Photography: “The Shot” or the Story

Do a majority of photographers place more value on finding that one shot than focusing a story?

Does “the perfect shot” tell enough of the story?

Is there room for more story telling in photography from photos that aren’t as popular?

One of the podcasts I listen to is LensWork and I find that Brooks Jensen complements a lot of thoughts I have on photography which in turn, creates posts for my blog. This is one such post.

If you follow me on Instagram you may have seen that I post mini-collections of locations that I photograph. I’ll post “non-sexy” photos with “sexy” photos to reveal an immersive experience to my viewers. All the shots are interesting to me so I don’t just post arbitrarily. For me, it’s about exposing beauty both apparent and subtle, loud and silent, detailed and grand. I personally have a greater connection to the environment when I slow down and take it all in. And my observations then are expressed to the public.

Here is a mini-collection of photos from bluff country in southern Minnesota.

Whether you’re a viewer or a photographer, do you tend to be attracted to or focus on finding that sexy or perfect shot? My example today could be the featured image of the silhouetted barn. Or do you take in more? The collection above really shares the beauty of the area in a way one image cannot. This collection isn’t tight enough, or focuses enough on one specific location like Whitewater State Park, to allow me to say, if I remove one photograph, the story would be incomplete. However, this is a future goal in mind when I do “series photography” again. A goal, is to intimately connect four-to-six images in a way where if I removed one, the viewer would miss out on the story.

Think of the most famous or most liked photographer you know or follow. Do you only know their popular images or can you recall any of the other images that may surround the popular images?

I’ve barely scratched the surface with this topic and will likely post again but let me leave with you with a comparison that is in my mind.

If you listened to the linked podcast called The Rest of the Story, you’ll hear Brooks mention that “we live in the age of the orgasm. That we are only interested in the dessert. Only the headline matters but not the rest of the story.”

What if photography can be like listening to a concept album? There will likely be “orgasmic” tracks or your favorite tracks that you repeat over and over. But there are also layers, interludes, outros, soft and heavy tracks, different emotional pieces as the album progresses through the playlist. If listening carefully, we began to see more than a single hit but a piece of an entire performance. What if the same can be true with photography? Yes, the brilliant sunrise may be the most powerful image. But I’d like to think that the other images make that sunrise more powerful and then put together, are greater still.

I’d appreciate your input as I process this idea and think about it more in my work.

The Secret Location(s)

Should I always share photographed locations with others?

I ask myself this question a lot. I think the answer is a ready no to always, though I often consider the reasons why.

Why share?

  1. Give others a chance to also experience beauty.
  2. To reveal excitement of a new location.
  3. Photographers should be expanding creativity, discovering new locations, and improving the art. Could become a niche.
  4. Because it’s a nice thing to do.

Why not share?

  1. More exposure, especially to a secluded spot, may lead to unacceptable disturbance of the land and nature if it grows in popularity.
  2. Simply because having a few secret places is nice to enjoy alone. I think there is a special quality about it, like a treasure I’ve personally uncovered and I don’t want intruded upon.
  3. To avoid competition in sales, fame, and fortune.

When I begin my podcast in 2019, this may be one of the initial topics I explore with fellow photographers in the area and pick their brain on what practices they hold and if they think it’s a good thing or not.

I think there is definitely a sense of pride and protectiveness that comes with secret spots and maybe some selfishness as well. But I can see others overwhelmingly willing to share to others because they want others to enjoy the same beauty they did.

What do you think?

From Hobby to Business: Photography Style

“If I were in your shoes, I’d go for it.”

These were the encouraging words from my photography mentor in late November of 2018. He had just wrapped up an hour’s worth of reviewing my top fifty or so images in his home. The question lingering in the air was “Are my photos professional and quality enough to start selling and entering art shows?” He isn’t the sort to pander or tickle my ears. I’ve received plenty of blunt assessments in the past to know he wouldn’t get my hopes up if he didn’t think I was ready.

