that I wasn’t at all pleased with the camera. At the time, you’d be right. While the EOS R is, internally, a mirrorless version of the 5D, getting used to a new operation can sometimes be frustrating, even though I’d received the camera a couple days before leaving. The ergonomics of the EOS R body is great. The size, weight, and how it fits in my hand were all very familiar and comfortable. I’ve been a Canon shooter for a long time, and my current DSLR is the 1D Mark IV, a camera that is very near its end. But the body plan, the large grip (also similar to the 1Ds which I used for a decade) lets me hang on to the camera securely while operating most of the controls and while carrying it in hand.
I’m not going to give any technical specs. This review is based on my own personal preferences with how and what I shoot. Any “technical” information is more or less going to be subjective and based on practical use. I hope that’s useful to you.
When I first fired it up and began setting it up at home, there was a mysterious shutter lag of about 1/2 second that was “fixed” just as mysteriously as I worked through the setup. I suspect it had to do with one or more of the shooting control operations, but I wasn’t able to pin it down. It could have been related to the dual pixel focus setting, which I eventually disabled. I didn’t run into that specific issue again during my trip (but see below for more info about shutter lag I experienced).
Operationally, here are my critiques:
1. I set up operation for back-button focus but the shutter release focus wasn’t disabled. So, I would back button focus then when I pressed the shutter release it would refocus. It’s possible I missed a step somewhere, but I’m pretty sure I had it set up properly.
2. I’m not a fan of the electronic viewfinder. It’s nice to be able to review the image in the viewfinder, but with review turned on you get the preview in the viewfinder while you’re trying to shoot. Several times I was fooled into thinking I was looking at the actual scene when it was just the preview image. I eventually turned off the preview function (which also disables it on the large rear LCD and you have to manually press the preview button. Not completely a problem, but sometimes was inconvenient). It would be nice to be able to have a setting of preview only on rear LCD.
3. Another aspect of the electronic viewfinder I didn’t like was I couldn’t look through the camera if it wasn’t on. If the camera is off, so is the viewfinder. There’s no way to compose prior to making a photograph if powered off or in sleep mode. This, of course, will apply to all cameras with electronic viewfinders, so this is a characteristic I’m not liking across the whole spectrum of mirrorless cameras. This reduces battery life.
4. On the body that I had, the light meter tended to overexpose by about 1.5 – 1.75.
5. Rear LCD touch screens are both a help and a hindrance. Useful sometimes for focusing in odd situations and for adjusting camera settings. But a hindrance at other times when the focus point shifts at random when your hand or nose brushes across the screen while you’re composing or carrying the camera and the screen gets activated.
6. The viewfinder shut off sensor became a frustration when I used my rain cover, which has transparent panels so I can see the camera controls. The sensor kept shutting off the LCD screen when it sensed the rain cover, treating it like it was my face at the viewfinder. I had to hold the panel away from the sensor with my thumb, hand inside the rain cover.
7. The menu touch strip, located just to the right of the viewfinder, turned itself on at random when I had the touch strip turned off. I would get a notice in the viewfinder asking me if I wanted to enable it or not if I brushed my thumb or face across it. I’m not sure of the utility of this feature.
8. I’m also not a fan of the toggle setup for the back control. I have a pair of waterproof/windproof gloves I can easily use with my 1D and its control wheel and buttons, but I found operating the rear toggles and the buttons (which are slightly recessed) very difficult with these gloves on and often had to remove them. I prefer the rotating control wheel over the toggle.
9. The low light focus was pretty good, but with my EF 70-200 f2.8L there was a lot of hunting in low light after sunset (that’s probably more of a lens issue, I think).
10. The menu system is familiar to me and organized in a logical way that’s easy to navigate, though there are more categories on the EOS R than on the 1DS. It would be nice to simplify the menu system with an option to disable categories that aren’t used, like the picture style/JPG processing features, that some photographers like me may never use.
11. Perhaps it was just me operating a new camera, but at slower shutter speeds, 1/4 sec or slower, there was no shutter release indicator (no sound, no “click”). It was as if the shutter release timer (2 sec delay) was engaged. Sometimes I wouldn’t realize the shutter had been released and moved the camera during the exposure. This didn’t happen at faster shutter speeds when I had a tactile signal from the shutter button that it had been depressed enough to release the shutter, and no shutter release delay.
