13 Years of Thankfulness

13 Years of Thankfulness

It was a truly beautiful morning. A fresh and uncommon snowfall blanketed the city of Vancouver making this day special and memorable. Indeed, for someone who loves snow, this rare occurrence was just another sign of the transformation that was about to take place. 

After years of struggle to stay alive, a kidney transplant was the final juncture which would close this chapter and start anew. This ultimate gift of life, which I never expected to receive, let alone felt worthy of receiving, came from a stranger, a fellow human being and hero. No, not a hero as in the movies. I am talking about a real hero in real life!

Every year for the last 13 years I have struggled to find the right words to express my gratitude and awe. I am well aware that there are no good choices here. There is no way to say an adequate thank you to someone who saved your life without a word, demand or even public notability. It is beyond human comprehension to explain such an act, so I stopped. I no longer seek an explanation. 

There is only one way to be thankful and it is by being. Just being who I am and who I have always wanted to be. To take this second birth and turn it into a new life—one without excuses or regrets. But one with honesty, openness and human connection. One with laughs and tears. One with hard but meaningful work and calm but deepening rest. No, it is not going to be perfect or noble. After all, I am only human. 

This humanity, paired with a new chance to be, to act, to pursue, to love is a gift on its own. Today as I kiss my wife, hug my son and raise my camera to my eye, I pursue just that. Nothing more. Nothing less. It is without equal and the most honest thank you I can offer.  

Literature and Photography: What a powerful combination!

Literature and Photography: What a powerful combination!

I have always loved reading books. When I was a teenager, I would spend the entire summer in my room reading. It reached a point when my parents hid my books and told me to go outside and play. Yes, it was that bad!  

This passion for reading has become a passion for writing and over time I realized they both are strongly connected to the craft of photography. 

When you read a good book, you are exposed to a certain rhythm of words and ideas. Not only does the order of words develop your sense of flow and composition but most importantly it prompts your imagination to create visuals out of this order. In other words, beautifully arranged words and sentences trigger your imagination to feel, imagine and craft imagery. Just wow! 

In time I found I had a strong connection to the world of photography. After spending years documenting what is in front of me, I became fascinated by the world that we usually don’t see. It is real and present but we just don’t have time, interest or the ability to see it and reveal it in the form of a photograph or a visual poem. The objective of my photographic discoveries has become to uncover this new, intimate world of visuals that is uniquely mine. 

I cannot overemphasize the powerful role of word and imagination in this process. When I walk along the street or travel the less-travelled road I combine my imagination with the visual elements in front of me. Then using different composing techniques, I combine elements to create my own world, or visual sentences if you will. I am using the same processes as in writing. Instead of arranging words, I arrange visual elements to form an image or a visual sentence. Now I understand that years of reading books and visualizing them in my head provides me with a bridge to connect both. I am reaching out to my visual vocabulary that was born out of reading, something I am very grateful for. 

I recently asked my friends on FB, “If you could shoot imagery to portray one book in the history of literature which one would it be and why?” The response was overwhelming and thought-provoking. You, my friends, provided me and others with so much visual inspiration and many ideas. Another WOW to my friends. Well deserved, indeed. 

Let me list some ideas here:

Jose Betancourt chose a true classic, Lord of the Flies by William Golding.  
Jose writes, “As brutal as the story is, I would have loved to portray the changes each kid went through during their time on the island. I could capture their living conditions, interactions with each other, and turbulent times.”

Chris Foley picked The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. Chris supports his choice with “It’s a brilliant social allegory that jumps between Cold War Russia and biblical flashbacks set around the time of Christ’s trial. It features Satan who manifests as a professor and his sidekick who takes the shape of a giant bipedal cat. I would shoot it Vanity Fair style with the cast in costume, likely in several separate panels and then assembled into a composite.” 

Tara Elizabeth picked D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths. “The illustrations are so magnificent I would love to re-create them with models.”

Russel G. Adcox picked A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins. He writes, “It is one of my all-time favourite books and to illustrate it in photographic form would simply be one amazing environmental portrait after another, along with documentary shots that capture the incredible range of emotion written into the story.”

Mike Vincent went with The Agony and The Ecstasy by Irving Stone. “Italy, Rome, Florence, Tuscany, portraits, Michelangelo at work on marble, Sunday Mass in the Chapel while he painted, what a glorious commission.”

Raj Sarkar chose Journey to the Center of the Earth, an 1864 science fiction novel by Jules Verne. This would be an amazing challenge and knowing Raj, a fascinating one. 

Darrell Greer proposed The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. What a fantastic choice! Brutal but so human and timely. Definitely one of my favourites.   

