It’s All About the Light…

Wherever there is light, one can photograph. Alfred Stieglitz

Striped Butte

Striped Butte. Death Valley National Park.

Last night I gave a presentation to the Santa Clarita Valley Photographers Association (SCVPA) (a great group of people, and a more organized and attended-to camera club than I would have ever imagined). The most ironic thing about teaching and presenting is that I always learn as much as the audience. No matter how often I may speak about my work and my philosophies, I learn something about my photographs and beliefs every time.

As I moved through and talked about the 96 photographs I shared with the SCVPA, I was alerted to my use of any and all light. It’s not a new discovery, and other photographers often comment on my use of whatever light. The fact is, I have a photograph(s) in my collection to represent virtually every hour of daylight. The notions that there are only “golden hours” or “sweet light” under which to practice photography have been perpetuated for far too long amongst the nature and landscape photography community. It’s enforced by books, workshops, online photo forums, and far too many photo instructors. It’s time to change this line of thinking, for believing that photography can only be practiced for a few sweet hours of each day and then setting out to capture only specific images that capitalize on that sweet light is akin to photographing with dark blinders on. Any light is available light, and how you choose to see it and whether you choose to photograph under it determines the diversity of your abilities, your vision, and your work. I’d venture that photographers are missing a lot of beautiful photographic opportunities when they’re locked into a singular and exclusive method of photographing.

All light is available light. Sweet light is any light you choose to photograph under. The Golden Hours extend from sunrise to sunset. With few exceptions, failure to create photographs under any light is not a failing of the light; it’s a failure of vision. Take off the blinders and be free.

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

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Business & Marketing Books for Photographers and Artists

A number of guidebooks for photographers and artists have proved helpful in developing my art, my business, and my marketing skills. The following books grace my shelves, and having read them all cover to cover, I can attest that all contain pearls of wisdom that will help to enhance your career and help you through the common hurdles that all artists face. You’ll notice that my selections don’t deal with contracts, pricing, or negotiation. They instead focus on career and longevity: marketing; self-promotion; adversity; creativity; work ethic; and so forth.

Although listed in random order, I recommend that you begin by reading Bayles’s and Orland’s Art & Fear. Enjoy!

    David Bayles and Ted Orland: Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking

    Brooks Jensen: Letting Go of the Camera: Essays on Photography and the Creative Life

    Paul Dorrell: Living the Artist’s Life

    Maria Piscopo: The Photographer’s Guide to Marketing and Self-Promotion

    Alyson B. Stanfield: I’d Rather Be in the Studio!

    Elyse Weissberg: Successful Self-Promotion for Photographers

    Cay Lang: Taking the Leap: Building a Career as a Visual Artist

    Mary Virginia Swanson: THE BUSINESS OF PHOTOGRAPHY: PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICES

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

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On Assignment: T-Mobile

T-MobileAs a professional photographer I have photographed people, events, products, and places, but until a few weeks ago I had not yet done any professional architectural work. Coincidentally, my name landed on T-Mobile’s desk as a referral, they contacted me, and we began to discuss how I could help them with their needs. T-Mobile needed expansive and eye-catching interior and exterior photographs from two of their flagship Los Angeles-area stores for their real estate/development ventures, and I was happy to help. And then they asked for my architectural portfolio. Gulp. They were acquainted with my personal fine art work, and I had the nerve to assume that this would be good enough to land me the job. Despite the lack of an architectural portfolio, I have a strong visual aesthetic and a love for great architectural photography, so there was no doubt in my mind that I could deliver what they needed. So when they asked for my architectural portfolio, I offered the unspeakable: they would only have to pay me if they were happy with the work I produced. They accepted, and in a long one-day shoot, I produced and delivered more than double the number of images they had requested. I hired my good friend, Rob, as my lighting expert and assistant, and we enjoyed a challenging and invigorating day at two of their stores. The T-Mobile team was very happy with my work, and I was paid in record time. I couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.

The photographer’s moral to this story? Don’t undersell yourself. Deliver more than expected. Be creative with your negotiations. Don’t be afraid to hang yourself out there and take risks. Be amazing with your customer service. Be flawlessly professional.

