How to “read” my photographs.

Okay, I’ll let you in on the secret to my photographs… how I make my “magic” so-to-speak. I utilize up to five main ingredients in every single one of my photographs. Some have only one, some have all five. Some have different amounts of each. But they all have at least one of these ingredients. When you are finished reading this, you should be able to view any of my photographs and identify which of these ingredients I used, and to what extent the success of the photograph relies on it.

Color

Color often makes or breaks a photo. And it isn’t as simple as just capturing as much color as possible and over-saturating until your eyes bleed. It must be controlled in a very coordinated way. Some of my favorite color photographs only have one color.

Red On White. A simple monochromatic color scheme.

Red On White. A simple monochromatic color scheme.

For photographs with multiple colors, I often use a painters color wheel to make sure each of the colors fits into a coordinated color scheme. I either subtly de-saturate or shift colors that do not fit, or I simply don’t take the photograph.

Sunset at Glacier - Many various shades of reds and blues, and just a touch of yellowish-orange, all carefully balanced.

Sunset at Glacier – Many various shades of reds and blues, and just a touch of yellowish-orange, all carefully balanced.

 

Guides

If you show 100 people a strong photograph, and you had some method of tracking their eye movement within the first second or so, you’ll find that they all pretty much follow the same path. That’s because a strong photograph leads the eye around the frame.

There are several ways to do this, but two of my favorite ways to do this are with lines and tonal variation.

Lines… well, they are lines. Anything in an image that makes a line, or a curve. They can be real or implied. Lines are strong geometric elements, and serve as great guides for the eye. I often use them to lead the eye into the photographs to give it a feeling of depth.

Harvest Road - Trail in the grass leads the eye to the horizon.

Harvest Road – Trail in the grass leads the eye to the horizon.

I also love to use tone to guide the eye. Our eyes are drawn to brightness before darkness. So if I create a subtle gradient from darkness to bright, the eye will almost certainly be pulled in that direction. I often use this to my advantage and love to wait until the clouds create just the right shadows to pull the eye into the distance, as demonstrated beautifully in “Monument Valley Cumulus.” This photograph, one of my favorites, has such a great feeling of depth.

Monument Valley Cumulus

Monument Valley Cumulus

 

Light

Some great photographs are really average subjects and not-so-interesting compositions taken under incredibly interesting lighting conditions. Although I use the terms good light and bad light when I’m in the field, I really mean interesting light, and un-interesting light. Admittedly, the difference between the two is difficult to describe.  But as an example, uninteresting light is straight-down noon-light without a cloud in the sky. Sunrises and sunsets are considered to be the best light, especially for color photography, because the light is coming in a more pleasing angle and is quite colorful.

Imagine “Tseyi Sunrise” with noon light. Not so good.

Tseyi Sunrise

Tseyi Sunrise

 

Simplicity

The simpler an image is, the easier it is to understand. It really needs to be about one “thing”, and all the other elements should carefully support that “thing” without becoming their own “thing”. Got it? If something doesn’t add to the photograph, it takes away. So everything should benefit, or it shouldn’t be included.

Starry Cypress - Very simple photograph and composition.

Starry Cypress – Very simple photograph and composition.

 

Moment

Moment is something that can break all the rules and might even transcend technical or compositional flaws in some cases. It is when something happens that is rare, unique, unbelievable, etc. Sometimes it’s planned, sometimes it’s luck, but it’s always a special thing to experience in person, and it can make a great photograph. The trick is to be ready for it, and to have the knowledge and experience to take advantage.

Lightning With Rainbow - Right place at the right time, with the right knowledge, experience, and the right equipment.

Lightning With Rainbow – Right place at the right time, with the right knowledge, experience, and the right equipment.

 

There are other ingredients that I could list here, but then the list would get too long and you would be less likely to read it all. Besides, these are my most used ingredients right now. I cannot think of one photograph of mine that doesn’t use at least one of these as primary “hook”.

Of course, as I photograph more, I learn more, and my technique is always subject to change as I grow as a photographer. I might even come back in a few years and re-write this list with completely new ingredients! But for now, this is where I am. I hope that having read this, you will be better able to understand each of my photographs now.

