Somethin’ Else

APC_0023

During one of the latest photo conversations in John Cornicello’s ongoing series (see a list of upcoming and previous conversations here), Toni Lovejoy brought up an interesting question:

When Toni came off the road she wasn’t editing from a technical standpoint just because she didn’t know too much about Photoshop and such, she edited from such an emotional place trying to replicate what she felt on location. Now knowing all those technical skills, she knows she can now go back to those images and make them better. She becomes somewhat emotionally detached from them in the process though. So the question was how do we process our images? Do we start from an emotional place or do we start from a technical place and then move forward to an emotional aspect as we finish it off?

She then refines her question:

“I think about Mac Holbert and his process going from global to localized, so I think I’m thinking best practices, or are you trying to stay as close as possible to when you shot it? I feel I got to control myself from the emotion of it. So I flip-flop back and forth between kicking a couple of things in saying that’s how I felt and then reverting to what I call Mac’s process and going down this checklist sort of thing.”.

I had been just listening in on that evening but for that question, I broke the silence and typed the following:

“I would like my editing to be like what the great jazz musicians do. There is emotion, there is skill, there is technique, but it is all there at the same time and everything dovetails into everything else. I don’t have to switch from one thing to the other.”

Toni was questioning whether it was still possible to have that emotion and aesthetic in the process and therefore in the image since we are all on those computers now and not in the darkroom anymore which seemed to allow for some mystique and romance.

Well, I don’t think the magic is gone and I for one feel those emotions all the way from clicking the shutter to hanging the print on the wall. Which doesn’t mean that you are doing something wrong if you don’t. Let me just explain what I mean so you can reflect and evaluate.

First off I am a very emotional person. I do cry. Sometimes I do feel more than I care for and can explain. For everything I see, hear, touch, taste, for everything that enters my consciousness this way or another there is an emotional reaction. Which sometimes is not a good thing. Anyhow this is why I can’t switch to unemotional matter-of-fact working on an image.

I don’t engage in pre-visualization, at least not consciously. I think it was Ernst Haas who said: “Don’t take pictures. Be taken by your pictures.” I think being taken by my picture instead of taking it is when I look at something and I feel the need to raise the camera and photograph it. At that moment photography becomes meditational to me.

I don’t think about it. Not then. All that thinking has been done before. I don’t see. I perceive. A truth that is very personal as everything I ever did, felt, saw, read, loved, hated, my whole life is there with me deciding when to click the shutter. And if I get it right I feel the excitement. That I got it right, that this is a keeper. Still, I don’t see what I am going to do with it later. But I don’t worry. It will all be there when I need it.

So I come back home. Sometimes I work on the photographs right away, sometimes later. I still find images from years ago on my drives and sometimes it is then that I finally understand or can feel them, so I start working on them all those years later.

So this is when the jazz musician kicks in. In music, you learn the theory, scales, phrases, and such to build the base for that moment on stage when you interact with other musicians. This is not the time to think about what you learned, it is the time to use it. In reacting to the musical statements by the other musicians you use all those skills you learned to create something beautiful. You can always hear the player who is just repeating patterns, who is very aware of what scale they are using right then. Forget all that and a magic moment might happen where you are lost in time and music and talk to the other musicians on the stage in another language.

And that is pretty much what it is. When you have learned a language well, you respond without thinking and you can convey what you feel and think in a very personalized way so people not only understand the information you want to get across but also the way I and only I want it to be understood.

So back to editing. About 30 years ago I shared an apartment with my best friend who was photographing film back then. He had a makeshift darkroom in the bathroom, developing his photographs there. That would have been the perfect time for a good story about how I got into photography. But it wasn’t. It had to go digital for me to be interesting. So I disagree that computers remove emotion and aesthetics from the process.

I like using Lightroom and Photoshop. And even that is causing emotions. I have written about how my feelings change depending on what cameras and lenses I use. It can even be that way depending on what software I use. I feel different using Lightroom 5 and Photoshop CS5 as opposed to the latest versions. And when I use them I want to be that jazz musician who can’t be bothered to think about processes, best practices, which values to use, or checklists. I want to have all that internalized so I just do. So that I just react to what the image tells me it needs. To what I feel it needs.

