BLACK & WHITE

PLANNING VS. IMMERSION

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I always work from inspiration.
Roy Henry Vickers


As a photographer, every trip is an opportunity.  Before I travel, like many, I research my destination ahead of time.  I consider the season, I look at the weather, I even do a pinterest and google image search to get a sense of what I might find upon arrival.  In other words, like a good girl scout - I plan.  But lately, I have discovered that no amount of planning can replace the simple act of immersing yourself in a place.

My recent trip to Tofino BC was planned specifically.  November is the start of storm season in that part of the world.  As I boarded the plane heading west, my mind was filled with all of the beautiful and dramatic images of stormy beach fronts and misty forests that I would make.  We arrived to glorious sunshine and for the first few days I found myself strangely reluctant to pick up my camera.  The moody images I had envisioned were nowhere to be found… so I suppose in a way, I was waiting.  Until finally one beautiful afternoon we went for a walk on the beach and I decided to take my camera just in case the weather should turn (it sounds absurd to me now but that’s truly where my mind was).  Luckily as we walked I began to immerse myself in what was happening on the beach and started to see the beauty all around me.  I stopped looking for the images I had created in my mind and I started to SEE what was there.

Silvered Signs

Thank goodness.  For I honestly believe these images not only tell the story of what it is like to experience a beautiful November day on Chesterman Beach in Tofino, but these are some of the most impactful images I have ever made.

They come from a place of inspiration.  As Roy Henry Vickers (a wonderful local west coast artist with a stunning gallery in Tofino) points out, inspiration is derived from the latin word inspiratos - which means breath.  When you breathe and immerse yourself, the spirit of a place comes into you and through you.

I still believe that planning is important and can yield some wonderful results.  But immersion - the act of allowing yourself to remain open to what a place has to offer - for me never fails to result in inspired images.

David DuChemin (another west coast of Canada local) is known for his quip “gear is good, but vision is better.”  If could borrow his format I would say “planning is good, but immersion is better.”  For while planning might help you find beauty, immersion will inspire you see it surrounds you.

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The next time you head out on a trip - be it to your backyard or further afield - give immersion a try. I'll wager you make some beautiful images as a result.

 

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ELEMENTS OF BLACK AND WHITE - Simplicity

This is my 5th and final image for the Black and White Challenge. 

It’s entitled WINTER'S ICY GRIP. Last December for two days mist and rain fell as temperatures hovered in the perfect zone for precipitation to freeze on contact, coating everything with a 3cm layer of ice.  Many trees were unable to withstand the ice load but those that did were beautifully encased resembling a scene out of “Frozen.”  For this image I isolated the branch by moving until the background was a simple dark colour and set the aperture to a low f-number (2.8) so that branch was in focus and the background was blurred.  Check out my tip here for more on shallow depth of field.  

The image worked in colour, but when I converted it to black and white the details in the ice suddenly popped.  The story in this image IS the ice and the black and white version tells it best. 

High impact monochrome images have a simplicity about them.  The subject is clear and distracting elements are removed.  Many photographers will tell you that when they shoot for black and white they purposefully look for simple subjects and isolate them in the composition.  But sometimes, converting a colour image to black and white can also have the effect of simplifying.  As is the case with my image.

Participating in this challenge has taught much more than just the technical process of making a monochrome image.  I’ve enjoyed how the challenge has impacted my thoughts on creativity, making art and photography. I now know that:

  • making art and posting every day takes discipline and commitment
  • doing something completely different from what you normally do can boost your creativity across the board
  • good black and white images are not made from poor colour images
  • the elements of contrast, texture, pattern and simplicity play a key role in producing high impact mono images
  • the elements of good art are the same as for good photography (not sure why this is such a surprise)

Have a wonderful week my friends - may you find your own challenges are ones that inspire.

INSPIRATION THIS WEEK:

 

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ELEMENTS OF BLACK AND WHITE - Pattern

This is my 4th of 5 images for the Black and White Challenge.  I have taken some liberties and stretched a few days of rest in between so technically I am not following the rules which say I am supposed to post one image a day for five days.  But rules are just guidelines right?

Regardless, along with a new image, today I offer you another element of effective black and white - patterns.  It seems that pattern plays a very big role when colour is absent - providing interest and helping to move your eye through the frame.  Repeating patterns often show up in architecture and nature and without colour to distract us their beauty really shines in black and white.

