Art Basic Lessons philosophy Photography

Artistic License

I have been an artist for many years, and I was a photographer before that. I have talked about my philosophy about creating images before (and I am sure I will talk about it again…). What the final image communicates to the viewing audience is all that matters. There are many online arguments about what is or is not acceptable in photography, and there are many approaches to visual communication, however I believe that most of the issues people have boils down to a failure to communicate clearly.

One of the aspects of photography in all its forms is that even a heavily manipulated photograph has an essence of reality about it. Even if the lighting is unusual and the image is heavily edited, we think, at some deep level, that a version of that image must have existed “in real life”  maybe this is why some people get so upset when they learn that a particular image has been ‘photoshopped‘. The artist did not make it clear the image was changed from reality, and the viewer did not understand the extent that photographs can be changed.

Painters are sometimes held to the opposite prejudice. The painting may not look “real” enough, or may be too abstract{{1}}. Many viewers like to be able to put a label on things; that is a picture of a cat, or a seascape, or a wall…

The true reality is that all photographs (and paintings for that matter) are just a representation of some form of reality, whether it is a representational image of a bird, or an abstract made of random shapes. and it is up to the artist to control that representation to communicate what they want to say.

[[1]]I have been often accused of being too abstract. People ask “what is it a picture of?”[[1]]

Art philosophy programming

Original art

Many artists strive to create something original, something never before seen.

I created my million monkeys project with this in mind. It is still a bit buggy, but I can honestly say I have created something original. Chances are extremely high that no one else has seen the exact image I am able to create. How high? The program in it’s current iteration creates an 812 x 312 pixel{{1}} image by randomly choosing a value for each pixel. The number of possible images is in the order of 1 followed by six hundred thousand zeros…. The Lord of the Rings trilogy does not have as many words as the number of zeros… That is a lot of zeros and an unfathomable number of unique images.

However, each image produced may be, by definition, unique, they are all overwhelmingly the same, just a bunch of noise. It is nigh on impossible to tell them apart. That is one reason I chose to show a gallery of the last 16 images. I could show the last million images and they would all be the same noise. 

I guess “unique” does not, by itself, equate to good. Or even different, as oxymoronic as that seems…

[[1]] I originally had a larger image as I thought high resolution might be important, and I screwed up on the math…

I have now chosen 812 x 312 as this is the recommended Facebook resolution.[[1]]

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A Million Monkeys

As hinted at, I have put together a project that (hopefully) asks questions on what makes a good image. The project is kind of designed to produce bad images and noise. However, there is a chance the project could reproduce every great image ever conceived. In fact, it can produce (given enough time) every image possible.

It was created in response to a number of questions about the value of photography and how much worth there is in a good image. Once a few people have played with this project, I will link to the discussion…

For an artistic explanation, click here.

The project itself is here


Art philosophy

Art Project

I am working on a bit of a conceptual art idea. I am still polishing it, but it is getting close. It is a lot different from what I normally do, but it is a bit of a statement on a number of things that have been coming up for me.

I know this is a mean teaser, and I hope my project isn’t too much of a letdown when it is done, but ……

stay tuned

Art Expert Lessons philosophy Photography

Staying Power – continued

In the previous post, I went in a slightly different direction than I intended, but what I found quite interesting was the definition of “10 best photos of all time”. Most articles brought up by the mighty Google were journalistic photos, often depicting the worst side of humanity; wars, famine, torture…

A lot of the photographs were not even objectively good images and relied on a description of what was happening to give them their power.

I was actually surprised there were no images by Ansel Adams, or Irving Penn, or other “famous” photographers on the first page of results. Now I am not expecting the average internet user to have an education in art history, let alone photographic art history, however I thought images like “Moonrise over Hernandez“, or Edward Weston’s “Pepper No.30“, or anything by HCB (you know you are famous when you are referred to in the art world by your initials) would be represented somewhere.

Then, an interesting twist, I did a search for “10 best Photographers of all time”. All the photographers I learned about in art school came up, along with their images.

