Thursday, April 30, 2015

What's Important In Photography?

From The Past - Mojave, California
About 15 years ago when I was taking photography classes in college, I was not taught what is important in photography. I was taught a lot about darkroom techniques (which is practically useless information now), camera bodies and lenses (that are no longer used by practically anyone), and a little about photography history (which is interesting, but not necessarily important), but almost nothing about what truly matters in photography.

So what is important in photography? Vision. Creativity. The decisive moment. The things that make a photograph great.

Cameras, lenses, software, and other equipment are not important. Those things are just tools. They're a means to an end, but never, ever are they the end. What is the end is the final image. The print, or in some cases the digital file, is what matters. No one cares what cameras you own. No one cares what lenses you own. No one cares what software you use. People only care about the photograph that they're viewing, and whether or not it strikes them in some way.
The Sound of Silence - Mojave, California
However it is you achieved that image is unimportant. No one cares! You could use a $20,000 camera or a $20 camera, and nobody gives a hoot. So why should you care?

Many photographers spend a lot of time, money and effort on equipment, but spend almost nothing figuring out how to actually create something great with that equipment. It is far more important to learn how to craft great photographs than to buy some new camera or lens.

The fallacy is that great equipment makes great photographs. Great equipment cannot create any photographs because photographers create, not cameras. Cameras are machines, photographers are artists.
Keep Out The Sun - Tehachapi, California
Great photographers can create amazing images with any camera, including what most would consider "junk." That's because photographic vision can be applied to any camera. Likewise, poor photographers cannot create anything worthwhile even with the best equipment.

This is not to say that you should photograph with junk. It is simply to say that equipment is not important in photography. Most people seem to think that gear is most important, but that is a lie put forth by camera manufacturers and camera salesmen to get you to open your wallet.

What is important in photography is creating art. Making something meaningful with the tools you have is important. It's never about the tools you use, it's about what you make.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

I Am An Artist - I Am A Photographer

A Light In The Dark - Tehachapi, California
I am an artist. Photography is my medium. Cameras and lenses are my tools.

Interestingly, the debate as to whether photography is actually an art form continues. I thought this was settled 100 or so years ago, but apparently I was wrong.

Here's my simple response: I'm an artist and photography is my artistic choice. If photography is not art, than I am not an artist. But I am an artist, so photography must be art. It has to be and it indeed is!

Art is the expression of creativity and imagination. For something to be called "art" it must be creative and imaginative. There are many photographs out there that lack both of those important attributes. Those photographs are not art. But there are also many photographs that are both creative and imaginative, and those images are indeed art.

Creativity and imagination may seem redundant--aren't they basically the same thing? Being creative is having the ability to make new things--original and tangible things. It's creating something that doesn't otherwise exist. Being imaginative is thinking new and interesting ideas. It is conceptual.

The way creativity and imagination work together is that one must first form a new and interesting thought (the concept), and then use that thought to create something that doesn't otherwise exist (the tangible). The thought alone is not enough and the creation alone is not enough. You need both to create art.

Photography is art when the artist photographer uses both creativity and imagination to create an image. When the photographer has photographic vision, which requires both of these things, he or she becomes an artist.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Abandonment: Industry - Amarillo, Texas

Rusted Wall - Amarillo, Texas
I have a railroad gallery on my website. Last week I realized that there weren't enough images in the gallery, so I dug deep through my hard drive to find some photographs to add to it. In the process I discovered a handful of forgotten urban exploration images.

These photographs were captured on October 26, 2012. I was returning home from a trip to Texas. I had spent the night at a hotel in Amarillo. Across a field from the hotel were a couple of abandoned structures. The next morning, after loading up the car, I walked over to the structures with a camera. These industrial buildings had been used for agricultural purposes, and I think the operation may have been loading trucks for shipment.
Vines & Lines - Amarillo, Texas
At the time I was nervous to enter structures like this, so I let my fear get the best of me and I stayed on the outside of the buildings--Fairbanks-Morse Scale was captured through a window. Looking back I think I left several good photographs behind by not entering the structures.

