For the past 6 months or more, I have been putting myself out there quite a lot and working with people individually in personalized photography workshops here at my home base of Maui. I’ve gotta say, after years of dealing primarily with people in relation to selling artwork, I am really enjoying working with earlier-on-the-path photographers and passing on my knowledge, thoughts, perspectives and skills. I never really pre-visualized myself as a “teacher”, but I’m diggin’ it! So much so, that I am taking my act on the road. I am excited to announce a 3-day intensive workshop for the passionate photographer in my ol’ stomping grounds of La Jolla California. I spent 4 years there shooting essentially a three mile stretch of coast, which resulted in a big turn of direction in my work, leading to more personal and expressive images – many of which became award winners. Anyways, I am stoked! I can’t wait to head back there, after over 3 years of being away, and working with a small group of 4-6 people and passing on some important skills and perspectives. If you are interested, or if you know someone who may be, you can check out the details HERE.
It has been on my wishlist for quite a long time to view and photograph the lava flowing into the ocean on Hawaii’s Big Island, but for the past few years, the flow has not really been doing much. A couple of months ago, it finally broke through and is now providing surface activity and ocean entry where visitors can get close and witness this amazing spectacle. From the National Park side, it is a 6-8 mile hike each way across lava fields, which pretty much rules that option out. From the Kalapana side, it is approximately 2 miles hike each way, but this side is private property and there is a certain amount of state and landowner control, preventing people from simply walking in on their own to view the lava. So what is one to do? Here on Maui, I heard through the “coconut wireless” about a travel company called Poke-A-Stick Tours, that took people out to the lava. I called and spoke with Cheryl, owner/guide/host extraordinaire, and planned a couple of days with her afternoon sunset hikes out to the lava flow.
During one of my Maui Photo Expeditions this week, while working with a cool couple from Orange County, our emphasis turned to the element of “time”. Of course, if you follow my work, you know this is my favorite aspect to photography – especially extending the exposure out to be quite long. Through the use of neutral density filters, or the time of day or night, you as the photographer can control whether your shutter speed is 1/250th of a second, or two minutes, and everything in-between. By using different exposure times, you create different effects and evoke different feels in your image, translating and communicating different messages. So first, get mindful as to how you’re feeling and what it is you want to communicate, simplify, and then determine what shutter speed will best translate what you are feeling.
With this photograph, I used a shutter of 1/2 second. Two minutes would have evoked a serene and peaceful feel, but I wanted the big winter surf to be the focal point and to evoke a sense of Mother Nature’s raw power. The final element that finishes this capture is the warm light from the setting sun, captured moments before it dipped below the horizon to end another beautiful day in paradise.
Winter is my favorite time of the year on Maui. The weather is perfect, the whales are here in full force, and it’s the busy season! With that, I’ve been filling up my calendar and keeping very busy and working with many photographers through my Maui photography workshops (Maui Photo Expeditions). This weekend I had a full day one-on-one workshop with Jim, an IT-guy from Cali. As a PhD intellectual-thinking type, initially I was concerned. Could I get all techie for 10 hours? I wondered, worriedly. Thankfully, in our first half hour he expressed how he wasn’t looking to get techie, he was looking for assistance on the creative/artistic side of things. He was looking to me to assist him in activating that other side of the brain that’s not based in thinking, but in feeling. I could have hugged him! I mean, it’s not that I couldn’t talk about the technical/craft side-of-photography endlessly with a willing comrade, but I suppose I would rather not. I find the creative/artistic/feeling-based side-of-things much more interesting, and much more important toward creating more dynamic and expressive work. With the technical aspects – you learn it well enough to get past it in order to focus your attention on what is going to make your work more personal – mindfulness, presence, space. And where these topics may at times seem esoteric, especially (I imagine) to the “PhD intellectual-thinking type’s” out there, I strongly believe that it is not the topics of f-stops, depth-of-field, pixel pitch and the like that make images dynamic, but rather the depth-of-feeling, the mindfulness and presence felt through the image that the photographer is communicating, having made the work out of that state. This is the state out of which images that can move viewers are made, and it is this that I most like to focus on personally, and pass on to others.
Eliot 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 own emotional response to the subject.”
In preparing some of my thoughts before the workshop, I began with a question, and with a look at what I believe to be the foundation to all good work:
Why make photographs?
If you choose to make photographs, then it seems a valid question to look at – Why make photographs?
Whether it is conscious (yet) in you or not, as photographers, we make photographs to express and to communicate. Once that is acknowledged, then look at that question – What are we wanting to express? ~and~ What are we aiming to communicate? The more you look at this, the clearer it is seen. The clearer it is seen, the more personal and expressive the work. The more personal and expressive the work, the more dynamic it naturally becomes.
As a photographer, you look at things. You not only look at the world – at the skies and the seas and the forests and the fields and the cities, you look at your self too – at your thoughts and your feelings and your emotions and your tendencies and your habits. Being a photographer is being one who mindfully looks at things. Therefore, being a photographer is as much a personal inner journey, as it is a worldly outer journey. The more one looks at this, the more compelling the work becomes, and the more rewarding the process is.
