SILENCE & SOLITUDE AS TEACHER

We all want a teacher. Someone wiser, with a bigger or better perspective on our own life that can help guide us. But we already have that and can access that teacher whenever we need. That teacher is the quiet voice inside of us, sometimes only heard in silence.

Most of us live a life of stimulation. Multiple input streams: TV, movies, internet, email, Twitter, Facebook, friends, family, work, co-workers. It is so hard to even recognize the voice of our true self within all that stimulation, layered on top of our own wants, needs and desires and the constant inner dialog or narration of our sensations.

There is no guide or teacher more powerful, wise and all-knowing as silence. It is only through silence that we can hear distant murmurings of our heart. When we listen to that silence we begin to hear that quiet honest voice within, longing to be heard, to be paid attention to.

It is your job to find enough solitude to invite that quiet voice to speak. Don’t judge. Don’t react. Just listen. What is it telling you? What does it want you to know? When listened to that voice becomes louder; when paid attention to that voice becomes stronger.

One way to start this process is to set an intentional time, with a beginning and an end. Whether a short walk to the park or a long drive to the ocean make the journey part of the process. Start by slowing down and tuning both out and in. Turn off the car radio, turn off the iPod, put away your headphones, stop checking email. Let your too-active mind slowly settle into the silence and drift towards stillness. The less visual stimulation the better, nature is good, darkness even better.

If this is a new concept start small and simple– a walk in the woods at night or around a lake. When ready, an ideal place is on a personal silent retreat of more than one day. Rent a cabin or find a retreat center in your area. Going through a complete cycle of a day and night is good. Multiple days even better, as you will pass through layers of experience, descending deeper and deeper into the power of silence.

Many forces will conspire to stop or delay you. An emergency at work, an urgent family matter, cleaning the gutters or alphabetizing the junk drawer…but usually these are our own manifestations of the fear of what we might discover when all else is stripped away.

Don’t wait for when the time is right or conditions in your life are better. Do this soon. Do it now.

“But within our inner hurts, maybe the best way is not to listen to any words or ideas at all.
Simply let the silence work on and through you, till you’re part of something larger.”
– Pico Iyer 

©Douglas Beasley 2014

LIGHTING 101

It is much more important that you understand the basic principles of how light behaves than how a specific piece of lighting gear operates. I think this will serve your photography much more in the long run. 

Lighting Principle 1Separate ‘quality’ of light from ‘quantity’ of light.

Quality of light is the ‘feel’ of the light on your subject. Soft or hard? Direct or diffused? Backlit or sidelight?
Quantity of light is how much light there is; i.e. the amount of light, measured in f stops.

Lighting Principle 2:  The hardness/softness (contrast) of the light is the result of the size of the lighting source, relative to the distance from the subject.

Example: the sun. It is the largest source so it should be a soft source but it is far away from the subject so it is a hard, contrasty light source. A cloud increases the size of the source relative to the subject so it softens the light.

– The larger the light source, the softer (less contrast) the lighting
– The smaller the light source the harder (more contrast) the lighting
– The closer you move the source to the subject the softer (less contrast) the light will become
– The further the source from the subject the harder (more contrast) the light will become

Lighting Principle 3: Only add a light if absolutely necessary or you want to override or change the look or feel of the existing or natural light.

– Ask yourself why you want to need to add a light

Lighting Principle 4Always start simple.

– Use as few lights as possible to create the look you want
– Only add lights as needed do a specific task

Lighting Principle 5Work your subject into the light.

– I usually have them turn their face towards the main or front light source
– Leaning into the light can be effective

Lighting Principle 6Don’t over fill your main subject. You will suck the life out of your photo!

Once people discover fill light or reflectors they often tend to way overdo it just because they can.

– Overfilling will cause the image to look ‘flat’ (too low contrast)
– Be careful about positioning reflectors, additional lights
– Watch the ‘spill’ from additional light sources like background

 

©Douglas Beasley 2014

MY LIGHTING PROCESS: Adding Artificial Light

1)    What do you want the photo to ‘feel’ like? What do you want the lighting to ‘feel’ like?

2)    What is the overall mood you are going for?

3)    What kind of light do you want on your subject to help achieve that?

4)    What is the existing light? What type and source of light is it? What color balance?

