The Palouse Photography Workshop – “Seeing” in a Visual Paradise

If there is one place in North America which every photographer should visit, regardless of the genre practiced, it’s the Palouse. In late May, early June, the hills and valleys in the Palouse put on an amazing display of greens and browns, sufficient to excite even the most demanding colour photographers. However, once you add the right lighting to the mix, you think you have landed on the set of the Alice in Wonderland movie.

This unique place with its extraordinary palette of colours, lines and forms provides a perfect dreamlike playground for creative, hands-on shooting and studying the craft of photography. Well-known parks such as Yosemite or Grand Teton National Park have their own mega-popular spots but the Palouse offers you the unknown. Every dirt road hides a visual gem. Fortunately, Kasia and I have travelled, mapped and photographed the Palouse extensively and we will guide you to our favourite, lesser-known locations which you won’t find in guidebooks.

No, you won’t be standing for hours at Steptoe Butte (the most popular location) with your camera on a tripod. You will be challenged to see creatively, simplify your frame and use your camera as a tool to create only the strongest imagery. You will be mentored to feel and see YOUR WAY.

We kept the numbers small because the purpose of the workshop is to photograph, learn, challenge each other’s “seeing” and most importantly have a great time in a small group.

Two spots have recently opened up.

For more details and to reserve your spot, please visit https://olafphoto.wpengine.com/palouse/  

Reserve your spot here: https://olafphoto.wpengine.com/palouse/

 

2017 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

Follow Up – Killing The Beast

I didn’t expect this. When writing the piece KILLING THE BEAST I promised myself I would write without the “Will my followers like it?” filter. And so that is exactly what I did. I presented my own journey through social media including beautiful, pretty, bad, ugly and everything in-between. There was no other way to get around it.

The response I received was overwhelming. Many of you shared your stories, experiences and ways of dealing with the issue of sharing, liking, keeping up with updates, trying to retain and protect your photographic identity and so on. I am deeply thankful for your effort to engage with this difficult topic. What is even more remarkable is that this discussion is taking place without profanities, trolling or a nasty attitude! Don’t’ worry about the disagreements – I embrace different perspectives.

Although my last piece laid out my personal experience of social media and built the framework for solutions, it didn’t answer the question: HOW TO DEAL WITH THE ISSUE OF SOCIAL MEDIA AS A PHOTOGRAPHER. Of course, I spent a lot of time thinking about it, reading your thoughts and creating my own approach – something that fits my personal and photographic life and works for me in the long term.

First, I must address the reaction I received from some people: “You don’t like social media so why you are sharing this piece here?” Wait! I never said I don’t like social media. Not only do I enjoy using social media but I am aware that as a photographer I must engage there. The whole theme of my piece was killing the beast to stop social media from intruding into my creative process. It flattens the reception of other people’s work and makes your interactions patterned and mindless. This is the beast that I am convinced needs to be KILLED.

Then I referred to DUCKY as a form of presentation and interaction that should be occasional, honest and thoughtful for the benefit of my friends, colleagues and online participants as well as my personal growth. Think how much better our online interactions would be if we stopped using clichés, half-words and vapid pleasantries. I want to go though less content but see more. I want to LIKE less but, behind every LIKE I give, there should be the genuine attention and admiration YOUR work deserves.

Most importantly, I know I have to take a regular bubble bath with Ducky. I need lengthy breaks from social media to let my mind rest, wander and float without the chains of being tied up to words, opinions, visuals and relentless self-promotion (or the plug!). Until the water gets cold, I want to hold someone’s hand, have heated conversations without reaching for a phone, experience REAL smiles or anger … without the social media filter which is often used unconsciously.

I want to stay away from social media entirely every so often to make sure my photographic identity remains unscathed. I want to make sure my muse (I really don’t like using the cliché INSPIRATION) comes from the real, outside world – something I can feel, hear, touch and experience, rather than from the virtual world. Not slippery soap that gets lost under the water.

In this way I can share MY OWN SEEING. Don Craig, a great photographer, fascinating person and deep thinker from Victoria, whom I had the pleasure to meet in person, shared the following quote: “The more I like my work, the fewer others seem to.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. Of course, some may view it as not inspirational enough but photography is the craft of self-discovery and visual risk-taking. Therefore, everything we share should be based on our own seeing and experiences, even at the cost of popularity. Like great art, great photography may never be popular!  

