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The Art of Simplicity and Acceptance

(Disclaimer: These are my personal own views and ‘might’ be an excuse to post some of our recent New Zealand images but I’ll it entirely up to you to agree or disagree ! )

Does this image reflect peace and acceptance? Glenorchy Lagoon certainly gives me a tranquil feel when I’m there and I hope that is translated to you as the viewer.

Lately I have been reading a few magazine articles, skimming through a few social media threads and even discussing over skype the concept of art in photography. I’ve come to the conclusion that if I am viewed as an artist, then it’s a great bystander effect for an intention that is much simpler and far less cerebral. It has been a little disappointing that some of these articles have voiced an opinion that to tread the well-worn path is tantamount to committing some sort of artistic disservice to one’s self.  There has also been a tendency to favour wordy exposition over direct communication often with only a somewhat veiled message (translation : huh? what did you just read?). While none of this is new, I feel that social media’s penchant to polarising debates have resulted in an ‘arty’ faction criticising the ‘artless’ many.  I would make the argument that there is an art to simplification , a skill to stripping back one’s intentions and  messages to their bare essentials without the need for extraneous distractions.  I would also make a plea that part of being an artist is simply accepting that others may have a different point of view which is no less valid than your own, just different.

Tasman Lake : My intention was to wade to the other side but I was unable to because of strong currents. No near death encounters, no stories of surviving icy waters ( I was in comfy waders) , no deeper meaning to the image than just capturing the beauty before my eyes.

Personally ,I try to err on the side of ‘dot point’ prose rather than a ‘text wall’ approach. I make attempts to write in an uncomplicated manner as possible rather than using obscure words and quotes to bolster an artistic frame from a simple message.  (oh crap, did I just use fancy words? Let me simplify that : I write, you understand. That is my goal!)

Perhaps simplicity of thought is reflected in simplicity of the scenes we are attracted to?

I remember one of my high school teachers describing the considerations one makes when attempting to write a poem. He introduced the concept of word economy and attempting to condense entire lines of thought into a simple representative verse.  Commonly these days, I see quite the opposite : where lines upon lines of prose result in a single message that is either obscured of left intentionally vague.  In the right frame of mind, it can be quite fun to read these articles or image captions as one is consistently trying to decipher the hidden meanings behind the drawn out text. I don’t have any issue with such articles, only when the echoing chorus of support considers this to be the only valid style of writing.

I shot this image of the Wakefield Falls runoff with the intention of a monochromatic end result with a short textured water exposure and textureless flowing sky from a separate long exposure. Unfortunately I cannot give you what my deeper profound meaning for this image was but you are welcome to interpret one for yourself 🙂

There are a great many photographers who explore the realms of writing and philosophy.( I do not consider myself one of these as I just state an opinion every time a light bulb appears in my mostly dimly lit brain). I think there is great value in the approach of deriving a deeper meaning behind any given image but in all truthfulness, that is not our intention. I’m sorry to disappoint if you thought otherwise of our images but we are literally trying to recreate a scene and emotion from a given moment in time. Our thought processes are very predictable and systematic at the time of a scene. It becomes a question of how I translate a scene where my thoughts are literally a broken record playing back a repetition of ‘Wow’, ‘this place is soooo amazing’, ‘I’m getting goosebumps looking at this amazing scenery’ (among other calmly said expletives). The image caption hopefully reflects this.

I hope this image from Isthmus Peak conveys to you the same sense of wonder as the light sprayed through gaps in the cloud.

Once an image hits the post processing phase, it’s a question of how I want to glorify a scene such that you as the viewer can have that same broken record playing back in your head to some degree. In order to achieve that, I try to eliminate unwanted technical distractions like strange colour shifts , impossible looking light sources, elements that any local will know have been manipulated. Ironically, many of those issues arise not from ‘over’ manipulation but rather, global manipulation that hasn’t been considered enough. The qualities of the image itself hopefully reflects this.

The Aurora Australis over Lake Wakatipu was an accidental highlight of the trip. I made a decision to stay warmer with this image since the less intense aurora in the evening were processed ‘cooler’.

This overriding theme of simplicity is one that suits me and one that I am frequently escaping to after experiencing the stresses of a day job that requires more analysis than what I feel like deriving from a hobby.  This is what I hope our presentation to social media reflects in a somewhat cathartic manner.

The Wanaka Tree was possibly the simplest shoot for us to get to , but we weren’t going to avoid it just because it’s simple or that other people have photographed it before. There are many versions of this tree, but we don’t have any and I do want our version of it as a memory of the conditions and location.If it’s good enough on its own merits, it might go into the portfolio.

I would propose that the presentation of a photograph does not need  any ‘artistic’ cerebral afterthoughts in order for it to be considered valid.  To criticise an image for having no such thought process seems to show a disdain for those whose intentions (like ours) were not ‘artistic’ to begin with but whose result may still be considered a type of art.

