The Photogenic Moment?

North American Butterfly Gardens, Mission TX

My first Pic of the Day post

Just over a year ago I started a Pic of the Day project, sort of by accident. I was new on Twitter and Facebook at that time, and I began to post, just for fun, an image each day to TwitPics and to FaceBook. After a few days of that it occurred to me that it might be fun to make it a project, and I formalized my posting. My rules were simple: 1) any image I wanted to share, no matter when or where taken, and 2) one image per day, without missing a day.

That went on for about a month, but then it occurred to me (these things do occur if you let them) that people might like to know where and when the image was taken, how and why. For that matter, I wanted to know those things myself…when and where were matters of record (when is in the exif data, and memory generally serves for where), but the how and why mattered more to me, and I suspected would be more valuable to others…and they were much harder to pin down.

In order to share that information, I needed more space than TwitPics and Facebook allowed me, so it seemed natural to start another WordPress blog, and I did. Steve Ingraham’s Pic of the Day.

I knew from my experience here at Point and Shoot Landscape that the major beneficiary of the new blog would be me. Articulating what I have here about how I take pictures has been invaluable in helping me to refine my methods in the field…and recounting that daily, one image at a time, could only force me to learn a lot faster. I posted a brief repose on the anniversary of the Pic of the Day blog outlining some of that learning, and I will not repeat that here…but over the past few weeks I have noticed another change in my way of working which is significant and worth talking about here.

I don’t actually like to have to dip back into my archives to fill a day. I have thousands of images already posted to Flickr and Smugmug…certainly enough for several years of Pic of the Day blogs, but I don’t like to use them unless there is a particular reason. It always feels like cheating to me to go back to work I did several years ago…and certainly less interesting. I doubt, in fact that it matters to my readers, but it does to me. Occasionally, as when I was traveling in England this summer, it makes sense to me to revisit a past trip and post some of that work, as a kind of introduction the new work I hope to produce on this trip…to get both the reader and myself in the right mind-set for images of England.  That’s okay. But just dipping back because I don’t have any new work to share…well, that makes me feel just a bit guilty.

It has served as a spur, more than once this past year, to get out and take some pictures already! I am not really comfortable unless I have a week’s worth of Pic of the Days in the can…processed in Lightroom, uploaded to WideEyed InWonder  (my Smugmug site), and ready to be posted to Pic of the Day. And because of that, I have become a much more concentrated shooter on the days when I am out…and, I go out much more often with the express intent of filling my Pic of the Day stock.

Photography is not my job. I work full time, have a family to care for, other blogs to produce (Cloudy Days and Netbook Nights on cloud computing, netbook tech, and iPhone applications takes a considerable amount of my time), etc. My photography time is limited. Often only the fact that my PotD stock is running low forces me to make time for photography! It has inspired me to make time on business trips, even if it is only a few hours snatched between other obligations, and, perhaps more importantly, to shut down the computer and get outside…somewhere…anywhere…around home to find images to fill my PotD stock.

First Snow Morning

It forced me, after the first snow of the year, to find my boots and get out at sun-up. It forced me to don my winter coat and gloves and drive the miles on a frosty Saturday morning to Emmon’s Preserve the other day…just to see if there was anything there worth photographing that day.

During the Lunch break at Cloister in the Wood, Germany

It forced me, on a trip to Germany, to get outside on lunch breaks between meetings, camera in hand. It forced me to take my few rest hours in Germany between sets of meetings (I had half of a day on Sunday uncommitted) to walk the old town of Wetzlar and look for images…when I would, in many ways, much rather have been resting at my hotel. It has forced me, on Sunday mornings in Texas, when exhausted from a week of field-trips and talking to birders (my job), to leave my binos at the hotel and go look for images.

Sunday morning in Old Town Wetzlar, Germany

And, on each outing, if forces me to be productive. It forces my eyes wide open, and my imaging sense into high gear every moment I am in the field. I am looking for images. I need to bring back the bacon every chance I get, and since that Pic of the Day just does not stop, I have to bring back as many good images as I possibly can. WideEyedInWonder is apt. Only now I can’t wait for the wonder to happen to me…I have to go out looking for wonder!

