Is Instagram Compromising Photography?

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If you’re wanting your screen to be filled with beautiful imagery, you don’t have to look far.  Instagram is filled with exceptional photographers creating exceptional photography.  However, this abundance has caused us to ask the following question:  Are we becoming desensitized to great imagery?

Prior to the days of social media, if you wanted to experience art you would attend a gallery, purchase a magazine, coffee table book, or go to the library.  Today, social media has become a feast so luxurious for the eyes, the abundance might be making us immune to the work and effort it took to create the imagery. 

Instagram has become a hub where after diligent, daily work you can grow your "followers" and achieve "Influencer" status.  At this point, companies will pay you to travel, photograph, and share their location, brand or product.  Is this one of the last frontiers of making a living from photography? If this is the case, have we sacrificed something precious about our craft by being content with someone clicking "Like" on the post but the engagement stops there?  

Rather than pondering and gazing at beauty, are we swiping after 3.5 seconds to the next image? Furthermore, where there once was dialogue and discussion about images in forums, art shows, galleries, or photo clubs, images are now being consumed after a quick glance and a swipe.  Are we satisfied with that?

The accessibility of travel, reasonably priced photographic gear, and digital cameras has opened photography to the masses.  Photographing at pro levels is no longer limited just to professional photographers.  It’s a beautiful thing to watch people find an outlet that they can be creative and grow in.  For all of us, it’s an escape, release and invitation to explore. 

This question isn’t about photography needing to go back to being exclusive.  An inclusive approach as Keith and I have found has initiated relationships that we can’t imagine living without.  This is a conversation about valuing our work, and wanting it to be the gateway to conversation about photography, art, life, lessons learned, and philosophy.   

We want to hear from you.  What causes you to stop and gaze at a photograph?  Are you desensitized to great imagery?  Do you crave more dialogue about your work?

Intimacy With Nature

It's dark as you hit the snooze button one more time. Sunrise waits for no one. You roll out of your warm bed, fumble around in the dark for the clothes shoved into your pack, grab your gear and without looking in the mirror you walk out the door of your hotel.  Driving through the dark, a special spot in mind, crunching leaves under your feet, branches breaking, you arrive. You wait.  Watching light, watching movement, scanning for your perfect composition.  

As predictable as the sunrise is, there's nothing routine about the display of rays, color and light. Click click click.   Working in tandem with the crescendo of light, you become a part of the scene. Alone at that place, you make a memory with the landscape.  Etched in your memory, waiting for you to go home and bring it back to life: Waiting for you to relive the moment.  

Intimacy with nature is the essence of all great photographic work.  Being content to sit for days on end, having no control over the climate or the elements, you wait.  Nature has only One Master, and it's not humanity.  Perhaps that's what keeps us passionate.  We can't control the light, the movement, or the shadows.  Humbly, we wait, we watch and we receive.  

We fall in love with the familiar.  There's beauty in a place you know well; It's like coming home.  The compositions are old friends.  Yet each display of light, each birth of morning is new, different, inviting.  

We crave the unknown.  Places undiscovered, not yet brought to life through the lens.  Places all our own.  It's a different type of falling in love.  You fumble your way around.  You sit quietly and watch.  Taking your time, exploring angles.  Watching the magic of changing light.  New sounds, new scents, and the location will unfold for those who are willing to be its servant.  

This is the art of photography.  Falling endlessly in love with nature is where it all begins. 

Planning Your Next Photography Trip

                                                                                                 Photograph courtesy of Addie Strozier

                                                                                                 Photograph courtesy of Addie Strozier

Photography trips are in full swing here at Photography Workshop Company and Charleston Photography Tours.  We just finished off an amazing trip with some great people for our ‘Spring In The Smokies’ adventure, and we’re now preparing to head to the Canadian Rockies for a 7 day excursion that hits Banff, Jasper and everywhere in-between.   Before we pack our passports we are heading to North Carolina for some intense scouting of waterfalls in the Nantahala National Forest.   Because we’re in scouting mode, I thought we would share with y’all some of the things we do to prepare for a scouting trip.

1)    Location Research

Know when to go! Specific research of the area of interest including the best time of year to go for blooms, rain, water levels for waterfalls, foliage color, and critter activity is time spent that will go a long way to planning a successful trip. 

Having an expectation of what the weather patterns might look like is also an important tool to have in your back pocket.  

Before we even pack a bag, we’re pouring over maps of our destination.  Water, mountains, land structures are all a matter of interest for us and we’ll mark them on the map.   Depending on the amount of time we have to be able to wander, we’ll jot down areas in order of priority for us to explore. 

Most vital to our scouting workflow is apple maps.  A recent upgrade allows us to set a mark of where we are (if we have signal) and the app will retain that information.   It’s great to have that information handy so we can quickly reference what’s near us on a future trip. 

