Keeping your eyes open


A difficult part about photography is seeing.  The problems stems from the fact that we see so much, that our minds have learned to filter out almost everything.  Though we have about 180°, we are unable, generally, I suspect, to focus our attention on much of that.  Rather, what we “see” is like what exists in the boca of a photograph taken with a 200mm lens at an f-stop of about 1.4.  So what do we do to open up that aperture just a bit?  There are probably a billion answers to this question, and I bet about 980 million of them are pretty good answers.  For me, though, I have learned this.  Photography is a very personal and sometimes lonely venture.  I find that my best shots come to me when I am alone, and hence, free to explore without the hinderance of having to actually talk with another person.  Sounds pretty harsh, but it’s simple.  The human mind, while powerful, is also very limited.  The more things you are doing at once, the less well each of those things is done.  You can see or you can speak.  When looking for pictures, it is best to see.  With a family that I love about as much as I love to breathe, getting this alone time is not easy, but, still, it is necessary.

I’ve also learned to turn around.  I heard another photographer talk about this, and I wish I could remember who it was who said it, but I find that it is true.  You get somewhere, you pull out your camera, look through the eyepiece, take your shot.  But then, before you pack up, turn around.  It is surprising just how often you will find that there are far more exciting images waiting for you if you simply do that.

Lastly, and related to what I just said, change your angle.  If you want to see something differently, change your perspective and look.  Get on a ladder, crawl on the ground.  Things will look different, and things will often look better simply by doing that.  The image above was taken at an old mill near Calistoga, Ca., and I’m pretty sure it has been shot about a million times by now.  After all, look at it.  Who could resist.  But, I also imagine that most of those shots are pretty much the same.  I walked around this thing several times before finally settling on the shot above.  What I’d hoped to get was power of the wheel itself, and possibility that doors always present.  I titled it “Mine was the only way,” and I won’t say why, but I will say that the title is intended to make viewer consider the picture as more than simply a door and mill wheel.

The photo below is of the same mill.  As you can see, I followed my own advice.  I placed my lens really low, and shot the mill by looking up at it.  This always makes things seem bigger, and bigger is generally more powerful.  In this case, I think it also makes the mill look more haunting.  I added a texture onto the picture to really bring out the darks and separate them from the whites.  These are artistic choices, and what I was going for was drama.  The contrasting tones should remind one the stormy clouds that so often add depth and dimension to black and white images.  One last thing that I’ve found really enhances some photos (though, when used too often just becomes cliche) is to duplicate a photo in a photoshop layer.  Turn the new layer into a BW image, then superimpose that image onto the color image.  I lower the transparency of the top layer, and this gives a desaturated look that is highly controllable.  But, because you are dealing with an entirely different layer, you can control the amount of contrast in your top BW image, and this has an interesting affect on the overall contrast of the final image.

I miss my camping trip, but am glad that I have so many images that I can share.  I’m still sifting through them, so have no idea when I’ll be done editing and/or sharing.  Can’t wait to get back up there again.


  1. Very nice. I share your thoughts: I shoot best when I shoot alone.

  2. It must be nice living in Mexico. The pictures you show are so colorful and nice to look at. I am sincerely jealous.

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