Sharpening your edge

In photography, as in life, it's easy to settle.  That gravitational pull tends toward the static.  Stay safe, within your comfort zone.

In any given season, if I reflect for a bit, I can usually identify my photographic growth edge.  An area where I'm pressing out - or being pressed out by life experience, or the advance of technology - into space where my footing is less sure.  Where I'm learning by doing, experimenting and assessing, where I can track growth and movement in my technique, my approach - and thus in my images - over time.

My eye - what I see, and how I see it - evolves subtly, organically, incrementally.  But my craft, my skill set, my tools, even my mindset when I set out in search of images, all seem to grow and change in spurts and lurches (if at all).  Forward movement is often triggered by outside perspective: something I read, another photographer's work, a conversation, a critique, someone's response to an image.

I can either cooperate - lean into it, take proactive steps to sharpen my growth edge - or resist.  Dig in.  Shrug it off.  Stay with what I already know.

While traveling and working a while back in western China, some friends surprised me with a birthday gift unlike any I've ever received.  They've observed my passion for photography over the years, so they thought I might enjoy a few hours in the field with a local pro, one on one.  They were right.

At one point, almost in passing, he demonstrated a technique he likes to "play around with".  In retrospect I call it "painting with light."  Locate subject matter with strong vertical patterns. Set a narrow aperture and a slow shutter speed.  Sweep the camera "with the grain", capturing light and motion in rhythmic patterns.

I followed his lead, and have since been playing around with this approach.  Much about it is counter-intuitive for me.  I carry a strong "accuracy" value, and have to work to push myself beyond the literal.  My instinctive response to anything less than "tack sharp" is to drag it to the trash can.  But I was intrigued by what I saw Jesse do, especially after reviewing his characteristically tack-sharp online portfolio.

Soon after I took the opportunity to do some light painting in South Africa, standing in the midst of a vast forest.  The images provide a nuanced glimpse into a place of great beauty.  I even went cross-grain, on purpose.  Still learning, but I like what I'm seeing.  Thanks Jesse.

See more images from this series - juxtaposed with a stunning-but-different set of fine art images from an aspen forest in full autumn glory - in the Art in the Forest gallery on the Worldview Photography website.