Friday, December 26, 2014

Best of 2014

Looking back on 2014, I can only feel satisfied with my accomplishments. Here is a quick recap.
  • Four 24x30" prints were selected by the Alberta Society of Artists for a TRaveling EXhibition (TREX) around 'Symbolic Landscapes'. The exhibition shows work by Paul Zizka, Tyler Los Jones, Arianna Richardson, Brandy Dahrouge and Hannah Doersken. Our work will travel around Alberta for the next two years (started last September). The opportunity that was given to me to be a part of this exhibit makes me very VERY proud. 
  • In February I had my first portfolio review ever; which was a great, nervous, but also an amazing growing opportunity.
  • I had a short interview in Black+White photography. One of the leading photo mags in the UK.
  • My work was shortlisted in the FotoFilmic '14 competition, it received a Merit Award in the 2014 Black & White Magazine Portfolio Contest, and 2 photos received honorable mentions in the 2014 Stark Awards and 2014 Black and White Spider Awards. 
  • I also did more talks, presentations and workshops this year. I love doing these events. 
  • I started photographing using the 4x5 camera. And the weirdest part of this was that I had anticipated a huge learning curve but in reality, it turned out to be a true extension of how I think. Sometimes I feel like I've done this before or something. ;)
  • I wrote my first article for Extraordinary Vision no14 on how I found my vision. Looking back at it, I don't think I want to pursue any more writing. I found it rather stressful.  
  • I bailed on more magazine features and submitting more to galleries. My interest shifted inward throughout the year to better understand my own voice. 
  • I've met with quite a few togs this year. I met up with +Bernardo Möller , +Johan Peijnenburg , +Kevin Boyle , +Marc Koegel , +Grant Murray , just to name a few. It was a great year in that aspect. 
  • And I definitely printed more of my work this year. Both for myself as for clients. 
Using the 4x5 camera for all of my work this year was an interesting experience. I definitely photographed less than last year. I mean it resulted in less photographs. Looking on my hard drive I scanned 28 photographs this year. Yes you read that right, twenty-eight. But all of those photographs are good. Using the large format camera makes you very selective.

Here are 10 of my favourite photographs of 2014:

Pilot Mountain: a photograph I only recently took. I was on a scouting trip with +Paul Zizka  when I saw this scene. It was -35C when I made this negative. Challenging let me tell you.  

Ha Ling Peak and Ice, Canmore: one of the first photographs I took with the 4x5 where I felt comfortable using the camera. But I would be lying if I would not say that this was a lucky shot. I have a version without the ice too. That was the first photograph I took. I was packing up and I heared a loud crack. I look up and this sheet of ice is drifting from left to right in my foreground. I had to scramble and quickly mounted the lens back on the camera, I hoped the light had not changed, quickly looked over my settings and double checked the focus and managed to get 2 negatives. Talk about pointing and shooting with a 4x5! 

Fortress Mountain: taken on an early fall morning in September. This is Wedge Pond in Kananaskis. One of the local photographic hot spots. And that morning it didn't disappoint. I think about a dozen or so other photographers were all set up waiting for the light to do it's thing. For colour photography it was a disappointing morning, but for B&W photographers like me it was perfect. I walked around the lake, making 4 photographs and packed up around 11.

Canola and Trees: a photograph I made mid August. The Canola in the foreground was almost ripe. The warm evening light was low when it spotlighted the mid ground trees. I was just 10 minutes to the South West of Calgary. And it was dead quiet. 

Hill: a random hill along the QE2 grabbed my attention in June. It wasn't until I was on the side-road that I noticed the bright coloured soil in the foreground. I found it compelling enough to make a zone system exercise out of this.

Lone Pine, Lake Minnewanka: a photo that was inspired by a +Paul Zizka night photograph "The Sentinel". I made this along side +Johan Peijnenburg in the beginning of September. I had set up the camera and was waiting for some people to clear the scene and the wind to die, when some random woman walked up to me and asked if she could photograph my camera. After I said yes to that she turned towards me and asked if she could make a photograph of me with the camera... Talk about weird. But I happily obliged, cracked a big smile and gave her my business card.

Homestead: the only photograph I made on the winter workshop  +Marc Koegel  and I set up in Calgary. I usually don't make any photos when I teach but this was such a happy accident, I couldn't resist. We took a wrong range road that day and literally bumped into this gorgeous scene. I looked at Marc, he looked at me, and we winged it and ditched our original location for this one. While I was setting up the camera I debated composition with four of our students and explained what I was looking for. I also took the opportunity to explain and demonstrate how I measured the light and how I use the zone system in my work. We are doing this workshop again in February. Check out the details of this workshop on the website.

Turner Valley Foothills: I love exploring the foothills around Calgary. And I knew when I saw this vista that a photo was going to be made. It was a rainy day in late August. It was mostly the organization of this view that attracted me to make a photo.  

Mount Rundle and Stump: Such a classic view. It never gets old.
Lonesome: Another typical August sky on the Prairies. Beautiful golden light was spilling over this tree when I initially passed it. I had to turn around to actually be able to use a little pull out just to its left to park the truck. Once I had set up the camera a big cloud rolled across the sun and the magic was gone. I waited and waited and waited some more until 45 minutes later I was finally able to make this photograph. 