For this reason, blogging remains my favourite way of interacting online. I notice that when I visit other photographers’ blogs I tend to read more and take in more. It is not a quick browse through an Instagram or Facebook feed but rather a conscious visit to someone’s online home. I have observed the same from people who visit my blog. It appears they really want to meet me and get to know my work. Their comments are more thoughtful and I appreciate that. Does it mean I will quit Instagram or Twitter? Of course not, but keep in mind that my visits may be less frequent. I may LIKE less but I assure you that once you notice LIKE from olafphoto, it’s real – it means I took the time to pause and experience your work. My LIKE means I. Really. Do. Like. Your. Work!

Please do the same for others. Let’s get REAL in the virtual world! KILL THE BEAST, not DUCKY!

  

There’s no question this topic is a serious one so to lighten the mood I’m posting some images I shot recently with the X100F. This time I went berserk with colour using Fujifilm Velvia for my street photography – something I haven’t done much before. Enjoy.

 

 

2017 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

Killing The Beast

WARNING: This post is lengthy – it requires a lot of your time and your absolute attention. Your social media engagement may suffer as a result. If you decide to read it anyway, please sit down in a comfortable chair, put away all other devices and turn off your TV. Brace yourself.

A few months ago, I jotted down my thoughts about a subject in photography that affects every photographer. It deals with the dark periods which transpire, causing a lack motivation, difficulty in seeing and self-doubt. My jottings also touched on the role of social media in such periods of fading conviction. Somehow, probably in a state of self-doubt, I put this article on the shelf and forgot about it.

However, this write-up somehow found a way to grab my attention once again. During the recording of the Fujilove podcast, Tomasz asked me a question: “How do you deal with moments of doubt and crisis?” Then I read Patrick Laroque’s eloquent “Flux and Fuel” post that, among others, touched on this very subject. Finally, I came across a brilliant and honest post by Jonas Rask, “The Conundrum of my Photographic Identity.” That’s all it took. Jeanie was out of the bottle.

The identity crisis, self-doubt, lack of motivation, disappointment, a need to transform – call it what you want – it’s always around.

There are two ways to approach this conundrum – the SWEET way or the REAL way. Some people approach social media with a perfumed, motivational talk sprinkled with cute quotes and an “I-love-everybody” message. This approach generally attracts an avalanche of “likes,” oohs and ahs, honeyed comments and several thousand “shares.” Indeed, two birds, one stone. We all feel better.

Then there is the REAL way to approach it – writing down exactly what you feel at that moment without the usual “What if somebody doesn’t like it and I will lose followers” social media filter. Not a bad starting point. This approach includes wallowing in your doubts, thoughts and feelings, including the dark and uncomfortable ones. Take off the mask, don’t hide, stop calculating! The second approach is rare but I believe it’s the only path that leads to rebirth as a photographer!

Interestingly, one of the best medicines prescribed by the canniest thinkers in photography is to seriously scale back or quit social media entirely! Entirely? Zack Arias did it in the past! Jonas Rask did it! Daniel Milnor did it! Many other great photographers did it! Why? Why do these great artists think that quitting or scaling back their interaction with social media is so vital in transforming their photographic lives?

  

Nowadays, being a photographer usually equates with having a presence on social media. There is no question that social media offers abundant opportunities to present your work, connect with fellow photographers and eventually reach a large audience. Even though my start in the social media world was quite delayed, once things started rolling I enjoyed most of the aspects of my virtual life.

That said, there is no question that along with all the perks that social media provide there is real danger lurking deep down. First it starts with LIKING. Whether it is a little heart on Instagram or Twitter or the blue thumbs-up on Facebook, we are all accustomed to LIKING. There is very little discrimination – my friend’s vacation photos – LIKE, my colleagues’ dinner shot – LIKE, my friends’ photo of a brand-new camera – LIKE … you quickly get into a rhythm.

From a social point of view, it’s fun and engaging. On the surface, this principle could apply to a friendly photographic circle. I am privileged to interact with many friends and colleagues, some of them great people, some gifted artists and photographers whose work I admire – and I LIKE the hell out of them.

