Finding Your Eye
This is something that I just want to talk a little bit about, how to practice this, because it's a real practical way for you guys to go out and apply some of the things that I've been talking about that are a little more subjective or philosophical. And your priorities. What are your priorities in finding how to see something? And also editing, which I think is a big factor. Just a couple of points on that. And then I wanna bring up projects that you can use or utilize to help find your eye. So one of the biggest questions, as I said earlier, that people ask me is, we'll be standing in some great place, it's beautiful, but it's really hard to see anything, it's really hard to find a picture. The autumn color, in this case, the autumn color is not that great. There's beautiful clouds. It's a meadow. And what happens to everybody who drives by in a car when you stop and bring your camera out? They wanna know if there's a bear, or if there's some wildlife out there. Because that's all t...
hat could possibly get their attention. So I'm always asked, what's out there? What are you photographing? So I break it down into a couple different factors. And as you go through the wilderness, you might be driving along in a national park, and you come to the shot that's quite obvious, and that's pretty much for lack of better words. You see it along the side of the road. The light's good, so you wanna stop, get out, get the shot. The less obvious. This is a situation where in many cases, especially on the photography workshops, we're taking people to a place where we know there's the potential for a great photograph. And you get there and you start questioning all the things, the doubts, the fear. What am I going to do in that spot? And so you wonder, should I use a filter? What focal length should I use? What's the light balance gonna be? What's my point of view? What camera do I use? Should I do vertical or horizontal? And finally, then, you come to the one up in the far right corner, which is coffee. I want coffee. Maybe that will solve the problem. So I always start there, drink some more coffee. And then there's the point where it's overload. You get to the point, the light is so spectacular, you don't know what you're gonna do, and it literally is just going off everywhere. And they're actually, in those situations, it's panic mode. You're kind of running in second nature. You're doing things that you don't even, probably old bad habits, like a bad golf game, and you start grabbing the club wrong, you start grabbing the camera wrong, 'cause the light's that good. Well, the truth is, they're all equally challenging. And there's slightly different techniques to approach or apply with each one. And so I wanna talk about that. As I mentioned earlier, just something to note, you go through the settings, right? You go through the stages, that is, the beginner, the intern, and then the artist. But what's happening, I've noticed, is that, just like everything else in life, you think you have it planned, but things get out of order. And so sometimes when we're on a trip, all of a sudden somebody will become the artist and have that epiphany. And this is when, I'm not kidding, people just literally have one of those glorious moments when they've realized that somehow what they did worked. They've captured a beautiful picture, they're in a great area, and they don't know how to express it. So I've seen people yelling and screaming that probably had never said more than two words on a trip. And it's not just once. I've seen it many times. And it's just that, like my son earlier, it brings that out in us. So they've obviously found a way to connect. But that still leaves the problem that they really haven't solved all the other things about photography. And so you gotta go back to that beginner stage. Speaking of beginner stages, this is one of my first pictures, when I realized that, you know, I really do like connecting my experience with the mountains and people in it. And so this is a guy that I photographed. We were doing a seven-day trek through the Sierras, and we had been out for three days. And he walked up on that rock and, boom, there it was. And so that was kind of my epiphany. So how can you solve this? Well, a lot of the problems that I just mentioned we're gonna talk about solving in certain ways. And just to point them out again, first of all, we're gonna talk about the creative trinity, so that you can isolate each one of those items and topics. I'm gonna talk about scale, timing, field techniques, and of course, creativity and your own concepts. And I guarantee it, if you really like this process, you're gonna lose sleep, because that's just how it works. So, I understand that I just told you to sit still and observe nature. But one of the things that happens and that I always encourage people to do when they're looking for pictures and they're trying to compose, is that it's really easy to set up the tripod and not move. And so you've got to move. You've got to get out and explore. And part of that process is really discovering what you don't like. You gotta make those mistakes in order to get to the point where you realize that you've captured something