Photo Cascadia Blog
Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category
(If you are reading this article via email subscription, make sure to click the title link to view the video on the blog)
In my opinion, photography is one of the most fun, healthy, enriching, energizing and positive pastimes a person can be involved in. It is a creative outlet and it also provides an ongoing source of learning and intellectual stimulation. It gets you outside and provides a pathway for greater appreciation of nature. It is accessible to people of all ages, interests, experience and ability. It teaches you to slow down and really notice the world around you. One of the greatest joys photography has brought me is the social aspect of it. While photography can certainly be private, introspective and deeply personal, it also offers wonderful opportunities to connect with other human beings. Many of my best friends and colleagues are people I met through photography and some of my most gratifying conversations, collaborations, adventures, and experiences are the result of hanging out with people who share my passion for photography. I have had the pleasure of meeting and communicating with photographers from all over the world, I have been a student and a teacher and I have been fortunate to travel with friends and lead workshops to all corners of the globe.
Perhaps my favorite social photography experiences is the “road trip”. I love the adventure and freedom of being out on the road; sleeping in a different place every night, seeing new sights and being able to simplify, focus and relax. Sharing the road trip experience with others only enhances it. I’ve enjoyed road tripping since college, although back then my road trips were rock climbing trips and the real adventure was finding out if my $600 car would break down in the middle of nowhere. My first photography dedicated road trip was in 2004. It was a solo trip and it left me with some great memories. But what was missing was the laughter, the collaboration, the camaraderie and the synergy. The conversation certainly left something to be desired as well. And now I find I miss being able to reminisce with someone about that trip.
Since then I have been on at least a couple photo road trips each year, some of them solo, but most of them with friends, colleagues, and clients. Most recently I went tripping with two of my best friends and Photo Cascadia teammates, Zack Schnepf and David Cobb. All of these photos are from that trip. I have traveled with each of these swarthy gents many times and we have THE best time together. For this trip we had planned to search out winter conditions in the Tetons or the Canadian Rockies, but the day before we left the weather forecast indicated low cloud cover for days to come in those locales, so we redirected our plan to California just hours before departure. With the Millenium Falcon filled to the gills with camera gear, tripods, duffel bags, sleeping bags, snowshoes and plenty of tortillas and refried beans, we hit Interstate 5 south with the Louis CK Pandora station playing and scarcely a clue where we were going. The next seven days on the road took us to Yosemite National Park, where thousands were photographing the famous Horsetail Falls “firefall” but we opted to shoot in solitude along the Merced River instead, then to Joshua Tree in the rain, a couple of days in Death Valley and finally up the east side of the Sierra Nevada along the Owens River Valley.
Along the way and per usual we told bad jokes, ate junk food at truck stops, listened to audio books, solved the world’s problems and held snoring competitions sleeping in the Falcon’s tight quarters. The photography conditions were good but not great, but what we lacked in light we compensated for by regaling each other with tall tales of epic photo sessions of the past. We did manage to bring home a few passable images as well. At the end of the trip, I scraped together the images and video we had taken with our phones, added in some aerial footage I took while learning to fly my new drone, and put it together into the short behind the scenes video you’ll find at the beginning of this article. I think the video will give you a fun view into the spirit of this trip. I hope you enjoy it.
We all photograph for different goals, reasons and rewards. We aren’t all cut out to be social photographers, at least not all the time. But if you do enjoy photo tripping with others consider contributing a thought, an experience, a road trip tip or a favorite route in the comments below. If you haven’t road tripped but want to and are just lacking companions, I would suggest joining your local photography club, becoming active in online photography communities such as Flickr or Facebook groups or signing up for photography workshops or photography tours.
Sean is a full-time photographer and photography educator. You can see more of his images and find out about his video tutorial courses and upcoming workshops, tours and classes on his website at www.OutdoorExposurePhoto.com.
Lucky number seven in 2016 for Photo Cascadia. Seven for the first full year with seven team members and seven for the number of years Photo Cascadia has been around. Speaking of luck it was honestly mostly luck in the beginning that this specific team of photographers formed, have become good friends and enjoy sharing experiences and knowledge with all of you for as long as we have. During this time we have seen similar groups form and fold. We hope this seven year stretch is only the beginning of our journey as you join us along for the ride. In the end it’s you, the readers, that continue to provide energy for what we do at Photo Cascadia. For this we are extremely grateful and thankful… thank you!
