Some more from my trip to Jasper a few weeks ago…
I share with you an article I wrote recently for The Camera Store newsletter…
There’s a story that when Michelangelo was asked how he created his incredible masterpiece David he responded that he saw David in the marble and just had to cut away everything that didn’t look like David. Regardless of whether the story is true or not, I love the idea behind it. A photographer has some different challenges to a sculptor but the goal is the same – effective expression. As photographers, we are visual storytellers. The first step in effectively telling a story within the frame is figuring out the essence of what will be the photograph. Michelangelo presented the essence of David… nothing more and nothing less. I like to think of essence as the heart of the matter. If you meet me in the field you might very well hear me humming a little of Don Henley’s song “The Heart of the Matter” as I am composing a photograph.
If we are to capture the essence of the subject matter we must begin with careful observation. We have five senses and good seeing is of course a huge part of making engaging photographs but we should connect with our subject matter with all our senses whenever possible. If creating travel photographs, taste the local food. If creating landscape photographs, smell the scent of the pine trees. If creating architecture photographs, feel the materials used in the construction. If creating family portraits, listen to the family stories and get insight into the personalities. Observations made from information gathered from as many of our senses as possible will reveal the essence of the subject matter. Once we know the essence, we see the statue waiting to be released from the marble.
When we identify what the essence of the subject matter is for us, we then need to decide how best to express it in a photograph. We need to appreciate natural design and use our knowledge of the principles of visual design to compose a photograph which communicates a clear story to the viewer. Lens choices, camera settings, accessories, point of view, post processing etc. are the tools in our photography toolbox. The story we want to tell drives the choice of which tools we decide to use and how we go about using them. One of the most common suggestions to photographers new to the craft is to get closer to their subject. The reason for the suggestion is to help the photographer more clearly communicate the essence of the photograph. The author Antoine de Saint-Exupery once said, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” So the challenge to the photographer is to arrange the building blocks of the scene and eliminate all that is unnecessary to communicating the essence, the heart of the matter, to the viewer. If he or she is able to do that, then a clear story is told and the aim of effective expression is achieved.
It is important to recognize that essence is subjective. It’s not universal. My story will be different from yours. I think that’s not only something to be appreciated but something to be truly embraced when we go about creating photographs. The people in our lives, the communities where we live, the places we visit, and the experiences we have along the way are all threads that make up a rich life tapestry. All of it influences how we see the world around us. Tapping into that unique life experience and telling personal stories is how great photographers have always gone about creating a body of work which communicates their story of the world around them and in which a personal style reveals itself.
In this age of digital photography and social media, so many photographers succumb to the temptation to copy the work of others in the hope their work will get recognition and receive hollow accolades. The truth is that placing your tripod in the exact same spot as another photographer or copying a post processing style doesn’t allow you to tell a story much different from what has already been told. Digital photography has brought about an exponential rise in the number of photographs being created. It is said that more than 400 billion photos are taken now each year. Over 300 million photos are uploaded to Facebook every day. About 10% of all the photos ever taken have been taken in the last 12 months. Those numbers are mind blowing! We are surrounded by images on a daily basis, however much of it doesn’t register. It’s white noise. Imitation is a natural part of the learning process for many of us at the beginning of the journey in photography but if we are to develop as photographers, we need to then go beyond copying and make a commitment to ourselves to tell personal stories in our own voice. Viewers become jaded by the same visual stories over and over. They crave fresh interpretations of life. Personal and creative work stands out.
When I am creating photographs these days, I sometimes think of the television commercial which I saw last year during one of the major PGA golf tournaments. It was a commercial where Arnold Palmer was expressing his belief there is no one perfect swing which is necessary to copy for success. In the commercial, Mr. Palmer says, “Swing your swing. Not some idea of a swing. Not a swing you saw on TV. Not that swing you wish you had. No… swing your swing… capable of greatness… prized only by you… perfect in its imperfection. Swing your swing… I know I did.” I don’t think Mr. Palmer’s message was do whatever you want and par will come to you. For sure there are fundamentals to learn in golf and there is constant learning and finessing on the road to a low handicap. You won’t find many pro instructors teaching students to copy all the parts of an Arnold Palmer swing but the results that swing gave Mr. Palmer are there in the history books. Photography is no different. It’s essential to know the fundamentals of the craft and to know all aspects of your equipment but with all of that knowledge it’s vitally important to shoot your shot. Not someone else’s. Not one you saw on social media. Not one you saw your favourite photographer share in a recent book or blog post. Shoot your shot. It’s good to be inspired and get the creative energy flowing by looking at and appreciating the work of other photographers but in the end shoot your shot. Tell your story. Capture what you see as the essence of your subject matter. And like Michelangelo release the sculpture from the marble.
