2023 Photography Workshops

Join me in 2023 for any or all of the following workshops. Two of them, Kyrgyzstan and Romania, will be with my friend Tim Vollmer. I will be adding some local Idaho workshops soon. If you’d like to keep up with my class and workshop schedule, please subscribe to my monthly newsletter in the right margin or via the newsletter link on my webpage header.

Go HERE for more information and to register for any workshop:
March 21-28 Central Oregon Coast
April 17-23 White Sands National Park, New Mexico
May 19-28 Iceland
Jun 2-14 Kyrgyzstan
Aug 23-Sep 1 Scotland: Isle of Skye
Sep 9-19 Italy: Dolomites & Venice
Sep 20-Oct 1 Romania
Oct 13-15 Annular Solar Eclipse, Nevada
Oct 19-29 Iceland

Photography vs Photograph, Part III

Part III

But for me photography is essentially not about art, society, or representation; I find seeing is essentially solitary, and photography is one of the emblems of that solitude
James Elkins, What Photography Is, 2011

The photograph is as complex a thing as the gesture of photography (as I’ve defined them in the previous two parts). The photograph, as Ansel Adams stated, is the performance, from the culmination of the preparation, practice, seeing, and imagination of the photographer. It is also the product of the use of the mechanical device of the camera recording the quality, quantity, and color of light reflected from, transmitted through, emanating from, and wrapped around the elements that lie before them. A photograph is a means of expression, artistically or otherwise, a way to communicate a concept, emotion, instruction, evidence, in a form and detail other types of communication lack. A photograph can be fact or entirely false or lie somewhere in between, can deceive, persuade, or inspire, but almost always serves as a prompt to memory, whether the memory is directly related to the content of the photograph or not. Photographs are part of our legacy, what we leave behind as our footprint marking our passage, A way for our descendants to know something about us when we can’t speak to them directly.

A photograph is both an image and a thing. As a thing, the photograph is part of the material culture of photography, something physical we hold in our hands, put in books and albums, burn, tear up, write on, send to loved ones, put in frames and hang on walls. When asked what possessions they would rescue from a burning home, one of the most frequent answers is photographs. We grieve when they are lost, as if part of our memory, our past, or our accomplishments has been taken. Most of the photographs made during the 19th Century have not survived to the present. Those that do still exist have acquired a value well beyond their original intent. Many of those surviving photographs have no more information to them than the image, no place, time, or name. Who are these orphaned people? What is their legacy?

In 2014, more photographs were made than in the 100 years of the 19th Century. In 2022, it’s estimated that 54,400 photographs were made worldwide EVERY SECOND, 196 million every hour, 172 TRILLION photographs in that year alone. These numbers are increasing. In 2014, the number of photographs made was a little over 1 trillion. It’s likely many of those photographs made in 2022 did not survive the year, and most will likely not survive another 20 years, never venturing beyond taking up space on a memory card or hard drive, lost during a power outage, hardware failure, or accidental hard drive formatting. The digital photograph is much more fragile than the analog photograph and film of history.

The photograph as image is the content representing the context in which the photograph was made, interpreted by the photographer and current culture, whether that is today or decades from now. The photographic image can be used differently than the physical print, especially in these days of electronic images. A physical print has a front where the image is and a back where information about the image can be placed. An electronic image may have meta data embedded into the file or in a separate location. If those parts, the image file and the associated sidecar .xml data file or other data file, for example, are separated, knowledge about that image is lost. I would argue that most digital photographs made today do not have embedded meta data, even information about who the photographer is. But it’s easy, and almost habit, to write something on the back of a printed photograph. An ongoing philosophy is a photograph is not a photograph until it has physical form as a print, which then begs to be shown and displayed. Though a physical print in a drawer is the same as a digital file on a hard drive. But a physical print also begs some other questions, such as how large should it be, what type of surface and display (mat, frame, paper, canvas, glass, metal, wood, fabric), where should it be displayed (wall, wallet, photo album/book, magazine) and the location (home, gallery, coffeeshop, pop-up, art show)? What is the appropriate way to showcase your photograph once you’ve created it?

The use of photographic images is also quite varied, from family memories to advertising, education to forensics, photojournalism to art. These days the distinctions are becoming more arbitrary, with the exception of forensic photography, perhaps. Though given enough time separation from their creation and use, even some forensic photographs could be used for commercial applications or art.

The use and meaning of a photograph changes with time as it moves from place to place and hand to hand. A family snapshot today is history tomorrow, or art. The camera in the hands of the photographer creates what Henri Cartier-Bresson called “a sort of visual chronicle.” Roland Barthes called the camera “clocks for seeing.”