Where did 2016 take you for adventure and photography? I am sure it was similar to many on the Photo Cascadia team where we spent time in our own backyards, crossing state lines as well as some continent hopping. If you have been watching our blog for more than a year now you will know that mid December is when Photo Cascadia takes a break from our weekly posting until mid January. It’s our time to step back and reflect on the year that has past while winding down with family and friends.
As we reflect on things it’s a good time to remember that all the places we get to visit should be available for those that come after us. It seems 2016 we unfortunately saw a rise, at least in the media if not reality, around people doing permanent damage to places we all want to enjoy and photograph as well as companies and political forces looking to seize locations set aside for long term preservation. Now days, perhaps more than ever, we all need breaks into nature whether some of us realize it or not as the number of us living in a concrete jungle grows. With that I leave you with one of my favorite quotes.
“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.” – Edward Abbey
We take this time to provide a year end visual show of where we have traveled with some behind the scenes clips. Take a four minute break and check it out.
May your year close out with many lasting memories and the new year start with a trail full of endless possibilities.
“The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.” —Neil Gaiman
Exhibiting any creative work entails some amount of risk. Anyone who has a reason to show their work to others has a reason to care about how well it is received. No creative photographer is ever entirely immune to fretting over that simple question that begs for consideration before the release of a new photograph: “Will they like it?” Even if all that is at stake is a feeling of accomplishment, the risk is real, especially for those photographs that we hold dearest.
The higher levels of risk involve decisions that take us outside our norms, whether they are departures from the conventions of a genre as a whole or simply from those of one’s own oeuvre. A risky decision might entail working in a certain type of light, featuring an obscure location, composing in an unconventional fashion, employing a new post-processing treatment, or any number of other decisions that might place us outside our comfort zones. The further we step out on a limb, the more unnerving it can be, so having a strong will is important for taking those steps. What follows is advice for making risky creative decisions with confidence, some thoughts to keep in mind when you feel as though you may be flying without a net.
Onward and Upward
Risk is essential to creative work. Taking risks is how we make progress, how we manage to put something of our own selves into our photographs, and how we can get that special taste of satisfaction for having done so. It is all too easy to fall into habits that seem to work well and that feel safe, and sometimes those habits can become limiting. Of course, there is a lot to be said for reaching a point of some consistency as an artist. Establishing what we like is crucial to self-expression, so consistency in a portfolio usually indicates a certain level of creative maturity. Nonetheless, if consistency drifts into habitual repetition, it ceases to be self-expression; at that point, it’s just rehashing. When you find yourself at a crossroads wondering if you should play it safe or take a risk on something, just remember that the latter option is likely to be more rewarding in the long run. Even if you deem it a failure at first, your decision may be a first step towards a development that you never could have imagined at the outset.
Move Towards, Not Away
Probably the strongest reason to make any unusual creative decision is because of a compulsion to do it. If we are genuinely drawn to an idea or are at least curious to see the results, then we are responding to an inner urge, following our own instincts. The opposite situation would be to make a decision to do something unusual for the mere sake of novelty, fixating on what we want to avoid instead of on what we find interesting. Creativity is the pursuit of ideas and the application of them, not a simple rejection of what came before. If a risky decision holds distinct appeal, then at least you know that you’re following your own nose when you carry it out, and that is usually reason enough to do it.
Be in it for the Long Haul
When a photograph departs from some kind of norm, a portion of your audience may not ‘get’ it. Accept that familiarity is appealing to most people, and that not everyone who typically enjoys your photographs will cheer you on enthusiastically down whatever trail you may blaze. Even if your experiments do not result in immediate encouragement, there could be momentum building, and if that is the case, then you will only ever realize it if you stay the course. Regardless, doing something unconventional is gutsy, and that point in itself should provide a certain degree of satisfaction and motivation. Knowing that you are being true to yourself is a source of real power that can continue to propel you forward.
Be Honest with Yourself
It is possible to convince ourselves that our accidents are happy ones, especially if we put a lot of effort into a photograph that ultimately missed a mark in some regard. If a photograph has some quality that is unusual simply because misfortune struck, then it should undergo special scrutiny. Sometimes the results of happenstance will be genuinely appealing and will inspire further experimentation along the same lines, but otherwise we need to let go. We should never allow a rescue mentality to convince us that an unsatisfactory photo is a bold act of creativity.