5)    Is the existing light natural or artificial?

6)    Will you incorporate the existing light, block it off, or overpower it?

7)    What direction do you want the light to come from?

8)    How will it light your subject? How will it light or affect the background

9)    What kind of light do you want on the background?

10) Do you want the background brighter or darker than your main subject?

11) Based on those answers, I will add light to the background or subtract it

12) Each light added should have a purpose or reason to exist.

13) Block direct or back light from shining directly into your lens with a lens hood, gobos or flags.

14) Determine the aperture I want to shoot at based on the depth of field required

15) Meter the light at the subject’s face.

16) Light subject to that aperture by turning up or down power levels not by moving the lights.

17) Choose shutter speed to increase or decrease the ambient or background light level.

18) Don’t let technical aspects impede the content of the photos but rather enhance it.

19) Don’t forget about the emotional connection to the subject and what you were trying to convey when originally conceiving the shot!

 

© Douglas Beasley 2014

MATTING & FRAMING SUGGESTIONS

Matting

Archival, acid-free 4-ply mat board is recommended.

8-ply mat board is even better and looks great but is more expensive.

I prefer the simplicity (and lower cost) of a single matt and think double mats detract from the photo.

I would strongly avoid colored mats. Better to use off white, warm white, or slight cream color.

Window: I recommend about ¼” space around the black border or edge of the image

Use at least 4″ border on top and sides, 4.5 to 5″ on bottom.

Minimum border size could be 3” but 4” is much better. Less is too constricted around the image.

 

Framing

I do not recommend elaborate frames that detract from the photograph.

I would use a wood museum frame or simple box frame and would avoid ornate or elaborate frames.

Black, brown or natural wood finish is usually the most complimentary to photographs.

Black or silver metal frames can be very attractive and are also less expensive than wood.

I much prefer a deeper profile depth (about 1.5 to 2″) than a shallow profile frame

 

Glass

Regular glass is usually fine and is inexpensive.

Plexiglas is preferable for very large prints. It is much less fragile and weighs a lot less for shipping.

Plexiglass is safer for large prints but is more expensive and scratches easily and is hard to clean.

UV glass is good if the print will be in direct sunlight but is more expensive.

Museum glass is amazingly clear but much more expensive!

Non-glare glass is not recommended because it is less clear, as it has a slight textured surface.

 

Remember these are my preferences, based on gallery preferences, current trends and what I think works best for showcasing a photograph as a work of art, yet you are the one that has to live with the frame and how it fits your existing décor and personal taste.

  


RECOMMENDED LOCAL TWIN CITIES FRAME SHOPS
:

HANG IT
122 8th St SE, Minneapolis MN 55414, (612) 874-7222
www.hangitinc.com
(great prices)

MITREBOX
Washington Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55401, (612) 676-0696
www.mitreboxframing.com
(great work, nice people)

ICEBOX
1500 Jackson St NE  #443, Minneapolis, MN 55413, (612) 788-1790 www.iceboxminnesota.com
(expensive but very high quality, also a photo gallery)

 

©Douglas Beasley 2014

 

ASKING PERMISSION FOR PORTRAITS

“While traveling I often make portraits of people, but I think deeply how to do it in a respectful way. I believe it’s always best to ask first. When you ‘steal’ photos by waiting until you think they are not watching sends a clear message to others about your intentions, integrity and ethics. What do you think?”  -Doug

I do stand by the overall sentiment but this was originally written for students coming to my workshops to explore making more personally expressive portraits and not for photojournalists or street photographers. It is about MY process for making MY images as part of a sharing of what works for me and why. For me it’s not about making a travelogue but about trying to connect more deeply with both our subjects and our selves. Thankfully, there are many ways to express ourselves photographically.

It obviously can be a very different situation for photojournalists, war correspondents, street photographers, etc. A great example is the photo by Nick Ut of the naked girl running away from the napalm bombing in Vietnam. She certainly wasn’t asked for permission, probably wouldn’t have given it, yet that single photo helped turn the tide against the Vietnam War. There are numerous other examples of great street photography where the subjects are completely unaware of the camera. But those generally aren’t intimate portraits, which are different from those but with sometimes overlapping concerns and agendas. There is a big difference between candids with the subject unaware yet made respectfully and with stealing photos!

