SPACE AND SOLITUDE – BRINGING ATTENTION TO SPACIOUSNESS

SPACE AND SOLITUDE

INTERSECT  Maui, Hawaii

If you close your eyes and visualize your living room and the various elements within the room, what do you see?  A sofa, a coffee table, an entertainment center, a TV, art, and probably quite a number of other elements.  Now, let me ask you – which element is the largest in the room?

If you are like most people, your response might be – the sofa, the TV, or the entertainment center.  If you think a bit more cleverly, you might say – the walls.  What most people don’t recognize is, there is much more “space” than anything else, by far.  Physicists tell us that 99.999% of the universe is space – no-thingness.  Oddly, science can be so much more bizarre than science fiction!  If you removed all the empty space from the entire human race, leaving only electrons and the other subatomic particles, all seven billion human bodies would fit in the space of a sugar cube.  That’s just mind boggling stuff, right?  But that gives you a sense of how much space there is in relation to form – yet we rarely bring our attention to the space.

With the living room exercise, it points out how we as people are living primarily form-based.  That is to say, our attention is always going from one form to the next to the next – whether it be the external forms of the world, or the hyper-active thought-forms continuously flowing through our minds seemingly on auto-pilot.  We are form-conscious beings, but is this our natural state?  Isn’t it odd that 99.999% of everything is space yet we hardly bring our attention to it?

SPACE AND SOLITUDE

LONE KIAWE  Maui, Hawai

Since I began teaching photography workshops two years ago, I have been working in some of this discussion regarding form/space consciousness, and admittedly, I find it very fascinating.  And, relevant to photography!  Photography is part science, part art; part technical, part creative; part thinking, part feeling; part form, part space.  If you only develop one side of this, then your work will never develop fully, never sing and resonate with a viewer like you may wish.  You can see how the typical form-based mindset will focus on technique rather than creative perspective, on thinking rather than feeling.  But when someone resonates with a piece of art and is truly moved by it, is it something that the thinking-mind is responding to, or something else?  I believe it’s not the mind at all.  At this moment when the viewer is moved by a piece of art, the mind quiets and something else is awakened.  I call this the “feeling body”.  We all have one – it’s that part of us moved by something beautiful or inspiring – a magical sunrise, an epic movie, a fabulous musical piece – it renders us still and quiet-minded.  It is within this state that we appreciate artwork, and it is within this state that we make artwork!  This is something that is not widely recognized, which is exactly why there is so much photography in the world right now that may be technically sound, but does little to move the viewer to emotion.  This becomes one of the primary most important things to recognize in creating evermore dynamic and expressive work – that you have to delve deeper than the technical, thinking, scientific, form-based nature of things and activate your inner creative, feeling, artistic nature.

Elliott Porter said, “The essential quality of a photograph is the emotional impact that it carries, which is a measure of the author’s success in translating into photographic terms his or her own emotional response to the subject.”  This sums up much of what I’m pointing at.  You can not expect to evoke an emotional response in a viewer when you are not connecting emotionally to your subject.  Once this is recognized, then the obvious question to explore deeper becomes – how do I connect more emotionally with my subject?  How do I quiet my mind and activate my feeling body?

Compositionally, the technical-seeking form-based mind would love to sit down with a 473 page book discussing every possible rule and theory regarding photographic composition throughout it’s sixty-something chapters.  I am sure there are many books like this that you can read and feed your mind with more more more.  The mind loves it – form devouring form.  It’s important to recognize that this aspect of our selves, the form-based thinking-mind, is never satisfied.  It will never get to a point of having enough information and being satisfied with what it has consumed.  By it’s very nature, it wants more food for thought.

SPACE AND SOLITUDE

TWO TIMES  Paris, France

Edward Weston said, “To consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravitation before going for a walk.”  He’s poking fun at the analytical mind that wants to theorize every little minute aspect to composition.  Composition isn’t technical – it’s creative.  It is not form – it’s space.  I definitely come from the same camp as Weston here, and therefore minimize my discussion points on composition to a handful of important things to be mindful of, and to bring greater attention to – not to necessarily think about.  One of these primary points is – give equal attention to the ‘space’ and the ‘form’, within a composition.  You can see how our tendency is to look at the sofa, entertainment center, TV and other physical elements of our living room; or to look at the palm trees, beach, rocks, and other physical elements to the scene which we are interested in photographing, and to never pay any attention to the space surrounding it all – but, what happens when you give equal attention to the space and the form?