12. The jack for the cabled remote is a mini-plug and the remote for the EOS R doesn’t have an intervalometer or timer. I prefer the TC-80n3 remote.
13. Battery. The EOS R uses the same small battery as the 5D. I also rented the battery grip and an extra battery, so had extended use as well as a bit more body to hang on to.
Instead of a control wheel on the top for switching shooting modes, there’s an LCD screen, a mode switch, and a wheel. I found this somewhat inconvenient to use, though you can see the modes in the viewfinder when the mode switch is pressed. It wasn’t a showstopper and eventually I would probably get used to it.
I’ve been going through the files from the trip and I don’t have any image quality complaints. I do notice more pronounced chromatic aberration than I do with the 1D, but that may be due to the larger file size making it more apparent than it does with the sensor (yes, CA is created by the lens).
One of the reasons I rented this camera was for the reported high ISO quality (much better than the 1Ds) specifically for night shots of stars and Aurora borealis. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much opportunity for the Aurora, but I did shoot some night scenes at reasonably high ISO (2500) and the noise was easily taken care of with Photoshop noise controls. One very useful aspect of mirrorless cameras is with long exposures and telephoto shots. It’s essentially a permanent mirror lock-up situation and camera vibration is greatly reduced, especially when using a cabled remote.
My frustration abated somewhat as the trip progressed and I became more familiar with the EOS R’s operation and particular idiosyncrasies. For me, while I ended up liking the camera overall, it wouldn’t be a camera I would buy as a replacement for my 1D at this time. I would likely still opt for the 5D, even though it seems that model is on its way out. Here’s another issue. Lenses. The EOS R has a different lens mount, so your EF lenses won’t work without an adapter. And, the RF lenses for the EOS R line are amazingly larger and heavier than EF lenses (and there are fewer of them at this time). I think there’s promise in the EOS R line if a “Pro” model was made with the larger NP-E3 battery (and the associated larger grip) and a control wheel on the back instead of the toggle, an optical viewfinder option, and remove the touch strip. These are, of course, operational critiques. Camera operation, where controls are and how easily they are to use – bare handed or with gloves – is just as important (to me, anyway) as image quality, focus accuracy, and ISO performance. You can have the most advanced camera with amazing image quality and performance, but if it takes you 15 seconds to change the ISO or shooting mode or focus point selection, or you can’t operate it under certain conditions, it will be mostly worthless, no matter how much money you spent for it.
I did like the articulated rear screen. It makes low and high angle shots more pleasant. I’m not a vlogger or selfie taker, so the forward-facing capability didn’t concern me, but might be a feature others would appreciate.
The weather sealing on the EOS R is pretty good. I used the camera with a rain cover in heavy rain and without in light rain conditions and there were no problems with water affecting controls or getting into the body. Weather sealing is better with lenses that also have that capability.
My conclusion is the EOS R is a pretty good mirrorless camera. Of the cameras I’ve had in hand, this one is more practical in the hand for me, easier to handle, better balanced with long lenses, and a familiar layout which is easier to transition into. This is, of course, because I’m a long-time Canon shooter and they’ve kept their layouts fairly consistent. It’s larger than the Sony and that body type, especially with the RF lenses. If you’re looking for a compact mirrorless, the EOS R isn’t it. But if you want a camera that fits your hand and is comfortable to use, that is balanced, performs well in all weather and puts out a nice image file, the EOS R might be what you’re looking for. I’m just hoping future models will accommodate a more practical “field layout” that is functional using gloves.
The Creative Path: A View from the Studio on the Making of Art, by Carolyn Schlam, published May 2018.