And that may change every moment. This is why I re-edit images ever so often. At moment of capture, the image represents not only what was in front of my camera, but also everything that happened in my life up to that point. So a day later, a week, years later, I might and probably will feel very different about some of my photographs and would edit them in a new and different way.

Another point proving that I feel something during the entire process is the prose I write. If you have followed me for a while you have realized that I write something for pretty much all of my images. But it is never at the same point of the process. Sometimes I have something in mind when I am out there. Sometimes I come up with it when I listen to jazz, having a glass of french red and firing up Lightroom. Sometimes when I wait for the printer to finish the first print of the photograph. Those words are heavily emotional and since they can pop up at any point in the process I conclude I am feeling those emotions all the time.

Again, I am not saying that this is in any way the one way one should approach this. As with my prose, I give these thoughts to you. Now go and find your own answers to Toni’s question. Being aware of what one does and why will allow for a sense of direction and therefore personal development. Which of course will mean better photographs in the sense of being more interesting. Just as you are.

P.S.: If you’re asking yourself why this articel is titled “Somethin’ Else”. This was the title of the album by Cannonball Adderley I was listening to while writing.

Beliefs and Answers

Looking up a guest blog post I wrote in January 2020 for the blog of my friend and mentor Harold Davis, I realized I never published it here. So finally, here it is:

To live a life I think you need to believe in something, need to find some answers. Without those beliefs and answers, there is no sense of direction, which will make it hard to find it in yourself to make an effort, since you don’t even know whether the next step is getting you closer to where you want to be or further away.

The answers can be found everywhere. Sometimes you already heard them and didn’t recognize them. Sometimes you knew them all along. It’s just that the right questions were never asked.

When I read Ansel Adams’ 1965 article about Edward Weston, one sentence struck home with me: “You might discover through Edward Weston’s work how basically good you are or might become.” The questions I asked myself after reading this and pondering it for a while made me realize something I knew all along. About who I was. And about my work as a photographer.

When They Come
“When They Come”

It is no coincidence that most people will tell you when asked where they go to wind down, relax, find peace, recharge, that they’ll find all that in nature. I believe that we all feel that way in nature is because we are basically going home. It’s where we belong, it’s where we came from and will go back to. And it’s what we feel disconnected from when we’re back in the everyday “real” world.

X Marks The Spot
“X Marks The Spot”

I am often asked why there are rarely any people in my photographs. I think they are always there. When I take pictures of forests, mountains, the sky, the sea, a sunset, then you can find yourself in there. You, and all the rest of us. I believe that everything in nature is connected and even in this day and age when he have managed to be so out of touch with nature if we are willing to be open, we can find ourselves there again.

Big Sky
“Big Sky”

So when I show you Marram grass in the wind under a stormy sky along the coast, it is you. When I show you fir trees aching under the weight of the snow, it is me. And when I show you the moon reflecting in the ocean stretching out to the horizon, it is all of us and all you will ever need to know. Because at this point the questions will start forming inside you and point you to what we knew all along. And what will help you discover how good you are or might become.

A Wind Is Rising
“A Wind Is Rising”

“I know now wherever I go, the path will show itself with every step I take. I’ll never be lost.” This is my idea for The Path (France, 2018).

The Path
“The Path”

The Making Of “See You In The Morning”

_HMP3535-Edit

Yesterday I was out in the Eifel which is about an hours ride form here, hiking for some five hours with Christina, my sister and my nephew (who are the persons you see in this image). And of course Leah, the dog.

For most of the time I was miserable. You may think because it was colder than I thought and because I am so out of shape that I didn’t want to celebrate with my smart watch when I hit the 30.000 steps mark. But what really annoyed me was the cloudless blue sky. I can photograph clouds forever and I really like a moody sky. But just nothing but blue? Boring.

Often when the sky is featureless on those cloudless days or when it is just a two-dimensional grey, you are told to exclude the sky from your composition. Mostly I took that advice, but when I saw that group of trees, there was something about it that made me stop. The idea was to wait until the others went over the top of the hill out of sight and then take the photograph. I did that, but before they vanished, I felt I had to capture the moment when they were on the top of the hill. And right I was, it was the frame which spoke to me most. Even though I usually avoid including people in my images.

So once I got home, imported the images to Lightroom, I still liked the composition, but didn’t really know what to do with it. As dropping in some clouds in Photoshop is no option for me I had to find another way.

