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Towards deep ethics

Monday, April 3rd, 2017

Recently, the proliferative and educational photographers Darwin Wiggett and Samantha Chrysanthou unveiled their newest project, the League of Landscape Photographers. The intent was to be a voice of reason in a landscape photography culture that has become focused on “getting the shot,” or winning likes or shares on social media. I rather like the idea of bringing attention back to thoughtful photography and photographic projects; a huge amount of intentional but less “wow-worthy” photography seems get buried (and sadly, unseen) in the static of social media. I agree with Samantha and Darwin, who believe the first step away from this mentality begins with a tangible and published code of ethics.

The League offers a template code of ethics here. It includes much of the stuff that you would expect landscape photographers to already be doing. Indeed, this is a comprehensive and thoughtful list. Since reading it, I’ve been thinking about something more, something I can only think to call “deep ethics.” While I’m sure anyone reading this blog, regardless of their political leanings, can say a lot about the current political climate in the United States, one thing we probably can’t argue about is that we are all paying attention, and everything we do right now matters. It turns out this dovetails well with what I consider to be my deep ethics.

photo of rocks and bushes as the sun sets in joshua tree national park


“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” – Aldo Leopold

The health of the land is the standard by which we measure our work.

The popularity of photography as a hobby is at an all-time high. Combine this with the huge popularity of our national parks in general (see the most recent statistics on the top 10 most visited parks) and politically-fueled interest in our public lands; these all equate to increased impact on the land, with tangible effects.

We are responsible for the impacts on the landscape that result from our photography.  In as much as we are bound to by realism in photography, we have the obligation to ask how things will be, how we want them to be, and how they should be. When we are unwilling to compromise the health of the land as our standard, advocacy will follow in our art. My unwillingness to compromise and my commitment to advocacy is the first point in my code of ethics.

Actions make advocacy tangible.

The idea of “commitment to advocacy” is a nice notion, but how can it be made tangible? Photographers might answer by saying that they hope their work inspires others to protect a particular wild or open space. Indeed, that would be wonderful (of course, publicizing locations carries its own caveats, which I discuss briefly later). What else? Print sales would be nice, especially if they can directly benefit a grassroots activist activity or environmental group somehow. Photographers could also consider donating image usage or prints to particularly worthy groups, many of whom are working on thin budgets as it is.

Finally, one that has me particularly intrigued is that photographers and backpackers don’t really “pay to play” in the same way that other outdoorsmen like hunters or anglers do; we aren’t taxed in the same way that hunters are for their ammunition, and we don’t purchase hunting or fishing licenses. This revenue is used to make habitat better for wildlife. We certainly reap the harvest from these habitat improvements, just as we enjoy well-maintained trails, and clean campsites, but what are we putting back into the coffers to make sure these things happen?

Until something more formal is put into place, the thought I have is to practice a self-imposed excise tax on goods that I buy for use in the outdoors. If I were to buy a new lens, or backpack, or headlamp, I would “tax” the purchase price, thus donating a predetermined amount at the end of the year to a group working on the ground to make the landscape better, and consequently making my experience better. If I’m not in the position to give financially, I would volunteer my time. Regardless of what we do as photographers, “advocacy” absolutely must be a tangible thing; this is my second point in my code of ethics.

photo of sunset in box springs mountains park, riverside county california


“What counts finally in a work are not novel and interesting things, though these can be important, but the absolutely authentic. I think that there is a spirit of place, a presence asking to be expressed; and sometimes when we are lucky…and quiet in a way few of us want to be anymore, a voice enters our own…” – John Haines

Only by opposing the cultivation of disorder will we see a coherent body of work.

From a philosophical point of view, photography’s popularity is troublesome because–as the article above points out–we photograph everything but really don’t take the time to look at anything. Continuing on from the passage above from his book of critical essays Living Off the Country, John Haines writes, “I have come to feel that there is here in North America a hidden place obscured by what we have built upon it, and that whenever we penetrate the surface of the life around us that place and its spirit can be found.”