This book is a recounting by the author of her beginnings in the 1960’s as a painter and her experiences and insights with her mentor, painter Norman Rabinowitz, a “Mr. Miyagi” type instructor. The introduction describes the influence of Norman on the author’s work ethic and practice and Norman’s influence is stated throughout the book. The book is organized into chapters expressing different stages or thought processes within an artist’s potential career: Inspiration, Your Instrument, Intention, Ways and Means, Truth and Beauty, Commitment, Observer/Critic, An Artist’s Life, Voices, and finishing up with The Big Picture. The book is part recollection, part instruction, part art history, part exercise. At the end of each chapter are exercises or asana’s that draw on the topics and principles described in the chapter. And an appendix includes notes and texts written by Norman, a bibliography, and acknowledgemnts.
The book is easy to read and is written in a conversational style with a philosophy of art loosely following the Gestalt philosophy of visual perception and promoting Godly inspiration as the source of an individual’s art.
This is a “painter’s book” more so than an “artist’s book”, with emphasis on the author’s perception of paint on canvas and the associated colors and textures. In the chapter Truth and Beauty, the author states “Think about this. There is something about overly bright colors that rings false. The reason is that the real world is not candy-land. There is a reason that we dress our children in bright colors but we choose off-colors for ourselves. The atmosphere of the Earth has the effect of softening color. Soft, off-color has more reality. Things that are too smooth, too shiny, too bright, appear slick and false, a comic book reality.”
While the text is easy to read, there are descriptions and uses of terms, such as synesthesia, percept, and ekphrasis, that vary considerably from the commonly understood meanings. I’ve been doing some serious research over the years regarding the psychological and neurological underpinnings of art making and I have some disagreements with how this approach is handled by the author. The author makes some claims that are difficult to reconcile from a scientific perspective. For example, she gives an incomplete and generally incorrect description of synesthesia, which is the stimulation of a sense perception by an unrelated sensory stimulus, i.e. seeing letters in different colors or perceiving certain odors related to particular musical notes. The author implies that all artists have synesthesia but describes its influence with ordinary sensory responses: “our ears help us to create noisy patches in our work…our sense of taste helps the eye to select colors and textures that make the menu of the painting…our sense of smell helps us to make color choices that create a palette of complementary scents…our sense of touch leads us to make wet and dry and rough and smooth sensations to pleasure us.” Another term is “percept”, which in the science of perception is simply the thing that is perceived by our sensory apparatus (eyes, ears, nose, skin, tongue, etc.) according to the capabilities of those sensory organs. In this book, the author describes the percept as a kind of thing, a “pure feeling”, unemotional, neutral, unordered and uncategorized sensations “ready to be organized by the mind” that “does not play by any rules other than those we make up.” The percept, as described by the author, is influenced by our experiences, biases, education and skill and is how artists develop their unique style, which is described as “simply a set of formalized preferences. Artists do not choose a style; their preferences create one.”
While an individual’s own unique experiences, knowledge, biases, skills, etc. contribute to an artist’s style, it is not correct to say this is a percept, it is more correctly described as a person’s way of being, or as biologist Jakob von Uexkull termed it, umwelt. Later, in the chapter Ways and Means, the author then contradicts herself by saying “…the more you give up your likes and dislikes, your prejudices, biases, assumptions, conclusions, judgments, in other words, the more open you are, the more you you will be and the more individual your work will become. You will not make your art. Rather, you will arrive at it.” In truth, your prejudices, knowledge, skill, etc. are the foundations of your art. Your job as an artist is to be aware of their influence and inspiration and respond according to the type of art you’re making, not ignore everything in your life that drives your desire to make art. However, the author’s concept follows from her belief that “the work we make flows from God and when our art fails it’s because we’re “futzing” with what God created.” So, if God is the creator of our art, where is the artist? Later, in the Commitment chapter, the author reverts back, stating “Our choices are determined by what interests us, what we do well, our values, what we think and want to say…These predilections basically set our course in art and will limit our choices.”
This book contains many contradictory approaches to art making. The author describes and promotes one way of making art, then later describes a totally different way. This isn’t really new. As an artist myself, I encounter many contradictory situations. I change my mind all the time. But this book seems to be intended to be an artist’s guide despite the retrospective or autobiographical feel. The author’s goal or intention is unclear, the tidbits of artistic guidance are scattered. Perhaps, as an artist’s guide, it is eventually too personal. The descriptions of Norman and his method of teaching were interesting to read, sometimes funny, also sometimes contradictory, and his personal definitions of some terms informs the reader why the author has developed her own definitions, as described above. Reading the book frustrated me because I have read books with similar intent that were so much better.
