The Year in Review

At the end of every year I like to look back at where my photography has gone, and get clues as to where it might be going.  This has been a particularly interesting year actually.  During the summer last year, I changed a lot of things with how I was doing my photography.  My outlooks changed, and my product changed.  I actually had a pretty decent sized renaissance in 2016 which has helped to shape 2017.  I was fortunate that the growth that I experienced has flowed throughout this year.

My personal badge
When it comes to big news, I would have to start out by detailing my "Badge on Thin Blue Line" series.  Even though it didn't even exist until June, it has been my most popular product for the majority of the year.  It all started when one of my clients asked me to do something special with an officer's badge that was leaving our department.  I was very hesitant to take on the job since it had been years since I had worked in a studio environment.  He convinced me to give it a try though, and I took the badge.  I spent days pouring over how to photograph the badge in a special way that wasn't just your typical capture.  In the end, I decided on using a clearance rack tie as a background and shot the badge to show every scar that is the story of the officer's career.  When I made the print and framed it, I knew I had something really unique and was excited to show it off to the client.

Of course, the delivery went well, and both my client and the receiving officer really liked how it turned out.  Since that time, I have had numerous orders for these one off photographs.  Even the Chief of Police with my department is among that list of clients.  I have extended my catalog to include two different badges from New York, as well as Crime Scene Investigator, and Telecommunicator badges from my department.  I am so excited that this project has taken off so well since June.  

Wrapped in Autumn
Breaching the Surface
Golden Falls
While the badge pictures are a wonderful source of getting a little pocket money, my main focus is still landscape photography.  My style is ever evolving when it comes to how I capture what I see.  This year has really been one of those years where I have learned to really focus on particular elements of the scene and fill the frame with what is important to me.  For the first time, I have started to isolate specific elements of the landscape in earnest, and that has really paid off in the long run.  I refer to this type of landscape photography as isolations, or intimate captures.  As you can see from the above pictures, this technique works equally as well on many different subjects.  It adds a certain abstract quality to the world that is around us.

By really focusing on specific elements of a scene, I have become more closely connected with the landscape around me.  I have always listened to nature and cared how it wanted to be photographed, but there were times that I got confused with how I read a scene.  If there was a tree that caught my attention, I would try and fit that tree into an entire scene.  That wasn't always what was being asked of me as a photographer though.  There were times when the tree was the picture, all by itself.  Now I'm much better at isolating just that one element in a photograph and doing justice to that particular subject.

Mossy Seat
I have found that this photographic technique is so effective, I have created a spinoff gallery room for "Woodland" photographs.  There is a completely different feeling to the photographs when you isolate just a portion of the landscape.  This has allowed me to enjoy more time behind the camera while on hikes through the forest.  I'm always spotting different scenes that stick out, and now I am better aware of how to photograph them.  I've become much better at listening to the world around me.

Pontiac Adornment
Speaking of isolations, I have even brought that into my automotive photography as well.  I have been very limited in the past trying to photograph old vehicles because I wanted to capture so much of them.  By seeking out details inside of the big picture, I am now able to really work a scene with an old car.  I've found that I am particularly interested in the emblems and other "bling" on the rusty surfaces.  I am able to pick out just those elements that I like and present them as an "autoabstract" picture.  This has opened up the field for my "Old Iron" photography because there are a lot of really great cars out there that aren't exactly placed in a photogenic location.  I now have a great option to capture them which only requires lighting to be addressed.  The background becomes irrelevant since the body panel and patina becomes the background.

Shadowed Ridge
Shooting intimate photographs isn't the only change that my style has seen this year.  I have also started to shoot multiple image panoramas that are stitched together in post processing.  This has opened up a huge (pardon the pun) new avenue for me when it comes to compositions.  Unlike with isolations, I am not trying to pick out the one single most important thing.  These are the times that I want to capture the entire scene to convey what I am really seeing on a grand scale.  To do that in a single shot requires a lot of extra elements, or negative space to be included.  If you crop those out of a single shot, you are left with a limited number of pixels which greatly reduces your ability to print the image at any respectable size.

Essential Layers
What a panorama does is allows you to stay close to the line of interest in your composition and include a lot of elements along that plane while eliminating the negative space or clutter.  Once stitched together (can be up to 8 or more images), the final rendering has enough pixels to be printed out big enough for nearly any purpose...certainly big enough to fill up a wall in a home.  There have been several times as in the picture above that I have seen a scene unfolding in front of me, but couldn't pick out a composition that conveyed what I was seeing because of too much clutter at the top and bottom.  By shooting a large swath of the landscape, I can focus on many of the larger elements, such as the way the light was affecting the mountain, or maybe a very wide cascade feature.  The extra, negative space above and below is eliminated forcing the attention right where I want it.

