Saturday, January 30, 2016

School Bus & Social Media

Tangled School Bus - Cane Brake, California
Back in March I published a post entitled The Legend of The School Bus In The Riverbed. It featured photographs that I captured several years ago of an abandoned school bus half-buried in dirt (plus a few other images). It included some stories, which may or may not be true, of how the bus came to rest in this unusual place.

The post received very little attention when it was published. The Urban Exploration Photography Blog was pretty new at the time, and the audience was fairly small, so it had less than 50 page views since it was published.

Until today.

The post got picked up on social media and has been making the rounds on Facebook. In a matter of a few hours it went from an obscure post to the most popular of all time on this blog. Social media can move that quickly. And it's very unpredictable.

The photographs in that post are not my best by a long shot. They are not great. A few of them were published in a book, and even those are not all that good. But now they are my most popular.

If there is anything negative from this attention it is that some of my worst pictures on this blog are the most viewed. That's not what you want as an artist. I would have picked a different post to go viral. If I didn't want that bus article to get so much attention I shouldn't have published it. It's as simple as that.

I need to look at the positive and not the negative. Perhaps some of those who viewed that post also viewed some of my other posts. Maybe I'll get some more regular readers because of the bus article.

When I captured those photographs (roughly five years ago) I never imagined just how far they'd go. I thought they were good at the time, but in retrospect they were not good. Somehow, though, they've received plenty of attention, gotten plenty of likes and shares and even made it onto the shelves of some local bookstores.

I wouldn't have guessed that. And it's certainly encouraging.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Ask Yourself: "What Do I Photograph?" And Not "How Do I Photograph?"

To The Reader - Rosamond, California
There was a time that I wanted to be an author. Perhaps I still do.

When I was a kid in school I hated english classes. I wasn't very good at diagramming sentences and understanding adjectives and prepositions and how to appropriately use the semicolon. I got by, but barely.

I loved to read, though. I could get lost in a good book. Sometimes I would stay up nearly the whole night reading. It was an escape. My imagination could take me anywhere.

So I began to write. I wrote short stories and poetry. I tried to write a few novels, but would give up before they were even halfway complete. One interesting idea I had (which I started but never finished) was a fictional thriller where each chapter was written in the first person from the perspective of a different character.

Even though I wasn't an expert in the technical aspects of writing, I knew what I wanted to write and so that's what I did. And I became pretty good at it. Back nearly two decades ago in college my English 102 teacher told me that I had a real talent for writing and that if I didn't pursue it I was throwing away a promising career.

One reason that I never pursued writing--one reason that I never finished penning a book--is self-doubt stemming from those struggles in school. How could I be a writer if I'm not intimately familiar with all of the language rules?

Seneca the Younger in Moral Letters To Lucilius said, "Find out what to write, not how."

As Seneca the Younger states, what's most important is not how to write but what to write.

The "how" will come. Don't worry so much about that. The more you do something the better at it you will become. You'll learn it with time and practice.

It's the "what" that separates the good authors from the average ones. It's the author's mind and heart--his or her creativity--speaking through written words that makes a book great.

This all relates to photography. It's the same thing.

Don't ask, "How do I photograph?" That is the wrong question. You'll figure out all the technical stuff as you use your camera. You'll figure out what works and what doesn't by doing. It will all come with time and practice. Don't worry so much about that. The more you photograph the better at it you will become.

Instead, ask, "What do I photograph?" That's the key to successful photography. It's what's in your mind and heart--your creativity--speaking through your photograph that makes an image great.

Find out what to photograph, not how.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Don't Give Up (Even If Nobody Cares About Your Photography)

Fame - Mojave, California
Does it matter if nobody cares about your photography? Does it matter if you don't have many followers? Does it matter that you don't get many likes or stars or thumbs up? Does it matter if nobody is buying your work?

Most photographers are not successful. Most photographers are barely earning any money. Most photographers are living in relative obscurity. Only those at the top are successful.

What about you? Are you one of the few well-known photographers? Or are you one of those scratching at the bottom hoping for a chance to be in the sun?

If you are one of the many who are not all that successful, don't give up. Don't stop trying. Don't stop improving. Keep at it.

What if only one person (besides yourself) saw your photographs? What if, after 10 years, you only sold one image? What if a successful photographer took you under their wings, but after a short time they stopped helping you because they thought you were not good enough to be a photographer?

Would you give up? Or would you persevere because it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks?

You shouldn't care about what others think. You shouldn't be concerned with fame. You should be doing this whole photography thing for yourself. You should be a photographer because you love to photograph. You should be self motivated because you have an inner purpose. Nothing else matters.

I saw this 10 minute video yesterday entitled Painting In The Dark: The Struggle For Art In A World Obsessed With Popularity by Adam Westbrook. It's both depressing and inspirational. You must watch it, especially if you've ever struggled with any of the questions above. It says a lot of what I want to say but in a way that's better than I could say it. I've included the video below, simply click play!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

When Is Color Better?

Room 7 - Rosamond, California
In my last post I explained that if color isn't important to an image, it should be converted to black-and-white. If color is an essential element to a photograph, it should remain in color. When is color "essential" to an image? What makes color in a photograph work? Those are questions that I hope to answer here.

There are a number of color theories in photography, and the more one studies this the more convoluted it becomes. But there are some basic ideas that seem to work.

One idea that works is color contrast. If you look at a color wheel, the colors that are on opposite sides of each other are contrasting colors. Red and green are contrasting colors, as are blue and yellow/orange. Contrasting colors are bold when placed against each other. 
Shoot Me - Newberry Springs, California
Another idea is complimentary colors. If you draw a "Y" on a color wheel, the three colors at the points of the "Y" are complimentary colors. A complimentary color combination is typically more subtle than contrasting colors, but it can be just as effective.

Also, if an image lacks light contrast, sometimes it works better in color than monochrome. If the image is toned a bit flat, it can be difficult to get the subject to stand out in black-and-white. If there are different colors to separate the elements within the frame, sometimes it just works better in color.

I think, more simply, trust your gut. If you think that an image would be good in color, it probably will be. When you make the decision for the photograph to be color, be sure to compose the image in such a way to take full advantage of the color. Make the color obvious. Try to find vibrant colors.

It is important to make the decision of whether or not an image will be in color prior to exposing the frame. If you wait until after the shutter has been opened, you've lost your opportunity to take full advantage of your choice.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

When Is Black & White Better?

Copy Machine - Mojave, California
One question that I commonly get asked is, "How do you decide if a photo should be color or black-and-white?" This seems to be a point of confusion for many.

A common mistake that people make is to capture an image and decide later if it should be color or black-and-white. Color photography and black-and-white photography are not all that similar. They don't have much in common, and so you have to think about them differently when you capture them.

Color photographs only work when color is an essential element to the photograph. Monochrome images only work with appropriate light, contrast and design.
Diamond Sneaker - California City, California
Before opening the shutter, I ask myself if the image will remain in color or if I'll convert it to black-and-white. If color is not important to the image, I'll decide to convert it to monochrome. With that decision, I then compose the scene for black-and-white.

Look at tones. Look at shadows and highlights. Look at contrast. Consider how these will interact with each other to create the lines and shapes within the image. Will it draw the viewer in? Are there distractions in the frame that can be eliminated? 

When is black-and-white better? When color isn't essential to the photograph. But this decision needs to be made in advance so that you can craft a great monochrome image from the scene.