Elena Galani chose Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry “because it was amazing. Or Woodpecker by Tom Robbins just for the surrealism. Or…I can go on forever.” I couldn’t agree more. Great choice, Elena. 

Steven Whittaker Roddy Doyle: A Star Called Henry. “My family were Irish and lived through Cork and Dublin and the country in those dark, dull days…a gritty street photographer’s dream though.”

David Edwards goes with A biography of the life of Margeretha Geertruida Zelle aka Mata Hari, the most famous WW1 spy…you could have awesome fun with it, no question! 

Of course, there were so many other ideas which I cannot list here. Do you get my point? We often focus so much on what’s in front of us that we forget what’s inside us: our memories, imagination and visual wit. No, you don’t need to use Photoshop or any fancy techniques. Just take what’s in front of you and imagine. Take all those pieces, words, memories and feelings and arrange them in a beautiful whole. Show me the world I cannot see and I will show you my world. How about that? Let’s inject some magic into the world of photography.

What do you say, my friends?

During 2020 Visual Poet Experience Workshops we will be exploring these ideas in more details including crafting great imagery based on visuals derived from our memories, imagination and literature. If you would like find out more please check our 2020 schedule and please make sure to book your spot early here.

2019 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

Photography Radio – an exciting new sound

Photography Radio – an exciting new sound

I have to admit I‘ve never done this before. Do I have a great voice for podcasting? Of course not. A few months back I found the following comment on one of my YouTube videos: “Olaf, you have such a mafia voice.” Well, if the podcast doesn’t work, I can always take up a new “career.” 

Seriously, that is exactly the reason I decided to do podcasting. The fact that I don’t feel comfortable talking to a microphone, the challenge of my voice, the inability to take my time as in writing—this all makes it appealing and exciting. 

The most exciting problem is my Eastern European accent which I’ve learnt to embrace (Thank you, Sally!). All these things pushed me to face reality and try this new way of sharing and communicating with you—my photographic friends. 

I am grateful that Tomasz invited me along with two other amazing photographers. The company, friendship and professionalism of Karen Hutton, Take Kayo and Tomasz Trzebiatowski makes my strange attack of shyness go away. And a glass in my hand helps as well.  

So to make a long story short, please head to PhotographyRadio.com and subscribe to the podcast. Photography Radio is available on all podcast platforms!

And don’t forget to drop me a line. I may actually talk about topics and ideas you care about. This time I need your help. Let’s do it together. 

As usual I will leave you with some imagery from Amsterdam. Enjoy! 

2019 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

The “rest” of the image

The “rest” of the image

The process of crafting great imagery is something I have been studying for years. One of the undertakings in this rivetting pursuit was to study hundreds of great images from many photographers, well known and less well known, from different backgrounds and with unique seeing profiles across most genres of photography. Today I would like to share with you some of those findings.

When observing the world around us we usually want to find one special, grand, dazzling subject. In other words, we look for the central point around which the image will be built. We dream, fantasize and long for great subjects. To fill the void of interesting subjects we often buy expensive trips to the most scenic places in the world, travel to historic sites, research Google maps for the best views, hire models, look for unique characters – anything that would give us a visual advantage. That’s not a bad thing at all. 

But this is the issue. In this relentless pursuit of a great image, we are sometimes so preoccupied with the subject that we forget about “the rest.” Your subject is important, but it is still only part of your image. In fact, in most photographs the subject only occupies a tiny portion of the image. What about “the rest?”

The “rest” is something we call negative space or white space. Why am I talking about this? Because after studying hundreds great images, I came to the conclusion that it is just where a good image turns into great image. 

Let me explain. We are living in a very open, loud and colourful world. Nowadays, all you need to do is walk the streets of big cities and you will find plenty of interesting subjects. You can also hop on a plane and be in an exotic location within hours or days. Great subjects are everywhere, and we all have access to them. 

If that’s the case, we should have a superfluity of great images but somehow it’s not happening. Why? Because when we encounter great subject, we are so excited and preoccupied with it that we forget about crafting THE ENTIRE image. We forget that finding a great subject is just a part of this craft. Not only must we place the subject within the frame but we must also craft the frame (or negative space) ourselves. 

I really like the phrase “white space.” It reminds me of how painters create their masterpieces. They start with white canvas and then carefully add elements inside the frame. They might start with the subject and go from there, or they might put in all the elements and leave an appropriate space for the subject. We cannot do this in photography, of course, but what we can do is arrange the frame using a few methods which I am going to talk about in future posts. 

Going back to the initial thought, of course the subject is important but once you identify your subject, make sure to shift your attention to everything else. The more work you put into arranging the white space, the more powerful your photograph will become. I often remind myself, okay Olaf, now you have the subject, make sure to pay it adequate respect. Organize the space around the subject so it not only complements it but also invites the viewer to go on a visual journey of exploration and awe. 