If technology is not to our advantage, we’ll have our old school maps, (you know, the paper kind) marked with locations that we plan on covering. 

2)    Stay Organized!

Apple notes allows you to take a screen grab of your location on the map, and jot down whether the location is best for sunrise or sunset.  Any important details or compositional reminders can also be made in scouting notes.  For our Banff trip, we have notes from each trip we’ve ever taken and the new locations we find each time.  It’s tough to remember every location, and staying organized with a place to keep pictures captured with our phones for future reference along with notes we’ll need to remember is vital.

3)     Be Prepared With A Scouting Pack.

You never know what you’ll encounter when you’re scouting and being prepared can sometimes mean breezing through a difficult scenario, or having your trip ruined.  It’s a great idea to keep a pack in the back of your vehicle that is filled with a first aid kit, bear spray, rope, fire starter, zip lock bags, gloves, a knife, and extra bug spray.

4)    Talk To A Local

Some of our best finds have been through the knowledge of a local.  Stop at a small general store, a parks office (if one is available) and speak to a ranger, or a small gas station.  Strike up a conversation with your waitress about the area and find out where they like to go.  Regardless of whether or not they have an interest in photography, they may be able to point you in the direction of a favorite spot of theirs.

5)    Prepare Mentally.

A scouting trip requires a different frame of mind.  You aren’t going with the object of landing that next great shot.  An open mind, relaxed, ready to get out and stretch your legs are all requirements of a successful scouting trip.  Leave the laziness at home.   Road side photography will get you the popular destinations, but getting out into the wilderness and hiking into the interior will be your greatest reward. 

Enter your new location with eyes open, and an appreciation for the surroundings.  When you approach a new location with a desire to be present, rather than a hunting trip for what you can take from the location, you’ll find the experience is much more fulfilling. 

The Legacy Of Photography

The email came through on a regular morning, business operating as usual, us refilling our coffee mugs consistently, but the words of a particular email that was waiting for us stopped us in our tracks. 

The writer was asking if we knew someone who would be able to benefit from photographic gear left to her from her deceased spouse.  She was struggling to part with it, it was one of the last pieces she had held onto that belonged to him. The hands that once held that camera body had held her heart, and now he was gone.  

Keith and I have always known that it's people that cause us to get up in the morning and love each passing day.  Lifelong friendships are often formed on week long photography workshops.  Our friends have become those we photograph with on a regular basis.   It truly is people that make up our photographic world, and so it's truly from our heart when we say that it is the people who make us love what we do everyday, and although we had never met this woman, her letter and desire to trust us with this treasure was truly humbling.  

We immediately responded and promised her we would wait for the right person to come along, and when we knew in our heart that we found him/her, we would share the story of the original owner. 

A few weeks later, a box arrived on our front step and we knew what it was before opening it.  It's difficult to put into words the feelings that circulated through our kitchen that morning.  There was a delay in receiving the package because the writer was having a difficult time letting it release from her hands.  In all truth, this blog post has been written and percolating for weeks, but I've been unable to release it to the public because there's not only a responsibility to give honor to this man, but there's something heavy in my heart that I had to articulate within myself before I could share it with you.  His legacy has hung thick in the air. 

The arrival of this gear, given in tender memory of someone special, clearly showed us that long after the friendships from workshops have faded, our ability to travel has been limited, and the last sunset has been captured, our legacy will continue in our photographs. Held and beloved by our family, the essence of our eye, the gateway to our heart will remain.  

When the soles of our feet touch the earth to photograph, we can know with confidence that a soul will be touched by our experience.  

This truth is an easy concept to let roll off our tongues, but a hard concept to digest and allow to settle into the very depth of our souls.  How would our photographic process change if we understood that a moment photographing in the field will encapsulate a story that will touch the souls of others long after we have passed?  When the soles of our feet touch the earth to photograph, we can know with confidence that a soul will be touched by our experience.   

Why do we photograph? It's life giving in the field, and life sustaining long after we are gone. When we can truly appreciate the value of what we do in the field is longer lasting than just a fun trip with friends, we may start scratching the surface of our art.   When we allow the truth to wrap around and sink into our actions regarding the value of our passion, I firmly believe we will approach the wilderness with sacred footsteps.  

Your photography is the essence of your eye, the record of your footsteps, a moment of your life stilled and waiting to be embraced by others. 

Emmett has taught us this truth.  It took receiving his gear for this truth to seep into our hearts and settle.  It's easy to undervalue what we do everyday as photographers.  After all, there are more photographers today than ever before.  Your journey will be different from ours, your itineraries will be varied and your experience unique to you.  However, there is only one you, there's only one me, and there's only one Emmett.  