Tomorrow is Another Day
Keeping perspective is important. No matter what you produce today, even if it amounts to the biggest feather in your cap, the next blank canvas awaits you. What ultimately matters most is the process of creation, which for a nature photographer means experiencing the outdoors, having responses to those experiences, and expressing those responses through the medium of photography. Everything that follows is peripheral and should not be allowed to derail the process. As the saying goes, just keep on keeping on—and above all, remember to have fun.
How do you handle risky decisions? Is there anything that you like to keep in mind to make them any easier? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.
Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Slovenia, traveling and photographing extensively from home bases in both locations. Make sure to bookmark Erin’s site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and 500px.
Over the last couple years I have been taking notes on my phone of various thoughts on what I feel have learned from my time in photography. Hard to believe it’s been a decade now since I started to take it seriously. Along with these random thoughts I referenced some of my past presentation slides and some were created as I typed this post out. Those that know me should not be surprised. I like lists and that is really all this is! I am sure I will get the question… why 45? It’s simply because that is what I ended up with. It’s not some magic number that represents anything special.
1. New or expensive gear can be nice yet does not make you a better photographer. It’s good to follow what is coming out and changing without pulling out that credit card for every announcement.
2. The rat race of social media is not worth fretting over counting likes, comments and shares. Sometimes you are ahead, sometimes you are behind.
3. A sense of camaraderie and making friends in photography is very important. Don’t always fly solo.
4. A good outdoor trip with few to no keepers is still better than being indoors. It’s the experience that helps shape who we are.
5. In my early years I thought my work was awesome but it really stunk like a skunk and I am fine with that. Everyone starts somewhere. I can never stop growing and learning.
6. Don’t under value your own work. Always selling your work for peanuts does not help you or the industry. It’s okay to say no to some requests.
7. Be open to feedback, whether it’s praise or constructive critique. Simply being open to listening to others opinions does not mean you have to change your work. On the flip side be respectful when you provide feedback.
8. No matter the accomplishments (or failures) it’s still a photo and I am still the same person. Don’t pat yourself on the back too much nor give yourself too hard of a time.
9. Placing well or winning a well-known photography competition will not bring you fame or fortune.
10. If you send a photo out to a client with a known flaw they will find it. I learned to always spend the money to reprint when needed.
11. The one photo you post on your website that you can’t print large for whatever reason, is the one someone will request large.
12. My horizon will be off by 2 degrees no matter what tools I use in the field. Horizon correction software was made for people like me.
13. Abstract photos often get little love online (or in general) but I post them anyway because I love them. Even when photography is a business there needs to times when it’s be purely for you.
14. Everyone has at least one piece of equipment they will regret going the ultra-cheap route. Mine was remotes going through 6 in about a year before learning my lesson.
15. Although I love to travel I won’t be able to visit every place on the planet that I see in other photographers photos. I am fine with this. Be happy where you can get to and just enjoy getting out.
16. In nature photography there’s much more than photographing colorful sunrises and sunsets day in and day out. Don’t forget to look down and all around at all times of the day and in all weather.
17. Trying to ‘fix’ a photo in post processing that was shot poorly is usually like trying to salvage a half sunken ship. Get it right from the beginning.
18. The most amazing sky an hour or two before sunset will often end up being the biggest dud by the time the golden hour comes.
19. Sometimes you need to leave the camera behind (or stop chasing new scenes) and focus on family. Trying to do both all the time won’t make you or the family happy.
20. Taking an amazing photo, whatever that means at the time for me, does bring a sense of elation and high that likely only other photographers understand.
21. I went through a funk more than once where photography carried little interest or inspiration to me for months. We all go through phases. Let it ride knowing you will come out on the other side.
22. Collaborate where and when you can. I wouldn’t be writing this blog post for the Photo Cascadia site right now if I wasn’t open to collaborating with others (who in the end have become good friends).
23. Your equipment will fail you at the most inopportune time if you photograph enough. I have many stories with a full corrupt CF card from a wedding where I was the sole photographer near the top.
24. Try saying “Woah look at the body!” out loud at work while viewing the latest camera online. Guarantee you will get some interesting looks and responses.
25. No I won’t license my image for free to use in an article where you will place my website URL while I will wait for the inquiries to purchase my work come pouring in.
26. It’s okay to compare your work to others as a means of learning and growing with your photography. Doing it thinking others are good and you’re not is self-destructive.