Next time…

2019 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

Photographic Age of Distractions

Photographic Age of Distractions

You wake up in the morning and run up to the computer, excited and eager to share with the world your newfound passion for photography. There is so much to explore and learn. You already know it is all about seeing, light, composition, photographic projects. It is about finding your own visual voice. You have a great plan to reach your goals. Now you just have to do it!  

Somehow, every morning as you open up the internet pages, you always find…something else. 

It often starts with gear! Which camera to buy? How about this new lens? It is not that you don’t have any lenses. You already own two or three but the thought “if I want to be a real professional I need to have more” comes back and hits you in the head like a boomerang. Which are the sharpest? 

Then you move on from gear to software. Lightroom or Capture One? Or maybe something else, more iPad friendly? You research and obsess for weeks.

It is time to plan some photographic projects. Maybe you will start working on one next week. But wait!? Today you saw those amazing pre-sets at 50% off—if you could only get them your images would look truly stunning. 

How about shooting on the street? Maybe around your neighbourhood? Today that’s exactly what you are going to do. What if you want to take some cool portraits—you just saw this post about photographing neighbours—amazing imagery! But there’s a problem. The photographer who published these images used those great lights. Why bother if you don’t have any lighting gear? Let’s watch another YouTube video. That’ll do it. You’ll feel better—after all you have done something today. 

iPhone 11 Pro? The entire internet is talking about it now. You even read that one photographer is shooting everything with it and he landed a cover. Wow! Maybe you should be an iPhone photographer?

All those political posts—should you engage—make you outraged and you feel you must act today. Photography can wait! 

Cameras, lenses, adapters, printing, colour space, sharpening, filters, pre-sets, destinations, website, blog, politics… 

The years go by and you are still in the same spot. What happened to photography? You still cannot see. You haven’t taken any great images. How time flies! 

I have no doubt that all the distractions we face every day as photographers keep us away from what’s most important—seeing and crafting great imagery. It’s remarkable how much time we waste every day occupying our minds with information which is not only wasteful but probably incorrect. 

Our passion of seeing and crafting imagery has been turned into binge-watching YouTube videos, mostly about guys talking about cameras, often without presenting an image! Before I sat down and wrote this article I clicked on one video which started with “Today we are heading downtown to shoot some street photography” in the scope of ten minutes. That’s how long this video lasted. There was footage of two guys travelling by car, parking their car, having coffee, high-fiving each other on five occasions, holding their cameras to their eyes and…not even one image or a word about an image. The video had 60,000 views! Go figure! 

Then, there is the never-ending search for a better camera, better lens, better pre-set, better sharpening formula. We are swimming in this pit of never-ending photographic temptations and sugar-high shows. 

We are being lured away from photography every day, from opening the internet pages in the morning to the last click before we put away our cellphones. 

I’m writing about this subject because I went through a similar time-wasting period many years ago. I wasted at least two years of my photographic life drifting in this mediocre fantasy world. So, my photographic friends, if I could share one piece of advice which will totally transform your photographic life it is this: FOCUS ON WHAT MATTERS!

First, set yourself photographic goals. Start working on a long-term photographic project. Now! 

Second, read and watch only high-quality and well-curated content. Buy a high-quality video course from a photographer you want to learn from. Buy their book! Subscribe to professionally edited photographic publications—there is a reason why it is costly to produce great content. Stop this “I can get everything for free” mentality. Think about all those hours you wasted surfing the internet in search of photographic content and ask yourself honestly what’s the percentage you read or saw today that was really helpful?

Third, produce and contribute high-quality content yourself. Even if you are just starting in photography, share your experience with others, write an article about it. Make sure your thoughts are clear, the flow of language top notch and grammar updated and mistake-free. Ask your English-major friend or a professional editor to take a look at your text and imagery. 

Fourth, don’t ask questions out of laziness or for the sake of asking another question. Please don’t ask the internet to tell you which lens is the best. You will get so many different answers that it won’t solve anything. Ask professionals or those who test lenses for a living. Yes, it may cost you some money, but it will save you tons of time and the cost of buying an inferior lens.  

Fifth, stop wasting your time arguing with strangers about the current state of politics. Do you really think your posts have changed even one person’s mind or converted anyone? Of course not.   

Sixth and most importantly, FOCUS on what’s important in photography. Maybe it is writing an article today. Or setting up a photoshoot with your friend. Or producing a new book. Or photographing your parents, which you’ve planned for years. Do it today! 

You won’t believe what you will achieve.

End of rant.

Here is my latest imagery from Vancouver. All taken with the GFX50R and the GF50mm 3.5 lens.   

next time…

2019 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.