To recognize the space between the hanging branch of a tree and the horizon, or between the line of this rock and a distant mountain – moving your camera position subtly up-down, side-to-side, mindfully making the space around the forms balanced and optimal, clear and concise – is very powerful.  The space within our compositions are of equal importance to the forms, and when our attention is equally with both, compositions naturally become more dynamic and successful.

Perhaps it started as space-awareness in my compositions, but it has since spilled over into the rest of my life and I would like to share an illustration.  Imagine that you have a negative emotion building within – say, for example, a frustration that arises from being behind a slow vehicle and being unable to pass.  Without awareness, the frustration is likely to build and build and before long, is all that matters.  You are focused on the frustration and nothing else.  At this point, you’re so frustrated that you are murmuring aloud, perhaps to the extent of cursing the other driver.  Sound familiar?  I imagine we can all relate to feelings similar to this, in one form or another.  That feeling of being taken over, where your attention is solely on a thought/emotion and nothing else.  This is having a thought-form with no space around it.  Imagine that frustration as a grain-of-sand, that has been put so close to the forefront of your attention that nothing else is visible – there is no space.  Now, if you take this grain-of-sand, this frustration that is now affecting personal behavior and which holds your entire attention, and you simply start to put space around it – or, in other words, you bring awareness to the space around the thought-form – then you immediately see the energy dissipate.  The more attention you bring to the space around it, the more it dissolves.  It’s as if you are pulling the grain-of-sand back from being so close to your attention and can now see it as a small little speck of sand, whereas a moment earlier, it was all that mattered, all that your attention was on.  Paying closer attention to the space within a photographic composition, or to the space around a thought form – there is no difference.  A deepening of attention to space in one stream is a deepening of attention to space in all streams.  Space is space.

SPACE AND SOLITUDEBRIDGING SPACE  San Francisco, California

While technique, camera gear, scientific equations, and 473 page books on compositional arrangements may have their place on the photographic path, it makes up only half the equation.  Delve deeper into both sides of making images – the science and the art, the technical and the creative, the form and the space.  From here, you may just find that you make images that truly sing.  You may just find that the lessons learned in making more expressive, more compelling photographs, are also lessons toward living a more fulfilling and joyful life.  Could it be that the no-thingness of empty space holds the most powerful truths for us to learn?  What happens when we bring equal attention to the space and the forms of the world?  Is stillness found in the space?  Is solitude found in the stillness?

This freshly heightened sense of space is presented in my newly released portfolio titled SPACE AND SOLITUDE.  This collection of images was made over the past year in locations spanning Hawaii, California, New York, Maine and Paris.

MAKE FIRE – TURNING A PHOTOGRAPHIC SPARK OF INSPIRATION INTO FIRE

THE WALL  La Jolla, California

There we were on Shell Beach in Southern California’s “Jewel” – La Jolla.  If you consider shorts, t-shirt and flip flops ideal attire, then the mid-August weather was just perfect.  The sweet morning light was just beginning to show herself to those of us eager enough to be awake, which on this morning included myself and seven photography workshop participants who were joining me for one of my California workshops.  Shell Beach seemed like an ideal location to take seven passionate photographers for a sunrise – it’s small and intimate, yet contains many elements that can be arranged well for a diverse style of seeing photographic compositions.  It’s only as wide as a football field, yet both sides lead upward to steep cliffs that stretch out toward the sea, undercut with partial caves on the sides and a scattering of rocks throughout the beach, with a couple large rocks just offshore where pelicans and cormorants linger about.  Having photographed this spot many times before, I knew good compositional arrangements could be made, but of course, it is also quite easy to include too much or too little and fall short of success as well.  So, an ideal setting to place students – a place where they can make it work, or not, and then discuss the why’s and why not’s as to what is working and what is not working in real time.

