The Key Question

The Key Question

On my travels I usually carry two key lenses, or in other words two focal lengths: GF 45mm (35mm in ff terms) and GF 110 (85mm in ff terms). By carrying just two lenses, not only do I eliminate the tyranny of “perceived choice” but most importantly I focus on two different perspectives. 

In other words, when assessing a scene, I consider wider framing (GF 45mm or similar) or tighter framing (GF 110 or similar). Even when reduced to just two focal lengths, it is always a monumental task. This, on top of the already demanding evaluation of the environment.  

On the recent trip photographing rural Alberta and Saskatchewan (two Canadian provinces) I noticed I was more prone to using my GF 110 (tight framing) than usual. It doesn’t necessarily mean the scenes I encountered warranted such choices, but I found that such focused seeing allowed me to produce more compelling imagery. 

Here is the key question: When arriving at a scene which interests you, do you keep switching lenses or do you photograph the scene with one focal length (let’s say a wider perspective) and then re-examine the scene with the other (tight framing). Have you ever thought about how you examine the scene and make compositional choices? Do you switch lenses frequently? Do you exhaust all visual opportunities before you switch? How is your seeing tuned to the lenses you have?  

Next time…

2020 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved. 

Visual Poet Experience Workshop goes online

Visual Poet Experience Workshop goes online

One of the greatest joys in my photographic career has been preparing, travelling and teaching the Visual Poet Experience Workshops around the world. I have met hundreds of students over the years, studying and shooting great imagery together. We have become great friends and many of my students now have successful photographic careers, something which makes me really proud. 

There is no question that our reality has recently changed quite dramatically and due to the inability to travel and meet, I cannot run the Visual Poet Experience Workshops, at least in the near future. I am as disappointed as many of my prospective students. However, I decided to do something about it. 

I would now like to announce that I am thrilled to take the Visual Poet Experience Workshop online. I have spent the last few weeks retuning the entire Simplicity-In-Seeing program. This is not going to be some sort of trimmed program or simply an online presentation. This is going to be a six-week, full-fledged Simplicity-In-Seeing program with interactive teaching, in-depth interaction, photographic assignments, revaluations and critique. We will be meeting every weekend (Saturday/Sunday) in a virtual classroom with the full ability to interact, ask questions and go deep into the craft of seeing. We will be spending about 20-22 hours together. We will also have photographic assignments which can be done from the comfort of your home. On top of this, each student will have a private, one-hour session with me. 

THE PROGRAM WILL BE BASED ON FOUR PILLARS:

  • SEEING THE IMAGE
  • CRAFTING THE IMAGE
  • EXECUTING THE IMAGE
  • POST-PROCESSING THE IMAGE, and
  • EVALUATING AND PRESENTING THE IMAGE 

That’s not everything. I’ve decided to include some additional material from my upcoming, brand new course “BECOMING A PHOTOGRAPHER” so I may share some insights about building a photographic business, presenting your work, writing and interacting with online publications. 

The Visual Poet Experience – ONLINE EDITION will start at the end of April and complete in early June. The cost of the entire workshop is just US$495, 50% off the usual Visual Poet Experience Workshop. This is a one-time even, which is highly unlikely to repeat. So if you are interested in this online edition – this could be the only opportunity.   

IMPORTANT: There is no question that some of us are more impacted by the COVID-19 than the others. If you planned to take my workshop before but your situation has drastically changed as a result of the pandemic, please contact me and I may be able to help.

Registrations are now open at https://visualpoetexperience.com

Hope to craft great imagery with you soon! 

2020 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved. 

New Visual Project: “The Scraps”

New Visual Project: “The Scraps”

I am so grateful to those of you who have been accompanying me throughout my photographic journey. I know it is not an easy endeavour to stick with a photographer who started with landscape, only to shoot travel, street, creative street, then travel and now… I guess this is it. In addition, many of you enjoyed my trademark deep shadows and blacks but recently… I‘ve been shooting less and less of it. I guess part of the reason was that many photographers have embraced this aggressive style and they are doing it really, really well so it was time for me to move on. The other reason might be my relentless search for new seeing. 

That brings me to where I am today. Such visual shifts are in no way clearly marked on the fridge calendar. Rather, they sneak up on you without any warning. There is no question that this mutation in my seeing has been happening for a while. 

First, it showed up as I became weary of my usual subjects and the way I see them and frame them. Despite successful imagery, every image came with an internal warning “seen this – done that.” Over the course of the last few months this early warning system has been echoing more and more loudly in my head. 

Second, the urge for new visual discoveries, outside the boundaries of traditional street photography, was overwhelming my senses, pushing me away from my traditional visual settings.

