Breathing Color Belgian Linen on a Home Made Photo Panel (Podcast 676)

Breathing Color Belgian Linen on a Home Made Photo Panel (Podcast 676)

This week I was lucky enough to be able to take a look at Breathing Color’s new media Belgian Linen, and today I’m going to relay my findings, as well as a cool way to create a home-made panel to show this beautiful media off.

Let’s start with a little bit of background about my tests though, which starts, as it always does when I introduce a new media type, with the creation of my ICC profiles. I won’t go into details on this, but I always create my own ICC profiles, because that always gives the best possible results when printing. Having given the 24 x 11-inch test target an hour or so to fully dry, enabling the colors to stabilize, I scanned the 2380 color patches using my X-Rite i1 Photo Pro 2 spectrometer, which you can see under the Color Management section of my B&H Photo Gear page.

Scanning Patch Sheet
Scanning the Patch Sheet with the X-Rite i1 Photo Pro 2

Then, to avoid the color issues with the Canon ImagePROGRAF PRO-4000 large format printer, I associated the newly created ICC profile with the Media Type that I registered with the printer, as this is my preferred method to get great color out of this printer. I explained the problem and how to work around it in Episode 573 so check that out if you are interested.

I have created so many color test patch sheets over the years, that I’m pretty much able to see how good a media is from the patch sheet, and I was already getting excited as I saw the patch sheet emerge from the printer. Even just looking at the contrast between the raw linen color on the back of the media compared to the white printable side had me giggling like a teenager.

Breathing Color Belgian Linen Box
Breathing Color Belgian Linen Box

Media Specifications

Before we go on, let’s take a look at some of the Breathing Color information on this beautiful new media. From their website, we can see that Belgian Linen™ is a unique European textile which is woven in Belgium by members of the Masters of Linen Club. It has been prized for thousands of years for the high quality, softness, and durability it offers. It naturally has a rich color absorption and is lint-free and hypoallergenic.

Breathing Color combines this remarkable material with their advanced ink receptive coating technology, resulting in the highest-quality inkjet textile available on the market. They also provide the following bullet points of information…

  • Archival Certified: OBA free and 100+ years certified archival by the Fine Art Trade Guild (view certificate)
  • HD Image Quality: We’ve used our most advanced inkjet coating technology yet to make your prints on Belgian Linen look their sharpest and have deep, rich colors and blacks.
  • Strong and Durable: Linen is 30% stronger than cotton, making it the perfect textile for printing gallery wraps or rolled prints.
  • Sustainably-Made: The flax seed used to make Belgian Linen are grown from one of the most ecological fibers in the world
  • Revered by the Old Masters: Belgian Linen™ has been used for centuries by famous artists such as Dali, Whistler, Monet, and more!
  • 18 mil Thickness 425 gsm Weight: This luxury linen textile is thick and heavy weight. It feels substantial and expensive in your hands.

So, we know thanks to Seth Godin that all marketers are liars, but in this case, I can attest that everything the Breathing Color team says about this media is 100% true.

Profile Visualization

Let’s continue and take a look at a screenshot made with ColorThink Pro to compare my new Belgian Linen profile with two others. The Belgian Linen is the semi-transparent color-filled profile, and I have compared it firstly, to the Breathing Color media that I have so far felt to be the best matte media I’ve ever used, which is their Signa Smooth. I thought that Signa had a wide gamut for a matte media, but as you can see, it fits nicely inside the Belgian Linen profile, which is a good 10% or so larger, and that’s a big difference for a matte media.

Belgian Linen Profile Comparison #1
Belgian Linen Profile Comparison #1

In Wire-Frame, I’ve actually included Breathing Color’s Vibrance Gloss, to show you that gloss media is generally going to give a wider gamut, and you can see by how low the wire frame goes, that the darkest black that Vibrance Gloss will provide is much darker than its matte cousins, but for matte media, the other two are still very, very respectable.

I know that these charts aren’t easy to glean a lot from when you have to view a static screenshot, but to hopefully help some, here is a different angle, again with an arrow pointing to each of the profile representations.

Belgian Linen Profile Comparison #2
Belgian Linen Profile Comparison #2

So, we can see from these 3D representations that Breathing Color’s new Belgian Linen is very capable with regards to the color gamut, but let’s take a look at a straight print that I made before we jump into the details of the home-made panel that I’m going to walk you through today.

Feel the History

Although Belgian Linen is a canvas, I think it’s texture is so beautiful as it is, that it doesn’t necessarily need to be wrapped like a regular canvas print, although, of course, it would be beautiful as a gallery wrap as well. I selected a photo from this year’s Complete Namibia Tour because I figured it’s rugged and worn look would suit the Linen. I printed it out using my fine art print border ratios at a size of 18 x 24 inches, because this is the size that I generally print at when printing for myself, and I keep them in an 18 x 24-inch binder.

Kolmanskop Blue Sand-Filled Room Print on Belgian Linen
Kolmanskop Blue Sand-Filled Room Print on Belgian Linen

It’s hard to see in this image, but the quality of this print when you hold it in your hand is absolutely unreal. Belgian Linen is very flexible and relatively forgiving with regards to handling, yet it has a weight that almost helps to recall the history of this media, and the artists that have laid their brushes down on this canvas.

A Closer Look

It isn’t very easy to see, but here is a 100% crop from near the center of a photograph of this print at an angle. Hopefully, though you’ll be able to see the almost painterly feel that the texture of the Linen adds to the photograph. Of course, the photo I selected has a painterly feel too, but I think they really compliment each other.

Belgian Linen 100% Crop
Belgian Linen 100% Crop

When you consider that Belgian Linen is $180 for just 20 feet on a 24″ roll, compared to $138 for 40 feet of Lyve, Breathing Colors other matte canvas, you almost automatically take more time over deciding what you want to print on it. Of course, if you are going to use this canvas for customer prints, you’re going to have to price them accordingly, but the appeal of this media should make it an easy sell, especially if you are able to meet face to face with your client and show them samples.

Home-Made Panel

OK, so let’s move on and talk a little now about the home-made panel that we’re going to make and then print for. I first introduced this method of presenting prints five years ago in one of my columns in the Craft & Vision PHOTOGRAPH magazine. I actually prepared a second panel back then, so I am going to use some of the photographs of the process from 2014, so forgive me if the look of the images varies a little.

To me, printing is a wonderful way to complete our photographs. As I mentioned earlier, I have an 18 x 24-inch binder that is full of prints that I simply make just for fun. I generally use a printing afternoon as a way to wind-down. It’s almost like a way to give myself a little bonus, as I love the entire process, and the thrill of holding a tactile print in my hands never gets old. I think it gives us a way to be more intimate with our work than we can be by only ever viewing it on a computer or TV screen.

As an extension of this, I developed this relatively simple yet effective form of presentation that although takes a number of days to create as you wait for things to dry, feels very fulfilling to finally hang on the wall when you are done. I should mention though that this method is probably best kept for personal use unless you can source a panel that is made of archival material. I did not, as we’ll hear.

Required Materials and Tools

So, the main component of our presentation piece is the panel itself. I bought a piece of 600 x 450 x 5.5 mm MDF board at the local DIY store for $3 and had a guy at the store cut it down to 600 x 400 mm with their band saw. I don’t have a lot of DIY tools, so this was easier and most accurate. 

I also bought a length of 24 x 40 mm pine, long enough to cut two 40 cm bars and two 25 cm bars from. This cost $8. A bottle of strong wood glue cost $4, and the brackets to attach the string to the back to hang the panel cost $2. You will also need some archival glue to actually stick your print or canvas to the panel, which you can get from Breathing Color or University Products for around $8. You won’t use up all of the adhesive on one panel, so we’re probably looking at around $15 cost for the materials, and then the price of your print media and ink, which my printer’s Accounting module tells me was around $30. 