The first (surviving) photograph is by Joseph Nicephore Niepce of rooftops seen from his upstairs window in France, in 1826 or 1827, although there is evidence others made photographs as early as 1800 (Thomas Wegdewood) or earlier, but they did not survive. Niepce’s photograph, as it is, must be kept in a light-tight box to keep it from turning black from exposure. Once photography reached the public, around 1839, it took off. Everything was fair game for the camera. A list of “firsts.”

1826-27 first surviving photograph, Joseph Nicephore Niepce
1839 first portrait, a selfie
1840 first hoax photo, Hippolyte Bayard photographed himself as a drowned man, reportedly in protest against the French Academy for failing to recognize his contribution to photography in preference to Daguerre. So, perhaps also the first protest photograph.
1840 first photo of the moon
1840 first nude portrait
1843 first photo of a US president (John Quincy Adams, after being in office). The first sitting president to be photographed was James Polk, 1848)
1843 first photo book, Anna Atkins cyanotypes of algae
1844 first commercially printed book illustrated with photographs, The Pencil of Nature, Henry Fox Talbot, calotypes
1845 first photo of the sun
1847 first war photograph, Mexican-American War, photographer unk
1848 first news photograph and first photo printed in a newspaper (not the same photos)
1860 first aerial photo
1878-1886 Edweard Muybridge pioneered the photographic study of animal and human locomotion and high speed photography (chronophotography)
1879 Edweard Muybridge invents the zoopraxiscope, precursor to the movie projector
1882 first photograph of lightning
1931 electronic flash invented by Harold Edgerton
1946 first photograph from space, camera aboard a V-2 rocket from 65 miles up
1957 first digital photo
1976 first photograph from Mars
1985 first personal video camera
1988 first digitally-manipulated photograph, by Thomas Knoll (inventor of Photoshop)
1995 digital videotape
1997 first camera phone photo
2000 Apple’s iMovie

Imagine, today, a world without photographs. It’s almost impossible. Photographs have become an integral part of human culture, although such a photo-less world existed for hundreds of thousands of years of human culture before the invention of the camera. Our current world is stuffed full with photographic images of all sorts and the convergence of audio-visual technology and the ability to nearly instantly transmit digital images around the planet to billions of people in the 20th Century fundamentally changed the importance and prevalence of photographs and how people record, interpret, and interact with the world. There are many important, inspirational, and influential photographs. Creating a list of them is a subjective exercise like Top Songs of History. Everyone has their favorites. Here is a list of 25 I’ve compiled, not necessarily in order of importance, or complete:

1. View from a Window, 1826/27 Joseph Nicephore Niepce
2. Earthrise, 1968, Astronaut William Anders, Apollo 8
3. Blue Marble, 1972, Astronaut Jack Schmitt, Apollo 17
4. Falling Man, 2001, Richard Drew
5. Man Jumping Puddle, 1930, Henri Cartier-Bresson
6. Clearing Winter Storm, 1937, Ansel Adams
7. Mushroom Cloud over Nagasaki, 1945, Lt. Charles Levy, Bombardier
8. Tank Man, Tiananmen Square, 1989, Jeff Widener
9. Pillars of Creation, 1995, NASA Hubble Telescope
10. Deep Field, 2022, James Webb Space Telescope
11. The Terror of War, 1972, Nick Ut
12. Pale Blue Dot, 1990, NASA Voyager 1
13. Woman & Child Falling from Fire Escape, 1975, Stanley Foreman
14. Child Coal Miners, 1908, Lewis Hine
15. Tutokanula Pass, Yosemite, ~1880, Carleton Watkins
16. Men on the Moon, Buzz Aldrin by Neil Armstrong, in reflection), 1969
17. Little Rock Central High School, 1957, Elizabeth Eckford
18. Nelson Mandela Becomes President of South Africa, 1994, Walter Dhladhla
19. Starving Child and Vulture, 1993, Kevin Carter
20. Shell & Rock Arrangement 15S, 1931, Edward Weston
21. Horse in Motion, 1878, Edweard Muybridge
22. Bullet Through Apple, 1964, Harold Edgerton
23. Atomic Bomb Explosion, 1952, Harold Edgerton
24. Cotton Mill Girl, 1908, Lewis Hine
25. Migrant Mother, 1936, Dorothea Lange
26. Bonus – Black Hole, M87, 2019, Event Horizon Telescope collaboration