Serenity Pool


High Dynamic Range has also been added to my toolbox this year.  Like panoramas, this technique requires stitching images together.  However, it is not stitching a string of them together to create a larger print as with the panoramas.  It is designed to "stack" identical images on top of each other which were exposed with different shutter speeds.  This gives several layers of overexposed and underexposed images in addition to one that is "properly" exposed.  The benefit we see here is you can get an insane amount of detail in the shadows and highlights of a picture.  I will typically shoot a series of four to seven images to stack together to make a final print.  

In the case of the waterfall above, I have never before been able to capture this scene with a blue sky in it.  In order to keep any detail in the rocky wall, I had to blow the sky out.  If I wanted to keep detail in the sky, everything but the white water would be in murky shadows.  By going through an HDR conversion, I was able to get all of the tonalities represented here properly as my eyes actually saw it at the time.

The Ford above was just about as difficult to shoot.  It was a bright day, and the car was in the shadows.  For the color pallet, I wanted to make sure that I had an interesting blue sky to include.  Unfortunately, that meant that the car would be in the deep shadows sitting under the tree.  A cloudy day would produce similar results as well.  In order to get the car properly exposed as well as the detail inside of the garage, while keeping the sky under control, HDR was the only way to go.  I believe that this was seven shots all put together and then massaged in Lightroom.  The final image has detail under the hood, in the garage, and even in the white clouds above.  I credit this technique with winning an award with this picture in the Fall of the year.  Had I not been able to get the details right, the picture wouldn't have looked nearly as good.

A Bit of Drama
Speaking of contests, I have continued to participate in various types of competitions with other photographers.  Of course, I am wanting to win, but I have been doing these contests in order to learn more about my own photography.  It has been a great tool to aid in my self critiquing.  Early on in the year, I entered the American Landscape Competition as hosted by Outdoor Photography Magazine.  This was pretty scary for me since I've not done any online competitions before, let alone one hosted by a national publication.  I was able to select up to six images to go up against photographers from all over the world.  It was lofty, but I enjoy the magazine, and I wanted to see what would happen.  I selected a total of six images and submitted them.  I don't know how many were submitted overall, but I was not listed as one of the finalists.  Looking at the winners as they were published, I had no problems at all with the judging.  The winners were all spectacular and well deserving of the top slots.  It was, after all, a learning experience for me.  I learned about the formatting for submissions, and some of the considerations to look for in making my own selections.  It has nothing at all to do with your own favorite images, it has to do with what fits the theme of the contest, or the feel of the hosting publication.

It was mid Summer when I got the news that my images hadn't made the cut for the American Landscape Competition.  So when it came time to select my entries for the Dixie Classic Fair, I was really starting to second guess myself.  I wanted to enter one of the images that I had submitted to the magazine because I still thought that they were very good images.  I had to remember the lessons that I have learned though, and one of them was to submit images based on the theme and feel of the venue.  I knew that my rustic images worked well from the previous year, and figured that I would stand the best chance by submitting a couple of those again.

After a lot of debating, I decided on these two images which I had framed at my favorite frame shop, After 5 in Greensboro.  Both turned out wonderful, but I was thinking that my Black and White entry was the stronger of the two.  Both were entered in the respective professional categories and I waited until the judging to find out how I did.  I was elated to discover that both of my photographs had been recognized with ribbons.  My color entry won a first place ribbon, and in an odd twist, the black and white entry brought home a second place ribbon.  I found the first place winner in that category, and while it wasn't a picture I particularly liked, I could see why it won in the category.  Again, I turned this into a learning experience and realized what I could do differently in my selection for next year's contest.  They were obviously looking for more contrast in the scene with very pure whites and blacks over more of the image.  I can't complain at all with the second place recognition since a couple of months later, I sold this framed print to a new client who had seen it at the fair.

The Aqua Rapids
I decided to continue entering contests to expand my experience a little bit more.  The next one that I entered was at the beginning of Fall with my CNPA (Carolina's Nature Photography Association) group.  This was the annual members choice contest and the winners were selected by other photographers within the group.  I was able to enter six images across multiple categories.  I ended up entering five in the Tier 1 Landscape category and one additional one in the Tier 1 Trees category.  I opted for the Tier 1 category which is more or less reserved for winners of Tier 2 and those that are routinely selling their images.  Based on the rules, I could have entered in either tier, but wanted the challenge of going in all the way.  The voting concluded on December 1st, but the winners and runner ups will not announced until the annual meeting in 2018.