interesting. So this is just an example. We've got people taking pictures down here, and then people taking pictures up there. And you might not find anything, but that's the process you need to go through for a while to create many different compositions and see as much as you can to educate your eyeball, like I said, more on what you don't like. And I love this one. This actually happened. Some people get caught up in the moment and so you forget about the camera bag that you spent all that money on, the camera lens that you spent all that money on. And it's pretty much just put that damn lens down, I'm gonna go take a picture. And that's what happens when you get into it. So it's kinda funny, because he actually has his bear canister on, too, just in case. But this is what I like to see, that involvement in where you are and what you're trying to capture. So I ask people oftentimes, if they can come up with who their audience is going to be, it's gonna help them. Now, it's very rare that somebody knows exactly what they're gonna be photographing for, unless you're a commercial photographer, or you're in editorial, or somebody's paying you money. But it does help solve many different questions that you're gonna have, especially in the beginning. First of all, are you going to be a commercial photographer? If you are studying to do that? Or are you going to become a fine artist? Fine art photographer. It will change your world completely. Maybe you just want to photograph things editorially, and that's more journalistic. Maybe you just wanna photograph for family and friends, for your Facebook social stream. That's fine. Just figure that out as soon as you can. It will help you, and will help you also. Another question, I'm sorry, then, you'll be able to answer well. Do you just wanna photograph for social media? Or do you wanna photograph for print? Maybe you wanna do photobooks, which Lightroom now has the capability of doing. As well, you might wanna do wall prints. Wall prints are gorgeous. You can get your prints made at PEI Photo or a number of different labs as big as this whole entire wall. And it's really fun and exciting to get your images printed. And, really, if you don't know that thing, you're just kinda chasing a rainbow. Sorry for the pun, but. And you really don't know where you're gonna end up. So a lot of times I tell people, try and figure that out, because it's gonna answer some of those questions, like equipment choice, locations. You might find that you're gonna go to a certain different type of locations. And as well it's gonna help you decide what kind of style that you're gonna end up with. When we take a landscape picture, it's not always just about making it pretty. So I like to encourage people to think about that. The big question that I get often is, DSLR or mirrorless? What system should I get? Really, it comes down to how much do you wanna carry. I'm gonna show you my equipment in a couple of minutes and tell you how much it weighs, but also some alternatives. And how large do you wanna make the prints? Will you be photographing birds in flight? So mirrorless systems have some compromises you have to make. But, really, like I said, aside from that note, some of the questions about where your images are gonna go, who your audience is, those will be answered, and some of these topics will be answered. 'Cause the last thing you wanna do amidst and amnogst finding pictures, as hard as that is, is to try and decide which camera you're gonna use. You don't wanna make that decision while you're out in the field. This poor guy has three cameras on him and he has a Hasselblad on the tripod. And, really, this happens more often than not. You want the equipment, you think you need it, but you really, really don't need that much of it. So I just wanna illustrate that and make sure that's understood. For me, the decision was actually quite simple. I was going to become a photographer professional, and my audience was publishers. And so, similar to my father, I used large format for landscapes, and as big a format as I could get away with for a lot of the people and the action. At the time, it was six by seven transparencies. And then, who influenced you? For me, my influences were a whole plethora of different things, but I do wanna point out that, in addition to photographers, I was influenced by painters. And some of the painters that I encourage you to look up and look at online, some of their work is there, some is in museums. Albert Bierstadt's is in the White House. Albert Bierstadt had a phenomenal way of creating this romantic, dramatic light. In addition, he kind of moved Yosemite Falls with Mount Whitney, put those two together. So he was doing some major montaging. But the work is incredible. It influenced me in the way that I see and what I look for in light in the landscape. Eyvind Earle. Any of you heard of Eyvind Earle? He did the work for Disney in some of the earlier cartoons. I think it was Sleeping Beauty. Look up his work, because the way he utilizes composition and line is tremendous. Just the black shapes of some of the hills in the California coast, the Big Sur coast, the paintings are just spectacular. Yasu Eguchi. Yasu