After asking him multiple times if he was sure, diving into projections he best could offer through five years of experience, I left his home feeling both ecstatic and nervous.


I devoted 2018 to learning photography and shooting as much as I could. I haven’t yet totaled the state parks I visited but it’s around twenty. I definitely got around and photographed one to three times a week. In the back of my mind, I held onto the possibility of marketing and selling my work in early 2019, but I resisted doing anything besides having fun for a while. I didn’t want work and money to steal my joy for photography. But my mentor’s combined encouragement pushed me over the edge into the business side. It’s very early but I’ve found this new side of photography to be a challenge that is both exciting and one I can embrace. That’s also due to learning. I love gaining new skills and education.


My photography has a long way to go. But look how far it has come. This image below is what I was pleased with in December of 2017.

Compare that with this beauty:

And if you’ve been following my work on Facebook or Instagram then you’ve seen improvement.


Now it’s exciting news time:

  • Josh Driver Photography, LLC is my official new and first business name.
  • My best images can be found on my website: joshdriverphotography.com and are for sale there and directly through me.
  • I primarily focus on selling metal prints using ChromaLux and it’s the best aluminum anywhere.
  • I will be applying for a dozen summer and autumn shows in the Midwest in February.
  • My metal prints will be on display at Dunn Bros from February 4th to March 4th.
  • I’m starting a photography podcast.

Contact me if interested in any of my metal prints as it is currently cheaper to avoid the middle man online and order through me. All funds go back into the business and paying off student loans!

I appreciate you taking the time the read my updates. I never thought becoming a professional photographer would be a serious venture for me. Stay tuned!

 

Planning or Reacting to the Scene?

I listen to a podcast fairly regularly called Lenswork by Brooks Jensen and earlier this week, an episode really made me think more deeply about reacting to a scene versus over planning or overthinking the scene.

As a landscape photographer and bit of a perfectionist, I have more than several times, gotten to a scene and scurried around trying to find the “perfect” composition. Or the composition that would make the trip worth it. My problem isn’t over planning as much as rushing, urged on by high idealism.

A benefit to this has been grabbing several interesting compositions and exploring many areas of the landscape. However, I believe this approaches reduces and minimizes the experience and can even be stressful.

In 2019, I want to practice more reacting to landscapes that I visit. This means slowing down and not worrying about taking the camera out. It means walking the edge of a coastline for an hour. It means sitting on a rock or bench listening to sounds and watching wildlife. It means slowing my pace and my breathing and letting creative wonder come to me, instead of forcing my own twist into the composition.

There is nothing wrong with scouting, planning, and thinking through a scene to produce a quality and professional photo. I will continue to do this. But personally, I want to slow down more and allow creativity to come to me through a slower and deliberate approach.

I really appreciate what they’re doing over at Slow Photography Movement and recommend their site. It’s much of the same vein as this post.

I’ll leave an example to close today’s thought. Last autumn along the North Shore, I was scurrying around trying to capture this island off the coat. I wasn’t very satisfied with my initial images so I stopped and just looked. I didn’t try to see a composition. I scanned the entire coast, taking in my location. It was at that point where I discovered an obvious beauty: lush red fall leaves in bunches just as the rocks met the trees. And when I went over to them, I discovered my composition.

the rock

 

Photography competitions

I didn’t devote 2018 to entering photography competitions by any means. However, I did enter five competitions locally in Minnesota, submitting between two and eight each photos each time. While I didn’t earn Grand Prize status, I did receive shared first place in three of the five competitions.

A win is a win!

Three Rivers Park District

I live a block away from Silverwood Park, one of many in the Three Rivers Park District, and started my 2018 photography journey here. I didn’t visit another location so frequently due to it’s proximity to me. The winning photograph actually was the first I had ever taken with my new full frame Sony A7ii. It’s a favorite bending tree during a soft sunset. It was voted as Top Landscape Photo. Check it out.

