A SUBJECTIVE LENS

Jim Shoemaker Photography

jShoemaker_New_Year.jpg

Years ago when I lived in Michigan and trained in the martial arts, the students in our dojo had a tradition. Every New Year’s Day we would meet at the dojo and have a special class, training between two to four hours. Afterwards, we’d have a small celebration with some good food and drinks. The point of the class was twofold: 1) to reinforce discipline by making ourselves get up and go to class when we had been up late the night before, and 2) to reaffirm our dedication to studying and mastering something we all held dear.

It’s been a long time since I’ve gone out early on New...

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David Burnett shot.jpg

For a discipline such a photography, which is wide in scope of subject matter and diverse in artistic styles, I find it odd that there is a lot of elitism and snobbery. I’ve written in previous posts about the tribal tendencies of humans, and the field of photography is not only no exception, it may be an extreme example.

There is never ending battle of gear and technologies—Canon vs. Nikon, large format vs. medium format vs. 35mm format, prime lenses vs. zoom lenses, digital vs. analog, RAW vs. JPG, CF vs SD, etc. ad nauseam. There is also the narrow mindset of, “The way I approach...

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jShoemaker_wildfire.jpg

I woke up this morning to discover there were multiple wildfires burning in southern California. While the nearest fire is over 20 miles from where we live, the fires virtually surround us to the east, north and west. The air is filled with smoke and it feels very apocalyptic. Although this is sadly a fairly common occurrence when the Santa Ana winds arrive after no rain has fallen in October or November, it’s a good opportunity to review a few things that serious photographers should keep in mind when dealing with natural or man-made disasters. I’m only going to address...

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jShoemaker_Shadows.jpg

A few years ago I was photographing at the south rim of the Grand Canyon at sunrise. A German tourist approached me and started a conversation, and after a while as the sun climbed higher in the sky, I stopped shooting. Noticing this, he asked why I stopped and I told him the light had become too harsh for the type of images I was trying to make. He said, “Ah, so the light has become evil then?” The comment made me laugh, but it also made me stop and think about how photographers view light.

You won’t have to look very hard to find books, magazine or online articles with titles...

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jShoemaker_Santa_Monica_Mountains.jpg

After spending several months on the road over the course of the past year it feels good to be home, especially as the holidays approach. It also allows me to focus my attention to more familiar subjects for photography. A common misconception is that in order to find interesting subjects, you have to travel to distant, exotic locations. While it’s true that you’ll undoubtedly find photogenic subjects in such places, a good photographer needs to be able to make interesting images anywhere.

In my commercial work of environmental portraiture, there have been many times when I arrive...

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Jim_Shoemaker_New_Mexico_Church.jpg

I recently returned from an extended photographic trip throughout sections of Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. On trips such as this one, I generally leave home with a rough outline of an itinerary deliberately left nebulous and vague. I have a broad idea of where I want to go and what I want to photograph, then point my truck in the appropriate direction and hit the road.

It’s said that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but I never drive one. I wander. Or maybe meander. Whatever it is I do, it could be said that I sometimes take the most circuitous route...

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Monterery_squirrel01.jpg

There is a phenomena I’ve noticed, especially online, regarding how people respond to photographs. In particular, what it is that will trigger someone to respond positively and regard a photograph as “good”. There are a number of things that a trained photographer, either formally or self-taught, will look for in a photograph during a critique. Technical aspects such as focus and effective use of depth-of-field, and artistic choices such as framing, spatial relationships between fore, middle and background, and choice of lighting. Elements of art such as line, shape, form, color, etc, and...

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jShoemaker_Arches.jpg

Last week I returned from a month-long road trip. I’ve been on the road a lot lately. In fact, I’ve put over 18,000 miles on my truck since July 1st of this year. I’ve been doing a lot of driving, a lot of hiking (well over 100 miles) and a lot of photography. What I haven’t been doing is a lot of writing. I carry my laptop with me, ostensibly to write blog posts in my spare time, but after a day of lugging all my camera gear through 14 miles of Utah canyons, when I get back to my truck I feel less like writing and more like passing out. String together days, then weeks, of that kind of...

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Toketee_Falls03.jpg

One thing I have learned as a landscape photographer is the ability to adapt to rapidly changing situations. I can tell you from nearly 14 years of experience on the road that things rarely go according to plan. In the early days I would struggle against unforeseen circumstances and try to force my predetermined agenda to work in an environment it was no longer suited for. These days I try to roll with the changes, not only because I tend to get better results, but also because it’s the path of least resistance.

The plan is now just a guideline. It’s a framework but within that...

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jShoemaker_Cumbres_Toltec_Railroad000097.jpg

I have a deep-rooted interest in history, and it’s reflected in the subject matter that I enjoy photographing. Ghost towns, mining towns from the 1800’s, Native American ruins, Spanish Missions from the colonial days, Native American rock art and American Civil War reenactments are some of the things that attract me and capture my imagination. So it’s no surprise that when I had an opportunity to ride on an old-fashioned steam train over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, I jumped at the chance.

My wife and I met with other family members in Chama, New Mexico, home of the Cumbres...

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