When photography was first introduced, photographs were perceived as a perfect documentary medium because the detail recorded by the mechanical camera left no question about the “truth” of the subject depicted in the photograph. “No one”, writes philosopher Susan Sontag, “takes an easel painting to be in any sense co-substantial with its subject; it only represents or refers. But a photograph is not only like its subject, a homage to the subject, it is part of, an expansion of, that subject; and a potent means of acquiring it, of gaining control over it. Photographs do more than redefine the stuff of ordinary experience (people, things, events, whatever we see – albeit differently, often inattentively – with natural vision) and add vast amounts of material that we never see at all.” From the beginning, though, the perception that the camera doesn’t lie has been exploited by charlatans, propagandists, advertisers, and others to persuade and influence. In 1861, a jeweler named William H. Mumler, accidentally made a portrait photograph on a previously-exposed negative plate. The result was a ghostly, superimposed image of a previous client. The resulting photograph was passed around as a gag, but eventually found its way into the hands of someone at The Herald of Progress, a spiritualist journal, who printed the photograph in the journal, and “spirit photography” was born. Mumler latched onto the opportunity, perfected his double exposure technique, and embellished his marketing with spiritualist rhetoric. For nearly two years, Mumler was a very successful spirit photographer, making portraits of clients and capturing the “spirits” of lost loved ones looking over the living. Spiritualists caught up in the phenomenon claimed the photos were scientific evidence of their belief in the afterlife. Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of Abraham Lincoln, was a client of Mumler’s.

In 1863, a doctor (perhaps someone who should have known better, but representative of the popularity of the fad) sat for a Mumler portrait. However, when he received his photo he recognized the “spirit” as someone who was still quite alive. The doctor led a campaign to discredit Mumler. Mumler was also sued but was acquitted. By then his reputation was ruined. Other spirit photographers popped up all over the country, capitalizing on the belief by consumers the photographs were real.

Photographs today are much more easily manipulated than 140 years ago, yet photographs are still widely believed to be factual records, or disbelieved based on the perception they have been altered, regardless to what degree. The interpretation of the photograph, its subject, content, meaning, is almost entirely the responsibility of the viewer. Interpretation is formed by the viewer’s own knowledge, understanding, experience, prejudice, with the subject and content, just as it is in the creation of the photograph by the photographer. A portrait can be disbelieved by the sitter if they perceive, or wish themselves perceived, differently than the camera reveals, just as a photograph of a landscape or event (UFO sighting) can be disbelieved – or believed to be true – based on the expectations of the viewer.

Once a photograph is “released into the wild”, control by the photographer, how the photographer intended the photograph to be received and interpreted, is lost. The job of the photographer is to include in the photograph enough clues and information to solidify the intended meaning or message, whether it be factual or fanciful. Revealing the methodology used to make the photograph, especially in the fields of photojournalism and science/engineering/forensics, allows for “peer review” and assessment of the validity of the photography. Such a statement is also useful for differentiating the photograph as a type of art. Even manipulated artworks would benefit from a simple statement regarding the type of manipulation, such as sky replacement, composite, or element removal for clarity.

Obvious manipulations probably don’t need any such declaration, though there will always be someone who points out the manipulation or who thinks it’s real. Though what constitutes manipulation has also been debated since the beginning. Henri Cartier-Bresson went so far as to oppose the use of flash for a photograph, “if only out of respect for the actual light – even when there isn’t any of it. Unless a photographer observes such conditions as these, he may become an intolerably aggressive character.” László Moholy-Nagy, in 1923, expressed the problem and benefit with photography, photographers, and photographs: “The photograph enables us to experience space in new ways through an enlargement and sublimation of our appreciation of time and space and the perception of our surroundings, and its existence, with new eyes…The camera allowed for phenomena imperceptible to the human eye to be perceived, revealing aspects of existence never before seen or contemplated.” Edward Weston, in his Daybooks, Vol II, wrote in 1932, that “The variety of options available to the photographer for self-expression beyond the exact reproduction of subject/scene by the machine of the camera, give the photographer a myriad of possibilities for personal choice – one has far greater opportunity for self-expression through material opportunity than is granted the painter. The trouble has been with photographers, not photography!…for to produce work of any value in any line of creative endeavor, one must bore into the spirit of today. Old ideals are crashing on all sides, and the precise uncompromising camera vision is, and will be made so, a world force in the revaluation of life.”

The gesture of photography and the making of photographs provide one way for the discovery of oneself at the same time of exploring the world. The two processes are separate and interconnected, with intent and meaning, knowledge and experience important, even critical, components of both. Photography can mold us through the act and by viewing and discussing photographs. Photography, as I’ve described before, can be a Way of Life, not just professionally, but personally and experientially; a gateway to exploration and personal growth. Photography is a mode of specialized and personalized communication. Ansel Adams eloquently stated “When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.” The photographs left behind are a record of the time, a visual chronicle of a person’s experience and existence in the world, a view of the culture and associated events, and a story of each generation for future humans to view, interpret, and learn from. There is much more about photography and photographs, a treasure trove of information waiting to be learned, explored, and discovered. Review the history, read past and current interpretations, view photographs, explore and reflect on your own part in all this, and above all, engage in photography and make photographs.

