Inspirational

Black and White or Color?

Coke or Pepsi? Fritos or Doritos? If the answer was only that simple. But in some ways, it is. Personal preference plays into the decision. More importantly, how do you see the scene, how do you interpret the image, does color enhance or detract from the message you want to convey? These questions will help you decide, and only you can determine the outcome. Crowdsourcing for answers means you don't know, and if you don't, how can anyone else, it's your photograph.

Learn to see in both color and black and white. Learn to understand the difference between color harmony and visual harmony. How do you learn? Practice, practice and more practice. And study. Lot's of study.

Analyze the color masters and how they work, how they see. People like Joel Meyerowitz, Sam Able, Jay Maisel, William Albert Allard, and Alex Webb. Look deep at the black and white photographers; Matt Black, Ralph Gibson, Jacob Aue Sobol, Bill Brandt, Michael Kenna, and of course, Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Compare and contrast their styles and vision. See how they compose, how they use tone, light, and shadow. 

I came upon this scene at a traffic light. As always, my camera was at the ready in the center console. All I need to do was frame the photo and wait for the moment to develop. What I wanted to capture was already clearly formed in my mind's eye, and thankfully it occurred before my light turned green. 

From the instant I spotted the scene I knew it would be a black and white photo. I saw the shadows and highlights and colors dancing in shades of black, white and greys. The yellow-greenish tint to the building and the red bus both turned neutral in my vision of a monochrome image. Color, in this case, would be distracting, confusing even, pulling attention away from the subject, and the story. Is the scene as a color photograph terrible? No. But in my vision, the black and white image is stronger. The monochrome tones and design elements graphically harmonize while in color they are confusing to the eye.

Defining your vision and style is a journey of many steps, and only you can walk the path.  

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Breathe

Some days you need to take time for yourself. A breather, a pause, a respite. Smell nature. Feel sand between your toes. Sit under a tree and listen to the leaves. Do whatever gives you peace. If you don't recharge your batteries, they die. If you don't renew yourself, well, I think you know my meaning. We all need to walk away for a day, a week, a few hours. Do whatever it takes to find your center. Keep yourself fresh so the light can shine from within you. 

I've been on a slow recharge for a few days. Yesterday, late afternoon was spent listening to trees and feeling the breeze around Lake Arthur. I needed to find my quiet. As I was leaving, this scene got my attention. It was the congruity of nature. Rock and trees, leaves and branches, light and dark all working together in harmony and peace. Mission accomplished.

  Rock face at Moraine State Park / Lake Arthur

Rock face at Moraine State Park / Lake Arthur

Andre and Me

To know where you're going, you must know where you've been.

I've said it before, studying the history of art and photography provides you a broader view of the world. Filed away in the recesses of your mind will be snippets. Fragments that can be inspiring, even without consciously knowing.

In the case of "Oil Platform, 1992," I didn't realize the relationship between my photograph and one by Andre Kertesz, "The Balcony, Martinique, 1972," until several years later. Are they the same? No. There are subtle similarities, yes. Do I remember seeing the Kertesz picture before I made my image? Now, yes, then, probably not consciously. I'm sure it was always there, logged in my brain, bouncing between the synapses. Maybe a spark came through that day, or perhaps I just recognized an intriguing alignment of elements – lines, ocean, shadow, clouds, and colors. But whatever it was, seeing the similarities makes a case for studying art and the history of photography. You never know when you'll find a spark.

  Oil Platform, Gulf of Mexico, 1992 – Terry Clark

Oil Platform, Gulf of Mexico, 1992 – Terry Clark

  The Balcony, Martinique, 1972 – Andre Kertesz

The Balcony, Martinique, 1972 – Andre Kertesz

Happiness is the truth

Sometimes you meet people who are plain joyous. They have an inner something that no matter what they do, or their station in life they are happy. Not pleasant smiling, but full on Pharrell Williams "Happy." You can almost imagine them dancing while doing whatever they do. 

"The Ringer" was one of those guys. My encounter with him on a tour of a turkey farm and processing facility was brief, but his personality was vivacious. He was a darn happy guy, proud of where he worked and what he did. He was helping people have a fantastic holiday dinner with good friends and loving family. How can you argue with that logic? 

So, on this hump day Wednesday, remember, no matter what your toil, how stressful the job, or the conditions of your work, if this guy can be happily ringing the necks of turkeys, what's your excuse?

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Go out and see

When out I'm looking for pictures. I call it "shadow boxing," searching for images, exercising my eye, my vision and all other senses. I'm not looking for masterpieces; I'm just putting pieces together that work. Light and shadow, sticks and stones, color, you name it I'm looking for it. Just like a professional boxer still hits the heavy bag, a photographer needs to hit the streets and trails to keep sharp. And, as Jay Maisel has said if you're always carrying a camera you never have to go out to take pictures. It's a part of you.

