In October 2016, my wife Abby and I traveled to the American West for our twelfth anniversary, a journey we make as often as we are able. We love the west, and were married in southern Utah in 2004 at Arches National Park.
The trip report, The Endless Sky, posted on our travel blog, was among my favorites, but I didn’t expect to hear this from two of my photographer friends…
[stextbox id=”grey” caption=”From Wil C. Fry”]These photos are tremendous, somehow better than your usual. It has me wondering whether you learned some new technique, or used a different camera, or processed them with new software. Or perhaps the light was simply better this time… Or maybe it’s all in the eye of the beholder.[/stextbox]
[stextbox id=”grey” caption=”From Dan Marsh”]I too am curious, have you learned something new and different, or are you simply getting better with each trip? These are some of the best you’ve ever done.[/stextbox]
So to answer their question about what’s changed: essentially, nothing. I don’t exactly agree that these are head and shoulders above my past efforts. I will say that yes, it is an evolving craft, and one I hope I continue to hone and improve. But part of me says that my audience sees only the new product, and only half-remembers some of our great trips in the past.
I think, for example, that our 2014 anniversary trip A Perfect Ten was as good as The Endless Sky. Some of my recent solo hiking trips Siren Song, Off the Map and My Two Cents, compete well too.
In fact, while reviewing the travel blog, I have to say that there are many pages from many trips that compare favorably, but those pages have faded somewhat into history. It’s easy to do in the internet era, particularly one that is so trend-centric, but paradigms like “that’s so 2013” or “what have you done for me lately” are troubling because they can dismiss an entire body of work for no valid reason.
As far as technicalities go, no, I haven’t made any important changes to my workflow. I mostly shoot RAW files and edit them in Adobe Photoshop, though sometimes I make JPEG images, following the same basic editing strategies. My priorities are color, light, composition, and location, location, location. The images in this entry also speak volumes about equipment and how much less important it is that the photographer. Some of these images were made with cameras such as the Nikon D100 and the Minolta DiMage 7i, incorrectly regarded as unable to deliver. As you can see, particularly from the earlier images, great photographs are made by great photographers, not by expensive equipment.
Year after year Abby and I go to southern Utah and the Colorado Plateau, but I would love to expand our reach: Yosemite, Yellowstone, Death Valley, and many more locations are on our short list.
That’s the rub, really. My best images from our travels come from visiting the best places. And that’s what makes the adventures, not just the images, great.
Here are some images from over the years, from adventures I think competed well with my most recent efforts. I look at each of these images as one of those moments of success for which we as photographers all strive. They are chronological from oldest to newest, and you can click them to view them larger…
In conclusion, I encourage all my readers, and everyone wanting to learn and grow photographically, to dig deeper into my rather extensive content, not only on the travel blog, but at the photo blog as well. It is my hope there is greatness deep within.
Lest there is any misunderstanding: I didn’t mean to imply that your previous work was somehow mundane or low-quality, by any stretch of the imagination. In my plebeian opinion, nearly all your photographs (stretching back to far before I knew you) are evocative, pleasurable to view, and instructive to those of us on lower artistic rungs.
In any field there will be top-level performers who sometimes outdo themselves. I am reminded of literary greats who almost always wrote beyond the rest of us, yet a few of their passages or works stand above the rest.
Further, art of any kind is so subjective in reception that the audience will have varying levels of reaction, possibly depending on our mood at the time, or relative level of engagement at the time of experience. As an example from another genre: when “Good Will Hunting” was released, it had a powerful, indescribable effect on me. A few years later, I saw it again to little effect, so much so that I wondered why I’d once considered it so amazing.
Hence my parting line: “Or maybe it’s all in the eye of the beholder.”
Today, viewing that same entry again, it does not strike me the way it did a month ago. I am still intrigued by some of the vibrant colors, and an occasional composition masterpiece (the lens flare flagpole image near the top, for example), but I certainly was not overwhelmed the way I was when I first scrolled through them. Perhaps it was just what I needed on that particular day. Perhaps my microbiome was slightly on a euphoric uptick due to something I’d just eaten. Perhaps I was on an emotional slide after voting early and glad to see the election behind me.
As for the comparison images you’ve posted here today, I remember seeing most of them the first time you posted them, and they’re all great. (Some of those states should be *paying* you to advertise for them instead of taking your travel dollars.)
Your photographs, both then and now, are a worthwhile window into a wonderful world, and I’m glad to have been part of your audience.
I turn frequently to your blog for inspiration, ideas, weird philosophy, photographic philosophy, and an approach to living, which frequently I find matches up with my own. If anything, you’re getting better, as we all should be. I think that in my own blogging, which is to say, photography, I’m settling into the idea that the place where I can live, Arkansas, specifically, south Arkansas, is a lovely place, worth imaging, and I am trying to showcase that the best I can in what I do. I’ll often turn to this blog not for angles worth aping, but inspirational ideas, and that is it’s greatest value. I don’t think I can speak more highly of what you’re doing. Annie Leibovitz wrote that a camera gives a person reason to go out into the world with a purpose. An inspiring thought, but you’ve written words just as thought-provoking here, and produced images as good as anybody’s.