There you have it. My year in review. In the next few weeks I will start writing down my 2015 resolutions. But one resolution that is already on that list is: PRINT IN THE DARKROOM AGAIN! Yes finally after about 2 years of debating, the first steps are being made to build my very own darkroom again in the basement. More on that later.

Merry Christmas and a happy and inspirational 2015 everyone!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Lets talk composition

Composition – for me – is an intricate part of my 'seeing' process. I go to great lengths to look at scenes from different angles whilst thinking of different focal length lenses and how that changes the relationship between subjects in a photo. 

What do you do for example when you can't use the rule of thirds (or is that turds), leading lines and frame in frame? Do you just wing it? Use your gut feeling? Or do you spray and pray and hope you have one photo where you can crop something out from? 

What if I told you there's a whole other way of framing your compositions out there. It's not new. But it's a more classical, dare I say a more refined way of composing. And it dates back as early as the Greek Temples like the Parthenon.  

Let's start our discussion with this seemingly simple looking photograph. It's a photograph I made a few months ago in Banff. I took just one photo (I exposed 2 sheets) on this location. Once I saw the composition I wanted in my head (after about 30-45 min of walking, pondering and thinking), it was just a matter of setting up the camera and expose those 2 sheets.

So what's so special about this you'd ask? Let me explain.

If you are a follower of the rule of thirds you will say tsk tsk tsk you didn't put the stump on one of the thirds and the mountain is practically placed in the middle. Those are no no's! 

I am not a fan of the rule of thirds because I don't think in the 4x5 format, it makes for a balanced frame at all. Here is an example of the rule of thirds grid overlaid on this photo (I also indicated the middle on both axis).

If I would have used the rule of thirds I would have had to use a shorter lens, the stump in the foreground would have covered up the reflection. And personally I don't like overlaps. But to each his/her own of course. And the composition would have too much breathing room around it. I like things tight and I only like to include the most essential elements to tell my story. 

Let me explain how I DID compose this photo.

First I looked at the bulk of the photograph. The mountain, the shore line, the reflection and the water.  Maybe you noticed already but all that stuff makes a perfect square (red) starting from the bottom edge. The top of Mount Rundle would be the top part of the square. I then 'guessed' where the shoreline in the distance had to be. A technique I love to use in a composition is to use a line starting from a point where an imaginary circle (centred around the bottom left corner) crosses the baroque diagonal (blue line) for that square. That's where – in this photo – I placed the horizon line (green dotted line). This line actually makes what we call a √2 rectangle. A rectangle where the short side is 1 and the long side is √2 (more on that later). This whole exercise will tell you how high your tripod needs to basically be and what focal length lens you need to use. Sounds more complicated than it is. Here's that all explained visually. Also note the repeating diagonal of Rundle's edge (solid green line).

Let's move on and let's place that stump in a spot that is visually appealing. What I did for this was very similar. I kept the square on the bottom but I flipped it all around. I again used the baroque diagonal but this time I drew a circle, centred around the top right corner of that square. And applied the same technique as previously discussed. Here's the two overlaid. 

There, now I knew I wanted to place that stump on that horizontal line. But where vertically? I decided to use another technique for that. But now based on the diagonal of the whole frame instead of just the bottom square. I used the same baroque diagonal (bottom left to top right, red) and lowered the reciprocals (blue). 

By doing so I can also trace secondary vertical and horizontal lines out of the tension points of these two lines (in green). 

That allowed me to do three things. It allowed me to frame the top of Rundle in between the two verticals, it allowed me to check placement of the tops of the trees (I was fortunate the composition did that for me) and I placed the stump on the left vertical. Also note how the triangle on the bottom frames the grasses around the stump. Again, yes that was intentional.

I could have obviously used the other diagonal and placed the stump on the right. Although the composition would have then been very right heavy because of the overly dark tones on the right hand side. But I can use the sinister diagonal (top left to bottom right) to further refine my composition. I did so and lowered the same reciprocals. Overlay all of this and now I can add tertiary verticals and horizontals and even go beyond that with quaternary lines. The design of this photo should now be very clear to you. 

Another technique I love to use is designing with root rectangles to place elements as previously touched on. 

Let's take the top section for example. If I draw a square now at the top of this photo and do the diagonal and circle 'trick', you can see that the reflection is now purposely placed as well. See how the circle 'cups' the reflection? The top of the reflected trees fall on the √2 rectangle. If I now draw another diagonal starting from the same point I previously started from to that √2 rectangle, I can now find the √3 rectangle. And so on and so forth. 

Of course you can use the other diagonal too and start drawing a circle from another corner and do this all again. Kind of to 'double check' your composition.

Anyway. That's just some of the stuff I think about when composing photographs. It looks all very technical but these techniques can easily be integrated in your workflow. If you use live view to compose your work for example, you already do this to some extent

Using a large format camera gives me the advantage I can stand back a little farther and study a photograph on the ground glass (that things does have a lot of lines on it) in all peace and quiet under the dark cloth. Plus it is upside down and reversed, which means my brain is not recognising what I'm looking at and therefor I can think about this in a more abstract way. 

Solid composition is the coat hanger of any piece of art. Sculpture, architecture, painting, poetry, and yes photography as well. Back in the day, painters would go to great lengths to design their paintings. So why wouldn't we try to do the same? 
I think it's pretty unfortunate that so many beginning photographers place more importance on technique than solid composition.  

