It’s contest time again!

Bay Bridge and San Francisco at Night

I really don’t like contests. Any kind of contest, not just photo contests, but I will focus… get the pun?… on photo contests since this is a photo blog. Contests are too random. At least the ones I enter. The state fair has different judges each year. Which is good… and bad. The good is you don’t know their biases and preferences. The bad is that you don’t know their biases and preferences. If you do know the judge(s) you can tailor your submissions to (hopefully) match their preferences. That can work out well, as I did just that several years ago at my photo club’s annual contest. I won several prizes, including Best of Show.

So why do I enter contests? I enter because they push me to continually improve and shoot better photos. There are a lot of good photographers in the world, and at least keeping up with them is a challenge. Unfortunately, there are also some mediocre photographers who are gurus with Photoshop and Lightroom, and they can produce some stunning images that grab people’s attention… and judges are people, too.

I’m not a purist by any stretch of the imagination, but I do feel that the primary skill of a good photographer should be… wait for it… photography. Call me old fashioned, I guess.

The photo above is the one that won “Best of Show” at my photo club’s contest.  That was in 2010 or 2011.  It’s a bit small here because it’s so long.  This is 17 images stitched together to form the panorama.  Hopefully you can see it well enough.  And, yes, I have this one hanging on the wall in my living room.  It’s 7 feet long and printed on canvas and is gorgeous.

It’s that time of year again

Sunrise reflection on Pete’s Lake, Hiawatha National Forest, near Munising, Alger County, Michigan

Fall.  Or, autumn.  Time for vivid colors.  Crisp air.  Changes of season.  Everybody, it seems, loves this time of year for photography.  I certainly do.  I get more excited for fall than I do for any other time of year.

Here’s yet another shot that I took about 9 years ago, and didn’t do anything with until just recently.  Again, in looking through old photos I saw a new potential in this one and decided to go with it.  I think it came out pretty well.  I’m especially pleased with the reflections on the lake.

On a side note, I have started a new blog.  See, I am something of a curmudgeon, so I started “The Grump”.  I had to spell it with a ‘k’, though… http://kurmudgeon.net/ … as the proper spelling was already taken.  That’s ok, I can say I did it on purpose because I’m Ken with a ‘k’, also.  Actually, I was surprised that this one was available.  Anyway, check it out when you get a chance.  It’s intended to be fun.

Which is better?

Shade Tree and Tire Swing, near Mt Vernon, Linn County, Iowa

Back on July 30th I posted this photo.  It’s a great photo, but I wondered if maybe it was too bright.  I also asked the question on my Facebook page, and some felt that it might be and said they’d like to see a darker version should I do one.  In general, I like darker photos, but I also need to be aware that my tastes aren’t necessarily everyone else’s tastes.  Many people prefer brighter photos.  Plus, while my darker photos tend to look great on a back lit computer screen, they sometimes look way too dark when actually printed.

Shade Tree and Tire Swing, near Mt Vernon, Linn County, Iowa

So, I reworked the photo a bit.  All I did was back off on the exposure a bit… a full stop, actually… and here is the result.  Same photo, just a slightly different exposure, and thus a slightly different result and feeling.  So tell me, which one do you like better, and why?

Personally, I like the darker version better.  It’s easier on my eyes, for one thing, plus it evokes a sense of a softer and less harsh time of day, which adds to the feeling of calm.

What, exactly, is a photo?

Steamboat Slough at sunset, near Isleton, Sacramento County, California

This question comes up every so often in the photo community.  You would think it’s an obvious answer, right?  What is a photo?  Not what makes a good photo, just what is a photo in a tangible sense?  I got sucked into this question… again… on a Photoshop and Lightroom page on Facebook recently.  You’d be surprised how many varied opinions there are about this.  Then again, knowing human nature, maybe you wouldn’t be surprised.  Some of the perspectives are quite interesting.