Another thing I do is usually travel with just one lens. My carry camera of choice these days is a Fuji X100F. It has a fixed lens equivalent to a 35mm, perfect for street photography. 

Using one lens over and over will ingrain that view in your mind, so it becomes muscle memory. Then, when you come across a scene, you will frame it before you ever pick up the camera. 

In the photo, Stick & Stone, I was carrying a Leica M6 with a 35mm Summicron on a walk through McConnell's Mills when I noticed beautiful natural arrangement. To make it compositionally work, I had to step carefully out on a few exposed rocks along the river's edge. Please note, this action is not advisable or encouraged as the rocks are extremely slippery and dangerous. Many people have drowned from slipping off stones into the water and getting caught by an undertow. I knew the risk, but I also saw the reward in my mind's eye. I was also young and more foolish. OK, young at least. But with just one camera to worry about I had pretty good balance and a friend was with me in case I needed a hand.

Throughout my career, I've tried to use as little gear as possible in personal work and on assignments. I may own a wide range of equipment and pack it all for jobs, but I'll only carry a few extra lenses in my shoulder bag. I've said many times; focal lengths between 28mm and 90mm will handle most assignments. That opinion isn't just mine. Henri Cartier-Bresson told his Magnum colleagues they should not use any lens outside that basic kit. Who will argue with HCB?

Of course, there will always be exceptions to the rule depending on the demands of the job and especially today with the proliferation of high-quality zoom lenses. But while zooms are convenient, they can make photographers lazy. It's too easy to rack the zoom in and out to fill the frame forgetting the primary idea of focal length is to change the perspective. When I use a zoom, I look first at the focal length then through the camera because I've already decided what view I want to deliver. I'll move closer or further back to fill the frame with the zoom God gave me, my feet. 

It doesn't matter what device you use other than your eyeballs. Just go out and see.

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Just another morning in Italy

It's the kind of weather we can only dream of in Pittsburgh. A warm breeze caressing the skin. Sunshine casting sharp shadows as the bright life-giving sun in the sky breaks the horizon. Layered clouds placed against an azure backdrop to add visual interest to an already dramatic scene. Trees flawlessly placed on the top of the hill as if set there by artistic design. And the field. Row upon perfectly spaced row. All illuminated to a bright shimmer by the sun. Lines, shapes, graphics, balance, tones all working together in symphonic harmony. Or, as they say, just another morning in Italy.

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Refresh and Recharge

There are days when the well runs dry. Maybe it’s cold, rainy or just one of those blue days when nothing goes right. Don’t give up. Take a break. Go for a walk. Breathe deep and recharge. Keep your eyes open and look around you for the little things. 

Go back to the basics. It’s time for some visual shadow boxing. I don’t mean shadow literally, but it could be. Just look about you and open your mind, heart, and soul to the world. Laugh out loud, chuckle to yourself and smile. Find the joy within. Remember what it was like the first time you saw a picture, be it in the darkroom, or on the LCD screen. 

The weather in Pittsburgh has been lousy. It’s February. So don’t sweat it, just shoot. Find a theme, or not. Work on a narrative, or not. Just see. Shoot. Repeat. Spring is right around the corner. 

 

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Goodbye, Mom

“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.” ~ Robert Capa

This quote is often interpreted to mean getting physically close to your subject. And maybe that’s what Capa meant. I also believe it means getting emotionally close to the people you are photographing.  If you can’t feel, how can you put feeling into your work? My best pictures have always come from opening myself up and connecting, however briefly, with those in front of my lens on an emotional level. Sometimes it means a deep empathy for who you’re with, sometimes it’s falling in love and sometimes it’s a profound respect and admiration for your subject.

Whatever the emotion, connect, feel, be present, because, if your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t emotionally close enough.

This is my mother, a few days before she passed away in 2006.

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Endless Love

Working on a story about senior citizen housing, I spent lots of time wanding halls, talking with folks and drinking tea. During one long day, I decided I needed some fresh air and went outside for a respite. I walked out a back door and immediately heard what I thought was the sound of kissing. Loud smooching. 

As I went around a wall, I found the source of the noise. It was two of the residents necking! Herman Clear and Hilda Penderman were sharing a tender moment at the Beaver Valley Geriatric Center where they were residents. Hilda told me she “robbed the cradle” as Herman was much her junior. They said they were in love but could not get married because it would reduce their social security income and they couldn’t afford to live. And, they were too old fashion to just “shack up together.” So they did the next best thing, every day. 

Love springs eternal.

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Life is like...

Life is like a rodeo. Sometimes you go eight seconds, and sometimes you get thrown by the bull. It’s always a wild ride. Timing is important. A style is essential. Skill is critical. Luck factors in more than anyone wants to admit. Hard work wins. In fact, without putting in a lot of hard work, the rest doesn’t matter. And just like a rodeo, once thrown, get back up for the next ride. Nobody ever said this was going to be easy. 

 

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