Training can make your eyes and mind pick up on these things. I am lucky I have a background in graphic design. But studying the old photographic masters, studying paintings and architecture and thinking about these things while visiting musea will make you a better artist in the end. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Photography, the mental game

When I started out in photography some 14 years or so ago, none of my instructors prepared me for the fact that photography would be such a tough mental game to play. 

Back then I wasn't interested in photography because I had something to say. I wasn't interested in it because I wanted to make money with it. All I wanted to do was to take pretty pictures. 

When I moved to Canada years later I thought that I would now finally live in a place where I could have time to work on those pretty pictures. After all, with the Rocky Mountains so nearby, I would be able to tap into an infinite source of majestic scenes. Succes was guaranteed! Or so I thought. 

Enter the mind games. 

Now I know photography runs much deeper than that. As I matured as an artist I became aware of the fact that I was becoming more and more unsatisfied with what I was doing. Not because I couldn't identify pretty scenes or take photos of those pretty scenes. But because I had seen it done, all before. And everything I was seeing, was getting boring. 

I didn't really understand what was going on with me back then, and why I was feeling what I was feeling, but looking back I now know I went through an important artistic change. 

When I give talks about photography I often talk about my personal journey. Not because it is a unique story (who are we kidding?) but because I believe it may help people to better understand their own path. 

I often talk about 'the plateau of mediocrity' in those talks. Because, for the longest time, that's where I was stuck on. I kept making the same pretty picture over and over again, but I never really moved on. 

A lot of photographers are stuck on that plateau and they don't even know it exists. Look around you, landscape photography magazines are full of these pretty pictures of scenes we've seen a million times before. Do we really need to see any more photos of the slot canyons in Utah or maybe a little more local for me, Vermillion Lakes and Mount Rundle?! It is all the same pre-chewed material photographed with a different camera and not a different vision. 

For most photographers, that plateau is where they will happily spend their entire careers on. It is a safe haven. 'Safe' being the keyword here. But for a few of us, that plateau feels wrong. It feels 'flat'. It feels like a place where no progress can and will be made. EVER! 

The more I matured, the less that plateau felt like a place I wanted to be spending my career on. And over time the work I produced on that plateau did not internally satisfy me anymore. As a result I wanted to throw all of my work away and start all over. And more often than none the 'why the heck am I doing this for?'-question popped in my mind. 

If this sounds familiar, do read on.

That's when I realized that I was artistically growing. So what the heck was going on?! 

Sally Mann said it best. “There’s always a time in any series of work where you get to a certain point and your work is going steadily and each picture is better than the next, and then you sort of level off and that’s when you realize that it’s not that each picture is better then the next, it’s that each picture up’s the ante. And that every time you take one good picture, the next one has got to be better.” 

Bingo! That was exactly the core of what I was dealing with. 

Back then, I did start all over. I stopped photographing in colour and went back to my b&w roots. But a year later that came to a grinding halt as well. Digital b&w photography for me was not the answer. For 4 months I didn't take a single photo. I was trying to figure this out. I was so sure about the b&w part that I couldn't figure out why I was still dissatisfied with my work. 

That's when it hit me. The solution to continue the long and steep climb of progress for me was to return full time to film. 

You're done digital! Over and out.

As by magic I was inspired and motivated again. I just realized the date was June 2012. Since then I stepped up my game and went from medium to large format photography but that didn't change a thing about my work and more importantly why I do what I do. 

Right now, I am in a happy place. I'm making work that I am confident in. Not because it shows superficial scenic beauty. But because it shows a portrait of my soul. It shows everyone who I am. 

So if you feel like you're stuck or not satisfied anymore by your work. Just know, feeling that, is an important step to become a better artist. Embrace it! Use those feelings and try to translate that in meaningful, thoughtful and intelligent photographs. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

The road to mastery

There is a world of opportunity out there. A phrase that people (often already successful people) use all the time. A world of opportunity. What exactly does that mean? And how does an opportunity – a possibility – transform into an actual achievement?

Our journey as photographers is a never ending one. And opportunities or (little) achievements are everywhere, if you know where to look. Achievements that seem small at first. Maybe even things you would not think of as something you would be proud of. The more you progress as an artist, the bigger those strides you are taking, will seem to the outside world.

Let me explain.

Let's take the concept of 'constant learning' for example. Learning is a process and not an event. Let's get that straight. And more importantly, it is a never ending process. Learning also means enduring the uncertainty of not knowing.

The moment you start to learn something new, it naturally starts out as feeling awkward. You feel self-conscious. Clumsy. And that's totally OK! And then – as you continue – as you persist and keep trying and practicing, you will see, what started out as awkward, starts to transform into something more comfortable. Things will flow form uncertain, to certain. From untried to repetitive. From novel to familiar, perhaps maybe even comfortable or dare I say, masterful.

"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work". Thomas Edison.

When you are doing the hard work, you'll see that you are encouraging yourself to go through change, as your creative abilities grow. That is the key! And you will grow even more when you let go of outdated views of the world (or even of yourself). By doing so you are encouraging yourself to seek out new possibilities and more new experiences. Experiences that will let you feel that novel feeling again. Experiences that again will migrate to feelings of familiarity, from awkward to routine, from uncertain to certain. It is really a never ending viscous circle.
If you take time to consider deeply how you have already accomplished things of importance in your photographic career, you will discover that you can easily remember the skills you've learned to get to where you are today. That IS an achievement you should be proud of! But beware, it is easy to overstate the importance of that, it is even easier to understate all that you are and all that you are becoming.

