Monday, April 25, 2016

Looking Backward To Go Forward

by Carol

"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?"
                                                                      Patricia Turner
                                                                     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."

                                                                                                            Patricia Turner


Dotti said...

One of the best things about photography is the friends we make and the things we learn from one another! When we have FOL gatherings, we always share information and we all always learn something. And once again, Carol, my friend, you've taught us an important lesson this morning. I've been shooting in RAW now for several years. As to the argument that it takes up too much file space, I have found that I'm much more ruthless now about culling out the bad photos early in the process and keeping the ones I know I'll use, the ones that speak to me, the ones I know I can work with. Consequently, I'm using less file space now than when I shot jpegs. And, yes, yes, YES, to keeping our pixels! Like you, I need to get busy and cull out the garbage that is in my photo files. I've done some but there is so much more to do. For me, personally, this is more important than cleaning out my closets. They can wait; my file folders can't. Thanks, Carol, for an important lesson with great illustrations.

kelly said...

Carol this is so interesting. I am about halfway though Marie Kondo's book so I really can totally appreciate where you are with this. And it's sort of like that saying, they keys of the past unlock the future...only now (with almost five years of serious photographic study) do I have any sort of past to look back on. But I know these kinds of photos you're talking about - they ones that transport you to a particular place and time and feeling...those that spark joy. Looking forward to seeing where your journey takes you. xoxo

terriporter said...

Well, I'm raising my hand as one who was reluctant to shoot in RAW for a long time. It wasn't only the space that the files took up, it was that I trusted my camera to do the processing for me more than I trusted myself! However, when I finally learned Lightroom, I decided to try RAW again. Besides the reasons you mentioned (the pixels, etc.) shooting in RAW forces me to go straight to Lightroom with my newly taken images in order to see them. While I'm there going through my images, I'm culling out everything that I don't love. If I went back to the photos from the past (before LR), there are literally thousands of photos that should have been thrown out long ago. Beginning in 2016, all I have are photos that truly make me happy. I love this photographic journey we are all on together, no matter where any of us are in the process.

Nancy Ori said...

Carol, I love that you have progressed and learned so much since 2009 and can now share some very insightful wisdom. Editing your images is something that most find difficult in the beginning because you do not have a good feel for what is good yet. Your suggestions are right on. Get into shooting RAW as soon as you can. Control your shooting by thinking, looking and walking around before clicking. When in doubt, throw out. Cleaning out the junk is important on so many levels. I am constantly going through older files to delete images that I know I will not print or do anything with. I too am constantly learning and getting better. Digital was a quantum leap for many of us old photographers leaving our film behind. There was a lot to learn but I am really happy with the leap. My images have improved so much over the past couple of years with so many options of post processing to choose from. Hope to get you back to Cape May soon. I will probably do the Creative Women Workshop again next year. All the best and thanks for a great blog post, Nancy Ori

Carol said...

And there, folks, you have it from "the horse's mouth!" Nancy Ori IS my wonderful teacher and I am pleased that she can see here that I am remembering her words and living by them! Thanks for the comment, Nance - I hope to return to Cape May soon.

Cathy H. said...

What a wonderful idea to work through your photos by projects. I'm also working on cleaning my photo files, but I'm doing it the boring way, day by day. Oh, if I could only make myself cull through them each day!

Liz said...

Wow!! I can totally hear where you are coming from. I began my photographic journey in August 2011, shooting JPEG, and I began shooting in RAW in January 2012. It was then I also purchased my first version of Lightroom and began the task of self teaching the program. Due to being unable to get out much with my camera lately, I have been taking on the HUGE task of culling, re-editing, re-living, etc my old images from 2012 onwards. It has been an interesting and rewarding process for me --- I have come a long way and still have so much to learn. I am also freeing up a LOT of hard drive space.

Deanna said...

What a great post, Carol. I didn't seriously start using RAW until I went to the Smokey Mountain Workshop and it was that teacher that convinced me that RAW was the way to go and I have continued with it since that time. Lightroom just goes hand in hand with RAW and the two together create magic. I solved the storage space by buying an external drive because I am still that 2,000 a day photographer when I am on a trip. Well, maybe not that many, but close.

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