Eleven years ago I made an image in Seal Rocks State Park, Oregon, which in many ways ended up shaping my future transition from purely a wilderness photography enthusiast to a full-time global landscape photography professional, and that image was of this place you see here. I exposed one and a half rolls of Velvia 50 film with my Canon EOS 3 at ¼ second apiece using a polarizing filter and 2-step soft grad. One of those fifty shots, without Photoshop, went on to win the highest honor in the Environmental Photo Invitational, one of the day’s biggest contests, and through that avenue I was able to meet Art Wolfe and later exhibit a dozen prints at his gallery in Seattle. More than the exposure though, this 26 year-old decided that maybe this pursuit of photography could lead to more than just winning a contest. And eleven years later here we are.
So it is interesting, the relationship with the art of photography this place has for me. I have been back here many times over many years and through those years the art has changed so much! How we capture images has changed, the way we process and blend now, even the look and feel that is most desirable or popular has changed. My own style has evolved with it because I am always embracing new ways of seeing, I am always trying new things. What would that 2004 image look like if it were taken today? Well, today I made one that looks like this. For one thing, time and repeated visits to the location have resulted in a lot of variations in the light and skies that I have photographed. More than that, the finite control over every tiny speck of color, contrast, exposure, etc. is more than any photographer in any past era could have dreamed and to suggest otherwise is nonsense. The addition of blending, shaping, perspective control, etc. has opened the door to fully customizable renderings of the action, with the artist in the driver’s seat and their imagination and artistic ability the only limitations. The addition of painting, literally painting, the atmosphere, diffusion, glow, light, mist, whatever….. sometimes it feels like there are no boundaries now if you have a good eye in the filed and a knowledge for how to use the tools later.
But somehow, in all of this seemingly limitless freedom we enjoy in this age of photography, I feel the art is harder in many ways as well. Any of us at the highest level know it is not about relying on software to do anything for you, and that the fundamentals of good composition and exposure always remain truly integral to success. But our final composition may be about visualizing many shots or perspectives or techniques in the field and knowing, while we are on the scene, how we might blend and create and fulfill our vision in post-production. In a way, that is the ‘performance’ in this age.
Today there are more photographers than ever before in history and more sharing of photography. From a technical aspect, everyone has tools these days to take the type of good photos that used to require professionals who were intimately in tune with their cameras. But to stand out from a crowd artistically often takes a special ability to visualize the many steps of a far more complex artistic process.
All this is not to diminish great photographs of the past, but rather say simply that I view this age as one filled with more possibilities than ever before. There have always been great images that will stand the test of time, but we now have more control than ever in the direction we take the art. On the rare occasion I return to a location to photograph it many times over many years it gets me thinking about this transition I have made, and we have all made. I never re-process my old photos anymore. I like that I have been doing this long enough at a time that has seen more change than any in the history of the art, and that my pictures will be representative of that. I like that I still have film shots on my website and images that could of course be brought up to a more modern vision, but why? Isn’t art about capturing a moment in history, a feeling or a place in time as well?
So right now, this is what we have. I caught a great moment of light at Seal Rocks, made a blend of 3 shots for wave action (albeit 80% of it was 1 exposure) and I spent about 2 hours in post production on the rest, fulfilling the vision that I had in the field.
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