If you want to take your photography to the next level and work on capturing the essence of subject matter and telling visual stories, then consider joining myself and Royce Howland for a photography masterclass – “Storytelling in the Cypress Hills” running September 5-10, 2014. The purpose of the masterclass is to help participants set creative goals, and provide frameworks for improving their photography with a specific focus on visual storytelling. We’ll use seminars, field exercises and image portfolio review sessions to achieve these goals. With a small group, two instructors who work well together, and an intensive event plan, the group will be able to put a concentrated focus on creative development. Workshop details can be found at here
I have a tradition of getting out to Jasper for a shoot during the holidays. I had a blast there this past weekend. JNP was a winter wonderland. With dodgy road conditions, I decided to pack up and hit the highway mid afternoon Sunday so I could do the drive back to Edmonton mostly in the light but around Edson the conditions were just too good to not stop and photograph some more. This image is the last shot I made on what was a great photo jaunt to start off the new year.
Myself and Royce Howland were interviewed by Terry Lawson recently about our upcoming workshop, running September 5-10, 2014, based at the historic Reesor Ranch in the Cypress Hills. The purpose of the workshop is to help participants set creative goals, and provide frameworks for improving their photography with a specific focus on visual storytelling.
You can listen to the interview (Episode 11) at any of the following links:
Details about the workshop and information on how to register can be found at http://blog.petercarroll.ca/?p=6242
Jim M. Goldstein’s “Best Photos of…” tradition continues. This year he had over 300 photographers share links to images they made in 2013. Check it out. There’s a great range of work to enjoy…
My own contribution to Jim’s list can be found in my 2013 – Twenty Mile Markers post.
I share with you 20 images I created in 2013. They represent the places I have travelled, the people I have met, the experiences I have had, the lessons I have learned and all the fun I had along the way…
Peter Carroll Photography
I’m very pleased to announce that I will join with my good friend and accomplished photographer Royce Howland to co-lead what promises to be an exciting photography workshop happening September 5-10, 2014. Working in the wonderful Cypress Hills region of southeastern Alberta, we will take a small group of photographers into an opportunity to grow creatively through a combination of seminars and field work. Along the way, we’ll have a lot of fun as well!
Event: Fall 2014 Photography Masterclass — Storytelling in the Cypress Hills
Instructors: Royce Howland and Peter Carroll
Dates: September 5 – 10, 2014
Duration: 5 nights, 6 days (4 full, 2 partial)
Highlights: Based at Historic Reesor Ranch with locations around the Cypress Hills; special location shoots booked
Travel on location: Shared group transport
Group size: 6 participants maximum
Fee: $2,795 CDN (+ 5% GST for Canadian residents) per person single occupancy room; early bird price $2,595 CDN (+ GST) for registrations confirmed by deposit before March 1, 2014
Includes: All transportation on location, plus accommodation, meals, instructor fees, and location access fees
Not included: Flights or other transportation to or from Reesor Ranch
To register or for questions: Contact Royce Howland (royce at vividaspect dot com) or Peter Carroll (PeterCarroll at shaw dot ca)
Check out an interview Royce and myself did about the workshop which Terry Lawson for Episode 11 of his Conversations series:
Link to history of previous workshop events found here.
This masterclass is open to intermediate and above photographers. Ideal participants have a decent level of proficiency with their cameras and digital processing, but want to move beyond that — to expand their personal creative expression while learning and photographing in a unique location. The purpose of the masterclass is to help participants set creative goals, and provide frameworks for improving their photography with a specific focus on visual storytelling. We’ll use seminars, field exercises and image portfolio review sessions to achieve these goals. With a small group, two instructors who work well together, and an intensive event plan, the group will be able to put a concentrated focus on creative development.
Why Attend the Masterclass?
There are three key reasons why you may want to join Royce and me on this masterclass. First and foremost is that you’re a photographer looking to make a significant commitment to, and see serious progress with, your own personal creative expression. You’ve come to realize that the most exciting frontier isn’t new cameras, digital processing techniques or getting votes on social media… not that there’s anything wrong with any of these. But you’ve decided that personal creative expression is your real goal, and these other things are just means to an end — visual storytelling.