As a result we can actually state the following. As our awareness of this continuous process grows, and our acceptance grows that those awkward, self-conscious moments are simply a starting point – a stepping stone on the path to greater skill and an inevitable first step on the road to mastery – you will get stronger in the ability to set aside concern and stay focused on the next step towards comfort. Your confidence will build. Knowing that, makes it really easy to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. To get secure with the feeling of uncertainty and even insecurity.

You can in turn learn to manage those feelings (of uncertainty) and learn to set aside self doubt. All the while knowing that they are normal reactions to what is new or what seems challenging at first. The world of opportunity opens up to someone who is willing to let this inward change – from awkward to comfortable – to happen.

As you progress in your career, your ability to keep moving forward becomes stronger. And confidence in yourself keeps growing, as you discover that what used to be overwhelming, now seems pretty mundane. Just another part of your career to move through and handle with confidence.

The human mind functions best when it has a mid range amount of stimulation. If we get too much coming at us, too much information, too many demands, we get stressed. Being on overload. Then all we want to do is slow things down. Get away. Relax. But on the other hand, too little stimulation – if we get not enough going on to hold our interest or attention – we get bored. And boredom is a spur to go get some action. How important is it to take action and seek out enough novelty to keep your mind focused and sharp? It's different for every single one of us.

"Nothing endures but change." Heraclitus.

What you can feel good about, are the obvious big leaps in your own work. There is a moment of realization – of insight – (the aha-moment some people call it) when suddenly something becomes clear. It is not a moment you can force. It's not a moment you can produce at will. It is a moment you discover through self reflection. And in the end, those moments, as few and far between, will make big differences in your work, if you know when to react to them. For me for example it was the insight that colour photography was not for me (because I sucked at it) and that I had to go back to my B&W roots.

I wonder what some of your aha-moments were. I really don't know, but you do. You probably have seen such moments in ways that you would define as solid and strong turning points in your careers. They can empower you to do better work.

As artists we should continually develop a greater depth of understanding our surroundings and not necessarily a better understanding of technique. We should develop a deeper acceptance for the very human condition of complexity and simplicity, and what it means to define complex problems in simpler terms. Photography can be a great medium for that. Minimalism is a great example of that exact idea. Minimalist photographers are always walking that fine line of how deep is deep enough and how simple, is simple enough.

What you've discovered about your strengths and skills is essentially the foundation of what you are building on as you continue to grow as an artist. I often explain it as if our careers were a house of cards. In the beginning we have a very narrow foundation to work from. But as we grow, or house 'fans out' towards the top. At one point, our foundation becomes unstable because it is simply too small to carry all the weight of new knowledge. That's when you know you've reached a crossroad. I often see people clinging on to this state for years and never move forward, because they are afraid of change. I say, let your house of cards crash down, and when it does, look closely at your cards. What cards are important to you now? Place those in your new foundation and start building your new house of knowledge back up. It will fan out again. And it will – if you let it – crash down, yet again, and again, and again. Let that happen. Your foundation will become stronger and wider if you let it. This whole cycle is part of that same, never ending learning circle.

Remember that!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Things I will never apologize for (and you shouldn't either)

In my last 'serious' post I wrote about how social media has sucked the life out of quality photography. That post is still making waves in the social media sphere. A lot of people were with me on this, and got the overall message. Some said I was stuck in the past and that I should 'adapt or die'. A few of them went even further and said I should apologize for writing that post.

That got me thinking.
Here's a list of things I (and you as well) should never apologize for. Ever!

So sit back, relax, buckle up and hold on! This ride is going to get bumpy!

1. I will never apologize for being inexperienced  
We all have to start somewhere. (see next step). Ignorance is acceptable. Staying it, is stupid. Educate yourself and if you can and dare, others as well. I love film photography for example. It's just my thing. It feels good doing it. But I know that I have a long way to go. I'm dedicated to a life long learning experience. I'm cool with that.

2. I will never apologize for asking for help

Don't be afraid or proud to ask your friends, and/or industry peers for help. We are all in this together. You would be amazed how many of them will write you back and offer to help you out or give you their opinion. Straight up. No strings attached. If someone is not reacting to your emails, leave them in your trail of dust. But remember it's not a one way street. If somebody is asking you for help, help them out to the best of your abilities.

3. I will never apologize for who I am or for what I believe in
Everybody is entitled to their opinions and beliefs. Let nobody take that away from you. If it doesn't stroke with their beliefs and opinions then tough luck. Staying quiet will eventually wear you down. Put it out there.

4. I will never apologize for sticking to my values
If people can't handle what I consider to be important values then that's too bad. It's their problem. Not mine.

5. I will never apologize for calling BS on someone
If nobody is willing to call it, I'll call it. I don't have a problem with that. Do you? Then that's too bad. You see, if we all stare at each other and whisper what we want to say behind closed doors, then nothing gets done.

6. I will never apologize for being passionate, obsessive and enthusiastic about photography
The passion for photography is what drives me hard these days. I've never been so passionate about anything else before in my life. It's a weird thing. But I'm loving every minute of it.

