No Mommy, it’s a painting!

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Several years ago my best friend from childhood was in town with his wife and kids and they stopped over to say hi and see my then-new home. I had a set of framed prints that were framed for an exhibit some time earlier and they were now on my walls. Most of the prints were from two of my favorite subjects at the time, fall colors in the White Mountain National Forest and dragonflies. All of the photos were shot with a Nikon F5 and Fuji Velvia RVP 50 slide film. At some point I heard one of the girls telling her mother,rather insistently, that what she was looking at was a painting, not a photograph. The conversation drew me over and it was then I found out that a number of photos had elicited the same response from the child. I told her that she was partially right, as the images she was insisting were paintings had been made with the intention of getting as much of a painterly quality as I could achieve.

All of the pictures from this period were straight from the camera to the print. There was likely some cropping and sharpening and other adjustments to get a good looking print. The point is there was no manipulation in Photoshop to create the painterly look, it was all done in camera. Choosing backgrounds, always a critical factor in composing and image, and looking carefully at the effect of the depth of field on the overall effect were crucial. Not that I am opposed to digital photography and Photoshop manipulation, far from it. I do think that being forced to slow down, look carefully at what is in the viewfinder and know how to expose properly so that you get a finished image that looks the way you expected it to is a vanishing art. Today with the immediate feedback of the digital image we are likely to take more images, think a bit less about what we are trying to achieve and use the knowledge and skills required when shooting film.

I’m as guilty as anyone. I resisted the move to digital at first. The difference in image quality that was inherent in the move from film to digital sensors was huge. There was also a significant learning curve as it was now necessary to master RAW image processing, Photoshop, Camera Raw, Bridge and Lightroom (all Adobe products) as well as plug in software. Suddenly the number of captures dwarfed the exposures I made when shooting film. I no longer had to think of the cost per shot that had limited the number of images I made, forcing me to slow down and really explore the angles, the light, and the composition.Fairly quickly I started shooting lots and lots of mediocre photos. It wasn’t until working with Dale and Jenn Simmons (Blackwatch Art, Cleveland) that began to concentrate on slowing everything down, thinking the shoot details out in advance, and coming full circle to where I was at the end of my days shooting exclusively with film, and for myself.

Having come full circle, I can now feel the work instead of just executing it. A long time ago Jim Roetzel reviewed my first portfolio, Jim is a noted bird photographer and one of the top nature shooters in Ohio. I was really new to pursuing the art and craft of photography, and he gave me some valuable tips that lead to my drastically changing my study of technique and mastering the fundamentals. At the end of our meeting, he told me that whatever I decided to do as a photographer, not to lose the love that he saw in my early work. The lessons he gave me were just what I needed at the time to hone my skills. Yet it was his admonition that has stayed with me over the years. Today, after having spent years learning about studio photography, lighting, portraiture, software, and the business side of all of this, I hear that phrase calling me to invest my heart into my work ever more. I believe many professionals will have gone through periods when everything is viewed in terms of the bottom line, and of course this is particularly important today as a career inĀ  photography has gone through so many changes.Without that love that inspired us to do this in the first place, it is just a job, and a difficult and risky one at that.

When I decided to turn pro, a friend announced “you’ll never work another day in your life”. Every day that I have allowed myself to realize that I love what I do, and that that is why I dropped out of the safer route of a more traditional, secure, and perhaps more lucrative career, is a day where I get to play and get paid for it. It is my sincere desire that all of you find, or recall, that joy which makes it all worthwhile.

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