Friday, December 13, 2019


The "common" is anything we take for granted, doesn't grab our attention, or not note worthy. As individuals, we don't stop--we just keep walking. As photographers, we don't consider the subject worth a click. We miss so much in life, and in photography, when we don't stop and smell the roses.

The key to understanding this concept is not to look at the final image and say, "Oh, I can do that." I'll share a story to illustrate what I mean. 

I made a slide presentation to a camera club a few years ago. I showed an image that is very common in any body of water--a duck in the water. A gentleman in the audience raised his hand, and said, "You know, I can do that in Photoshop." I replied with, "Well, here's the deal. If you had been with me when I saw that duck in the water, you would have shrugged your shoulders and kept walking. To the naked eye, it really didn't look like much."

So, here's the deal. If we just see with our eyes, we will miss a lot of great photo opportunities. We need to see with our imaginations to see through and beyond the common. This is difficult for a lot of people because in involves seeing what's not there.

In order to really appreciate some of the following images, you need to see them in the context of art, not pictures.  

With this introduction, let me start with that duck in the water. I underexposed the scene
by a -2 stops in order to enhance the contrast and "freeze" the motion in the ripples.
That's 200% less light than the light meter thought I needed. Think about it. 

What comes to mind when you think of Taco Bell? Burritos, for sure, but a photo opportunity? Probably not.

I saw these light fixtures on the side of a Taco Bell in Russellville, Arkansas. 

I took a hike in the mountains north of Steamboat Springs, Colorado a few years ago, expecting to see beautiful pine trees, creeks, and fowl. Instead, I saw an entire grouping of dying trees. That's what my eyes saw. My mind saw art-- layers of color and texture, with side lighting that enhanced colors, light and shadows.

I will let you look at this next image for a few seconds 


Well? What did you see? I was having breakfast with a friend on the deck of a quaint cafe in Hygiene, Colorado. While I waited for my order, I looked down at my coffee cup, as I prepared for a nice hot cup of java. When I looked down, I saw these bubbles in my cup. Camera time! Click. For this image, I applied a software application to give it an artsy feel to the background.

I would bet that 98% of us consider a freeway construction site as ugly. If not ugly, certainly not pretty, and certainly not worth a photograph--unless you're documenting urban growth for the local Chamber or newspaper. This is what they look like, right?

My eyes saw this too. However, i could imagine what this might look like very early in the morning, with early morning colors, silhouettes, shapes, people, and design. I got there one morning, before the workers arrived, got my composition, set my exposure, then patiently waited for something to happen. I had an FLD filter on to enhance the sunrise colors. When life caught up with my imagination, click! 

I love it when the seasons cross paths. Such was the case for this next image. It was late autumn when we got an early snowfall. I loved the simplicity of this scene, and the contrast between snow and fall colors. 

I was with a student during a 1-on-1 lesson. We came across an ugly,filmy, stained window and we both looked at it at the same time. She beat me to the punch, when she said, "See? See that. That's the kinda thing I like, but don't know what do do." The window was on a painter's work shed. He took old tractors, brought them back to life, and painted them in his shed. He had a sink where he washed his paint brushes. Out of habit, he would shake his paint brushes near the window as he was cleaning them. Throughout the years, paint from his brushes would sprinkle blotches and streaks of color that stuck to the inside of the window. This is how the outside of that old window looked when we saw it. Pretty ugly, huh? 


I walked her through the process I was going to take to create something out of that common old window. I pointed to the bottom third of the window in the middle, explaining,
"See those shapes of color at the bottom? We are going to zoom in on just that part and severely underexpose it." We took turns at photographing that portion of the window. When we were done, her image looked very close to mine. She was surprised and amazed.

If you look closely, they are the same shapes as on the window. We both underexposed the window by -2 stops; not 1/2 a stop, but two complete stops.    

Here is my final example of making the common uncommon. In my neighborhood, at the foothills of Hot Springs Mountain, there are these leftovers of years gone by. The old stone steps are the remains of what I can only assume led to a big 1930's or 1940's home on the hill. You can see them from Ramble Street. However, to most passersby, they are hard to see because they are camouflaged against the hillside topography. 

For weeks, I kept looking at them as I too drove by them, all the time thinking "I see something." Then, one day it hit me as to what I wanted to do with them. I had my artistic hypothesis in mind. 

I went there one evening shortly after sunset, with my large flashlight in hand. I "painted" the steps and even the unlit lamp inside the old street light. Here is the final result. I gave the image the title of "Rambling Steps." 

Next time you see something common, don't walk by or drive by it. Go back and take a second look. Look at it from different mental and visual perspectives. You know what it is, but what could it be, if.......? Have fun with it.