Turning Point – Craig Brown discovers that ‘it’s not the camera’ but the photographer that makes images great!
I had an opportunity to work with a well known Nature & Landscape photographer in the U.S several years back and we visited Glacier National Park in Montana. This is an image of Mount Oberlin with bear grass in the foreground. Up to this time I had focused my energies on Weddings and Portraits and had not much in nature or landscape. What I had done was disappointing to me. It seemed that while I understood the technical side reasonably well, my compositions were not pleasing in any way. I was not “seeing” the image or “feeling” the image. In my mind all I had to do was find a beautiful scene and the camera would do the rest. Wrong! This photographer not only taught me the Rule of Thirds, but how important leading lines, side light, foregrounds and backgrounds were. He made me stop and take it in. I used to jump out, set up the camera and snap away. Now I check out a scene first and envision what it will look like once the camera has done its work. I think about crops and angles and all the different pieces of the scene and how they make it all come together. Another lesson learned a couple of years later was on one of Darwin’s workshops and how he tries to create the image in the camera rather than later in post processing. Since I took this image I have felt revitalized and almost reborn into the wonderful world of photography!
Reeds at Sunset I believe was a pivotal capture for me. My wife and I had stopped to visit friends in Blythe, California in November 2010. Blythe is on Arizona border close to Mexico. One evening a spectacular sunset materialized. Jet trails however, really limited my opportunities to make a decent image. So I decided to focus in on a group of reeds in a pond near the golf course and capture the colors as reflected in the water. I really liked the color that was represented in the reflection. I decided then to convert the image to black and white. I was fortunate to have it win an annual award at my local camera club. For me, the lesson learned was that narrowing the view to represent the feeling the moment in a very different.
I often wish I was a photographer who could specialize in a specific genre of photography and really focus my energy, however that simply is not the case. I photograph a bit of everything really… the truth is I love pretty much all photography! So, since I work in multiple genres of the craft, I thought I would submit two important turning points for me.
Before creating this image, I mostly mimicked photographs that had already been done. I was trying to understand the technical aspects of photography and basically copied the creativity of others before me. This image marks the first time that I knowingly stepped outside of the box and joined my own creativity with my newly learned technical skills. I zeroed in on this little scene, framed up the shot I wanted, made the camera do what I wanted, and was able to foresee how to bring two shots together in post-production to accomplish my vision. This shot was created by turning my polarizing filter to cut the reflection of the sky in one image, then allowing the reflection to show in the second image by rotating the filter the opposite way. The two where blended in post-production to allow the cracked ground to show under water at the bottom of the image and the sky, sun and trees to show in the rest of the image.
This recent image of Griz was a huge turning point in my portrait photography. Griz was the first stranger that I had approached out of the blue and asked if I could make their portrait. This was also my most successful attempt at creating light that conveyed a definite mood. This image was actually a little more complex than it looks, so it was quite satisfying when everything came together! I basically killed all the ambient light, added a backlight to give subtle separation and skipped it across the tree roots behind Griz. I then carefully positioned the main light so that it just caught the far eye and put a nice catch light in both eyes. I also had to use a three stop solid neutral density filter on my 50mm lens to allow me to use a large aperture of f2 (to blur the background) and stay within my flash sync speed.
The story:2004 – 5 were a tough couple of years in a lot of different ways. Because of some of what had been going down, I had a bunch of time on my hands and used it to get outdoors more than any time since childhood. I took the camera along and finally got focused on what I was doing with it.Christmas of 2005 was the turning point. I was in Banff, having seriously needed to get away from it all. Dawn of December 25 found me standing all by myself on the shoreline of frozen Lake Minnewanka, receiving a providential gift of light. 🙂 As I looked out over the dark emerald-coloured ice, daybreak lit up the clouds with a rich warm glow. I felt both energized and at peace, and I took some exposures that resulted in a photograph substantially as I actually meant to make it. Looking back, I later realized this was a defining moment for a couple of reasons.First, I finally had enough craft that I could capture, develop and present something that I felt did more than feebly hint at the wonderful world I had seen before me. All the hours I’d spent trying to sort out tools and techniques reached a point where the final results of the work clicked. I’ve progressed further in my craft since then, and know I could do a better job of the technical stuff now. But this image was the first significant example of what has come to be my preferred way of working… a combined field and digital creative process by which I’m making my photographs come out how I want them and see them in my head, rather than what previously felt like coming up short in a battle with my tools.Second, I experienced what has become an even more important purpose in photography for me — making something creative through a blend of seeing, experiencing, interpreting and expressing my view of the world. For all the fact that I’m still a gearhead and value what craftsmanship brings to the table, I’ve realized that the path of the artist is so much more challenging and fulfilling than just developing mechanical or technical skills. On December 25, 2005 I realized not only that I could pull together tools and techniques, but in fact I could pursue photography as a form of artistic work. I could do it, and I wanted to do it. Everything that has happened with my photography since then stems from that day.This will be a life-long pursuit, one that’s never fully realized, but is all the more exciting for that reason. So this image “Sunrise Over Deep Emerald Ice” is not my best or most important, because those photographs are yet to be made. But it was the first photograph — mile marker 0 — where I knew for sure I had set foot on a new path. I can’t wait to keep exploring it…
I’ve always been a big fan of the whole “elongated” near foreground, far away background kind of images. I can’t really say why, it’s just kind of what I liked right off the bat when I got into photography. I also seem to have developed a penchant for shooting images in a portrait orientation early on as well.I remember showing this image of Maligne Lake to my wife (then girlfriend) and excitedly proclaiming that, “this is what I want my images to look like!” Looking back on it now, I’m not entirely sure what I meant. Was it the light? The foreground? Perspective? Emotion? Was it all of that? None of that? I think that for me, everything really had kinda just come together and I was finally able to produce an image that conveyed what I was actually trying to convey.I think that this image kind of “set the course” so to speak, of the direction that my photography would basically take over the next few years.