Tools required will vary and you can perhaps improve on some of these, but you’ll basically need a saw, a miter cutting block and clamp to hold your wood in place when you cut it to 45 degrees. You’ll also need a good sharp cutter, a cutting mat or surface that you don’t mind marking, and a steel rule. It’s best to avoid using a plastic rule for trimming as the blade of your cutter can ride up the rule into your fingers, which always best avoided. I also used a $10 band clamp to hold the back frame together for 24 hours as it dried, but you could improvise if you don’t have one of these. You’ll also need a screwdriver and pencil, and I think we’re ready to go.

Deciding Your Panel Size

I chose 600 x 400 mm for my panel size, because I wanted to display a standard cropped image. Most DSLR cameras create 3:2 aspect ratio images, so I was able to buy my materials before I decided on an image to print. If you have a specific photo in mind, and you have cropped it away from the standard 3:2 aspect ratio, you’ll need to check the proportions and buy your panel accordingly. 

For example, you might have cropped to a 16:9 ratio. In this case, if you wanted to create a 600mm wide panel, the height would need to be 337 mm. For a totally arbitrarily cropped image, you could use the pixels to calculate your panel size. For example, say your base image is 4882 x 3624 pixels, you could divide 4882 by 3624 to get your aspect ratio, which is 1:1.347, and again using the 600mm width, divide 600 by 1.347 for a panel height of 445 mm. 

Of course, you also need to ensure that you can actually make a print large enough for your panel. As you’ll need at least an inch wrapped around the back of the panel, you probably need to deduct two inches or 50 mm from your paper size to ensure that you can actually print your image.

Build the Panel

So that the panel will stand away from the wall, we’re going to build a frame to attach to the back of our panel. Use a miter cutting block to first cut off the end of your wood at 45 degrees.

Cutting 45 Degree Corners
Cutting 45 Degree Corners

Then measure from the outside edge to where you’ll need to cut your first frame bar. For my panel, I cut the long bars at 400 mm and the short bars at 250 mm. 

Measuring Bar Length
Measuring Bar Length

Once you have your four bars cut, match them together to get the best fit, and apply your wood adhesive to the ends where the bars need to be fixed together, and then clamp them together. I use a $10 band clamp for this, which works very well, but you might be able to use other clamps, or maybe even screw this frame together. Ensure that if use adhesive you check how long you need to keep the wood clamped together. My adhesive was good to work the wood in one hour, but requires 24 hours to fully set.

Clamping Frame to Glue
Clamping Frame to Glue

I then aligned the frame on the back of the panel, and measured the distance from all four edges until I had it in the center, then marked around the inside of the frame with a pencil, then applied adhesive to the frame, and lowered carefully it into place, aligning it with the pencil marks.

Applying Glue to Back of Spacer Frame
Applying Glue to Back of Spacer Frame

Then we get to reap an often-overlooked benefit of being a photographer, and use some of our collection of oversized books to apply pressure to the frame as it dries for a further 24 hours.

Weighing Down Spacer Frame
Weighing Down Spacer Frame

I then use some small, hinged brackets from the framing store to attach some string to the back of the frame so that I can hang it on the wall. Now we’re ready to move on to the printing.

Panel Back
Panel Back

Prepare to Print – Adding Borders

The edges of our panel have some depth, so we have to decide if we are going to print the image a little larger, and lose the edges of our image, or to avoid effectively cropping the image on the face of the panel, we can extend the image out, as we often do when creating a gallery wrap.

For this, I use ON1 Software’s Perfect Resize. You can launch Perfect Resize from within Capture One Pro, Photoshop or Lightroom etc, or simply export a PSD or TIFF file and open it in standalone Perfect Resize. As canvas can shrink a little when when we apply glue later, I need to add about 4mm to the width, so I enter 604 mm in the width field and because I have Constrain Proportions turned on, Perfect Resize automatically calculates my image height.

Prepare to Print – Adding Borders
Prepare to Print – Adding Borders

In the Settings panel, I set the Image Type to General Purpose and Method to Genuine Fractals, and use the default settings. I reduced the amount of Sharpening that Perfect Resize would usually apply, as I generally sharpen a little when printing, You can view the image at 100% to check the effects, but I generally find that Unsharp Mask gives me the best results as the sharpening method. If you are upsizing an image a lot the Progressive sharpening method can be better, but again, it’s best to check at 100% as you make these changes.

I use the Gallery Wrap settings to mirror the edges of my image out to form the sides of my panel, and because the board is 5.5 mm deep, I need to reflect my image out by at least that much. I actually choose 2 cm here, so that the image wraps around the back of our panel a little. If you don’t have Perfect Resize you can use any photo editing software to extend the canvas size, then transform the edges out to create a similar effect.

Printing

Remember to add whatever border size you created when you print. I added 4 mm on the width and 2.6 mm to the height of my image to allow for shrinkage, and another 2cm border for the edges of the panel and a little on the back of my panel, so have to add a total 44 mm to the width of my print, which is the height in this screenshot, because the print is rotated for printing.

Print Settings
Print Settings

As you can see, I created a custom page size in the Canon PRO-4000 printer drivers that is 609.6 mm wide, which is 24 inches, to match the roll width. I then specified the height of the page as 684 mm. To recap, my panel is 600 mm wide, and I added a 2 cm reflected border in Perfect Resize, and I told Perfect Resize to add a further 4 mm to allow for the canvas shrinking when we put glue on it. So that’s 600 + (20 x 2) + 4, for 644 mm. Because there is plenty of leeway on the 24-inch roll, we don’t really have to worry about the sides. Note too that I have my new ICC Profile selected and the Rendering Intent set to Perceptual. Most of the time for photographic prints, Perceptual will be what you need to select, although there are exceptions.

The Print

Before we continue creating our panel, here is a photo of the printed face of the Belgian Linen canvas, so that you can see the texture again. I’ve also laid a piece of the canvas over the print, so that you can see what it looks like on the back. You can actually buy Belgian Linen Natural from Breathing Color, which I might try at some point, but the print side also looks like the back of canvas that you see here, so it would give interesting results for sure.

Texture of Belgian Linen Canvas
Texture of Belgian Linen Canvas Front & Back

Cutting Notches

I usually like to give the print a day to fully dry. Once It’s dry, I trimmed the canvas so that there was a border of exactly 2 cm on all four sides. The next part is a little bit tricky, and I actually tried experimenting with a different method this week, but I prefer my earlier method, so I’ll show you the photo from my original article. Note that the back of the Belgian Linen does not look like this. It’s the brown stuff that we just looked at. The point here though, is that I measure in 4 cm from the corners of my trimmed print, then cut the corner off at approximately 45 degrees, and then cut out a notch of 5.5mm, which is the thickness of my panel. This allows us to fold the canvas up around the panel and then brings the flaps nicely into the corners where they meet.

Cutting Notch Out of Corner
Cutting Notch Out of Corner

I actually tried cutting after I’d applied the glue this time around, and as you’ll see shortly, it was a bit messy. The canvas wet with glue is difficult to cut, so the above method definitely works better for me.

The Sticky Bit

To stick the canvas or paper to your panel, you could use 3M spray adhesive, probably number 111 if you are printing on canvas, as 111 is good for wood and cloth, or check for compatibility of the two surfaces if you are using other materials. Although the archival qualities of your panel will depend on your media as well as the board material, because Belgian Linen is archival certified, I used archival glue from University Products, but as I say, my wooden board is probably not archival, although the print that I made five years ago has not faded or discolored at all, so I figured I’d just go ahead and use archival glue again. I also use a toothed spatula from a DIY store to spread the glue.

Archival Glue with Spreader
Archival Glue with Spreader

Having squeezed plenty of glue onto the face of the panel, I then scraped it out with the toothed spatula, as you can see here.