Since I am not a photojournalist, I don’t think just being a photographer gives me the right to photograph whomever I want without their blessing or consent. Yet, if photos are made out deep concern, visual inquiry, out of love or made with respect, many things are possible, including photos without the subjects’ permission that have great respect for the subject. I have also seen many photographers who ‘steal photos’ by sneaking around the edges of marketplaces and squares, photographing those they know don’t want to be photographed. It is often as if they are stalking their prey so I imagine this behavior to be very instinctual and primal.

This behavior is especially prevalent in workshops where one photographer is working on establishing rapport or connection with a subject, only to have another photographer come up unannounced and start blasting away with no connection whatsoever. Their photos usually look like there was no genuine connection between themselves and the subject.

I believe, for my photos, for the way I want to be in the world, that I need in most, but not all instances, to ask for permission from my subject. An exception is if the person is in public and part of a larger scene or if they are not recognizable in the photo (with their back to the camera, silhouetted, etc). To me, the photograph is not more important than the experience. It is definitely not more important than the wishes of the people inhabiting my photos. My obligation is to my subject, to the possibility of direct contact and deeper connection, and to learning something about them and maybe myself. If I happen to make some decent photos along the way, that’s a bonus.

‘Getting the shot’ is secondary to who I am in the world, my actions and intentions, the way I treat others, and the way I live my life. These are all much more important than what photographs I make and how good they are or aren’t. You don’t have to share this belief and I often admire photographers for whom getting the shot is everything. That is just not me or who I wish to be.

© Douglas Beasley 2015

 

THE DANGER OF CRITIQUES

There is a danger in critiquing work-in-progress at classes and workshops—it can emphasize success over risk taking. We may be more worried more about impressing others than about our own artistic growth. But risking failure is how we grow and evolve as artists.

Put yourself wholeheartedly into each exercise and assignment, even if you are not sure or even suspect as to what the benefit will be. Trust the process. Honor the time, money and energy you have invested in taking time off to be at a photo workshop. We are all very lucky we have the privilege to do be able to this, including me. Honor that with full participation.

You have much more to gain by staying open to new possibilities than in succeeding with what you already know works for you. Try not to mimic the instructor’s style just so they notice you or like your work. It is ok to mimic the style of others to gain perspective or learn from them. Don’t be afraid to be yourself, and take visual and emotional risks. This is your opportunity to expand and grow visually and personally. Think beyond the workshop’s end!

During critiques pay attention when others present their work and respect them with your full attention. They deserve that and you can’t expect it from others when it’s your turn if you don’t also give it. Speak up when you have something to say. Be present. Participate fully. Offer constructive criticism that is about the work not the person. Say what it is you do like or what is working for you.

When it’s your turn do not make any excuses for why your work isn’t better, why you only have the pictures you have or why your best pictures are at home or on your other hard drive. Just deal with what you do have not with what you don’t have. Our photos reflect where we’ve been not where we are, but are also markers for where we are going. The photos we make today are often ahead of our ability to understand them or put them in context. They have things to tell you that may not be apparent to others. Do not take criticism personally. Listen and consider comments objectively before you respond from a wounded place. The fact that others don’t like them doesn’t make them bad and the fact that others love them doesn’t make them good. It’s all just opinion. With every critique it gets easier to relax, respond and grow from the experience.

It’s not how many great pictures you make during your class or workshop that’s important, but how the experience changes you and helps you grow. Move forward from the challenges, positive and negative. Remember why you signed up in the first place— not to impress others with the skill you already have but to continue to become evolve forward.

 

This was originally written for the Santa Fe Photo Workshops blog site.

©Douglas Beasley 2014

 

ZEN & THE ART OF PHOTOGRAPHY:
RECOMMENDED MEDIA LIST

VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED:

• Art and Fear, Bayles and Orland, The Image Continuum

• Steal Like An Artist, Austin Kleon, Workman Publishing

• The War of Art
: Break Through Blocks and Win Inner Creative Battles, Stephen Pressfield

CLASS READINGS WERE FROM:

• The Dhammapada, The Sayings of the Buddha, Thomas Byron Translation, Vintage

• Tao Te Ching by Lao-tzu, Jane English Translation, Vintage

• The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran, Knopf

• Peace is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh, Bantam

• Marry Your Muse, Jan Phillips

• •Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, Paul Reps, Tuttle

 

