"Play back your photographs. Do any of them illustrate the feelings you have for the landscape? Do you need to continue the dialogue with the land?"
A Field Guide for The Contemplative Photographer
It's amazing what you can learn by looking back. Just as Kondo preaches that tidying up your house can inform your life, refine your taste, and center your mind on what is important to you; so I have found, does looking through your photography catalogues.
In the continuing effort to cull my photos, I have recently hit on a method that actually keeps me interested and motivated with the process. I decided to view my hard drive cleanup as a series of projects. Rather than proceeding date by date through a million poor photos I should have deleted at the time they were taken, I decided to look experience by experience. As I learned from Patricia Turner, it is worthwhile to create a sense of place in your photographic stories. It helps you carry the essence of your travels forward into your life experience. With time and separation you can often see how your memory has taken a life experience and condensed it down to its essential moments and lessons. So I am taking my favorite places and experiences one by one and really diving into them. I hope to create books or series or stories that inform , or simple individual photographs that are better metaphors for time and place. The bonus is that I am finding photographic lessons at every turn.
I began with my Cape May photos since that was the genesis of my photographic journey. I took workshops there for 4 years running, learning the basics of my craft and meeting many of my closest photography friends. Coincidentally (or not) we always went in May - so this feels right for the season! Starting with Cape May 2009, and going up to weekends spent there as recently as last year, I am watching my photography improve, and my style emerge. I am recognizing things I would do differently today, solving issues with light that I didn't have the technical knowledge to handle then.
So here comes lesson number ONE that I would like to pass on to all of you. I am eternally grateful that my photography teacher taught us right from the beginning to shoot in RAW format! Because sitting here in 2016, I can pull out a photo from 2009 that looks amateurish and often......I can FIX it! Of course my compositional skills have improved and I can do nothing about photos that should have been taken at a better angle, or should have included more "shoulder," but I can straighten the crooked ones. I can sharpen those that are only barely out of focus. I can darken backgrounds where necessary, or create a better crop to emphasize the subject. I can convert to black and white those where the color is off. I can also make some into abstracts, or use them as textures - something I didn't even know existed in 2009! Even more important, I am better able now to think about the history of the place I visited and use my skills to make the photos tell the entire story better.
I sense that many people somehow fear using RAW, and I am not sure I understand why. Some say it takes up too much hard drive room, but here is my experience. The first year I shot in RAW and jpeg. I'm not exactly sure why I did that. I didn't really understand the difference and RAW seemed too technical to me. As a result I took up twice the hard drive space! Add to that the enthusiasm of a new photographer (can you say 25 pictures of the same slightly out-of-focus flower.....) and in the first Cape May workshop I averaged about 2000 photos A DAY! As I plow through now, deleting all the jpegs of that flower and all the repetition, and keeping only the RAW one to work on, it becomes obvious how much that lesson helped me.
For example, I had a disastrous period after the workshop when I was trying to learn how to resize photos for the web, not understanding the process at all. (Honestly, resizing is still one of my biggest challenges.) I shrunk every photo I loved down to 600 x 400 so I could proudly post it. Then I tried to print them out to hang and didn't understand why they were all blurry! Every one of those wrongly resized pictures that was jpeg was lost forever. The RAW ones I was able to resize correctly here in 2016 and keep - because I still had the pixels! I always recall my teacher saying - "why on earth would you spend the money on a great camera (many of us paying extra to get a full frame) and then toss away the pixels it's capable of creating?" So there you have some hard won advice. Keep the pixels!
While this is one of the technical lessons I have extracted as I go backwards through the years, I am also finding many about my life experience years after my trip. (more to come....)
|"Cement Ship" Cape May Point|
"In the end, what distinguishes contemplative photography from any other kind of photography is the continuing reflection on the images one makes. Minor White calls photographs “functions” and not “objects”. They are just stepping stones and we move from one to another. For me, it has been what sustains my interest in the medium. Each image I make is just another building block in the citadel of self-understanding."