It’s somewhat surprising, but not entirely, to see similarities between the administrations of Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump, particularly in their respective Secretaries of Interior, James Watt and Ryan Zinke. Another controversial appointee in the Reagan cabinet was Anne Gorsuch (mother of now Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch) who was the head of the EPA and acted to reduce the budget and staff of the EPA as well as lessen regulations on pesticide use. Watt and Gorsuch were the prominent anti-environmentalists (other than Reagan) in that administration, and luckily did not have broad support in the government for their agenda. Thus, the damage they were able to accomplish was relatively limited. However, other than Zinke in the Trump administration, there are several cabinet and cabinet-level members, in addition to Trump himself, hostile to the environment that, together, along with Tea Party Republican sentiments, form a stronger force for change than was possible in the Reagan era. These current members are Administrator of the EPA Scott Pruitt, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.
I’ve steered away from politics on my blog with the intent to maintain a purely art-centric dialog. However, as with Ansel Adams and Ronald Reagan, so with Trump and his administration. Many artists, as well as anyone who visits public lands, whether a National Park, National Monument, National Forest, National Wildlife Refuge, or Bureau of Land Management, depend on, enjoy, and receive countless economic and non-economic (non-quantifiable) benefits from those visits and the experiences gained. In addition, surrounding communities benefit from the trade visitors from all over the world engage in while they are in the area. Lodging, all forms of general retail, equipment rentals, guide services, restaurants, grocery stores, auto repair and rental, airlines, buses, travel agencies, art supply stores, camera stores, outdoor and hunting supply stores, all local or at some remove from the particular area benefit from the establishment and maintenance of public lands. A much greater and sustainable benefit than resource extraction which, when completed, disappears leaving behind an economic and environmental wasteland. In the 1980s, with the appointment of James Watt as Secretary of the Interior under President Reagan, public lands came under fire for exploitation and privatization. Ansel Adams, who was by that time nearly 80 years old, became very active, politically, to address the very serious threat to our public lands. Throughout his life, Ansel was always in contact with his representatives and president. But when Reagan was elected and Watt appointed, he embarked on what opponents would call today a liberal rampage or a snowflake campaign. In letters to the editor, to conservation organizations like the Sierra Club and Wilderness Society, in interviews, and in letters to his representatives (I don’t know if he ever wrote to Watt or Reagan directly) he engaged in what he called in a 1981 letter to then Wilderness Society director William Turnage a “…TOTAL IDEOLOGICAL WAR ON SECRETARY WATT AND HIS COHORTS” (emphasis from the letter).
He was very concerned about the future of public lands, in particular National Parks, which were being considered for resource exploitation and privatization. In a letter to the San Jose Mercury News (1981), Ansel wrote (notice the similarities with the concerns of today, though today’s concerns I believe are even more real than they were then):
I have spent a good part of more than 60 years working with many others on the problems of conservation and the environment, beginning in 1919 as the summer custodian of the Sierra Club’s center in Yosemite. I do not intend, at the age of 79, to now stand back and observe the destruction of our environment and all that has been accomplished to appropriately preserve and manage the resources of the earth – the physical, recreational, and aesthetic qualities of the world in which we live…The present administration’s endorsement of free exploitation of our basic resources will have tragic consequences for the well-being of our people and the amenities of continued life on this earth. These dangerous new policies are expressed through Secretary of the Interior James Watt. I address my critical remarks directly to him as the spokesman of these dire policies…The impact of the fearful concepts and intentions expressed by Watt is not fully realized, except by a few experienced conservationists…Indeed, Mr. Watt acts ignorant about the park system that he now controls (and)…can do great damage just through ignorance of the facts of what our public lands represent…It is common knowledge that Watt is a religious fundamentalist. He has his right to embrace any religion or creed he desires, but he has no right to impose his religious philosophy on the management of his department and the future of the American People. I have heard that he justifies his program of using our land and resources now without regard for the future by saying, in effect, there will be very little future; the Second Coming is due any time now…The overwhelming problems of our economy and defense have taken precedence over consideration for our natural and cultural resources. I sympathize with the President in his difficult economic and political decisions. I implore him to recognize the important fact that if we lose the essential qualities of our environment no political philosophy and no effort for defense will have validity. Secretary Watt’s values appear restricted to the material, immediate, and profit-oriented mentality of a two-dimensional group with little wisdom or conscience…We are fighting for our life and the future of our descendants. We must stand up and be counted! As a citizen I urge each of us to take on responsibility: write members of Congress, Secretary of Interior Watt, and President Reagan; write or phone people you know and urge them to do the same. Impress on everyone you can that this is not just an “opinion” problem but the most intense threat we have ever faced to the integrity and future of our land.
