Finding Your Artistic Vision

Old Timer. A moss covered vine maple

Finding Your Artistic Vision - I’m asked at times, typically by another artist, about my personal artistic vision. At first I had no idea at all what artistic vision was. And if I didn’t know what it was, how would I know if I even had one? And, to be honest, at the time I was asked I’m not sure that I did possess an artistic vision when it came to my photography. All of my life I had considered myself an artist, but I never thought that I had to have a reason to be, or a purpose beyond my own happiness.

Since the first time that I was asked I’ve had this little thought of curiosity or wonder about it in the back of my mind. To be an artist should I have an awareness of a vision, direction or purpose for my art. A curiosity of whether I was to purposely develop one or if it was something that would develop in time, because at the time I had hardly developed any kind of mastery of the skill that it takes to use my artistic voice, not to be confused with artistic vision, so was not especially happy with the level of my work in the present, but I enjoyed doing it.

Inside those of us who are creative is a want for our work to touch others in some way. Most artists create their art to be judged beautiful or even offensive, at times, by those that experience it. We create our work to express ourselves in a way that conversation never could. Perhaps we don’t have those words, or perhaps we’re too timid to vocalize them. We must use our artistic voice to express our artistic vision, to express ourselves.

Our artistic vision is the reason and the purpose that we create. It’s what makes us fulfilled so we naturally want to share with others. We all have our own conscious reason for creating our art, but ultimately our artistic vision is comprised of every aspect of who we are and what we believe in, not just conscious decisions applied during the creative process or the application of the skill that we possess. It’s the part that comes naturally when it’s allowed.

Our artistic vision affects and drives our work. It creates an individuality in our work that will allow it to stand out from other work similar. It starts to express itself in the style of your art. Once you recognize that style you can refine it and make it all your own. You can also start to use it to envision a new future for the growth of your work. A plan for future experiments or projects to push the bounds of your skill and creativity.

It took me a while to understand this. It’s just a simple process of creating more art. The more that we create the more the process becomes second nature, and the more we’re able to let our artistic vision take control of more of our natural thought processes.

The best example of this that I can think of is how a master musician is able operate their instrument to a point that playing the music becomes second nature, hardly a thought is made while they perform their song. In my case being able to go out into the field and create a photo without wondering what button to push or dial to twist allows me to perform my song, figuratively speaking. It simply takes doing what we love to do a lot to get there.

I have been doing what I do now for about 15 years and I’m just now realizing that I can now start to consciously consider my own personal artistic vision for my work, but the best part about it all is that while I was working at overcoming technical obstacles and obtaining news skills, I was also developing that artistic voice that drove me to pick up a camera to express my artistic vision in the first place.

As I practiced, without realizing it, I was actually starting to understand my artistic vision, because when I started all I knew was that photography made me happy, and I wanted to share my happiness with others. Perhaps that’s the best way to voice my artistic vision. I want to develop the skills to create the kind of art that speaks for me. I want to create the kind of art that makes others as happy as it makes me. 

Alaska Winter Bush Plane Glacier Adventure

Knik Glacier Alaska
Ice Columns of the Knik Glacier on an Alaska Winter Bush Plane Glacier Adventure. 
 
This photo is of the huge ice face of the Knik Glacier in Alaska. I was able to photograph this miraculous location due to my good friend Bill Nafus and his amazing new hand built Super Cub bush plane. Bill built the airplane from the ground up and it's perfect in every detail.
 
Our plan was to fly up the Knik River and then back down, not expecting to land. We flew across the face of the glacier, very near the surface below us when I noticed that Bill was throttling back and dragging the huge balloon tires across the snow. He then pushed into the gas and we lifted back up again, circled tight and then returned again to drag the tires through the same grooves made by the first pass. And we lifted off again, circled back and this time we dropped into the tire tracks and stopped.
 
I was stoked. Was this actually happening??
 
Bill and I hopped out of the airplane and we walked out across the snow covered Knik River braided riverbed, not knowing what was under it, testing it along the way. It could be sand, ice, overflow ice or even open water. As we walked we watched for anomalies in the surface that may indicate danger, we got closer to the big ice wall.
 
