It has been around five years since I started making photos. Over the past few months, I feel that a certain level of harmony has developed between what my mind sees and what the camera captures. Though, the real magic still happens when I transform that digital negative into my interpretation of the scene.
So, what have I learned thus far?
For me, the journey has been arduous but rewarding. First, I needed to focus on the kind of images that spoke to me. I found myself drawn to landscapes, though I kept asking myself, “What is it about them that I like so much?” I am getting closer to the answer, and someday I might even be able to articulate it. But for now, I’ll just say I’m confident that my soul and brain are guiding me to the right place.
My quest benefitted from an early realization: I am most comfortable using the focal length of 50 mm, which is said to be the closest to how we humans see the world. This knowledge has helped make the idea of photographs less complicated and more natural. For me, changing focal lengths to capture an image is actually a deliberate act of artistic subversion. I find using a 24mm wide angle lens, a 90 mm medium telephoto, or a 280 mm tele lens akin to using saffron in my rice or black salt in my lentils – flavors that are beautiful in their restraint.
The last part of the equation has been finding my way around the digital darkroom. I started with Adobe Lightroom and experimented with Capture One. But in the end, I am committed to Adobe Photoshop. Powerful as it is, Photoshop isn’t for the faint of the heart. It is a demanding program to master, but if you stick with it, it does unlock a lot of creativity. I needed to spend a not insignificant amount of time with particular aspects of the program to reach a point where I am satisfied with the end results.
Along the way, whenever I hit a wall, as I do with all my questions, I turned to YouTube for the answers. It is a marvelous school, with easy-to-find tips and tricks galore. I particularly needed to focus on contrast, curves, and gradients. With a lot of concentrated effort, I have reduced the whole process to about ten minutes per photo for those I share online – and about 20 minutes for each photograph that is ultimately printed.
When I look back, I would say the key to my current level of comfort with my visual creations was my one year of making photos with film – Kodak Portra 400 for color and Kodak Tri-X 400 for black and white. Film photography helped me realize my affection for brighter mid tones and a softer palette.
Ansel Adams once said that “there’s nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.” I learned the brilliance of not being too overly focused on the sharpness of an image. I don’t see the world tack sharp, so why should I care if my pictures aren’t sharp either?
The film also made me realize that my visual interpretations of a scene find a comfortable space between color and monochromatism. Even though our leaders, messiahs, and intellectuals would like to live in a world that is black and white, in reality, we humans live in a world of grays. These grays have influenced how I look at our world and have guided me toward images that are less saturated, less noisy, and most definitely my own.
I have been experimenting with editing my older photos with my new workflow and making interpretations of those archival images. But the biggest realization this has produced is that, unless the photos start off on the right foot inside the camera, it is difficult to reach a rewarding final interpretation.
More than anything, these first five years have taught me that photography is a journey without an end. In another half decade, I wonder what I’ll think when I look back at the images I’m making now. All I know for sure is that I look forward to finding out.
Visit my photo blog @ Om.blog where I share photos daily.
My extreme gratitude and thanks to following photographers and artists who have helped me on my photographic journey – in no particular order: Vincent Laforet, Dan Rubin, Chris Michel, Cole Rise, Rebecca Lily, Johnny Patience, Bijan Sabet, Elle Luna, Mark Kawano, Tim Donnelly & Elizabeth Stacey.