27. I am merely a single pixel in a very large sensor we call earth and a tiny blimp on the radar of time. I don’t take myself too seriously and neither should you.
28. Nature photography and loving the outdoors is something my wife and I had in common when we met and still do today. I am always thankful for the support she shows to this endeavor called photography.
29. I try not criticizing others work solely because it doesn’t align with what I think is great photography. Simply because I don’t think it is great doesn’t mean it’s any less worthy.
30. I have learned as much (or more) from bad photos as from good photos I have taken. It’s never a complete waste.
31. You can do pretty much anything in post processing except replicating what a good polarizer can do when it comes to removing glare. It’s not a tool to leave behind.
32. No matter how well you know your equipment there will be a time(s) you make a rookie mistake. When taking photos the day after night photography don’t forget to bring down that ISO or changing back to RAW after photographing your kids soccer game.
33. Take risks with your photography without risking your life. If you are not around to enjoy taking photos it obviously wasn’t worth it. Fortunately I am here to write this.
34. Study. Whether it’s studying how you take photos in the field or studying photography online or many other ways, it’s all important to avoid becoming stagnant. The only constant in life is change.
35. If you care about your photos read the fine print before submitting to photography contests. You may be giving the rights away without knowing it.
36. Don’t worry much about ‘comp stomping’ as being original with every photo today is hard even in best of intentions. Your style and creativity will come in time.
37. It’s not worth the effort and cost to print my own work. I will always use a lab.
38. Take time to get your work printed even if it’s small prints or books. It’s a shame to leave everything you photograph to online viewing only. Viewing your work printed is seeing it in a different light.
39. Be leery of projects that require investment of time and or money that give a guaranteed return for someone else but not you. I have been burned a couple times not seeing the warning signals soon enough.
40. Use your animal instincts and don’t forget to chimp before you leave the scene. Coming home and saying @%#&! because you missed something that would have been an easy correction is painful.
41. If you don’t own a good tripod and ball head, stop reading this article now and go buy one immediately. All the best equipment means little with nature photography if your tripod sucks.
42. Leading workshops is hard work to do it right. If you don’t care about being a true guide/teacher to others and it’s only for the all mighty dollar or to simply grow your personal photo collection, do everyone a favor and don’t hold workshops.
43. No matter how much technology advances understanding composition is paramount. The best camera technology isn’t going to set the camera up for you, tell where to place your tripod legs and what to focus on… at least not yet.
44. Watching your children taking their first photos that are more than snap-shots is a very cool and rewarding feeling. Especially when they are as excited about it as you are.
45. Less is more. Do what you can to simplify elements in your composition. One of the larger challenges as nature photographers is to take busy and chaotic scenes from Mother Nature to make a compelling photograph.
I am sure I could keep typing with endless thoughts on what I have learned from photography yet this is good stopping point and enough to ponder for those that took the time to get this far in my post. Whether you have been interested in photography for 45 days or 45 years, feel free to share what you have learned from your time behind the camera.
In May of this year I had an opportunity to spend a few days in Acadia National Park. If you are not familiar with the area it’s in the state of Maine, one of the six states making up the New England region. When it comes to photography the area is certainly more known for visiting in fall season to capture vivid red, yellow and orange colors from the plethora of deciduous trees filling the landscape. Fall season aside there is still much to see and photograph during the other three seasons, including spring. In spring the trees and foliage are in full bloom with an array of green hues to fill up your camera lens.
While a few days allows for seeing the main sites I would overall recommend a couple more beyond that to check out more of the area and get on a couple more trails or kayaking. I will also say I am someone that typically researches quite a bit ahead of time for any trip of a few days or more. This one I pretty much winged it. I give that caveat ahead of my trip review for additional context.
When I got into Acadia it was the Friday starting on Memorial Day weekend. I was certainly prepared for jammed roads, too many tourists and little space. Much to my surprise it was not bad at all with plenty of moments to take in the area without too much commotion.
There are many options just outside of park as well as some inside the park, including camping. Since lodging when I travel by myself literally means a decent place to sleep, and nothing more, I chose an inexpensive motel on the main highway just outside the main entrance of the park. It worked out well for me.
In the park options are limited. Just outside the park there places like Bar Harbor with plenty of options. As said before I was mainly there to see sites. I hit the local grocery store and used the fridge at the motel. Don’t forget to eat plenty of lobster, it’s pretty much everywhere.
