In life, they say it’s good to have a plan, a strategy to help achieve the goals or tasks we set for ourselves. I wholeheartedly agree. Without a plan, I all too often find myself orbiting around my own brain wondering what to do next. Having a step by step, actionable list of things to do is helpful to me and essential to keeping me focused and on task.
But that’s really only feasible from the business side of my photography, not the artistic and creative side. Sure, when a sunrise needs to be prepared for, many things can be mapped out and counted upon. I know the sun WILL come up and I know WHERE it will rise. I know the bridge that I want to photograph or make photos from will be there, potholes and all, because hey, this is Pittsburgh. But there are factors that are beyond control. Traffic getting to the city, complete drear and cloud cover (again…Pittsburgh), or my 6 month old baby needing me at 6AM so I’m late for the sunrise are a few that spring to mind. These circumstances render a plan completely useless, causing photography to often take on “take what you’re given” mentality.
Often times, this take what you’re given approach ends up feeling a concession. You can’t get what you planned or hoped for so you settle for something different and presumably not as good. In my experience though, different is better than good.
Other times, luck prevails, the weather cooperates, and the stars align. Or in my case, the planets do.
The weather in Pittsburgh this last week of January reached record breaking lows and can only be described by most as brutally cold. The meteorologists said stay inside but what I heard was the rivers are going to freeze. Time to make a plan. So I did.
And what did we just learn about plans. They change. The river was frozen, yes, but not nearly as much as I’d anticipated…or hoped. I’ve seen it completely frozen over several times when temperatures weren’t nearly as cold. Most of the river was still flowing, but with large chunks of ice slowly floating along. So I went with a long exposure to convey the motion of the floating ice contrasting with the static ice that was building along the bank of the river. Cool. Pun intended.
What I wasn’t accounting for, or expecting, is what I’m calling a happy little accident. And I was lucky enough to catch 3 of them!
If you look at the photo, you’ll see the moon and two bright stars. Normally I’m pretty in tune with where the moon is going to be, but I read my app wrong and was surprised, pleasantly, to have it in such a pleasing spot for my intended composition. Happy accident number 1. But those two bright stars, it turns out, are actually Venus and Jupiter. This was totally unplanned for, I must admit. They are a tiny, yet impactful, morsel of photographic tastiness that you were completely unaware of but privileged enough to not only see, but include in your photo in a meaningful AND intentional way! Happy accident number 2!
…and happy accident number 3? Well, I was lucky that Uranus wasn’t also in the picture!
You can read more about Jupiter and Venus HERE
Not too long ago, some close friends of mine and I were having a conversation. Generally when we speak the conversation can quite literally go any which way and change directions in an instant. We talk about life, friends, elephant dung (don’t judge us but this is true), and everything in between. But since we are all full-time artists, it can be all but guaranteed that the state of art industry is going to pop up in any given conversation. This was no exception.
As we continued musing about the highs and lows, gripes, griefs, rewards, and inspirations behind our work, we stumbled upon a question: “What is your favorite (insert your own type of work here)?” Now this is a question I get ALL the time at shows. Folks walk in, take a look around, enjoy the work, pick out a favorite, then ask me, “What’s your favorite photograph, JP?” My answer is always immediately and unequivocally the same. I don’t have to say a word. I just point to Winter’s Light, which is always hanging…
This is the image that started it all for me. It’s not the image that launched my career in photography, per se, but it is the one that gained a little recognition and gave me the confidence to pursue a lifetime or creating images to share. It features lovely light, nice foreground interest, and the composition is good. It will likely always remain my favorite image I’ve ever taken. That is, until I heard the following.
When I asked my friend, Johno (of Johno’s Art Studio – check out his work here) what his favorite painting was, I was stunned by the simplicity and brilliance of his response. “My last one,” he said. My last one. It made perfect sense. His wife, Maria (of Maria’s Ideas – check out her work here) went on to explain, though the point hit home immediately. We should ALWAYS be learning and improving on past works and experiences and incorporating the lessons learned into our next piece. Simple yet brilliant.
I’d be lying, though, if I said that this revelation didn’t shake me to my core. I just stated how Winter’s Light is my all time favorite photo I’ve ever taken. Look at the watermark on it. It was taken in 2011. Clearly this is not my last photo. In fact, it was one of my first. Does that mean that I’ve not improved upon my photography process in the five years I’ve been taking photos? Of course not. This is simply a good photograph with a ton of sentimental value attached to it, so chances are it will still remain my favorite. But that doesn’t mean there are not things I would change. Not just with this photo, but every single photo I’ve ever taken. Everything can be better.
And that, my friends, is the entire point of this post. Never become complacent in your achievements. You can be happy about them, but unsatisfied with them. It’s okay to want more. It’s okay to be your own toughest critic. Every time I click the shutter I want that newest photo to be the best I’ve ever taken. This is obviously unrealistic, as I take my fair share of “clunkers,” but I believe having that mindset will allow me to continue to learn from past mistakes and build upon current successes.
