A SUBJECTIVE LENS

Jim Shoemaker Photography

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Independence Day is just around the corner here in the US, so I thought I’d use this week’s blog to suggest some tips for those who want to photograph fireworks displays. It’s easy to do and doesn’t require a lot of expensive gear, so why not give it a try?

I use a Canon 5D MK III or Canon 5Ds R for my shots, depending on how large a file I want, but any DSLR will work providing it allows for manual setting of exposure time. I attach a cable release to my camera and mount it on a solid tripod. (I use a Gitzo 5563 but you don’t need anything that elaborate; just a stable mount for the...

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There is a particular magazine that I subscribe to that caters to nature and outdoor photography. I have been reading it for well over a decade and love it, and God bless them, they’ve featured my work multiple times over the years. Still, I have a private running joke about how many times in one calendar year that a photo of Yosemite will appear on the cover. And, at least once a year, there will be an article titled something along the lines of, Be the Next Ansel Adams! or Shoot Like Ansel Adams!

I love Ansel Adams, but I’m not delusional enough to think that I’m...

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Have you ever heard the photography adage, “If you crop, you lose?” It’s a mantra that is regularly recited by photography “purists” (a nebulous designation with somewhat random and sometimes contradictory philosophies). I won’t argue with the spirit of the adage; that there should be careful consideration of what is or is not included within any frame and that it should, ideally, be done at the time of exposure and not as an afterthought in the darkroom or in Photoshop.

But as with any tool or technique in photography, it has its legitimate place within the craft. Photography is...

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Have you ever gone on a photography trip and had such a miserable time that you wanted to throw your camera gear out the window and give up? Have you ever felt like some great cosmic force was picking on you; that the Camera Gods were angry and chose you as the target to vent their rage? That you were insanely unlucky?

I’ve had some spectacular misadventures that occurred during my road trips. In 2015 my truck was broadsided by a deer (yes, a deer hit me) in Cedar Edge, Colorado and tore off my passenger side mirror, damaged the door and ripped off my antennae. On...

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I wrote in an earlier post about how photography can be different things to different people. People practice photography for myriad reasons, and since humans are tribal creatures, no matter what you choose for subject matter or what equipment you work with, there will always be somebody who will gleefully tell you that you’re doing it all wrong.

Historically, possibly the largest tear in the fabric of photography has been the chasm that exists between “pros” and “amateurs”. Back in the days of film (and more so back to the days of wet collodion), there was a steeper learning curve...

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There have been many times when I’ve looked through books by Ansel Adams, Philip Hyde, David Muench, Guy Tal and others, and after viewing one amazing image after another thought to myself, “How does one person get so lucky when it comes to finding such great light or such a magnificent scene?” It seems unfair, like maybe things could be distributed a little more evenly among more photographers. Like me.

I spend months on the road every year, and more often than not I’m skunked by the weather or something else that results in less than optimal conditions. But then there are also...

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Over the past twelve years I’ve had a lot of interesting experiences while photographing around the American West. I’ve met a lot of nice people and have seen many beautiful places. There is one situation though that has always agitated me to some degree, and recently it has been occurring at an increasing rate. I would like to share it because I’m certain there are other photographers out there who have experienced the same thing.

Sometimes when I’m at a location, after spending time scouting the site and putting careful consideration into how I want to frame the scene based on the...

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Minor White once said that photography is a religion. A student of Zen, White’s comment referenced the amount of study, devotion and effort that a photographer dedicates to the craft. But like any religion, it can be taken to extremism, and when extremism mixes with fanaticism things can quickly begin to go awry.

Humans are tribal creatures, and we’ll infinitely subcategorize ourselves into the tiniest boxes possible. You won’t be practicing photography very long before you encounter the question that should make your skin crawl; “Nikon or Canon?” Yes, there are many camera...

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I mentioned in a previous post about the tribalism of human beings. We like to categorize ourselves and each other by race, politics, religion and brand loyalty to automobiles, computers, smartphones, cameras, sports teams and much more.

So it isn’t surprising that there is so much debate and controversy (not to mention animosity) over every aspect of photography. Which company makes the best cameras: Canon or Nikon? Which medium is best: film or digital? Which is a better art form: Black & White or Color? Which format is best: Large, medium or 35mm? What kind of lens is best:...

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Lately I’ve been reading about the origins and evolution of photography. After the official announcement of Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre’s process on January 7, 1839, people were enamored by the incredible, almost magical new invention. But what exactly was it for? Was it a form of art, like painting and drawing? Or was it strictly a recording, documentation and replication process?

Throughout the subsequent years photography morphed from photogravure; pictorial attempts at imitating painting (via Demachy, Emmerson and Evans) to pre-photojournalism (via Matthew Brady and Alexander...

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