These photographs have been sitting on a hard drive for two-and-a-half years unedited. Well, they were in-camera JPEGs, but I didn't do any further post-processing until this last weekend. I used a Pentax K-30 DSLR with a kit 18-55mm lens to capture them.
Fairbanks-Morse Scale - Amarillo, Texas
Window Shattered - Amarillo, Texas
Corrugated View - Amarillo, Texas

Friday, April 24, 2015

Urbex Images - Flickr Friday Favorites

It's time for another Flickr Friday Favorites! The Urban Exploration Photography Blog has a Flickr group called Urbex Images. I go through the photographs shared to the group pool and pick my favorites to post here.

As always I asked for and received permission to use these images for this purpose. The copyrights belong to the photographers who captured the images. I encourage you to click on their names to see even more of their great work.

Thank you to everyone who participated! Check out the Urbex Images Flickr group to see lots more urban exploration photographs by a number of talented photographers.

The forgotten hospital (11) by Silvia Stella
Great use of light contrast and space in this image. The eyes get drawn straight to the window, and then

explore outward. Once they reach the edges, which are dark, the eyes return to the window.
The Gathering by Ron Pinkerton
Another great example of light contrast--also subtle color contrast. I like the repeated circles.
Untitled by Fp4shooter
I really like the desolate, harsh feeling of this image. It's understandable why this trailer was abandoned.
Geometry homework done. A+ by Szydlak likes Abandoned Places
This is a simple photograph of a complex design. What stands out to me is the color contrast.
the hall of dreams by potosi6088m
This photograph has great atmosphere and excellent light contrast. I like the simplicity of a single

chair in a large empty room.
School For Girls 4 by Charles Bodi
Clouds can transform a good scene into a great one. Very nice lighting.
The Windmills of Your Mind... by FanFan Babii or just plain Buffan
I like the perspective of this image--the low angle with the purple flowers in the foreground. The trees do a good job of forcing the viewer's attention towards the structure.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Creating Meaning In A Memorable Way

"An artist is a choreographer of reality, constantly shifting boundaries, an individual who finds himself with a political investment and social duties, making meaning but also delivering it in a memorable way." --Piero Golia
On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California
I came across the quote (at the top of this post) by artist Piero Golia and it brought to mind several things relating to urban exploration photography. There's a number of points to consider and apply to our art.

First, Golia says that an artist is a "choreographer of reality" which means that reality can be whatever the artist wants it to be--it's something that can be controlled. In other words, there are no rules.

"Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one," said Albert Einstein. You have the freedom to create whatever you want with your photography. You have the freedom to move beyond merely capturing a scene. You can and should make the reality within your images whatever you want that reality to be.

Next, Golia talks about "constantly shifting boundaries" which is another way of saying pushing the envelope. This doesn't necessarily mean being controversial (although it might mean that), but instead it means pushing yourself to be more creative. You should always be striving to do better with your next image. You should never find yourself content with the quality of your work because there is always room for improvement. You should always be able to look back at your previous work and see your growth as an artist.
Broken Souls - Newberry Springs, California
Piero Golia then says that one should be "an individual who finds himself with a political investment and social duties" which means having something to say through your art. Photography is a form of nonverbal communication. If you don't have something interesting to say through your images then your images will certainly be boring.

Finally, Golia says that "making meaning but also delivering it in a memorable way" is an essential element to art. This is the meat and potatoes of his quote.

"Making meaning" is creating--not just creating for the sake of creating, but creating for a purpose. I don't want to glance past the creating part of this because it is an essential point to understand. Great photographs are not merely captured, but are created by the photographer. If you are not creating your images then you are a snapshooter and not an artist. Also, that created photograph must have meaning--there must be a point to it. If you cannot explain the point verbally then the image will never be able to explain itself nonverbally to the viewer.

What is meant by "delivering it in a memorable way" is that if the photograph isn't esthetic none of the other stuff even matters. The photograph must be composed in such a way that it will draw the viewer in and stick in the viewer's mind. It must be, well, memorable.

All of what Golia said is what's required for making great art. Put all of those points together in your photography and you're a true artist.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Want To Make Better Photographs? Say Something Interesting!

Abandoned Boles-Aero Trailer - Mojave, California
Great photographs say something interesting. This applies to all forms of art--if it doesn't say something interesting, it is boring and forgettable. If you want to make better photographs then you have to say something interesting through those photographs.

