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(Drawn on the iPad with Adobe Ideas.)

Here’s a collection of recent landscape sketches.

Drawing does many things for me. Drawing helps me find, refine, and expand ideas. Because of drawing I’m never at a loss for visual ideas – and consequently I become more discriminating about the ones I devote significant time to. Drawing helps me identify essential structures in existing images. After I draw them, (no longer hung up on the details) I understand them better and can better apply what I’ve learned to other images. Drawing helps sensitize me to fundamental compositional patterns. After I draw them, I recognize them more quickly.

For so many reasons drawing is an immense pleasure – and that’s why I keep doing it.

View more sketches from this series here.

See more drawings here.

Using Props

July 27, 2012 | Leave a Comment |

Most images can be compared to a stage. There’s an environment, a central character (often with a secondary character), an action performed, a prop (or two or three or four, maybe more), and light. Props are thought of as so secondary that we often overlook them and their contributions to great dramas. At a minimum, props make an environment richer and more interesting. Sometimes props do more, providing a catalyst for action or a stimulus for interaction.

Try using props in your images to stimulate many creative ideas.

When it comes to props, you’ve got options. Props can be single or multiple, repeated or varied, found or purchased either on site or offsite, old or new, manufactured, handmade, or natural … just keep going. The possibilities are seemingly limitless. Almost anything can be a prop.

Finding the limits of what makes a prop may be one of the most insightful things you’ll learn during your explorations.

There are some fine lines to explore when using props.

Props can make or break images. The right prop animates an image making it stronger. The wrong prop confuses and disrupts an image’s integrity. Appropriate really isn’t an appropriate word to use when selecting a prop. Sometimes an inappropriate or absurd addition is what adds meaningful ambiguity, tension, or complexity. Useful is better word to use. When choosing a prop, ask yourself. “Does it contribute and reinforce or does it distract and detract from a statement?”

The story and character props bring with them can add interest and energy to almost any image. Props can turn ordinary images into extraordinary one. Props can also clutter or overload picture perfect pictures. There is much to be gained by exploring the differences between placing props in already strong compositions and deliberately weakening the graphic impact of a composition, making it perfectly imperfect, to emphasize the storied quality a prop contributes.

Using props raises a lot of questions. In fact it may be the questions props raise that makes them so full of potential and possibilities.

Is an object a prop if you find it rather than select it? Props are usually deliberately chosen rather than incidentally found (except in existential dramas or French films) because rather than dumbly filling space they comment, whether directly or obliquely, on the place, person, or events at hand. Props are relevant.

Is it a prop if you don’t move it? There’s an interesting distinction to be drawn between photographing found objects that haven’t been moved and those that have. Whether the distance is long or short, if you transport an object to a new location it becomes a prop.

Does repetition of the same prop change its function or status as a prop? If a repeated prop is not placed in context carefully it can become the central subject. Used strategically repeated props can provide continuity between two or more images. Firearms are not the only smoking guns found in mysteries.

Is it a prop if it’s the central subject? An object photographed with a minimal background is a study. A found set of objects is a still life, though many still lifes are selected, moved, and constructed.

At what point does an object become a prop? It’s useful to remember that, rather than stealing the show, props prop something else up. Props are supporting actors in a larger drama. Props are used for accent, counterpoint, and interaction but they are rarely the central focus, at least not the sole focus. Admittedly, the line drawn between a prop (a secondary element) and a subject (a primary element) can be very fine, at time almost indistinguishable.

There may be no definitive conclusions to these questions, save the images you make.

What is undeniable is that each move you make has consequences,

You’ll learn a lot by looking at how other people use props in their images. Here are a few examples of great uses of props in photography.

Joyce Tenneson often asks the subjects she makes portraits of to hold objects that contribute something elusively poetic to the picture.

Horst Wackerbarth has made a career of transporting a red couch around the world and photographing it in all manner of locations.

Sean Duggan’s series Artifacts Of An Uncertain Origin, places man-made objects in an unlikely way into natural scenes as if by magic.

Albert Lamorisse’s  movie The Red Balloon, which was later adapted as a book of stills, takes its title from a prop that becomes more than a prop or a central character in the drama.

Keep looking for other good examples and you’ll find there’s more to learn everyday.

With just a little more thought, you can go even further. Physicist Richard Feynman championed the thought experiment. Just imagine what you can do with props.

If William Shakespeare is right and “all the world’s a stage … “ then how you accessorize your images, and perhaps even your life, with props, will speak volumes.

Learn more in my digital photography workshops.

Here’s a selection of my iPhone experiments with props.

Read more on iPhone photography here.

 

I love to draw. I began drawing before I could speak. I’ve never stopped. It took me decades to learn to draw the way I wanted to. I spend less time drawing than I used to, now I rarely draw to produce finished results, but hardly a day goes by when I don’t draw, to record or refine ideas.

