Lone Man No. 20
When I show people my “before and after” images, their reaction tends to be: Wow, how did you do that?
This also tends to be my first reaction when I see an image that I love. Recently a friend showed me his latest creation that was both beautiful and unique, and I wanted to ask him: Benoit, how did you do that?
But I didn’t ask him.
Because the miracle of the image was not the technique he used, but the imagination that created the image. Anyone can learn a technique, but not everyone will learn to find and follow their vision.
If I had asked and he had told me his technique…then what? Copy what he had already imagined and created? There is no joy in copying and yet I see technique after technique become the fad of the season and be copied to death.
I also see many who operate under the false belief that technique must be mastered before Vision can be executed. I emphatically reject that theory!
I believe that a great image starts with Vision and then you work hard to develop the required technique. Remember the old saying “necessity is the mother of invention?” It’s true! Once you have a vision of what you want, then you’ll be energized and driven, and you’ll learn whatever is needed to create the image.
However when I see people focusing on technique first, I find they usually never get around to putting that same energy into finding their Vision, and as a result their work is technically perfect and masterfully imitative. Technique alone misses the mark.
So instead of focusing on Photoshop and its hundreds of features or following the latest fad technique, put most of your time and energy into your Vision. I promise you that this approach will yield better images and much more satisfying results.
Technique is not the key to a great image. Vision is.
I recently taught a workshop on Vision and was discussing my practice of Photographic Celibacy. I explained that the reason I do not look at other photographer’s work is that I don’t want my Vision to be tainted by the vision and images of others. And while that is completely true, there is another reason that I am embarrassed to admit: when I look at other people’s work, I doubt my abilities and get discouraged.
When I see all the many wonderful images out there, I feel mine are inferior by comparison. When I see the great images from locations that I have photographed, I am disappointed that I did not see them. I am overwhelmed by the sheer number of great photographers out there and think: there’s no room left for me. I feel inadequate when I see so many original ideas…that I did not think of.
And so I get depressed at the thought of competing with all of these great images and photographers.
But therein lies my mistake: creating art is not a competition and I should not compare my work to others. I am not trying to be better than someone else, I am trying to better myself.
Everyone has the ability to be great at something, but I cannot be great at all things. I cannot be a a great portrait photographer, a great landscape photographer, a great street photographer, a great floral photographer and a great still life photographer. But there is something I can be great at, and I cannot achieve that greatness by focusing on what I’m not good at. I must recognize my talents and be appreciative for those.
I need to remember that art is not a competition. When I create from my vision there are no losers, only winners.
P.S. I used to think I was alone in having these feelings, but as I have shared these thoughts with others (including some big name photographers) I’ve learned that many feel the same way. We are all human and share the same frailties, foibles and insecurities. No matter who we are, it seems to be human nature to compare ourselves to others and to sometimes feel inadequate.
Are you familiar with the new publication Vision? It’s produced by friends of mine: Joel Tjintjelaar, Sharon Tenenbaum, Armand Djicks and Daniel Portal.
What I love about this beautifully simple magazine is that it focuses on Vision rather than equipment, processes and techniques. Here’s a great quote from their website:
“You are an artist before you are a photographer”
Because we share such similar views on vision, they asked to speak with me about the vision that created “The Ghosts of Auschwitz-Birkenau.” The interview is in the December 2013 issue.
Vision is a relevant and important publication for those who seek to improve their creative abilities. Vision is free and you can subscribe here: http://visionexplorers.com/magazine/
You can view and enlarge the individual pages of the article below, or you can View the Entire Article Here
They Walk Among Us
I’ve returned from Bandon, Oregon with 12 new images that I’m introducing in my latest newsletter.
Read the newsletter here
These are two of my favorites from the series.
Monolith No. 68
(Monolith No. 62 – Iceland – 2013)
Hello Portland, I’m coming to visit you!
While visiting this great city, I’ll be giving a presentation at the Portland Photographer’s Forum and I hope you can join us. Here’s the details: Monday, October 21st, 2013 at 7 pm Hosted by the Portland Photographer’s Forum Free Admission Topic: Why Black and White? Camerawork Gallery Peterson Hall 2255 NW Northrup Street Portland, OR 97210
Please arrive early enough to find parking and be seated by 7. After the presentation I’ll take questions and raffle off a few posters and prints.
If you’re in the area, I’d love to see you!
P.S. Money-back guarantee: If you don’t have a great time, every penny of your free admission will be refunded!
Iceland No. 1 – Berufjördður – 2013
Iceland was incredible; the land, the people, the experiences…all of it including a harrowing ride in winds of over 130 mph. My car was severely damaged as flying rocks blew out my windows and sandblasted my car. At the time my only concern was keeping the car upright in the strongest winds I have ever encountered.
But what a great story and memories I now have!