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Silverwood Park in Early Autumn

Nine Mile Creek Watershed District

What’s particularly rewarding about winning each of these three contests is that every location has an emotional and memorable place in my life. This second contest is held by the Nine Mile Creek Watershed District. The district ranges from Hopkins to Bloomington and it’s in the south part of the Twin Cities where I often took my dogs on walks, explored the creek nearby 35W and the Minnesota River, sighting owls and snakes, and where I biked the mud and dirt trails.

I was really surprised that out of the eight photos I submitted, the one below was chosen as the winner. And to be honest, I was a little uncertain and borderline embarrassed because I took that photo as I was getting started and certainly had better submissions. Perhaps that was the best January photo submitted! But I’ll take it, and the $10 gift card!

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Nine Mile Winter Sunrise

 

Blue Fin Bay

Finally, the third win was the sweetest. Not only because the winning prize was large, and the photo chosen is the second most popular among my family, friends, and fans, but also due to waiting a long time to find out the results. Staying at Blue Fin Bay Resorts has been a family tradition for three years and we’re going back for a multiple night stay next month. The resort is between Tofte and Lutsen along the North Shore. It’s been a treat to stay there because it’s a tradition to look forward to once the holidays are over.


I will also add that I am selling this photo as a metal print starting with the 8×10 size. Please message me or comment for prices and inquiries. I just sold a 16×20 to a friend and it’s been super pleasing to see it hang on the wall.


This photo is also special because it was the best sunset I’d ever seen. And I earned it. It was -20 degrees or so in Grand Marais and I was doing jumping jacks and all sorts of dances trying to stay warm. The sunset reflect all over the ice and was just a glorious moment in 2018.

Enjoy!

Icy Sunset

In case you were wondering about the other two competitions in which I entered, they were TruStone Financial’s annual calendar contest and National Camera Exchange’s travel contest.

Five Reasons Winter Photography is Attractive

I paid hundreds of dollars to attend my first photography workshop last February along the North Shorein Minnesota. I spent five days walking and sitting on ice, capturing ice, while my entire face but notably my eyebrows and beard, were completely transformed into icicles.

Ice here, ice there, ice everywhere, baby.

It might be safe to say that winter in Minnesota is my favorite season to photograph landscapes and nature, rivaling the popular autumn. Read my five top reasons for enjoying winter photography below!

1) Stillness

I don’t need to travel to a lost wilderness to understand the stillness winter brings. One of my favorite moments all year is after a heavy snowfall when a light snow lingers. The smooth, undisturbed blankets of snow contour intriguingly over the land, sparkling in pleasing ways to the eye. And it’s quiet. Many sounds are muffled. It’s like the earth has gone to sleep.  Even in the city, the effect is easily observed.

Winter Scale

2) Introvert, I am.

As an introvert who likes to recharge in nature’s solitude, winter is the perfect time to getaway from social occasions in life. I’ve been able to shoot during the morning when most people work. Even if they don’t work, frigid temperatures and icy roads dissuade much of the summer travelers. Therefore, I can take my time, exploring angles and details at my pace without worry of another disturbing a moment or being in my photograph. It’s a nice time to pray and reflect on life. The beauty of creation is intense and blanketing.

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Ice Painting

3) Dynamic ice

Moisture, temperature, and sunlight constantly change ice formations. It’s one of the most dynamic subjects to photograph. I believe that taking photographs where ice is a dominant character, I’m likely taking photographs never again repeated. It is a truly a frozen moment in time that will never be seen again. Ice can melt, shape, form, cut, or stack in so many ways. I just love the different times ice appears also: the initial thin layers across shallow lakes, the coating on frozen trees and plants, the deep, thick boulders along Lake Superior and ice caves.

 

4) That Blue Hue

Winter brings forth blues that I don’t see at other times of the year. Blue hour at both ends of the day is a favorite time to photograph. Being my favorite color, winter blues are just really attractive to me. Combine that with ice and it’s winter delight!