Applying Glue to Panel
Applying Glue to Panel

Ensure that your work surface is clean, but also keep in mind that you are going to get glue on it, so you may want to lay down some paper or something to protect your surface. Then place your panel on the back of the print, and align the corners with the notches that we made on each corner. Apply some pressure over the entire panel to ensure that it is stuck, and continuously check that the panel doesn’t slide around on the print, taking the corners out of alignment. After a few minutes, the adhesive will dry enough to stop the print from moving, and then you can apply your adhesive to the edges of the print. Again, this is a photo from my original article because I didn’t like the result with the experimental method I tried this week.

Apply Glue to Edge Flaps
Apply Glue to Edge Flaps

Once you have glue on each of the flaps fold them up and over the back of the panel, and keep stretching and rubbing the back edges, with a dry rag if necessary, until it’s fully adhered to the back of the panel.

This is what the back of my new panel looks like, and as you can see, the corners are not very nice to look at. Although this is fine for a print for myself, if this was a product for a client, I’d have scrapped it and started again, considering my experiment a failure.

Glued Down Sides Back Side
Glued Down Sides Back Side

Another thing that I learned this time around, is that if you pull the side flaps up too tightly, the thread of the canvas can get ruptured slightly. This might also be caused by the fact that my panel board has very sharp corners. Gallery wrap stretcher bars are usually slightly rounded to avoid this. Here’s a photo of my second lesson learned though, so that you can see what I mean.

Belgian Linen Panel Corner
Belgian Linen Panel Corner

Here too is a photo of my new panel hung in the entrance to our Tokyo apartment. I really like the simplicity of this kind of presentation. At approximately $45 including the print on Breathing Color’s Belgian Linen canvas, I feel that it’s worth a bit of time to put together, but it’s a labor of love. Or perhaps just my way to staying intimate with my art. I get great satisfaction from the act of completion with a project like this. If you also like tinkering around in addition to your printing addiction, maybe you can also give this a try.

Belgian Linen Panel on Wall
Belgian Linen Panel on Wall

I know I took this article away from a straight forward review of Breathing Color’s new Belgian Linen, but I hope you found it useful. I would like to finish by reiterating how beautiful I think this new media is. It’s expensive, and probably not going to be for every day use, but when utmost quality is necessary, Belgian Linen is it.

You can pick up both the white-coated Belgian Linen and Belgian Linen Natural from Breathing Color here.

Print Rotation

Let’s finish with a word about print rotation. As I am not allowed to hang my prints anywhere in our apartment outside of my studio without my wife’s permission, we decided on this photograph together. Although I was disappointed that I didn’t get a flamingo head poking up into the sun on this year’s Complete Namibia Tour, I still really like the warmth and atmosphere of this photo, and it became a firm favorite of my wife’s too as soon as I got home.

There is only so much wall space, and we try not to fill all of our walls with prints anyway, so we have started to rotate prints a little according to the season. Being Japanese, my wife appreciates art differently according to the season, and that is rubbing off on me a little too, so we have fun with this.

For example, the panel that we’ve had here for the last five years is the original one that I made for the Craft & Vision PHOTOGRAPH magazine article. For that print, I used my photo of a church on the mountainside near Vik in Iceland. To us, that photo really suits the summer months, mostly because in Japan people rarely control the temperature outside of the main living space, so this entrance area gets really hot, and the cool feel of Iceland helps to balance that out.

Conversely, as we enter Autumn now, and the temperature has finally started to fall a little, we were looking for something that kind of felt warm, but not hot. My wife feels that the similarity between the end of the day signified by the setting sun in this new print feels similar to how Autumn is like the end of the heat of summer, although not as sad as the winter. Winter actually is different again. Similarly, because this entrance area is not heated either, it’s freezing cold in here during the winter, so we won’t hang a print of a winter scene, despite me having thousands of them. We’ll probably either keep the warmth of this print, or look for something that conversely warms us up, to counter the winter cold.

Either way, we have fun thinking of which art to hang based on the location of the print and the season. Do your tastes change by season, or do you take things like this into consideration as well when deciding what to hang on your walls? Let us know in the comments below. I’d love to hear how you approach this subject.


Show Notes

Get Belgian Linen from Breathing Color here: https://www.breathingcolor.com/aqueous-linen

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes to get Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast as an MP3 with Chapters.

Visit this page for help on how to view the images in MP3 files.


Being Creative and Developing a Style (Podcast 468)

Being Creative and Developing a Style (Podcast 468)

Today we’re going to explore a number of topics that have been plaguing artists for centuries, and will probably continue to plague us for a few more millennia at least—how to become and stay creative, finding your artistic genre and developing a style.

We all, at some point, find it difficult to pick up the camera and start to do what we love to do. Despite having a passion for photography, or any other creative pursuit for that matter, we sometimes lack inspiration or momentum to actually create, or create to the quality or aesthetic level that we hope for our work.

One of my students in The Arcanum recently mentioned that he was having trouble “finding his muse”. My answer to this in brief was that any time you spend searching for your muse is wasted, because she’ll come when she’s good and ready, and not a moment before. But if you just sit around waiting for your muse to show up, you could have a long wait on your hands.

Create to be Creative

Five years ago, in episode 244, I talked about Creation Breeding Creativity. I’d been frustrated, because I wanted to go out and do some work, but was feeling uninspired, and it was at that point that I realized that the best way to get out of a creative slump, is to start creating.

Poppy Heaven

Poppy Heaven

Literally, right up until the point that I raised the camera to my eye, and actually started to frame up some shots and work the scene in front of me, I’d felt deflated and not really interested in creating anything at that time. Once I started to shoot though, actually being creative, before I knew it, the muse was by my side, leading my thoughts and refining my ideas. On that occasion, as is quite often the case, my compositions tightened and it all started to come together, but it doesn’t always work like that. The higher you set your sites, the more difficult it can be to achieve your goals.

The Taste Gap

It’s not really fair on the muse though, to expect her to complete your work for you once she’s turned up to lend a hand. Sometimes we start to understand what it is that we want to create, but there are a lot of things that factor in to how easy it will be for us to reach those goals.

If you have not been doing photography for very long, you might lack a technical understanding of how to achieve the results we’re hoping to create. If that’s the case, it’s important to develop the ability to either investigate or at least take a good guess at how you can achieve a certain look. Even as you become more experienced, sometimes you might have a killer idea, but just cannot figure out how to pull it together.

As Ira Glass points out in one of his talks about about storytelling, there is often a gap between what we can conceive and what we are able to create. He says that you get into creative work because you have good “taste” but for the first couple of years of making stuff, what you are making isn’t that great. There’s a gap between what you want to create driven by your taste and what you are actually capable of creating at that point in time.

I’m paraphrasing, but he goes on to say that it’s such a shame, but many people stop at that point, and give in. To get past that phase though, and to start to create work that matches your taste, you have to do a huge volume of work. What we often don’t realize here though, is that it’s perfectly normal for this to take a while. We have to fight through this phase.

There are No Shortcuts

You have to keep on reiterating on your ideas, refining the results with each iteration. The more you do something, the better you become at doing it. It can take years to get to the point where you can really make what you had envisioned, whether the muse is by your side, or on top of her cloud sipping a cocktail while watching you squirm.

Never in history has it been so easy to gain information and advice on how to reach our goals. The last 20 years have revolutionized how we study new pursuits. It’s common now to just pick up a device or open a browser and search for just about any knowledge that we require, and the chances are that someone has already taken the time to put the information you are looking for into a post of some sort. Maybe that’s how you will end up finding this post!

But just reading about a certain skill or technique will not make you a master at it. You have to put in the work, and make it your own. That only comes through repetition. Doing stuff again and again. Over and over until it starts to become second nature. The culture of having everything at our fingertips can lead to the desire for shortcuts and quick-fixes, and that will lead to disappointment.