I call this image “INTO THE WOODS.”  I joined a group of photographers on a hike in search of waterfalls but along the way came across several captivating miniature scenes like this fern vortex.  A collection of miniature frond ladders appeared and beckoned me to climb down the dark centre to another world. 

Again if I were following the rules, I would nominate another person to participate in the challenge but in this case would like to simply mention the gifted photographer and all round great guy who organized and led the hike that day.

+Mike Goodwin has long completed the Black and White Challenge (plus the Split Tone Challenge at roughly the same time) and his image “Looking Inward” inspired my own consideration of the million little worlds full of beautiful patterns that one can find if you dare to go hunting with the camera. 

Only one more image (and one more Michael to nominate) and my challenge will be complete.  I hope you find some fun things to challenge you this week my friends.

 

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ELEMENTS OF BLACK AND WHITE - Texture

Sometimes it's ok to flip things upside down.  

This is day 3 (or more accurately photo 3) of the Five Day Black and White Challenge for me. Though perhaps I should call it the white and black challenge today.  I've always thought that impactful black and white images skewed to the dark side but the image I made today proves this is not always the case.  Sometimes the exact opposite can be just as impactful.

ELEMENT #2 - TEXTURE
Monochrome is perfect for highlighting textures.  A smooth white space surrounding the rough base of the trees creates visual interest.  In the original photo above, the snow was littered with little bits of dirt which I carefully erased so that the eye can travel smoothly over the snow and linger on the coarse ridges in the cedar bark.

TIP:
There are many ways to clean up spots on an image - be it from dust on your lens or small bits of dirt or debris on the ground.  I like to start by removing any easy spots in Lightroom with the spot removal tool.  Sometimes this tool won't work on a particularly tricky spot so I then move the image into Photoshop and give it another go with the Spot Removal tool in the Camera Raw filter.  If I am still unsuccessful with that then I will give Photoshop's Spot Healing Brush tool a go.
If all this sounds like too much work, then I invite you to just stare at the image above for a bit and relax (if you click on it you can see it bigger).  However if dust or spot removal has plagued you and you long for more detail on how to out out those damn spots, Pye at SLRLounge.com has a tutorial that should get you moving in the right direction.

 

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ELEMENTS OF BLACK AND WHITE - Strong Contrast

DARK AND STORMY NIGHT IN BLACK AND WHITE

The first roll of film I shot was colour but the first photograph I fell in love with was a black and white.  It was the one known as "california kiss."  It kicked off a long run of creating colourless documentary style photos of my friends and family which ended when I shot my last roll of Ilford in 1999.  At that point I made the move to digital and recommitted my affections to colour.  

Participating in the 5 Day Black and White Challenge has inspired me to take a closer look at what kind of black and white landscape photos I like.  After collecting these on a pinterest board for study I've discovered that the ones I find impactful share some common elements. Over the remaining days of the challenge I thought I might share these with you.  

ELEMENT #1 - STRONG CONTRAST
Very black black's and very white whites are perfect for giving the image real pop.  Without colour to provide the vibrance, strong contrast steps in to provide that umph!

TIP:
When working on a black and white image in Lightroom, did you know that if you hold the 'alt' or 'option' key down while sliding the black or white slider it will give you a visualization of how your image is being adjusted.  You can then adjust the slider until just enough true black or pure white is showing in the image.  Here is a great article at digitalphotographyschool .com that illustrates what I mean.  So handy right?  I also watch my histogram carefully when I play with the adjustments and I have noticed that with black and white landscapes I prefer to have it skewed to the left or on the dark side.   Ahhh yes... the dark side is powerful.

 

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FLEETING HAPPINESS

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Happiness.  It's a powerful thing isn't it?  We crave it, pursue it, endeavour to make it last once we find it and bemoan its disappearance when it slips away.

I recently came across this quote and it struck me.  

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” 
― John Lennon

Happiness is the goal.  The motivator and inspiration for all my choices and actions.  At times it seems fleeting or even unattainable but it's often only a choice away. 

Today I have chosen to do what makes me happy - creating this image and sharing it and my thoughts with you.

What choice could you make today to bring more happiness into your life?  Why not make it?

