Light and Magic

Cold, bright light.

I only made one picture yesterday. This is it.

That isn’t to say that I didn’t work the scene a little. I always do. I don’t “spray and pray.” And, I don’t make more pictures than I need to in order to capture what I’m after. I’m a fairly efficient and economic photographer. I believe that comes from my film days. Back then it cost a lot of money to take pictures. You had to learn the film and how it would respond in different lighting situations.


People with digital cameras just keep pushing the button hoping to get a picture that they like. After all, once you’ve invested in a camera, some SD cards and a computer, taking pictures is free. When I first converted to digital work, I found myself over shooting a lot. Because – wow — pictures were free to take.

Then I retreated back into my older way of working. Fewer exposures usually yield better pictures.

I read somewhere that people are producing something like two billion pictures a day. Or, is that an hour?

Why? What for?

Go to any of the free sharing sites like Flickr. You’ll see way too many pictures of the same thing. That’s just from one photographer. If that person happens to hit upon a certain style you’ll see multiple derivatives of the same picture. It gets to the point where all pictures in a certain genre look alike. Think about that gauzy flowing water. Could be a river. Could be a sea. When I first saw it, I thought, “how cool.” Now, I’m amazed that it’s still a thing. Same thing with filters. Every Manny, Moe and Jack filters their pictures up without knowing why they are doing it.

This post is not a rant. It’s a backwards, sideways explanation of what I do now. At least for this point in time. This picture doesn’t look like anything that I’ve seen. That’s my intent. When it comes down to it, this is a backlighted picture of what’s left of fall colors.

Nothing more.

But, as I moved the lens around I saw the sunburst. It’s a tricky exposure because you want some detail in the shadows, but for the straight master image you want the burst to be nothing but white — a specular highlight. Once you start messing with it in post production, you can fill it in with slightly lighter colors and shapes.

This little discussion brings up another topic.

There seems to be a huge business of photographers selling to other photographers. They sell technique. They set themselves up as experts. I came across one — a food photographer — who makes a good part of his living conducting workshops. After watching his promo video, I knew exactly what he was doing. In two-and-a-half minutes. One very large softbox the top. Another from the side or back. He says very quietly, that the student has access to a stylist and chef.ย  All of the students — six of them — are grouped like a bunch of photojournalists at a press conference. They all take the same picture. The food photographer/teacher critiques their work.

I suppose that’s fine. He makes about $3,000 a day for this. And, the students go home with their newly learned knowledge. To try to duplicate what they just learned.


They don’t have his studio. They don’t have his light. They don’t have his stylist. And, they don’t have his chef. Worse, he’s kind of a one trick pony. His lighting is always the same. He doesn’t actually style the food himself.ย  On the other hand, he’s been shooting food pictures for 18 years. He has some pretty good local and regional credits.

Which is better than most of the travel photography teachers who have taken one of those “the top ten photo hacks that you can learn in ten minutes online workshops,” gone on a trip with their significant other and took pictures of each other in some far away place. I read one of their blogs. The photographer/writer/teacher was amazed about where the sun rose and set. How the hell do you not know that?

And, so on…

Where does leave me? I think that it’s my turn. At least I’m the real deal. I’ve done this for forty years or so. I’ve worked for major clients — corporate, advertising and editorial. I know how to make my picture and their picture. You know, the picture that art directors dream up without having scouted the region. Oh, and I know many cities like the back of my hand. I’m also pretty sure that I won’t have photographers shooting in a group or filtering their images just because they can. They’ll actually make pictures that matter. Maybe not many. But, they’ll have learned what it takes.

I have no idea where, when or how I want to do it. But, I’ll figure that out. Sheesh, I could it in New Orleans. We are always on the top of every travel destination list. We are interesting. Or, it could be Brooklyn. Or, New Mexico. Or, Hong Kong. Oooooh. That sounds fun.

Whaddya think?




  1. This is a great post all around. I used to shoot film in the 90s and early 2000s, an old Nikon 8008s. I gave it up for a long time because I had this feeling that all the pictures had been taken, and I felt like I was walking around with a camera glued to my forehead. Bear with me, there’s a point in here somewhere. I know what you mean by all the similar images. Many of them are amazing, but I find myself drawn more to connections these days, either with the setting, the photographer, the feeling, or the moment.

    I’m also trying to get back to that film discipline of being more deliberate with my shots. Part of that is just practical. Squeezing the digital trigger is free, but man, the uploading and sorting becomes onerous with dozens and even hundreds of shots. Admittedly, I have a ways to go on achieving that discipline.

    Last, and most important – you should definitely follow through on your idea. I sometimes get annoyed by some of the youtube camera sites and the blogging “top 10 tips to shooting great photos” blogs, but I remind myself not to be too cynical. Photography can be an isolated pursuit. I like that, but not 100% of the time. People want to connect with people through photography and to learn from others. Workshops offer a great way of doing that for a lot of people. Camaraderie, feedback, meeting new people, safety in numbers (expensive gear), etc. Looking forward to hearing what you decide to do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. First, thanks for the long reply. It’s hard to create a space where people do that. So…

      My mentors — either-face-to-face — or Because I liked what they did, said things like, “if the picture isn’t good enough, you weren’t close enough.” It took me a long time to understand that just didn’t mean physical distance. It also meant understand and being with your subject. Other photographers taught me to either be one with the subject, or to work from the inside of the picture, rather to stand on the side just documenting things. It takes some time to do that.

