A few years ago we were vacationing in Sicily and returned home by way of Paris. We had a three day layover and I was of course looking forward to it. Unfortunately, I had picked up some bug in Sicily and was not at my best. I remembered something my doctor had told me years ago about stomach bugs. He had told me to starve them and try not eating for 24 hours. This was hard to do in Paris—almost impossible but I did it. The next day I actually started feeling a bit better and could actually go out walk around and feel a bit more comfortable—albeit quite hungry.
We walked along the Sienne and I spotted this couple kissing on the other side. Fortunately, I had only a zoom lens and it came in handy for this shot across the river. Although I have always felt that I needed one of these gizmos (zoom lens), the truth is that I hardly use them at full zoom. When I check my shots in Lightroom, it can tell me what focal length was used for the shot and I have noticed that not matter how strong my zoom, the vast majority of the shots was shot at focal lengths between 28mm and 100mm. These days I hardly bother with them and just walk around using one camera and a single 35mm lens. I have a feeling that I am taking better pictures this way—at least for the present.
Who knows why some people like certain photographs? If anyone has an answer, I would like to hear it. One of the things that I love about photography is that it is very personal. Some people love certain images and others will hate the same ones. It really does not matter who the photographer is—famous or not—each image finds its own audience. To prove this point, all you have to do is look at competition winners and runners-up. Although I may agree with the judges on occasion, more often than not, I think some of the honorable mentions were the better photographs. It is not a cut and dry case. With the internet, there is plenty of photography to see but it is not all that good, at least in my opinion. But I am only one person and others may see my tastes in photo quality as mediocre. I suppose that is the beauty of it. As I said, it is a very personal thing.
For instance, I do not like posed situations. Those photographs where the photographer places his subjects in a sort of tableau and shoots the picture are for the most part uninteresting to me. However every now and then some of the images strike me in a positive way, and I do not know why, but they do. I am not a big fan of landscapes—especially when the photographer is trying to show the beauty of a scene. However, every now and then I see landscape that strike me as brilliant because the photographer has gone beyond the prettiness of the image and added something extra—something special. What it comes down to is that it is not only personal, there are no rules. You either like a picture or you do not.
I like this photograph a lot and I am not sure why. It was 5 years ago, almost to the day that I visited Fort Pierce Florida and stumbled on a Christmas pageant taking place here. I wandered around, took a few shots and then this lady asked me what I was doing. I said I was a photographer visiting from West Palm Beach and came across this event and did she mind. On the contrary, she told me she was a riding instructor, and walked me around pointing our some of her students and asking them to pose for me. Posing is not one of my things but I know there are moments in between a pose where an interesting moment may lie. I shot this one just as she was turning to face me. Why do I like it? Who knows? Is it the angle, the ominous sky, the white dress? Or is it simply that it was a wonderful day and I had a wonderful experience shooting that day. Or is it all of it?
I have been thinking about Cuba lately. I visited there last April and absolutely loved the spirit, the vibes, and the people of that wonderful country. Its time to go back but alas, this year we sold our condo, and bought a house in Florida and things are a bit busy here so it may have to wait a while. As I mentioned, I was there last April and must have shot about about 4000 frames in one week. What surprised me though was how many of those frames were good. Over the years I have discovered (as all photographers eventually do) that one must keep shooting to get good shots. With film, one was limited by roll size and the hassle of developing so many rolls of film. What I noticed was that I may go on a trip somewhere (Italy for instance), shot about 30 rolls of film, develop it, make contacts and at some point discover that I was lucky to have about 10 shots that were actually good. There may have been others but I am very hard on myself. These days with digital, I shoot more because I do not have to worry about film cost, developing, and making all those contacts. Lightroom speeds everything up. So my amount of keepers or good shots (AKA batting average) increases. Over the past few years, I have noticed that my film batting average (10 out of 1000 frames or 1%) has increased to about 2 or 3%. That’s actually quite good! That is until I visited Cuba and after returning, I noticed that this magic number was closer to 10%—that is, I had about 400 shots that were quite good. The down side was that I needed to edit much harder and it took longer.
I don’t really know why I was so successful on this trip. There could have been many reasons such as, the place itself, my headspace at the time, or that magic unknown that nobody can really explain—it just happened. What has changed over the past few years is that now, when I go on trips like this, I do research. I read about the place, check maps, and get a feel for it so that when I get there, I have an idea in my head of where I want to go and what I want to see. I waste less time and therefore am usually more successful, than when I just wander aimlessly around.