You can actually fly into Bangor International which is only about a 45 mile drive to Acadia. I happened to already be in Portland (Portland, Maine that is not to be confused with my hometown Portland, Oregon) where it made sense for me to drive the 160 miles vs getting on another plane.
There is a little bit of everything here from small ponds to ocean waves and lush forests to mountain views. The Park Loop Rd is the main route in the east portion of the park. One thing I like about the setup of the main loop is the one-way two lane feature where the right lane doubles as a parking spot in most parts. For photography this is great. I see something I like and can literally stop the car in the middle of the road to get out and take photos. Yes this means that once you pass a spot the only way back to it is doing the full loop again but the pros outweigh the cons.
Whether you like rough rocky shores or small town boat harbors ANP has them as well. The iconic Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse is located outside the busiest part of the park and worth checking out. Truth be told I was looking forward to photographing the Portland Head Lighthouse more, yet on my visit it was dressed in scaffolding for maintenance, maybe next time.
The first afternoon and morning of my second day brought spells of fog which made for some great atmosphere to photograph. We often talk about national parks being too crowded and for the most part I agree with that. Yet on my first evening I was photographing this fine grove of ferns and I had wondered if the park was closed and I got locked in! I spent 15 to 20 minutes standing on the road photographing this scene in the early evening with not a single car coming by and it was on the main park loop. All I could hear was the sound of occasional water dripping and leaves waving when breezes came through. It was fantastic.
The next morning as the sun scorched it’s way through the fog there was fine scenes I encountered. On this foggy road I ‘parked’ my car just behind where I stood to take this photo. Only a couple cars and runners strolled through.
My good friend and fellow Photo Cascadia team member did tell me there are good options for photographing rocks. There certainly are some cool finds. While my hair got soaked to the point water was running down my face from the dense fog I found this neat rock formation. I am thinking boot yet I also see a dolphin. What do you see?
Perhaps the most fun to see and photograph rock wise was Little Hunters Beach. There is no big sign to show you the way; you can easily miss it if you aren’t looking for it. It’s like one gigantic bag of marbles were dumped on the shore. Can’t remember the last time I saw this many beautiful rocks in one spot.
Some of the best views are up on Cadillac Mountain; at just over 460 meters is the highest point which feels low until you remind yourself you are on the ocean. You can hike just a short ways and be away from the masses. If you are a curb side shooter this place works too. Don’t be fooled thinking that just because you are nearing summer and sunrise is before 5 am that it will be quiet. Boy was I in for a surprise. Hundreds were up there to watch the sunrise, most just to experience the scene not to photograph.
This sunrise was the best I had all trip and the sliver of sun poking through was all we saw before the clouds engulfed it. This foreground seemed fitting as the rocks look a little like lobster claws.
If you prefer a little more man made than pure nature there is very nice little Japanese one right outside the park called Asticou Azalea Garden that is free to visit.
Definitely cannot forget about getting down close to the rugged rocky ocean shoreline. I get mesmerized watching the waves slosh around. Thunderhole is a great place to see if you can time it right for waves. During my time there the water was too calm for much action according to one of the rangers. No worry for me plenty else to see.
All in all it was a pretty quick trip yet a fine place to spend a few days photographing and exploring. If you have never been it’s certainly one to add to your bucket list. I hope to make a trip back during fall in the future.
On the subject of national parks I will get on my soap box ever so briefly. With the staggering increase volume of visitors each year to some of the major parks in the United States it’s no wonder we are seeing the many headlines of a small number of people making poor decisions negatively impacting a park landscape or wildlife. I would say mostly I have seen stories from Yellowstone this year yet that park is not alone. Others may not agree with me yet I feel the most popular parks are approaching a crisis. If we don’t effectively manage through the high visitor rate that appears to be continuing upward I fear a system of national parks we know today may be a lot less enjoyable 30 to 50 years from now. Although I don’t love permitting systems or limiting access to what we deem ‘our national parks’ I am beginning to wonder if the peak seasons at large popular parks need to entertain new ideas to effectively limit traffic, both number of people and vehicles. I won’t dive into a deep debate here, simply something to ponder. On that note get out there and enjoy your parks as I will be doing the same this summer with my family.