In an interview with Playboy Magazine in 1983, not long before his death, Ansel Adams issued a quote that I and others have often repeated. The quote is part of a longer statement in response to the question “What is the most critical fight now?”:
To save the entire environment: wilderness protection, proper use of parks, breakdown of Federal operation of the parks in favor of private interests, acquiring new park and wilderness land, unrestrained oil drilling and mining on land and offshore, etc. First on the list now is that all the wilderness areas must be protected. It is very important. With the current Administration, they are gravely threatened. It means that the small inroads this country has made in protecting some areas, both for scenic beauty and for invaluable resources, are threatened.
Here is an important point: Only two and a half percent of the land in this country is protected. Not only are we being fought in trying to extend that two and a half percent to include other important or fragile areas but we are having to fight to protect that small two and a half percent. It is horrifying that we have to fight our own Government to save our environment. Our worst enemy is the person the President designated with the responsibility of managing the country’s environment: James Watt. No wonder it is a monumental battle.
We are experiencing today what Ansel Adams feared would happen in his time. We have already seen the lessening or removal of protections for migratory birds and endangered and threatened species, the allowing of toxic waste to be dumped into our streams and rivers and the spraying of known and previously banned toxic and harmful chemicals on our crops. We’ve already seen the declassification of public land specifically to allow for resource extraction. We’ve seen law enforcement and private contractors enlisted to protect commercial interests when they were clearly in the wrong (and proven so in the courts after the fact). We’re seeing attempts to defund and privatize our public education system which, I think, Ansel Adams would be angry about because education is a foundation for understanding the world, the complex relationships found in the environment we depend on and, thus, the foundation for understanding why we need to conserve and protect these areas. The parallels between the Reagan era administration and the Trump era administration is curious at least, frustrating, and in the end, infuriating, because there are many more in this current administration who previous to being appointed to their positions, were adamantly opposed to the function of the agencies they now control. Trump has stacked the deck in a way Reagan could not have. Back in the 80s, the fight was mostly against Watt and Reagan and, to some extent, Gorsuch. Today, the fight is with nearly the entire administration as well as Congress.
Ansel was able to use his considerable weight as a prominent artist and activist to influence those in power who could do something. We average citizens must rely on our combined weight to inundate our representatives with facts and fact-based opinions. We must use our individual power of the vote to replace those we disagree with with those who support continued progress and economic growth, the conservation of our environment and the protection and proper management of public lands, the protection of human rights and individual freedoms, and reasoned discourse and cooperation with those who have differing opinions and ideologies. These may seem to be disparate subjects, but they are all related and connected. We live in a more complex world than we did in the 1980s. We can’t just let others do the work for us. We have to speak up before it’s too late. Once the land is gone under an open pit, oil field, or resort development, we can’t get it back.
reference: 1984. Ansel Adams: Letters and Images 1916-1984. New York Graphic Society, Little Brown
Some time ago I was asked if I’d be interested in reviewing Bert Krages book The Photography Exercise Book: Training Your Eye to Shoot Like A Pro. Published by Allworth Press in 2016, I’d seen it while browsing in the bookstore. I picked it up and thumbed through it, wondering if it would be a good reference for me and my classes and workshops. At the time, nothing stood out to me about the book other than it seemed to be written for beginning photographers and, at the time, I was working on my own book and there were more advanced concepts rummaging around in my head. So, I put it back on the shelf.