I am not going to give a lot of credence to my random Google searching, and I may be fitting observations to what I want to see, but this does illustrate part of my initial point in the last post. To most people, photography is a way of remembering. An image of an historic event is more important than a piece of Art (for some meaning of Art with a capital ‘A’), but the Artist as a creator is remembered above and beyond what they create.

So then does the artist create the art, or does the art create the artist?

Advanced Lessons Art personal philosophy Photography

How to Become an Artist

[EDIT] Changed title to more closely reflect the post…

Ted Forbes, on his excellent YouTube channel “The Art of Photography“, has had a few recent discussions on making “meaningful” photographs. His thoughts, or at least how I interpret his thoughts, coincide with some of my ideas about art{{1}}. Good art (to shamelessly take out of context the words of Donkey), is like an onion. It has multiple layers… There is a surface aesthetic, there is an artist’s purpose, there may or may not be a perceived meaning, there is the context in which the work was created, etc, etc, etc. Each of these layers can, and has been an entire treatise in itself. What I would like to explore is the concept of what makes a photograph “meaningful” in the context of my own work.

Stage one: initial impression.

It is relatively easy to make a first impression. All you need to get someone to stop and look is splashy colour or a cute/gritty/unique subject. Many of the photos that get lots of “likes” on social media are arresting images. They make you say “ooh” and then move on to the next click bait headline. There is a huge psychology on the importance of the first impression, and marketing, media, and many other aspects of modern society take advantage of this initial splash as a way to stand out in a large and busy crowd.

Stage two: second look



I like to think many of my images succeed at this stage. You can look at the image again and again and find more than was visible at first glance. The image grows on you and becomes a presence in it’s own right. This is my interpretation of what Mr. Forbes has called “meaning”. Of course this “meaning” in a photograph, or any art form, is very personal and people will react to different images, or even the same image, uniquely. And of course the “better” an image is in a certain context, the more times you can come back to it, which leads to…

Stage three: staying power

These are the images that stay in your mind. You remember the image and consciously go back to revisit it. Big photographic examples include Steve McCurry’s{{2}} Afghan Girl, or Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother.{{3}} I think this stage is the goal for a lot of artists, to create something that resonates so well with so many people, that the artwork becomes part of our common culture…

[[1]]note these ideas are not really original, and have been a part of artist discussions for centuries[[1]]

[[2]]regardless of the much later scandal around some of Mr. McCurry’s work.[[2]]

[[3]]In the history of image making, few images are more famous then the Mona Lisa. I wonder if it is a coincidence that the first few images that came to mind are portraits?[[3]]

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Teaching Skills

Feedback from a recent teaching session, along with many of the comments I get, has made me realize I have a lot of knowledge and I need to share more on this website. I do feel, however, that I want to convey my belief that the technical side of photography (aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc) is less important than the aesthetic, meaning, and artistic sides.

Of course it is much easier to teach aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Which is one reason there are so many tutorials, lessons and videos on the web{{1}} (not all of them correct, but that is another story). The point of some courses is to enable you to shoot your camera in manual mode. My argument is that, especially in terms of simple exposure, most cameras can do a very good job automatically choosing those variables. 

My first “good” camera (a Canon TX) was fully manual, with only a match needle metering system. I did learn manual exposure techniques, but as I bought subsequent cameras, I tended to rely on automatic more and more. Today I shoot the majority of my photos in Aperture priority mode{{2}}. I find this much quicker than full manual mode, while still permitting me full control. Most modern cameras can also be configured to give full control in shutter priority or program modes. Using your camera this way enables you to concentrate on the subject of your image, rather than get tied down with technical concerns{{3}}.

So how do you learn (or I teach) the aesthetic, meaning and artistic sides of photography? That is the fun part, and the frustrating part, and the part that is never “done”.

[[1]]One good interactive demonstration is here[[1]]

[[2]]I choose the aperture with the front dial of my camera, and the camera chooses the appropriate shutter speed. I can easily override the exposure (lightness or darkness) by using the rear dial for exposure compensation. If I am just doing a walk around shoot, I will even let the camera choose ISO.[[2]]

[[3]]Yes it is important to understand that a slow shutter speed will blur motion, a faster shutter speed will freeze motion, and a small aperture number (f-stop) will have less foreground and background in focus than a larger aperture number. However this sentence contains 90% of the content of many photography courses.[[3]]

Art philosophy


Art is hard. 

