Paying Homage

031_SFCoastalLightsCROPHave you ever felt like you were stuck in a nighttime photographic rut?

Feeling stuck technically or artistically, not knowing what to do next, what to look for, or even how to go about it?

Kind of like writer’s block, maybe you were experiencing cam-jam, or just a simple case of lens-cringe.

Well there is an easy exercise that will help you get past your night-fright and get a quick pic-fix.

If you are feeling uninspired, select an image by someone who inspires you. Then come up with a way to duplicate it in order to pay homage to both the artist and the image.

Choose an image that captures your imagination and creates a sense of wonder. Pick one that introduces you to new subject matter, or exposes you to a new way of seeing.

By emulating another, you shift your picture taking habits, and open your eyes a little wider to the possibilities beyond your current visual practices.

Paying homage to another can take many forms. It can be a literal interpretation of a time and place. It can be similar types of objects or a comparable setting. It can reflect the same style of lighting. It can mimic the aesthetic to convey the same kind of impact. Or you can dream up your own approach to mirroring that which inspires you.

When you are done, compare your image to the inspirational piece. The similarities are a good indication of your visual attention. But more importantly, the differences you see are an even stronger indication of your own artistic style and vision. What you introduced to the so-called copy is evidence of your personal contribution to visual expression.

IMAGE : Inspired by Kenna, Coastal Lights, San Francisco, CA

Years ago I attended an excellent two weekend workshop in San Francisco led by Michael Kenna, one of our contemporary masters of night photography. On the last night we all met at the Cliff House near the northwest tip of the SF peninsula.

I wandered out onto the patio behind the restaurant and found Michael taking shots of the rocks and ocean to the west. I set up my camera and tripod facing down the coastline to the south with lights running along Highway 1. We visited as we took our long exposures.

I had never shot ocean waves at night before. I actually expected the water to appear as a complete blur in the final image. I was shocked when I first viewed my negatives to see that the surf seemed to almost stand still.

I bracketed as usual but all of my exposures of the breaking waves were pretty much the same except for the shape of the white water.

I realized after the fact that the water was captured during a long exposure only as the swells broke. Other than that the ocean was dark and undetected by the camera.

This image is the result of a 30 second exposure shot at f8 with TMAX 3200 film.

IMAGE TINT : GallerySilver

A cool silver tint was applied to the image to enhance the look of the damp ocean air, and provide tonal separation in the coastal waters.

This B&W image was toned in Adobe Photoshop with an ICC Profile derived from the “GallerySilver” Color Map created in Mac App SuiteProfiler.

Click these buttons to download the ICC Profile and SuiteProfiler Color Map:

EXERCISE : Paying Homage

Pick a nighttime image that inspires you, possibly one by your photographic muse. Decide what it is about the image that turns you on the most. Then go out and capture a series of shots that capture the essence of the provocative image.

Afterward examine the similarities, and the differences, between your image and the inspirational one. Also look for inspiration in your own image, and see the potential for future photo ventures into the night.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

FEEDBACK : Paying Homage

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NEXT TIME : “Winter Nights”


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Find Art Photography

030_KennaHomageToBrassaiOne of the best ways to learn to see through our own eyes is to learn to see through the eyes of another.

We have all been inspired by the works of other artists, but we can also learn from those who have gone before.

We must learn to see to learn to do. Being inspired by one who has mastered the art of seeing photographically at night can further our own visual discovery process and artistic development in a very practical way.

This is true for any art form, but especially true in night photography, because nocturnal image making is not as commonly practiced as other areas of photography.

But we can go beyond just being momentarily inspired. We can adopt a muse to guide us along our path of developing a sense of night vision.

Selecting and following a muse motivates and challenges us to not only view  examples of nighttime work, but to also see differently, to see more deeply, and to see more distinctly.

Exposing ourselves to another’s body of work, past and present, offers more than just a technical education. By focusing on the work of another in a concentrated way we begin to assimilate a better knack for seeing and capturing our own inner vision.

In the same way that formal martial arts training prepares our bodies to respond in a more focused way, viewing and absorbing our muse’s imagery trains our eyes to recognize and respond to the subtle visual nuances we encounter when photographing at night.

Interestingly this does not teach us to duplicate another’s work. Instead it trains our mind’s eye to respond in a more conscious and personal manner.

But we need to give it time to develop. This is not an over night exercise. It is neither casual nor constant, but somewhere in-between. It’s something we dedicate ourselves to visit and revisit over time to track our changes in perspective.

By acquainting ourselves with not only what another sees, but also how another sees, we familiarize ourselves with the development of a visual journey, and become more intimate with our own artistic quest.

Over time we can adopt many muses, but the best approach is to commit to only one at a time in order to see another’s talents as purely as possible, both technically and artistically.

By amusing ourselves, we expose ourselves to greater possibilities that can be easily overlooked as we advance our personal perspective of the night.

IMAGE : Homage to Brassaï, River Thames, London, England © Michael Kenna

In the mid 1980’s, I bought this image from the Friends of Photography in California. It was my introduction to night photography, and motivated me to eventually venture into the night with my camera. Over the years, I have followed Michael’s nighttime work as a source of insight and inspiration along my visual journey.

About this image Michael Kenna said, “One evening I was staying in a friend’s house just outside of London, the very place that I had lived for three years when I was studying at the London College of Printing. As it was getting time to go to bed I noticed a rising mist from the River Thames, which was just visible from the window. I went out to photograph and did not return until after sunrise the following morning. It was an exquisitely cold, winter’s night. I imagined that Brassaï might have done the same thing when he was photographing along the Seine in Paris. Much of the subject matter was similar: bridges, boats, embankments, and water. I have often emulated photographers that I particularly admire and I try to pay homage to them in titles for my own photographs.”

You can view Michael’s body of work on his website.

EXERCISE : Find Art Photography

Find a photographer whose work inspires you. Select one or more of your favorite images created by the photo artist. Take the time to study the work, and look for the details that capture your attention and imagination the most.

Be sure to select vintage as well as recent images to get a good cross section of the kind of work that inspires you. Revisit the images from time to time to see how their impact on you changes, taking note of the effect certain visual elements have on you.

FEEDBACK : Find Art Photography

Leave comments on this post to share your ideas and experience, or ask questions.

NEXT TIME : “Paying Homage”


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Thank you!