Good thing I had found one when editing “The Way Home” as described here. I used the Full Spectrum preset as a starting poiint and added a red filter to darken the sky even more. There was a gradation in the color image already making it look like maybe the sun was setting behind the hill. Of course there were still things to do with the image, but the general idea was to darken down the sky so much that it didn’t even matter there was nothing in the sky. In “The Way Home” there at least was something in the sky and fog on the ground, but the concept worked on this one as well.

Also in both images it changes the mood and the feel completely. Which of course also has an impact on the story I will write for this picture as it already had an impact on the title, which only popped up after the image had changed so dramatically. And I am really glad “The Way Home” turned out to be more than just a one-time coincidence.

Going very oldskool

PS5

If you know me at all, you know that I have a thing for everything old. I drive a ’97 Volvo, play a huge Epiphone jazzbox, my cameras are not the newest latest and my Macs are both from 2011.

So when the last update for Lightroom and Photoshop hit, I felt like back in my videogame days. Back then I had to update my computer frequently to be able to play new games. More RAM, a more powerful graphics card, you name it. Needless to say, those games were absolutely necessary. But when Adobe’s updates appeared in the Creative Cloud app and the need to upgrade from High Sierra to at least Mojave to be able to install them, I asked myself whether I really need that (given that the update to Mojave included patching and flashing and changing the graphics card to one that night sacrifice the boot screen, but hopefully not brightness control, vital to display calibration).

Turns out, I don’t. With the D300 and D7100, Lightroom 5 was good enough and that I had sitting on the shelf ever since I subscribed to the photography plan. But what about Photoshop? When I looked at the books by Harold Davis, Jeff Schewe, Martin Evening and Vincent Versace (which are permanently on my desk), I realized that those books were written using Photoshop CS5 or even CS4 so everything I had learned form those could be done using an older version of Photoshop.

My very dear friend Jörg Wüstkamp gave me a copy of Photoshop CS5 for my birthday, so I was all set. I even had a version of Lightroom 3, so with LR3 released in June 2010 and PS CS5 released in April of the same year, my 2011 Macs were very happy and authentic and working with the D300 files felt like 11 years back. Which will keep getting better once I get my hands on a D700 which is the plan.

This doesn’t mean we all have to go back to old software and I didn’t have a problem with Adobe’s subscription model. I was just so happy to be freed of this need to have the latest version of everything Adobe, a pressure I put on myself. Which meant I was also able to take that pressure away by finding out what I really need. All I am left with now is what everybody back in 2010/2011 using Photoshop CS5 felt: When will CS6 come out?

The Making of “The Way Home”

_HMP3186
The original shot out of camera, taken at 9:20 in the morning

A few days ago I woke up to the sun rising and still some considerable ground fog over the field. I grabbed my camera, the dogs and my wife and we set out for a walk.

Only about half a mile form our house I found this frame. It had foreground, background, leading lines, all the goodies. Not that I thought consciously about any of those at the time, but obviously it’s all there. The light from the rising sun coming from the right spreading over the grass on both sides of the road, the fog between the trees in the distance, I knew this was going to be good.

Although I didn’t have the 35mm prime with me I would have preferred for this, the 18-70 did nicely. I took a couple more shots just to make sure I got what I wanted and continued on for some more promising fog images.

Later in Lightroom I decided to work on this one and did all the basic adjustments in Lightroom and went on to NIK Silver Efex Pro 2 for the black and white conversion and further adjustment. And that’s when my personal perception of reality kicked in.

Something in the mist, the light scross the grass and the shadows under the trees must have triggered something in me and the image got darker and gloomier with every setting I changed.

I have been suffering from anxiety disorder, panic attacks and depression for the better part of my life, so my perception of any given scene will be very different form what you see or feel. I feel more or less constantly threatened and I have to deal with fear pretty much every day.

img_3720
The final image

So the image got very dark, the fog in the distance should barely show the trees standing there so including the fact that the road slighty bends to the right behind the trees on the right so we can’t see where it is actually going, we are following a road we have no idea of where it is leading and it doesn’t seem to be very encouraging to move on.