I have been going out taking photos, but I have not really been “inspired.” I take a lot of images, but once I load them onto my computer, nothing jumps out.

I know this is normal. Sometimes the muse is busy elsewhere, and if every image felt good, nothing would stand out. This knowledge does not make “photographer’s block” any easier. It does make me want to try something new, and unfortunately, there are a lot of new toys in the photography world promising new and great ways to take photos…….

PS. The featured image was taken in Ross Bay Cemetery recently. Always a good “go-to” place to try to become inspired….

Off Topic personal philosophy Street Photography

Support your Local Police

I have been unsure if I want to share this photo or the story behind it. I love the west coast. I love the ocean and the rainforest. I even enjoy the rain, but Victoria has changed over the last decade or so. I remember exploring Victoria’s many parks with my camera. I would think nothing of crawling through dew covered grass, taking macro shots in the early morning. Today I would be afraid of coming across needles or other refuse.

Last week I decided to take a walk by the Selkirk trestle. It is a nice walk along the path, or so I thought. Between the homeless couple yelling at each other, and other piles of refuse,including pill bottles and needles, I lost my creative enthusiasm. I did get this photo of a crack smoker on the side of the path….

Crack smoking homeless
Crack smoker under Gorge St Bridge

On my way back I happened to see a couple of police finishing some sort of investigation. Normally I would have just kept walking, as the police have more important things to do, but I needed to vent. I told them about the crack smoker, and complained that our beautiful Victoria seems to be falling apart. I explained I had sympathy for them and I wish there was something we Victorians could do to take back our city. It has only been in the last few years I have been over conscious of the expensive bag of camera gear on my back…

The moral of this story? I’m not sure. I may be biased against homeless or drug addicted people after my stint as a building manager in a rough part of town, but it does bother me that I seem to see a lot more problems in our city. I feel sorry for the police who are becoming overwhelmed…

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Types of Photography

NB. I will be teaching this topic in more depth at Japan Camera in Victoria. Please call them at 250-382-4435 to register.

As I was wandering around Goldstream Park this morning, I was thinking of my approach to photography, People take photos for a large number or reasons, and I have talked about this before. I think there are three “genres” of hobbyist photography{{1}}, especially landscape photography.

The first genre is making an image. This is the type of photo just taken to record the fact that something exists. A tourist may take an image of the Eiffel Tower to show that they were there.

The second genre is making a good image. Here the photographer takes more care in the technical aspects. They may also spend some effort with composition, lighting, and even point of view. The object here is to create an image that others will find appealing.

I call the third genre making a creative image. This is where the photographer tries to make a unique image that has not been taken before. For example, in the Eiffel Tower example above, the creative photographer may turn around and shoot people taking photos of the tower (example)

Using one of the most photographed places, the Eiffel Tower as an example is difficult because the huge majority of photos fall into one of the first two categories. It is very hard to get something original on such an over photographed landmark.

My point of all this is to really look at what you are photographing. Are you taking a photo because that is a cool looking object, or are you trying to say something unique about the object? If possible go back to a spot and take a new photo of the same scene. While you are at a scene, photograph it from several angles. Walk around, look up, down and behind you. Take lots of (different) photos of the scene. Push yourself to get something just a bit different. Don’t be satisfied with the first shot. With practice you will mentally preview various approaches and reject the less successful without having to actually take the photo, but one big advantage of digital photography is the ability to take many shots inexpensively and review them on your camera before you move to the next possibility…

[[1]]Since this is a creative photography blog, I am only including photography taken for enjoyment, rather than, say, scientific photography. A scientific photograph may be beautiful, but its primary purpose{{2}} is to record something for easier subsequent study[[1]]

[[2]]This is a very grey and nebulous concept, but, for example a botanical study of a specific flower is taken so that the flower can be studied in detail and the details are preserved for future discussion. And abstract image of the same flower may not even show much of the structure that would be of interest to a botanist. The “primary purpose” of the abstract is to evoke an emotion[[2]]