Sunday, January 7, 2018

Image of 2017

So many photos! I've been thinking about this for a while, toying with the ideas of categories. Best macro, best landscape, best Curtis photo, best photo of a sunrise taken on even numbered Tuesdays, whatever. That way I could put up any number of 'best' photos, limited only by my imagination in coming up with categories. My regular readers know exactly how limited my imagination is, which is to say hardly at all.

No. There can be only one. The flat out luckiest photo is easy, capturing the bee showing off it's wings, between the sunflowers. I didn't even know it was there till afterward. The macro shot of Mr Travis Bee is right up here, him holding still, and me timing the shutter button as I slowly swayed back and forth with the macro lens extended half way.

Here are the choices. I'm proud of all these shots, and would show them to any photographer or visual artist.

Best typically doesn't happen by accident. Best normally implies a strong element of skill, which leads to the thought that it's repeatable. In that sense, no sunrise or sunset shot can be best since the clouds and how the sun affects them are different all the time. Even a skyline shot can be different every day, or even minute to minute, depending on the light. Although skill still applies to some extent to get the right camera settings for the conditions, and it might be an incredible photo.

Consider a photo of a flower. Most flowers are pretty, but a photo of a flower doesn't make it a pretty photo. There are all the elements of catching the light just so, making sure the background is right, considering if there is dew or water drops on the flower, the composition of all the elements of the photo, and so on. A better photographer will usually take a  better, more interesting shot, and be able to do so again and again.

What makes a shot interesting? The answer is different for everyone. A photo of a child might be enormously interesting for the family, and ho-hum for me. A photo of a flower might be boring to a gardener who has seen a zillion roses, but an artist might be captivated by composition of the shot and the quality of the light. There are people photos that I was ready to delete rather than show them, and then it turns out they love it! (The Resting Bitch Face photo helped open my mind, and keeps it open. I often think of that when I'm working on photos.) I've had lots of compliments on photos that I think are so-so, and the opposite.

Let's think about interesting, though. Something has to catch your eye and brain. Colour, line, shape, something has to get your attention. Then it has to engage your brain just the right amount. Our brains have evolved to work on pattern recognition, and to do so extremely quickly. Is that the face of a friend or foe? Is it a snake or a fallen tree branch? Do I have a minute or is that a predator sneaking up on me?

That photo has to be interesting enough that the answer isn't instantly obvious (a pretty flower and nothing more), yet not so cryptic or busy the viewer gives up on it. That's a tough gate to hit. There are theories about leading lines, and patterns of threes, and rule of thirds, and colour wheel, and I don't know what else all.

Some photographers say that every photo has to tell a story. I'm not so sure about that one. Some of the most memorable photos ever shot tell a story that sears into your brain. They are so compelling that once seen they can never be forgotten. Most photographers only dream of taking such a shot, yet how many people can name the photographer? But is this the goal for every photo taken? I think not.

You have to give the viewer a reason to continue looking, or to come back again in the face of a near infinity of other photos and other distractions. Maybe it's further detail deeper in the photo. Maybe it's something they have never seen before, such as a macro shot of a bee's eye. Maybe to properly appreciate the interplay of light and texture. Maybe there are several elements that need to be appreciated individually and then as a group. Maybe there is a relationship to other work of the photographer, or to other art. A certain je ne sais quoi.

But then just like I think some novels are the literary equivalent of paint by numbers (looking at YOU Dan Brown!) or stories that slavishly follow the Hero's Journey (looking at YOU George Lucas) I think some photos are the same. Follow these rules when you see this situation, and you'll get a winner photograph. Not so fast. Odds are that winner photo has been done already. I think it's fine to take such a photo to hone your technical skills, but then you need go further and develop your own style, your own body of original work.

Then there's the light. Photographs are all about the light. Some software programs can manipulate the light, and well done it can enhance an already good photo. Poorly done, as it so often is, it can ruin any photo. There are no rules about it.

Yes, I hear you saying, and you've probably already scrolled down, stop blithering and cut to the chase. Which photo did you pick?

I got it down to the final three, and decided a winner and two runners up was reasonable, so I know which three to put below. Needless to say, I love all these shots a lot. But in which order? This has been a major league dither for me.

Second runner up, Mr Travis Bee! Everybody says wow when they see it. The shot isn't cropped, isn't focus stacked, and is nearly perfectly in focus. There is detail in the big version I look at that does not appear in this web version. I'll be taking this to the print shop.

First runner up. I know there are people in love with this peony, with the delicate gradations of brilliant white to the yellowy whites, with the little hit of red, all buried in the sun backlighting the peony, and the black and green in the background. I want to find out how big I can print this.

And the winner! I keep coming back to this, and finding more things to look at. Just today I was wondering why one art print is perfectly visible in the background, but not the other, and it took a few minutes to figure out what was obscuring it. I love, LOVE the subtle yellows, and the textures given to the room by the kettle, to say nothing of the flame curling around the kettle, and especially all the reflections. The thought of the shot was an accident, wondering if the camera would capture the flame. But I moved things around a little too for the composition, so it isn't a complete fluke.

And there we have it, my first full year of photography. As you might recall, 2016 was the red combine landscape. Now I start working on getting an even better photo for 2018.


  1. Excellent choice and I 100% agree. I read your blog without scrolling down to see what you had chosen. Based on your rationale of having had to work at composing that photo and finding the subject matter interesting, you definitely made the right choice and it is definitely a Keith signature photo. I’m excited to see the other two printed from my personal collection of course. In looking at the group shot of thumbnails, the Ctrain one is particularly interesting in its composition. A photographer in Mount Royal Village who took model shots of me once showed me that from the thumbnails, you can find the ones that stand out best and then we looked at them with a magnifying glass before developing them. I was in his dark room with the red light while he developed them. It was kind of a cool retro time. Looking forward to 2018 to see what Keith creates with his camera!

  2. Excellent piece, Keith. You've expressed the challenges and opportunities well. I love all three of these photos but think you made the right choice! Love to try painting the peonies one day.

  3. 1) Thank you for sharing your year with us. I have enjoyed it, and our conversations. 2) I would also submit that good photos also touch the heart. Of the 3 you present, your winning photo has the most heart. I too like the flames and the way they craddle the kettle. 3) You have a deep appreciation for various tones and tints of orange. It is therefore fitting that that colour is so important to your number 1. As always, you have been true to yourself. Cheers, Sean


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