I don’t pretend to be a wildlife photographer; I do enjoy photographing wildlife and observing the behavior of animals in their habitat. If wildlife wanders into my landscape image I enjoy including it, and when I photograph wildlife I prefer to include it as part of the environment as opposed to creating a portrait image. Including an animal in the scene gives the viewer a gauge by which to measure the grandeur of a landscape; creating a sense of scale. It also tells the story of their habitat and under what conditions they live, which is far more interesting to me than a portrait. Of course, some wildlife is small, so the landscape adjusts accordingly to maybe a handful of leaves or the grasses of a prairie and entry to the den.
If I plan on photographing wildlife in a landscape, I first increase the ISO of my camera to 400 at a minimum. In addition, consider opening the f-stop up to f11 or even f5.6 for more shutter speed. Obviously this will create a shallower depth-of-field, but photography is always about trade-offs so consider what’s best for the image before you shoot. By increasing the shutter speed, the animal’s movement won’t be blurred. Of course, if you want to capture the motion of an animal with image blur, then keep your ISO on a slow setting and just pan your camera with the animal to capture the sense of movement. (I find this works best between 1/15th of a second and 1/40th, depending on the animal’s speed.) Be careful when approaching an animal, since it is wild, unpredictable, and there is no need to cause it undo stress–all good reasons to keep your distance and capture it in its environment.
As a general rule it’s best to have the animal walking into the scene in order to create a suggested line of site, and to lead the viewer’s eye through the composition. A catch-light in the animal’s eye is also important since it suggests life. Keeping the eye sharp is key, so focus here first and then recompose if necessary. I also try and separate the elements; I may wait for the animals to spread out a bit or shoot before and after my subject is behind that tree and not while the tree overlaps my subject. I also wait until the animal has a clean background. I don’t need branches or sticks protruding from the back of my subject’s head, so I keep it clean and I keep it simple.
When it comes to wildlife photography ethics automatically come into play, and for me I think it’s best to be an observer and not a participator in the scene. I don’t want to stress an animal, I’ll never bait it, and I won’t call out to it for better eye contact. I figure wildlife already has it hard, and I’m not there to make it any harder on them. If an animal changes its course or behavior because of me, then I’ve failed in my approach. If you’re photographing in a group, keep your distance and don’t surround your subject. Always give it an outlet for escape, which will create less stress in the animal, better photographs, and probably more time with your subject. There are enough stupid photographer videos online already, and we don’t need to add to the collection.
Hopefully these handful of tips will better help your photography and also the wildlife you’re there to photograph-enjoy and observe.
There are many photographers who worry that exposure to photographs by others will contaminate the purity of their own creative vision, that they will never find their own voice if they are working under the influence, so to speak. Creativity involves choice, however. The late, great art historian Michael Baxandall famously demolished the idea that artists can ‘influence’ other artists in the true sense of that word. He rightly pointed out that the notion of influence describes the effect of an active power exerting itself on a passive subject, and that the nature of artistic intention actually runs the other way around. He offered up some alternative vocabulary that better explains the process of working in any medium, actual possibilities for what an artist can do in light of another’s work:
“Draw on, resort to, avail oneself of, appropriate from, engage with, react to, quote, differentiate oneself from, assimilate oneself to, assimilate, align oneself with, copy, address, paraphrase, absorb, make a variation on, revive, continue, remodel, resist, simplify, reconstitute, elaborate on, develop, face up to, master, subvert, perpetuate, reduce, promote, respond to, transform, tackle…—everyone will be able to think of others.” (Patterns of Intention, pg. 58)
It is important for photographers to keep in mind that they have all of these options and more for creating their own photographs after viewing other images. It is also important to acknowledge that no photographer exists in a vacuum. One of the great plagues of history is the idea of pure creative genius, that an artwork can spring fully formed out of the head of an artist without any external input. On the contrary, we all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, and even so-called “naive” artists absorb the visual solutions of whatever imagery they do encounter. Promoting the idea of purity in creativity is not only absurd but is also detrimental to the creative spirit in that it sets up a false premise. That premise posits that what ultimately matters is difference, the extent to which a photograph or a body of work can stand apart from everything that came before it. What really matters, however, is not difference but substance—not standing apart, but making a contribution. As I have written before, the pursuit of difference puts the emphasis on what to avoid rather than what to create, an emphasis that is ultimately counterproductive.