Perhaps now, more than ever, we need to know place. The third point in my code of ethics is to avoid passing photography fads and locations. Not only will I have become more connected with place by focusing on and producing a personal photography portfolio, it will reduce impact on places that are heavily photographed, thus improving the health of the land.

photo of wildflowers and joshua trees at sunrise in gold butte national monument nevada


“There is no better high than discovery.” – E.O.Wilson

Ensure the experience remains sacred.

Photographers face a tough challenge. If we are truly advocates for the land, then we must inspire our viewers to want to protect it. However, at the same time, by inspiring them, visitation increases, ultimately creating greater impact. Reconciling these two things is no small task, and much attention has been given elsewhere as to the ethics of whether to reveal photography locations. Some photographers are unwilling to share anything about any of their “secret” locations. Others are more forthcoming, and yet others have developed apps that allow for “crowd sharing” of locations. It runs the gamut.

Personally, I lie somewhere between the former two points on the spectrum. I believe that it shouldn’t really matter where a photograph was taken–it’s all beautiful, and we should be stewards for it all. However, at the same time, I also believe that sometimes a general location is appropriate to include with commentary of a particular photograph. That said, I also believe that we need to find our own reasons to love anything (landscape or not), and that sentiment just doesn’t work if the reasons to love a place are dictated to us. So, the fourth point in my code of ethics is to share relevant information as appropriate, but I refuse to spoil anyone’s joy of discovery.

It’s worth mentioning archaeological sites here. There are some, which have common colloquial names and are visited regularly by hundreds of people. Their locations are practically common knowledge, and I will refer to them by their colloquial names from time to time. Others however, I will protect the location of, and will not give details for, except privately to trusted friends.

photo of native american rock art in southern nevada

This is the beginning of my code of ethics. I’ll surely be adding things, but in the meantime what would you add? Many thanks to Samantha and Darwin for this thoughtful exercise.

Acts of submission

Saturday, February 18th, 2017

“‘The land was ours before we were the land’s,’ says Robert Frost’s poem. Only in the act of submission is the sense of place realized and a sustainable relationship between people and earth established.” – Wallace Stegner

Stegner was probably one of the West’s most influential writers; he seemed to be deeply in tune with the mettle it took for early pioneers to build a life in the West, and the challenges today’s inhabitants face, both from an environmental and geopolitical viewpoint. He’s one of my favorite writers, and his commentary is sorely missed.

He would have been 108 years old today.

photo of a bristlecone pine and currant mountain at sunrise

Happy Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

Another year has almost passed and it’s been a relatively quiet one for me on the blog.  Life’s busy-ness has taken up a lot of my time over the last few months, and writing has taken a back seat to other things.  Such is life–I’m sure 2015 will bring change to the natural ebb and flow of things.

Despite my quiet nature lately, I have been thinking much about the holiday season this year, Thanksgiving in particular.  As a child, Thanksgiving was really just felt like a necessary stepping stone on my way to what I thought were much more important holidays: Christmas, and my birthday (which is in January).  However, over the years Thanksgiving has become my favorite holiday; the notion of thankfulness has become very poignant as I’ve grown older.

This year, all I want for Thanksgiving is presence.  Be present in the moment, with whoever you’re with.  Practice the art of deep listening.  Our society is rapidly becoming one in which viewpoints and opinions are so polarized that discussion, common ground, and mutual respect are disappearing.  Not only is this true here in the United States in national news, I see it more and more on social media–just the other day I saw a discussion thread regarding personal preference for hiking boots vs. trail runners de-evolve into personal insults.  Really?

I read an essay by Laura Simms recently that captured this notion perfectly.  In an excerpt she wrote:

“Pulling opinions off of soapbox reactivity can be as agonizing as pulling a bandaid off an open wound. But without fresh air and time, the wound does not heal from within. We managed to listen to each other. Our dialogue became stunning and hard. We had to agree to consider each person’s reflection. With space, and with listening, and with a certain personal discipline, each of us began to melt. Our differences and our listening became our common ground.”

