Three Inspiring Books for Photographers

Lightroom. Photoshop CS5. Digital Photography. HDR. Tone-mapping. HD-DSLR. Killer Tips and Techniques….You’ve probably noticed that when it comes to instructional photography books, the market is heavily biased towards those that teach techniques and tips for crafting technically excellent images. Terribly under-represented are those books which inspire and inform the “thinking” end of crafting photographs. You might read every available technical book and subsequently be able to create technically exacting photographs, but chances are that if there’s little thought process behind your photographs, they might very well be lacking emotive qualities and meaning. Despite what the photo-book marketplace proffers, flawless execution is not the end-all be-all of photography; it is but one mere component to crafting compelling and engaging images.

I would like to herein bring your attention to three excellent inspirational photography books. While only one is technically “new” to the market, all are timeless resources which should aid in your pursuit of creating thoughtful images; images that inform, enlighten, and create a sense of wonder.

The Practice of Contemplative Photography

The Practice of Contemplative Photography: Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes.

“It is not what you shoot but how you shoot it. If you rely on direct perception and nonconceptual intelligence, it will be contemplative photography. On the other hand, if you shoot color or texture from a conceptual perspective, it won’t be contemplative photography at all.”

My workshop client, Nikko, is the President of Shambhala Publications, and was kind enough to send me this wonderful book by Andy Karr and Michael Wood. I became familiar with Wood’s work a few yeas back when I stumbled upon the Miksang Institute website. Miksang, or Contemplative Photography, is “concerned with uncovering the truth of pure perception. We see something vivid and penetrating, and in that moment we can express our perception without making anything up—nothing added, nothing missing. Totally honest about what we see—straight shooting.” It’s a fascinating and liberating concept, but one that will be most challenging to execute for those who visualize all or most of their photographs before actually releasing the shutter. Contemplative Photography is based on “Flashes of Perception“. These are defined as visual glimpses of something/anything that can cause an unexpected break in the flow of our thoughts or activities; our perception is immediately and quickly aimed at other than what we were just doing/seeing. The resulting photographs are unfettered by conceptual ideas and often reflect simple and uncontrived views of form, color, space, and energy. The goal of Contemplative Photography is to not interrupt these flashes of perception with our own preconceptions and compositional ideas of what the photograph should look like. This is Zen Photography, if you will – clear seeing in the present. Buy this book and liberate your mind.

Exposures - Guy Tal

Exposures: Views from Both Sides of the Camera – Guy Tal.

“…seeing is about creating meaning from a continuous stream of visual information, where any given instance is meaningless. Conversely, photography is about creating meaning from one fleeting instance, where all events preceding and following it are irrelevant.

I should first state that Guy and I have been good friends for a number of years. We’ve taught together, shot together, and have photo-philosophized
more times than I can recall. Even if we weren’t friends, I’d rank Guy at the top of current inspirational photographer/writers. Guy’s ebooks have sold well and garnered strong reviews, yet I suspect that Exposures has been largely overlooked due to its cover price (an unfortunate and necessary side-effect of Publishing On Demand). This book includes scores of Guy’s inspirational photographs, and fifteen insightful essays on Wilderness; intimate landscape photography; creativity; art; and the stories behind the creation of specific images and the experiences that led up to them. Guy’s writing style excites my imagination and simply makes me want to be out there exploring and shooting. The only other writers who impact me this way do not even write about photography! His words are powerful, precise, and articulate and should motivate anyone to better their art. Is it an inexpensive book? It is, in fact, the most expensive of the three, but how do you dollar-value this kind of inspiration?

Landscape Within - David Ward

Landscape Within: Insight and Inspirations for Photographers – David Ward

This book was first published in 2004. As David Ward is one of those “across the pond” UK landscape photographers, many here in the States are unfamiliar with his work and this book. This book is broken down into six distinct sections and includes what many books in this genre overlook: the history of photography as art, and a look at its pioneers and their practices and achievements. It is difficult to stand on the shoulders of giants if you don’t know who are the giants and are not aware of the paths they’ve paved for us. Like Tal, Ward is a convincing and powerful writer on creativity and philosophy, and similar to Tal’s book, I appreciate the complete absence of mind-numbing technical minutiae. As with Tal’s Exposures, this is a good book to sit down with in a big easy chair and wrap your mind around its words and images.