Case in Point

As a case in point, I’d like to explain the photograph that I used to illustrate today’s blog post. The photograph in itself has little to do with the topic, other than in that it came into being by me practicing what I’m preaching here. Last Friday, my wife was heading into Shinjuku here in Tokyo for an evening seminar, and I’d spent almost three full days doing maintenance on our Web site and cleaning up posts afterwards. I was feeling a bit deflated, and knew that the only thing that was going to pick me up, was a little shutter-therapy, so I decided to go with her.

Across from the building that my wife needed to visit is the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, or Tochou. In the past I’ve photographed the circular wall around the courtyard there with my 14mm prime lens, but I’d been left wanting to go a little wider, which of course my new 11-24mm lens from Canon enables me to do, so that’s what I took. My 5D Mark III, the 11-24mm lens and a tripod.

I’d been there about ten minutes, got the shots that I’d set out to get, but I felt that the scene needed a little something more. I was doing 30 second long exposures, so most of the human figures that walked through the scene were disappearing due to their movement. I had just started to think of going into the shot and standing there myself, or maybe sitting cross-legged in the foreground, when a few Google Plus friends arrived, totally by coincidence.

After having a bit of a chat, I asked them if they’d mind posing in the scene, so we did a couple of shots, still at 30 seconds, trying to keep as still as possible, and the result is this photo (below).

With Friend's at Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

With Friend’s at Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

I had almost turned off, and given up on my idea to include a human figure. We’d been chatting for fifteen minutes when this idea popped into my head. We were starting to wind up the conversation and I started to think once again about sitting in  the scene myself, and then I connected the dots, or my muse connected them for me. Either way, I absolutely love this photo, and wanted to use it to show that we have to keep doing what we do. It keeps us sharp, and open to the whispers of the muse, or whatever you’d like to call it.

Rinse and Repeat

It can take years still to get into a position where you will be able to repeat your new found skills and processes consistently, and during that time, as you grow as an artist, you’ll not only start to achieve the goals that you were able to perceive, but you’ll start to develop new sensitivities and tastes. You’ll come up with new, more ambitious ideas, and these put us right back into a very uncomfortable place, where things don’t flow as easily as they started to before, and the missing muse will make us lonely and desperate all over again.

The cool thing is, that the more you do this, the more confident you become in your process, and you’ll start to know that despite the failures and disappointment, you will eventually create what you’d been hoping for. You just have to do the work. Rinse and Repeat, until it all comes together, once again.

Passion Will Pull You Through

I think the most vulnerable time for any creative person comes in the years shortly after you’ve fallen in love with a particular form of creativity, be it photography, writing, oil painting or knitting. You can get very excited by the results of your early efforts, because you don’t realize at first that you are really just scratching the surface.

Once you become proficient enough to realize that there are greater things to move on to, that’s when you start to panic, and feel disappointed, but if you really have fallen for your new found passion, you will be able to do the work, and put in the time required, and it will lead to results. Armed with this information you will hopefully learn not to fear the failures. It’s all part of the process.

I’ve spoken to people almost desperate to get through these early phases, and I know that this can feel really bad, but really, if you love what you do so much that it can hurt that bad, you have the passion required to do the work, and make it through to where you will occasionally be able to close the Taste Gap, and create something that you are truly proud of.

Don’t Let the Muse Leave

The great thing about being really passionate about your craft is that it can help you to be prolific. And the more often you do this, the easier it is to maintain your state of flow. It’s as though you get to call the muse back before she really gets a chance to leave.

When I’m on my photography tours or multi-day projects, it’s always much easier to stay creative when you get up and do it every day. Sometimes you’re tired, and don’t necessarily feel like getting off the bus and starting to shoot again, but for both myself and the participants of my tours, we have a plan, and we arrive at a place. The options are get off the bus and start to do what we fundamentally love, or sit on the bus alone and watch everyone else leave to do what they love. What we love!

Jewel on the Shore

Jewel on the Shore

Needless to say the latter rarely happens, and the great thing about this is that as soon as the camera is raised to our eye, our creative juices start to flow again, and we often almost pick straight up where we left off the previous day. The technique, the creativity, it’s all right there. The muse didn’t get a chance to leave.

Having the Courage to Abandon Work

Sometimes though, as hard as we try, it doesn’t always come together as we’d hope. We just don’t see it. We know that we have to continue to work hard and it will kick back in, but what do we do with the crap that we make in the meantime?

As I mentioned in episode 438 on the Evolution of the Photographer, it’s important to understand when what you create is not worthy of public eyes. It takes a lot of courage and commitment to abandon something that you are emotionally invested in, not to mention financially, or your often lengthy time investment. I am a strong believer though, in us only being as good as the worst work we allow to represent us.

Sure, it’s OK to show less than stellar work as illustration, or when you are trying to solicit advice on how you can do better, but when you show something and say, this is my work, it’s what I do, such as in a portfolio, it should be the best that you can do at this point. Even if you hope to go on to create even better work, and you always should, just be sure that what you show others is really your best work right now.

Putting Your Stakes in the Ground

When I rented a gallery and did my first solo show at the end of 2010, I was basically putting my stake in the ground. I had high hopes for the work that I was still to make, and I still do, but I wanted to say “This is me, right now. This is the work that I was able to do while still employed in my old day job.”

At that time, of course, I was happy with the work. I was proud to show it! But at the same time, I knew that in a few years I’d look back and wonder why I included at least some of the work that I did, and I do. And that’s OK.

Dahlia #3

Dahlia #3

You have to believe in what you are going to become, but don’t let that stop you from putting your stake in the ground right now, as you create your stepping stone masterpieces. Each of these achievements is another step in our own personal evolution as an artist, and even if you look back later and cringe, it’s necessary to take us to the next level, and forms an important part of our personal history.

Finding Your Genre and Style

One fortunate byproduct of all the hard work that we put in to being creative and finding inspiration, is that being prolific also leads us to our photographic genre, and in turn helps us to start to develop our style. These are also areas in which people seem to get impatient, but I truly believe that just as the muse walks the other way when we sit around wishing she’d show up, the only way to find your genre or develop your style, is to shoot a lot.

Finding your genre is in many ways the easier of these two aspects of photography, because we are attracted to certain genres over others. And, we all only have a finite amount of time to dedicate to photography, so we prioritize that time according to our desires. If you have just three hours to head out with your camera for example, you’re going to think of your options, which might be to either head to the park to make some flower shots, call a model friend to do a quick studio session, or go into town to do some street work.

You can replace these examples with just about any other photographic genre of course. The point is that you’re going to prioritize your time in such a way that you’ll automatically gravitate towards the sort of work that you are most passionate about.

There is nothing stopping you pursuing multiple genres either. You may find that you love to use small pockets of time doing street photography, because you can do that closer to home, but when you get a full day or more you may head out into the hills to do some landscape or wildlife work. Multiple genres can coexist, and as time allows, I believe your photography will benefit as a whole by doing as many types of photography as you can. One discipline will feed and inform the others.

The Beginnings of Your Style

Even from within the genres you try your hand at though, you will find yourself prioritizing some types of photography over others, and this will lead you to hone in and specialize. You’ll start to build a body of work in a small number of genres. Once again, within those genres you’ll shoot more and more, and over time you’ll start to see some patterns form in how you work.

You’ll find yourself using certain settings, certain compositional and processing techniques over others. The more you shoot though, the more work you’ll produce, and then you’ll start to gravitate further still towards certain areas of photography and processing. These are the beginnings of your style developing, and what’s more, I believe it’s fine to have a number of sub-styles within your overall style.