As I soak in my bath with my rubber ducky, I think about it. Ducky agrees that my photographic LIKE escapades sometimes get out of hand. I like this photographer so here we go LIKE, I know this guy personally – here we go LIKE, it’s a photographer I spoke with last week – LIKE, then, an image from one of my workshop students – LIKE.

Then one evening after finishing my social media session, an annoying thought arose … did I even like this image? Why did I like this photo? Why did I press LIKE even if the image wasn’t good? The longer I thought about it the more troubled I became. Did I really do someone a favour by liking an image which I didn’t think was that good? Did I do a disservice to this person? Did I do a disservice to myself?

While we may not be aware, this carousel of LIKES often comes back to us like a boomerang. I well remember when I joined social media and started getting lots of likes. “Wow, lots of people like my work,” I thought. First, it was natural and genuine. It just felt good and it was simple. Then I started posting more and again I thought, “Wow, what a great response!” So long as I posted my usual “pretty” images, the machinery responded as usual. It was programmed to perfection.

In time, I noticed some cracks in the pattern. On occasion, I wanted to expand my seeing and challenge myself so I posted an image I thought put me on the right track. Sure, it was risky, different and not as easy to appreciate. These images required concentration and attention from a viewer – a commodity I later found out was in short supply on social media. To my initial surprise those images were not as popular as my other pretty work. It triggered unintentional and uncontrolled reactions. I thought, “What is wrong with my photography?” The beast had spoken loud and clear: “Don’t do it, Olaf. Stay on course. Don’t you want to be popular?”

Then I started to see the pattern, almost like a formula. There were certain images that social media demanded. Some of my “friends” even suggested I should post at certain times of the day to benefit the most. It was all about the numbers. Then, some photographers I know started to post: “I reached …… number of followers – how about you? What are your engagement numbers?” Every post and online engagement was accompanied by “please follow me.” I wanted to follow in the footsteps of the masters – those with the largest followings, those who know how to make noise. If I only do more self-help postings and get my fishing net bigger, wider, noisier … after all, there are so many people looking for a direction. Remember, Olaf, don’t confuse them with fancy composition or visual risk-taking – high doses of gear and Photoshop talk should do the trick. Forget writing about seeing or originality – just do another camera review. The beast was in full control.

In time, a day without being plugged into social media felt like a wasteland, a missed opportunity. Stepping off the treadmill was a disaster, as if you were out of the game. Your long-term work didn’t matter anymore. Your risk-taking, your new seeing didn’t matter. You knew you had to feed the beast. Unfortunately, no matter how much time and energy you spent doing it, it was never enough.

Recently I met with some young photographers. A few minutes into our conversation, I noticed they were constantly reaching for a phone to check their Facebook page and Instagram feed. Most people appeared to be distracted, unable to focus on a discussion as if they genuinely couldn’t focus. We looked at a few images and the only words they could muster about these photographs were “wow,” “amazing,” “great work” – as if they were going through an Instagram feed using generic responses. There was no pausing, no genuine interest in the imagery, not even enough attention to view them. It went straight into their brains as a deeply imbedded INSTAGRAM vocabulary.

    

If the mania of LIKES was not enough, there is this constant carousel of generic “I feel so happy for you, my friend,” “I had such a great day” and “If you really want it you can do it” nonsense accompanied by dozens of LIKES as if everybody was onboard. This Disneyland of friendships with people I have never met, a non-stop diet of pleasantry and a need to belong quickly gets into your head. You start living in a virtual world where everything is possible. New camera – of course you want to buy it, exotic travel destinations – of course they’re on your list, you were interviewed, you booked new client, had an amazing photo shoot – of course you want to blow your own horn – load and clear. Your daily reality or struggles can wait. The fact that you cannot afford the latest – hey, don’t embarrass yourself.

     

Of course, sometimes a REAL discussion and REAL photographic issues bubble to the surface. In real life, the most productive and substantive discussions I ever had were with people who DIDN’T agree with me or even DIDN’T LIKE some of my work. We could sit down and provide honest, genuine and material feedback. There is no such thing on social media but don’t believe me – just try to raise some controversial subject or provide genuine but not positive feedback. You will be immediately labelled as someone who wants to take down other people’s work, who has hidden intentions or is not in line to collaborate with one hundred other photographers as if some people had a nine-day week. You will quickly become persona non-grata in some social media circles. Not only will your social media standing suffer but as a marketing entity for camera manufacturers you will receive a major blow. Without the usual “I love everybody and everything” and “I want to inspire everybody” you’ll quickly find yourself out of the game.