If you will, allow me to share with you one mans legacy and his images from those who loved him:   

Emmett Stuart Ingersoll III

"I guess I'd just like the person or people who use the camera to know how many great memories I have of watching him work with it.  He was the type of person who learned absolutely everything about a subject in which he had an interest, and photography was no different.  He was not a "point and shoot" kind of guy - he loved the complexities and skill required for true artistic photography, and he was incredibly good at it. 

He was a brilliant man whose loss can never be healed, even after all these years.  But it's time for someone else to find joy in these things that he treasured."  - Lia Keston

The source of our passion: Nature

With a deep breath I breathed in the scent of the azaleas in Charleston, and breathed out these words “nature is good for the soul”.  

That same day we watched the forecast and saw snow was predicted for the southern parts of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Needing a short break, Keith escaped in his truck to chase snow.  While there, everything that could go wrong seemed to happen until that one moment he stood with his feet at the edge of a river, a waterfall before him, and snow blanketed the tress.  The effort and obstacles were worth it.  Being in nature gave him room to breathe. 

Nature opens the doors to your soul and breaths life into your lungs.

In the end, isn’t that why we do what we do and why we get up in the wee hours of the morning to brave the cold and elements?  Whether you are a full time professional photographer, retired, or have an office that feels more like home than your own house, the one thing we have in common is our love of being outdoors.

If we assessed all the great landscape photographers of the past and those currently still making images today, the commonality is their passion for nature.  We know that staying in bed will result in missing 100% of the shots.  More importantly, the sacrifice of sleep will reward us with more than just a few pictures to show on Facebook or hang in our offices.  We’ll find that time spent getting lost near rushing waterfalls or on the side of the mountain speaks to something our soul longs for:  Adventure.  Combine crisp morning air, the earth offering up the fog to the still light of dawn and you’ll find the demands of your schedule and responsibilities dissipate.  That’s something the most luxurious of spas can’t offer.   

Explore for your heart, and the photographs will follow.

Principles Of Composition: Balance

Recently I was photographing ice bubbles on the frozen lakes of the Canadian Rockies, and the raw, rugged beauty mixed with the phenomena of gorgeous ice bubbles below me left me literally breathless.  Feeling very much like a beginner, I battled visual overload and awe.   I mentally talked myself through slowing down, going back to basics and looking for strong compositions. 

As teachers, we can often forget what it was like to be a beginner and to be overwhelmed with equipment and the beauty surrounding you.  When you add in the pressure to get the shot while the light is in its full glory, the situation can be frustrating. 

In a series of blog posts, we are going back to the basics of composition.  Today we’re addressing the topic of balance. 

Its not difficult to understand what this means, but mastering this technique or rule of design in your compositional tool belt can be challenging. 

Balance is identifying the elements before you, and creating your composition in a way that distributes weight evenly.  In drawing or painting, we break down the elements in our composition to shapes first.  The same principle must be applied to photography.  The best way to describe this will be visually. 

Symmetry:

In the example below, symmetry is achieved by using two identical shapes or subjects and placing them on either side of an imaginary vertical axis in your image.  Below, I composed this photograph with the road going directly down center and having the weight of the trees on either side of the road being equally weighted.  Symmetry can be very formal and evoke feelings of formalities and elegance.  Oftentimes if we have images with a strong sense of symmetry, we will try them in black and white, which also leads to a very classic and elegant piece.

 Asymmetrical balance:

Asymmetrical balance follows the same principle above but looses the reigns.  We are essentially looking for balance without using identical objects. Finding a composition while looking for asymmetrical balance can be a bit more challenging.  Asymmetrical balance calls for two elements weighted the same, but does not require them to be identical. Aysmmetircal balance can also be related to tone or space.  

A good indicator if you have achieved asymmetrical balance is that if you find your eye equally roams to the left and right equally, you likely have hit the target. 

As an example below, I used tone (lights and darks) in a diagonal placement to achieve balance.

Radial Symmetry:

 Radial symmetry starts our point of focus in the center and then radiates out.  This might be one of the most difficult forms of balance to achieve.  Keith has an excellent example of this with his image, Blush Of Dawn (shown below).   Note how his sunrise is coming from close to the center and radiating out the top and the reflection in the bottom.  In addition, he’s also used symmetrical balance to balance two large darker objects on either side of the image to distribute weight and frame the picture.

Approximate Symmetry:

Let’s take things to a little deeper level.  Approximate balance follows the same principle as symmetry above but looses the reigns.  We are essentially looking for balance without using identical objects.  In the example below I balanced the weight of two objects, the fence on the right and the mound of grass on the left.  Both sides are similar in tones, but the left is clearly heavier than the right.  The weight of each in regard to space is evenly distributed, which supports our principle. 

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Today we’ve covered several different elements to the principle of balance, and although we might not be able to recite each one tomorrow, let’s tuck these principles into our mind.  In the end, the most important thing to remember is that when you’re working on a composition, to identify all the elements in your frame, and making sure you are positioning them in a way that reflects balance.