Friday, September 23, 2016

Becoming unfamiliar with the familiar

"The two most engaging powers of a photograph are to make new things familiar and familiar things new." William Thackeray

My first shot of Biscayne Bay with a DSLR camera, from the canoe. Somewhat symbolic, this image reveals an opening into the bay (2007).
I am not a travel photographer. Instead, I spend most of my time in only a few specific locations. Indeed, as the subtitle of this blog states, I specialize in south Florida Everglades and Biscayne Bay.

As I continued exploring Biscayne Bay, I spent more time photographing wading birds. But always, the draw was the mangroves and I looked for those opportunities to capture their reflections (2008).
I began my photographic odyssey in the Everglades and Biscayne Bay and I continue to go back to the same locations as I did over ten years ago when I first took a DSLR camera with me in the canoe. For me as a photographer, I would say that my artistic vision is born out of these places that I am familiar with and have visited countless times. Going back to the same specific location over and over again would appear redundant and boring to many. But I see it differently.

I began exploring mangroves more intimately. At the same time, reflections on the water continued to draw me in (2009).
As I have evolved as a photographer and artist, so has my connection to these familiar places, and in turn, that familiarity has helped me grow as an artist. When you are trying to create an image, a familiar location provides you with a foundation of information from which to draw upon. With this foundation, you are freed up to explore your artistic vision. You can let go of certain necessities that typically take up time and energy; such as navigating around an area, figuring out where to find the optimal lighting, and locating interesting subjects. You know that stuff already, you can now focus more of your attention to the creative process and how you intend to capture a familiar scene with a fresh perspective.

The openness of Biscayne Bay is what stands out the most. Naturally, sunrises take center stage, but were not quite on my radar screen. While I was discovering ways to capture the intimate mangroves, I was also beginning to discover landscape photography techniques and had not yet brought them to the bay (2010).
And with that, it is all about fresh perspective. As we grow artistically, our mind can attend to its creative side more effectively and we can see familiar places and things in new ways. As we learn camera skills and new techniques, we go back to a location with those new skills and capture a scene differently. It's all about being open and allowing your creativity to take over. Rather than go to a familiar location with an expectation or not go back to it at all, we can be open with our approach to imagery and allow ourselves to become unfamiliar with the familiar.

Birds continued to be significant subjects, but I began to spend more time looking for a more fine art approach to photographing them (2011).
While I sometimes wish I was one of those photographers that travels to the most breathtaking locations in the United States and adds one stunning image after another to his or her portfolio, I believe it would have taken me much longer to strengthen my creative side if I was moving from one place to another. I look forward to visiting some of these iconic places, but the time I can reasonably spend in one location will be limited. To put this in perspective, I have been exploring specific locations for ten years and I am still on a quest for that ONE shot. I don't know what is "that ONE shot", but it is what keeps me returning again and again.

I had discovered a new way to capture mangroves using intentional camera movement. This opened my eyes to more possibilities in an attempt to capture mangroves artistically (2012).
And when I do return to a place, sometimes magic happens. I discover new things or old things are seen in a new way. I experiment and do a lot of "Let's see what happens when I do this". It can be much of the same stuff, but with the time and effort to sort through it all, what is left is a little bit of magic that you have discovered in a familiar place. That's what pushes me forward.

With new skills and equipment, I finally brought my landscape techniques to the bay. The ability to stitch multiple images opened up new opportunities (2013).
After years of exploring the bay, I come with more attention to details. Discovering the various qualities of the bay (sky, water, mangroves, seagrasses) meant endless photo possibilities. Attempting to capture them in unique ways is what brings me back (2015).

White ibis rush hour over Biscayne Bay (2016)

Thursday, September 1, 2016

"Yes, It's "Photoshopped. And the problem with that is...?"

The Final Image
I was listening to Youngman Brown's "Your Creative Push" interview with the digital artist, Mike Azevedo recently and something he said made me think of Photoshop's role in fine art photography. Mike shared that he often began a painting in Photoshop and would stop several minutes into it because it just didn't feel right. He might do that four or five times before he felt as if he finally got it and could continue digitally painting his vision. He said the process of "starting over" made him think about what went right and what went wrong. So consequently for the next painting, he could more easily avoid the wrong.
Straight out of the Camera Image 1
Straight out of the Camera Image 2

His description of making several false starts in the process of creating something made me think of a photographer's workflow in Photoshop and the role that Photoshop plays in the creation of a photograph. Unlike Mike Azevedo's paintings, a photograph already exists in a camera. But in no way has it yet been fully developed into what the artist is attempting to create. In this regard, Photoshop (or similar) is essential to the fine art photographer.

Step 1: Chromatic Aberration & Lens Distortion Removed
No one disputes the role of the darkroom in film photography, but yet the use of Photoshop has been so widely perceived as nothing more than a crutch for inexperienced or bad photographers; or worse, a method of willful deception. This perception really comes to light when a photograph is disdainfully described as "Photoshopped". But let's get real about this; currently, there is no camera that can capture a scene as our creative selves see it. For the fine art photographer, the process of creating an image only begins with the camera, it does not end with it.

Step 2: Blending two images, dodging/burning, minor cloning
Once the image is uploaded to the software, the development toward full maturity begins. The non-destructive nature of a RAW image file and Photoshop layers is an amazing thing for a fine art photographer. Unlike a painter that uses hard materials, a photographer's digital photo-editing studio allows an image to live on forever and in various forms at the same time. Mistakes made can be reversed with a touch of a button. Nothing is lost and often, images are duplicated. And nothing is final until the artist says it is.

Step 3: Curves Adjustment
As with Mike Azevedo  description of his work, I too have learned what works and what doesn't work through a great amount of trial and error. The learning never stops and the more skilled I am with Photoshop editing, the more capable I am as an artist. It always starts with a vision, but much work goes into making it happen. While I spend hours and days in the field going back to the same location in attempt to capture its most beautiful characteristics and moods, the work I put into an image at home is what pushes me closer to my artistic vision.

Step 4: Vibrance Adjustment

Step 5: Color Balance Adjustment