Photography vs Photograph, Part II

Part II

What makes photography a strange invention – with unforeseeable consequences – is that its primary raw materials are light and time. – John Berger

We can probably agree there are many different perceptions/concepts/philosophies about photography. Otherwise, we wouldn’t still be having these discussions. Similar discussions to those that began in the 1800s and are renewed at each inflection point in the evolution of photography: the initial introduction of the technology, painting and drawing vs photography, realism vs pictorialism, digital vs analog, mirror vs mirrorless, and now the introduction of “artificial intelligence” in image making and image processing. We’re still trying to resolve, whether for ourselves as individual photographers or in an attempt to create a type of “general theory” of photography, the relationships between the photographer, the device (camera), and the photograph, in addition to the viewers and interpretations of photographs. In this Part II, I’ll discuss the act of photography and aspects of the relationship between the photographer and the camera. In Part III, I’ll address the photograph.

A photograph needs an audience. Or does it?” – Ted Orland, The View from the Studio Door

As a reminder, I stated for simplicity in Part I, and to distinguish between the two parts of the title, photography is a process and the photograph is a thing. A somewhat controversial concept might be that a photograph isn’t even a required component of photography. The process of making the photographic exposure alone could be enough for the photographer to gain pleasure and personal growth. And, at least, showing your photographs to others isn’t a requirement to call yourself a photographer or to receive something from photography. An example is Vivian Maier, who photographed for years and never had her film developed. Not everyone will agree. Henri Cartier-Bresson even said “My passion has never been for photography ‘in itself,’ but for the possibility – through forgetting yourself – of recording in a fraction of a second the emotion of the subject, and the beauty of the form; that is, a geometry awakened by what’s offered.” For HCB, the process was a means to an end; the capture of the subject, like the capture of a prey. But this dichotomy of photography is different from most every other art form where the process nearly always results in something physical.

In most art forms the process and the product are inseparable. You can’t paint without making a painting or carve a piece of stone or wood without making a sculpture (quibbles over definitions of painting and sculpture aside). Painting, drawing, pottery, and carving are words describing both the action and the product. Photography, and photographing, are words describing an activity during which the photographer is doing something toward the eventual making of a photograph. This activity involves a wide range of things the photographer does, sometimes well before finger depresses shutter release: researching subjects, thinking about the subject, processing memories or life in general, exploring locations, observing the light, observing the subject and color, shadow, form, and texture, juxtaposition, balance, subject and compositional element relationships, etc., thinking about and reviewing past photographs and their strengths and weaknesses, reading, listening to music, talking with other photographers, friends, strangers, etc. All of these activities inform and influence the eventual photograph, whether the photographer is consciously thinking of these elements at the time of exposure or not. The process of photography doesn’t just happen when you have your camera in hand searching for something pretty or interesting or funny to snap. Regardless if I have my camera or not, when I’m looking I’m seeing photographs. As I’m scanning the environment I’m “cropping” various parts of the scenes in my mind, “zooming” in and out with an imaginary lens, examining arrangements, isolating, including, exploring relationships. This prepares me for when I do have my camera, searching for subjects to photograph and looking through the viewfinder. This process not only applies to photography, but also to every other art form, and to just being. Awareness and observation of your surroundings makes things more interesting than succumbing to sensory adaptation.

Photographers (and viewers) often think of photography and photographs as indistinguishable parts of the process; one cannot exist without the other. In a sense, this is true. But, the process of photography and the making of the photograph can be broken down into sets of discrete steps and, thus, separated from one another as distinct but interconnected processes. I’ve described the steps (phases) of photography in other texts; they are Exploration, Isolation, Organization, and Exposure. The steps involved in the photograph are Exposure/Ingestion (digital download), Edit, Process, Print, and Display.

The camera, the photographer’s primary tool for making photographs, and its operation, can also be addressed separately with a list of discrete steps for both photographer and camera and in which photography becomes a subset of the individual. Photography, for some, becomes a way of being, a way of interacting with the world. The steps in camera operation are, generally, Observe, Compose, Focus, Settings, Expose. There is overlap with the final step of camera operation, Expose, and the photography process. Exposure, the press of the shutter release, is the culmination of a number of factors leading to that particular moment that can take seconds or years to reach. Those factors are specific to the individual: Experience, Skill, Knowledge, Prejudice and Bias, Goals, and Intent (past, present, and future). All aspects of the processes of photography, photographer, camera, and photograph are interrelated, overlap, and the relationships between them are circular, or web-like. Rarely is the line from inspiration/conception/idea/influence to finished image a straight one. The camera (using the word as a catch-all including all other photographic equipment), different from tools of other art forms, has almost from the beginning of photography taken over the definition of photography. I’m not aware of any other art form other than digital illustration and some aspects of music, where the primary device for creating the art receives as much, and sometimes more, attention than the art or the artist, and for which an entire industry has been developed. Where are the paintbrush and typewriter websites, magazines and podcasts?