is a Japanese painter. He was kind of interesting. His wife was actually my children's first-grade teacher. I never met Yasu. He's fairly aloof, he never came to school. But just to give you an idea, I know his paintings sell for between $60,000 and $100,000. He's a very well-respected artist. But what he did, in studying him a little bit on reading the literature of how he worked, was he would go out into nature and he would observe. And he would observe to the point where he actually memorized a lot of these things. He'd study the textures, study the colors, and, of course, study the line. And he would get it to the point where he could go back in to the studio and paint it from memory. And that's fairly remarkable, because we don't always get that type of encouragement when we're looking at something. We're busy looking at the back of the camera, the settings. But, really, study it is something different. And I have an example of an image that I took that was inspired by Yasu Eguchi, and I was on an assignment down in the Caribbean. And was told by the art director, capture the Caribbean. I thought, okay. Will I have to go to some bars and hang out in there and get some shots of rum? No, no. They really wanted the essence of the Caribbean. And I thought on that for a long time. And as I was walking along the beach, and the sand is beautiful. Literally, it wasn't torture. But I was thinking the whole time, how am I gonna get this great shot of the Caribbean? And I just kept looking down at the sand and the water, and all of a sudden I realized, oh wow, I've been looking at the sand for a long time. This is it, right there. So Apple uses it. It's on your desktops. If you have an Apple computer, you can load this on your desktop. In addition, it was used for a commercial shoot that I was on. Photographers that influenced me. My parents. Even though my mother wasn't an official photographer, she also took many pictures. But my parents and my grandfather. Obviously they were a big influence on the way I see, and as I've told you, some of the things that I did. In addition, Arnold Newman. He had this beautiful portrait of Stravinsky at the piano. I encourage you to look at it, study it. It's a great example of composition. Henri Cartier Bresson. He was instrumental in capturing The Decisive Moment, which maybe some of you have heard. And that was really a combination between Henri Cartier Bresson's Decisive Moment and Galen Rowell's work of climbers in the high mountain. I kinda combined those two to capture some of the images, or at least that's what I was thinking about when I was capturing the images of the climbers and hikers. And so a couple of examples. This was taken on a trip, eight days up in the Bagley Icefield. And my dad and I went up there to photograph Alaska for a National Parks book. But my vision, what was rolling around in my head, was capturing somebody up there on these big mountains, because there's really no sense of scale up there. Those mountains in the background are actually 8,000 to 10,000 foot elevation distance. And in my mind I was thinking it was three to four. There's just no way to tell how big they were. And so it was the incentive to combine some of those things from other photographers and painters that I had studied all into one scene to capture that. So some of the other influences you might have that I'm gonna ask you guys to look at internally is things that aren't in the landscape. What happened in your lives that made a difference, that brought back certain memories? And those memories are things that you have to find out on your own. For me, one of the most memorable trips that I ever made brought up something that was very important to me, that still is, and so I wanna tell you about that. I was asked to go photograph a story in Iran, and this was back in '96. We were the second journalists after ABC, or at the time 20/20, went in to interview the president. And they just superseded us by two days, I think. So since the incident in Iran, we were the first journalists to come in. I don't know how we got those approval, but we got it from the Pakistani Embassy. They stamped our visas and we were given the permission to go into Iran to photograph. And we went for Ski Magazine. And this is a ski resort that the shah had built, because he loves skiing, way before any of the other politics that had happened in Iran. And so the person that inspired me to go there or asked me to go there was a writer by the name of Mike Finkel. He still writes for the Geographic now. He's kind of an adventure writer. In this case, he had been talking about this great ski area. I don't know how he convinced me to do it. My wife thought it was nuts and didn't want me to go. But the skiing was amazing, it really was. Nobody understood that you could actually ski off the trail, and that's the best skiing, we all know if we ski. So all the Iranis just basically stayed in the trail, so there was all ts beautiful powder skiing. So what do you see when you get to Iran? Instantly, I'm a blonde from California in the middle of Tehran, in what is a pretty much terrifying place for me to be. The reality, though, is so different, especially on this trip, because what