Thursday, April 16, 2015


What do the pictures that you take say about you?

In an ongoing effort to improve my photography, I have begun to attend a small county-based camera club. (There are, no doubt, many of you who think I should join a writing group as well, but one impossible task at a time, if you please.) As a new member - and somewhat of an oddity as a fly fisherman - I agreed to present a slideshow of some of my favorite fly fishing images. Twenty-to-thirty minutes’ worth of show and tell. Selecting and paring down to a manageable number of photos was a tough proposition, but when I sat back and looked at the final set of seventy-seven, I learned some interesting things.

In no particular order, these revelations were:

I dig abstraction. The photography of our sport, and I guess of sports in general, is hyper-realistic. Crystal clear images of action. Each droplet of spray, each scale, captured in minute, perfect detail. An instant of precision. The best do it very well and I envy them for I have neither the talent nor the lenses to manage it. But at the end of the day, I find myself gravitating to more obscure and interpretive images. A vignetted panorama of orange and yellow speaks to me of a Baja sunrise as well as any sharp-edged photo. But then, it certainly helps if you were there.

I'm fascinated by water and light. Many of the images that I chose featured prominently the dance of sunlight on waterways. You can’t be a photographer and not worship light and you can’t be a fisherman and not love the water. Blending them both is a joy. And we’re fortunate in that the sport puts us on the water when the light's at its best; the golden hours around dawn and dusk. Sometimes it’s hard to decide what to do – fish, take pictures, or just look and appreciate.

I like it dark. I seem to have an affinity for low light images. Shadows and silhouettes. Mists and mornings. Small details appearing out of the gloom, focusing your attention on a few simple, finite elements. High ISO and low visibility. Things of dreams.

I'm just an old softie. “Painterly” my buddy Bob White calls it. A reduction in clarity and adjustment in saturation can bring a brush-stroked look to an image. And when the colors are soft and the subject lends itself to it, you get pieces that looks like they came off of an easel rather than out of a camera. I’m fascinated by the creative process, in general, and to mix the medias in this way is most interesting.

I hate humanity (or at least wish it would take a long walk off a short jetty). Mary has one regular criticism of my photography. "Where are the people?" It's a legitimate question as I seem to point the camera at everything else - horizons, objects, even nothingness - but seldom at people. And when I do, it’s usually at their backs or in silhouette. Of the seventy-seven images in the slideshow, only two depict faces with enough detail by which the subject’s own mother might recognize them.

I’m not sure what this means.

I break the rules. I shoot into the sun. I tilt horizons. I assume crazy angles. Most of the time I know that I'm doing it. It's important, I think, to know the rules to break them effectively and if you're going to go astray, do so with a purpose. But I have to admit that now and again I am the benefactor of one of those happy photographic accidents that occasionally grace the clueless.

[insert picture of fish here]

Where’s the fish? There’s not a single fish in the entire fly fishing slideshow. Not one. I was shocked when I realized it and can only come up with two possible explanations. First, that they are apparently not what’s most important to me - that it’s all the “stuff” around the endeavor that draws me to the sport. I’m okay with that. After all, I regularly suggest that the most boring part of fishing stories is usually the fishing itself. It’s everything else that’s of real interest.

The second explanation is a simpler one, and the more likely. I'm not fisherman enough to catch anything worth photographing.

Perhaps I've learned more than I really care to know.


Unknown said...

Great stuff, as usual.

Feather Chucker said...

Awesome pics Mike!

Anonymous said...

Trust me Mike, you're on the right track, very 'painterly'!

Ken G said...

You already have the eye, mastering the intricacies of a complicated piece of equipment so you can capture what your eye is seeing is the difficult part.

Be careful with overprocessing, it's too easy. Also don't get enamored with all the filters and effects you can do in Photoshop/Lightroom. It's a trap and you wind up making images that looks a lot like everyone else's. KISS.

You are right about the rules.

Was looking through images the last couple of weeks. I always knew this, but I've had the DSLR for about 9 months now and not a single picture of a human being. I seem to gravitate toward sunsets, trees, flatlands and found objects in some stage of decay. A psych would have a field day with that.

Mike Sepelak said...

Thanks, all. And good advice, Ken, but ignore what the psych would think.

Unknown said...

How's about a Haw River version of Monet's lilies but in less than 20 years?

Mike Sepelak said...

I probably don't have twenty years years, Neuse! But we'll see...

Matthew Copeland said...

I've learned I really dig your photography.

Anonymous said...

Great pictures, and a great approach to it all. As per a previous comment I think that one can overdo the saturation etc, but to my mind you haven't overstepped that mark.
Thanks for the inspiration.

Mike Sepelak said...

I take that as a great compliment, Matt, considering you're immersed in some incredibly fine STS camerawork on a regular basis.

And I do get carried away on occasion, Andrew. I find myself wanting the photo to look like what I saw. One might argue about which was real - what the camera saw or what I did. Thanks for stopping by!

Unknown said...

Mike every year when I go fishing in Austria I drive past Rorschach...,_Switzerland

Mike Sepelak said...

"Fishing in Austria" sure sounds nice, JP. I have never been on the European mainland. Need to change that.