      I was just having a similar discussion with a friend of mine when it comes to workflow. I use Sony mirrorless cameras for digital and Leica for film. (That’s how I knew where to send you for repairs :)) I’d really like the new A9. But, its file size is huge. I means a lot of upgrading,maybe even a new computer. Certainly new lenses because you need the resolving power to take advantage of that processor and sensor. It becomes a question of how much is enough.

      I’m thinking about my idea. It’s more of a personal photography photography issue. I have never liked the idea of photographers selling things to other photographers. Usually, it’s not all that helpful. Photography is at its worst, an isolated job. It has to be. Maybe you travel with an assistant and, in some places, a fixer. But, that’s it.

      You did get me thinking about something — safety in numbers. One of the very best things that I do is know how to stay safe. I know how to keep moving and how to hide — as you say, rightly — that expensive gear. I also know how to talk to people which gives another kind of protection. After all, New Orleans — as popular as it is as a destination — is a very rough place. Our shooting and murder rate is through the rough. I know how to deal with most of it.

      I’m not sure I can teach that. It seems that I was born with a bell in my head that goes off when I’m straying into enemy territory. ๐Ÿ™‚ It’s a matter of situational awareness and a lot of practice. And, some training. But, that is a great idea.

      Hmmm… “staying safe while you make YOUR picture.”

      Thank you.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I think I actually take too few shots. I was married to a push the button type of guy who would come back with a thousand non-descript shots. It ruined our days out, as the camera was always out with no thought at all. Now me and my current husband choose a project and go and take some time at it. I might take no more than thirty shots in two hours and that’s a lot for me. Maybe I am missing shots, but I want to avoid the just being lucky. I want to learn. I do agree that post production is a headache. Avoiding endless duplicate shots helps and this week I have dumped a few whilst out and about. I sometimes think that on the days of the dark room, the creation of the photograph had far more meaning and had a huge element of suspense and thrill. I was somewhat shocked at the volume of photo work being put up on Instagram. The endless stream of images is rather exhausting.
    Instagram did my head in. There are many wonderful phots there, but after a good few days of analysis, it all became very same, with filters, copycat techniques and photographers work becoming blurred into one another. Finding individual style is difficult. I don’t have an I-phone, or apps, or light room, or the full Photoshop, and feel really pressured by this. Maybe its lack of experience but I feel that even if I learnt my camera well, there would always been an app that could do it better than me. Yes photographers have always manipulated images, but they were a select group of get out there and go for it, but now everyone takes pictures – we are saturated with images. It can be very debilitating.
    And training – everyone is a teacher. Not so – a lot of the information is thin and misleading. In food photography, if you don’t have the natural light, the step ladder to get the overhead shot, the worn board and baking tray, you wont get the same shot. But do we want the same clone shots? Humans are herd animals and we like to feel part of the pack. The challenge is to stand out. I still cannot work out where I want to go with my floral photography. All I know is I am not giving it the time I should, but then I also have other priorities that I cannot put aside.


    1. Well, this is gonna take some time. ๐Ÿ™‚ First, don’t study Instagram unless you are able to follow real working photographers. There is some great work there, that is real and not all filtered up. For my feed, I post mostly classic black and white work. We kind of game the system because we rarely post something we took with our phone. My pictures come from archives.

      As far as everybody taking pictures goes, it’s mostly a good thing because now we have a common language. We didn’t in the past.

      Food photography. I watch the promo video of the guy you want to work with in London. 6-8 young photographers all grouped around the same food using a large overhead softbox and a side light from another larger softbox. BTW, they are all young women who want to take pictures for their blogs.

      As far as standing out, that takes time. And a lot of work and practice. It takes years to really understand photography and lighting and post production. When I started using Photoshop it was called Aldus and it was a pre-press production tool. It’s how I corrected images for big commercial presses. And, it was helpful in design as well. It took years to learn as it morphed into Photoshop. Same with lighting. I learned the old fashioned way. The sun is your main light. If you use strobe to approximate that, you must position it accordingly. Because strobes are some much more contrasty than the sun, you must use light modifiers.

      Your problem as I read it, is that you want to do everything now. Of course you have to do accounting to make money. That’s a given. But, photography and writing and design and publishing is a process. Embrace that. Take your time. It ought to be fun, not a hard project.


  3. Out SW ABQ almost to Cochiti Pueblo the ads aren’t loading tonight so the likes don’t either. But that’s WP. But I’ve been looking in. ๐ŸŽ๐Ÿด yes, staying on a horse farm.


    1. I’d like to stay on a horse farm. I am seriously thinking about abandoning the monetizing of my site. The ads are bad enough, but the video is terrible. If I made money, it would be great. But, in three months I’ve made a big $4.42.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yep, the videos, the double click stuff.

        It’s going to seed, unfortunately. Listening to the coyotes calling right now, – 12:55 am.


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