we encountered was some of the most friendly people I've ever met. And this is on our way up the gondola. Basically, the gondola had three stops, or two stops. And at each stop, they all wanted to serve us tea and flatbreads. And so they packed the tea full of sugar. And so Mike is on the right. He's had about 20 cups of tea before we get to the top. But all these guys, the security guards, the ski patrols, everybody were just all fascinated by what we were doing, and they wanted to share their experience. We took a side trip down to a place called Isfahan, which is about two hours south of Tehran. And on the way, I was just imagining how similar this was, really, to some of our southwestern Indian ruins, the Anasazi ruins. These were ancient Persian ruins, probably 2,000, 3,000 years old. You can see some of the old archway architecture in there. Amazing stuff. So what happened to me on the way back from Isfahan is, when we left Isfahan at about three in the morning, or two in the morning, it was 36 hours to get home. So it was a long trip. And, basically, we got to the airport, and you go through customs and immigration, and it takes forever, because they're asking a lot of people questions, and the line's getting longer. And literally, the locals are kind of in tears, because a lot of them don't get access. They don't know they have access until the final minute, and then they're not allowed to leave the country. And so they realize at that moment that they're not allowed to go with their family. They have to make that decision if they're gonna join their families or not, so it's a really emotional moment. So I get all the way trough all that. It's been many, many hours. And I get to this room, about the size of this studio, and it's the last little security check. And so you take your jewelry off, or your watch, and your wallet, and you stick it in and it goes through the x-ray machine. And the lady behind me did the same thing. And she stuck her jewelry in there, her wedding ring, her necklace. It went through the security but it didn't come out. And at first I thought, well, maybe it got stuck, as she probably did too. But then she started asking one of the security guards, hey, in Farsi, I don't see my jewelry. Where is it? Please give it back. And they just completely ignored her. They didn't want anything to do with her because they had stolen it. They didn't want to give it back. They knew she was leaving the country. She didn't want to give up her opportunity to leave the country, and so they could keep her jewelry. So the most amazing thing happened, saved the day. Literally, I've never been at the point where I wanted to do something, but I knew that a blonde from the States yelling at an Iranian security guard while I'm trying to get out of the country is not a good idea. So this little lady in the far corner of the room that has been sitting over kinda hunchbacked for most of the time, she kinda gets up with this angry scowl on her face and just rips that guy some nasty words that I've never heard, can't ever repeat. But right from that moment on, she started getting up and walking towards them, and the security guards handed her her jewelry, and she got off on her plane. And so I realized, thankfully, there's some amazing people. And they're everywhere in the world. It's not just in certain countries. And as I was flying home, it brought back full circle one of the most important concepts that I keep with me today and every day, and that is the value and the meaning of freedom. And so I tell people often that you kinda want to have some concept of what you're photographing, or what's in your life, because that will come out in your work eventually. As you get used to working your equipment and all that's in sync, what really matters is what you're thinking about. And that's what also you're gonna be seeing when you're out photographing. So, speaking of freedom, there's a little bit of responsibility. Because we all love equipment. And I love to buy equipment, but to be honest with you, I started buying when commercial shoots were good and I was buying a lot of equipment. I compiled massive amounts of equipment. And it was taking a long time to deal with it. I didn't wanna deal with it. But it was a good lesson about freedom, because, yes, we do have the ability to buy whatever we can afford, or, in some cases, whatever we wanna do. But every piece of equipment after that moment that I buy, I always think I've got to create at least five good pictures with before I sell it or get rid of it. Because that gives me some accountability for what I'm going to buy when I'm in the camera store. And I've done this many times. I go in and I look at a lens. Oh, that's beautiful, and I buy it and think I need it. And as I'm selling it, I go, I really didn't photograph with it. I didn't even use that lens, or I did once, maybe. So think about that next time you're in the camera store. I know some of the camera stores won't like that concept, but it's the reality for me. 