It is with this mindset that I’d say that mindfully looking at things, or simply – Mindfulness, is the primary most important aspect that we can bring to our photography.
We had our first big winter surf of the year hit the north shores of the islands and here on Maui this week, which inspired me to pack up and get out shooting. I headed first up to Honolua Bay and explored some possible compositions, while watching the many surfers position for the double-overhead waves that were consistently rolling in. After checking out a few less-than-inspiring possibilities and feeling a bit crowded with the many spectators, I decided to head south a bit – away from the larger sets that were hitting the north shores. I stopped at a nearby pullout, jumped the guard rail and headed down a steep slope to the lava rock shoreline and was immediately sparked with some possible compositions. I stood and watched as a large set came in and definitely knew I could do some work here, so I headed back up the slope to the truck to retrieve my gear. Over the course of the next hour and until the light had left me in darkness, I shot 32gb worth of images with a couple different compositions. I kept my exposure times to around 1-4 seconds in order to maintain enough clarity in these 5-8 foot faces, but while adding enough motion to create a more intense dynamic. With this type of imagery, you really have to shoot shoot shoot, which kinda goes against my style of waiting for the sweet moment and getting the shot in fewer frames. With that said, you do what you gotta do to get the shot you’re feeling at the time, and in the end, I’m happy with a couple of captures from the night – enough so that I think they may have to be part of my portfolio-in-the-works titled Boundary.
The lesson here – work with your conditions and with your feelings. It was very dynamic with these big waves crashing against the rocks and making huge splashes 25 feet into the air. You could feel the impact and were covered by sea spray. I could have made a 2-minute long exposure and created a more peaceful and meditative feeling image, but that wouldn’t have translated true to my feelings, and to the conditions presented to me. So, next time you head out to make images, don’t think about it. Quiet the mind. Explore around until you find a place that you’re responding to, on an inner/feeling level, not on a mind/thinking level, and then get in touch with your feelings and with the conditions being presented to you. Then, photograph accordingly. With this approach, your images will become stronger and more feeling-based, and you will enjoy your time in nature much more than when you’re in-the-head.
ABLAZE Maui, Hawaii
Here on Maui, we have had our fair share of amazing sunsets over the past few months, but it seems I’ve been in a bit of a shooting-slump and have watched most of them without camera in hand. It’s tough to watch stunning sweet light form in the sky without being out in a position to try and capture it photographically. The stirring inside murmurs to itself, “should be out shooting…could be getting a great shot…who couldn’t make this light work well…Wow! this light is friggin’ epic!…why aren’t I out shooting!?“ Continue reading
It seems nearly every time I go out shooting, I find myself in a stunning location at the magic hour to enjoy the clouds passing by and the sounds of the ocean, and if I’m lucky, the chance to get a sweet shot in my camera. Continue reading
- And a poet said, Speak to us of Beauty.
- And he answered:
- Where shall you seek beauty, and how shall you find her unless she herself be your way and your guide?
- And how shall you speak of her except she be the weaver of your speech?
- The aggrieved and the injured say, “Beauty is kind and gentle.
- Like a young mother half-shy of her own glory she walks among us.”
- And the passionate say, “Nay, beauty is a thing of might and dread.
- Like the tempest she shakes the earth beneath us and the sky above us.”
- The tired and the weary say, “Beauty is of soft whisperings. She speaks in our spirit.
- Her voice yields to our silences like a faint light that quivers in fear of the shadow.”
- But the restless say, “We have heard her shouting among the mountains,
- And with her cries came the sound of hoofs, and the beating of wings and the roaring of lions.”
- At night the watchmen of the city say, “Beauty shall rise with the dawn from the east.”
- And at noontide the toilers and the wayfarers say, “We have seen her leaning over the earth from the windows of the sunset.”
- In winter say the snow-bound, “She shall come with the spring leaping upon the hills.”
- And in the summer heat the reapers say, “We have seen her dancing with the autumn leaves, and we saw a drift of snow in her hair.”
- All these things have you said of beauty,
- Yet in truth you spoke not of her but of needs unsatisfied,
- And beauty is not a need but an ecstasy.
- It is not a mouth thirsting nor an empty hand stretched forth,
- But rather a heart enflamed and a soul enchanted.
- It is not the image you would see nor the song you would hear,
- But rather an image you see though you close your eyes and a song you hear though you shut your ears.
- It is not the sap within the furrowed bark, nor a wing attached to a claw,
- But rather a garden for ever in bloom and a flock of angels for ever in flight.
- People of Orphalese, beauty is life when life unveils her holy face.
- But you are life and you are the veil.
- Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror.
- But you are eternity and you are the mirror.