Third, some recent outside influences, which don’t happen often, provided a much-needed reinforcement of my visual shift. Among others, the work of Ned Pratt propelled the change. 

Fourth, this new direction fits perfectly into my recent method of slow, deliberate and thoughtful shooting. 

Fifth, my urge to take my printing to another level sealed the deal. 

While you’re reading this you may wonder, “What the hell Olaf are you talking about?” I don’t blame you. This is the best I can write at the moment as not everything is as clear as I would like it to be, nor will it ever be. It is just happening, simple as that. I have to admit that my countless conversations with Tomasz of Fujilove are helping as we both opened up about our own seeing to the point that we can question each other’s photography without the usual social constraints. 

So, my photographic friend, thank you again for sticking around. It means a lot. I will continue sharing my journey with you here, as well as on my resurrected YouTube channel. If you haven’t subscribed yet, please make sure to do so.  

Here are some images from my latest project with the working title, “The Scraps,” all taken with the GFX50S and the GF45-100 F4 OIS lens. One note about the gear—I really enjoy this zoom lens. Look for my review of this lens in the Medium Format Magazine later this month. 

2020 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved. 

Unpacking the Visual Environment and Making It Your Own

Unpacking the Visual Environment and Making It Your Own

On our last trip to Montana, I was shooting inside an old Victorian hotel with creaking wooden floors and walls painted pastel earth colours. In one room, the old range sat rusting beside a window. The place was full of photographic opportunities; outside the windows old log cabins sat in the snow. In fact, it was easy to like everything we saw—after all, the light, colours, shapes, smells and even sounds were very different from what we experienced at home. 

In a strange environment we naturally want to take images to capture our delight in the new place. In other words, we want to register on film or digitally what we see. We want to fix the memory. The problem is that this urge to photograph the scene usually results in repetitive and derivative imagery. We act like tourists, snapping and moving on. We are making postcards.

Paradoxically, a new place can be a stumbling block to crafting a great image. In order to go beyond our initial reaction, we must become familiar with our surroundings. We need to look more carefully. For example, when going through a door we see the pine table in the middle of the room. It must have been a dining room. Most of us stop right there. We take a few photos and move on. But if we have already taken a few first-reaction shots and looked around, we settle the building into a context and move to a more observant, creative and personal stage of seeing. We start extracting pieces of the environment and putting them in our own visual frame. We look at the light, the textures, the view through the window. We capture the essence.         

When entering the old hotel, I was in awe of the visuals. Old wooden floors, colourful and beautifully textured walls provided a powerful background to the basic furniture and other simple items. I was excited and eager to shoot. At the same time, I was aware that my first seeing was no different from most people. I was just seeing the obvious visuals. I knew I had to move beyond that. 

There are no shortcuts from the initial stage to an intimate and personal seeing. After spending half an hour wandering around the hotel and taking a few initial photos, I had become familiar with all the elements. Now, I had to focus on my own vision. I stopped seeing the items as they were and began building the frame one element after another. I had to stand back and gain perspective.

This is how the images below were crafted. Believe me, they would never see the light of the day if I had just gone there and snapped a few images. It is only when you take time and get below the surface that you open up to new visual possibilities. It requires self-discipline but it’s well worth it. It was Martin Parr who said,

“Photography is the simplest thing in the world, but it is incredibly complicated to make it really work.”

I couldn’t agree more.

The imagery below was taken with Hasselblad X1DII and Fujifilm GFX50S with 24mm, 35mm and 85mm focal length lenses (in full frame terms).

Next time we will go outside.

ANNOUNCEMENTS

Due to a cancellation I have one spot available for the Visual Poet Experience Workshop in San Francisco this March. If you are interested, please give me a shout or register through www.visualpoetexperience.com

Also, for those of you who are committed to an intensive and highly personal learning experience or would like to take your photographic practice to the next level, I have one remaining release for OLAFPHOTO UNLIMITED. This is a very special package (only 5 per year), which gives you the opportunity to attend an unlimited number of my workshops at no extra charge plus one full day private workshop (location to be discussed) plus monthly private photographic consultations and much more. This is the best offer I have ever created for my most committed students! Yes, you read it correctly—with this package you can attend as many of my workshops as you want in the next five years at no extra cost. Please contact me for details and pricing.  

2020 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.   

On the Road: In-Between

On the Road: In-Between

As I look back at the last few years, I see almost every December we go on a road trip. This year is no different. 

It was 2015 when we last photographed the Canadian Rockies in winter and it turned out to be one of our favourite road trips of all time. This year, we wanted to go back to the same spots and discover some new places as well. In my last post I shared a preview of this rich and eventful trip and promised a series of visual essays. 