What is interesting? It is either something that hasn't been said before or something that has been said before but put in a new way. That's what's interesting.

How do you speak through a photograph? Photography is a form of nonverbal communication. It is the composition that talks to the viewer. It is all of the choices that the photographer makes that decides what the message will be. It is the ideas and feelings that the photographer infuses into the image that says something. Among many other things, it is light, shadow, form and focus.
Broken Souls - Newberry Springs, California
It is never about equipmentYou can use a home-built camera like photographer Michael ChrismanYou can use a cheap Chinese camera like David BurnettYou can use a cell phone like Chase Jarvis. It is not what camera and lens one uses that matters, but what one creates with whatever camera they are using.

The opposite is also true. You can have a brand-new Leica, Hasselblad, or pro-end Canon or Nikon, but if your photographs don't say something interesting, then your photographs are not good.

So if equipment doesn't matter, what does? Photographic vision. Putting both your mind and heart into your photographs somehow. Being creative.

You are unique, and your point-of-view is unique. You have experiences that no one else does. You've got to tap into that. You've got to include that in your photography.
Peerless - Newberry Springs, California
Photographing what you are interested in is essential to speaking something interesting through your images. Try to have a conversation with somebody about some subject that you could care less about. How do you think that would go? Now try to have a conversation with somebody about a subject that you are passionate about. Do you think it might be different?

When you photograph a subject that you are passionate about, you are much more likely to nonverbally say something interesting. You'll have a lot more to speak and you'll have stronger "words" compared to a subject that you don't really care about.

Even within a subject, there are sub-genres that you might be more interested in than others. For example, within urban exploration, I have a fascination with the left-behind details that show that the place was once used by people (for living, working, recreation, etc.). For you it may be something completely different. But whatever it is, that's what you should be photographing.

Passion. Vision. Creativity. These are the things that will make a photograph great.

Monday, April 20, 2015

My Photographs Stink - Or, How To Keep Moving Forward

Old Yield Sign - Boron, California
My photographs stink. They are not very good. Really, they are not good at all!

Sometimes I think that my photographs are pretty good. Occasionally I feel like one of my images is "portfolio" material (whatever that means). Every so often I think that one of my photographs is a real "winner" worthy of attention. 

Then I look at the work of others. I look at the old "masters" and the things that they created with far less sophisticated equipment. I see some of the current great photographers and the work that they are creating. In comparison, my photography is amateurish.

I could get down in the dumps about this. I could throw my hands up in the air and just give up. I could decide that my work will never be as good as their's, and I could stop trying. Or, instead, I can keep moving forward.
Unused Bed - Hinkley, California
Henri Cartier-Bresson said, "Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst." I like to add that your next 10,000 photographs are your second worst. It takes time and practice to have the skill and vision to create great works of art. The lesson here is that one cannot expect to be a great photographer overnight or even within a few years. The more you do the better you become.

Ansel Adams said, "Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop." One of the greatest photographers of all time had a good year if he created one significant photograph a month. Someone like me cannot expect to accomplish the same thing. Perhaps two or three significant photographs in any one year is a great crop for me.

Thinking about this more, how many of Henri Cartier-Bresson's photographs can you think of off hand? How many of Ansel Adam's? It is less than 10 each that come to my mind. It takes a whole career to create a handful of truly memorable photographs.

The point of this rambling is that it is important to keep moving forward. I must move forward. There is a lesson with each photograph captured, and I need to make sure that I learn whatever lesson is offered. 
Old Cup of Coffee - Tehachapi, California

The way that you move forward in photography is to be critical of your own work. No, make that ultra-critical. Look harshly at your own work and think about what you did well and what you could have done better. Almost always there is something, even if seemingly insignificant, that could have been done different that would have improved the image. Then, next time, try to not repeat the mistakes while trying to replicate what did go well.

You move forward by always improving, even if just a little. Slight forward momentum is better than none at all. Eventually slight movement becomes significant.