Note: Only the left and center photographs are mine in the attached T-Mobile advertisement .

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

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Photography Podcasts

TransitionI do a lot of driving each year. Shortly after receiving an iPod, I found out about these wonderful things called podcasts. Photography-based podcasts for me have now largely replaced music while traveling, especially when I am traveling on photography business. These podcasts help to inspire, inform, and place me in a photographic frame of mind, ready to start seeing and photographing when I step out of the car. What follows is a short listing of my favorite photography-based podcasts. They’re intelligent, inspiring, and often uplifting. Give them a try:

History of Photography, by Jeff Curto. These are recorded from Jeff’s class lectures and should be considered required listening. You cannot stand on the shoulders of giants if you don’t know from where they came.

Camera Position, by Jeff Curto. NOT Jeff’s class lectures, but rather his own personal musings on a wide variety of important photography topics.

LensWork – Photography and the Creative Process. If you know the publication LensWork and Brooks Jensen’s writing, you can expect more of the same intelligent discussion and thoughts from his podcast. One of my favorites.

Thought on Photography, with Paul Giguere. Paul creates a great podcast, with excellent interviews, thoughtful questions, and intelligent insight.

The Candid Frame, by Ibarionex Perello. Ibarionex has smooth voice and is an engaging interviewer.

You’ll notice that absent from my list are any gear- or technique-based podcasts. The reason for this is simple: they’re not very interesting to me and they won’t make me a better photographer. With limited available time for podcasts, I choose to listen to those that inspire and inform me, and ultimately those that make me want to keep coming back for more.

What other good and creative podcasts can you recommend?

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

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Only the Best Will Do

A couple of days ago I launched a new website for my custom printer/paper profiling business, Great Printer Profiles.com. In doing so, it occurred to me how many photographers still use “canned” printer/paper profiles provided by paper manufacturers free of charge. Some who use canned profiles don’t even have a calibrated display. Sure, canned profiles and an uncalibrated display won’t stop you from getting decent-looking prints out of your printer. But if you think you’re putting only your best work out there, only a custom profile built for YOUR paper and YOUR printer will do and you need to have a calibrated display and an entirely color-managed process. Now, this is starting off sounding like I’m pitching you my custom profile or other services, but wait – there’s more :)

I follow a number of online photography forums – some technical, some creative – but what consistently strikes through many of the forums is the number of ways in which photographers try to cut corners, hasten their process, or use inferior materials; mostly to save money somewhere along the way. I see many recommendations for low cost/poor quality mouldings and frames; recommendations for low-cost inkjet papers; low-cost non-archival framing materials; photographers who leave large format for digital due to the cost of film; etcetera. I like savings as much as the next guy, but if you’re promoting yourself as the best in your class and market yourself as a “fine art photographer” – I’m sorry, only the best will do.

Consumers and buyers are a savvy lot. They can easily tell good from inferior work, especially when the work is available for viewing side-by-side, and unless your market is high-volume low-dollar, your buyers and collectors expect better and more. When the “competition” amongst photographers for buyers and clients is at an all-time high, only your BEST can separate you from the herd.

Want to be professional and wow people? Want to charge and get more for your work? Don’t show or market anything less than your best photographs. Don’t cut corners. Don’t use canned profiles, cheap inkjet paper, cheap frames, and non-archival materials. When cost and convenience trump your quality, it’s your art that suffers for it. Make everything you do better than the way every other photographer does it. Only your very best will do.

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

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How-to Video: Daylight Black & White Sheet Film (4×5″) Development

In this lengthy but highly detailed and informative video, Michael explains how to develop your own large format black and white sheet film at home *without* needing a darkroom! This is an entirely ‘daylight’ process requiring only a few specialized pieces of equipment and patience. So grab a pen, a notepad, and beverage of your choice, and get ready to take notes!

Enjoy! I hope you find it helpful.

SPECIAL THANKS TO: My good friend Robert Myers, who went to great lengths to help me complete this video and get it online.

