The Fugaciousness of Favorite Things

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.

White Sands National Monument Photo Workshop & Giveaway

White Sands National Monument photography workshop, March 20-27, 2018

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).

2017 Workshops

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.

Winter in the Palouse Winter in the Palouse, Feb 9-14

Iceland Twilight Iceland Twilight, March 5-16

Alvord Desert, Oregon Alvord Desert, Oregon, April 14-16

Oregon Coast Oregon Coast, May 14-20

Yosemite National Park Yosemite National Park, May 24-30

Monterey & Point Lobos Monterey & Point Lobos, May 31 – June 5

Spring in the Palouse Spring in the Palouse, June 9-14

Washington Coast & Olympic National Park Washington Coast & Olympic National Park, June 16-22

Fall Colors of Iceland Fall Colors of Iceland, September 1-12

Scotland: Here Be Dragons Scotland: Here Be Dragons, September 14-23

Acadia National Park, Maine Acadia National Park, Maine, October 11-15

Portland & Japanese Garden Portland & Japanese Garden, October 17-20

November – January Photography Class Schedule

Here is my upcoming class schedule. Please visit my class page for more details and to register and contact me with any questions you may have. All classes are available as one-on-one or On Request. If you don’t see a date that works with your schedule, let me know and I can work with you to fit it in.

Photography 101
Nov 1 – 21 (first session is on Tuesday, the remaining are on Monday) 6 – 8pm
Jan 3 – 24, 6 – 8pm

Before You Buy (best for new camera purchases and gift buying. Don’t buy what you don’t need)
Oct 26, 6-8pm
Oct 28, 6-8pm
Nov 2, 6-8pm
Nov 4, 6-8pm
Nov 5, 1-3pm
Nov 7, 9-11am
Nov 16, 6-8pm
Dec 6, 1-3pm
Dec 6, 6-8pm
Dec 10, 9-11am

Basic Camera Operation
Nov 2, 1-3pm
Nov 5, 9-11am
Nov 9, 6-8pm
Nov 12, 1-3pm
Nov 22, 6-8pm
Dec 7, 6-8pm
Dec 10, 1-3pm
Jan 5, 6-8pm
Jan 7, 1-3pm

Iceland Hot Springs & Northern Lights special Icelandair deal + one-on-one instruction – deadline July 31

Icelandair Hot Springs & Northern Lights

Here’s a special deal offered by Icelandair: 5 days, 3 nights, hotel, some meals, some activities, and airfare, starting at $685. I’ll sweeten the deal in that if you pay my way (double occupancy or single), I’ll provide you with one-on-one photo assistance during the trip. I’ll pay my own transportation to Seattle as the departure city, meals and other expenses. You pick the dates (for Northern Lights, go with February or March). I will depart from Seattle. Here’s the link with info. The catch is the deadline for booking this deal is July 31.
Icelandair Hot Springs & Northern Lights travel deal

Contact me for more information and to make arrangements.

May, June, July, August Photography Class Schedule

Here is my schedule for upcoming photography classes for the rest of May, June, July, and August, as well as a list of upcoming workshops that still have openings:

For a complete list and to register online, go HERE

Photography 101
June 17 – July 8
June 21 – July 12
June 29 – July 20
August 1 – 22
August 3 – 24

Basic Camera Operation
May 25
May 31
June 20
June 25
July 2
July 7
July 16

Photoshop I: Basic Photoshop & Bridge
June 21
July 15

Photoshop 2: Layers & Adjustments
July 22

Composition 101
June 29 – July 13

Exposure Equation
May 24
June 1
June 20
July 14
July 20

Light & the Light Meter
May 30
July 5

Before You Buy
June 25

Workshops: for complete list and to register, go HERE

Alvord Desert, Oregon June 3 – 5
Oregon Coast, June 7 – 12
Columbia River Gorge, Oregon, June 14 – 16
Cyanotype printing, June 18
Oregon Coast, Sept 6 – 11
Scotland, Sept 21 – 28 (only 1 space remaining!)
Iceland, Oct 3 – 14 (only 1 space remaining!)

Acadia National Park Oct 19 – 26 (pending)
Bruneau Dunes, Idaho November (date pending)

2017 Workshops in planning

Death Valley, Feb
Oregon Coast, April
Yellowstone National Park, May
Iceland Twilight, May 16 – 25
Scotland Highlands, May 28 – June 6
Grand Teton National Park, June
Palouse, Washington, June
Palouse, Washington, Aug 13 – 16
Yellowstone National Park, Sept
Acadia National Park, Maine, Oct
Iceland, Oct
Yosemite National Park, Nov
Monterey/Carmel, California, Nov

Summer Photography Workshops

Join me in exploring fascinating locations, improving your skill, pursuing your vision, making friends, and having fun in all areas of our planet. Each workshop location and itinerary is meant to challenge, inspire, and excite you, and allow you to reach outside your comfort zone (where most learning takes place). Beginners to advanced photographers welcome.

Here are my upcoming photography workshops. Full details and registration are here

Cyanotype Printing
May 7
June 18

Alvord Desert, Oregon
June 3 – 5

Central Oregon Coast
June 7 – 12

Columbia River Gorge
June 14 – 16

Central Oregon Coast
Sept 6 – 11

Scotland, Isle of Skye (only 1 space remaining!)
Sept 21 – 28

Iceland (only 1 space remaining!)
Oct 3 – 14

10 Things Photographers and Artists Should Consider

I don’t usually do lists, but as I was working on a project and reading at the same time, this popped into my head. I’ve left off explanations for some and used minimal explanation for others. You should fill in your own blanks (that could be #11 or #12).

1. Explore: internally (introspection) and externally (exteroception)
2. Experiment: Don’t follow convention (for too long). Blaze your own trail
3. Challenge yourself mentally and physically: Don’t bite off more than you can chew – work in increments you can accomplish yet have a need to push yourself beyond current limits
4. Challenge your skills
5. Share your progress in a way that is informative and interesting but not self-serving or bragging
6. Don’t care what others think about what you do or how you do it. They are not you and you are not them. You are you. Do what you love, create what you love
7. Set goals (see #3 & #4) but be flexible in how, when, and if you reach them. Don’t be afraid to coast, regain your bearings or your balance or to reassess and change course. They’re your goals, they don’t belong to anyone else
8. Don’t be afraid
9. Seek knowledge and experience wherever it can be found, in all areas. You never know when one thing will connect with another in an amazing way
10. Have fun

Ok, here’s an 11

11. Be a friend to other artists