Bored of your work? Creativity at a standstill? Photographer’s block? Refresh your philosophies and renew your passion with these outstanding publications. Have you already read them? Please feel free to share your comments here.

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

Follow your muse and be willing to fail

If you are not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” Sir Ken Robinson

Thirty-six satisfactory exposures on a roll means a photographer is not trying anything new.” Freeman Patterson

Casa de Tilapia

The idea behind this article originated after watching a video of Sir Ken Robinson speaking at a 2006 TED conference on why schools kill creativity. Before I go any further, let me first recommend that you watch this 19:29 length video in its entirety. Sir Ken is a brilliant thinker and an engaging and humorous speaker, and you’ll hopefully be as moved by his entire commentary as I was.

The crux of my commentary herein is summarized by Sir Ken five minutes into the video: “If you are not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” How exactly does this relate to the photographer/artist? Reflecting on my own history and career, if I had heeded all the advice offered to me, and if I had obeyed all the discouragement and dissuading thrown my way, I might never have had the courage to take my work the places it has gone. I would have never explored and proceeded forth with my own black and white photography; I was told that you can’t sell it and there’s not a big enough market for it. I also would have never explored and experimented with selective- and soft-focus in traditional landscape photography. There was no evidence that I could succeed with either, but I’m stubborn, I bore easily, and I listen to me first.

I’ve begun a new project (photographs coming soon) that is a bit different in concept than anything I’ve done previously, and I’ve already had good friends attempt to invalidate my new work even though I’m excited by it. When you’re trying to grow your work and your style – which is imperative for any artist who doesn’t want to stagnate – you must ignore your naysayers and follow your instincts; they are what drive your art. It is better to have tried and failed then to have listened to those detractors who would have discouraged your explorations in the first place.

I offer here a few suggestions for growing your own art. I didn’t just randomly pull these ideas out of a hat; these are some of the exact steps I took in order to get where I am today. If you’re tired of reproducing your own photographs and tired of your formulaic way of working (shooting fish in a barrel), consider some of these style- and consciousness-altering methods:

    * Be willing to return from a shoot completely empty-handed;
    * Be willing to create your own photographic brand even if you know that not everyone will like it;
    * Recognize that not everyone will like all of your work all of the time; you’re no different than any other artist in this regard;
    * You can never apologize for the work you create, even when someone expresses their direct dislike for it. It is, after all, your work;
    * You must be willing to forgo the obvious and commonplace photographs in order to find your own photographic voice;
    * You must be willing to let go of all your preconceived notions about what your photographs should or must look like. They don’t have to be sharply focused or highly detailed (great work is being done with iPhone’s!); they don’t have to contain beauty or anything beautiful; and they don’t have to provide a documentary representation of the location in which you are shooting;
    * If you feel like the photograph you’re about to make might be derivative, it probably is;
    * Your photographs must represent you and your photographic voice in a compelling and engaging manner;
    * Your art is a journey, never a destination. You’ll never know your potential until you allow it to come forth;
    * Be willing to fail. Not every experiment is successful, yet there’s something to be learned from every experiment.

Finally, make lots and lots of photographs, for exploration is the key to discovery.

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

Landscape Mastery on Fine Art Photography Weekly

Fine Art Photography Weekly

Fine Art Photography Weekly

As mentioned on my January 19 blog post, I was invited on January 18 to join the incredible nature/landscape photographer Darwin Wiggett and host Peter Urban LIVE on SmibsTV Fine Art Photography Weekly. Although it’s been nearly two months since our broadcast, our episode is now in the SmibsTV archives and can be watched anytime at your leisure. I had a great time walking with Peter and Darwin, and hope to join Fine Art Photography Weekly for another future broadcast. Download our episode (#26) here. Enjoy!