Today I would like to share with you a visual journal, which was actually crafted not in the mountains, and not at our planned destination, but en route and in-between. It was an unexpected stop at a small, sleepy village, one of the last stops on our journey home. To make this even more bizarre is the fact that I passed the turn to the village. Only when I had driven about two kilometers down the road did something pull me back, as if my visual instinct told me to turn around and photograph. So I did.   

Ironically, this is usually when my best seeing unravels – unexpectedly and without warning, somewhere in-between two destinations. It was still early in the morning when a blanket of fog, the smoke from chimneys and a filtered but early rising sun created a strong visual mood. I decided to turn toward the village and drive around, open-minded and curious about what’s to come. 

As we slowly drove from street to street, a bizarre chain of encounters took place which we could never have envisioned. The story of the morning started to reveal itself as if we were on a movie set. I grabbed my camera and started to craft images… 

Once again, as I am sharing those visuals with you, it turned out that a random pause in the trip, between two destinations, offered us one of the best images of the trip. Again and again! What a coincidence.

Next time…

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.

The Importance of a Conversation on “Seeing”

The Importance of a Conversation on “Seeing”

In my last blog post I asked you about the direction of this blog and whether or not you enjoy it in the current format. Your response was overwhelming and deeply humbling. Most of you said that you like the format and you don’t want me to change much which, I have to admit, I am very grateful for. Here are just four notes.

Jeff wrote: “I much prefer to get information from a blog than social media because it takes time to craft a good blog post and the quality is always higher. Blogs, books, newspaper articles, are like vegetables, social media is sugary candy. I don’t see any reason to change what you are doing in this space.”

Patricia shares her thoughts: “I hope you continue with exactly what feels true to you because it is working. Your heartfelt thoughts and perspective, and your willingness to be vulnerable in sharing is really appreciated. In regard to the images posted, which I always enjoy.”

Bob shared this thought:“I was first inspired to follow your artistic journey by this blog, and it remains my favourite.” 

Khürt noted:“I think blogs are needed more today than ever before. Blogs are the barrier against the waves of “instant” thinking and doing.” Thoughtful ​blogs, like this one, allow me to slow down, pull up a chair, and with a mug of ale/coffee/tea, sit by the fire and chat until the wee hours.”

I had better stop here because I would have to quote the entire “comment” section – I love all your responses! Thank you everyone for taking the time to write a few words, including the avalanche of emails. 

Even though I have been working on many projects, this blog has always been a very special place for me – a sort of personal friend circle – when as I imagine it – we sit down around a simple e-table in a nice café and talk life, seeing, photography and friendship.

As much as we are bombarded with photographic content every day, the more I do photography, the more I am convinced about the importance of a conversation on “seeing.” This conversation includes the exchange of ideas in written form, discussing imagery and the process behind it. It includes sharing the deepest insecurities and visual ideas – even the ones which initially we may perceive as not worthy of sharing or simply farcical. Such intense exchanges, deep thought-process and ultimately attempts to implement some of them in real life scenarios are building blocks, a sort of genesis of new seeing. 

Those of you who would like to expand such conversations on a daily basis, please make sure to check out our new Journal of Seeing FB Group. The principle is very simple: no gear talk allowed, focus on seeing and creativity. In the group we are not afraid to share the thought process behind our imagery, propose new visual ideas and most importantly have a civil conversation about why some of our images work or don’t work. 

This is my visual conversation for today. 

2019 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

Let’s talk photography, my friends

Let’s talk photography, my friends

Over the course of the last few years I have been present on multiple platforms, internet forums and projects. I enjoyed all of them. I met many talented people, I tried new ideas and faced many challenges. Having said that, this blog has always been my home—my refuge, if you will. This is where I started and met most of you through good and bad times.  

One of the greatest privileges of being a photographer is getting to know people like you. Sometimes we are joyful and full of optimism, other times we are sad and worried. What is really remarkable in this bountiful, unpredictable and demanding life is that we still find time to share our passion for photography.

Now, as I am organizing my photographic life around just a few chosen projects, I would like to rekindle our connection. I have some thoughts and pieces which I will share with you over the course of the next few weeks. Also, as my photographic interests remain diverse but articulate you will see more diversity of imagery published here. 

In the meantime, I would like to ask you for a favour. Could you please let me know what you enjoy on this blog the most? What would you like to see more of? Less? What would you like to hear from me? Or maybe you have moved to YouTube or Instagram and the idea of a blog is no longer speaking to you? I would appreciate your thoughts. 

Let me leave you for today with some diverse work from my recent outings. 

and some recent vistas…

2019 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

Seeing Between the Lines

Seeing Between the Lines

Yesterday I came across a fascinating interview with Gregory Crewdson (thank you Zhai Y.) in which he explains the process of creating his images. 