-Tim

If I were an art collector…

I started to write a quick guide to collecting art, but there are different definitions for “collecting”, and a bazillion for “art”. Also, people collect in different ways and for different reasons. Instead, I’ll tell you how I would do it, and maybe it will give you a different impression of art collecting, and how affordable it can be. (Note that I don’t have an art collection as described below, mostly because I’m too busy making my own art. I guess you could say that I build my own collection. However, if I was not an artist, I could very well see myself as a collector.)

Moonset Over Santa Elena

Moonset Over Santa Elena

Budget

When I think of collecting, I think about my rock collection that I built while travelling throughout the western US as a kid on vacation with my family. I loved stopping in at rock shops and buying one or two pieces… whatever I could afford with my meager earnings. Sometimes I could even find something along side the road that I liked.  Over the years, I built a nice little collection of interesting things, and probably spent less than $100.

The limit for me, like most people, is that some art is expensive, especially large pieces. However, small art is usually extremely affordable. So I would limit my collection to small pieces. Maybe 8×10’s or 11×14’s.

Then I’d figure out how many of these it would take for me to feel like I had a “complete” collection. I reckon this would be 10 pieces of art, maybe even as many as 20. How much would I spend per piece, and how many of these pieces could I afford to purchase in a year?  Let’s say I spend $200 per year, and that allows me to buy four framed 8×10’s. Not a bad start. In five years, I’ll have a very nice (and very affordable) collection.

Of course, that means I’d have to find not only an artist that I like, but one that offers small artwork in my price range.

Moon At Turret Arch

Moon At Turret Arch

The Art and the Artist

The most important part of this is that I love my collection and that it speaks to me. I expect it to help me to somehow feel connected with the artist. I also want it to be cohesive, so I would choose a single medium (let’s go with photography!).

I’d start searching for one artist whose entire body of work really spoke to me both technically and artistically, and who was able to create consistent work on a regular basis. This is important! I don’t want to be drawn to one photograph, when the majority of the other photographs don’t appeal to me at all. It’s important for the artist to have a desirable and cohesive body of work, and not just one or two “one-hit-wonders”.

It would be beneficial if the artist is local, or at least does a show nearby regularly so I could meet him/her in person. I would, after all, want to like the artist as a person as well as their art. I want someone that I can enjoy and appreciate, before I invest my time and money.

Of course, they would also need to offer their artwork at the size and price range that meets my budget and space requirements. This is most likely true with photography, although many other artists also offer affordable small prints.

Moon Over Windmill

Moon Over Windmill

The Plan

If necessary, I’d narrow down the theme for my collection if the artist’s body of work is too broad. I might narrow it down to subject matter, location, color palette, etc. Maybe a collection of trees would be nice, or photographs with the color yellow. Perhaps black and white photographs of the moon? This will depend on what the artist has available. The more photographs available, the more I can narrow my theme.

I’d reserve an area in my home for my collection. Either a wall, a room, or a hallway. Something with good light, or more likely I’d add track lighting. Art dramatically benefits from good light.

Finally, I’d purchase one or two of my favorite pieces and either have the artist frame them, or choose a matching frame that I know will still be available a year or two down the road. I’d hang my new artwork in it’s reserved spot, and enjoy it for several months. After my new collection has had time to acclimate in my mind, I might already have another piece in mind that I had seen before that I would like to acquire next.

Moonset At White Sands

Moonset At White Sands

Follow

Perhaps even before I make my first purchase, I’d get to know the artist better. I’d read through their website, subscribe to their newsletter, and find more about who they are, what they’re up to, and what inspires them. I’d keep up to date on their latest releases to see what direction their work is going, and if I can better understand where he/she is taking me. I might even send them an email asking about a certain piece – perhaps why they composed it a certain way or how it makes them feel. In short, I’d get involved in their work and build an ongoing relationship.

Moon At Bryce

Moon At Bryce


 

Not only is this the way I would collect art, it is also my favorite kind of collector. The most exciting order for me to fulfill is not the largest and most expensive, but the one that’s going to someone who has purchased my work in the past, even if it’s just a $25 8×10.

I am so thankful for each of my customers, and especially the collectors that have added to their “Tim Herschbach” collections. Thank you so much for allowing me to serve you.

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