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FALL COLORS ACADIA NATIONAL PARK PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP

Based in Acadia National Park in Maine during the time of peak Fall foliage colors, a small group of participants will work directly with me to gain new skills, insights, and inspiration toward creating more evocative and compelling photographs.  Click HERE or CONTACT ME for further details.

ADD LCD MONITOR PROTECTION TO YOUR NIKON D800 AND IPHONE AND REST EASY

A couple months ago, I was contacted by Expert Shield inquiring whether I’d be interested in trying out their product for my Nikon D800E.  They had read a blog entry I wrote about the D800E, and thought I might like Expert Shields LCD cover.  Sure, I’ll try it!  I had never been asked to demo a product, so that was a fun email to receive.

A week or two later, I received a small package from Expert Shield and it contained a few of the LCD covers – 2 for the D800 and 1 for my iPhone 4.  (In our exchange, I was asked about which phone I used and they generously included the Expert Shield for my iPhone too.)

Now, it should be noted, that since I purchased the D800E a year ago, I have only used the plastic little cover that is included with the camera.  It pretty much sucks, as you Nikon users know.  At less than a year old, it was already buggered up and it’s always been a less-than-optimal solution for screen protection, while maintaining the insane resolution of the 921,600 pixel monitor.

LCD covers such as the Expert Shield were not something I had ever really thought about.  Nikon provides the cheapie little cover so I use it.  When I used Canon, I didn’t use anything because I don’t think they supply anything with the camera, and inevitably the monitor on my ‘ol Canon 5D Mark II is covered with many little scratches and abrasions.  Now that I had a better solution in my hands, I was very excited to give it a try.  The Expert Shield was easy enough to put on – it had good instructions and took me no more than 5 minutes to put on perfectly.  Really, you’ve just got to be careful not to get dust under the Shield, the rest is easy.

The greatest thing about the Expert Shield on the D800E is that you totally forget that it’s even there!  It seems that your using the camera naked, but in fact you’ve got this great protection there.  It is definitely one of those products that leaves me feeling – why did I not use this sooner?!  In the future, I will definitely purchase Expert Shields for any device that has a LCD, at the same time I purchase the device.  They are that good!  The protection is obviously more than adequate for anything I plan to put a camera (or iPhone) through, and it’s as if there’s nothing on there.  I love that!

Thank you Expert Shield for this simple, yet very effective product.

DARK COAST – A POEM BY MELISSA EGBERT

I realized today that a piece of writing that my sister had done for me several years back for the portfolio Dark Coast isn't currently visible anywhere.  Unacceptable!  I can't believe I hadn't realized this before!  She wrote me this beautiful piece and I included it in a Blurb book that I had made.  I wasn't overly pleased with the Blurb book quality so never did much with it, and the poem ended up kinda forgotten about.  Sorry, Moose! 

Without further ado...I'd like to present a piece by Melissa Egbert!


DARK COAST

My constant journey leads me to the edge of the shallow seas.  Time passes with each fluid motion of the water and I wait, for someone or something to capture a moment of beautiful illumination.

The dark coast, where birds settle on the guardrails of the pier, erected by ancient pylons, surrounded by crashing waves of salty water brought from the furthest reaches of the Pacific Ocean.  Waves, gentle and anxious, rhythmically invade the coast, then retreat from the sinking sands back into the flood.

I wander the coastline feeling the ocean air as the breeze cools my skin, tasting the salt on my lips.  I've wandered too close to the sea and it tries to pull me in, trapping my feet in the soft sand.  The ocean slips away and in that moment, I feel connected to the transforming world around me.  The world transformed by light and water.  But the moment escapes me like sandcrabs playing and skipping out of my fingers.

As I journey toward the sun, setting in it's night haven, the clouds have surrendered the last of their offering to the earth, and given way to a silent calm.  I walk the coast, ever nearer to the water, until it surrounds me, moving my body to the sway and rhythms it commands.  I feel the serenity of the world pour through me.

The light is leaving but the water remains.