The light at the glacier was amazing in its smooth even forgiving nature. I was easily able to take the photos by hand without the need of a tripod. This allowed me to be able to keep walking and taking photos as I saw them. It also allowed me to keep walking to keep warm in the -5F cold. The moon would peek out from behind the top of the glacier as i walked. The ice walls were a deep blue and transparent and as shiny as glass with a web of cracks lacing it giving it texture and depth.
 
In about an hour we made our way back to the plane, got back inside and flew back to Bill's home in Palmer.
 
I was so excited! As we flew that day we saw moose, Dahl sheep as well as a Jeep Caravan that had made its way up the frozen river to a spot not far from glacier and was returning back to civilization. We flew above deep blue crevices, ice canyons and ice fields of no less than four glaciers. We flew through and past the jutting granite peaks of the Chugach Mountains.
 
Just the action of taking off from a frozen lake and flying around Alaska is sensational on a bucket list level, but to add the landing at a glacier to the trip made this day one that I will never, ever forget. I can't thank my friend Bill enough. He's a man that makes things happen.
 

I love Alaska, but I love her people even more.

 

Organizing Priorities

Panther Creek Falls Washington

Preparing for a trip, even a simple day trip, should be pretty basic when it come to packing your camera gear, or so it would seem. It’s easy to throw your gear in the backpack, grab it and go.

You must know that photographers take their backpacks pretty serious. For those who aren’t aware, I should explain that a photography backpack is very much like a typical rucksack but they have little padded dividers that are fastened with velcro in an arrangement decided upon by the owner of the backpack to hold their various camera bodies, lenses and other assorted accoutrement. With these dividers it’s easy to take a quick inventory of your gear prior to heading out into the field. Zip open a panel, look inside and zip the panel back up and off you go.

Taking quick inventory in this way is typically pretty straight forward. It’s easy to see if you have your camera and your lenses, but there are always those little details that will trip you up as this little story will show.

After taking my quick inventory on one particular day, I grabbed my gear for a hike to a waterfall that I had been meaning to photograph for a while. The hike was going to be about a five mile trip, ten miles altogether. A good day hike but still a bit more laborious due to my backpack full of gear. It’s usually like me to pull my camera from my backpack at the trailhead and carry it separately and take snaps along the way, but on this day the hike was familiar and I figured that I would just wait until I arrived at the spot that I had in mind. Besides, it would make the hike easier without carrying something in my hands.

I hiked with certain urgency as I was on a mission. I walked the five miles with no break for rest as I knew that where I was going would be a great spot to snack on the peanut butter and jelly sandwich and the apple that I had brought along with me. How perfect. A beautiful waterfall to photograph and a nice little picnic all at the same time.
After the morning hike I arrived at my destination. The spot that I had in mind for the photograph that I had imagined since my last hike there. I walked to the creekside, peeled off my backpack, set up my tripod, unpacked my camera, set it up on the tripod, turned it on to check my settings. As I look at the digital display, which shows me everything that I need to know to adjust my camera, I notice the available exposure count. It reads 0. Zero??? What?

As I stand there looking at the display the cold realization that I forgot to check that I had put the memory cards back in after I had pulled them out to reformat and clear them to prepare for more photos of this trip. I was literally standing there with a camera without “film” in it. All at once I felt emotions welling up inside. I’m not sure if they were feelings of frustration, anger or dismay or a combination of them all. It really didn’t matter as they weren’t good. I dug through my pack to see if I had stashed a spare card, but found nothing. I felt pretty dumb.

Without much more than a thought or two about what more that I could do, I packed my gear back into the backpack and sat down to eat my sandwich.
As I sat there I lectured myself. I berated myself for forgetting to reinstall the card, and agan for not checking when I packed the backpack, but in time I resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to take a single photograph, and that I was in an incredibly amazingly beautiful place in a terrible state of mind and that I just needed to realize how my priorities were out of order.