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Willow River Winter

5) No Mosquitoes

The unofficial state birds are not swarming me when I am trying to set up my tripod, work the dials and exposures, causing those still moments eyeing the viewfinder to be risky ones. Nope, they’re just dead. And that’s great cause for winter cheer.

Of course, winter is just darn, stinkin’ cold in Minnesota.

  • I did jumping jacks in Grand Marais as the wind battered me with -25 F temps…
    • But I captured the best sunset of my life.
  • My hands froze at Willow River State Park, slowing down picture taking…
    • But I spent four hours in a magical place with mist, icicles, and waterfalls.
  • I must have walked in hundreds of circles in Grand Portage, daring not stop…
    • But I photographed floating pancakes with my crazy friend along orange skies.

Yes, I do ask myself if it’s worth it in the moment and sometimes want to flee to my car. Most of the time, however, I find a way to cope and it’s always been worth it for me.

How do you interact with winter?

Two Takes: A Pair of Photographers’ Constructive Critiques.

In a world of social media platforms, most concentrating on popularity and achieving likes, comments, and followers, receiving and offering healthy or constructive criticism is not common. Specifically, critiquing photography. But it is very useful and when given in the right way, it helps both the critiquer and the artist.

I am going to share critiques of four of my images below, separated into my own critique and then what my professional photographer friend Daniel shared about the same image afterwards.

The Dock

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Silence

My take: There aren’t many elements in this picture so it simplifies focus quickly. I could have used dehaze and revealed a bridge in the upper right corner as an echo to the dock. Perhaps I could have gone wider with the shot to see the dock even more lost or swallowed by the fog. I love the simple power of this image and it does invoke a silent atmosphere when I look at it.

Daniel’s take: The image works because it tells a story, has a compelling composition, good contrast, clear subject and interesting lighting with the fog. The edges are good. One thing I would be curious about is how to go with even a wider angle, to make the effect of the dock disappearing into the fog even more dramatic, and do the shot from the dock. I see a couple of minor black dots on the dock that are somewhat distracting, but can’t tell what they are. Overall, I love this image, and it is very compelling.

The Path

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Moody Path

My take: This was a color shot that I converted after seeing the contrast between the yellow leaves and dark tree trunks. I like how the path leads you into eerie trees and is framed by the white leaves. Perhaps I could darken the leaves and brighten the path to help the eye flow from foreground to background without being distracted too much by the right side of the photograph. I could crop in from the right side as well to aid that goal. There is also a light trap in middle left that I could darken. A friend of mine said it reminded him of Ansel Adams. True or not, I”ll take that compliment!

Daniel’s take: The image works again well because it has a clear subject and a very compelling story. The lighting is great as my eyes are drawn from the initial high contrast leaves back to the path and back and also onto the path. The edges are good although I might have cropped that little light area on the left so that the left edge is purely dark and the eyes really wonder to that mysterious end of the path. I think an issue might be one of balance. The leaves to the right, while initially drawing us into the picture, might be too much/high contrast. Another detail that does bother me a little bit is that some of the brighter leaves go into the path and left side of the image, although in a way, they are also leading us towards the path. 

The Cascade

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Gooseberry Falls

My take: I love the giant flows in the three main sections of the waterflow as well as the small flow in the lower right, as that is more intimate with great contrast with the large boulder. I wish that very lower right rock wasn’t there and I could have stood higher to shoot downwards. The left side of the waterfall is cut off a bit. Perhaps I could have added more contrast in the upper left and popped the small trickle of water. I do enjoy the middle where you can see details of the rocks quite well.

Daniel’s take: The image works because it has a clear subject. The story is also clear. The lighting seems also fine, although it seems we are losing some of the shadow detail in the bottom right dominant rock (perhaps this bigger rock in the waterfall could be dodged some more while retaining some of the contrast within the rock). I think the issues are the edges of this image: with falls cut off at top, and also I don’t feel drawn into the image. I would also like to see more of the image to the left, and maybe we don’t need to see the big rock to the right (bottom right edge of image). I think that rock with the little water is really interesting, maybe going really close to that with a wide angle lens could draw the viewer more into the image?