One of the most helpful ideas about viewing photographs that I have encountered is to consider how they might be “extending the conversation” established by photographs that came before them. How is a given photograph in dialogue with what preceded it, and what has it contributed to that conversation? As Brooks Jensen explains, the more that we view other photographs and get to know the history of photography, the better able we will be to appreciate “the subtleties of the currents that drift through the medium” (Looking at Images, pg. 102). That level of appreciation will serve any photographer far better than the impossible pursuit of visual ignorance—burying your head in the sand only cuts off an important avenue for personal development. If we think about existing photographs positively, as foundational elements for all that follows, then we will be more likely to process this visual input in creative ways. We don’t have to try to ‘un-see’ other photographs or fear how they might affect our own work if we embrace the idea that we can ‘own’ our responses to them.
So my answer to the question in the title of this article is a resounding “yes”. Explore and enjoy the images of other photographers! Even photographs that cause us to be overwhelmed with admiration can advance our progress as individuals by helping us to identify what moves and motivates us, which is ultimately a point of personal discovery. If we keep in mind that visual literacy will inform the work of a photographer, not ‘influence’ it, then we can remain focused on productive goals rather than getting hung up on being different. Viewing the works of others is one avenue that can lead in a positive direction as we respond to what we see. Ultimately, anything that can put you in touch with your own interests, reservations, emotions, and experiences is going to help to place your focus where it belongs: on you.
Do you find yourself conflicted by the idea of viewing the images of other photographers? Do you have any favorite strategies for responding to visual input? Please feel free to chime in on this important topic by leaving a comment below. Thanks for reading!
Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Slovenia, traveling and photographing extensively from home bases in both locations. Make sure to bookmark Erin’s site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and 500px.
It was a few summers ago I was photographing sunrise at Cape Kiwanda on the Oregon Coast. A place where you can easily sit mesmerized by the flow of the waves crashing into the earth toned cliffs. On the short “hike” to the end of cape I pass the usual gigantic sign warning of dangerous cliffs ahead that can result in possible injury or death. I have passed the sign and gone through the fence that is nothing more than a visual obstacle, many times before. I take the warning seriously each time while ensuring I am constantly aware of my surroundings.
It’s on this trip I start to think that I am fortunate to be able to go here and I hope this always remains the case. I am glad to be able to make this decision rather than be limited because I am told what is too dangerous for me with complete restriction from the area.
Fast forward to present day and things look a little different. In less than a year there have been over a half dozen deaths as you can see in this article from people falling off the cliffs. Likely everyday people just out to have fun and not necessarily there specifically for photography. My heart goes out those that lost loved ones from these tragedies. Sudden loss sucks, nothing more to say.
“Washing Machine” sitting lower down the near the water with a few visitors looking from the more secure viewpoint above.
Due to recent tragedies the local city is looking to install more fencing that is likely meant to to keep people out along with additional enforcement in the area. I get the concern, it’s real. Yet most of me feels like we should be careful limiting places like this solely because of danger. If the city does restrict the location I will be thankful I had my time there to enjoy it’s beauty along with a few photos in my portfolio. That said I don’t like my public locations being limited solely because of potential danger. I get doing it for it ecological, wildlife or similar concerns but not danger. Give me fair warning of the risks along stating potential lack of rescue should things go awry and I will make my own decision. I will say the decision for me usually results in the low to medium risk route anyway.
“Dory Boat Sunrise” a view of a lone dory boat heading out to sea with Cape Kiwanda sea stack towering above.
I am not out to live life dangling on the edge, literally and figuratively, yet life is not meant to be safe guarded and bubble wrapped around every corner either. There are people that climb mountains, scale cliffs, skydive or myriad of other outdoor activities with some level of risk that will live a long life while others won’t. That’s reality whether we like it not.
Besides Cape Kiwanda this came to mind when I was last in Kauai, Hawaii a couple months ago. Spouting Horn is a popular spot and it used to be open to wander down along the shore with adequate warning signs for those that proceed beyond the view point. I had not been in a few years and I went last trip. Now it clearly states a fine will be issued if you go beyond this point with a longer fence and railing in place. Another location with access reduced for my safety and thus limiting my photography as long as I want to follow the rules. I realize they are doing it for the average person that is not exercising any caution whatsoever or those aspiring to be a candidate for the Darwin Awards. I still don’t necessarily agree with it.
“Far Out!” interesting colors and lines on wet sandstone out near the furthest point before there is nowhere left to go.
I am sure you can think of some places that you like to go that have had similar restrictions put in place. What do you think, should we have safety restrictions or closures in place at these beautiful locations or be able to decide for ourselves? Do you not care and simply go past them to the photo you are after no matter how big the deterrent?