Sadly, Thanksgiving dinner is often the perfect venue for our opinions to clash.  Start small by giving the gift of presence to whoever you’re with this holiday season, and resolve to work towards a common ground of understanding in the new year.

bentonite hill layers, bits wilderness new mexico

Understanding the Why, part 2

Monday, June 9th, 2014

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about why I make images.  What’s my motivation to get up at unreasonable hours, explore dusty dirt roads that haven’t been touched in years, or hike for hours in the sun only to never take my camera out?  The answers–of course–transcend photography, but I have been able to identify some discrete reasons why I make images.  You can read part 1 (perspective) here.

Part 2: Beauty

“There is beauty, heartbreaking beauty, everywhere.” — Edward Abbey

In my last post, I wrote about how photography–and being in nature–helps me to gain perspective.  Indeed it does.  However, by being outside often I’ve also been able to see many beautiful scenes in nature.  I’ve often joked with friends that I’ll never take them anywhere ugly for vacation, which as far as I know is a true statement.  “Beauty,” to the photographer, however is two-fold.

The first way to look at beauty is very simple: nature is beautiful.  My hope is that every single person has had an experience in the outdoors that has stopped them in their tracks and has moved them to the point where they are speechless.  During these moments when words aren’t sufficient, we stand in awe of the scene before us.  It is a heartbreaking, gut-wrenching awe that is at the same time more satisfying and more tortuous than anything we’ve experienced.  Satisfying because there’s no place on earth we’d rather be in that moment, tortuous because we know we can’t experience that euphoria forever.

There are times in life when words aren’t necessary.  For most of us, trying to put words to these moments wouldn’t do them justice, and might even scare them away.  As a photographer, I try to make images that convey my sense of awe, knowing that as my capacity to feel awe increases, so does my reverence of the natural world.

My worry is that these euphoric moments are becoming rarer and all too fleeting in our society.  I recently read an article in the American Scientist by Louis Chianese that asks a simple question: Is nature photography too beautiful?  His main idea is that by presenting only glossy and polished nature imagery, photographers are “masking” the plight of our planet, and by subduing our processing, we can bring our photography more in line with the current state of ecological affairs.  To me, his question asks whether artists have a social responsibility to accurately portray a scene.  This has been discussed many times, and I won’t go into it here, except to say that it’s more important to me to protect those moments where I–where we–stand in awe of nature, because they’re equally as endangered (even if they’re less tangible).  This is where beauty and perspective go hand in hand:

If we lose our capacity for awe, we will forget who we are, and where we came from.

The High Sierra, Sequoia National Park

The second way to think about beauty is that we don’t have to go places to experience it.  Sure, that upcoming vacation to ____________ is something we all look forward to, but when you stop and look around you, you realize that beauty really is all around you.  In that sense, we have a good insurance policy on those awe-inspiring moments because they’re free and in abundance if we take the time to seek them out.  Photography helps me to “see” the world in new ways, and appreciate the inherent beauty in nature.

If we can all aspire to find a way to appreciate the natural world, whether by our art or other actions, we might be better off–kinder, gentler.  How do you appreciate the beauty that surrounds you?  Do you think nature photography is too beautiful?

Moss-covered trees, abstract

Understanding the Why, part 1

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about why I make images.  What’s my motivation to get up at unreasonable hours, explore dusty dirt roads that haven’t been touched in years, or hike for hours in the sun only to never take my camera out?  The answers–of course–transcend photography, but I have been able to identify some discrete reasons why I make images.  You can read part 2 (beauty) here.

Part 1: Perspective

“Good and evil do not exist in Nature.” — Spinoza

So far this year, I’ve landed in Sequoia National Park a couple of times.  I didn’t really plan it this way, it just happened.  Most people associate the park with its namesake giant trees, which are truly impressive.  However, Sequoia’s backcountry is equally awe-inspiring; not only can you find the world’s largest trees here, but also the highest point in the contiguous United States.  They’re just a short 72.2 mile hike from one another (a day hike for some–Leor Pantilat ran the High Sierra trail in just under 16 hours in 2012).

Foggy Giant Forest

Whether you choose to focus on the forest or the trees, Sequoia’s landscape is big.  On my second trip to the park recently, I was on a solo backpack via the Golden Trout Wilderness. While the scenery here isn’t as well known as some other iconic Sierra locales, the views of the Kahweahs, Chagoopa Plateau, and Great Western Divide are impressive, and the scale of the landscape quickly becomes apparent.  While slightly less well-known, the landscape is still rugged.  In late May at 11,000′, the temperatures were still chilly and snow flurries reminded me winter might not be willing to loosen its grip quite yet.