7. I will never apologize for loosing myself in research
I love research and can be absorbed by it rather quickly. For days on end. SO what? 

8. I will never apologize for being overly critical
Take it with a grain of salt internet. Are you ready to stir the pot? Then great. That's how we move forward. If not, the defriend/uncircle/unfollow button is at the top. Click it. Thanks! Glad we sorted that out.

9. I will never apologize for telling an unpopular truth
Truth is and can be a very complex thing. It is usually not all rosy either. Deal with it princes and listen up. Speaking the truth is never a sin. Never be afraid to speak the truth. Point out flaws, lies and injustices. On the other hand be afraid of the ones that never speak up. They're the ones that are afraid of conflict. They just want to be liked by everybody. Poor little things.

10. I will never apologize for breaking a rule that isn't a rule
Be a rule breaker! It's exciting. Don't be afraid to break unwritten/secret rules either (e.g. in my case the list of things I had to adhere to on the internet. Pushed on to me by the big, popular and all mighty mob called 'social influencers'). The internet has no boundaries people, and very little laws. Never let anyone tell you what to do. Push the 'accepted' boundaries outward and then turn it up to 11. Sit back and see what happens.

11. I will never apologize for who I am
I might come on as strong, harsh and very blunt sometimes, but I won't apologize for it. It's not my problem. It is you that is making a problem out of it. By you, I mean the people that claim to be holier than Jesus on the internet. Tip: If people seem like they never do anything wrong, don't trust them. It's all PR marketing! I rather be ME – with my shortcomings – and be proud of them, than insincerely fake my way through life to make a buck or two here and there.

12. I will never apologize for telling you how I feel, for speaking my mind, standing up for something I believe in or expressing myself
Honesty makes those 'perfect' people (see previous point) uncomfortable. Good! Let's – for instance – make some more people uncomfortable with this post. Yes I mean you, you internet celebs that claim to be leading perfect lives covered with happiness and positivity. Rrrrrrright. Let's get things straight here. I will be the first to claim my life isn't perfect. And I am proud of it! Be human. Have your flaws.

13. I will never apologize for my art

I will never EVER apologize for the art I am making. That would beat all purpose out of making art. All art could and maybe should be a narrative on social opinions, beliefs and issues. Search for that angle where your art makes a difference.

14. I will never apologize for being a landscape photographer
I hear so many people say 'I'm just a landscape photographer'. Never be afraid to tell people what you do! If all else fails, practice your introduction in front of your mirror until it is a natural thing to say. 'Hi my name is Oliver and I am an artist specializing in traditional black and white landscape photography.' Own it!

15. I will never apologize for my portfolio

It might not be to everyone's taste, but that's no reason to apologize for it. If you start a portfolio review with apologizing for it, your a dead duck. Or you apologize for the quality a certain photo lacks, then why is it in your portfolio in the first place?

16. I will never apologize for disagreeing with someone or something
– If we would all like the same stuff, we would live in a very boring world (and we would all drive grey cars). I have no problem in calling you out if need be. That might not be the most popular way to handle a disagreement, but I'm European. What can I say. We hate wasting time sugarcoating stuff and fluffing it up to make sure we don't offend anyone. Don't be such a fragile flower.  Grow some thorns. 

17. I will never apologize for getting something off my chest
The longer you keep issues on the inside, the more those same issues will eat away at your soul. Get it off your chest. Even if it offends people (see previous). Too bad. Deal with it. Leave a comment below.

18. I will never apologize for dreaming big

Have goals in mind and stick to them. Have 5-10 little goals you accomplish every year. All those little goals add up in the end. But also, have a big end goal in mind and spend every free minute of your time working to get there.

19. I will never apologize for making a decision from the heart

That's where your truth lives. Use it. Use it in your art! Don't think about it, feel it!

20. I will never apologize for saying NO to something

I will never be too proud to say no to something or someone. If you do, you'll feel good afterwards.

21. I will never apologize for setting high quality standards
"Turn up the good, turn down the suck!" (Bonus points for whoever knows what Canadian classic movie this comes from). Crank that button hard!

22. I will never apologize for thinking something was possible nor will I apologize for failing
Fail. Fail often. Fail hard! Crash and burn. Lessons learned. Done deal. Move on. Grow! Think of your career as a house of cards. Let it crash down once in a while. Step back and evaluate. Then pick your strong cards up first and rebuild your foundation. Continue building and learning until you have to let it crash down again. It is the normal circle of being an artist.

23. I will never apologize for complaining about something

If everyone is assuming somebody is going to say something, nobody will ever say anything. So file that complaint! Put it out there. So others can learn from your remarks. 

24. I will never apologize for my online presence
Face it, these days we are all our own marketing brand. Not everybody is fluent in speaking the language of the intrawebs. And not everyone is a marketeer. That is OK. Be yourself and it will sort itself out in the end. For example, not everyone will like my brand or the ideas and beliefs I have about photography. And that's OK too. If everybody did like who I am, then I was definitely doing something wrong.

25. I will never apologize for sometimes swearing like a sailor
Yes I know. I swear. I swear a lot. Cursing is something I will do when I f*cking feel like it. It ads a little spice to the conversation. Damnit. I couldn't live without them. (unless there's little kids around)

26. I will never apologize for my obsession for perfection

I like to get things as perfect as possible and it will usually take longer then expected. Get it right! First time around. No need to apologize for that. Sometimes you only get one chance. Nail it! It's better than proudly show mediocre presented work any day of the week.