Written by MELISSA EGBERT

HIKING HALEAKALA CRATER AT SUNSET

One of my favorite things is to hike down Sliding Sands Trail in the Haleakala National Park, the night before the full moon, during sunset time.  It gives me a chance to get down inside the crater, one of my favorite places on the planet, during the time of optimal-sweet light.  With or without camera, I recognize this as an incredible life-experience – one that I always try and make time for, at least a few times a year.  Last night, I was able to share this experience with a Maui photo workshop participant who was looking for an adventurous photographic expedition during his island vacation to Maui.  It so happened that on this particular day, the moonrise was the most dramatic of the year!  With the sun perfectly opposite the moon, the light and size of the moon appeared to be 14% larger and 30% brighter than normal!  It only made sense for us to venture into the crater from atop the 10,023 foot peak, and put ourselves in an epic and otherworldly place (inside a volcanic crater) for this special moonrise!  As good fortune would have it, we were graced with an insane sunset and the light was so sweet.

The Big Island was clearly visible, seemingly close enough to touch, as the large and brilliant moon arose above it.  Me – as much as I was ooh’ing and aah’ing the moonrise to the right of this scene, I couldn’t resist focusing my photographic efforts on the sweet, brilliant, and colorful light that presented itself to my lens in this composition.  Here, in Hawaii, being much closer to the equator, this period of sweet-light does not last long.  It is fleeting.  Ephemeral.  You put yourself in in the right place, at the right time, and hope for the best.  Last night, I found myself at the right place at the right time – very cool to be able to share the experience with another passionate photographer!

PARIS PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP ANNOUNCED – SEPTEMBER 20-22, 2013

It’s official – we are going to Paris! The tickets are booked, the apartment is reserved, and Becca and I are both very excited. We will spend 2 weeks taking in the “City of Lights”.  I’m offering a few personalized and small group photography workshops Sept. 20-22, 2013 while we are there.  Click HERE for more information, or CONTACT ME to discuss details.

WHY NOT TO PRESENT THE SAME PHOTOGRAPH IN BOTH COLOR AND BLACK AND WHITE

STRANGER.  San Diego, California

As I was scrolling through my Google + stream this morning.  I came across a post by a longtime, established, and relatively renowned photographer with an image posted two ways – both in color and black and white, with the question,

“Which one do your prefer?”

“I’d prefer for you, the photographer, to be decisive and choose which one works best!  I’d prefer not to see photographs in both color and black and white.”  I wanted to holler back.  But I didn’t.  I suppose I didn’t want to ruffle anyone’s feathers.  With that said, I think it’s a worthy topic to look at and discuss, and this is my forum – so it’s fine.  If I ruffle feathers from here – so be it.

So, what’s my issue here?

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FINDING COMPOSITIONS IN THE LANDSCAPE

While working with a Maui Photo Workshop participant recently, I was asked a good question: how do you find your compositions?  It hasn’t been a common question among my students, even while discussing the many facets to composing mindful and compelling images, but I think it is a good question.  Of course, there is no one way I find my compositions, but there are a number of ways that seem recurrent.  Here are 5 ways I find my compositions.

The Jungle.  Maui, Hawaii

1.  I go where I feel compelled.  I explore.
Oftentimes when I go out shooting, I head out with no particular destination in mind, and with no image in my mind’s eye.  In these cases, I go where I feel compelled.  I often say that landscape photography is all about putting yourself in the right place, at the right time, with the right frame of mind.  So, where is the “right place”?  Anywhere you feel compelled to photograph, and where you can visually arrange the elements into a compelling image.  It’s enjoyable to work this way – to go out without expectations or pre-visualizations, guided by your feelings and intuitions, and see what happens.


Pier.  La Jolla, California

2.  I go to the same spots over and over.  I study the scene.
This is another common approach that I take with many of my compositions, and has led to many of my most successful photographs.  Once you find a composition that has promise, resonates with you, and is a place that you enjoy spending time, go back time and time again.  I have spoke about the importance to studying the subject HERE.  Whether working near home or while traveling, this is a strong approach toward making successful and compelling images.  Not only does your chances for dynamic light, exciting tidal conditions, or some other interesting element increase, but your relationship with the subject deepens and often comes through the final image, making it more expressive.