I went to Iceland to create new images, but truthfully if all I came home with are these memories, then the trip was a success. Fortunately, I do think I’ll have a couple images that I like, including “Iceland No. 1” above.
On another note, the Death Valley Workshop in January is sold out. Sorry.
But if you’re living in the Colorado area, I am conducting a one day workshop on “Cole’s Rule of Thirds” at the Center for Fine Art Photography. This will be held on Saturday November 9th, 2013 and you can learn more about it at http://www.c4fap.org/education-events/
I’ll also be speaking at Click! Camera Club in Denver on Tuesday, October 1st at 6pm. They will be meeting at Englewood Camera, 5855 S. Broadway in Littleton, Colorado.
Thanks to all for your support!
Hi everyone, I’d like to announce a one-day workshop that I’ll be conducting over at the Center for Fine Art Photography (disclosure: I’m on the board).
We will be discussing my “rule of thirds” and packing a ton of material into a single day! The class is limited to 15, so please commit early if you’re planning on attending.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 9, 2013
10:00 am – 5:00 pm
The Angel Gabriel, Cole Thompson
A great image is comprised of 1/3 vision, 1/3 the shot and 1/3 processing
A great image begins and ends with your vision. Vision is a tough concept to describe, but I think each of us instinctively know how we want our image to look, and our job as an artist is to bring that image into compliance with our vision. When we pursue an image with vision, then equipment and process becomes the servant and the creative process the master. It’s only then that great images can occur.
Vision is everything.
In this workshop we will be discussing what vision is, how to find yours, and how to make the “shot” and “processing” subservient to vision.
Saturday – November 9, 2013 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
To sign up for the class, create an account or login to your account.
The Center for Fine Art Photography – Classroom
(in the Art Center of Fort Collins)
400 N. College Avenue
Fort Collins, CO 80524
Minimum number of students – 8
Maximum number of students – 15
There are so many times that have people said to me: to be successful you must…
- focus on one thing and be known for that
- promote yourself
- get in a big name gallery
- publish a book
- be active in social media
- get reviewed
- be number 1 in SEO
- offer small limited editions and high prices
- create unique work
- etc, etc, etc.
Here’s the problem: how can anyone give relevant advice if they don’t know what my definition of success is?
And more importantly, how can I pursue success if I don’t know what success means to me?
I didn’t ask myself “what is success” until many decades into my career, and what I discovered was that I didn’t like the standard definitions.
I found them to be unfulfilling.
So…take a few minutes and define what you want from your art and what success means to you.
Balance – Split, Croatia
Normally it takes me just minutes to create an image, or perhaps a bit longer if I need to wait for the right conditions. I have a short attention span and if things don’t fall together quickly, I generally lose interest and move on.
However, the image above broke all records and really tested my patience because it took me six hours just to get the shot.
I was walking along one of the popular swimming beaches in Split, Croatia when I saw this scene. Beyond the reach of most swimmers were eight pilings, centered in the bay and protruding just above the surface of the water. I took a few shots and moved on.
The next day I came back and found a better vantage point and set up for another shot. Because I had already photographed the scene and knew what I wanted, I expected to be there for only a few minutes. But just as I was getting ready to click the shutter, a boy swam out to the pilings and sat on them. I thought he’d leave soon and so I waited.
And I waited and waited and waited. I’m not sure what this kid was doing, but I could see him talking and waving his arms in a full-blown conversation with himself.
Soon an hour had passed and this kid was still talking! I was starting to get impatient and attempted to do a remote Vulcan mind meld, willing him to leave.
It must have worked because he then slipped into the water. I’m getting all set to make the exposure because I think he’s leaving…but no, he’s gotten back onto the pilings and has continued his conversation.
At this point I’ve got two hours invested into this shot and nothing to show for it, and this kid is still yakking away! I think about leaving, but stay and hope that he’ll run out of things to talk about.
Now three hours have passed and this kid is still out there! In my head I’m screaming “GET OFF THE PILINGS” as he continues to talk to himself.
Finally after about four hours he swims away. Now I can get continue!
But no, two new people swim out to the pilings. I tell myself that this last kid was an anomaly and that these two will not stay for very long.
Oh, but I be wrong! One hour later and those two are still out there and I can’t believe this. What should I do, leave and cut my losses or protect the time I’ve already invested and wait?
I decide to wait, knowing that with my luck, just as soon as I leave they would too.
It’s now been six hours since I first set up for that “quick shot.” I’m hot, hungry, dehydrated and almost delusional. I’m like Humphrey Bogart’s character in “The Treasure of Sierra Madre,” ranting and talking to myself.
Passer-by’s are staring at me and giving me a wide berth. But there’s no way that I can leave now, it’s a matter of principle, I must get this shot!
Finally the two leave and I am able to create the image “Balance” after six hours of waiting.
What lesson did I learn from those six hours? Wear sunscreen, I really got burnt.