Well-known photographers Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Minor White, Mary Ellen Mark, Man Ray, Yousuf Karsh, and many others, wrote and spoke about the photographer’s relationship with equipment. The general consensus among these photographers is the photographer makes the photograph, not the equipment. But the camera, its type/format, brand, capabilities, accessories, etc. is often at the forefront of many discussions and inquiries about photographs and photographers. Vilem Flusser (1920-1991), in his book Toward a Philosophy of Photography (1984), asks a question “is a human being in possession of a camera, or a camera in possession of a human being?” We see it in photography quite often, especially with questions from photographers and non-photographers alike when viewing photographs; what camera did you use?, what lens did you use?, what were your settings?, what software/action/preset did you use?, as if the equipment is the key to making the photograph interesting or beautiful and duplication in another time and place will produce the same result. We all know the photographer who is defined by their gear, who must have the latest and greatest equipment, but their photographs are maybe not up to par with their arsenal. But that’s not entirely what Flusser means when asking the question.

Our equipment does partially dictate what and how we photograph. In the act or gesture of photography the camera does the will of the photographer, but the photographer can only photograph what can be photographed given the capabilities of the camera and the light-sensitive medium the camera uses to record the energy from photons. Even if we have all the funds available at our disposal to acquire all the equipment we need, our photographs are still limited by the capabilities of the gear we hold in our hand at the time of making the exposure. We’re still limited by the field of view and depth of field of the lens, of the size of the image sensor or film stock, the noise and grain of sensor and film, the dynamic range of light recorded by sensor or film, the weight of camera equipment, the availability of accessories and the cost of cameras and accessories, etc., in addition to our own skill and knowledge to operate that equipment to the best of our ability.

Flusser categorizes the camera’s possession of the photographer by defining two types of images, traditional and technical. Traditional images are symbols which come directly from observations of the real world, made by the “hand of the artist” from original and unique expressions of experience and interpretations “in the [artist’s] head”. Prehistoric cave painting is his example. I think modern painting, drawing, pottery, sculpting, and other art forms made directly by the hand of the artist would fit the definition of traditional images as well. Technical images are made by apparatuses (cameras, for our purpose of discussion) which are twice removed from the hand and mind of the artist through the programming, mechanics, and limitations of the camera. Technical images are also infinitely reproducible by apparatuses (printers or darkroom reproduction) where traditional images are one of a kind. Flusser views the camera only superficially analogous to artist tools like the paintbrush. The paintbrush or chisel and the resulting artwork is directly connected to the mind of the artist through the hand, whereas the complex programming, capabilities and limitations of the camera intervene between the artist and the photograph. In the photograph, we only indirectly see the hand and mind of the photographer because the photographer’s observation of the real world, the internal traditional image, is abstracted and controlled by the capabilities and limitations of the apparatus, the camera.

John Berger (1926-2017), in Understanding A Photograph, adds that the invention of the lightweight, automatic, camera changed the process of making photographs (and art, in a general sense) from a ritual (taking time to observe, set up, wait, expose) to a simple reflex – point and shoot. This resonates with me because when I was learning photography I wanted to photograph using medium and large format cameras, but didn’t have the funds for the equipment. So when I was learning the process of photography using 35mm, I treated the camera as if it was medium or large format, taking time to observe and set up the shot, to make the exposure count, rather than “spray and pray” then pick out the best and “fix it in Photoshop.” Make the photograph in the camera as much as possible. That has always been my philosophy and practice.

In what Flusser calls the gesture of photography, the act of making a photograph is a sequence of events during which the photographer overcomes several barriers or hurdles. At each barrier (what subject to choose, composition to select, settings to use, can my camera record this scene as I envision it, should I ask for permission?…) there is a hesitation. Each hesitation is an opportunity for doubt and an interruption of concentration, awareness, and flow. Photographing is a start-stop process, especially when first learning photography. Experience removes some of the doubt, some of the hesitation, but not all. At some point we have to make the decision when to press the shutter. Because of the multitude of choices available when selecting and composing a photograph, there is no real “decisive moment,” except in the mind and intent of the photographer. Cartier-Bresson even points out the photographer needs to stay with the moment, even after thinking the strongest image has been made; to keep shooting in case something else develops with that particular situation. But to avoid “shooting like a machine-gunner” which produces needless waste and exactness about the portrayal of the event, all the while remembering there are no do-overs.

