Monday, April 25, 2016

How To Take Good Photos Anytime of The Day

Abandoned Boles-Aero Trailer - Mojave, California
Captured at 12:20 PM.
I watched a video on how to take good pictures even when the time of day would suggest that the light is bad. It could be summarized this way: you need photographic visiongood lighting exists anytime of the day or night if you look hard enough, and that if your pictures aren't good enough than you are not close enough. I strongly agree with all of those points.

Instead of trying to capture a wide seen that includes poor light, move in close and find the spots within the scene that have good light. Instead of photographing the entire building, compose an image using just one of the walls. Instead of photographing the entire landscape, compose an image using just one element (a flower, a leaf, a rock, etc.). Include in your frame only the parts of the scene that contain good light and subtract the parts that have bad light.
Do Not Disturb - Mojave, California
Captured at 3:07 PM.
These are simple concepts, but essential to it all is understanding light. You have to know what is good light and what is not good light. If you cannot read light you won't recognize what you need to do to successfully capture a scene.

The best way to learn light is to capture a lot of photographs in a lot of different light situations (experiment), and then study the results. What worked? What didn't? Why do you think that you got the results that you did? What could you do better next time? You learn by doing. "Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst," said Henri Cartier-Bresson.

You shouldn't put your camera away when the light doesn't seem good because of the time of day. But you shouldn't settle for crummy pictures, either. This is when you've got to try harder, because the situation is more challenging. Limitations improve art, including light limitations, because they force you to be creative.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Everyone's A Photographer ...And How To Stand Out From The Crowd

On A Brighter Day - Tehachapi, California
Everyone is a photographer. Everyone has a camera. Hunter Schwarz, an author at, stated, "Mankind has taken a lot of photos." That's a tremendous understatement, but entirely true.

From 1826 through 1900, according to Schwarz, only a few million photographs were captured across the world, but by 1930 about one billion pictures were exposed annually and by 1960 that number increased to three billion. In the 1970's an average of 10 billion photos were captured each year, and that number increased to 25 billion in the 1980's and 57 billion in the 1990's. Beginning in 2000, the number of photographs captured annually across the world spiked steeply, passing 380 billion in 2012. We were expected to surpass one trillion in 2015 (not sure if that happened or not).

I have no idea how anyone knows for sure just how many photographs were captured each year. This seems like an impossible task, and I feel bad for whoever had to come up with the answer. Perhaps that is why a simple statement of "a lot of photos" is the best response.

There's a saying that you've probably heard before: "Even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in awhile." Even a hapless snapshooter that knows nothing about photography and uses their cell phone as their camera will capture a good photo every now and then. There are literally hundreds of millions of these "blind squirrel" photographers out there across the world capturing the occasional good image. Add it all up and that's a heck of a lot of good pictures created by hapless picture-takers.
The Lost Chair - Mojave, California
Because every year camera gear gets cheaper and cheaper--you can buy a DSLR that produces good image quality and a lens that's not terrible for under $500--it's easier now more than ever to become a "professional" photographer. That's not to say that everyone who calls themselves "professional" actually delivers professional-quality images. But it's not hard to buy a cheap DSLR, print some business cards for under $20, set up a free or cheap website, and watermark your images--who's to say that you're not a professional?

It used to be that developing and printing photographs required skill and experience in the darkroom. Now software will do the post-processing for you--just pick the "filter" or "preset" you want--and send it off to Costco. The mystery has been removed as photo editing has been opened to the masses.

Anyone can be a photographer, and, because of that, everyone is a photographer. There is an over-saturation of photographs in the world. I'm reminded of the scene in The Incredibles where Buddy (Syndrome) says, "And when everyone's super, no one will be." Photography, in a way, has been cheapened--way more supply than demand. Everyone's a photographer, producing hundreds or even thousands of images annually.

This is not necessarily bad news. Gear is both better and cheaper than ever. There are things that you can do photographically now that would have been extraordinarily difficult or even impossible just 20 years ago. There are so many more ways to share your photographs with the world than there ever was before.
Peerless - Newberry Springs, California
But it's also much easier to get lost in the crowd. The photographic crowd is unimaginably massive. It grows significantly larger every year. Most of the photographers who are "big" now made their name known when the crowd was 80% smaller than today. What would have gotten you noticed 15 years ago is not even close to good enough now.

To stand out from the crowd and get noticed is not easy. It's a seemingly impossible task. But it is possible, and people do it every day. I have some thoughts on how to achieve this.

First, whatever the crowd is doing, that's what you shouldn't be doing--do the opposite. You have to go against the grain. If everyone else is using the same gear, photographing the same subject, doing the same post-processing effect, do not do those things yourself. Find the things that very few, if any, are doing. Do what no one else is doing, think what no one else is thinking.

Second, you have to be creative like mad. There are tons of creative people in the crowd. You need to find ways to up the ante on your own creativity, which is an essential element of photographic vision. You have to make sure that you are the most creative person that you can be.
Tired Old Purse - Mojave, California
Third, you have to go where others are not going and at times when they are not there. Stand out from the metaphoric crowd by not being anywhere near an actual crowd. Photography is in part about being at the right place at the right time, and that often means doing things that others are not willing to do.

Finally, to stand out from the crowd, you need to interpret the scene and not just capture it. Most picture-takers are documenting the scene in front of them, but very few are interpreting it. Charles Hawthorne said, "The world is waiting for men with vision--it is not interested in mere pictures." Most people are capturing "mere pictures" and few are capturing interpretations of the world. You must infuse your images with your own unique thoughts and feelings. It's not necessarily about seeing something that hasn't been seen, but thinking differently about what everyone sees.

Mankind has indeed taken a lot of photos, and the vast majority of them are uninteresting. Most are not good at all. Very few speak to the viewer. It is those who can create meaningful photographs that will find success.

Monday, April 18, 2016

What Differentiates A Photographer From A Snapshooter?

Broken Souls - Newberry Springs, California
What differentiates a photographer from a snapshooter? The answer is simple: photographic vision.

Actually, it's a bit more complicated than that. Vision is a great starting point, and perhaps it could be boiled down to just that. But it takes a little more, in my opinion. In addition to vision, what differentiates a photographer from a snapshooter is the ability to infuse nonverbal communication into the images. It's creating photographs that speak a message or emotion to others. It's telling a story.

You have to take a scene and figure out what's important and what's not. Then remove everything that's unimportant until only the important remains. It's a little like sculpting. Keep chiseling away everything that doesn't belong.

A snapshooter doesn't do that. They see a scene and capture as much of it as they can. They don't think about it. They don't consider what belongs and what doesn't. They don't try and communicate any message or emotion.

Don't be a snapshooter. Take a moment and figure out what you want your images to speak, then figure out how to create that with the scene in front of you. Being a photographer means being thoughtful and deliberate with your exposures.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Long Overdue Update + Announcement

Forgotten Utah - Tehachapi, California
It's been nearly a month since I posted an update to The Urban Exploration Photography Blog. That's too long, and I apologize. I've been really busy lately, and that brings us right into the big announcement: I'm moving from California to Utah.

While I love living in central California, and I don't feel that I've even scratched the surface of exploring and photographing abandoned places in the region, it's time for me to move on. Utah will certainly offer plenty of photographic opportunities, and I know that there are many abandoned sites there, as well. I can't wait to find and photograph them!

In the meantime, I appreciate your patience. Thank you for hanging in there despite how quiet it has been. Activity will pick up, but probably not for another month, maybe longer. Between now and then posts will be few and far between. I'll try to get one published each week, but no promises.