Sub-Styles and Style Dilution

For example I love to use shallow depth of field in my Flowerscape images, but for my landscape work, I generally go for much deeper depth of field, often aiming to get the entire scene in focus. (See my post on Understanding Hyper-focal Distance.) I like to do long exposure landscapes, and quite often they are processed into black and white images.

The Philosopher

The Philosopher

How we process certain types of images adds to our style. I often create high contrast black and white images of my landscapes and even some flower photographs, but my Flowerscapes are generally left in glorious full color. If color is important in a landscape photograph I often use Color Efex Pro to enhance the color in the scene, but I pretty much never use it on my wildlife photography.

It’s definitely not just about processing and technique though. The more I shoot, I’m happy to hear from time to time that people can recognize my work, because of a common sensibility between all of my types of work. Be it a black and white flower, a full color landscape, or the look on the face of a philosophical snow monkey, people generally recognize my work, and that means I’m gradually establishing a style.

If you want to develop a recognized style, and be known for it quickly, you’d probably be more successful by sticking to just one style and one type of processing. I personally want to have more fun with my photography, so I work in a broader set of genres, but this really is up to the individual. It’s pretty safe to say though, that the more you dilute your styles, the longer it’s going to take for people to recognize them as yours.

What If I Can’t Find My Genre?

It’s quite common as people start to get into photography, to feel frustrated that you don’t really know what type of photography you’d like to pursue. If you simply have a love for photography, but don’t know what to do with it, just shoot anything and everything that you can. Really. Go crazy with it! Over time, you’ll gain a large enough mass of photographs in one genre over another, that gravity will kick in and pull you in a certain direction.

Your heart will lead you. You’ll find that some types of photography simply make you feel happier than others, but you might not learn which ones they are until you have spent some time working in a few different genres. It’s never been easier to learn of the possibilities though. We are surrounded by more photography today than in any other time in history. On the television, in magazines, and of course everywhere on the Internet.

There are sights like 500px, Instagram, flickr and many others where people share amazing photography every day. Go and take a look, and listen to those flutters of excitement in your heart as you see certain types of photography. Most sites have a way to Favorite images, and then display them in groups later. Use this, and you’ll see certain commonalities between the images that you select. This is where you’ll want to start.

If you need certain types of gear specific to the genres that excite you, try renting for a few trips before you go off and drop some real cash down for them. Try to confirm that you really want to invest your time in a genre before you invest any real money in it. Remember though, your initial results might not be as good as your taste will have you desire. If you know that you really want to pursue that genre and get good at it, you’ll have to put in the time required to close that gap, as we mentioned earlier.

Only You Can Be You!

One last thing that I’d like to encourage you to keep in mind as you gain your inspiration from the photography of others, is that you don’t have to try to be that person. It’s fine to emulate a look, to dissect the process and help you to learn your craft, but your final goal is to be you. Don’t try to be someone else. Everyone else is already out there doing what they do, probably better than you will. Only you can be you, so do it well, and be the best you that you can possibly be, even if it takes many years to really start to feel comfortable in yourself and your work.


Show Notes

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.


Productive Respites and Floral Fun (Podcast 450)

Productive Respites and Floral Fun (Podcast 450)

When it’s not possible to get far away from home to a beautiful location, I love to just take a walk in the park with my Macro lens, and have some floral fun. Today I’m going to walk you through a few photos from a recent walk, and talk about how I take some of my flower shots to another level.

I’ve already talked about my black and white flower shots in the past, but today in addition to walking through my thought processes and a few techniques, I’m really thinking about how to make the most of a few hours with the camera, when it’s not possible to get further afield. For me, this kind of trip helps me to stay productive as a photographer when running the business and other work keeps me behind the desk for too long. Plus, I really do find this kind of photography to be a lot of fun!

When I moved apartments four years ago in preparation for incorporating Martin Bailey Photography, the reason I looked for a place in the area I live, is because it’s not far from Jindaishokubutsukoen, which is a botanical garden park. We buy a season ticket each year, and often jump in the car and just have a walk around, just as a refreshing walk, but when there are some flowers or other natural aspect that is at it’s peak, I often bring a little more gear.

On this particular day, although I had more gear with me, I could just have easily have brought just my 5D Mark III and my 100mm macro lens, because that’s pretty much all I used. I actually didn’t bring my diffuser which I like to use for this sort of photography, because I seem to have left it somewhere. I’ve replaced it now though, and I’ll talk a little about how I use that too as we progress.

Violet Rose

So, let’s jump in and start to look at a few photos. First up is this rose (below), which was actually a violet colour as we’ll see shortly, but I converted this to black and white. As I shoot, I generally know what I’m going to do with an image, and although I like to look at the pretty colours in flowers, I rarely find that the colour is enough of a key feature to actually keep it in the photograph.

Violet Rose

Violet Rose

As you may recall from a few videos I’ve released over the years, such as the video in episode 297, I like to reduce the background to almost and sometimes totally black, as with this photo. I just find this much more pleasing, as most of the time, I really just want to draw the viewer’s attention to the beauty of the flower.

To explain this better, here is the original photo, straight out of the camera (below). Now, for sure, this is a beautifully coloured rose, and the balls of bokeh in the reflection are nice, but as I shot it, I knew that both of these elements had to go. The beauty of shooting images like this is that Silver Efex Pro works with colour and tones, so because the flower is different to much of the background I can easily reduce the darkness of the background with a few strategically placed Control Points. Again, see my previous videos to see how to do this if you aren’t aware of the technology.

Violet Rose(original)

Violet Rose(original)

Maybe it’s just me, but I really just find the black and white, simplified version much more aesthetically appealing, and although I find myself quietly apologising to the people that worked so hard to create a rose of this colour, when I search for a flower to photograph, I’m much more interested in finding flowers without many blemishes. This one actually had a bit of a rotting petal just showing on the bottom, to the left of the foreground bud, but I can kind of live with that, and didn’t feel it necessary to clone out, especially as it reduced to a small spot in the black and white version.

Shoot in the Shade or Use a Diffuser

One technique that I’d also like to mention before we move on, is that I had my wife hold my hat to the top right of the frame for this photo (above) to stop the sunlight directly hitting the flower. It was a clear day, with full sun, but that creates way too much contrast for a pleasing photograph, so I generally block it out. Having lost my old diffuser, I’ve just bought something similar to the Lastolite TriFlip, which is an 8 in 1 triangular reflector, with the base layer being a translucent diffuser.

You just hold the diffuser between the light source, the sun in this case, and the flower, to reduce the light hitting the subject. I was totally blocking the light with my hat, but a diffuser is better, because it allows a soft white light through, which is really pleasing. The TriFlip also comes with gold, silver and black reflector covers as well, and I find these really easy to use in the field because they have a handle to easily hold them in position.

Pretty in Pink

Sometimes of course, the colour does add a lot to the photograph, and although I could go either way on this next image, I feel that the pink is worth keeping (below). This wasn’t a large rose, but I just got in close enough to fill the frame. This time I believe I was able to just position myself so that I was creating my own shadow, to avoid any nasty high contrast.

Soft Pink

Soft Pink

Apart from the next photo that we’ll look at today, all of these images were shot at f/4, which gives a very shallow depth of field when focusing this close with a macro lens. That was by choice of course. I really like the softness created with this aperture, and as you can see here, I am just careful to ensure that the focus falls on the critical part of the flower. This varies by subject, but here, because the top of the petals is in sharp focus, we can allow the rest of the rose to go soft and it still looks beautiful.

Also for this shot, I reduced the Clarity slider in Lightroom to -55, and then with the Adjustment Brush, I painted +37 Clarity back in along the top edges of the petals in the centre of the frame.  This is an easy way to enhance the softness of an image but still keep the critical sharpness where necessary. I like to use plugins and I don’t mind jumping into Photoshop if necessary, but these options force me to create a new TIFF or PSD file, so when I can make this simple tweaks just in Lightroom, I like to do this, as it is done to the original raw file.

