The Photographic idea

This past week I got into a discussion with two local photographers about photography as Art. Their opinion was that photography has become mostly a point-and-shoot process that is really all about documenting one’s personal life.

I think defining Art has always been “in the eye of the beholder”.  

I remember a friend chastising me when I was too critical of a photographer’s image, by saying that all to familiar phrase, “I may not know about Art, but I do know what I like.” 

Ansel Adams, in the forward to his popular 1950’s book “The Print” said, “Photography, in the final analysis, can be reduced to a few simple principles…” and he continued, “Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art…technique is justified only so far as it will simplify and clarify the statement of the photographer’s concept.”

I remember the series of books by Adams when photography was about striving for the perfect negative and a good final print.

We don’t need to worry about a perfect negative any more, because even if the image file produced in-camera isn’t satisfactory it’s easily colour balanced, cropped, and sharpened later. Contrast can be changed and increasingly, the trend for many photographers has become to not make large prints at all. 

That said, I still think that Adams’ forward in “The Print” may be as worthwhile now as it was in 1950 for a photographer’s Art. Even with the changes of how an image is managed and finally used (whether print or electronic) the thought process is still important. Adams wrote about the technique of taking the picture, the negative, and the printing procedure. He might as well have been talking about transferring image data from a camera to computer, optimizing the files, and outputting to an online portfolio.

Adams wrote, “We may draw an analogy with music: The composer entertains a musical idea. He sets it down in conventional musical notation. When he performs it, he may, although respecting the score, inject personal expressive interpretations on the basic patterns of the notes. So it is in expressive photography: The concept of the photograph precedes the operation of the camera. Exposure and development of the negative…” He continues by saying, “the print itself is somewhat of an interpretation, a performance of the photographic idea.”

I have always liked that final sentence of his “…the print (image file?) itself is somewhat of an interpretation, a performance of the photographic idea.”   Those words remind me not to be as critical of other photographers work, if as Adams put it, “Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas.”

I think what my friend meant when he said, ““I may not know Art, but I do know what I like.”   Was that I should be paying attention to what a photographer might be saying with his or her image and remind myself to think about “interpretation” and the “performance of the photographic idea.”

That is why its good that I still have that somewhat out-dated book, and why I should regularly open it up. After all the prattle about the newest camera, or lens, or computer programs, I need to be brought back to what, in the end, photography is about for me personally.

Photographing people and their dogs.  

This August has been one of those months that most people I talk to are looking forward ending. This quote from “The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd, easily sums up my feelings, “The month of August had turned into a griddle where the days just lay there and sizzled.”  The dry lifeless heat and the all-consuming smoke from all the wildfires here in British Columbia have left me with little interest in wandering outside with my camera. That said I hope I won’t be to boorish by again returning to my mid July’s trip to Washington with it’s cool mornings and gosh, (no smoke) fresh morning air.

Dogs have become, actually I think they always have been, part of the family. And on my trip to the city of Anacortes there were dogs everywhere.

There were there dogs taking their owners on stop and go walks along the streets and alleys, There were dogs patiently waiting outside of grocery stores, restaurants, bars and shops along the main street, there were dogs lounging in the shade after a strenuous day of helping their people look for treasures at the giant flee market, and when I got up to leave for home in the morning I saw dogs excitedly stepping out of their motel lodgings and wait anxiously for vehicles to be packed.

Photographing dogs is always fun. Well, that’s my opinion.

Walk up to some stranger and ask if you can photograph them and all to often they will either say no or silently and quickly turn and walk away. But ask that same person if you can photograph their dog and you’ll usually be met with a smile and “sure”. People are proud of their dogs.

The accomplished street photographer and blogger, Han Dekker always includes at least one photo he calls “street dogs” in his posts each week. And it’s his photos that got me thinking I should spend some time photographing people with their dogs as I walked the streets of that small coastal town.

I like dogs, so photographing them and complementing them and their owners is always a pleasure. I did do street candids of some people and their dogs. However, mostly I would walk up and say, “I gotta take a picture of you and your dog.”

One will find lots of artistic dog photographers on social media. I would call some of them portraitists when I look at their creative depth of field and soft focused images. Others are more candid with their distant captures, and some are surely making social statements. However, my approach is as always, to just have fun as I move from subject to subject.





Variety makes photography interesting.               


Washington Park’s Leaning Tree


NIght refinery

Pacific Madrone tree

Cormorants and a seagull


Deception Pass kayaks

Dave and Cynthia at sunset


I have never been one of those photographers that proudly declares myself limited to one kind of subject. My visual interests depend a lot on what is happening when I have a camera in my hand, and when on vacation I never restrict myself to one subject. My past two articles were about my photographic experiences on a three-day weekend in Anacortes Washington with my friends Dave and Cynthia Monsees.

If I didn’t have a camera my goal would simply have been to attend the annual Shipwreck Festival, but I do have a camera and photography is always a major part of any vacation for me. When I plan my getaways I look for a variety in the subjects I will photograph. This trip was easy, I began by photographing the festival committee volunteers the first afternoon, then spent most of the second day photographing the festival, and on the third day we photographed the scenic coast from dawn to dusk.

The Rotary volunteers were waiting to meet me and were all looking forward to being photographed. The Festival photography was, well it was a street festival filled with excellent subjects. And finally, photographing a coastal landscape is pretty easy when one is on an island.

I am not sure if Dave and Cynthia were aware that I’d be constantly dragging them from location to location for three days, but there were so many places that after my three years away that I wanted to return to, and I was determined they should see and photograph as much of Washington state’s Fidalgo island as possible.

Someone, a long time ago said, “variety is the spice of life”. I have always liked that old saying that reminds me to try different things, and change my approach, especially in photography. Varity when it came to the subjects I photograph has kept my life with a camera interesting.

My dictionary defines Perspective as; outlook, point of view, attitude, frame of mind and reference, approach and interpretation. Unlike many other creative mediums photography not only allows, but encourages one to change their perspective and interpretation of reality. That change might be as simple as removing the 28mm lens and replacing it with a 105mm. (or changing the focal length on that zoom lens from 28mm to 105mm)

Anyone watching the three of us standing on a rocky beach as we waited for the right light to photograph the famous Washington park leaning tree might notice that although we were all photographing the same subject, our approach, perspective and interpretation was very different. Not only where our tripods were positioned, but also with our selection of lenses. And adding the word “variety” that evening, well that’s easy, as soon as the tide came in and it got too dark for the tree, we drove to the other side of town to photograph Tesoro Refinery’s bright lights shimmering on the dark ocean waters across the bay.

As I wrote in the beginning, “my visual interests depend a lot on what is happening when I have a camera in my hand, and when on vacation I never limit myself to one subject.”