I had to ask myself how taking the photo became more important than the experience of being there and experiencing the tangible part of the experience that a photo can never capture. At that moment I closed my eyes and paid attention to those non visual components of this beautiful location that make the experience complete. I listened to the water as it tumbled over rocks. I listened to the breeze in the trees above my head. I felt the moss under me. Once I did this I started to pay attention to things that I may have ignored. I heard birds singing and squirrels quarreling. I smelled the fresh fragrance of a forest in the morning. I felt the mist from the falls on my face. I could feel the stress leave as I concentrated. My feeling of frustration changed to resignation and then to a feeling of satisfaction as I realized the complete beauty of my surroundings.

In time I stood back up, grabbed my backpack and started back down the trail with the thought in my mind about lessons learned. Practical thoughts about how to prevent forgetting memory cards or batteries, but even more the thoughts and wonder if I would have taken the time to enjoy the experience of the waterfall if I had remembered to bring them.

To this day when I head out to hike to a waterfall I will check everything, including the details. I haven’t left a card or a battery at home since, but more importantly after this experience the first thing that I do when I arrive at a location is to close my eyes and experience everything that being there has to offer, and I think that it shows through the photos that I take afterward.

The Northern Lights over Anchorage Alaska

The Northern Lights over Anchorage Alaska

The Northern Lights over Anchorage Alaska 9/3/16 - 2:28 am

On this particular night Darlene and I were driving back toward Wasilla through Anchorage when I decided that I wanted to drive up to the Glen Alps to see if we could see the aurora over the city. Darlene wasn't feeling so well but agreed that it would be fun. I was driving and Darlene wasn't paying much attention to where I was driving so I ended up driving to the end of a road that I never intended to drive to. Whatever the road, it had a trailhead and a turnaround, so I turned around, which oriented my windshield directly north toward the lights of Anchorage so I pulled to the side of the road to take some photos. This is the result.

I may have got turned around but I ended up with some pretty cool photos. It's not often that I've seen a nnive aurora over city lights.

The Marquam Bridge Portland Oregon

The Marquam Bridge Portland Oregon

The Marquam Bridge Portland Oregon.

My friend Matt Payne and I were talking about this photo of The Marquam Bridge Portland Oregon and how it's such a prominent in a sea of city lights, making it an obvious composition for a photographer with an eye for detail. I think that some who have photographed this overpass intersection have done it intentionally due to seeing the photo but others who may not have seen this previously just see it and do it.

I took this photo back in 2011 with my friend Bruce. He had seen this intersection in another photograph, perhaps not this exact composition, and wanted to try to get the shot. I was glad to come along, and am honest that I did not create this comp. I was unaware of it until Bruce talked to me about it.

in 2011 not many had photographed this intentionally but since then I've seen it pop up in a lot of photographer's portfolios, and rightfully so. The photos are certainly striking, especially if you've never seen it before.

I shot this at 300mm from the top of "Pill Hill at the OHSU Tram upper terminal. It was windier than the halls of hell, but it's a great place to view the city.

 

Top Ten of 2017

Panther Creek Falls Washington

This last year for me was a bit of a challenge when it came to photography, but it's been a great year businesswise. The carrot keeps getting a little closer each year. And 2017 was the year that I got married. As bittersweet as it was, I was still able to get out and take a few shots.

2017 was the year that I was repaired from all of the accumulated abuse that I've done to this body in the last few decades. Last December I had back surgery and was laid up longer than I had anticipated. I'm just now starting to realize an improvement in the pain, a year later. Once I was back on my feet from my surgery my mom had her shoulder replaced and no sooner than her shoulder had healed she went in for knee replacement. Because it's just my mom and I these days I am her moral support, and she mine, so I had little time to go and do any shooting this last year. But in 2018 this all will change.

I can't wait to get this year started!! Darlene and I are going to start the year out by heading up to Alasky this month and then a couple more plans for travel that we'll reveal come closer to the day.

And so, in light of all that, here are my favorite ten photos from 2017 in no particular order. I hope that you like them.