This year, I have a list of special events that I am going to and am now in preparation for studying these places and figuring out what I want to accomplish. For instance, this spring I have to be in San Diego for a few days and thought it might be a good idea to visit Tijuana. I know it is a short distance—even maybe walking distance so I started reading about it on a preliminary basis. Now I know there are day tours leaving from certain hotels, they are inexpensive, and will get me to the center of town quickly and effortlessly. Now I just have to find the right one that fits my schedule and will let me wander around for 4 or 5 hours undisturbed. Now I am working on what areas to see. As I said Its all about research. And research ups my batting average.
Why am I posting this picture? Sometimes, even I cannot answer my own questions. Its a beautiful landscape that I shot about 5 years ago on the Island of Capri in Italy. That day was for the most part a disappointment because it was just too touristy—even for me. It was 5 hours of constant hustling and being assaulted continuously by people trying to sell me everything from trinkets to ice cream. I really was not into taking any good pictures, or at least I was not consciously into taking any good pictures. When I become bored or tense, my creative juices just disappear— I just go flat. I suppose it is hard to stay up for everything, all the time. I am sure even the greatest of photographers have their bad days from time to time. I am no different and when these events occur, I just turn off, look for a good bar and wait for it to pass. It always does. In this case, Instead of taking pictures, I just got into being a tourist, enjoying the views, and having a good lunch. It prevented me from being bummed out all day and certainly made me better company for my wife.
For the most part I am a documentary photographer and most of the time, I have no interest in landscape photography, either as a viewer or photographer. The reason is that most of this stuff is just pretty—and that is not enough to peak my interest. This is not always the case. There are of course great landscape photographs, taken by great photographers, but for the most part, these type of images are just pretty, and nothing more. I look at them—briefly and then quickly move on. They never register with me in any emotional way. So on this day, in this place, being uninterested in shooting my types of images, I shoot landscapes to pass the time. Are they good photographs—not really, they are just pretty, that’s all. However I am sure there are people out there who would think that it is brilliant. Photography is funny that way. Everybody sees their own picture and there is enough of it for everybody.
It occurred to me today that it has been about 10 years since I closed my darkroom and switched to digital. Unlike a lot of photographers who have done the same and either struggled with it or were slow to warm up to it, in my case it was swift and painless. I think it had a lot to do with attitude, since I did not take this step reluctantly, but more important, I was pleased with my initial results and was excited to explore the possibilities in further depth.
We had purchased a small condo in Florida where we planned on spending the winters. It did not have space for a darkroom and I was reluctant to send out film for processing, nor did I want to wait until spring when I returned to Vermont to develop all the film I shot the previous winter so I bought a cheap Canon DSLR to carry me through. I started shooting with it immediately and was surprised by my initial results. It was not the camera that turned me on —it was what I could do to my RAW files in my computer. I realized I had far more control over my images than any amount of darkroom skill would allow. For all of my life, I had shot strictly B&W because I never liked the results that labs printed for my and I never had any desire to process color myself. All of a sudden, I was a master color printer.
I began to see things differently, almost from the start. As a B&W shooter, I had preferred shooting on cloudy days as opposed to direct sunlight. Now direct sunlight became far more interesting. My photographs began to change and I think for the better.
I rarely go back to the same place to take photographs but there are some spots that I am truly attracted to. For instance there is this wall, a wall in West Palm beach, another in Hollywood Beach, a corner of Madison Square Park in NYC—and many more. The interesting thing about these places though is that even if the spot remains the same, there is always a different photograph that is waiting for me when I return.
In the Northwood section of West Palm Beach is this grocery store which serves the local population for cigarettes, beer, and perhaps, on occasion even some food. Its pretty seedy and once I went in to get some bottled water. Inside, there was this guy at the cash sitting behind a plate of bullet-proof glass with a small slot at the bottom where people would shove their money through and their change would be received. No words were exchanged. It was very sad. However when you exited and turned left and left, there was this wonderful wall of the building where the setting sun would bathe this wall with a beautiful golden glow. Over the past few years, I have spent a lot of time in front of this wall just photographing the passing parade of people on their way to and from this dismal store
I look at a lot of photographs these days. I cannot help it because the web is saturated with photography—both good and bad. Sometimes you see an image and like it immediately—it just sucks you in. Other times you look at a photo, and you are puzzled—you just cannot connect with what the photographer is trying to say, that is until you read the paragraph(s) below which explain it all and you go “oh ya” and that is it. It is more intellectual than passionate. Personally, I am not fond of those photographs because if the purpose has to be explained, that is another step which separates the photographer and the viewer. Appreciation in my mind should be immediate and that is all there is to it.
You may either like or dislike the photograph above. No explanation is needed. In my mind, I want the viewer to either like it or not immediately—sans statement. Sometimes I can comment on how the picture was made, or why it was made, but what it is about is solely at the discretion of the viewer. I want the viewer to make up their own story because in my mind, that is what photography is about.