Drawing is a way to understanding. There’s a difference between knowing things mechanically (with a camera) in 1/125th of a second and knowing it manually (with a pencil, pen, or brush) over the space of hours or even days. Both ways can inform one another.

People often ask me, “Do you draw before, during, or after I photograph?” I respond, “Yes.” There are different benefits to drawing at every stage in the process of creation.

I sometimes draw before arriving at a location to structure my visual explorations. I sometimes draw while on site, to record ideas that cannot be photographed. I sometimes draw after visiting a location, from unfinished photographs made there, to identify the many ways they can be combined with other photographs. I sometimes draw on finished photographs to identify patterns of thinking and ways to develop them further.

There are many reasons to draw and many ways of drawing.

I take the definition of photo-graph literally – light-drawing. For me photography is one more way to draw.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Recently, during an African safari, I spent several days photographing animals. We saw all of the big five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, cape buffalo) and many other animals in one day. It was the first time I made a concerted effort to make wildlife photographs, which was excellent practice. I gained an increased appreciation for how moments of peak action (or lack thereof) can make or break some photographs. I made many competent photographs that entertained my family at home, which I have no intention of using professionally.

In between these sessions, I spent a few hours photographing the skulls of animals displayed in the camp. Initially, I photographed very freely, exploring many ways of photographing them. As I reviewed the images, I learned from both the successes and the failures, gradually refining my the point of view of the collection. I appreciate the images that go beyond direct representation and become suggestive of something more through abstraction and metaphor. Ultimately, these images, which I consider sketches, will lead to final results, which will result in professional products.

Unexpectedly, I found that these sessions helped me develop my thinking on how to incorporate the process of sketching, both with words, drawings and photographs, into the development and presentation of future professional work. In the right contexts, I might even publish, display or sell select sketches.

This session also helped me explore longstanding personal themes within my life and work. These images expand my understanding of the power of photography to transform our perceptions of a subject through close observation. They highlight for me the limitations of vision (and photography) to see beneath or beyond surfaces. They confirm how I frequently try to suggest the often unseen foundations of the things I photograph. They remind me of how much I love to draw bones, especially the human skeleton. They reinforce my longstanding desire to create sculptures, many influenced by these forms. They resurface my artistic influences; in particular Georgia O’Keefe and Henry Moore. I’m sure there are other valuable resources I can mine from this experience, if I give both the process and these results further thought.

Explorations often have many unintended consequences; often these become the discoveries we’re looking for when we engage in experiments. You’ll learn more from simply observing your creative process, without judgment, than from anything else. Awareness is everything. What makes a process of experimentation even more successful, richer and more relevant is subsequently reviewing our results and continually refining our lines of inquiry.

How could experimentation help you reveal, connect with and develop your influences?

What experiments would be most helpful to you?

These images were made in Mala Mala, South Africa during my recent South Africa Photo Safari (sponsored by NIK).

Apps used were PicGrunger and Snapseed.

See more images and find more posts on The Huffington Post.


During my recent South Africa Photo Safari (sponsored by NIK) in Mala Mala, South Africa, I spent several days photographing African wildlife. We saw all of the big five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, cape buffalo) and many other animals. It was the first time I made a concerted effort to make finished wildlife photographs. I gained an increased appreciation for how moments of peak action (or lack thereof) can make or break some photographs. I made many competent photographs, but only one that I felt began to have an inspired quality. I suspected I would have no intention of using these kinds of images professionally – and confirmed this. But, these images rekindled an old flame.

Making these images reminded me of the many hours I spent drawing animals. I quickly discovered that for what I wanted to depict, portraits weren’t enough, interaction and context were necessary. I was interested in how people, of many eras and cultures, react psychologically to animals and to the archetypal ideas of animals we share. One of my favorite essays is about an animal – the snake. Psychologist James Hillman’s A Snake Is Not A Symbol (from the book Dream Animals.) has an enormous amount to offer about how we respond to images of animals. He suggests we reanimate images, especially those we encounter in dreams, through an extended inner dialog with them.

Days later, after making these images, during which my guide repeatedly warned me about the potential for finding hidden snakes, I had a dream about a snake, which was very important to me personally. For me, it was one more in a long line of dreams about snakes. It’s fascinating to see how inner material resurfaces during the creative process and what we can do to stimulate and work with this process.

What images could you make to help you reconnect with and develop important material in your inner life?

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I often like to use props to make photographs. One of my favorite props to use is images. Photographing other images, in many cases, photographing other photographs, adds layers of complexity and offers many poetic opportunities. Images ask you to look and to look in certain ways. Two images ask you to look and look again and to look in multiple ways. I find this extremely stimulating. Making images with other images in them can be a fantastic creative wellspring.

Here’s a selection of images with postcards in them that I made during my 2011 Iceland workshop.

Find out about my 2012 Iceland digital photography workshop here.

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