Get the Shot (or not)

MercurialI am rather particular about semantics and the manner in which I speak about my own art. You will never hear me define my photographs as “shots”, nor will you will ever hear me proudly declare how “I got the shot” while expressing the ideas or mechanics behind a photograph. Quite contrarily, a professional photographer known for his bold (and refuted) sales claims seems to really enjoy using both. A new generation of landscape/nature photographers has fallen under his influence and they also seem to love using these terms of conquest. The contemplative, perceptual, passive act of moving deliberately and slowly through a landscape in search of creation seems to have been superseded by epic-everything, moving quickly and far (extra points for defying death), and getting “the shot”. I have heard a number of stories from workshop students relating how they covered in previous workshops thousands of tiring miles in one week chasing epic weather and light over epic locations. My own workshops and personal photographic style run completely counter: One location, slow movement, connecting with the land, and a big emphasis on perception and vision. In other words, photographs exist everywhere and can be made at any time and under any conditions. You and your ability to see are your only limitations.

The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.” — Ernst Haas

A bigger issue with “the shot” is the implication that there is only one photograph to be made from any particular location (I have been asked by students and tour clients “where is the shot?”). By limiting yourself only to your preconceived ideas (or mine) and/or photographing what has already been photographed, you cheat yourself out of a world rife with images.

Make art, photographs, or images. War against the shot.

I’ll be presenting and teaching at the 12th Annual Moab Photo Symposium, May 1-3, 2015. Register now for this wonderful experience while seats last. 

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website. You can also find Michael on TwitterFacebook, and Google+.

Advertisement

Desert Portraits

Riz Orkestra

Riz Orkestra

I had great fun on Monday making portraits for two longtime creative friends. D.R. Lunsford (Douglas) will soon publish his first collection of short stories featuring one of my portraits on the cover (I’m looking forward to reading it, Doug!). ‘Riz Orkestra is an amazing self-described “one-man-folk-roots-blues-band” who will hopefully soon be releasing another CD (we listened to fresh takes while driving) and I hope he’ll consider using my portrait of him. This article describes Riz as a musical “savant” – check him jamming on the Dobro, beautifully soloing on a Steinway, tearing it up on the vibraphone, and grooving on the blues slide guitar – Riz has immense talent. I’ve known him for

D.R. Lunsford

D.R. Lunsford

more than 20 years and he is one of the most gifted musicians (and people) I’ve listened to and with whom I have had the opportunity to jam with, record with, and photograph. Riz is The Master.

Doug’s portrait was made mid-day at Thousand Palms Oasis in Coachella Valley and Riz’s was made in Joshua Tree National Park near dusk. I used a single strobe, light stand, and umbrella for both. Enjoy, and please keep an eye out for D.R.’s book and Riz’s CD.

You are visiting the blog of fine art landscape photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website. You can also find Michael on FacebookGoogle+, and  Twitter.

New Collection: Tranquil Waters

I am happy to announce the release of my new collection of work: Tranquil Waters. Featuring horizon-less waterscapes filled with color, these images evoke peace and tranquility and were made as personal meditations on moments in time. Water movement is the hallmark of this series. Wind played a significant part in most, and I played an important role in several: I disturbed the water surface. In addition to water movement, the camera was panned during some of the images and a handful were made from moving watercraft. This body of work has involved lots of fun and experimentation to achieve the look I was after. As with most of my work, this series will never officially conclude and will continue to grow in number over the coming years. Enjoy!

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. Please visit his official website  for more information.

On Assignment: Technology in Desert Photography

Even though I enjoy and greatly appreciate technology, a number of friends and others over the years have often referred to me as a Luddite. I resisted the change from analog to digital audio (I bought into CD’s years after everyone else and still prefer the warmth and quality of good analog audio); I resisted the change from analog to digital photography (I still prefer film and a view camera); and I resisted iPhones until their 3rd version, when owning one became a very obvious way to increase my productivity on many fronts (Status Updates from the field are not relevant to productivity ;)). The iPhone and other bits of technology became very relevant and important recently when about three weeks ago I went on assignment into the California Desert for The Wilderness Society (TWS).

Unless you live in the western United States, you’re likely unaware that the U.S. Department of Energy has fast-tracked twenty-four solar energy development projects on desert public lands throughout six southwestern states. Here in California, four Solar Energy Zones (SEZ) have been proposed, with the majority of the acreage occupying pristine California desert landscapes. It goes without saying that these are controversial and contentious proposals, and the conservation community has recommended that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) not designate two of the proposed solar zones in California (Pisgah and Iron Mountain) because of conflicts with wildlife habitat and nearby National Parks. Accordingly, TWS hired me to illustrate the diverse and undisturbed plant communities, wildlife habitat, and overall beauty found in these proposed SEZ’s. Because these SEZ’s are only in the proposal stage, no ground has been broken; there are no boundary lines or stakes on the ground; and no fences or other guides to indicate the exact boundaries of these huge proposed SEZ’s (the proposed Pisgah SEZ is 23,950 acres; the proposed Iron Mountain SEZ is 106,522 acres). So how does a photographer determine where to stand and point the camera when working with such a large and remote “job-site”?