Gnarled Centurion
Around the same time, I also decided to enter another contest being held by Western NC Magazine.  This was a reader's choice contest and there were over 600 images submitted to the magazine.  I didn't know how the voting would work, or when it would start.  It was purely by chance that I stumbled on the website and saw that the first phase of voting was about done.  There were 100 images that the editors had selected for this first round of voting.  I was overjoyed to see that two of my five entered images had made the initial, juried, cut.  Unfortunately, I was unable to even vote for my own images over the previous two weeks since I didn't even know voting had opened.  Since you could vote once a day, I figured that all was lost.  However, at the end of that stage, those same two had made it into the final 25 images which were the contest finalists.  Honestly, I count that as a huge win for me.  Without me rounding up votes for my images, they both were strong enough to get pushed through by other voters.  For the next two weeks though, I voted for my favorite of the two, Gnarled Centurion each day.  What can I say, I would love to have either of these images bring home the top honors, but Toni adores this tree, and I wanted the win for her.  As of the time of this entry, the winners have not been announced.  I sit here patiently waiting for the issue to hit the newsstands in January.

Edit: 01-03-2018

  • Having just seen the final votes tallied, I'm a little sad to announce that neither of my photographs won the contest.  I got honorable mentions on both of them though, and they were still in the final 25 images out of over 600 which is still a win in my book!

Speaking of magazines, I have also submitted a full length article to the quarterly publication, Camera in the Wild (a CNPA magazine).  I've been thinking about doing some writing for magazines, and I figured I might as well try with a club magazine first.  I submitted my idea about "shooting for conditions" and it was approved.  It will be for the Spring issue, so I don't know how it will turn out.  At least I can say I tried, and hopefully I can say that I've had a photography article published in a magazine in the next few months.

In addition to contests and magazine articles, I also started to look at other outlets for my photography.  In a strange twist of fate, I found a very meaningful use for my photography by way of a work connection.  Our Child Response Initiative representative, Eileen Martin, was doing an internship with the Kellin Foundation.  As part of that she was facilitating a therapy group that involved healing through the act of photography.  The premise was one that I held near and dear to my own heart, so participating was a natural step for me.  Having suffered from a mild form of PTSD for years now, I have learned to self medicate through photography, and I had an opportunity to share that experience with the group.  I was invited in to do a presentation around the slide show that is attached here.  It went very well, and Eileen and I have already discussed the future of this program.  I think it will be a great opportunity for me to help others through photography.

Something that I have always done in my photography is used Facebook as a marketing tool to get my photographs out there.  I've been tweaking how I do things on Facebook for years to try and optimize the tool.  This past year, I have joined many different groups where I share my photographs as I capture them to gain a much greater audience as well as draw more viewers to my page, and ultimately to the website.  I would say that this has been a great success as I started the year off getting a reach of around 50 viewers on any given picture.  These days, it is normal to see between 3-7K views of my photographs.  I also have reached over 1,000 followers on Facebook from the couple of hundred that I had at the beginning of the year.

I also have an Instagram account which had an audience of about 150 at the beginning of the year.  In the summer, I decided that I would put much more effort into that account and spend more time cultivating that community.  I learned how the hashtags worked, and found that getting featured by the various hubs got my page a lot of exposure.  I'm still learning how things are working there, but have a nice system set up where I will post a picture or two each day, and will share it with about 15-20 hubs each time.  In about six months, I've increased my audience to over 500, which isn't too bad at all.

Social media has been a big draw on my time, and I can say that it has been very much worth it.  I have gained much exposure, and have been able to interact with potential clients on a personal level.  I've also made contact with numerous photographers that I have learned a great deal from.  There are even ideas floating around about me conducting a workshop on waterfall photography.  

2017 has been a banner year in my photography.  I have grown not only in exposure, but also as a photographer.  My images have matured quite a bit this year.  I'm rediscovering the "fine art" quality of photography, and capturing the images that I feel fit in that genre more and more.  I still have a lot to learn, but I can say this.  I had a huge artistic change in the middle of 2016 that really provided the direction for 2017.  I have a momentum built up from that which is still very strong and I am constantly seeing improvement that I expect to continue into the future.

I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has shown support over the years I've been a photographer.  It is that support that keeps me motivated to go out again and again to try and create that next great picture.  While my photography will always be for myself first and foremost, it does mean the world to me that others are enjoying my efforts.  Thank you, and I look forward to the coming year behind the camera.

Farmhouse Sunrise

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