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.

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.

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.

Peaceful, easy feeling

Stewart Lane, Montezuma Hills, near Rio Vista, Solano County, California

“Peaceful, easy feeling” is how this photo has been described to me.  I think that fits.  It does have a certain calmness to it.  The muted colors, the openness of the countryside, the sense that time moves more slowly here than in the rest of the world… all serve to reinforce that calm, peaceful, easy feeling.  Every time you go by it you want to stop and follow the road around the bend.

The Montezuma Hills are in the southeast corner of Solano County, along the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, just south of Rio Vista.  Historically the area had been used for what is called “dry farming”, and there’s pretty much no other reason to go there.  There are no state highways into the area, nor do any bridges cross over into the area.  If you find yourself in the Montezuma Hills it is because you went there purposely or you’re lost.  Option C does not exist.

California, in general, is known for its wonderful scenery.  A photographer’s paradise.  California is also known for its smog and air pollution.  And this day was one of those days.  I actually went out to shoot this road in the other direction, where there is a barn in a valley.  Problem was, the sky was so brown it ruined the shot.

I took a few shots anyway, then as I was packing up I turned around and saw this.  This spoke to me.  I composed the shot, purposely cropping the sky out of the picture, and here’s the result.  What’s ironic is that the smog acted as something of a diffuser and gave the scene the muted look that you see.  In this case the air pollution actually aided the photo.

I guess the moral of the story is to always keep an open mind and an open eye.  And just in case you’re wondering, yes, I do have this one on my wall.

More Bridges

Rio Vista Bridge at cold sunrise, Rio Vista, Solano County, California

Today we’re taking a small trip back in time.  The year was 2005, January… hence no snow… when I still lived in California.  I lived about a 50 minute drive from work and every day, twice a day, I would drive this bridge.   I’ve always had an affinity for this particular bridge.  It’s distinctive and stands out in the local area.  This part of the Sacramento River is a dredged deep-channel route for ocean freighters going to and from the Port of Sacramento, and it’s always cool when the bridge opens for one of these large ships.

On this cold and dreary morning I noticed the scene you see here and it struck me.  Another one of those cases where you need to have your camera with you at all times, because you just never know.  I was on my way to work, but decided to stop and take a handful of shots.  If I remember correctly, there had been a wildfire nearby the previous day so there was something of a haze in the air, and this haze is distinguishable in the photo and helped give it its unique atmosphere.  It’s really quite striking, I think.  It has a feeling of foreboding and yet also a sense of peacefulness and calm.

Yesterday I posted a photo from this past weekend, today I post a photo from twelve years ago.  At the time I took this I was formulating my move out of California, so now I look back and am in awe at how things have changed for me.  My move to Iowa is one of the best things I ever did, but I also cannot deny that there are some things I miss about California, too.

A Blast from the Past

Red Barn near Calaveritas, California
Red Barn near Calaveritas, California

As we end August let’s go back to April… 2004.  I was still living in California.  I was into my photography.  I had another website that I allowed to go defunct a couple years ago (I don’t even own the URL anymore), and this was one of the premier photos.

Now, California is known for its awesome beauty.  The Sierra Nevada Mountains, Yosemite National Park, the redwood forests, the coast, and yes, even the desert.  So much to choose from.  And yet even within all that splendor, you can find little nuggets like this.

This photo has always been one of my all-time favorites.  I shot it several times from varying angles, and was never disappointed.  I spoke with the owner one day… an extremely nice gentleman… and he told me that its even better in the winter with snow on the ground.  I can believe it.  I would be willing to make a special trip back just for that.

I plan to incorporate some of my better west coast photos into my blog and website, though they will remain primarily Iowa and the Midwest.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, this photo is still literally a “wall hanger” in my home.