Some feel that a photo must be ‘pure’, SOOC (straight out of camera).  Others point out there is no such thing.  One person says there is no such thing for film, as film must still be developed and developing makes changes, but there is such a thing for digital because you can take it straight from the camera to the printer.  That’s one perspective.

Others feel that the concept is wide open and pretty much anything involving a camera is a photo.  This can include end products that are far beyond anything that is even possible in the real world.  For example, I once saw a winning photo in a national magazine photo contest with a 6,000 mile tall woman standing on top of the Earth in a James Bond-like pose.  Another perspective, and many other viewpoints in between.

Here’s my thoughts, and they are based on a simple benchmark.  The standard should be the same for film and digital, so SOOC is really irrelevant.  My base criteria is that a photo must be something that actually exists as viewed in the photo, to a reasonable extent.  That means that changing the mood or colors via dodging-and-burning with film, or Photoshop manipulation, is fine, as long as it’s “real”.  Changing the sky from blue to orange is still a representation of the sky.  The final photo must have started as a photo.

The photo contest winning “photo” I mentioned above is not, in my opinion, a photo.  Just because a camera was involved somewhere in the process does not mean the end result is still a photo.  You can call it a work of art in its own right, and it may very well be well done, but a 6,000 mile tall woman simply does not exist.  Not a photo.

The photo I include with this post IS a photo, and is pretty much SOOC.  I shot it on film in roughly 2001, developed it, scanned the slide into digital several years later, and didn’t feel the need to manipulate it beyond that.  That’s what it looked like to my eye.

Time for a change…

Big Sable Lighthouse, near Ludington, Mason County, Michigan

…but it’s only a minor change.  To give a little background, I have never been happy with the long website URL, “iowalandcapephotography”.  It’s just too long and unwieldy.  Several years ago I purchased “iowa-photo” to use on a more casual basis, and re-directed it to the longer original name.

Fast forward to today and I have switched them.  While the site is still named Iowa Landscape Photography, the official URL is “iowa-photo.com”.  If you have the website and/or the blog saved in your bookmarks you will need to update them.

Now let’s get down to the serious business… photography.  This photo was taken on Missy’s and my honeymoon seven years ago.  There’s a bit of a hike through a state park to get here, but it’s worth the walk.  We went later in the day hoping to get some good shots with the sun setting over Lake Michigan.  There was no stunning sunset, but we still got some good shots with the clouds and various foregrounds and background.

I like the perspective in this one.  It’s something you won’t normally see.  Crane the neck, look to the sky, and you can see the clouds sweeping by.  It also provides a close-up of the structure of the lighthouse itself, the steel plates bolted together.  All lighthouses are unique and this one is no different.  The color scheme of most major lighthouses are also unique to aid mariners in keeping their bearings and location.

At the end of our shoot we had to hike back.  We didn’t get back until well after dark.  Our motel was a short drive away, and our biggest challenge was yet to come… finding a place that delivered pizzas at 10:30 pm on a Sunday night.

Keepin’ Busy

Shade Tree and Tire Swing, near Mt Vernon, Linn County, Iowa

It’s been a few weeks since my last post.  When not working and doing other life activities I’ve been processing a lot of photos.  My goal is to do a major overhaul of my website.  I’ve been re-processing many previously done photos.  I’m adding a bunch of new photos, some really new ones and some older photos that, for whatever reason, have never been published but I am now realizing how good they are.  I am also retiring some photos permanently, photos that I look at and am no longer enamored with and/or they’ve simply never generated a bit of interest.

This photo is one that I’ve never before published.  It has a nice old-time feel to it.  A link back to a simpler time… a neat yard and a simple tire swing.  I almost want to get on the swing myself and go for a ride.  I’d probably regret it in the morning, though.  haha  This was taken near Mt. Vernon, Iowa.

I’m a little unsure of the processing, though.  It looked great in Photoshop, but now I post it here and it looks too bright.  I naturally favor darker photos, but a lot of people seem to prefer brighter photos.  What’s your opinion on this one?