In this next image, I once again took the background to almost total black. It’s actually zone 1 in the zone system, so not totally black. I checked this in Silver Efex during my conversion, and again, we’ve touched on this in previous videos, so I won’t go into this today.

White Rose

White Rose

The point that I wanted to make with this flower, once again, requires that we look at the original (below). Here you’ll see that there are splashes of pink in what was an almost totally white flower in the black and white version. To achieve this, I just dropped a Control Point over the pink areas in Silver Efex Pro, and increased the brightness. This basically turned the pink to white. Then, once I’d changed one spot, I held the ALT key while dragging the Control Point to the next spot, and repeated until I’ve whitened them all. It was probably a twenty second job.

Pink and White Rose (original)

Pink and White Rose (original)

There are a couple of bits of texture left, but I like the look and it really is easy to achieve once you are used to making this kind of photograph. Again, because the background is just shades of green, it was also very easy to just take them down to almost black.

Beautiful Flower or Viscous Alien?

After spending an hour or so in the rose garden, we walked around to an area of the park where they have a wide range of Dahlia flowers at this time of year. Here once again, after the black and white conversion, I reduced the Clarity of the entire image in Lightroom, then brushed some back in over the centre of the flower, to enhance the overall softness, but then really draw attention to the centre of the flower.

Secret Dahlia

Secret Dahlia

I like this because I feel that the image can be read in a number of ways. If I want to see the softness and simple beauty of the flower, it’s right there, but because of the sharpness of the centre petals, I can almost imagine this being the teeth of a piranha fish, or an alien mouse shooting out from the flower. I don’t necessarily want you to see that in the photo, but I always find it fun when I can read multiple meanings from a single photograph.

Next up, let’s take a look at the original image first (below). Again, this is a dahlia plant, and I was continuing to look for specimens without blemishes and keeping my eye out for a nice clear background. I wanted to quickly mention here that with the diffuser that I mentioned earlier, you can also use the black cover, and hold it behind the flower, to almost create your black background right there in camera. That does take away the option of leaving some texture as I did in the conversion that we’ll look at shortly, but this is an option I sometimes use.

Dahlia #2 (original)

Dahlia #2 (original)

I’m sure that especially with this photo, you will agree that it’s a very plain, boring image in colour. Here though is the black and white version of this photo (below). Do make sure that you click on this image to view it at the largest web size available, as the texture in this photo just blows me away. Again this was shot at f/4, and because I was now in the shade as the sun was almost on the horizon at the end of the day, the ISO was up at 1000 for a shutter speed of 1/250 of a second. I like to keep the shutter speed up, because the flowers were blowing around in the breeze a little, so I was timing my shots during moments of stillness, but still, they were often not totally still.

Dahlia #2

Dahlia #2

Because of this centralised composition, I could of course flip this for a horizontal photograph, or easily crop down to a 4:5 aspect ratio or even a square crop. I did leave a little of the texture in the background here, as I think it works, and enhances the texture in the dahlia.

Edward Weston Homage

This next image (below) is actually a tighter composition of the same flower, which I also like a lot. None of these images have been cropped in post. These are the compositions right out of the camera.

Dahlia #3

Dahlia #3

I’ve named these two images Dahlia #2 and Dahlia #3, kind of as homage to Edward Weston, as I can’t help feeling a little bit nostalgic about this look, and dare I say, that they kind of remind me of Pepper #30, which is a photograph that probably had a lot of influence over my appreciation of black and white still life images.

Let’s take a look at one last image, which is another that was really all about the colour, so it stayed that way. I called this image Dahlia on Fire (below) because the petals really felt like flames. Once again I soften the image slightly with the Clarity slider in Lightroom, then added the Clarity back to some of the flames with the Adjustment brush, but otherwise this is pretty much straight out of camera too.

Dahlia on Fire

Dahlia on Fire

I know that this is just accepted now, and really not worth raising, but looking through my images from this shoot, I was reminded of just how empowering digital has been to the modern photographer. I shot at five different ISOs, ranging from 400 to 1250, and both colour and black and white.

I’d have needed to change film at least six times to create the seven images that we’ve looked at today, and although I generally know when I’m going to convert to black and white, and when I’m not, having the ability to decide this later is totally liberating. I know I’m probably showing my age now, as many listeners probably never even shot film, but sometimes these are things that I think about.

Have Fun – Staying Productive

So, as I mentioned at the start of this episode, I really wanted to talk about this set today, both to introduce a few theories and techniques that may not have been obvious, but also because I really do find it important to keep options like this simple afternoon in a local park in mind when you have some time, but maybe not enough time to venture further afield.

There was a time when this was one of my main focuses, and venturing further afield would have actually been taking a visit to a park like this, but now, I generally want to go further spending more time on my photography, but that simply isn’t always possible, for a variety of reasons. Most of us though are happy if we have a camera in our hands, so this is a welcome break in an otherwise busy life, and I for one really enjoy this kind of casual shooting.

I hope you agree too that the results are worth it. Having sat on some of these images for a few weeks now, I will be adding some of these to my flowers portfolio, and probably making some of them available for sale as prints and adding them to my stock photography library too, so my enjoyable few hours in the park turned out to be quite productive.

Choose Your Own Medicine

Of course, photographing flowers may not be your idea of a relaxing afternoon. Maybe you’re a street photographer, and need to just identify a few local spots that you enjoy to shoot, or a portrait photographer that needs a model friend or two that you can call upon from time to time. Whatever your medicine, I know this kind of casual shoot can be very satisfying and fulfilling, so I hope you already have a few of these up your sleeve, or are able to find some to feed your soul in the short pockets of time that are sometimes all we have.


Show Notes

Martin’s Flower fine art prints: https://martinbaileyphotography.com/product-category/prints/flower-prints/

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.


The Evolution of the Photographer (Podcast 438)

The Evolution of the Photographer (Podcast 438)

Today I talk about a topic that was raised by Andy Bartlett, a member of my cohort on The Arcanum, regarding how we push through the mental barriers and doubt as we try to create beautiful photographs after making some earlier spectacular work. Although not all of our work will be as spectacular, I believe great opportunities help to elevate us to higher ground in our photography, as we explore in this episode.

Andy asked this question, which sparked today’s topic…

I watched a great documentary last night about Pink Floyd making the Wish You Were Here album. This album came out after Dark Side of the Moon which had been a huge critical success, and they suffered that situation that so besets music groups – “what if that last album was the best we’ll ever do?”, and “how do we make this next one even better?” Does the next picture we make have to be the “best ever”? I want to improve, but can this desire stop us producing anything?

This is a great question, and one that I thought about for a while before posting my reply, and it’s been playing on my mind a little since, so I’d like to relay an expanded version of my thoughts on this today.

Your Latest Work Should Always Be Your Best

It can certainly be difficult to beat your previous work, and it is not always possible or even necessary to do so on an image by image basis, but I want to explain what this means to a creative and what I feel is important to aim for as we progress and hopefully evolve into better photographers.

If you’ve listened to this Podcast for a while, you may have heard me say that I believe that our most recent work should be our best, and I still believe that. Of course, the images resulting from our efforts as we continue to create may not be as striking as those that we made during a trip to an amazing location or of a special subject. There are times of course when we visit an extraordinary location and the stars align and we come home with absolutely stunning photographs.

Kussharo Lake Tree

Kussharo Lake Tree

Sometimes the emotion of the shoot or the memory of all the effort or even money that we spent to enable ourselves to make those images is so strong that it makes us love the work even more than the actual merit that the images themselves hold, but if we truly created beautiful art, then time will not diminish our appreciation of them, and months and years into the future, we’ll still be able to look at these images and they’ll bring a smile to our face, or remind us of the cold wind in our face, or burning sand under our feet.