'Cause what matters in the end is your story and your ability to give that story. The equipment doesn't matter. It really doesn't. So editing is the last part of this. Editing your work is very important, because a couple of things. You wanna edit your work as an artist, not as the photographer. Don't shoot for the edit until you know. And the reason I say this is I've stood next to several people that literally are standing there and they're going, sorry, the bird just took off, the wave's crashing and breaking, and I'm taking pictures and other people are taking pictures, and they're just standing there. And I ask 'em, why aren't you taking any pictures? Well, I'm just gonna have to delete them later. And it's really not the way you wanna approach photography, is thinking about how many you're gonna have to delete. So just take the picture, spend your time editing later. It makes a big difference. But whatever you do, don't try to edit in the field. I do this once in a while because I just know I've spent my time and my dues. It took me hundreds of thousands of frames, and like I said, I've spent my 10,000 hours editing and post-processing. So, I don't know, it might be 20,000. It's a lot of time. You need to witness what you created. You need to discover why you created it. And you'll end up, by doing that, with the best ones, eventually. That's the whole purpose. You need to show others. It's part of the process, the critique. You need to show as many people as you possibly can the work that you've created. Eventually you'll become efficient at it. So that's the key here, because you can do this really quick once you have the experience. And some of the experience that I've had was in watching my parents create the books. I basically saw from the beginning to the end the creation, my dad photographing, the culling, the editing of all the work. And then the printing. I'd even go to press once in a while and watch it printed. And so, by learning all that, then I realized quite a bit about what my dad didn't like, what my mom didn't like, what the editors didn't like. It's just the whole process is so valuable. It's a big part of the process for me. And as I said earlier, it was a lot of work. My father probably spent a third of his life with his hands in the changing bag, changing four by five holders. It was a monumental task to figure out which ones we were gonna drum scan. I'll tell you a little bit about that later on. But in the end, it culled down to the books that he produced. And of those, I did about six or seven with him, and so I was part of the process once I figured out what I was doing. So editing is really important, and one of the things you wanna think about editing for is maybe a project. And so I tell people, if you don't know what to look for, just go out and try and find something that fits a theme. And so, in this case, I call it It's Alive. It's basically a bunch of sticks and rocks that look like other things. This is my salmon coming out of the river. It's a little hard to see, but if you look at it long enough, it looks like a King salmon jumping out of the river. It is just a boulder. I didn't do any photoshop. That one's a little more obvious, seahorse, but it's just a rock in Scotland, and you can see the shapes starting. And this is probably my favorite. This is the sea dragon. So you can see the head right here and the wings coming back. I would lie to you if I said, yeah, I caught that photograph thinking about that. No, I figured it out in editing later. And this one is kind of a big pterodactyl, or moon-eating pterodactyl. So the idea is you capture a great photograph, but also be aware of the things, of the shapes that things are creating. So up here you can see the wings here and the mouth, and that's actually the moon. And this one, this is my trolls in Iceland. If you look hard enough, you've got the big troll right here. And I still haven't finished counting, but there's a couple right here. They're up there in the water. You can see the eyes here for another one. There's literally, some people have said that they've counted 21 trolls. And this is the Eye of Sauron. Actually, it's the eye of Iceland. This is going out in Iceland again. Just a little dry patch of mud as we're going across a lake. And then a monster. A couple of these in Iceland. The sun's coming up through his legs. It's kind f a mix between an anteater and an elephant. Don't know really what the monster is. And this is the mosquito. Just a big mosquito, 'cause they're always a pest. All right, so a couple of things just to recap. Know your audience. If you can answer that, it's really a valuable commodity to have. And carry one camera, maybe two lenses, when you're learning how to compose and shoot. Have a concept to work on. Think about that. And then have a style to consider. Look at some of the other photographers, painters, that can influence you. And then last, just move around, especially when you're learning. So a couple of things. A tip, don't delete any images. Study each one, and especially years later. 'Cause you don't know at the time how valuable that picture is. So don't delete 'em. If they're way out of focus, fine, but keep 'em. Exercise. I would recommend that you create a portfolio of 10 images based on your word. I talked about freedom. If you come up with a word or something that's important to you, create a little portfolio, at least 10.