I promise to do better in 2018. 😉

2018 Columbia River Gorge Calendars and Note Cards

Oregon Landscape Photography Notre Cards

2018 Columbia River Gorge Calendars and Note Cards

2018 Columbia River Gorge 12 Month Calendar - $20.00 <-- CLICK HERE

4-Packs of photo note cards - $10 <--- CLICK HERE

In light of the recent Eagle Creek fire in the Columbia River Gorge I have decided to dedicate my 2018 calendar to all gorge photos. There are certain places that will never look the same as they did before. I still have some left so gt them while you can. These calendars are of a very high quality offset printing. They come saddle stitched so they lay flat. The photos are 8" x 10".

The note cards are 4 1/4" x 5 1/2". They're blank inside so that you can write your own message. They come four to a package, with envelopes. Each card has a different scene.

  • Punchbowl at Eagle Creek
  • A Fisherman at Trillium Lake
  • Mount Hood with rhododendrons
  • Multnomah Falls

Supplies are limited so act now.

Thank you all so very much for your support.  🙂

 

 

Camera Basics Refresher

Family Fishing Photo

Camera Basics Refresher

Well, it’s a new year and Christmas has come and gone. With the popularity of photography lately I’m sure that there will be some readers who have received the gift that they wanted, a new digital camera. Because of this I have decided to brush up on how to use it to more of its potential. So let’s talk about manual camera operation.

You have a new camera that, unlike your phone’s camera, was designed exclusively for making photos. I am going to assume that the reason that you wanted your new camera was to make photos that are even better than you could with your cell phone. To do this you will need to move away from the point and shoot mindset and decide to be the computer that controls the camera instead. Switch to Manual Mode.

Let’s start with the “Big 3”. Exposure time - Aperture Setting - ISO/Film Speed. When you’re taking a photo you will want to understand what all three are, how to control them and how they affect each other.

Shutter Speed - Your shutter is a gate that opens and closes to allow light from the outside to come inside of the camera and fall on the film/image sensor. The longer your shutter speed is the more light that’s allowed in and, conversely, how much can be stopped or blocked from coming inside. Consequences of both being a twofold. The first is the exposure of the image, or how bright or dark that it is. The second being the allowance or elimination of movement in your photo. The primary concern typically is to get a photo that’s bright enough without movement being blurred, but there are times when you will want to show movement or blur in your photo such as a waterfall. A fast shutter speed freezes movement while a slower one will blur movement.

Aperture setting - The aperture is a mechanism in the lens that you can adjust to vary the size of the hole that the light goes through as it passes through the lens and into the camera. The larger the hole the more light that can come through in a set amount of time (shutter speed). You can have the same shutter speed but control the amount of light with the aperture. The second consideration when adjusting your aperture is how it affects the depth of field, or how deep the focus is in the photo. When you choose a larger hole, which is represented by a smaller f/stop number, it will give you a smaller or shallow depth of focus, whereas a smaller hole with a larger f/stop number, will give you a larger or deeper depth of focus. One will realize that with a smaller hole for the light to come through a longer shutter speed will be needed to get the same light inside. With a longer shutter speed you will have a chance to blur, as mentioned previously, which will require you to use the third setting in our big three adjustments to further affect the exposure.

The third and last adjustment that we will add to the formula is what was once called “film speed” in film photography, which is indicated by the ASA rating of the film, whereas in digital photography, where there is no film, we adjust the ISO. The film speed indicated how sensitive to light the film is. A lower rating such as 400 ASA will be less sensitive to light than a film rated at 1000 ASA. When the film is more sensitive to light it takes less light to expose the film so you can use the film in darker light or it will allow you to use a faster shutter speed or a smaller aperture opening. With this understanding we can translate the application of this information to digital cameras easily. In digital cameras the film is the image sensor and the film speed is translated to the ISO setting of the camera. The ISO setting varies the sensitivity to light of the image sensor. The beauty of shooting with a digital single lens reflex camera is that you can vary the light sensitivity of the camera using a dial, whereas in film you had to change the whole roll of film. The one consideration when setting the ISO is that the higher the ISO the more grain/noise that you will have in your image.