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

Camera-less Seeing and the Art of Cropping

The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera“. Dorothea Lange

1:1 crop from 1:1.25 original

I don’t need an Xpan to make panoramics, and I don’t need a 501CM to make squares. For me the real beauty of using a large format view camera is that the image is conceived in my mind and not restrained by film size; by viewfinder shape or coverage; or by the format’s aspect ratio. Unlike medium and small format cameras (including D-SLR’s), it is nearly impossible to hoist a view camera to the eye to frame an image. Further, because the large format image is rendered upside down and laterally reversed on the ground glass (the image is as ones eyes perceive it before the complex brain corrects it), the ground glass view is difficult to reconcile for all but the most experienced users. This very nature of the format requires the photographer to learn how to see and frame exclusive of the viewfinder. For some this is a serious challenge and shortcoming of the format; for others, like myself, it is pure liberation. My photographs are bound only by the limits of my imagination and never by any constraints imposed upon me by a camera or tradition.

approximate 1:1.5 crop from 1:1.25 original

During any given week, I view a great number of photographs that I believe would be strengthened by a simple crop. Although most photographers shoot with the 1:1.5 aspect ratio of D-SLR’s, this does not mean that one is required to visualize or process/print the full 1:1.5 frame. Even more, too many photographers are caught up with the issue of pre-cut mats being available only in this size and pre-made frames being available only in that size – stop it! Aren’t your photographs considerably more important than their finishing? If your photograph is stronger by cropping it square, crop it square! It may cost more to finish the print by doing so, but aren’t your photographs worth it?

approximate 1:1.75 crop from 1:1.25 original

You’ll find in this article three of my photographs. All originated from 1:1.25 negatives (or 4×5), but take note that none were finished with that aspect ratio. All three images and their framing were visualized without a viewfinder, and I deliberately framed the three important edges and in post-production cropped away the remaining unwanted edge (regardless of the final print’s inability to fit off-the-shelf mats or frames).

If you’re not already seeing and framing your images without the assistance of your camera, here’s a challenge for you: Next time you think you’ve got a photograph, resist the immediate urge to set up and start firing. Consider this pre-exposure editing. Set your camera off to the side and become one with your subject. Study it carefully and quietly, and determine your framing and edges before grabbing your camera. Take as much time as you need; rarely are great photographs made in haste. Once you’ve gotten this figured out, then get out your camera and capture the image that you’ve already created in your mind (and crop at will).

Free your mind and your camera will follow.

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

Review: Guy Tal’s Creative Landscape Photography eBook

Guy Tal is a longtime friend and co-leader of our infrequent joint workshops (disclaimer made!). He’s also a gifted photographer and writer, and his internationally-acclaimed images and articles have been featured in such publications as Outdoor Photographer Magazine (US), PhotoLife (Canada), Digital Photographer (UK), as well as his own beautiful coffee table book, Exposures. In the current genre of landscape photography writing, I place Guy’s writing at the very top. I’ll be honest; most of what gets passed off as the best publications of our medium do little more than regurgitate what has already been regurgitated ad nauseam. Most of them are obsessively focused on gear and gear-based techniques, with few ever tackling more spiritual (if you will) and emotional approaches to landscape photography.

Designed as a companion to Guy’s Creative Landscape Photography workshop, this process-based instructional text is aimed at intermediate and advanced photographers who want to unlock their creative potential and evolve their craft. There’s also plenty of gear-based content for those who are still struggling with fundamentals. The book is well organized and features sections on the creative process; concept; visualization; composition; capture; processing; and presentation. It’s also filled with a number of Guy’s stunning images and accompanying text that explains his thought process and motives behind these particular photographs (no useless EXIF and aperture/shutter speed info!). There are also numerous exercises intended to aid in the evolution of your imagery (yes, “homework”!).

Taken a step further, creative photography is about the expression of subjective ideas, emotions, and sensibilities through the unique beauty of natural elements and using the medium of photography. A creative photograph is the result of venturing beyond the mere act of recording scenes and objects with a camera. Rather than thinking about what you want your viewers to see when looking at your work, think instead about how you want them to feel.

The eBook contains a whopping 86 pages, and at only $9.95, it may very well be one of the best valued eBooks I’ve seen. And at only $9.95, you can’t afford not having this eBook in your collection. Get ready to move to your photography to the next level…

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

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


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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