It’s said that you shouldn’t stare directly into the sun because it can lead to permanent damage to your eyes. Since my eyes are literally how I make a living and provide for my family, I usually heed this advice, but only if the sun is unobstructed. If the sun is partially blocked, by say a bank of clouds, you get a beautiful array of light beams dancing gently in the sky making their way down to earth. Something so soft and beautiful couldn’t hurt, right?
Up until this past week I would have agreed. Now, I’m not so sure. But it’s not my eyes that I’m worried about. It’s my heart. I’ve heard before, and even said it myself (last night in fact), that those rays of light we see being filtered through the clouds are our loved ones watching over us. If that’s true, and I just might believe that it is, aren’t those very light beams also a reminder to us that our loved ones are no longer with us? Again, that’s true. That hurts. But the pain is temporary.
If you’ve ever witnessed the scene I’m describing, you know these wonderfully golden rays don’t last very long. They are beautiful. They are intense. They are also fleeting. And for me at this time, perhaps these beams are a most appropriate symbol for the friend – no, brother – I’ve recently lost. His life was beautiful. The impact he had on anyone he ever met was as positively intense as his immense size. And his life, fleeting – a seemingly brief moment, gone at the speed of light. But, unlike the heartache and the light, his impact will be everlasting.
Anyone that ever met him remembered him…and they were better for it. Good journey my brother, until we meet again. And we will meet again.
One of the most common themes I notice this time of year is that people DO NOT like the snow and ice. The reasons might vary, and to some degree, I agree. Most of us don’t like the seemingly inherent danger that follows the cold weather. Roads become treacherous if not treated properly or proactively, and if the snow (or ice) is significant enough, any amount of preparation and treatment may well end up being futile. It’s easy to see why this would be a reason to wish away the cold and relocate to Florida.
Living in Pittsburgh, where winter -and certainly snow – are not a new concept, it can be very easy to become annoyed with snow. If you look out your window and see falling snow, it’s almost a guarantee that you can jump on your Facebook Newsfeed and see no less than 37 memes and complaints about “people not not knowing how to drive” and “this is Pittsburgh, it’s snowed here before.”
You’ll also see even more dramatization about the amount of snow that’s going to fall and gripes about how the weatherman is NEVER right. I try to give the meteorologists the benefit of the doubt – they are trying to predict the future, after all – but I don’t think they do themselves any favors by naming every storm. And monikers such as “Snowzilla” and “Snowmageddon” don’t help, but I don’t believe those names come from the news stations. Regardless of where the names originate, Facebook certainly does not help contain Snowzilla’s icy breath from causing the next Snowmageddon. So, yes, Facebook drama queens and lousy traveling conditions allow me to sympathize with the winter haters.
My sympathies end there, though. My disdain, if you can even call it that, for winter does not begin or end with the cold, snow, and ice. It’s merely the other people that dislike it so much that they can do nothing but be bitter about it that causes me to sometimes, and only sometimes, wish the snow would melt.
In all actuality, I embrace the biting temperatures and the frozen stuff that falls from the sky. To me, there’s no beauty like looking out at a scene with a blanket of untouched, pristine snow. Walking along, listening to the subtle crunch of snow beneath my feet with my camera in tow…well that is euphoria for me and I forget about the cold.
I forget about the cold, that is, until the mercury busts through the bottom of the thermometer. Even when that happens, though, there’s a good chance you can find me playing near the banks of the rivers in the city. See, when it gets to be so cold that the rivers, mostly the Allegheny River, freeze I find the patterns, lines, and shapes make for amazing compositional elements in my photographs. This ice usually lasts more than a day also, and even though the it’s seemingly solid and static, the patterns are pretty dynamic which allows for unique photos with each visit, even if I stand in the exact same spot.
Usually, inclement weather is a detriment to my photos along the rivers because I almost always try to incorporate reflections for added interest. But if it’s windy and choppy, the reflections are nil and that can make for a dull subject and photograph. Frozen rivers, though, provide patterns, shapes, and lines that negate the need for a reflection. They serve as an interesting foreground and lead you right to the subject of the image. If the skyline is reflected in the ice or unfrozen patches of water, then that makes the image even stronger. Not needing calm waters expands the amount of “worthwhile” time I can spend on the shores and adds endless possibilities to what I can create. So I say bring on the snow and ice.
Now I’m not saying winter is a season without its drawbacks or that it doesn’t get unbearably cold out there. It does. It gets really, really cold. But I feel, when I’m not numb from head to toe, that after a freshly fallen snow, there’s too much beauty to be seen out there to stay inside. If I’ve yet to show you enough to convince you to take a winter excursion yourself, well the cause might be hopeless. So just cuddle up next to the fire with a nice glass of wine or mug of hot chocolate, and take a trip into the cold through my eyes. Let me show you what most choose not to experience. Let me freeze so you don’t have to.