So why, despite the apparent risks, do some photographers decide to reduce or cut their social engagement, putting all the social media gains on the line? Why would they risk getting out of the game?

To survive, you need to put away all the clutter and noise of social media, quieten your mind and become your genuine self. You must regain your own emotional space no longer tied to shameless self-promotion (GUILTY!), YouTube videos (GUILTY!), indiscriminate friending of people you have never met (GUILTY!), liking images you didn’t even have time to properly engage with (GUILTY!), re-posting political articles you don’t always agree with (GUILTY!) … the list go on.

Because, to save yourself and rebuild your own photographic identity and free your seeing from formulas and patterns, you need to kill the BEAST! Not Ducky.

 

All images taken with the X100F and X-Pro2.

 

 

2017 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

Simplicity-In-Seeing: The concept of stage

It is hard to believe but it has almost been two months since we started our Simplicity-In-Seeing platform, which mostly focuses on the craft of seeing. Your response has been phenomenal and it is great to know that so many of you are interested in the process of creating great imagery.

For those who missed our announcement, Simplicity-In-Seeing is a subscription based platform focused on a personal approach to photography, creativity, visual risk-taking, composition and what we call “Mechanics of Seeing.” We have also started publishing exclusive guides to the most magnificent but less-travelled photography locations in North America.

Today I would like to share with you an excerpt from an article published on Simplicity-In-Seeing and dealing with the concept of stage.

Fujifilm X-Pro2, XF 35mm F1.4 

When talking to photographers one question often comes up: “How can I identify a scene worth exploring visually?” It is especially true for street and travel photography as the abundance of elements witch often change quickly, making it difficult to focus on one particular scene.

One of the methods I use quite often is the concept of a stage. The starting point is to think of an image as theatre. You have a stage with many different elements on it. For example, it could be a play that takes place in a living room. Then you would probably have a table, some chairs, furniture – some elements that do not move. Then, you would have actors who usually move around.  

This concept applies directly to shooting on the street.

Instead of trying to find your seeing in the ever-changing chaos of the city, try to find a stage. Please keep in mind that at this point you shouldn’t worry about people or any moving elements (cars, animals, etc). Your objective should be to find a place to serve as a stage for your subject. Let me give you an example.

A few months ago I was taking photos in downtown Vancouver and for some reason I just couldn’t find any visually appealing subjects. However, I noticed a red wall beautifully lit by late-afternoon light. In addition, the light was hitting the branches of a nearby tree, projecting a strong pattern on the wall and adding drama to the scene. I immediately framed the wall making sure a distinctive door on the left would be positioned roughly in 1/3 of my frame (the rule of thirds – but don’t follow it religiously). In the middle was a bench with a man reading a newspaper. Initially I didn’t include the black space on the left in my frame, allowing the red wall to occupy the entire frame; however, the image looked too heavy and lacked breathing space. Then I repositioned my framing, adding part of the alley on the left. Not only did it give the photo extra breathing room but it also added a sense of mystery. But there was one problem. The whole scene appeared too static. It lacked an element that would balance the sitting man and the black shadow on the right. Then I noticed that a man was walking along and about to enter the “stage.” I immediately knew that the green doorframe would provide a perfect space to accommodate this man. Placing him on the left would project movement and direction (he is walking from left to right). His distinctive slow-motion walk was just a bonus. Also please notice that the black space on the left from which the man appeared makes the whole scene more theatrical.

I immediately knew I had captured a very strong image here. Please note that I started working with a stage. Only then did I begin thinking about elements that would be “placed” on this stage. In this way I felt comfortable taking the time to make sure my composition was right.

 

Next time…

We have a lot of new content shot with the X100F including a major update on our project “Mechanics of Seeing.” Also, truly yours was a guest on the Fujilove Podcast. Tomasz and I had a really fascinating and honest discussion about photography. Look for it on www.fujilove.com – and don’t forget to subscribe to Fujilove magazine!