The Tree

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The Tree and the Cloud

My take:  I love a good isolated tree. I waited for a cloud to pass over it (albeit small) and clicked. The tree itself is not terribly interesting. I could have added more contrast in the grasses to pop the yellow and increase shadows. I like the scale from dark to bright though maybe I would dark the foreground more to get the eye to go to the cloud even quicker.

Daniel’s take: This image works again due to a clear subject and a story. The lighting also seems good. The composition is very clean and this is a successful image. Two things distract me: the shape of the tree which is very rectangular and also the clouds around the tree (although one could argue that this little cloud broke away from the other clouds as part of the story). One minor detail is the right edge with the top right little cloud being cut off which causes a minor imbalance.

Look for critiquing opportunities.

I absoluely believe when done gently and honestly, especially with practiced experience, critiquing is a benefit to both parties involved in the process.  Find a trusted peer or ask a professional photographer to critique your photos. You have my welcome permission to critique any photo you see of mine on any social media platform where you may encounter my work.

My goal is to grow with you.

Finally, a large thank you to Daniel Siggs for his kind and thorough critique of my images. Please check out his website!

 

My Backyard: Silverwood Park

I had never heard of this park before moving within walking distance just over a year ago. Nestled between St. Anthony and New Brighton, Silverwood Park has become my special treasure. I have no visited another location so frequently to photograph and explore. In fact, the park has served as training ground for all sorts of seasonal and subject shots.

Allow me to share some of my most memorable and significant photographic moments with you since I started shooting there October of 2017.

Silverwood Park

I started late in the month and many of the colors had faded. I tried looking everywhere which meant staring at the ground intently to see what might juxtapose or prove interesting. This really helped me with the creative process, relying on imagination. No leaves were placed outside of where they had fallen!

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November’s Leaf Tussle

I woke up one morning and saw the weather report indicate fog in the area. I rushed out the door and to the lake and was rewarded with snaking smoke trails over the lake and fog cover so massive it swallowed up everything in minutes.

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The Bridge & the Fog

It froze soon afterwards. I discovered a unique time to shoot, one that I am eager to capture again this winter freeze: the cold that builds up ice formations but isn’t hidden by the first snow. Maybe this lasts two weeks, maybe only a few days. Below was one such example, combined with one of the best sunsets of early winter.

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Ice Rocks

Then soon after, the ice melted some and the moon shimmered on its thin surface. Simply walking around at night afforded this creative shot.

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Golden Leaf

Since I’m mentioning leaves, November and early December can be tough months to photograph since autumn colors are gone and if snow hasn’t fallen. This forced me to try and be really creative. The below shot is one of my favorites. It’s almost as if the branches, completely bare, had thrown the leaves into their watery grave. You can see the drowned leaves and the two in the corner overlapping, as if in final embrace before their own descent.

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Leafy Grave

I discovered the method and practiced my first long-exposure shots last winter.  It was a really rewarding experience coming up with this shot. Afterwards, I remarked to myself, “I can do this!” And so I had another technique in my belt.

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Late Night Movement

Then spring came.

In the picture below, I had been facing west away from the sunrise shooting bright, young green leaves when the sun exploded into the woods. It absolutely light up everything, turning much of the youthful green into yellow flare. As soon as I saw what was happening, I rotated 180 degrees and zoomed in with my 100-300mm lens and captured the golden light. It was one of my favorite photography moments in 2018 and completely spontaneous.

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Golden Moment

My final shot was taken just a couple of weeks ago. The red was so rich and the flipped around leaf proved an interesting subject with its detail and moisture. It was a metaphor of how rich my photos had grown in a year. There is much to learn and improve upon, but I’ll always remember to be thankful for growth in this wonderful photography journey.