27. I will never apologize for what I need nor my pricing

Everybody deserves to be compensated for what they do. Research your competitors. And when someone asks about your pricing, speak up and confidently state your price. If you are not in their price range, then find clients that fit in your price range. Not the other way around. You can't please everybody. Unless they are friends. Work with your friends to get them the best deal possible.

28. I will never apologize for being selfish

I will let you know when I need a dose of me-time.

29. I will never apologize for leaving home to chase my dreams

This one is pretty obvious and it is the truth. We have so many more opportunities here in Canada then back home, in Belgium. I have zero regrets for moving. Was it hard to leave friends and family behind? Sure it was. Was it worth it? Heck yeah! 

30. I will never apologize for my taste (or lack of)
Hey I like gas guzzling V8 muscle cars and NASCAR races on Sundays! So what?

Sure people will judge me (again) for writing this post. But I won't apologize for it. I am myself on this blog. And I am sharing what I think is important. I believe there is an epidemic in this world today for apologizing for everything we do. I wonder why. Because we don't want to offend people? Is that it? Nothing is less attractive then a person who says sorry all the time. Own it!

"It is a good rule in life never to apologize. The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort take a mean advantage of them." – P. G. Wodehouse

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

You guys made me laugh

Sorry to disappoint so many of you but the fact that I joined Instagram, that was an April fools' joke. Thank you to all 55 new followers on Instagram hoping this was true. Thank you to all you believers out there commenting on the post and for making my day. I guess you will all be disappointed to know that I deleted my account this morning. Boooo. I know. Anyway on to the regular programming I guess. Oh and by the way. #FCKINSTAGRAM :)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Finally made it on Instagram

After last week blog post 'debacle' about how social media is sucking the life out of quality photography, I took a long hard look at my social media strategy. The waves this blog post made, the negative comments that I got where eye opening. People called me shortsighted, stubborn, oldskool, stuck in the past and even 'all dinosaurs die eventually'.

Today, I made the decision to finally bite the bullet and get me an Instagram account.

I know, I know. I've been an advocate against the use of Instagram for quite some time now (read: from the moment it came on the market). And I wrote numerous blog posts about Instagram in the past. But seriously. I've been using Instagram for a bit now and it is sooooo much fun!

My work really looks much better in square than 6x7 or 4x5 anyways. Plus the filters in this app are awesome. Who can argue with filters named 'Mayfair', 'Valencia' or my favourite 'Brannan'. Man my work has never looked so good! Super excited.

So follow @olivierdutre  and join me on my journey as I explore Instagram.


Monday, March 31, 2014

Minimalist Winter Workshop Results: Robert Royer

Some more work from the workshop with +Marc Koegel . This time by Robert – Bob – Royer. Very nice work Bob!

 ©Robert Royer
 ©Robert Royer
 ©Robert Royer

Friday, March 28, 2014

Minimalist Winter Workshop Results: Neil Bates

Here are some more results from the Minimalist Winter Workshop from another Neil, Neil Bates. It was great to see him grow and open up during the weekend.

©Neil Bates

©Neil Bates 

©Neil Bates 

©Neil Bates 

©Neil Bates 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Minimalist Winter Workshop Results: Neil McElmon

Here are some more results of the Minimalist Winter Workshop +Marc Koegel and I set up a few weeks ago in and around Calgary. Today I'd like to feature +Neil McElmon. Neil personally blew me away when he showed this first photograph during Sunday's critiquing session. Well done my friend.

©Neil McElmon

©Neil McElmon

©Neil McElmon

©Neil McElmon

©Neil McElmon

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Online sharing has sucked the life out of quality photography

I've been struggling with this for a while now.

And I'm just going to say what I feel needs to be said.

This morning a friend of mine forwarded me a few articles by a 'Professional Instagrammer' (ugh) that really grinded my gears. You can read them here:

You see in these articles our self proclaimed 'photographer' that made it big goes on to explain how average she really is, how easy photography is and how she sells her photography to businesses. Frankly she wasn't selling anything. She was giving away her stuff for free in exchange for free watches, sunglasses, or trips to wherever needed promotion. That's not a sustainable way of making a living or making a business work.

In the last few weeks 2 of my peers (and friends) contacted me to ask my opinions on emails they got requesting licensing on some of their work. One got an email request from a big tourism company here in Alberta that asked her to hand over all rights of a few of here photographs. It was really not a good contract to sign. We debated it for a bit, I told her the parts I absolutely didn't like (like the non-exclusive, perpetuity, world-wide, royalty free and with freedom of 3rd party distribution with zero-liability parts). And we debated an alternative approach. In the end my friend had a meeting with them and argued that a commission based contract would be a win-win for both parties. Guess who got the job?

My other friend got a request in her inbox with a license agreement for non-exclusive usage rights for 3 of her photographs to be used in a calendar that will be distributed in North American (USA, Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico and Canada). But she had nu clue how to price those things out. SO we went over the numbers. Again. Guess who sold her work and will have her work printed in 160,000 calendars? Right you guessed it.