Learn From Your Prizes

Our old television broke a while back and we bought a new 55 inch 4K Sony Bravia TV, into which I can plug a USB memory stick with my photos on and look at them at literally native 8 megapixel resolution at 55 inches. My wife and I sat down and looked through album after album of photos from Antarctica, Namibia, Iceland and Hokkaido, as well as my City, Flowers and Flowerscape portfolios, and a number of times I mentioned just how lucky I am to have visited these locations and been able to come home with such beautiful photos. Some of these photos are around ten years old, and still make the hair stand up on the back of my head.

These are my treasures and my prizes, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to make these images, and that’s why they ended up on the USB memory stick. They were given priority over the many other photographs that I’ve made over the years, mostly because of the beauty of the place and what I made of these locations. Just looking back at these images fills me with pride, but also reminds of times when it all comes together, and all the effort is paid off.

QI #2

QI #2

But, when I pick up my camera to make a photograph closer to home, or in my studio as I prepare for a magazine article etc. I don’t feel despondent because these images are not going to be as dynamic or amazing to look at as some of my work from more exotic locations, or even locations closer to home when it all just came together. Far from it, I actually approach all new work from what I consider to be higher ground, as a result of having made the more special images.

New Work from a New You

I believe that when we are fortunate enough to make breathtaking photographs, these elevate our creativity, and our work from that point comes from a different place. From a new you. The resulting work may not be as impressive as the work from the amazing locations, but they will almost undoubtedly be more refined, and if they aren’t, we learned nothing from the previous experiences. It’s important to note that the leveling up process is far from automatic.

You can’t just pay to visit a beautiful place and just expect your work to be elevated. You need to be prepared, and receptive. It is not based on happy accidents. If you tripped and fell, and pushed your camera shutter button resulting in the most spectacular photograph you’ve ever made, the chances are you are not going to improve, unless of course you figure out how to repeat the happy accident time and again, in which case you might be onto something.

The point is though, you have to be working in such a way that you can repeat that quality of work, regardless of whether you are in Antarctica or your own back yard. Conversely, if you are not ready for an amazing location, you might come away with images that don’t really do it justice, and you don’t feel entirely happy with. I remember spending a few years before I started to travel to Hokkaido for example, franticly trying to become a better photographer so that I wouldn’t waste the chances that I knew I’d be presented with once I started investing in traveling to that beautiful northern island of Japan.

Be Receptive to Advice

I wasn’t fully ready. I was still bracketing my shots until my now good friend Hiroshi Yokoyama, one of the two workshop leaders on my first winter trip there told me that only people that don’t understand exposure bracket their shots. He and the other leader Yoshiaki Kobayashi taught me how to expose for the snow and I led me on my first adventure into manual exposure, changing my photography completely and forever. If I’d gone on this trip too early, I would have been too scared to try, not ready for their advice.

Stag in His Element

Stag in His Element

I’m using my own experience of growing from the locations I’ve visited, but this will of course be different for you. You may not be a landscape or wildlife photographer. If street photography is your thing, you may need to change the mental images here to match your own experiences, but I’d hazard a guess that there will still be some pivotal experiences that have or will hunch you up to higher levels as you progress.

You might take a workshop in Paris or Rome with my friend Valerie Jardin, and it totally changes your photography. If I was a street photographer there’s nothing I’d rather do. Or you might be a sports photographer plugging away at your local school’s soccer match every weekend, getting bored with your results, but then get a chance to shoot from the sidelines of a professional game. It’s then that all the work you did shooting the school soccer matches is going to help you, nervous as you are, to make the most of your chance in that stadium. Whatever the situation, if you are ready, it will almost certainly change you.

These are our Dark Side of the Moon albums. These are the experiences that move us to the next level. Pink Floyd was an amazing band to make that album, but having made it, they were elevated to new ground, and with that comes expectations and pressure. They’d earned the right to be where they were, and it was up to them to continue on their creative path and on to even greater things.

We Are Our Experiences

I believe that we are the amalgamation of everything that we experience as we move through life. Everything that you do, becomes a part of you, and the same goes for photography. You cannot help but be affected by all of the photographs that you make. They become a part of you, as much as the character that you build as you go through life.

Some experiences are more character building than others. I’m sure I was changed more by the experience of finding that pesky brain tumor in my head three years ago, than I was by the act of eating a rice ball wrapped in seaweed for lunch today, and the same goes for our photographic high-points. The great shoots, great locations and amazing opportunities elevate us to a higher place, but it’s then our own responsibility to stay in that higher zone, and look for the next rung of the ladder.

Martin in Landmannalaugar (Iceland)

Martin in Landmannalaugar (Iceland)

It would be really easy to come back home with our treasures, and store them away in a lofty location and go back to our old ways, but that would be doing yourself an injustice. As you build on your experiences, shoot from that higher place, and from your new self, that is capable of more, your photography will improve, regardless of the subject matter. You should have a new sensitivity, and appreciation of what you see through the viewfinder. Don’t waste that. You now know that you can do better. And you can.

Stop Collecting Marbles

One other thing that I’ve come to realize, as I experience more and build my own photographic character, is that in my earlier days, I was desperate to build my collection of treasures. I had decided I was a photographer, but I needed my bag of marbles to prove that I was. This, I now know leads to mediocrity.  You go out with your camera, and come back with a hand full of shots, some nice ones, and your main goal is to drop a few into your Best Shots folder, or upload them to your Web gallery.

I’ve always tried to be picky with what I show people, and have never been one for dumping my memory card on Flickr, but I know that there were times when I was adding images to my Web galleries, simply to prove that I was doing it, and to grow my collection. I felt that having a large selection of images online would somehow validate me as a photographer.

As the collection grew, I started to do pruning sessions, and go through my old galleries clipping off an image here and an image there, but I still held on to some of my older work because it was helping to pad out my collection, and also because I’d worked hard to upload it all, and add my titles and captions. Again, I was holding on to something because I’d worked hard to put it there.

Stone Run

Stone Run

In my case, I’d also referenced a lot of the images in my old gallery in this Podcast, and the way I developed the Podcast backend meant that I had to leave some images in to keep them available for people listening to the archives. I remedied that last year by getting help from a friend Michael Rammell to get almost 200 old episodes posted on my blog, along with the photos, removing the requirement to keep the old gallery online. You can’t imagine how good it felt to tear down that entire gallery with thousands of images that I no longer felt properly represented where I am now as a photographer.

Some of the images are still there in the blog posts, which is fine, they’re part of my history as a photographer and content creator, but as an artist, they no longer need to be in my portfolio, and that is what I created to replace my old galleries. My Portfolios that you can access through the menu bar are a much more refined  selection of my images, and the only thing that will stop me updating these now is time. I can go in now and much more easily remove images that I don’t want to show any more, and add new work, or new portfolio galleries as necessary, and that’s been liberating.

Raise Your Own Bar

To get back to the point though—I reached a point a few years ago, where I had enough photographs that I was happy with, that I no longer felt the urge to continuously add new images unless they actually built on my portfolio. As selective as I’d been to that point, I was in a place now that I was able to become totally ruthless in my selection of new work.

Now, whenever I raise the camera to my eye, my entire photographic life to that point flashes before my eyes. I release the shutter, creating frames as I work and refine my ideas. That’s how I work. But as I work my subject, I know that the shots I’m making are not the ones that I will show people.

Seljalandsfoss (Falls)

Seljalandsfoss (Falls)

The way I work is almost like filling a bucket of water until it reaches a line marking my current level, and sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes the creative hosepipe is only trickling, and sometimes the water stops altogether, but I have to keep working until the water flows and the bucket fills or I know I will not get my shots.