I don’t see the image is absolutely gloomy. At least we are on a path, probably moving somewhere, wherever that might be. Looking at the title, we will be going home and I hope home will not be a misty, dark place. That’s what the past has been often enough. But looking at what is right in front of us, that’s not too bad. It has some light we’re not sure of where it’s coming from, there is no source. But the road seems reliable, we can see for some distance. The clear view and the crisp details of the close surroundings, the now, will be moving along with us as we move further down the road. Somewhere in here is hope in all this darkness.

This image also is a good example for my idea of what needs to be in good images: reality and truth. My reality as I perceive it is of course heavily influenced by my experiences of fear and anxiety, but also the hope that keeps me moving along. This perception leads me to my personal truth in my images. This might be the underlying sadness, but also the delicate but never absent feeling of hope. If I can make this truth felt, I have done well. If you can see this truth in my images and can connect to that, you will love them and will never be tired of looking at them.

Why This Image Was So Important. To Me.

DSCN0968_LRC_A4_050720
“Perfect Imperfect” (Germany, 2020)

About two months ago, I was walking around the town of Brüggen with the dogs and I captured a couple of frames. With those of the posts against the sky I had a feeling, there could be a keeper among them. You know when you feel there is something there, you might not exactly know what yet, but there is definitely something of interest.

At the time, I “only” had a Nikon Coolpix P7000 with me, which beats the iPhone, but it could have been better. After printing it on an A4 sheet though, the resolution proved to be good enough. At 3648×2736 pixels, I could print at about 9×12 inches at 300dpi. But enough about the technicalities.

This image is not important to me because it proved I can take the P7000 with me without having to be afraid I will be disappointed. It is important because I needed an image like that right now to feel good about where I am going with my photography.

I have been making photographs of nature most of the time and looking at my website, most people would probably classify me as a landscape photographer. But looking at those images (and I do look at them often because on the wall I am facing when sitting at my desk, are about 20 of them) I was asking myself what it is I am looking at. What did I see there? What was the thing that connected all of them? And for a while, I felt I was getting closer to an answer and strangely enough during that time I was almost afraid of making new photographs as if this could disturb the process of finding out what my images were really about.

But then in May, I found the image above, which I eventually named “Perfect Imperfect”. And it sat there for a couple of weeks before I got to edit and print it. For one thing, I found out that I really need to print my images to feel I am done working with them. And then I felt that this image for the time being, for right now, best represents what I am as a human being and a photographer (totally avoiding the a-word. I have talked about why I don’t feel comfortable calling myself an “artist” before).

The sky looks like marble or an angry sea or just as what it is – dramatic clouds. And the post, as strong as it seems, just doesn’t hold up against the sky, something nature created literally out of thin air. So the wires enter the frame but leave it again right away like the human-made portion of this image just knows it can’t compare to the marble/wave/sky. I like how Chip Forelli divides his landscape images into three categories: “No Man”, “Hint Of Man” and “Hand Of Man” (see these at chipforelli.com). I would put “Perfect Imperfect” into the “Hint Of Man” category and I will keep photographing in those three, maybe less in the “Hand Od Man” category just because I don’t like it that much.

There is no doubt mankind has achieved many great things and we can be creative and just plain wonderful. But apart from that, we can also be the complete opposite, we as a whole seem to forget ever so often that nature is where we came from and where we will go back to. That it is there where we are all connected. That every photograph of nature is a selfie really. And so the images from the “Hint Of Man” category will mostly show us what we really are and what we think we have to be. The sky is who we are and the post is the mark we think we must leave.

It is exciting to see the path ahead clearer now and to realize why I love the photographs I make.

Feel free to trash your zoom lens

20200606-20200606-_DSC9467

Pretty much from the beginning, I fell in love with prime lenses. A month after I bought my first DSLR, I also bought the infamous 35mm f1.8G and never looked back. I added the 50mm and 85mm f1.8G and for some time even had a Samyang 10mm f2.8, but that was never too much in use.

I was totally happy with those because they were sharp, affordable and there was something about the simplicity of them which I liked.

When I bought a used Nikon D300, it came with an 18-200mm zoom lens. And that was when I got lazy. It is a great lens and I like the convenience of carrying just this one as opposed to the other three, which wouldn’t even cover the whole range. Originally I had just thought it would be nice to have something wider than the 35mm again and to use the long end also to get that shot of the tree on the other side of the lake without cropping 80% of the photograph.