And what a difference that makes. From looking for photogenic moments, I have had to turn to making every available moment photogenic. It is a matter of focus and will…of turning the skills I have developed over a lifetime in photography loose in a hyper-intentional way every moment I have. As I write this, I am realizing that, while focus and will are accurate, so is the loose in that sentence. It requires a kind of relaxing…a certain restful confidence that the images are there, that I will find them…and that my skills, always growing, will rise to the occasion of capturing any and all images that offer, when I am consciously looking for them.

“You don’t take a photograph…you make a photograph.” Ansel Adams.

Over the past year I have really learned that lesson…I need to make images for Pic of the Day…and on outing after outing…I go out and do make images.

Winter morning at Emmons Preserve, 10 miles from home

Whether it is a winter morning at Emmon’s Preserve with nothing much out of the ordinary happening, or a winter morning at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, one of the most photogenic places I know of…there are images to be found…photogenic moments to be captured. I might come back from Emmons with 10 good images (10 Pic of the Day posts!) and I might come back from the DBG with 30, but I do come back from every outing with images worth sharing. And that is a very good feeling.

Winter morning at the Desert Botanical Gardens, Phoenix AZ

Okay, so good enough for me…but what do I have to say that might help you to achieve something similar?

1) set yourself a goal. If an image a day seems too steep, try for an image a week (much less than that seems, to me at least, to be too tenuous to hold on to). Just the process of looking closely at a single image you have made every day or every week will quickly make you better at seeing images wherever you look. And, if like me, it inspires you to take (make) more images, that is all to the good!

2) relax. Begin where you are. If your camera is still on Auto, shoot on auto. If you look at my blog you will see that 90% of my images are taken on Programmed auto…without any in-camera adjustments on my part (one of the lessons I have learned from the Pic of the Day blog, by the way…I had no idea how mundane my shooting habits are until I had to write it down every day). The Programmed there might mean that adjustments are possible…it does not mean that I often make them.

3) Look for patterns…look for patterns to fill the frame of the image. Big patterns, as in a landscape, and little patterns, as in a macro. It is all about patterns. Line and form and light…the way shapes are arranged to fill frame the camera is able to capture, just a little rectangle after all, and the way the light molds the shapes with highlight and shadow. The way the colors, which are the second aspect of light, fall within the frame. You are not photographing things or people. You are capturing patterns within a frame. The things (or people) that make the patterns may be more or less important, but their importance is controlled by where you place them in the pattern you have captured (composition…rule of thirds, point-of-view, etc. See The Really Strong Suggestion of Thirds, Point of View, Shopping for Color in Old Town Albuquerque, and Lupine Lesson: Point of View). It is the pattern that will make or break the photograph. It is the pattern that the photograph is really about. (I plan a blog entry about this pattern thing soon.)

4) don’t wait for the Photogenic moments…go out and find them…better yet, go out and make them. Pattern: line and form, light and shadow and color…pattern is everywhere. There are no unphotogenic moments. Photogenic is not, when it comes right down to it, an attribute of the world you are part of (though we generally use it that way)…it is, in reality, an attribute of your soul, your mind, your spirit…of the person you are in the world. You make the photograph. It is your eyes that find the patterns. Your hands that hold and point the camera. Your finger that fires the shutter. It is all you…all in you…trust your photogenic soul, feed your photogenic soul, fill your photogenic soul. Go wide-eyed in wonder and the whole world is full of wonder! If I did not know that before, I certainly have learned it through the Pic of the Day blog…and learned to trust it implicitly.

So, here’s a deal for you. If any of you are inspired to start a Pic of the Day, or Pic of the Week blog, I promise to visit every day/week and look at your work. Promise. And I will make, as often as possible, comments. How’s that for a deal? But you have to be faithful. A Pic of the Day blog means every day…never fail. Pic of the Week, ditto.

Photogenic moments? I am eager to see what moments you make.

Bend in the stream of time: photogenic moments around every bend...

This entry was posted in aesthetics, inspiration, instruction, Opinion. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Photogenic Moment?

  1. forkboy says:

    And here I didn’t even know you had other sites….You really should include them in the blogroll as had I known about them previously I would have been visiting them too!

  2. Pingback: Your Zoom is for Framing! « Steve Ingraham’s Point and Shoot Landscape

  3. amaczero says:

    Yes, learning of your POTD site was a surprise to me as well, as I have found your instructional posts very helpful, no matter what camera I have been using.

    I have taken up your challenge and (gulp) just started a POTD site myself on WordPress. Let’s hope it moves my photography forward.

    I always look forward to your posts.

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