The act of photographing, the gesture, is the experience, the journey, the discovery by the photographer in researching the subject, traveling (near or far), the personal growth inherent in exploring new places, meeting new people, encountering and working through challenges, fears, and biases, and the satisfaction of the learning process, whether you achieve your intent or not. I think we learn at least a little more from not meeting expectations than from our successes, though arguments can be made for the opposite. The process of photography, for me, is a mechanism to living a Way of Life, a way of experiencing the world and interpreting it; not necessarily interpreting it for you (which is something I once told people as a bit of a conceit and marketing ploy – as if I somehow had a better sense of what you needed to know or see better than you did) but interpreting the world for me. The journey, for me, is at least as important as the destination, because the destination is a moving target. I doubt I’ll ever reach it, or even discover what that destination is. My process of photographing, the way I think about it, approach making photographs, how I see the world, is different than yours. There might be similarities, but they aren’t exactly alike and can be very different. That’s great. Diversity makes life interesting. I like to share my journey and for those who want to come along, in person or through my photographs, I welcome you.

Photography vs Photograph, Part I

This is the first of a three part essay exploring the different aspects and understanding of the act, or gesture, of photography, the photographer, and the photograph. I use material from Vilem Flusser, John Berger, Henri-Cartier Bresson, Ted Orland, and others to describe and comment on the different ways photography and photographs are perceived. This is one way to look at it. You’re going to have something different to being to the discussion or you’ll learn something new. We’re learning all the time.

Part I

Photography, like any artistic practice, is a multi-faceted activity involving materials, equipment, process, learning, technique, philosophy, a few other things, and the making of physical or otherwise visual representations of the photons recorded by the camera which, whether on film or digital sensor, are at first not visible to anyone (reviews on the camera screen notwithstanding). In this and the next one or two newsletters, I’m going to write about some different philosophies or approaches to the concept of photography versus photograph; the interconnected but also separate ideas of the process of photography and the product of the photograph. As you might already know or guess, there are, and have been, several different ideas throughout history about photography, its purpose, how it should be done, presented, and thought about, as well as the impact, importance, and relevance to the society, culture, and technology of the day. It’s a pretty big bundle to unwrap.

I’m going to focus, or try to, on just the concepts of photography and the photograph. There is spillover into other aspects of both, and I’ll try to keep that to only directly relevant offshoots. First, definitions. Photography I’ll consider to be the process involved in most of the activities NOT related to the creation of a physical photograph. I define the photograph as the physical or visual representation of a photographic image, whether that is a darkroom print, digital print, digital display, or some other physical or visual representation. In general, to keep the concepts as separated as possible for clarity of discussion, I’ll treat the image of the photograph as different from the process of photography. But first, we might need to delve into a brief overview of the long history of photography.

In some ways, photography has come a long way since its recognizable beginnings in the early 19th Century, while in other ways it has remained much the same. The arguments for and against photography and photographs in the 1800s are much the same in the 2000s; technological advances haven’t changed those arguments much but, in some cases, it has amplified them. The pursuit of photographs came about as a means to accurately record what we were looking at. The camera obscura, the first rudimentary camera device, or pinhole camera, required an operator to trace an image projected onto glass or onto a surface in a darkened room. The accuracy of the illustration depended on the patience and skill of the individual making the drawing, the technology used to create the quality of the camera obscura image (bare pinhole versus lens), and environmental conditions: the sun had to be shining for a bright enough image to be projected on the tracing surface. The camera obscura was first built and used in 1100AD by Persian (now Iraq) polymath Alhazen (Ibn al-Haytham) and used after that by several others in their process of discovering the properties of light. But the principle of the camera obscura was known since it was first described in 400 BC in China (Mozi) and 350 BC in Greece (Aristotle) and again in more detail by Leonardo da Vinci in 1550. Artists caught on to the usefulness of the camera obscura in the 15th Century, using the device to make drawings and paintings of landscapes, cityscapes, and portraits. There is evidence, though, suggesting pinhole images were used by prehistoric humans to make art as far back as 15,000 years ago. Light sensitive substances, such as chlorophyll from plants and other chemicals, were explored in the 16th Century, but it wasn’t until 1614 that an Italian chemist named Angelo Sala showed that silver nitrate, when coated on paper, darkened in the light of the sun. But, even though the camera obscura was in wide use by then, the two were not brought together until the 19th Century. So, the use of light sensitive chemistry to accurately record scenes and objects from the visible world is relatively new compared to other art forms like painting and sculpture.

The word photography was coined by Sir John Herschel, in 1839, from the Greek words photos, meaning “light”, and graphe, meaning “to draw or write”. As soon as the first permanent (more or less) image was made in 1839 (the date and maker of the first photograph is still debated today), photography became a much-argued technology. It continues to be debated today, regarding what constitutes photography or a photograph, and whether a photograph is actually art. For me, photography and the photograph are interconnected as part of a whole, an integrated process that includes both philosophy and practice, the metaphysical and the physical. But each can also stand on its own, separate from the other; photography doesn’t need to conclude as a photograph, and the photograph can be devoid of all but the technical and mechanical aspects of photography. Photography, capital P, is both art and science and can be a Way of life (in a Zen sense, as I describe in my podcast from a few years ago), or as Brooks Jensen, editor of Lenswork, describes in his podcast; a way of “living the Art life.”