-Kahlil Gibran. The Prophet
ISO: 50 @ 1.60 Seconds
24mm @ F/13
THE BEACH Maui, Hawaii
“When anxious, uneasy and bad thoughts come, I go to the sea, and the sea drowns them out with its great wide sounds, cleanses me with its noise, and imposes a rhythm upon everything in me that is bewildered and confused.”
-Rainier Maria Wilke
TIME EXPOSED = 90 SECONDS
“In order to obtain pictures by means of the camera it is well to choose your subject, and carefully study the lines and lighting. After having determined upon these, watch and await the moment in which everything is in balance; that is, satisfied your eye. This often means hours of patient waiting. Of course, the result contains an element of chance, as one might have stood there for hours without succeeding in getting the desired pictures.” Alfred Stieglitz – “The Hand Camera” (1897)
This is my most common approach to the art of landscape photography – the studying of subject. I find compositions that I am drawn to and that resonate with me, and then I return to them a number of times during the landscape photographer’s working hours.
- landscape photographer working hours:
•an hour before sunrise to an hour after
•an hour before sunset to an hour after
•during the night
•during banker hours (only while stormy and tempestuous)
With these above working hours, you really don’t have a lot of time to study the subject – in optimal light anyways. Therefore, you’re likely gonna have to return a bunch of times to get something special. Now, if you’re lazy, terribly busy, or otherwise lacking the passion involved to drive dynamic work, you might not like the sound of this. But, if you are driven to get dynamic images, then this is great news! Essentially, once you find a strong composition that resonates with you and you know works, then it’s just a matter of time before you get a successful image. Get your ass back there time after time – sunrise, sunset, full moon, new moon. Wake up early, miss dinner, stay out late. Work the subject. Study the subject. With this style of work, you begin to know the subject. You begin to see how the light falls on the subject at different times, you learn the tidal conditions in relation to the subject, when people frequent the location and how that may or may not affect you, and many other little nuances of the scene. Through learning these nuances of the subject, you form a relationship, and like any relationship, depth begins to form. It’s in this depth that you begin to breathe life into your work, and it is this life that makes the work more dynamic and resonate more strongly with viewers.
“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 own emotional response to the subject.” Eliot Porter
This style of work may breathe new life into your photographs. It certainly did for me. While living in La Jolla, California for a several years, I started working this way and my work became much stronger. I wrote about it here, and again here.
While this style of work can obviously help tremendously while photographing at home, I often take the same approach while traveling. Take the images in this post from Bandon, Oregon as example. I was traveling for 23 days through parts of Washington, Oregon and Northern California. I had researched extensively before leaving home and had been very drawn to these sea stacks along the coast Oregon and Washington coasts. I explored online all the images I could find of these many rock formations stretching along the entire west coast, as well as studying these coastline details on Google Maps – an invaluable tool for photographers! The features and shape of this pointy rock in Bandon resonated with me so much and I knew I had to spend some time there exploring it in-person with my camera.
I decided on a place right on the beach, with some of the sea stacks directly out the back door! My stay was 2 nights and 3 days. My first afternoon, I walked the beach until I found the pointy rock that I was drawn to. Sure enough, it was my favorite rock along the beach. Not to say it wasn’t all impressive! Bandon is absolutely stunning and I could certainly stay there for longer than a few days, and I could certainly photograph much of the scenery. But, I wasn’t there for too long and time being limited, I decided to study the subject, and focus my efforts on this particular rock. This would better ensure that I’d get a keeper for my gallery collection of works. So, during the couple sunsets, sunrises, and the one clear night I had, I was out photographing this rock…getting to know her.
You’ll often find that when you approach the work this way, that you end up with a number of dynamic images that you like, making it more challenging to edit the work down to just one or two top images for a collection. This is a good problem! It is much better to have 6 strong images and have trouble narrowing it down to 1 or 2, than trying to pick an image to represent the place that falls short. Besides, you can still use the not-quite-collection-worthy images, I often call them “book shots”. They are good enough for showing in a book, but not quite strong enough to be a part of a limited edition collection. Your gallery collection should be your absolute strongest and tightly edited works.
If you haven’t approached your work this way yet, then I encourage you to do it. Find something near your home that you are drawn to visually, and dedicate a month to it. Go back often in the landscape photographer working hours. Go often! Immerse yourself in the scene. If you get some good shots, don’t stop. Keep going. Go during the different moon phases, sunrise, sunset. Go at least a dozen times in a month, and see what you end up with. Still not satisfied? Then keep going. It’s not meant to be easy! If it were, everybody would have great collections of photographs. It’s a lot of work! Enjoy it. It’s great being outside, in the elements, away from the TV! It’s healthy for the spirit. And, if you still don’t like it, then go do something else – this isn’t for you. This is for the passionate photographers and artists who want to create more dynamic work. This is for you. Embrace the place, form relationships of depth with your subject matter. Love the scene. When you love it, you want to visit it often, and you do so with an open heart. When you approach the work in this way, good things will happen, I promise. You may find that even the “mistakes” are pretty cool…
…and the successful ones – they are gems that stay with you forever.