ART & CREATIVITY:

• The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron

• Why People Photograph and Beauty In Photography, Robert Adams

• The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharpe (dancer/choreographer)

• Zen and the Art of Creativity, John Daido Loori, Shambala

• Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers by Leonard Koren, Stone Bridge

• 101 Things To Learn in Art School, Kit White, MIT Press

 

PHOTOGRAPHY BOOKS:

• God Is At Eye Level by Jan Phillips, Quest Books

• The Tao of Photography, Seeing Beyond Seeing by Gross and Shapiro, 10 Speed Press

• The Tao of Photography, by Tom Ang, Amphoto Books  (more basic than the one above)

• Letting Go of the Camera, Brooks Jensen, LensWork Publishing

 

PHOTO ARTICLES:

• With Nothing Between You, Minor White. Aperture. 1960. Vol. 8 #4

• What Is Meant By Reading Photographs, Minor White. Aperture. 1957. Vol. 5 #2

• Of People For People, Minor White (as Myron Martin). Aperture. 1956. Vol. 4 #4

 

MOVIES/VIDEOS

• Spring Summer Fall Winter…and Spring Again, Korean film about Zen temple on island

• Enlightenment Guaranteed, (German) try and get past the first 20 minutes- it gets better!

• Rivers and Tides, documentary about sculptor Andy Goldsworthy, using natural materials

• Kundun (1997), directed by Martin Scorsese, about Tibet’s 14th Dalai Lama

• Baraka (1992), a non-narrative documentary film directed by Ron Fricke

• Dreams, by Japanese director Akira Kurosawa

 

BOOKS ON ZEN, PHILOSOPHY, ETC:

• Zen Mind, Beginners Mind by Shunryu Suzuki, Weatherhill

• Zen In the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel

• The Power of Now by Ekhardt Tolle

• Doing Nothing by Steven Harrison, Tarcher/Putnam

• Everyday Zen; Love and Work by Charlotte Joko Beck, Harper Collins

• When Things Fall Apart, Pema Cjodren, Shambala Sun

• Cloud Hidden, Where Abouts Unknown by Alan Watts, Vintage

• The Way of Zen by Alan Watts, Vintage

• Notes to Myself by Hugh Prather, Bantam

• Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh, Parallax

• Be Here Now by Ram Dass, Crown Publishing

• The Little Prince by Antoine St.Exupery, Harcot Brace

• Taking the Path of Zen by Robert Aitken, North Point Press

• The Code of the Samuri by A.L. Sadler, Tuttle

• The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo, Tuttle

 

RECOMMENDED PERIODICALS

Photography:

• Shots (submit images on a theme for each issue)

• B&W Magazine

• Lens Work Quarterly (beautiful B&W reproduction)

• Aperture

• Nueva Luz

• Blind Spot

• Photo District News (for professionals)

• American Photo

• Zoom (Italian photo magazine available in US)

Other:

• The Sun (literary magazine)

• Orion; People and Nature (progressive nature magazine)

• Tricycle (Buddhist magazine)

• Shambala Sun (Buddhist/spirituality magazine)

• Stone Voices, art and spirituality

 

PHOTOGRAPHERS TO CHECK OUT

Classic:

Minor White

Paul Caponigro

Aaron Siskind

George Tice

Jerry Uelsmann

Wynn Bullock

Contemporary

Sally Gall

Franco Salmoiraghi (Hawaii, botanicals and Hawaiian Solidarity photojournalism)

Chris Rainier

Keith Carter

Graciela Iturbide (Mexico)

Michael Kenna

Kenro Izu

Luis Gonzalez Palma (Guatemala)

Hiroshi Watanabe

Susan Burnstine

Debbie Fleming Caffery

Linda Connor

Angela Bacon-Kidwell

Masao Yamamoto (Japan)

Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japan)

Sarah Moon (France)

Doug and Mike Starn (the Starn’s Twins)

Chris McCaw (long exposure solarizations of the sun)

Michael Donner (young photographer)

 

ARTISTS TO CHECK OUT:

Andy Goldsworthy (sculptor/installation artist/photographer)

Ai Weiwei (Chinese dissident sculptor/photographer/provocateur)

Marina Abromovic, performance artist

 