So long sucker

You know, when you get requests in like this and you don't know what to do, ask for help. Don't agree on anything else then money. Cash. Dollars. What are free sunglasses or watches worth when you have bills and taxes to pay? Nothing. This is a business like any other so act accordingly. If needed, educate your client just like my 2 friends did. Once explained why you can't work for exposure or free goods, most clients will agree on negotiating a market value for your work. But if you don't ask, you won't get anything. And clients that say 'there's really not a budget for photography' are lying to you. There is always a budget. If they can find that one sucker to do it for a photo credit alone then you just saved them some money. You don't want to be the sucker.

Hey, she has 300K followers on Instagram so she must be good right?

You see this inexperienced (I'm not saying bad) photographer – trading talent for goods – is a classic example of how the digital world has transformed the way we promote or 'should' promote and market our work to our – potential – clientele. It also has changed the benchmark of how we define success for ourselves (success obviously must be counted by the amount of followers/likes/retweets we get) and the hero-complex that flows out of that. It also shows a shift in how businesses think about photographers (throw some free stuff at them and see if anything sticks). And to top it off, it is also a prime example on the way the masses look at, and have consumed photography over the last few years.

You see, social media should be about telling your business' story. Not trying to – as a business – buy your way into someones follower list (like these examples clearly show). That's just dumb, shallow and very shortsighted. Who says my followers are your business's target audience? I've seen it happen too often really.

Doing social media 'right' on the other hand is a big and time consuming enterprise for a company that might not yield any profit right from the get go. It's a job that you can't expect easy and instantaneous results of. It takes a lot of time to get the online presence, client interaction and results you desire (read: as in multiple years). And frankly, it is still hard to calculate the real potential value of it all.

Very often a whole team of people is behind a brand's social media presence. With real business strategy behind anything that gets tweeted and shared. All of that content is usually being created through numerous creative meetings, weeks in advance by brand strategists. What?! You thought everything these brands do was all a spur of the moment kind of thing? Just like the Oreo's 'Dunk in the dark' tweet during the Superbowl of 2013?! No, that was a quick reaction from the creative team that was responsible for Oreo's social media stream. A very successful and very witty reaction by the way.

Stuff has changed let me tell you.

A lot.

For the worse.

Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, Intagram, you name it, they have sucked the life and creativity out of quality photography. We now care more then ever about likes, plusses, reshares and retweets and what not than about the quality of our work. In my opinion, the moment we started worrying about quantity, sharing instantly and how well photo's will do in our circle of followers, we also forgot about what it takes to produce quality work.

Essentially what I am saying is we applaud mediocrity. Mediocre work that gets encouraged and gets eaten up by the masses because frankly, they don't know better. They've been brainwashed by the bombardment of crappy work everywhere. Over and over again. Little by little, the general quality of photography is going downhill at a rate similar to technological advances. The easier it is to create photographs, the more crap there's out there, the more the market gets diluted with crap and therefor, the overall quality of work declines.

Cream always rises to the top.

But to be fair, there's always been crap out there. It's estimated for example that by 1960, 55 percent of photos taken were of babies! Just to throw out another number. Today, every 2 minutes we take more photographs than the whole of humanity in the 1800's. That is staggering! (source)

Don't get me wrong. It is great to see more and more people enjoy photography because photography has become very accessible in the last decennial. Cameras are getting cheaper and cheaper. And almost everyone has a smartphone in their pockets these days that is capable of making good photographs. I get that. And I like that aspect of the photographic world today.

But at the same time, it sucks.

The more we are supposed to socialize with each other through these new technologies – technologies that supposed to make us connect – the more we grow apart and become disconnected with the real world. And it's only getting worse and worse and worse. 

When was the last time you talked to a complete stranger on your bus ride home? No we are far to busy checking Facebook statuses and bury our face in our cell phone all the time. Connecting to a world you say huh? I don't get it.

I don't care about your self portraits, your meals, your feet on a beach, your light painting, your steel wool experiments (somebody is going to start a forest fire soon I'd tell you), your dog, another bullsh*t inspirational quote, your life nor your kids. I've tried so many times to something on the blog about this but always failed to come up with something worthwhile. So here it is. Hate me for it.

Photography is NOT a thing where we should adapt ourselves to new trends all the time. Trends that proclaim to keep us afloat on a sea of mediocrity. No! Enough of that already. Your work should come from a place that moves you, it should come from your heart and it should show your audience what makes you thick and what you are made of.

You absolutely should NOT work with the thought 'will this resonate with my fans?' in your mind. That's just BS. The volatile nature of 'social media' is what makes you believe you should reinvent the wheel every few weeks to stay on top of it all. Again B f*cking S! To me that sounds like a whole community dictating and telling me how my creativity should work (do this, photograph that in this way). Well, I give a big middle finger to that fake 'world' today because I don't photograph for you. I photograph for me, myself and I and nobody else. 

We are not friends.

I have a nice amount of followers on social media. So you can say, I'm part of this problem too. You liked, retweeted and plussed some of my work. But the thing is, I don't consider you my real friends. Sounds harsh doesn't it? It's reality. Deal with it. Many of you send me friend requests on my personal Facebook page for example without the slightest interaction beforehand between the two of us. What gives you the right to even assume I want to be connected to you, a total stranger? I don't know who you are, what you do, nor do I care. Why would I want to be 'friends' with you?

A few of you I know personally. And those I know and have met, those are the people that matter to me. The REAL connection with people is what matters. Sadly, these new generations don't get this. Writing that, made me feel old all the sudden.