Surrendering.  Maui, Hawaii

3.  I allow the elements within the frame to dictate.  I am present and aware.
With landscape photography, it’s best to be present and aware to the conditions around you.  When you bring your awareness to the movement of the oceans water, the breeze passing through the trees overhead, the clouds moving through the sky, or the rain in the distance, you will often find that a composition becomes clear.  You can work backwards from there.  For example, with Surrendering, I noticed how the waves would come ashore, reverse back and collide with the next breaking wave, causing a unique vertical splash in one area.  After noticing this within the scene before me, I worked through composing the scene, making an optimal and creative exposure, and then waited for that one extra element that would set the entire scene off – in this case it was the color in the clouds from sunset.


Hoodoo Storm.  Near Bryce Canyon, Utah

4.  I allow the weather to dictate where I go.  I remain flexible while exploring.
Sometimes when you are out exploring to see where you may feel compelled to shoot or heading to a scene that you have shot many times before, the weather is playing a factor and you can’t ignore it.  Perhaps you have one thing in mind but it’s down-pouring there, so you have to adjust.  Such was the case when I made Hoodoo Storm.  I was at Bryce Canyon and was planning on shooting through the sunset light, when a thunderstorm moved in and unleashed a lot of rain.  I jumped in the car and headed west, hoping to get to the edge of the storm.  30 minutes later, I made my way out of the rain, found a promising hill to hike up from the road, and discovered a compelling composition directly before me as the sun-setting light lit the underbelly of the clouds, resulting in a dynamic and compelling image.


Moonset.  Bandon, Oregon

5.  I research and study the landscape before visiting.  I use technology to assist.
Although the 4 methods above are my primary approaches to finding my compositions, I do tend to add an element of research online, especially before traveling to a new locale.  Google Maps might be one of the most exciting online tools for photographers in researching a shoot to a new locale.  Before my last trip to Oregon and Washington, for example, I studied the entire coastline of the two states to determine the sea-stacks I might be most drawn to.  Then, I used Google Images to get a visual feel of the surroundings.  From there, I was able to pinpoint one particular sea-stack along Oregon’s central coast that I was very drawn to, and a couple months later I was able to commit several days to photographing it, resulting in a series of images titled Rock Study.

MASTER BLAH BLAH BLAH

I was gearing up for a recent workshop and reviewing notes from the participant and saw that she had done a number of photo workshops in the past.  I was familiar with one of the photographers listed.  It had been awhile since I’d checked out his website, so in one of my many daily distractions, I headed over to see what was new.   The first thing I noticed was the steady dose of “Master” that was dropped all over the website.  Master this, Master that.  Learn from the Master.  Buy the best book ever by the Master.  Background of a Master.  Initially, I thought it was kinda funny.  Then, kinda embarrassing.  Who does that?

When I think of a Master, I think of a Kung Fu Master who can be challenged by 20 men and overcome them all with one hand behind his back.  Or, a Zen Master who is awakened and fiercely present, burning so bright that those in his company taste nirvana.  Li Mu Bai from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was a badass Master!  Fo’ real!!  He certainly didn’t need to go around calling himself Master.  Everyone else recognized him as Master and referred to him accordingly.  He had reached a level of such mastery that it spilled into all aspects of his life and rendered him egoless.  Awake.

That’s what I think of when I think of “Master” – where such mastery in one area spills into all the other areas of one’s life and the result is a certain level of heightened awareness, egoless-ness, and inter-connectedness.  And, let us not forget – humility!  Is a Master really a Master if he/she is obviously ego-based?  Ego-driven?  And going around saying, “I am Master.  Bow down before me.”  Not in my world.  Not in my eyes.

Of course, I do think there are Master photographers.  Michael Kenna is a Master.  Christopher Burkett is a Master.  Edward Burtynsky is a Master.  David Fokos is a Master.  And you know what?  You won’t find the use of the word “Master” anywhere on their websites!!  Let us not forget, “Masters” do not have to announce themselves to the world and convince us of their mastery.