 

2017 © Oli Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

 

The Project “Augmented Eye” – Seeing Beyond the Present

The idea for our project “Augmented Eye” transpired when I was shooting on the streets of Vancouver last year. I chose a spot at one of the busiest intersections in the city, a place where I have taken photographs on many occasions. The city life around me was buzzing and visuals were passing by faster than I could process them.

Then something strange happened. As I observed the chaos around me, my brain started to ignore previous patterns and began wandering around as if my visual radar was being reprogrammed to look for new signals. As I sensed this subtle change I made a deliberate effort to scrutinize the area with new eyes to accelerate this happening.

This effort led me to new visuals I haven’t been able to uncover before. I was suddenly operating in a real-world environment enhanced by a new perception of reality. It was as if some elements had always existed but were functioning independently and merging into one vision.

Later I started to ponder this phenomenon and one word that came to my mind was augmented. The term “Augmented Reality” implies a direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented or supplemented by a computer. The purpose of such projections is to enhance one’s perception of reality.

It turned out that prolonged observations of one place caused my brain to skip its usual routine and start searching for an additional element as if it wanted to enhance my reality. Over the course of a year, I explored this idea in the project “Augmented Eye.”

Today I would like to share with you some images that I shot over the last year for this project. You may have seen some of them before on this blog but I think it is important to put them together within a theme. Please note that there is no Photoshop manipulation here, just pure visuals built layer upon layer (nothing to do with PS layers!) from intense observation. They were all taken with the X-series cameras and lenses.

 

We will be discussing and practicing this phenomenon, among many other things, in the “Streets of Vancouver Photography Workshop” this summer. Those of you who would like to learn more and explore new ways of seeing please join me on the July 28-31 weekend of our Vancouver workshop. Only two spots left. Reserve your spot here.

 

 

2017 © Olafphoto. All rights reserved.

nothing to look at here

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osztaba_molson_20170225__dsf6110

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osztaba_palouse_20160524__dsf4073

osztaba_cannon_beach_20160831__dsf8254

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All images taken with the X-series cameras and lenses. 

 

2017 © Olafphoto. All rights reserved.

 

Ode on Medium Format

What is this fuss all about?

I am a pro … well, almost! I have a website or two, I’ve posted a few photos of benches and branches, I’ve annoyed some people in chatrooms and I have a very, very big zoom lens. This makes me a pro, doesn’t it? But there is one problem.  

I have always wanted this full-frame stuff. My Canikon friends make fun of me whenever they see me running around with my APS-C size sensor. I am not really sure what this loaded name means but it’s apparently not as good as full frame. Now I understand how Donald Trump felt when the “fake media” made fun of his small hands. Bigly!

I also know why my photography has been so crappy. Sure I have two backpacks full of gear … well OK I will be honest … I am still missing this must-have XF 100-400 zoom lens. If I only had this lens I would have no problem shooting a five-million-dollar, Andreas Gursky-style snap of a river (I even have a river on my doorstep) and I would go after all the Zacks and LaRoques of this world. I could even chase Jarvis to stardom.

And then when my piggy bank was almost full after years of saving all the pocket money I got from my parents, they came up with this luxe toy! What the hell is medium format? Why is this so Vancouver-like expensive? I haven’t even had a chance to google this and yet some of my rich Vancouver friends have already posted their selfies with this stuff. They even say that it has better “pop” than full frame. I cannot believe how stupid these kids are – even the name is a warning. Why I would pay so much money for something in the middle if I can go full frame? These Fuji guys are indeed a brilliant bunch. Instead of going after already-caught-with-their-pants-down Sony people, they came up with this medium stuff, which is not even full (frame), wrapped it up in white boxes to get Apple crazies excited and … it worked! Go figure! Is this the Goldilocks syndrome at work?

I admit, the sample images are jaw-dropping! I may even be willing to test this medium thing to prove how insane the world has become. However, I doubt they would trick me as they did those rich Vancouver kids. OK, OK, I admit it. I am intrigued and as nervous as a cat. What if I like this medium thing? Then I would need such a huge piggy bank it would not fit in my Vancouver, cannot-afford-it-anyway, 400 sq. ft. basement apartment.

@fujiguys, what have you done!?

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For gear enthusiasts, yours truly is holding the one and only vintage 1967 Picture Story Fisher Price camera.

 

2017 © Oli Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.