I used all of the following technologies to research, scout, and photograph for this assignment: Google Earth (using provided KMZ files to indicate the SEZ’s); Ephemeris (I use an old desktop application; many prefer The Photographer’s Ephemeris); satellite images with SEZ overlays (provided by the U.S. D.O.E.); my iPhone; the iPhone compass app; the SunSeeker iPhone app; a paper San Bernardino County Map (provided by Automobile Club of Southern California; they make the best county maps and show roads that other maps do not); the WWW for various research and imagery while in the field; and finally, good old visual reckoning while in the field (does not break; does not require signal; requires no batteries). There is some overlap in these tools and I could have done away with one or two, but I used what was fastest and most convenient to me.

I had a one-week deadline. I did my research the afternoon and evening I received the assignment, and left the very next morning. In three days in the field, I covered nearly 600 miles of driving, a number of miles of hiking, and netted thirty-nine photographs for The Wilderness Society’s campaign. They’re soon to publish an extensive Solar Energy report which will use my photographs to hopefully to eliminate the Pisgah and Iron Mountain SEZ proposals.

I spent three days wandering alone these vast and primordial Mojave Desert landscapes. I was often overcome with grief and sadness when I could see before me the acreage that DOE proposes for these SEZ’s. These are huge and undisturbed landscapes where even during the most bearable season (Oct-Mar) you are more likely to see coyote, tortoise, or raven than a human.

No DOE employee nor Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has ever had encounters with tortoise, bighorn sheep, and coyote like I have. No DOE employee nor Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has ever scaled the Mojave Desert’s steep mountains to watch the new sun throw its blaze across these majestic and untarnished landscapes. And No DOE employee nor Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has ever had a physical or emotional investment in this desert or in California’s heritage. What right have they to designate these zones as wastelands fit only for thousands of square acres of solar panels?

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

Photo: Salvation: The Joshua Tree

Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia); Mojave National Preserve.

I’ve lived within a short drive of Joshua trees my entire life. Only a handful of years ago did I begin to consider these “trees” (it is a Yucca plant, not a tree) as something more than ordinary blips on the landscape – they are very common throughout the Mojave desert. I began to observe tourists posing with beautiful specimens, and realized that all along I had been taking for granted the remarkable Joshua tree. I’d spent years walking among them and recreating and photographing in their shadows, yet I had rarely trained my camera on the Joshua tree itself. They all looked ordinary and the same. And then one day my eyes were suddenly opened to their incredible uniqueness and individuality, and I began to seek out extraordinary specimens to photograph.

It’s quite difficult to find unique qualities in individual pines and aspens, for example; they all look very similar, and the unique aesthetic qualities each tree might possess are primarily hidden by their sameness. Quite the contrary with Joshua trees. Take a walk in any Joshua tree woodland and you will immediately observe that almost no two trees are alike. My wandering imagination got the better of me, and I began to see these specimens as individuals like humans, and sought to capture them in a portrait-like fashion. The Joshua Tree series was born.

Technical details: The Joshua Tree photographs are made with a 4×5″ view camera and black and white sheet film. Almost all the photographs have been made with a century-old Wollensak Verito lens which lends a soft-focus pictorial quality to the photographs. Why this approach over a modern lens and complete sharpness throughout? I like to involve and engage viewers. Sharp and detailed photographs don’t often leave much room for the imagination; there are no spaces to fill, no questions to ask, no thoughts to ponder. Easy ingestion and easy abandon, if you will, with one quick sweep of the eyes. I find that combining a mixture of sharp and soft elements side-by-side keeps my eyes and mind engaged; collectors and fans of these photographs seem to agree. I hope that you’ll enjoy them, too.

Purchase a print of this photograph for as little as $39…

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

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.

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.

Landscape Mastery on Fine Art Photography Weekly

Yesterday afternoon, the talented and renowned Canadian landscape photographer Darwin Wiggett and I appeared together LIVE on Fine Art Photography Weekly. I can’t fault them for our episode’s name (Landscape Mastery), but I’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea that one can “master” anything. “Mastering” your camera should take only a few hours to a few days. But, mastering PHOTOGRAPHY? My contention has always been that there’s little reason or inspiration to continue with something that one has “mastered”. Would Picasso say that he mastered painting? Would Miles Davis say that he had mastered his horn? If you master something, wouldn’t it be time to move on to mastery of the next thing? I like the idea that I’ll forever be learning how to see and photograph; I’d consider myself creatively dead otherwise.

Some of my readers may not be aware of Darwin or his work. Mr. Wiggett is a well-respected photography professional, having published eleven photo books; having produced a lifetime’s worth of incredible photographs; and providing inspiration and instruction to scores of photographers over the years. It was a real honor to appear on this program with him. Watch this pro do his thing; Darwin enters the scene at 1:50.

Yesterday’s program (Episode #26) should soon be archived and available on their website; I’ll update here when it does become available. In the meantime, you might want to watch some of the episodes that preceded ours. You’ll find twenty-three videos full of inspiring and informative ideas and discussions.

I’d like to offer my great THANKS and appreciation to Peter and Christy Urban for inviting me on their program!

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

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.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine