Workshop Announcement: Visionary Death Valley. February 16 – 21, 2012

I am happy to announce my next workshop: Visionary Death Valley, February 16 – 21, 2012.

Death Valley National Park is a desert wonderland of immense scale, beauty and power. Its 3.3 million acres, the vast majority of which are roadless wilderness, encompass a staggering array of landscapes, unique geologic formations and colorful vistas. The largest National Park in the contiguous United States, Death Valley is both beautiful to behold and rich in history, mood and mystique. Its towering sand dunes, seasonally snow-capped mountains, warm springs and vast empty valleys offer endless opportunity for exploration and ample subject matter for the creative artist. There’s no place on Earth quite like it.

Internationally acclaimed photographer, author, and educator Guy Tal and I have carefully selected some of the park’s most unique locations for this workshop, and we’ll combine outstanding photography with inspirational, creative and technical discussion sessions. In addition to classes in the field, Guy and I will work individually with participants to address questions, assist with compositions, offer ideas, and share our knowledge. Discussions will include informative reviews and critique sessions of each participant’s images made during the workshop.

This workshop is sponsored by Chamonix View Cameras and Gura Gear, and all workshop participants are eligible for discounts on Chamonix view cameras and accessories and on Gura Gear camera bags.

Fore more information and registration, please click here.

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

Photographic Point of View

Anyone can do the craft. Only the individual has the unique personality to build a point of view. Al Weber

My good friend and extraordinary photographer and writer Guy Tal recently interviewed me on his blog. Mine is the second installment of interviews Guy is conducting with photographers he considers “creative and innovative” (he’ll also need to interview himself in a future installment). Guy’s questions are unlike the typical ones you’ll find in interviews with photographers; they’re thoughtful and in-depth, and I had to dig deep for my replies.

The most important question Guy asked pertained to my treatment of my images as “expressive art rather than purely a medium for capturing natural beauty“. Before I proceed any further, I’d like to have you reread the quote at the beginning of this entry. Indeed, anyone can do the craft – more so today than ever before. Even amateur photo hobbyists now own 16-18mp D-SLR’s purchased from Costco or Sam’s Club, and if they point them reasonably well, they, too, can produce “professional quality” photographs. But simply owning a high resolution D-SLR and Lightroom 3 makes you no more a photographic artist than me describing myself a writer for owning an expensive keyboard and a WordPress blog. No matter how technically stunning your work – and despite rationalizing that it’s “your unique take” – you can’t own your photographs when they are composed of common subjects and grand views captured similarly by others from the same viewpoints and perhaps with better gear and possibly even under better light. Alternative or derivative? Indeed, but unique it will not and cannot be. The trap of becoming involved in the landscape photographer’s “circuit” – whereby a number of photographers shuttle around North America photographing mature subjects during their peak seasons (hopefully with “epic” light) – is that you’re not likely creating images for yourself or for your audience. You’re instead likely involved in the photographer’s rat race of one-upmanship: “I can do it better”.

I’d like to share a secret: buyers of photographs don’t care about location-based photography (photo-stock excluded) nor do they care about how close you came to dying or how you lost a camera and lens while producing the photograph. Buyers buy because a) they are too moved by your photograph to not buy it b) they have a direct connection to the subject or particular elements within it. It doesn’t matter that you have the very finest Moulton Barn photo of the thousands that are out there (millions?), and it doesn’t matter if you’ve captured the most epic light ever over Coyote Buttes. If your audience has no connection to these places, you simply cannot sell them a print no matter how hard you try.

Instead of trying to separate yourself from the photographic herd only by way of technical excellence (which, by the way, does not matter to buyers), consider building a point of view to share with the world. You’ll first need to develop this, of course. Everyone is quite aware that nature and natural landscapes are beautiful, so sharing the beauty of nature and landscape is not sharing your point of view; it merely affirms what is already celebrated. Dig deep into your collection of photographs; find common threads through the work which you can claim as your photographic voice and yours alone; and continue to develop photographs and themes that reinforce your unique point of view. You do have one, and the world is interested in it (if this were not the case, every nature/landscape photographer post-Ansel Adams would be a complete failure).

I am far from being the first (and last) landscape photographer to shoot the places I do and using the tools that I do. I am not the first to photograph the Mojave Desert, Joshua trees, or the Sierra Nevada, but I am the first to present my point of view of these subjects and places. It is the only way I know how to work, and it is the only work that I believe is worth doing. I don’t need to run about North America photographing its most photographically mature subjects, and I have little reason to outdo other photographers. I work in my own arena. I care only about making photographs of subjects I love and can portray in a way that I can say is uniquely mine. When I do this most effectively, compelling photographs emerge. Epic light and icons be damned – I can even sell prints of busted vehicles.

Stop paying attention to what other photographers are doing. Photograph anything you want. Do it with your voice and your point of view. If you can do this with love and conviction, success will be yours.

PS: I am judging Guy Tal’s Ten Weeks of Creativity contest this week, and I want to see your unique point of view! Guy’s got great prizes lined up for each weekly winner – enter your photographs now.

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.

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.

Photographic Memories

Desert Rats

In the early days of photography, long before it came to be used for virtually every imaginable purpose, photography was largely used as a means of recording people and places. The world was largely “undiscovered” at the time (the western U.S. was still almost completely wild), and the camera was mostly used a matter of record-keeping (think of Eugene Atget’s thousands of determined studies of Paris or William Henry Jackson’s photographic revelations of the “new” American west). Despite the amazing number of uses for all sorts of imagery today, by and large, most of the billions of photographs snapped each year are still a means to record important places, people, and events in our lives. While I may call myself a fine art photographer, my motives behind my work are none too different than most point-n-shooters: I want to record subjects and moments that I want to remember. Photographs as memories – especially for the photographer – are incredibly powerful and can trigger deep and dormant thoughts and feelings.

Almost exactly one year ago today, I spent a week exploring and photographing The Maze District of Canyonlands National Park with two good friends, Guy Tal and Steve Cole. It was an amazing adventure, and not one that many will get to experience, and I shared it with two dear friends. I could have written journals about our adventures; I could daydream incessantly about the things we did and saw; but a quick look at the photographs instantly transports me back to that very special place and time. Only the photographer can have this deep-seated connection to his or her images, and it’s a pretty damn powerful feeling.

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

Rare Earth

Factory Butte and Henry Mountains photo, picture. Large format black and white photograph.I made this photograph before dawn in Utah’s Caineville Badlands (east of capitol Reef National Park) one October 2009 morning. That’s Factory Butte on the right and the Henry Mountains on the left. Nearby, my good friend Guy Tal was making his own photograph. Out of sight from each other and enveloped by silence, our minds quieted. And all was right in the world.

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

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.