When I was asked to review the book, I remembered looking at it that one time and thought I should give it another chance. Bert Krages is an attorney and photographer living in Oregon with a couple other books in his bibliography; Legal Handbook for Photographers and Heavenly Bodies: The Photographer’s Guide to Astrophotography. I’m pretty sure I’ve also seen and thumbed through both of those books at the bookstore. The Legal Handbook for Photographers delves into an aspect of photography that has many fewer references available than for any other aspect of photography. If you are a photographer interested in your legal responsibilities and liabilities, that book and others would be beneficial to you.
Mr. Krages begins The Photography Exercise Book by describing its purpose and who it is for. In my own classes, I describe three groups of photographers; those who are technically-inclined, those who are not, and the largest group that’s somewhere in between. This book is for people who have at least a comfortable understanding of camera operation, in terms of using the various exposure modes and making exposure adjustments, but it does not discuss exposure settings, focal lengths, filters, flash, the “Rules”. This book is not a “how to use your camera” book, but a “how to explore your surroundings” book. It’s for photographers who are starting out and for those who need a little inspiration for exploring. It is a book of photography exercises after all.
I agree with most of the author’s premises: to become a better photographer you must make photographs, you must pay attention to the world around you, you must experiment, you must keep an open mind and always look for opportunities. The Photography Exercise Book is divided into sections that begin with letting you know you should have a basic understanding of how your camera works, some general tips about composition, and the importance of evaluating your work. The rest of the book includes the exercises. The exercises are a bit open-ended, which is good because it allows you freedom to find subjects and situations at the time you’re doing the practice. You don’t have to seek out a specific situation, wait for a certain time, or amass various props and equipment to do the exercises. This approach may not work for some individuals because the exercises are not “recipe-driven”. This is why I mention the need for comfortable understanding of camera function and photography principles. None of the exercises instruct you to use f8 at 1/125 and ISO 200 with a 85mm lens. You’re given the concept of the particular practice, like photographing people who are in action or light, shadow and shapes when clouds are passing overhead, or revisiting a location multiple times.
The final two chapters are about “photographer vision” and Thinking Like an Artist, with a little history of art and the relationship of photography with other art forms, discussions about defining your own individual approach to photography and what you would like to express with the medium, inspiration, and work ethic. Nothing too deep, but put straighforward and simply.
Some of the exercises, admittedly stated in the introduction, won’t be for everyone. But, like the author suggests, try them anyway. You never know what you’ll learn that will apply to other situations. Overall, The Photography Exercise Book is a useful reference for photographers who are starting out and who would like a little guidance for exploring and improving your craft.
This year I entered the Boise Weekly Fiction 101 contest. The rules are to write a story containing exactly 101 words (hyphenated words count as a single word). I entered two stories and neither passed the judges muster. But, here they are for your review. The first is based on my visit to a humpback whale that had washed up on the beach in southern Washington. We were heading to the Oregon Coast and while in Astoria heard about the whale on the evening news and changed our plans. Being a wildlife biologist, I was curious to see the whale and to photograph it, but the trip turned into an observation of human behavior which was incredibly interesting. Some of the photos I made were used in the official report, which was unable to determine the cause of death.
The second is based on a poem I wrote many years ago, but have since misplaced so I only remember a couple bits.
Visiting the Whale
In twilight she rested, saltwater cradling her body. The air still but the sea restless. Thirty years near-weightless, her massive black-gray body rarely felt the pull of gravity. On the surface, three-foot-swells washed over her broad back. A final beat of her heart and slow exhale into the night, her body gave way to the mercy of the current. Under the stars she touched the Earth for the first time where once her ancestors walked on hoofed feet among towering ferns. With the sun they came; to see, touch, poke, gawk, photograph, pose, measure, sample; a funeral procession of Peeping Toms.
Her universe comes with her wherever she goes, dragged along by her measured pace. Stars and planets, mothers, sons, mountains, and alligators helpless against the pull of her gravity, as she is helpless against theirs. We are here and then; intersecting, obstructing. Bumping amorphous bubbles of existence flow through, encompass, attract, influence, repel. A mountain valley or deep ocean holds more than a tea cup. A river meanders among galaxies. Cool rain splashes on her upturned face. “Your universe is too small for me!” she shouts, defiant as she lies in the dugout canoe, dragging her hand languidly in the sea.