Since I was a child, I got interested in Photography by seeing my uncle dealing with his cameras, lenses and filters but always had modest equipment and very modest understanding of Photography. The result was that my pictures were usually “take them, see them, forget about them!” because of their very modest (if not poor) quality. With digital, my practices became so inferior that I even compressed the images “to save space on disk”! My turning point was in Paris with my daughter, a number of years ago, where I took this picture with a Canon point and shoot:
Although it is very simple, amateurish, naïve and with flaws, it attracted me because it had an interesting composition (as it appeared to me at that time) and it resembled watercolor paintings that I occasionally do.I then decided to introduce myself to Photoshop, to read a lot and to practice more and more. I learned many lessons with this picture being some of them: never compress your images and use the maximum resolution possible (I didn’t know RAW then); use the opportunity to take the right picture right there because the moment never repeats itself (in the course of the years, I went there twice but never captured the same moment again) and choose the scene more carefully. As I said, the picture is almost useless due to its inherent flaws but it was my turning point. Years later, I transformed it into this digital painting:
I’ve always loved photography. Had loads of fun with point and shoots and thought I’d taken some pretty good photos. In 2009 I bought an SLR camera because now I wanted to take that great photo. I’m not sure I have yet. But having fun trying.
This photo was taken late summer of 2010 while in our backyard practicing and playing with the technical aspects of the camera and taking photos of everything and anything that got in my way. Fortunately, I found a ladybug crawling along the clothesline and captured this moment. I love the feel of this photo…the fall colours coming into play in the background, the soft bokeh and the crispness of the ladybug and the clothespin. I call this photo “Holding on to Holding on”. Out of the thousands of photos I’ve taken this is still one of my favourites. When I first saw it I thought…”Oh my! Maybe there is some hope for me after all.” I felt that I was beginning to understand lighting and composition together with the technical functions of camera. I was getting the big picture. 🙂
This photo of the Alberta Art Gallery located in Edmonton, was a turning point for me. Taken in September 29, 2010 at 6:45 p.m., just a couple of years after I had discovered the world of photography and it had become a passion. Interestingly enough, this was my first paid architectural assignment. I look back on this photo these years later and still think of it as my signature piece.
Having now photographed many amazing architectural structures and presently doing almost exclusively architectural photography, I do not believe that one could ever capture this building again with such beautiful colour and light. Serendipity happened that night and it changed my focus forever. I used no filters, have not post-processed it… a tripod and a remote control… that’s it. When I was taking this photo a gentleman very courteously waited for the shutter to close and then watched the back of my camera as it displayed. I didn’t even know he was there until he said WOW. I knew instantly I had nailed it!! This, and many other photos of local architectural structures, now hangs in the head office of a major electrical contractor located in Edmonton. I used a Nikon D700 with a 24 to 70mm f/2.8 lens, ISO 200, f 16, 20 seconds, slightly underexposed -0.33.
I have always had a general interest in photography, basically for as long as I can remember. I attribute it to watching endless nature shows, being totally in awe of how those videographers managed to get those amazing scenes. It wasn’t until my wife bought me my first digital camera in 2007, a Canon Rebel XTi, that I really started to learn what photography was all about. I had tinkered with a Rebel 2000 film camera on and off, once in a while getting an interesting image, but that was about it. I basically knew nothing. Digital changed all of that. We started researching places to hike that I could take pictures, while doing so, we found a little California State Park called Jughandle State Reserve outside of the coastal town of Mendocino. It was there that it all began. We discovered the wonders of California’s native plants, and one in particular stood out, the Fairy Slipper. A wonderful orchid fairly common in the California redwoods. On that outing I failed to create a good photo, but I vowed to come back. The following year, now 2009, I returned with a shiny new tripod and 60mm macro lens. This time I was successful, the first in an endless search for interesting and fascinating native flowers. It also helped define the style of photography that I still do, its influence can be seen throughout the rest of my floral images. Natural light and natural environment portraits, with managed depth of field.
I’ve had many epiphanies along the ‘photographic highway’ and it has been very difficult for me to select that one defining moment in my landscape collection. Revisiting my archives was like thumbing through my old year books and cringing at my ever changing hairdo or LOSS there of.Then I realized that I was looking at the wrong types of images. You see, I found that I began to change as a photographer when I started to shoot everything, not just landscape.I had practiced documentary photography in the past and found it very difficult because of my lack of control over the subject. Documentary photography challenges you to capture a story that unfolds in front of your lens. You need to be prepared for anything that may enter your frame whether it be a gesture or an emotion.All too often we as photographers like to be in control. We adjust our dials, insert our filters, access our exposure, we tilt, we shift, we compose and recompose and not too mention the hours of post production. We are controlling and yet a slave to technology. I still struggle with this but have learned to loosen my grip.Last year I was invited to a branding and castration. If you haven’t been to one of these spectacles then you are truly missing out (mmm fried prairie oysters).While composing this image the gentleman in the wranglers stepped into my frame. At first I was annoyed because he was in my shot, but then “I SAW IT”! He was the piece of the puzzle that tied everything together. It was this simple gesture that made me understand how to accept unscripted actions to complete a composition.For me my transition wasn’t a technically correct image but a small gesture that sent me off into a different direction of observation. I’ve found that when you let go and step out of your comfort zone, then you can learn to “see”.