And also SPECIAL THANKS TO: the great photographer and print maker Per Volquartz who encouraged and helped me get started with this process some years back. And finally, THANKS to my friend Scott Schroeder who conceived and designed the brilliant, inexpensive, and portable “drying cabinet” first seen at 40:20 in the video.

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website

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“In order to be a good photographer…”

“…you need to work more on your emotions than you do on your technique.”

Listen closely to the amazing photographic artist, Paul Caponigro:

“I dont want to repeat the formula over and over again. I want to be free enough to see every day with fresh eyes.” I just love this quote!

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website

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Metaphorical Landscapes

You decide!

You decide!

Strong landscape and nature photographs go well beyond mere documentation and representation of place. A strong photograph needn’t represent any realities or truths; it just needs to captivate its viewers and engage their senses and sensibilities. “Scenic” photographs are easy to look at and digest (and unfortunately often momentary), but photographs infused with deeper meaning can command a viewers attention for minutes, hours, and days.

Photography as metaphor (symbols, ideas) tends to be the province of “other” genres (contemporary photography; abstraction; etc.) but is rarely seen in landscape and nature photography. The places we explore and photograph are as rich with metaphorical possibilities as any other place, yet many landscape photographers work only in the literal and representational. Why?

I prefer photographing the unusual, the uncommon, and that which causes me to stop whatever I am doing. Take the attached photo, for instance; one from my Desert Palm Oasis series. It’s just two wild palm tree skirts, but let your mind wander a little. Now what do you see?

Here’s a few more examples of metaphor from my Desert collection:
The American Dream
Water Apparitions
The Bleeding Wall
Mojave Mothership (I did not actually have an alien encounter to get this photograph)

Eschew the representational and seek the personal. Make your photographs about you and the way that you see.

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

Abusing Camera Gear in the Field

Photographer Guy Tal photographs The Maze

Photographer Guy Tal photographs The Maze

Outdoor photographers often subject their gear to poor environmental conditions: rain, wind, sleet, snow, blowing sand, and blowdowns. Blowdowns? My camera(s) have been blown over by strong gusts of wind more times than I care to remember. But I’ve been fortunate. I’ve yet to have anything break (beyond use) in the process, and all my gear has continued to work just fine despite its injuries.

About one year ago, while at California’s Amboy Crater, one of my lensboards was not securely fastened to the front standard of my 4×5″ view camera (my hasty mistake), and thus my Schneider Apo-Symmar-L 120mm lens went crashing onto the basalt surrounding the crater. No glass was shattered, but the front element of the lens was pitted in two locations. No worries; I mounted the lens back onto the camera, and proceeded to make this photograph. Don’t let anyone tell you that a scratched and/or pitted front element signals the end of a lens, because it doesn’t.

Moments after making the above photograph of good friend, writer, and photographer Guy Tal, we were in the eye of a thunderstorm downburst. From out of nowhere, winds kicked ferociously through our camp, sending our personal effects in all different directions. Despite having roughly fifty pounds of ballast hanging from my tripod (large rocks stuffed in my backpack), my rig was no match for the swirling winds. Guy and I watched as my Chamonix 045-N view camera, mounted with my already abused Schneider Apo-Symmar-L 120 mm lens, went smashing violently into the ground. A testament to both the camera and lens quality, both survived almost entirely unscathed. No broken ground glass, no additional pits on the front element. One of the rear standard’s rails was slightly bent, but it was perfectly usable afterwards. We then spent the next ten minutes chasing down equipment and effects that had blown in all compass directions away from our camp.

As an outdoor photographer, I don’t believe in babying my gear. They’re just tools to help me create my art, and if the tools get damaged in the process of having great experiences and making great photographs, then I’m all for it! Besides, I’d have no stories to tell around the campfire. :)

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.