Second, Royce and I have worked together in this vein, and we’re both very passionate about creativity and storytelling in photography. We believe 100% that the best images are the best because of the clarity of artistic vision and intent that went into them, and because the resulting photographs pull viewers in with compelling stories. We’re also very excited at the prospect of introducing our ideas and passion to others so that they can make their own creative breakthroughs as well. We’re not going to serve up pat answers, or settle for taking the obvious trophy shots. Aesthetics do matter, and we’ll talk about them. But we’re going to dig deeper and ask tougher questions as we seek creative challenges.
Third, we’re going to be operating in a fantastic area. Our base for the masterclass is Historic Reesor Ranch and the surrounding Cypress Hills. Reesor Ranch is a working ranch just over on the Saskatchewan side of the border, operated for 5 generations by the Reesor family. We’ll meet the Reesors and learn from them about the ranch and the area. Our lodgings and most meals will be at the main ranch house, a beautiful arts & crafts style structure amongst the other buildings on the property. Beyond the ranch, we’ll be surrounded by rolling grasslands, forests, lakes and hills of the Cypress Hills, merging outwards into vast prairie lands. Since the area is a dark sky preserve, at night we’ll be underneath a canopy of stars that provide a light show all their own. This is a distinctive place of understated beauty and long history, and we will explore it to tell visual stories during the masterclass.
The formal structure of the masterclass rests on three key activities: seminars, field work and image reviews. The seminars will be classroom sessions where Royce and I provide key concepts on creatively approaching your photography. These sessions will be pragmatic, but we’re not going to simply provide “the 3 rules for …” kind of material. Instead we’re going to talk about concepts (illustrated with plenty of examples) that each participant will need to bring into their own personal vision and style, in order to make their own work in their own way. The seminars are not about recipes for how to make an image look a certain way. Rather, they’re about why to make photographs, and what photographs each person wants to make… and the creative mindset needed to make it happen.
Along the way there will be a lot of details and ideas shared, but the seminars will provide key topics forming a core structure around which to organize the many details. The three primary seminars are:
• Making stronger photographs
• Finding the essence of a photograph
• Storytelling with photographs
In the field, we’ll do a combination of free shoots where each participant can do their own thing, as well as targeted assignments. The assignments will provide either goals or techniques to guide participants in photographing in a way that applies some aspect of the frameworks given during the seminars. The primary goal of the masterclass is learning and creative development. But make no mistake — with the locations where we’ll be working, everyone will have plenty of opportunities for making great storytelling images.
The final formal component of the masterclass is the image portfolio reviews. In a supportive and constructive environment where everyone is focused on creative development, this is a chance to see pragmatic ways to make stronger photographs and build storytelling into photography. We’ll have at least two scheduled sessions to review and improve the work during the event. This cycle of learn-apply-review will help the learning opportunity to be more tangible, and create a great take-away from the experience.
We’ll have plenty of other opportunities for learning through informal discussions. We’ll be travelling and eating together every day, and the dynamic of these small-group events usually involves a constant flow of ideas. Royce and I will do our best to schedule a few breaks throughout the event, but in all honesty it’s going to be an intensive several days. Make sure you’re well-rested when you arrive!
Join the Masterclass!
If you’re a photographer who’s eager for an opportunity to develop your creative expression, and the idea of visual storytelling intrigues you, then this could be an ideal event for you. Royce and I believe that the small group size, learn-apply-review format and great locations will make for a fantastic experience.
Bring your creative goals and desire to learn, bring your enthusiasm for visual storytelling, and bring your desire to embrace creative challenge. Join us for the Fall 2014 Photography Masterclass — Storytelling in the Cypress Hills!
For more information, see also:
Last week I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Terry Lawson for his Conversations series. This is how Terry describes Conversations…
“In todays world, where technology has become a big part of our lives, we spend more time in solitude and less time with each other. Many hours are spent in front of a computer surfing the net, or on smartphones texting or e-mailing each other rather than physically getting together for something as simple as a quite chat over a cup of coffee. Technology also inhibits our right brain activity, so less time is spent using our emotions, creative skills, intuition, and contemplating how we fit into a global community. We seem to be losing our sense of community and belonging.
So I thought I would, in a small way, do something to remind us how important: using our right brain is; and how being part of a community and communicating with each other face to face gives balance to our lives. To that end, I have started Conversations here on my website. It’s a series of interviews where I will be talking with local photographers and those involved in the arts scene. In these interviews we will hear artists talk about their craft and how emotion, creativity and imagination contribute to the creation of their art, and how our appreciation of their art brings us together.”
Terry and I had a very nice chat about photography in general as well as my own journey in the craft. If you would like to hear the voice behind the images you can listen to the interview via the following links…
Thanks go out to Terry for putting together such a series of interviews and for inviting me to be a part of it. I thoroughly enjoyed the chat.