Caught in Red

Most of these photographs were simply the result of being outside with a camera, rather than planning the composition or shot or around weather. I just went outside a lot. I suppose that expresses the free spirit, random, and abstract part of my personality in some ways. Eager to see what the next season reveals!

It’s only been a year.

Scouting Whitewater State Park

Whitewater State Park might be in my top three favorite parks in Minnesota. A huge reason is that the conditions aren’t ideal for pesky mosquitoes due to cold-spring fed water that is constantly moving.

But it’s the bluffs that capture my heart.

Once more, I woke up at 4:30 a.m. and drove two hours to catch a state park sunrise. This morning treated me more colorfully than the visit to St. Croix State Park.

Coyote Point Sunrise

I had hoped that the color would expand into the clouds but it mostly stayed behind the ridge. And yet, it was a gorgeous scene.

After sunrise, I quickly transferred to the eastern Chimney Rock where I watched the sun burn the shadows away.

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Chimney Rock View

The five bluffs at Whitewater State Park are close enough to one another to climb all of them in one day. At Chimney Rock, you can view the widest part of the river offering a swimming hole for campers. I love the reflections here.

From here, I went south along the Chimney Rock Trail which bordered farmland and you can see where dried, small gullys zigzag down into the banks of Whitewater River. The sun burst through the trees and illuminated the yellow leaves all over.

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Then I discovered Inspiration Point and wonder if it’s my favorite part of the park. It reminded me of the North Shore without Lake Superior.

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Whitewater State Park

But of course, it is not the North Shore. It has its own beauty and another reason to love Minnesota and our state parks.

Have you visited?

Autumn Bursts in St. Croix State Park

While I made plans to capture autumn colors this year, I made note of fire towers in state parks and St Croix State Park made the list. It’s about two hours from the Twin Cities, including a slow drive on a dirt road. At the time, the roads were bursting with every fall color.

Autumn Roads in St. Croix

I arrived at the fire tower at 6:45 a.m. after leaving the house two hours earlier.

I climbed slowly.

After climbing a more rickety tower in Grand Portage, Minnesota, this one’s stability helped with my fear of heights. I ended up staying on the top platform for an hour watching and waiting for color. I’ll tell you three tips that really helped me become absolutely (well, mostly) comfortable with fire towers:

  1. Go slowly, and make several stops. Take in the all scenes, bend your knees, and pause, allowing your mind to grow comfortable with the heights.
  2. Stay awhile. This, too, seems counter intuitive, but the more time passes, the more I relaxed. I found my mind went overboard with every creak in the boards, every wind gust, and several movie scenes. I quickly realized how much of my physical responses were from my irrational mind. The more I relaxed and took in deep breaths, the more I felt fine. After an hour at top, I nearly felt as  secure as being on the solid ground.
  3. Climb several towers within a short time of each other. Climbing one in Grand Portage two weeks prior really helped me with the one in St. Croix.

While the clouds didn’t allow much of a sunrise, the trees beneath me were nicely represented in the low, even light.

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Fire tower view

After climbing down, I started driving back and in the immediate 200 feet or so, stopped my car, got out, and took pictures five times of the wrapping color around the road. Just stunning. I recommend St. Croix State Park for the scenic drives on these dirt roads if nothing else. I even got to see my first wild porcupine cross the road.

Porcupine Crossing

When I entered the park at 6:00am, I couldn’t see any colors but upon exiting, it was red everywhere and colors layered and filled in everywhere. Below is an example of the color burst.

Color burst

I was so enamored with color, I returned with my wife less than twenty-fours later. Shockingly, in that brief time, much color was lost and now lay on the roads and paths. I couldn’t believe how it changed so dramatically after one night. There remained enough color to enjoy the park, but it was a different experience for me and a bit of a letdown since I brought Sarah to enjoy it.

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But we did enjoy all of it.