Welcome to the first edition of “Photo of the Day” here on the JP Diroll Photography blog. My plan is to write a little blurb about a photo each day (almost 😉 I’m sure there will be days here and there that I’ll miss) and post it to to my social media sites as well as here. To that end, I want to take a minute to thank all of you for the support for this idea. I had mentioned on my Facebook page about the possibility of doing this and the overwhelming majority of you essentially said…”Go for it” or “I’ll definitely check it out.” So again, thank you! I hope you enjoy this endeavor.
Without further ado, here is my first photo of the day (POTD from here on out!). As it turns out, today is Thursday, but you all know that! What you may or may not no is that Thursday is a widely considered “Throwback Thursday,” or TBT, on many of the social media platforms, especially Facebook and Twitter in my experience. So I decided I’d kill two birds with one stone and make my very first POTD my very first TBT as well. The photo you see above is called Winter’s Light. It was taken on a very cold, snowy Saturday in January. The reflection is surreal. The sky is full interesting clouds. And that light illuminating the Andy Warhol Bridge, well let’s just say I’ve never seen light so beautiful on that bridge since then. And I spend a lot of time on the North Shore, and I do mean a lot! Now I’ve shared this image a few times before across my various social media outlets, and if you’ve ever gotten a business card from me then you’ve certainly seen this photo. It’s kind of my brand, if you will. And for good reason. It holds a very special place in my heart. It is the first photo I received a great deal of attention for and gave me the confidence to continue down the path of becoming a photographer. It made me want to MAKE photographs instead of TAKE photographs. It ultimately helped my vacation become my vocation…or is it the other way around 😛 ? For me it’s a bit of both! Ever since this photo, it’s been pretty much full throttle and I don’t intend on easing up off the pedal any time soon. I want thank each and every one of you reading this for the support and I hope you’ll join me on the ride!
In my short adventure into blogging, I’ve made a substantial observation: blogging is a challenge to keep up with…for me at least. I always have the best of intentions of writing a post about each photo I take. I like to write and I love to take photos so it should seem only natural that accompanying my photos with a story behind them should come easily to me. And generally it does, but that story or blurb usually accompanies my post on my Facebook photo page for my daily photo.
My challenge to myself is to use this new (to me) blogging platform more frequently and effectively. That was and is the purpose of beginning this “Kickstart” series. My hope is that I force myself to get out and shoot each Monday, morning or evening, then come home and process the photos. I want to have a theme that I adhere to, albeit loosely in some cases, and I will summarize the session the following Monday with both my photos and a story. My hope is that by doing this I will expand my creativity by having a week to think up a theme, then one day to execute it, no matter the conditions. If conditions are ideal, then I should have no problem. If they are poor, I’ll think on my feet and hopefully come away with some new perspectives and solutions. I anticipate no problems as I have found that conditions are very often ideal. Except when they aren’t, which is almost ALWAYS! So…thinking on my feet it is!
Unfortunately, I have a feeling dealing with less than ideal conditions while shooting will be the least of my problems. Picking a theme, well that will be challenging at times, but I’ve got a list to work my way through already so no problem yet. Taking the photos? NO WAY…that’s the best and most fun part! Editing the photos? No, no problem there. My real challenge is going to be consistency and sticking to a schedule. I started this idea a month ago. As we all know, there are 4 weeks in a month and as this is only my 2nd Kickstart post, well…you get the idea. But, with some discipline and dedication, I truly believe this weekly project will help my greatly. So, without further ado, please enjoy this week’s Kickstart photos: Mount Washington at First Light.
Photography, at its most basic level, is the art of light. The very essence of a photograph is almost always determined by the type, quality, and direction of light illuminating the subject. Sure, composition is critical and subject matter is obviously important. But a stunning landscape can be rendered much less spectacular with the absence of quality, interesting light. Conversely, the most mundane of subjects can make stunning photographs under the right conditions and light. There are two things that I’ve learned about light on my short photographic journey: it is ever-changing and don’t give up on it. The latter is a tougher pill for me to swallow sometimes so the focus of this post will hone in on the dynamic nature of light.
This past December I decided to take a jaunt up to the West End Bridge for a sunrise session. Sunrises can be hit or miss, especially from the West End, because if there is no cloud coverage the light can be kind of uniform and bland with just a slight band of color near the horizon. Luckily for me, this December sunrise was an absolute stunner.
I arrived on the bridge a shade before 7 AM and I could tell the conditions were shaping up to be great. The clouds were perfect, the reflections in the river were crisp and pristine, and the light…well the light was some of the best and certainly most dynamic light I’ve witnessed in Pittsburgh. The seven proceeding photos were taken over 53 minutes and exhibit just how much the light can change and shape the mood, feel, and look of a scene.
As you can see, the skyline was the only constant. The light changed at least 7 times, 5 of which were significant changes, within my hour of shooting. The light was not only shaped by the position of the sun relative to the horizon, but also by the arrangement of the clouds. Had there been no clouds, I would not have seen the pink, purple, and red light being reflected by the rising sun. So next time you see a beautiful sunrise (or sunset), make sure you see it all the way through. Who knows how much it will change over the course of just one hour!?