There are recurring questions photographers are asked when discussing photography: What is your favorite photograph you’ve made? What is your favorite photograph by another photographer? What is your favorite place to photograph? What is your favorite camera/lens? etc. Questions about a photographer’s opinion of things that more often than not have no actual relationship between the photographer and the person asking the question. Sometimes it’s genuine curiosity, but most often these are “easy” questions as a conversation starter, perhaps. But, do you really want to hear why I like a certain photograph or location or piece of equipment? Because, from me at least, you’re likely going to get more than you asked for. Besides, how do I describe a photograph you’ve probably never seen in a way you understand why it’s a favorite of mine? Without the ability to show you the picture you form in your mind from my description won’t be close. Even if I could show you the photograph, my reasoning is probably going to be too long, too short, or lack relationship with your own experiences or expectations. The same for locations, gear, and my praise of another photographer’s work. These and other “favorite” questions are difficult to answer or are even irrelevant because favoritism is temporary, and because we don’t favor THINGS.
Make a list of your favorite things. Do it now in your head or write them down. It’s likely a long list: movies, food, people, events, beaches, music, cars, clothes, cities, countries…the list goes on. Then review your list. What’s missing? I’ll bet what’s missing are some of your favorite things from last year or when you were 40 or 25 or 12 or 3. Why aren’t your favorite things from high school still your favorite? Do you have a singular favorite that has withstood the ravages of time? If so, examine it, analyze for yourself why this favorite thing has persisted. Brainstorm and write down everything you can think of that makes it a favorite. Compare the characteristics with your favorites that have come and gone or are in your “favorite bin” at the moment. Any similarities? What are the differences?
Our favorite thing is not actually a thing, but an experience or emotion. It’s what moves us to feel good, strong, empowered, empathic, safe, smart, accomplished, alive, accepted. The list of favorite things changes with our knowledge, experiences, preferences and skills. How many times have you said on vacation “I want to live here”, only to have that feeling replaced by the next awesome place you visit?
Our favorites can be fleeting or grow in stature over time, like the accumulation of a patina. A favorite dessert of mine is cherry pie. But not just any cherry pie. There are certain characteristics of texture, flavor, intensity and consistency that elevate a cherry pie from simple preference to the favorite bin. The mixture of sour and sweet (more sour than sweet), the consistency of the filling (not thick), the texture of the crust (flaky, not doughy), and the addition of complimentary spices that add an element of surprise, all add up to a pleasant emotional experience that I will return to as long as that experience is maintained. It’s the experience I enjoy, not just that I like sour cherries.
Your favorite location might be the beach, but if you think about it, it’s not just any beach and it might not even be a specific beach. It’s a beach with certain characteristics that can exist at many different locations – a certain slope of the beach, the composition of sand or rocks making up the beach, the sound of the surf, solitude or bustling with activity. And, if you’ve visited several beaches, you likely have more than one favorite type of beach depending on your mood at the time, or your “need.”
In photography, our taste in photographs, equipment, locations, is controlled by similar criteria. Our favorite camera is the tool that is easiest to use and/or gives us the ability to control the factors that allow us to create the visual image we have locked away in our head, that allows us to make a photograph when we need to. In some situations, my favorite camera is my smartphone because of its simplicity and I can make a complete photograph while in the moment, a spontaneous creation inspired by the subject, event, and emotion of the instant. At another time, my favorite camera is my 35mm DSLR because of its flexibility and sometime need for deliberate contemplation, exploring the subject, composing visual elements, choosing the aesthetic appearance of depth of field, shutter speed, focal length, lighting, etc. Previsualization of how I’m going to process the image, it’s final appearance, may or nay not have an influence or relationship with my experience of the moments surrounding when I make the exposure. But there is almost always influence and inspiration from the external and internal environment as I make the many decisions needed to make a meaningful photograph (meaningful to me, primarily. If you as the viewer also find it meaningful – Bonus!)