I wanted to end this post with a long quote by Chuck Abbott from the September 1955 issue of Arizona Highways magazine. I think it closes this well.
"Years ago there was a book titled 'The Man Who Came Back,' and while I never read the book or knew anything about the man or what he came back from or to, years later when I went into the photographic business, that title rang in my ears many times as I found myself personifying not only the man who came back but the one who came back again and again! 
"When asked by complimenting amateur photographers--'Oh, Mr. Abbott, how do you get such good pictures? I was there and mine didn't turn out at all well'--my answer is invariably the same--'you'll have to go back and try another day, another light, another season.' Meanwhile I am mentally recalling that 'good' picture; was it really good, couldn't it have been better, and shouldn't I go back again and do it over? 
"For that's the trouble with this picture business--there is so little satisfaction in it! You are always beset with the haunting thought that every picture could be improved, if not by you, then by someone, sometime; so you end up traveling in a circle, periodically returning to do a better, or at least a different, interpretation of the subject. Perfection, of course, is the goal."

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Delete Bad Photographs - Actually, Delete All Photographs That Are Not Good

On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California
Something I've struggled with in the digital age of photography is letting go of bad photographs. Often I'm not critical enough of my own work.

This wasn't the case when I made my own black-and-white prints. Because there was a significant time that had to be invested into each print (sometimes hours--the longest was 12 hours for one print),  it was easy to skip all of the frames except for the very best. There was also a real cost--photographic paper wasn't exactly cheap. You didn't want to spend time and money on something that wasn't good.

It's not that my photography was better then, because it most certainly was not. I was simply better at self-editing. I was better at letting go of the lesser images.

What changed? With digital photography, the main cost is paid when you purchase your gear. Once you have a camera, there is no cost per frame exposed. Once you have post-processing software, there is no cost per photograph edited. It's all paid up front. And while it isn't uncommon to spend 30 minutes or so editing a photograph, most images don't require any more than five minutes of post-processing to be complete.
The Old Boron Housing - Boron, California
Since the time and financial investment is tiny (once the initial investment is made), those motivations to skip lesser images are gone. So I find myself editing mediocre photographs.

Why? I put time and thought into capturing photographs. I think there is a connection to the frames, and it is tough to see that wasted. It is tough to think that the frame was a failure, and part of that is the idea that I failed as a photographer.

I don't want to think that my efforts were wasted. I don't want to think that I failed. It is easier to think that the image is good enough, even if deep down I know it is not.

There are consequences to this. First, there are people who only see my mediocre photographs. Either here on The Urban Exploration Photography Blog or on social media, some people will never see my best work. And when they think of me as a photographer, they think of those so-so images that I just couldn't let go of. Second, even though the time invested in post-processing a lesser photograph is small, over time five minutes here and five minutes there adds up to hours and hours. Eventually I've wasted a whole bunch of time editing a bunch of images that were just not that good. Time is important to me, and I hate to throw it away on throwaway photographs.
Window Shadow - Victorville, California
So how do I break out of this? How do I let go of mediocre photographs?

It all comes down to editing--deleting, really. I have to look more critically at my work and if it doesn't immediately stand out as good, it needs to go into the trash folder.

I have found that the longer I wait to post-process photographs after they've been captured, the easier it is for me to let go of them. I delete far more exposures when it has been a few weeks since they were captured compared to when I post-process right away. Time seems to give clarity and also seems to weaken the emotional connection to the exposure. So I'm making an effort to wait at least a couple of weeks before I edit.

Another thing that I started doing, as I consider if a frame is worth keeping, I ask myself if the image is one that I want people to remember me by. Perhaps it will be the only photograph of mine that someone will ever see. This helps me to delete some lesser images that I might otherwise have kept.

The less time that I waste post-processing photographs that are not good, the more time I have to do other (more important) things. This may be spending time with family, doing other projects, or out capturing photographs. The fewer mediocre images that I show, the better the chances are that my better photographs will be seen.

Friday, April 17, 2015

An Urban Exploration Slideshow!

I figured out something really cool that my new website allows me to do: embed a slideshow right here on The Urban Exploration Photography Blog! Specifically, the images are from my Abandonment gallery. This is a great way to add some pizzazz to this page.

If the slideshow is too slow for you, simply click the arrow to the right of the image to advance it. Or to go back to an image you just saw, click the arrow on the left side of the photograph. If you click on an image it will take you to that photograph on my website (where you can buy the photograph, if you'd like).