There comes a point though, that I know that I’ve achieved what I was trying to achieve, and the required level has been reached and when it all goes really well, even surpassed. Sometimes it’s so hard that I am not sure until I get home and look on the computer and do my post processing, but I generally have a good idea when the quality I’m working towards has been achieved.

Sometimes of course, it’s still so hard that I can’t reach the level that I want to be. I tried as hard as I could, but I just couldn’t get there. I simply can’t reach the point where I’m truly happy with the results. In the past, that’s when I would have posted images anyway, because I needed to fill the marble bag, collecting my treasures, prove that I was doing it. I had to show something for the effort that I was putting in.

Now, I have enough treasures that when I simply can’t make it happen, nobody sees the results of my efforts, and I start trying to figure out what I need to do to improve. The important thing when this happens is to know that you need to improve, and figure out how to do that, rather than settling for what you were able to create.

I haven’t seen the Pink Floyd documentary that Andy mentioned in his question, but I am pretty sure that they made a few songs that didn’t make the Wish You Were Here album. There’s an old adage that you are only as good as your worst photograph. This is so true! If you are going through an amazing portfolio of images, really impressed with what you are seeing, and then presented with a really weak image, you are instantly deflated. That becomes the baseline from which you judge the photographer from that point on.

Edit with your Heart

I know it’s hard to keep these lesser works out, but you have to do it. After a trip or a shoot, I try to spend a good week or so mulling over my resulting images. My goal is always to show as few images as possible, not as many as possible. If I can quickly get my images down to 50 shots, I try to get them to forty. If I can get them down to thirty, I’ll keep going through them trying to reach twenty-five.

King Penguins in Snow

King Penguins in Snow

Once I get to a tight selection of images that I think I’m ready to show people, I use my heart to get rid of a few more. I grab a coffee, kick my feet up and watch the images flow by one by one in a Lightroom slideshow. I keep my Bluetooth keyboard on my lap as the slideshow progresses, and I feel my reaction to each image. I need to be excited as it appears on the screen, but sometimes, I get a slight sinking feeling as an image is displayed. Right there, I hit the number 1 key on my keyboard, and the image is demoted out of the set.

Be Content but Remain Ambitious

I guess the conclusion that I’ve kind of come to as I thought through this, is I believe that deep down, as I was posting images a few years ago, I sometimes knew that I could do better. I had to be truly happy with some of my work at that point, or I’d probably have sold all my gear and taken up knitting, but there were times that I knew deep down that it wasn’t up to the mark, but I also think that this is OK as an expected part of the evolution of the photographer. If you can use this information to shortcut some of your own progress, that’s great. For me, I think it was a necessary process.

As you walk your path as a photographer and have experiences and opportunities that enable you to level up your skills, the important thing I think is to not allow yourself to slip back down to your previous level. In your heart, you will know that you can now do better, and if you simply can’t, not matter how hard you try, you have to set about the task of figuring out what to do next, to stay on your higher ground.

You don’t have to do that alone of course, and for heaven’s sake don’t throw out your images if you didn’t quite make them as good as you’d hoped. Seek the advice of a trusted critic. My wife is my best, and our closeness gives her permission to be incredibly ruthless. I don’t agree with every call she makes, but generally, when I’m in doubt about an image enough to ask for her opinion, when she says it’s crap, I generally listen to her.

She’s not a photographer, so it’s not always easy for her to articulate exactly what she thinks is unnecessary or missing, but our conversations often fill me with new ideas to try the next time I’m stuck in a similar situation. In fact, we sometimes get so wrapped up in our own expectations that we overlook some of our other images with potential, only to find that we have what really works in our outtakes anyway, and my wife sometimes helps me to find them through her advice. The creative muse was doing their job in the field. It is sometimes our struggling inner creative that was getting in the way after that, and a fresh pair of eyes and impartial opinion can help us to get past that.

I definitely feel though that over the years, my experiences and achievements have helped to build Martin 2014 and will continue to level me up each year, and I know that this goes for you too. Stick with your art. Listen to your trusted critics, and listen when a little voice inside you whispers “You’re better than this now.” Work through the doubt and fear of failure, until you feel for sure that the work you are creating right now, is at least at your current standard, and when you get a chance to level up again, grab it and make it yours.

Five Monkeys

Five Monkeys

Evolution comes in bursts. It’s OK if you don’t improve with every shoot, but it’s not OK to devolve and resign yourself to being the previous, lesser you. Your work doesn’t have to be as dynamic and amazing as that from your best opportunities, but you will know inside if it meets your current level and expectations. If it’s not up to scratch, keep plugging away at it until you create something that you know in your heart is what it now needs to be.

It’s important to our growth and success to surround ourselves with people that help us to look inside ourselves and grow. I want to thank Andy Bartlett for getting me thinking about this stuff!

Photokina 2014

Before we finish today, I wanted to quickly let you know that I’ll be at Photokina 2014 in Germany starting next week. Well, actually, I personally won’t be there, but my friends at Gura Gear will be using some of my Iceland images splashed across their booth, and they’ve agreed to hand out postcards with one of the photos on one side, and on the other side there’s a special offer where you can win a one hour portfolio review session with me, and everyone that enters for this prize will get a special pack of five high-resolution desktop images for free. The Web page address that you need to visit to enter and claim your free gift and enter for the prize is on the postcard, so do stop by and say hello to my friends at Gura Gear, and grab a card or two for you and your friends.


Show Notes

The Arcanum: http://thearcanum.com/

Martin’s Portfolios: https://martinbaileyphotography.com/portfolios/

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.


The Visual Imagination with David duChemin (Podcast 417)

The Visual Imagination with David duChemin (Podcast 417)

Today I welcome back my friend and regular guest, David duChemin, for a conversation about his latest Craft & Vision eBook, The Visual Imagination – Ideas & Techniques for Creative Photographic Expression.

This episode is brought to you by lynda.com. Learn lighting, portraiture, Photoshop skills, and more from expert-taught video courses. To start your 7-day free trial, visit lynda.com/mbp.

While reading David’s new book, there were a number of times when lightbulbs came on, and I found myself wanting to run outside with my camera and try something new.

I’ve been doing some of the techniques that David introduces in The Visual Imagination myself for a number of years now, but I realised that although I’d been breaking my traditional rules, in some cases I’d been breaking them in the same way every time. I had inadvertently already formed my own set of new rules and was being bound by them. It’s so important to keep asking ourselves “what if?” even if we’re already doing something that we started with a “what if?”.

This book doesn’t try to get you to throw away your current photography style or tape up your focus ring. It just gives you permission to think out of the box a little, and that is something that can be liberating and give us beautiful results, and ultimately even help us to become better photographers.

Give it a try, and I think you’ll enjoy your results.

Anyway, I won’t give too much away, as David and I talk about this and much more during our discussion, so click the audio player above, or subscribe in iTunes to listen to this and get future episodes automatically delivered to your computer each week.

>> Click here if you decide to pick up a copy <<

THE VISUAL IMAGINATION is CAD $10 but purchase before April 21 at 11:59 PM (PST) and you’ll save 25% when you use the discount code: EXPRESS25

The Visual Imagination

The Visual Imagination TOC

The Visual Imagination

The Visual Imagination

The Visual Imagination

The Visual Imagination

The Visual Imagination

The Visual Imagination

The Visual Imagination

The Visual Imagination

Just Announced – Namibia Full Circle Tour!

Don’t forget to tell Jeremy that I sent you when you book!


Sponsored by Lynda.com

We are proud to have Lynda.com on board as our current sponsors lynda.com. Learn lighting, portraiture, Photoshop skills, and more from expert-taught video courses. To start your 7-day free trial, visit lynda.com/mbp.

Show Notes

Get The Visual Imagination here: https://mbp.ac/ddvi

Check out all of David’s Craft & Vision eBooks here: https://mbp.ac/cvdd

Music from Music Alley: http://www.musicalley.com/


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.