Our favorite moments are juxtapositions of ideal circumstances – atmosphere, companions, emotions, location, etc. We often try to replicate these circumstances to relive the emotional high produced by these special happenings. But it rarely works. However, there will be other such moments that eventually replace the previous moment as a favorite, and those older moments join the others in the group of favorites we can lovingly recall from memory.
The basis of our favoritism can be complex. A significant object or event is often connected to a significant experience. The favorite thing is a memento mori of sorts, reminding us of our vanity (how good we felt, how good we made others feel), mortality (you can’t take it with you), and the transience of everything (this, too, shall pass). Emotions and memories fade and are replaced, material objects break and decay. A true favorite, though, withstands time, trends, fads, and vanity. It remains because of its influence on you, its emotional importance, and despite negativism and ridicule by others.
In 1943, Abraham Maslow wrote A Theory of Human Motivation in which he proposed a hierarchy of needs. Diagrammed as a pyramid, physiological needs necessary for survival form the base, or foundation. This is where food, space, shelter, and mates exist. Moving up the hierarchy are safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization (the motivation to realize one’s full potential). It’s interesting to note that 3 of the 5 levels in Maslow’s hierarchy are emotional motivations – esteem, belonging, potential. The association of motivation and favorite things has been exploited by salesmen and marketers since the dawn of history. Creating pleasurable emotional experiences engages customers, helps control their buying impulses, and retains them as repeat customers. In some circumstances, people will be repeat visitors or customers for the experience even if the product is not considered a favorite.
For photographers (and other artists), our satisfaction comes from creating beautiful, interesting, meaningful work as the result of experiences we have in life and in making art or making photographs for a client. A photograph of a landscape can be as much of a favorite as a corporate headshot or a sporting event. And as our experience grows and our skill set improves our list of favorite photographs and locations and gear will change. Even the much-discussed and promoted concepts of personal style and vision are just the current ways a photographer uses to interpret their world and communicate their message. These, too, change over time.
Favorites are fugacious: transient, temporary, ephemeral, ever-changing. That’s a good thing. It’s improvement, variety, growth. Don’t hold too tightly to favorites. It can be sad to see a favorite go, but the new ones will be just as good, if not better.
Join me March 20-27, 2018 to explore the beautiful, minimalist landscape of New Mexico’s White Sands National Monument, a dramatic environment of shifting contrasts, lighting, patterns and textures with a backdrop of the rugged San Andres and Sacramento Mountains. Emphasis during this workshop will be your interpretation of the stark dune environment using your senses and perceptions to search for simple, elegant compositions using elements to give depth, graphical design, and abstract impressions from broad panoramics to up close macros. We’ll discuss in a group and individual one-on-one guidance about using light and shadow to create form, improving composition, setting exposure under difficult lighting conditions, abstract impressions, and sensing and perceiving the environment to help find subjects and make meaningful photographs. Each student will also receive a copy of my book The Ecology of Photography.
Also, I’m excited to share that this workshop has been chosen as an Unordinary Trip of the Month by Infohub.com, the #1 portal on the internet dedicated to out-of-the-ordinary, special interest vacations. If you book my White Sands National Monument photography workshop before January 5, 2018, you will be entered in a random drawing among those registered for my workshop to receive a one-year full membership to the GPSmyCity app for Apple and Android, from InfoHub’s sister company GPSmyCity. Since there is a maximum of 8 for this workshop, your odds are pretty good!
The GPSmyCity app features offline city maps, self-guided walking tours, and travel articles for 1,000 cities worldwide. Because the app works offline, there’s no worry about roaming charges when using the app abroad. One lucky person who has registered for my White Sands photography workshop will be randomly selected to receive a one-year full membership to the GPSmyCity app and the over 6,500 self-guided city walks, offline city maps, and travel articles, a value of over $8,000 (includes all in-app guide purchase options).
I’ve started a Patreon page to provide limited edition artwork to patrons and with the goal to create a community. If you would like more information, you can read about it here: https://www.patreon.com/mikeshipman
Here are some of the workshops I have scheduled for 2017. Come join me and explore these amazing locations while learning to improve your photography and way of seeing. I’m working on others for summertime and into 2018, including an Antarctica workshop for 2019.