INSPIRATION THIS WEEK:

  • Marc and Angel Hack Life
    I would imagine like me you have already seen some of the inspirational blog posts from this husband/wife team float through your social media stream.  Their recent post  A Simple Thing You Can Do Today that Will Make You Happier dovetailed nicely with where I was heading with this post.  Isn't synchronicity wonderful?
  • 100happydays.com
    I love this challenge.  Love it.  But will I DO it?  Now that is the question.  How about you?  Let me know if you decide to in the comments below.  

     
  • Black and White
    Many photographers have been taking part of the "5 day black and white photo challenge" online.  My google+ stream has been full of stunning black and white work.  I love colour but have been inspired to try my hand at the black and white thing for these last two posts.  Here are a few resources if you are looking to try your own hand at it:
Darren Rowse - Key Ingredients For Black and White Images at Digital Photography School gives some basics on what to think about.
Varina Patel - Getting It Right: Black and White at Visual Wilderness gives some advanced techniques to enhance your work in the digital darkroom.

Elle Bruce - B&W Photo Inspiration Board at Pinterest.  Yes I have been making a collection of black and white images I have found particularly inspiring. 
 

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THERE'S A STORY TO TELL

Old World Exploration of Moody Milford Sound

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of “story” lately.  In addition to photographer and artist, I call myself a visual storyteller so I suppose it's not surprising that I’ve put some thought into it.

I recall when I was in my twenties, noticing that the bulk of the conversations my then middle aged father and his friends shared centred around story telling.  In fact I remember feeling bored by it.  “Did I tell you about….” my father would start.  I would gently smile in hopes of taking the sting out of my response “Yes, you shared that one with me already.”  Is that all they do I wondered?  Swap and re-tell old stories?  Ugh,  isn't there more to life?

Now I am the middle aged storyteller and it's funny that as I have aged the value of stories has become obvious.  Stories are the core of life.  They give meaning, provide context and help us to connect.  

With vast quantities of visual media bombarding us daily - stories have even greater value than ever.  I crave the deeper connection that comes when a story is told alongside an image.  Listening to an artist share their experience of creating their work often will greatly deepen my affection for the work.  Does this happen to you?  I find I can even forge a connection to a subject I normally have no interest in - say for example tennis (no offence to tennis enthusiasts). If I happen to watch tv coverage of a tennis player's life everything changes.  Knowing the “story” - the athlete’s hopes, dreams, struggles and triumphs - connects me to them and suddenly I am engaged in watching a game I previously had no interest in.

But I call myself a visual storyteller but what story am I telling?  Of course each image has it’s own creation story - an account of the experience or moment, but I have started to notice that most of my images are part of a larger narrative. Looking at my work they make a collective statement: 

all natural landscapes contain a beauty that we need

The ones we find close by us as well as in more remote places.  As a photographer, artist and visual storyteller, I hope my images will remind others to seek this beauty, help them to find it and encourage them to preserve and protect it.  

In truth, the image is NOT what is important at all.  The image is the icing on the cake - but without the cake there would be no reason for it.

 

INSPIRATION THIS WEEK:

  • Trey Ratcliff
    Trey is the consummate storyteller.  His daily (so impressive) blog posts always include a new image from his travels with a bit of the story behind them. You can find him online at your preferred social media stream or at the hub Stuck In Customs
  • Karen Hutton
    Karen has a wonderfully unique way of posting.  Her beautiful images are paired with a creative bit of prose.  She sets the stage and then lets you in on the dialogue the characters of the image are having.  Sounds like no big deal… but here is the magic part… her images are mostly of landscapes. I follow Karen on google+ but you can also visit her blog.
  • Gage Salyards
    Gage describes himself as a "Gentleman explorer. World Traveller. Life photographer."  Having met him and followed his work ever since, I have to agree - he is all of those plus a man with an incredible personal story of resilience.  His latest postings on instagram @eyeamgage not only contain his beautiful images but also inspiring and thoughtful words.
  • Maptia - “is a beautiful way to tell stories about places”  They ask the question "Do you believe stories can change the world?"  If your answer is yes... then you are in the right place. http://maptia.com
  • Exposure - If you haven’t visited https://exposure.co yet then don’t wait any longer.  "Exposure is a tool to create beautiful photo narratives. It’s also a community of passionate photographers and storytellers. Exposure is a great place to tell your photo stories.”  This is the place where visual storytelling lives.  My first story is here.
  • Zaria Forman
    This artist and her hyper realistic works of art in soft pastel are incredible.  Their photo-like quality caught my attention but it was the story of what inspired her to create them made me love them.
 

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