Jetty shots and selfies are often targets of criticism. “I don’t do selfies” . “I don’t do jetties”. That’s fine but accept that other people like photographing all manner of subjects. Doing this by myself , it was a fun exercise to take a few frames before I was in the right relative position between pillars.

But wait you say, these are surely first world problems that we need not argue about yet result in passionate discussion which can sometimes degenerate into frank argument?? These are examples of the many whose moderate opinions are out voiced by the bitter outrage of the impassioned few repeatedly stating their case. Perhaps it’s just me but I see a theme there that goes beyond first world comforts and is the root of many of our invented world conflicts.  What can we extrapolate for our day to day lives from the disastrous consequences of world events brought upon by opinionated factions refusing to accept any other model of thought? Perhaps acceptance that our life circumstances are all different and that these circumstances frame our differing world views.  Relating this to our insignificant little arguments of art in photography:  seriously, I don’t care if some wish to exclusively photograph deep and abstract images of obscure subjects, so why should these artists care that others love to shoot beautiful landmarks that have been photographed many a time before.

We do try to photograph frequently shot scenes differently. The Moeraki Boulders are one such scene. Whether it’s a shot we treasure depends on the end result and not simply because it’s different or shot with ‘higher’ intentions.

Just keep it simple if it suits you. Shoot what you feel like shooting  and don’t complicate the issue by imagining that you may be somehow artistically superior for picking the less chosen path. There is an art to simplicity.  By the same token, go out and explore that untrodden path , stray away from the masses but please place that at higher personal value and not promote it as having higher intrinsic value for everyone else. And I say this as someone who values experiencing and viewing images of locations ‘off the beaten path’.  I may not personally appreciate the serial icon shooter (derisively named as ‘trophy hunters’), but who am I to hand down condescending judgment on the photographer whose motivations leads him/her to do so. There is an art to acceptance.

The Ohau range shot with multiple planes of camera movement. We have so many ‘fail’ frames from this fun exercise. Whether we did achieved this in one frame or through complicated post processing may matter to you, but in presenting the final result, I can only expect people to like the image if the image itself is any good. The story itself is a separate issue.

Peace all!


Please excuse the noise, I’ve got GAS!

Just so you know you’ve stumbled across a photographic site and not a patient booklet about gastroenterology, GAS = Gear Acquisition Syndrome. In my medical career, we try to be relatively firm about our diagnosis and once it has been made, treatment options have to be considered. What is the evidence that the treatment will work? What is the cost-benefit ratio of this treatment? What are the potential harms? Lastly but most importantly, what are the goals of the treatment? I reflect upon this as a photographer who has been vacillating between various upgrades and have taken a minimal approach. First, the diagnosis:

GAS major criteria

  1. Internet search history contains >50% gear forum and review sites
  2. Everyone who is using craved item is producing images better than yours
  3. >50% of your social media history is involved with discussions about why X is better than Y
  4. >50% of your posts in such discussions ends up being arguments about semantics rather than tangible results.
  5. You start to imagine flaws in your current work that will be fixed by new gear
  6. Any item of gear has a shelf life of <18 months

Minor criteria (CAGE questions)

  1. You feel you should Cut down your gear seeking
  2. You feel Annoyed when people suggest you don’t need said gear
  3. You feel Guilt when looking at the potential cost of said item
  4. You need an Eye opener in the morning to satiate feelings of GAS

Diagnostic formulation :

  1. Explosive GAS = >5 major criteria, any minor criteria
  2. Inconvenient GAS = 3-5 major, >2 minor criteria
  3. Concealable GAS = < 2 major 1-2 minor criteria

My main invented first world dilemma at present is whether to stick with Canon or to shift to Nikon or Sony due to the better sensor technology.  This would be a major commitment with the potential loss many excellent Canon functional aspects. The camera foremost in consideration is the Sony A7R version 2. To understand why we might want to make the switch, our current bodies are the 5dmk3 and 6D. Our main lenses are the 16-35mm F2.8II, 17-40mm F4, 24-70 F2.8 II, 70-200 F2.8II. We use a gitzo and benro carbon fibre tripod and a BH55 RRS ballhead and Benro B2 ballhead. The following is a list of issues I have encountered with our images in recent times.

  1. Inconsistency of quality with wide angle images particularly with corners losing resolution and significant coma in wide angled astro images.
  2. Reduction of image quality when shooting long sessions in cold or damp environments with dirty filters and smudging.
  3. Trouble with flare when shooting into direct light and image quality loss as a result
  4. Trouble with attaining low enough angle to achieve some compositions
  5. Difficulty with blending when exposure bracketing results in different appearance of moving aspects (eg. water motion)
  6. Insufficient resolution to do significant crops for large prints.
  7. Occasional difficulty with isolating subjects using unresponsive peripheral AF points for photographing kids and pets

So , how would a potential switch to Nikon or Sony assist me with the above?