Let’s summarize what has been covered. You have three settings, shutter speed, aperture opening, and ISO or light sensitivity. All three will affect the each other so you will usually need to adjust another, or both, when one is changed. We can now use this knowledge to set our exposure considering movement, depth of focus and acceptable image noise.

Next, to know how close your exposure is to proper your digital SLR camera comes with a built in light meter. As you set your camera you can keep an eye on the light meter and balance it in the center. Once you have your shutter speed, aperture and your ISO set according to your light meter take your shot.

Once you take your photo you will have a display on the back that will show you a preview of the image. You can check your focus and your composition with this preview of the photo, but you can’t get a real indication of the exposure therefore, the next and last step is to check the exposure with the histogram. The histogram is a graphical representation of the range of light that was captured in your photo. If the histogram doesn’t show automatically with the preview you can find a setting that will allow it. The histogram will look like a rectangular box with a bar chart inside. The left side will be the dark part of your photo such as shadows while the right side will represent the highlights. What you will want to attempt is to balance the highlights and the darks with your “Big 3” adjustments using your histogram as your way of verifying your success. If the settings were a little off, make an adjustment and take another photo. Film is cheap when you’re shooting digital.

All of this may sound a bit confusing at first but the confusion leaves with practice. Like I mentioned previously film is cheap when you’re shooting with a digital camera so go out and take a lot of photos. Therein lies the secret to improving your photography. Practice and experimentation.

It’s my hope for you that your new camera, or your old one for that matter, will provide you with as much fun and life enriching experiences that mine has for me.

Happy New Year.

Aurora Borealis Over the Knik River Alaska

Aurora Borealis Over the Knik River

This is a photo of the aurora borealis over the Knik River and the Chugach Mountains near Butte Alaska.

This photo was taken August 25th, 2013 at 3:09 am. I had just arrived at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport around midnight that night on my first trip to Alaska and I was already photographing the northern lights. My purpose was to get to know Darlene first, and to photograph this amazing state second. Darlene and I had been on a couple dinner dates on a few of her trips to Oregon but we had never really spent a lot of time together doing what we both enjoy, hiking and taking photos.

From the airport we drove to her cabin on the Knik River. We were sitting at her table when she was describing where she lived, the layout of the land, mountains, proximity to the Knik River etc when I suggested that we grab our cameras and tripods and go to the river. Darlene agreed so off we went. We spent the next week travelling around from the Kenai to the Mat-Su Valley to Denali NP taking photos of the amazing landscapes there. We would eat, sleep and start over the next day with a mission.

As we left the light of her cabin and into the forest behind we followed a path, me in front with Darlene right behind explaining where to go, under a bright half moon when as my eyes adjusted I saw a green glow in the sky through the trees. I yelled "aurora!" amd started running down the trail toward the river oblivious of the chances of a bear or even worse a bull moose crossing my path.

This particular night was an amazing night for me. I fell in love that night. Within three hours I was standing on the edge of a glacial river in Alaska with a beautiful woman and a sky dancing with bands of green aurora.This is how Alaska greeted me that night and Alaska has blessed me with such amazing experiences ever since.

As we got to the river's edge, this was the view. Can you fault me for falling in love? 🙂

Learn more about Gary CLICK HERE 

The Plight of A Photographer in 1912

A Photographer in 1912

A Photographer in 1912 - It seems that not a lot has changed since the old days of photography. This poor fellow lays it all on the line with his sign. It reads:

AMATEURS PLIGHT

  1. CAMERA.
  2. TRIPOD.
  3. PLATES.
  4. DEVELOPER.
  5. FIXER.
  6. CARDS.
  7. TRAYS.
  8. RED WORKING LIGHT.

MONEY ALL GONE
BUSTED
IF YOU WANT A PICTURE
COUGH UP 10¢ IN ADVANCE
U WILL GET ONE SURE
DONT SAY GIMME ONE
IT DONT SOUN GOOD.
-PHOTOGRAPHER

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