Here's what I am trying to say

Surround yourself with people that matter to you. People you love, respect, look up to. People you feel comfortable asking questions to. Do you like my work? Do you think I can do better? How? What if I do this? How do I price this out? What would you do? How do you approach stuff like this? Let's collaborate!

Surround yourself with a group of people that you trust and that you can use as a resource. Surround yourself with people that are genuinely willing to help you. But remember it's a two way street! If your friends ask you to do something for them, ask them how high they want you to jump, and then f*cking jump! There is nothing worse then people that take and take, but never give. Avoid those people like the plague. They are not worth any minute of your time. Also avoid reading blog posts with titles like '20 secrets pros will never tell you' or anything that starts with 'ultimate', 'crucial', 'essential' and any other superlative. It is all marketing bullsh*t. Don't waste your time.

Stay humble, accessible and treat everybody with respect and dignity! Nobody cares about who you are and that you have 3 million followers. Or your name and location dropping. Nobody cares about you if you act like a total d*ck. What camera or 'essential' gear you use. And believe me, nobody is interested in how important you think you are because your imagination tells you that 3 million followers, makes you a guaranteed celebrity in the photo world. That is just plain ignorant and stupid. Who do you think you are?!

I'll keep preferring meeting people in real life and making real connections that matter instead. Go ahead, believe in your online communities. They are worth nothing in the end.

There. I said what I needed to say. I am all zen again.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Minimalist Winter Workshop Results: Bernardo Möller

+Bernardo Möller came all the way from Brazil (!) to visit Alberta and British Columbia, meet up with some friends and attend our little workshop. Both +Marc Koegel and I were very humbled by this. It was also great to finally meet Bernardo in real life (we follow each other on various social media websites). He also produced some very fine work during the workshop as you can see below. More of his work can be found on his website.

© Bernardo Möller

© Bernardo Möller

© Bernardo Möller

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Minimalist Winter Workshop Results: Leigh Trusler

Continuing with posting the results from the workshop. Today I'd like to show you the wonderful work that was done by Leigh Trusler. I absolutely love the very soft processing hand in these photographs. You can see more of Leigh's work on her website

© Leigh Trusler

© Leigh Trusler

© Leigh Trusler

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Minimalist Winter Workshop Results: Glenn Marcus

The next few blog entries will be filled with the photographs our students sent in after our workshop.

Let's start this series with a selection from the photographs Glenn Marcus sent in. For more of his work, connect with him back over on 500px. He's a great gentlemen to have in your circles.

  © Glenn Marcus

© Glenn Marcus

  © Glenn Marcus

   © Glenn Marcus

  © Glenn Marcus

Monday, March 17, 2014

Minimalist Winter Workshop – Recap Day 2

So what happened on Day 2 of the workshop I hear you asking yourself. Here goes...

We met on Sunday morning at 7.30am in the hotel lobby (after a short night, we picked that one weekend out of the year where overnight our clocks jumped forward an hour). I arrived at 7.10am and was surprised that one of our students was already present in the lobby. That meant a lot to me personally. It would have sucked if everybody showed up late. But nope, everybody showed up on time (that must have been some sort of record no?).

We left for our first stop of the day right on time and arrived just minutes after sunrise, just like the plan +Marc Koegel and I had in mind. We had hoped for some colour in the sky but that was far from happening. Oh well. No colour, but a good sky for us minimalists.

First we stopped at a location where I photographed one of my favourite winter photos as of yet (above). A beautiful line of gnarly looking trees. We had a lot of fun with these trees and a lot of good came out of this subject.

People started to experiment all over the place. Some where photographing a hay bale scene a little further down the road or just taking off on their own exploring the tree line. Which was great!

We had the range road for ourselves all morning long. After about an hour and a half we moved on to a second subject just down the range road.

The day before I had shown some work by other photographers, and I knew that this bleak looking Quonset would be just the subject where we could try our hand at some of that, bleak looking, minimal colour work that is so trendy these days. I knew there was a photo there but not a lot of students saw it like that. I had to do some convincing.
Above is a photo I took from the car on a different day and below is a photograph made on the day of the workshop. You see that conditions play a big role in minimalizing and rendering this particular subject. A great challenge for our students and some came away with a killer photograph.

After playing around with this subject the sky gradually cleared from the north and we moved on to the third subject. A nice little abandoned shack with a nice tree next to it. Again I have very little photographs to show form the day itself. But take my word for it, it's a nice little scene.

Students were now awake and were photographing on both sides of the rangeroad. Pretty cool to see that after just a few hours people started to see and think in a more minimalistic way already.

After all of this we gathered the troops and returned to the hotel. It was 12.30 when we arrived back at the Acclaim. The Italian place next to the hotel was again our venue of choice for a quick bite.

The afternoon consisted of +Marc Koegel and I reviewing and commenting/discussing our students' work from the day before. At some points we were absolutely blown away by what people had produced. Some photographs needed a little bit of fine tuning. But in the end we had a great 2.5h critiquing session, which I think was very helpful for all our students. We demonstrated what was good in good photographs and why it was good. And corrected the photographs that needed a bit of help and again explaining why we saw it that way.

In the end everybody went home with hopefully some new knowledge that will help them for years of photography.

In the next few posts I will also share some of our students' work from the workshop.