For point 1 : I realised that after upgrading our 24-70 F2.8 (after our original lens took a nasty affinity to concrete from standing height) , it is possible to have images with clean corners and I love our new 24-70mm lens for that! After much thinking, we have chosen to purchase the 16-35mm F4 version to address this issue.

By GAS reports, corner quality is greatly improved in the 16-35mm F4, but it is only an F4 lens so perhaps not ideal for night photography?

For point 2 and 3 , I’ve invested in a box of 5 dollar kim wipes thanks to the recommendation of  Michael Bolino! This will be one of the cheapest remedies if it works and I’ll be bringing a box with us for our upcoming New Zealand trip. Keeping filters clean is also something I should look at and that probably means a lintless filter pouch.

Mannum falls on a cold morning. Smudgy images from forgetting to bring cleaning gear to the field ! Kim wipes to the rescue?

For point 4: I figure I don’t do ultra low perspectives very often but I will admit to looking at several brands of centre columnless tripods. I’m hoping that in certain scenarios, I might even be able to take advantage of the 16-35mm F4 image stabilisation to attempt some low frames for seascapes within the 1/10- 1/4 sec range.

Wreck Beach at dusk. It would have been nice to get lower for this image. I didn’t have time to disassemble the centre column and invert it for this image.

For point 5: I counted a grand total of 2 images from our last 2 week trip where I would have potentially benefitted from not having to blend for dynamic range. One was a seascape into direct light, the other was a shoot into direct light with gale force winds moving clouds very rapidly. The seascape image turned out OK but wasn’t that strong compositionally, the gale affected image was a spot I couldn’t find a decent composition anyway. So was the canon sensor really the issue in both cases? Maybe there will be an occasion in the future where I’d have nailed everything but the dynamic range blending for moving objects killed the image?

Mount William at dusk. The problem here was the rush to get to the summit and inability to find a good subject. Rapidly moving clouds and changing light created blending issues but it wasn’t the main one.

For point 6: I don’t need to switch systems for a megapixel upgrade  but on the other hand, I decided that I was not going to shell out $5k purely for a megapixel update with the 5dsr. I can remember a total of one occasion where a company has rejected an image because of insufficient megapixel count and even on that occasion, Marianne and I were of the impression that the messenger did not know what they were asking (requesting a 200mp non panoramic image). I have recently prepared a group of 5 posters 1.5m wide where the higher megapixel count would certainly have been handy but they still turned out very well.

Roy’s Peak from 2012 shot on the 5dmk3 : Now available as a 1.5m poster! Close viewing will reveal the limitations of resolution.

For Point 7: Much as I love my kids and pets, I don’t think that achieving the crucial composition matters in the long run. I don’t think the major switch to Nikon or Sony would benefit me anyway. If anything, I’d be considering a 7dmk2? I dunno, I haven’t really even invested time into sorting out this problem I don’t really have.

I love taking pictures of the kids but really, they are for fond memories and not intended as fine art masterpieces.

So in summary, I think I’ve remedied my  GAS for now by stepping back and looking at what we would benefit from. Even though we’re constantly on the path of self development and looking to improve, I don’t feel that an upgrade in our bodies is necessarily going to result in a dramatic improvement in our work. It will make some aspects of our shooting and post production easier but honestly, these days with some experience at using luminosity masks it is rare for me to spend more than 5-10 minutes doing an initial blend. It’s all the other post-work that takes the time. We’re lucky to be in a position in life where we could actually afford the upgrade but if we weren’t,  the upgrade price of bodies and lenses would equate to a family holiday to New Zealand for a couple of weeks. I’d rather travel with a little unresolved GAS than sit at home with my temporarily satiated GAS. The problem is that GAS not only relates to photography but outdoor gear, home computers, and basically anything that costs that you potentially don’t really NEED. Or maybe I’m just arguing all of this out because in reality I’m a miser with GAS – ugh, hand me the infant’s mashed prunes!!

Hammersley Gorge, Karijini National Park. With fine details extending into the corners, I'm hoping the 16-35mm F4 will give improved performance. Dynamic range wasn't too limiting here but the increased resolution for a potential large print would have been nice!

Hammersley Gorge, Karijini National Park. With fine details extending into the corners, I’m hoping the 16-35mm F4 will give improved performance. Dynamic range wasn’t too limiting here but the increased resolution for a potential large print would have been nice!

Our New Website is LIVE!

We are pleased to announce that we have now launched our new website!  With a sleek new look and easier navigation, the best thing about the new site is that you can now order prints online!

To celebrate we are taking 20% off ALL PRINTS, so head on over to and browse through the landscape and panorama galleries.  Use coupon code EP20LAU during checkout to activate the offer.  Most items ship free within Australia (except for large stretched canvas prints), and international shipping will show up once you have completed the address fields.

We are still adding more images to the site, so if you can’t find the print you’re after, just send us an email with a link to the image (from 500px, flickr, facebook, any other site you’ve seen the image!) and we’ll add it to the site for ordering.

This offer is only available until December 31st, so hurry!

Our new website's homepage

Our new website’s homepage