Report: Au Train Falls, Michigan

Au Train Falls, Hiawatha National Forest, Alger County, Michigan

This was a different kind of waterfall.  No huge drop-off. I believe the rock is limestone, but am not sure.  It is layered, though, and produced a unique affect.  It’s wide and shallow.  I donned my Muck Boots, waded out, set up my tripod in the middle of the stream, and shot away.  I had to be careful with my footing, but it really wasn’t all that treacherous.

These shots were done in autumn, as you can tell by the leaves on the ground and in the stream bed.  Maybe it’s just me, but I find waterfalls to almost always be more interesting in autumn precisely because of the added color.

Au Train Falls, in the Hiawatha National Forest between Munising and Chatham, has many interesting features, from the natural layout to the man made aspects that almost completely ruin the whole thing.  Personally, I find them inordinately difficult to shoot.  What appears pleasing to the eye isn’t necessarily so in the viewfinder.  Access to the lower falls is easy.  There’s a short road off M-94, and a short walk beyond a gate, and you’re there.  There are man made features such as pipes and buildings that often get in the shot.  There is a lot of “isolating” to get a good shot.  But, when you do get a good shot, it’s a winner!

 

A courthouse and a blue sky

Clock Tower, Delaware County Courthouse, Manchester, Delaware County, Iowa

If you remember the photos of the farm near Dundee that I posted on 6/25/2017, and of the winding road in Backbone State Park that I posted on 6/23/2017, you’ll begin to catch a theme here.  This photo, of the clock tower of the Delaware County Courthouse in Manchester, Iowa, was taken on the same road trip, and was also taken with my Pentax 67II medium format camera.

As I was pulling into Manchester I spied the clock tower across town and made a side trip to go look.  It was a little later in the morning than would have been ideal.  The scenery at ground level I thought was distracting, so I decided to isolate the clock tower itself.  The lamp post, which is actually across the street, added a nice piece on interest and context to what otherwise would probably have been a boring photo.  I also used a circular polarizer filter to help bring out the deep blue in the sky.

The richness of the colors, and the perspective, have always appealed to me.  Is it surprising that this one hangs on my wall, as well?  Seems this was quite the productive road trip.

Something different

Old Chevy

Yep, this is a landscape photography site, but every now and then I’ll post something different.  I’ve highlighted Wesley before, and will again.  I’ve given a shout-out to Missy, and no doubt will again.  And here we have an old car, albeit not necessarily in the original condition, as you can see.  I doubt metallic purple was a common color back in the 1930s.  I took this shot in Rio Vista, California, I believe in 2001.  Oh, and this one hangs on my wall, too.

This car is an old Chevy.  I believe it is a 1932, but am not sure.  This was handheld, on film, at a car show.  I had to do all my shots close-in like this because of all the people wandering around.  I didn’t want the people in the shots.  I also used a star filter to get the star effect.  I almost never use that type of filter, because I do not feel it generally gives a realistic effect, but in this case I thought it worked nicely.  I have another identical shot without the star effect, and while it looks more realistic, it doesn’t look as good.

Moral of the story:  Rules are made to be broken.  (Where have I heard that before?)

The Broadside of a Barn

Shadows on side of a barn, near Calavaritas, Calaveras County, California

Sometimes simplicity is the order for the day.  It doesn’t really matter where this photo was taken.  The particulars of the barn itself isn’t a concern.  The surrounding scenery is wholly irrelevant.

No, the simple selective composition shown here speaks for itself.  A simple side of a barn… at the end of the day, as depicted by the shows… some mud on the wall, how and why is it there?… a rough stone foundation… barbed wire hanging on the wall… all serves to reinforce that this is a working barn in daily use.  That gives the photo an honest credibility.

Would you believe this is hanging on my wall?  It is.  It’s a small 5×7, framed, with a hunter green mat.  It looks very nice as a small accent piece.