But it made you work less. And think less. I just stood there and zoomed in and out. And I didn’t have to be so aware anymore of what I was doing. If I missed a frame, I didn’t have to go back. I just turned around and zoomed in.

The other day out in the field I noticed that the VR wasn’t working anymore and something was in my viewfinder that shouldn’t be there. Two flat cables inside the camera had come off and were visible as a blurry shadow in the images.

So I had to go all prime again. Which was beautiful. On a hike about a week ago I just took the 35mm (and the 50 as a backup, but I never used it) and I enjoyed that I had to think and move again. And the photograph I liked the most from that day (the one above) wasn’t even cropped that much. I just wanted it to be square and took off some of the sky, which didn’t have anything to do with focal length.

On the next hike two days ago, I made it “50mm day” and it changed everything. I had to move even more and I noticed I later switched from trying to fit the widest view into the frame to just finding views with a narrower angle of view. Something like in the image below.

_HMP2231

Today I tried the 85mm version but it didn’t work out that well, which means I will have to practice with that lens more. I don’t see why I shouldn’t be able to make a landscape photograph with a portrait lens, which will then make it a landscape lens.

But I do like how taking just one focal length along teaches me to see different, find subject matter I can work with that particular lens, be creative with it. It will be less frustrating when I have the “wrong” lens with me and will give me new ideas when I am out with all of them.

Nevertheless, I will have the 18-200 repaired 😉

Nine To Five

Screen Shot 2020-01-26 at 15.30.44

I am in the process of re-editing some images for a publication submission and once I started that I realized how different this is from what I usually do.
Usually, I take on one image at a time, it takes however long it takes and I end up printing the photograph because only then I feel like I am done.
The images I have selected for the publication have been shot in the last six years. My workflow and abilities have of course changed over the years and so it is only logical that I start over again. It will be interesting to see how different the outcome is.
It is just strange to do a process like this, which is creative, on so many images in a row. I have more than enough time – it would be okay to be done in June – but I want this out of the door sooner, as I have a lot of other things I need to do (like those 12 short stories I need to finish before July). But I also don’t want this to become routine. All those images deserve the same dedication and mindfulness, from the first to the last. I think all I need for this is to be aware of what I am doing. When I realize I am doing something too quickly or that I am skipping something, I should take a break and ask myself whether it is wise to go on, take a break or call it a day.
I remember I have made the mistake of publishing work too early and then realized after that there was still work to do on that image. Something that bothered me, especially as it was usually just because I wanted the image to be out on social media soon. The temptation of instant gratification …
I think I need to find a balance between approaching this like a regular job and feeling like I can only work when everything is all set in a very special way, the stars line up and the red wine just the perfect temperature.
Just play a Kenny Burrell album and get on with it.

The Making of “X Marks The Spot”

_HMP1162_A4_230120

“X Marks The Spot” (France, 2019)

In September last year Christina, the dogs and I took the Volvo o Normandy for two weeks. First to Sassetot-le-Mauconduit, some 30k east of Étretat, where Claude Monet painted among others “Stormy Sea in Étretat”.

Later we moved on to Lindbergh Plage, 45k south of Cherbourg on the Cotentin peninsula.The clouds over the sea in Normandy were always spectacular and on the first evening in Sassetot I already encountered the most beautiful light when the sun was setting on the white cliffs at Les Petites Dalles and at the same time a storm came rolling in from the east.

One morning at Lindbergh Plage we came back from the beach and followed this path through the dunes.

At this moment, I wasn’t thinking about the croissant and coffee breakfast to be had back at the house. I wasn’t thinking about the fight our dog Leah had had with another dog running free on the beach. I thought about the bug white clouds slowly moving over the dunes. I was thinking about the path I didn’t want to end. Maybe I wasn’t thinking at all.

P.S.: I am still reading the Edward Weston daybooks. I just didn’t want this to be the only topic on my blog, so I’ll post about my reflections on Weston frequently, but not only about them.

Volvo December

DSCN0593

This winter we didn’t have too man nights with subzero temperatures, but one morning last December I found the car covered in ice, which had an interesting texture. I had my Nikon P7000 with me and grabbed a couple of images. For some reason I had the ISO set to 6400, but the grain added to the texture. The sky was overcast and somehow I got these gritty colors.

DSCN0599DSCN0598DSCN0597DSCN0592