While out photographing one evening with a small group of students this image presented itself to me. The students all were hurrying out to the shore of the lake while I took my time observing and enjoying the environment. It was a great teaching moment the next day as I showed the image that everyone had passed up in an effort to get to the final destination. This was my favorite image of the evening. I hope that my students learned something from the experience.
I have learned much from other photographers. Some I have met, others just learned from their photographs. Here a few of my favorite photographers, but by no means is this an all inclusive list. I could list a hundred others who have in some way or another influenced me and my work.
1. Paul Caponigro He will always be on the top of my list. Paul Caponigro is my all time favorite. His images of Stonehenge and other megaliths are very moving. He has a way of really showing emotion in his photographs. I never tire of his photographs.
2. Henri Cartier-Bresson Famed for coining the phrase “The decisive moment.” His simple journalistic style and masterful composition make his images one of a kind. Finding a location and waiting patiently for the right moment to appear in is lens is something that we can all learn from.
3. Yousef Karsh My favorite portrait photographer of all time is Karsh. He had a way of capturing the soul of his subject. This, I believe, can only truly be accomplished by spending time with the subject, which he did. Learning who your subject is and then carefully crafting the portrait with perfect lighting and natural posing are a few of the things that Karsh’s portraits have inspired me to do. A Karsh portrait really communicates.
4. Arnold Newman Another portrait artist whose work has had a great influence on me. He was a master of the environmental portrait with a very simple style.
5. James Nachtwey The importance of being trusted by your subject is evident in his work. His photographs speak for his subjects and can make a difference in the world. Nachtwey brings a very intimate approach to war photography that makes him an advocate for peace.
6. Jay Maisel It’s all about light, shape and color. Find photographs in your everyday world and surroundings. They are there, we just need to find them. That is what Jay Maisel has taught me.
7. Irving Penn I really like his still life images. Simple, yet powerful composition and masterful lighting skills make his photographs some of my favorites.
8. John Sexton His black and white landscape photographs are inspiring. Learning to photograph in the quiet light at the end of the day after the sun has set is something I have learned from the images of John Sexton. Many of his images have a very peaceful, simple look that is very fresh. He is another whose images I never tire of.
My list could go on and on. Everyone has a favorite that could be added, but these are a few of mine. As I look at the work of these eight photographers, the common thread I see that draws me to their work is simplicity. They all have a way of making simple, powerful images. That is something that I have been trying to master for as long as I can remember. The simpler a photograph, the more power that it has. In our complex world, simple is also very refreshing. It is easy to look at. It is peaceful. It communicates. I have learned that by studying the work of other artists and photographers my own work improves. I only wish that I had more time to devote to looking at photographs.
If you only know me through this blog, you may think that my only subject is the landscape. If so, today may be a surprise for you. My interest in photography began with the landscape, but then I turned to portraits for more than 15 years. I have always loved landscape photography and felt like I could express myself better there than with other subject matter, but I had a family to feed and portraiture and wedding photography is what made that possible. I still do a fair amount of portraiture, but my own personal work is almost always landscape.
You will notice, if you study my portrait work that I believe that simple is better. I feel that way about landscapes and portraits. It is my way of seeing the world. By simplifying a portrait, I am able to more readily make the subject known. It is always about the subject and never about the background. Whether in the studio of outdoors on location, the subject and lighting always take precedence over the background. If the first 2 are good, the background will be fine. Many times I see portraits that are really all about the location, the scene or the background, and the subject just happens to be there. This way of thinking and designing a portrait is backwards. It may be a great scenic image, but when the main subject takes a back seat to the background then it has lost its power. I would rather have nothing in the background than something that overpowers what I am trying to show.
I’m going to break from the landscape images I have been showcasing lately, and post something completely different today. I was looking back through my files the other day and came across this image that I made when testing a new camera a while back. I know, this is just a snapshot of my daughter when she was 2, but there are some good things that we can learn from it. What is it that makes photographs of people, whether it be a formal portrait or just a snapshot, stand out from the rest? Lighting? Background? Cropping? … All of these are very important, however one thing, in my opinion, that we must watch for is the eyes. If the “eyes are smiling” and they are well lit, then they will overshadow some of the other flaws of the image. The eyes are the windows to the soul, and by having them well lit and looking good, we, the viewers, are drawn in to the image.
In today’s post, I want to discuss a little bit about my philosophy of portrait photography. While in a fine art piece, I want everything perfect, both in the visual and in the technical aspects. In portraiture, I can give up a little perfection in order to capture a meaningful, emotional portrait, especially when it comes to children. It is all about the feeling, the memory, the inner workings of a child. This image, Logan, is a portrait of my own son, created a couple years ago, so I can discuss it both as a photographer and as a parent.
There are a few technical problems with this image that I know judges would get me for in competition, but frankly, when working with a client I really don’t care what the judges will say. I am concerned about the client. What do they want? What do they see? How can I make an image that will mean something to them? For instance, in this image, the expression is wonderful. This particular son loves to put on his “camera smile” anytime I get him in front of the camera. It is very artificial. I have many photographs of it. This time I was able to put him at ease, let him sit up on the stool and get comfortable. Before he knew it, I had the image. No time to put on the “camera face.” Just a genuine, pleasant, happy expression. I can see in his eyes the pleasant, happy child that he is. In working this way to get the perfect expression, I had neglected something else…his feet. Or had I? Yes, many a competition judge may say, “I don”t like the foot position, it is drawing too much attention.” However, what I see, is a child whose feet have outgrown the body, and now the body needs to catch up. It happens with every child. Also, the first thing to come off when my children enter the house is their shoes. They love to be barefoot. This portrait reminds me of that. Could I have covered the foot with a dark sock or shoe and pleased an audience that knows nothing about this child? Yes. But why, when it would remove some of the meaning for whom it belongs?
No matter what any critic may say, this is still one of my favorite images that I have of Logan in my collection of our family portraits. It shows me who he really is, what he is all about. The peace and joy that he brings to our home. I never tire of looking at images like this. They have meaning to me. I only hope that the portraits I create for my clients bring as much joy to them as this one does to me.
I love this portrait of my son! Anytime I photograph a person I try to capture something more than what shows on the surface. This particular image, at least for me does that. I see the independence that is within. I see a bit of an inner struggle as he is learning to be an adult… who am I, who should I be, who do I really want to be…?
Christeena, my wife and his mother, prefers the smiling portrait that I made at the same time. I think it is the motherly side seeing what she really wants him to become. I see glimpses of that personality emerging at times, but now, this is what I see. So this is what I photograph.
In a portrait everything must come together. The clothing. The lighting. The pose. The print treatment. Everything. When it does, as it does here for me, then you have a timeless statement. A True Portrait.
We recently attended the Professional Photographers of Idaho Annual Convention and print competition and took 1st place in the Child Portrait category with this portrait titled “Ringlets of Fire.” This gal was a joy to photograph. Everything really clicked from the moment she and her mother walked into the studio. We could have photographed all day and I don’t think she would have got tired of it. I really thought that their choice of clothing was perfect to compliment her striking red hair and blue eyes. My goal in every session is to make that connection that allows us to capture the beauty within a person in a natural and believable image. I believe that we were successful here! Below are a couple of other images from this session. I hope you enjoy them.