Don't Wait For Inspiration

Broken Angels - Bodfish, California
It is easy to get into a photography rut. Sometimes you just want to sit and wait until inspiration hits you. Unfortunately, this causes your camera to become dusty.

Imagine you have a bucket that you wish to collect rain water in. Suppose you wait until it actually begins to rain to place the bucket outside. Yes, you'll catch rainwater. But suppose you place the bucket outside no matter the weather. You can then catch the unexpected rain that falls from the sky.

Waiting for inspiration is like waiting for the rain to begin to place your bucket outside. It is better to use your camera even when you are not feeling inspired so that you can catch that unexpected metaphoric rain.
Broken Souls - Newberry Springs, California
Thomas Edison said, "Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration." In other words, don't wait for inspiration to strike your brain--get to work instead. Grab your camera and start photographing!

"Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration," Stephen King wrote, "the rest of us just get up and go to work." Work is a part of the processes. Work is what leads to inspiration.

Legendary music critic Ernest Newman said, "The great composer does not set to work because he is inspired, but becomes inspired because he is working." It is in the doing that inspiration comes.

Inspiration will remain elusive if you are not actively using your camera. It is when you are out looking that you'll find what you are hoping for. You will not likely get photographic vision while sitting on your couch.
When All Is Lost - Mojave, California
Jack London said, "You can't wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club." If you are waiting for inspiration to find you, you might be waiting for a long time. Instead, through work, which is a part of the photographic process, you must aggressively seek inspiration.

Waiting for inspiration is an excuse. You don't really feel like going out with your camera, so you say, "I'm not inspired today." You do something else instead.
"Excuses are the tools with which persons with no purpose in view build for themselves great monuments of nothing," said actor Steven Grayhm. Be a photographer, not an excuser.

It is important to grab your camera and photograph, even if you are not inspired whatsoever. You don't have to go far, but you do have to go. Action is required.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Photographs of Abandoned Chairs

The Lost Chair - Mojave, California
Yesterday I posted photographs of abandoned coffee mugs. Today I'm sharing my photographs of abandoned chairs.

It's not uncommon to find chairs left behind in abandoned buildings, especially homes. It's an interesting photography subject because it is easy to imagine someone sitting in a chair. We sit in chairs every single day. It's a regular part of life. Now these chairs are empty, broken and forgotten.

Almost all of the images in this post were captured using a Sigma DP2 Merrill, a Nikon D3300 and a Nokia Lumia 1020. I doubt you can tell which are from which. That's because your camera doesn't matter, vision does. Some of these photographs can be found in the Abandonment gallery on my website. Check it out!
Seat Unused - Mojave, California
Yellow Reading Chair - Rosamond, California
Window Chair - Mojave, California
Old Motel Chair - Rosamond, California
From The Past - Mojave, California
Forgotten Folding Chair - Cuddy Valley, California
Remnant Chair - Mojave, California
The Comfortable Chair - Mojave, California
Abandoned Home Front - Mojave, California
Broken Chair - Mojave, California
Chair For Relaxing - Newberry Springs, California
Forgotten Couch - Mojave, California
Make Yourself At Home - Atolia, California
Retro Living - Johannesburg, California
Deserted Interior - Mojave, California
Forsaken Chair - Mojave, California
Threadbare Couch - Mojave, California
The Deserted Chair - Mojave, California
Deserted Chair - Mojave, California
Neglected Cabin - Cuddy Valley, California
Forgotten Blue Chair - Mojave, California
Blue Chair - Tehachapi, California
Forgotten Seat - Tehachapi, California
Interior Design - Mojave, California
Abandoned Bench - Tehachapi, California
Lonely Plastic Chair - Tehachapi, California
Broken Chair - Mojave, California
Abandoned Monkey Onesie - Rosamond, California
Abandoned Furniture, Abandoned Building - Boron, California
Reading Chair - Rosamond, California
Old Chair, Broken - Rosamond, California
Ladder & Chair - Rosamond, California
The Comfy Chair - Mojave, California
Abandoned Couch - Lancaster, California
Forgotten Chair - Victorville, California
Abandonment - Victorville, California