This should provide a good foundation so far. I think this will be a three part essay. The general format will be to give an overview of the ideas of two or more individual’s thoughts on both the process of photography and the object of the photograph. These individuals will be photographers and non-photographers and will hopefully offer a broad look at how photography and photographs have been, and continue to be viewed in the world’s society. I’ll begin next time with philosopher Vilem Flusser (1920-1991) from his 1984 book, Towards a Philosophy of Photography, and critic, novelist and poet John Berger (1926-2017) from the 2013 book of his essays edited by Geoff Dyer, Understanding A Photograph. The remaining parts of this series will explore the thoughts of Edward Weston, Alfred Stieglitz, Ansel Adams, Ted Orland, David Bayles, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paul Strand, Minor White, Gary Winogrand, Jay Maisel, John Paul Caponigro, Jerry Uelsmann, and others. In the end, I hope you might have an appreciation of photography in a different way than you may now, and maybe a deeper understanding of the history of photography as well as something to think about regarding your own exploration of this art form and practice.

2022 Washington Coast Photography Workshop

Washington Coast Photography Workshop, Oct 11-17, 2022

Join myself and my good friend Lalit Deshmukh for 7 days, 5 full days of photographing, on the Washington Coast of the Pacific Northwest. We’ll visit waterfalls, amazing beaches, and primordial rainforest, exploring and experimenting and becoming better photographers through awareness, seeing, and contemplation.

The coast of Washington State in the Pacific Northwest is the longest undeveloped coastline in the United States. The rugged, rocky shore exposes the remnants of the ancient North American coastline as ragged sea stacks that have withstood millennia of the relentless pounding of storms thrown at it from the Pacific Ocean. One of the largest and last remaining temperate rainforests in the world, with its lush green canopy of giant Sitka spruce and Western hemlock, takes you back in time with a bit of a Primordial essence. This workshop is conducted at a ‘photographer’s pace’ to allow for as much immersion into the environment as possible, using our senses and perception along with camera technique to make better photographs and to both experience as well as photograph amazing landscapes, abstracts, and intimate nature imagery.

Please go HERE for more information, photos, and registration.

The Astrophotographer’s Log Book

Astrophotography involves many important steps, from choosing equipment, planning the object to photograph, setting up and taking down equipment, and processing image data, to data storage and presentation of your astrophotographs. The process of creating astrophotography images is a lengthy, long-term project, although excellent images can be made either singly or over a short period of time. However long it takes, though, it’s difficult keeping all the necessary data in your head, especially over multiple sessions and targets, different equipment and, not to mention, years. You could enter the data on your computer or reference your online posts, but an analog copy will long outlast any digital journal you may use.

The Astrophotographer’s Log Book arose from documenting my own imaging sessions, but rewriting the same information over and over in a blank notebook. Doing it by memory each time, it was easy to miss adding a line of data, or write it in another place for that session, or flip back and forth between pages to make sure I had it all written down correctly and in order. So, the notebook became, over time, a less-organized and incomplete record of my imaging sessions. In the paragraphs I wrote, it was difficult to consistently find the information I needed for planning follow-up sessions and time consuming to search the pages for it. I looked for a journal or format to meet my needs and discovered there were many different versions of observer’s logs, but almost no journal books for astrophotographers. And, those that did exist, seemed very open-ended and more like the blank book I was already using. So I compiled this set of pages I hope will also fit your needs and help you have more productive and repeatable imaging sessions, and provide a detailed memory you can look back on in the future.

This log book is for astrophotographers who want to record as much data for each session as they like, or at least have the available place for it when they do. It’s for beginners to help establish good imaging session habits early on, for the advanced astrophotographer who wants and needs a consistent place to record and find the data they worked hard to collect, and for the astrophotographer who likes to look back on old records and reminisce about those special sessions.

The Astrophotographer’s Log Book, at 6″ x 9″, is sized to fit easily into your astrophotography gear bag. The front and back covers are laminated 2mm book board for a solid writing surface on your imaging table or your lap. The thick covers also make it sturdy and durable under the varied conditions you might experience, whether at home or at a remote dark site. A built-in bookmark makes it easy to locate where you left off. The front and back covers are designed by the author. The end papers are also handmade by the author and each set is unique. The Log Book is wire-bound and opens flat or a full 360 degrees.