In one part he says: “…but I think that’s where the mystery of the picture comes from – that tension, from the impossibility of that happening while trying as much as you can to make it happen.” Later he concludes: “When somebody is looking at my picture, I want them just to fall into the world of the photograph.”

It got me thinking, intensely. I started wondering why it is so difficult to make those pictures that go beyond “beautiful” and craft the frame in a way that lets us “fall into them” and submerge on a very deep level. Or in plain language, stop and stare. 

As usual when I try to find a reference point, I come back to writing. Some writers not only capture your attention with fluid and thought-provoking prose but put together words in a way that if read long and deep enough you penetrate between the lines to find another, hidden layer of implication and meaning. It is similar with photography. Sometimes we see a flawless photograph which portrays a scene and indeed, we enjoy it but somehow, after an initial “wow” we move on. 

On the other hand, from time to time we encounter a photograph which doesn’t allow us to move on, to forget. The image invites, entertains, questions, even provokes. We fall into it so much that we start reading between the lines, or rather, seeing between shadow and light. The photograph triggers all our senses, firing up our imagination and emotions.

This is when… well let me quote Gregory Crewdson once more: “Whoever the photographer is, that’s a constant, because it’s who they are. It’s their history, it’s their trauma, it’s their desire, it’s their fascination, it’s their terror. So you have that story, that compulsion, and then you have the pictorial form, which is the attempt to take that invisible story and represent it in pictorial form. It’s that coming together of form and content, essentially.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. Brilliant! 

Next time…

2019 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

What is a great image?

What is a great image?

“Just what is a great photo?” It’s one of the most common and most fascinating questions I have received. 

Despite certain predispositions and preconceived ideas I decided to write down my personal definition of a great photo. As such it will be my own journey through a great image – a sort of emotional map of how I view others’ great work. Let’s begin.

—————-

The invitation is there. As I am scrolling through a multitude of images I suddenly stop. I don’t know why just yet, but I pause. The invitation is there. What is the trigger? Is it the lure of light or colour? Is it the perspective or subject that stops me scrolling? I have to pause as if it was the last image ever taken on this planet and the birth of something new.

I know from the start it will not be a fleeting encounter. This visual invitation requires me to pause my life. No more talking, scrolling or double-tasking. I am all in – even though it doesn’t fit the purpose of this moment. I close my eyes to see more.  

Then I feel tension. Wait a minute! You invited me with this element of seeing, only to ask me to dive deeper, to search and make a connection. Here it is. It’s another visual hint, a leading line or traces of light, or it’s form or shape that leads my eye, not permitting a moment of lassitude. Should I go there? 

The temptation is too strong to quit, not now! I am glad I stayed. I like where this is leading me. It is no longer an impulse. It has become an experience! We mesh together.

The sense of convergence with what’s in front of me is growing quickly. I forget the tension of the initial pause. The image is melting into layers of interrelations and visual exploits. I feel I am here for good. The nuances of my daily existence have faded away. 

The abandonment of the outside world is real and I am now fully emerged in this new visual world. It is not mine but something intimate and amusing. My sight becomes a secondary apparatus. Now it is all inside me – jubilation mixed with a whiff of the unknown. I am being enticed into awe and a hunger for more.  

Bit by bit I am discovering new paths to wander around. I am making new connections between all the elements. Subtle strokes of light open up another door to the unexpected but so fulfilling. The path is laid out as if it was crafted just for me, strange indeed. Even an occasional cul-de-sac does not turn me away but provides a much-needed entr’acte before the next opening. The mystery is revealing itself slowly. The conversation is so rich that I don’t want to leave. I am fully immersed.

Now I can drop any pretence of being a stranger. I am no longer afraid to be here. It is my turn to read all the signposts and discover my own tenor. Now I open my eyes not to what is in front of me but what is inside. This time I can make the connections between light and line my own. I am immersed!

—————

What do you think? Have you ever thought how you experience the work of others? What path do you take? 

Why did you write this, Olaf? Because I want us to slow down and experience each other’s work. Let’s slow down this hyperbole of consumption of each other’s images. I know we may not go through as many pictures as we used to, but at least we will start seeing, experiencing and feeling. In fact, some imagery needs time to reveal itself to us. This was the author’s intention, but we do not give them a chance. We are too busy. In this madness of scrolling, so much great work is lost. Let’s change that.  

It is your turn now. What do you see? What do you feel? What do you experience? How does it change you?

© Dr. Adel Al Hunayan
@ Susie Naye
© Maureen Bettencourt
@ Jens Krauer
@ Christian Cross

2019 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.