February 6, 2018

Sunny, 10 Degrees, Calm Winds

This morning it is just gorgeous outside. Skies are absolutely clear and brilliant sunshine is streaming through the woods and across the pristine snow. It felt good to be alive and out in the woods with Jamie. You couldn’t ask for more except perhaps a little warmer temperatures. With no wind, even 10 degrees doesn’t feel bad until you’ve been out for a while. I’m usually out for close to an hour and by then, my cheeks are pretty frozen. Still, in all my years of outdoor activity in the winter, I’ve never had frostbite and no sign of any today.

This morning I am so pleased that I undertook this project to photograph and write every morning for a year. Each night, I say to myself that I need to take a day off, spend more time with the guitar, catch up on other things around the house, but each morning I am refreshed and excited during my walk and I can’t wait to write about it and edit the photographs from that day.

I’m not sure if I anticipated this project re-awakening my pleasure in photography, but it has. I love the everydayness of it. Not a word, I know, but you know what I mean. I used to do the equivalent of trophy hunting when I did photography. I looked for the great moment, the great shots that would be good enough to sell in the gallery. Now I’m doing more like small game hunting, or perhaps just walking in the woods with my gun (camera). It’s much more enjoyable and I may get some trophies or at least really nice rabbits or something, to torture a metaphor.

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I already have at least one landscape shot that I really like. The tree trunks I’m still thinking about. Maybe they will work, maybe not. And I still have many many mornings to shoot, the change of the seasons to come. What a good idea this is looking like. Of course, we’ll see how I feel as the year moves on and newness begins to seem impossible.

This morning I shot mostly wide shots through the woods at the sun. It was just unspeakably beautiful. Over the years I’ve taken a few beautiful shots with the sun streaming through the trees. They always have a magical quality to me. The sun looked the same way to me this morning and I’m hopeful of at least one really nice shot.

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There’s no denying the symbolic power of the sun in a setting like this. There’s no getting away from seeing it as a symbol of hope and positivity. If you’re religious, you might see God or feel it as his benefaction upon us. I think I feel it as a gift and an encouragement. Moments when all seems right with the world are rare enough in our lives and a beautiful sunrise in the woods is one of those moments.

I’ll return for a moment to the subject of heavily altered photographs that I wrote so much about over the last couple of days. I did a little experiment yesterday. I tried to create a similar look to one of the photographs I made with that lens and camera simulation software. It turns out that Lightroom can do most of what that software does. As I pointed out, much of the effect is tinting and vignetting, things that Lightroom does just fine.

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This version was done in the lens simulating software
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This version entirely in Lightroom. Pretty similar really.

What Lightroom does not do is lens blur effects or the textures that the other software does. But that’s okay, now I’m seeing those alterations as just tools. I’m still not sure how heavily I want to alter photographs. I like it when a landscape feels natural, even when I know it’s not. As for the tree trunks, I think they need something to really work. Maybe it’s the kind of heavy blur and vignetting I have been experimenting with, maybe it’s something else. I’ll only know with more experimentation and more thought.

This kind of thought and experimentation is a part of an artist’s process, or at least it’s part of my process. I’m sure there are artists who just do what they want and don’t give a second thought to what it means or to any kind of personal ethics around their work. Not me. I think about stuff. A lot. As you can see from this blog.

Maybe the one downside of this project is that all the photography and writing leaves relatively little time for editing and printing. I’m accustomed to shooting for a few days and then spending a lot of time with the images editing and printing them. Now, I have new images to deal with every day. Most of them don’t amount to much. That’s always the case, but they still need to be dealt with.

Maybe this would be a good place to describe briefly how I deal with all the photographs I take. I looked the other day and I have over 50,000 photographs on file. This year could generate another 15,00 to 30,000 images.

I use Adobe Lightroom to catalog and edit photographs. If you’re using almost anything else, especially Photoshop, you should change to Lightroom. It’s $10 a month from Adobe as a part of their photographer’s package. That includes Photoshop as well. A bargain if you do much photography. Lightroom catalogs images, which means it makes it easy to keep track of your photographs, search them, sort them, apply keywords to them, rate them, label them, group them in any way you want. That’s a lot and that doesn’t even touch on editing and printing, which it also does with tremendous ease and convenience.

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A fairly natural looking edit of this shot
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A much more aggressive edit with heavy vignetting and color shifts. Which do you prefer?

The first thing I do with my photos is to download them from the camera to my computer. I let Lightroom handle that and it automatically puts them in a dated folder. I put each of these folders in a folder for the year, so every photo taken in a year is listed by shoot in order. That’s a good start. The next thing I do is to step through every photograph I took and give them a quick ranking. You can assign a star rating from one to five and also apply color labels or mark them for deleting.

I usually only rank photographs that I think have at least some real potential. I use three stars for a somewhat interesting shot, four stars for a really good one, and five stars for shots that I know I will print and add to my portfolio. Once I’ve done this I use the filters in Lightroom to hide all of the unranked photos and scan through the marked ones again. I’m looking for the best three or four or maybe a few more. It’s rare to have more really great shots from any shoot and I can’t really use hundreds and hundreds of pretty good shots for anything. I’m looking for the very best to use in a book or sell in a gallery.

I increase or decrease the ratings, comparing the best photographs together until I have that handful of good shots. I usually then mark the absolute best of them with a green label that means to me that it might be printed and saved in a special location as a part of my permanent porfolio of salable images.

Next comes editing. I’ll go into this in depth at another time perhaps, but generally, I get the exposure and contrast about right, I sharpen the image for printing, and I often apply at least a little vignetting to help focus the image. I might do much more if I think it’s called for and Lightroom offers a powerful suite of tools for that editing. Then I’ll usually make a small 8 x 10 print of the very best images so I can evaluate them further and maybe show them to some artist friends.

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Jamie at a full run when I called him to come to me.

As a project takes shape, I create what Lightroom calls a Collection. It’s a little bin you can put individual images in so you don’t have to go searching for them repeatedly through many different folders. At some point, a project will gel to the point where I know how I will edit the images. I want to cover all the subjects that I think need to be part of the project and decide how they should be treated so that they appear cohesive for any possible exhibitions or books or whatever I might do with them.

I’ll go over every single image and edit with care, getting exposure, contrast, saturation, and vignetting just right. I might also apply graduated adjustments as needed, remove dust spots, etc. If I’m going to make big prints for sale, the images need to be perfect. You don’t want to make a 30 x 40” print and find a dust spot in the sky. It’s too expensive. A print that size costs about $15 in paper and ink. Even more if I apply a coating to protect the print for exhibition. It’s cheap if you sell the print, but costly if you waste a bunch of prints and don’t sell any.

That’s enough for today. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.

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