More information and to purchase at blueplanetphoto.com/product/the-astrophotographers-log-book-25-sessions/:

The Astrophotographer's Log Book front cover
APLB-session page-1000

Point Lobos Dreaming – limited edition handmade book

Indiegogo campaign
Please help support my project to learn bookbinding and create a limited edition handmade book for you

I’ve been learning bookbinding on my own for the past 3 months or so and have decided it’s time to learn from someone who knows more than I do. I’ve started an Indiegogo campaign to help me attend a week-long bookbinding workshop at the San Francisco Center for the Book, and to create photographs to include in a handmade, signed, limited edition book (20) in its own handmade slipcase, titled “Point Lobos Dreaming”.

For more information, and to help support this project please go to https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/point-lobos-dreaming-ltd-edition-handmade-book#/:

10% after 4 days! Thank you! Thank you for your continued support! I’m really excited about this project.

What is an artist book, or artists’ book, or artistic book? There are many ways to label it and many more types of artist/artists’/artistic books, which makes this type of book difficult to define. The type of book is recognizable, for the most part: hand made, looks different than the ‘typical’ mass-produced book, can use non-traditional material, and may even not look like a “book” at all. I’ll use the term artists’ book just to keep the typing to a minimum and to refer to the book as “artist owned”, meaning the artist took ownership in its creation by being the maker of all or nearly all of the book’s components; structure, design, content, appearance, from determining the size to cutting the paper to making the cover and hand-stitching the spine.

One predominant aspect of the artists’ book is this type of book tends to cross boundaries and preconceptions and definitions of what a book is, often using cross-disciplinary media and various modes of construction. Instead of the book being about art, or containing something artful, the book itself is an artwork. The book maker has total freedom and control in its production (which creates a bit of anxiety and fear as well as excitement in the artist, especially if the artist hasn’t explored this mode of artmaking before). One thing commonly agreed on; the artists’ book is not simply a book of artwork or a representation of an artist’s body of work, not a diary or sketchbook or blank book, even if it is handmade. Artist’s books are made to be interacted with, the same as with any other book form. Artists’ books are more often than not made in very limited editions compared to machine-printed books or even other limited edition artworks.

The artists’ book can be more deeply or expansively personal than other types of art because of the opportunity to include different media types, from the obvious writing to painting and drawing, photography, collage, augmented reality, even carving and sculpture. Any type of media can be incorporated into the artists’ book form and be used as an appropriate means of expression, as the artist demands. “Artists’ books exist at the intersection of printmaking, photography, poetry, experimental narrative, visual arts, graphic design, and publishing.” (https://blog.library.si.edu/blog/2012/06/01/what-is-an-artists-book/).

While book form has been around for centuries (3500 BC or so), the machine-printed book arrived in 1475 with the Gutenberg press, and artists’ book didn’t really come into being until the 1950s when European artists began experimenting with and exploring the book form. The artists’ book, like sculpture, printmaking, and photography before it, is having a tough time being accepted as a valid form of fine art, and many people have no idea this form of art even exists.

The books I will be making are not artists’ books according to that definition. They are handmade books, for sure, and there will be artistic aspects to them. But each type of book I make for this project are essentially the traditional book form. There may be a time, likely will be, that as I become more experienced with assembling the book form I will explore and experiment with an artists’ book. And it may be sooner than you or I think. I already have a concept for an artists’ book that I may try in the near future based on some photographs I made in the Redwoods of California, with the concept of landscape ecology, fire ecology, and a land ethic (a la Aldo Leopold).

Overall, the hand made book, the artists’ book, is another form of artistic expression and communication based on the artist’s experiences with the world. It’s a way to make the abstract visible or the visible abstract or to be completely and unambiguously literal.

“When we make something with our hands it changes the way we feel. The way we feel changes the way we think. The way we think changes the way we act.” — Carl Wilkens

Blue Planet Photography 2019 Workshops

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.

White Sands National Monument photography workshop with Blue Planet Photography
White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

March 20-26
October 26-November 1

South Oregon Coast photography workshop with Blue Planet Photography
South Oregon Coast

April 9-14

Monterey & Point Lobos photography workshop
Monterey & Point Lobos, California

April 15-20
August 18-23

Scotland, Isle of Skye photography workshop with Blue Planet Photography
Scotland, Isle of Skye

April 27-May 4

Iceland photography workshop with Blue Planet Photography
Iceland: Voyage to Another Planet

May 13-26
November 5-13

Dolomites, Italy, photography workshop with Blue Planet Photography
Dolomites, Italy

June 9-18
October 3-10

Tallgrass Prairie photography workshop with Blue Planet Photography
Tallgrass Prairie, Kansas

September 6-11

Acadia National Park, Maine photography workshop with Blue Planet Photography
Acadia National Park, Maine

September 25-October 1

Canon EOS R: Review

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.

Canon EOS R front

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.

Image quality

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.

Review: The Photography Exercise Book

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.