©Douglas Beasley 2015

 

RECOMMENDED FILMS & VIDEOS ABOUT PHOTOGRAPHERS

Movies about Photographers:

Finding Vivien Maier: documentary about the newly discovered street photographer

• What Remains: The Life and Work of Sally Mann

• William Eggleston In the Real World

• The Woodmans, about Francesca Woodman and her parents

• Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light

• The Eloquent Nude, about Edward and his wife, model and muse Charis Wilson

• Naked World and Naked Truth, about public nude photo projects by Spencer Tunik

• Wasteland, Vik Munez

• Manufactured Landscapes, about Edward Burtynsky

• Half Past Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Parks

• Diane Arbus

• Annie Liebowitz: Life Through A Lens

• Salt of the Earth, by Wim Wenders, about Brazilian Sabatio Salgado (a must see!)

 

Movies about Artists:

• Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, about Chinese dissident multimedia artist Ai Weiwei

• Marina Abramovic: the Artist Is Present, Eastern European performance artist

• Rivers and Tides, about environmental sculptor and photographer Andy Goldsworthy

• Touch the Sound, documentary about deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie

 

Movies Photographers Should See:

• Spring Summer Fall Winter… and Spring (2003), incredible Korean film about life in a Zen temple on a small island

• Baraka (1992), non-narritive documentary

• Poyaanisqatasi (1981), a visual feast with music by Philip Glass

• Koyaanisqatasi (1983), another visual feast with music by Philip Glass

• Raise the Red Lantern (1991), Chinese

• Winged Migration (2001), documentary

• Wings of Desire, directed by Wim Wenders

• Dreams (1990), Japanese, directed by Akira Kurosawa

• Rashomon, Seven Samurai, or any Akira Kurosawa film…

 

©Douglas Beasley 2015

 

RECOMMENDED ON-LINE PHOTO MAGAZINES

• Lenscratch (excellent interviews with photographers)

• Lens Culture

• Adore Noir B&W Photography Magazine

• Neutral Density Magazine

• Flak Photo

• Fraction Mag

• PH Magazine

• PDN Online (for professional photographers)

• Burn (for emerging photographers)

• Shadow & Light

 

PHOTO E NEWSLETTERS

• Red Dog News (very cluttered design but lots of info)

 

©Douglas Beasley 2014

 

Art, Writing & the Creative Process

ART, WRITING & THE CREATIVE PROCESS:
RECOMMENDED MEDIA LIST


HIGHLY RECOMMENDED BOOKS
:

• Art and Fear, by Bayles and Orland, The Image Continuum

• Steal Like An Artist, Austin Kleon, Workman Publishing

• The War of Art: Break Through Blocks and Win Inner Creative Battles, Stephen Pressfield

 

RECOMMENDED BOOKS ON CREATIVITY:

• 101 Things To Learn in Art School, Kit White, MIT Press

• Catching the Big Fish, by filmmaker David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks…)

• The Creative Habit, by dance choreographer Twila Tharpe

• Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers, Leonard Koren, Stone Bridge

• Zen In the Art of Making A Living, Daido John Loori

• Marry Your Muse, Jan Phillips

• The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron

• The Artist’s Tao, Sean Starr

• Zen Brush, Tao Words, Gene Lavon Porter, MA

• The Widening Stream: Seven Stages of Creativity, David Ulrich

• Just Kids, Patti Smith

 

RECOMMENDED BOOKS ON PHOTOGRAPHY:

• The Photographer’s Eye John Szarkowski

• The Mind’s Eye Henri Cartier-Bresson

• Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs Ansel Adams

• Towards a Philosophy of Photography, Vilem Flusser

• Why People Photograph, Robert Adams

• On Beauty in Photography, Robert Adams

• On Photography, Susan Sontag

• Letting Go of the Camera, Brooks Jensen, LensWork Publishing

• Ping Pong Conversations, Alec Soth with Francesco Zanot, Contasto

 

RECOMMENDED BOOKS ON WRITING:

• If You Want To Write, by Brenda Ueland

• Writing Down the Bones, by Zen practitioner Natalie Goldberg

 

RECOMMENDED PERIODICALS

• The Sun (literary magazine)

• Orion (progressive nature magazine)

 

©Douglas Beasley 2014