Juried Photo Competitions & Exhibitions

Joshua Trees - Mojave Desert, California

Joshua Trees - Mojave Desert, California

Make no mistake about it: most photographic competitions and exhibits exist to grow the business and bank account of the host/sponsor(s). With some exceptions, they rarely exist as altruistic enterprises for the advancement of photographer’s careers. You shouldn’t let this stop you from entering them, but you should carefully select only the competitions and exhibitions which might advance your career or current project. Small cash and gear prizes are nice, but competitions and exhibitions that increase your brand exposure and put your work in front of important persons (museum curators; book publishers; gallery owners…) and potential buyers should receive more of your attention.

Given the weak economy and slowing of art sales, I’ve seen an unusual explosion of new photo competitions and exhibitions over the last year or so; some worth entering, some only worth it to those collecting the fees. With so many artists clamoring and competing for exposure, resume growth, and sales, it’s a good time to be on the receiving end of those entry fees. Most of the exhibitions/competitions I enter have seen a similarly recent explosion in the number of entries as well as countries represented.

Let’s do some very basic math: assuming an entry fee of $25 for two images (which is somewhat average although on the low end of the fee scale) with 500 entrants (also on the low end of the scale for a prestigious competition), this equals a $12,500 take for the host, minus the small amount they’ll spend on administering the competition, advertising, and hosting an opening night reception. It’s a virtual no-brainer: if you’re a gallery that is not selling much art, selling exhibition space to eager entrants makes sense in difficult times.

As there are very few fee-less competitions (and those generally come with glaring caveats; see Rights Grabbing? below), I encourage photographers to carefully investigate juried exhibitions/competitions before submitting fees and shipping work.

I enter more than a handful each year; what is my criteria for entry?

    Prestige: how well known is the competition? Is the work of consistently high caliber? Is it a respected competition?;
    Longevity: has the competition been in existence for a while or is brand new? Brand new competitions are less likely to be helpful to your resume and career;
    Jurors: a well respected juror likely indicates a higher caliber competition, and being successfully juried by a well-respected juror can do wonders for your career and ego (not to mention a nice addition to your resume);
    Exposure: is the exhibition held in a respected space? Will your work be seen by many or few? Will the work be seen by buyers or by lookie-loo’s who enjoy the free wine and cheese? Is the exhibition held in Los Angeles or New York, or is it being held in Bismarck or Topeka? (no offense intended to the latter cities, but exhibition location matters);
    Fees: are the entry fees reasonable? Are the entry fees consistent with the caliber of the exhibition? Do the entry fees cover only ONE entry or multiple entries?;
    Rights Grabbing?: you’d be amazed at just how ballsy the Terms & Conditions can be for some competitions:

      By entering the Contest, each contestant grants to Sponsor an exclusive, royalty-free and irrevocable right and license to publish, print, edit or otherwise use the contestant’s submitted entry, in whole or in part, for any purpose and in any manner or media (including, without limitation, the Internet) throughout the world in perpetuity, and to license others to do so, all without limitation or further compensation.

    Please read the Terms & Conditions carefully, and if the sponsor/host plans to use your image forever without paying you, you may want to reconsider that competition. Photographer attorney Carolyn E. Wright has been covering this issue on her blog; you may want to start following it.

Here are a few of the competitions that I enter each year:

    B&W Magazine: hosts both a Single Image Contest and a Portfolio Contest. The Single Image Contest deadline is May 18, 2009;

    Art of Photography Show, San Diego: deadline May 22, 2009;

    International Photography Awards: deadline May 28, 2009;

    Black & White Spider Awards: deadline May 31, 2009;

    Prix de la Photographie, Paris (Px3): stay tuned for the 2010 competition (2009 Winners soon to be announced);

    The Center for Fine Art Photography: hosts a number of juried exhibitions each year.

If I am considering entering a competition that I have not previously, I research the juror (their background; their taste in photographs; and the type of photographs that they have previously awarded) and view winning entries from past years. If I am nature photographer working in exclusively in color, there is little chance that I’ll be accepted into a competition that typically awards b/w photography with an emphasis on social commentary. Save your money and time, and find the competitions and jurors that are a better fit for your work.

I hope that this brief article has been helpful to you. I’d love to hear your thoughts, and if I’ve left out anything (which I probably have), please let me hear it!

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.