Although rugged, I’m hesitant to say that the landscape is unforgiving because it simply can’t be.  It’s unresponsive.  That’s, I think, why I came here.   As Gretel Ehrlich wrote, I needed to be steadied by its indifference.  So much of the time, our burdens in life feel very big.  However in the grand scheme of things, things are really very different and those big problems maybe aren’t quite as insurmountable after all.  Standing in the Sierra or any landscape, I’m reminded of my smallness–my place–in the world.

Paraphrasing Muir, going out is really going in, and there’s a unique comfort to be found in a visiting a place that simply just is.

I make images in places like this to regain my perspective, to remember that I’m part of something bigger.  This isn’t to say that my worries and cares are diminished, but that’s the challenge:  can we not make something more than it is, while at the same time not make it less than it was?  Can the images we create answer this challenge?  Can photography become a practice in self-awareness and in helping us to gain perspective?

After The Storm

2013 Year in Review

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

“Of all the things I wondered about on this land, I wondered the hardest about the seduction of certain geographies that feel like home — not by story or blood but merely by their forms and colors. How our perceptions are our only internal map of the world, how there are places that claim you and places that warn you away. How you can fall in love with the light.”  — Ellen Meloy

“I wonder if ever again Americans can have that experience of returning to a home place so intimately known, profoundly felt, deeply loved, and absolutely submitted to? It is not quite true that you can’t go home again. I have done it, coming back here. But it gets less likely…we have lived too shallowly in too many places.” — Wallace Stegner

Another year has passed and I am re-reading my blog posts and journals from 2013, as well as reviewing my images, retracing my year.  Last year was one in which I grew tremendously in my photographic vision and voice.  This year, I hoped to build on that growth.

Looking at numbers of images produced, 2013 was relatively light for me.  Some of this was intentional: I spent significant time in the mountains over the summer and fall, but often left my camera at home, focusing on introspection and reflection.  I used to carry my camera everywhere with me, but have learned to let that go somewhat–sometimes being in the moment is more valuable than trying to capture every moment with a camera.  Details and intimacy with the moment get lost that way, as counterintuitive as it may seem.

Despite the few images I made this year, it was productive in other ways.  I was able to redesign my website and restructure my image portfolios.  I had several fantastic backpacking trips and was reminded how good getting off the grid for a few days can feel.  I was fortunate to enjoy two of those backpacking trips with Jackson Frishman, who I have known for several years through our blogs; I really enjoyed getting to know him in person this year.  I also was able to further develop some thoughts on the West, and on sense of place, which is an ongoing subject of interest for me:


In Defense of the West

Preserving Wildness

Personally, it was a year of deep introspection, revelation, and unexpected hope for me; 2014 should be an interesting year photographically as well as personally.   One thing I did confront within myself was the fact that my parents are aging and won’t live forever–this has been a theme since January and in some ways continues to be so.

My biggest recurring theme this year was the concept of ‘home’ and how we fit into the landscape.  I’m not talking about home in the sense of having a street address and a house, but rather the feeling you get when you arrive in a certain location.  Why are we drawn to certain landscapes more than others–why do we feel “at home” in certain landscapes, but not in others?  I feel like this is should be a central tenet of landscape photography: conveying a sense of place, a sense of belonging, to the landscape.

As humans, we are at an interesting crossroads: we can use the landscape to drive our development, we can simply be inhabitants of the landscape, or we can become part of the landscape, existing as part of its rhythm.   Only the latter option is a completely synchronous way of living–the former two are somewhat asynchronous.  The bottom line is that we must strive to create a life that’s in balance with our own needs, but also with the land.

I found balance this year by visiting familiar locations, revisiting places I haven’t been in years, and discovering new landscapes I haven’t visited before.  As I was reviewing my portfolios and images from the year, it struck me that many of my favorites from this year were in monochrome.  Why?  I guess I just saw the world that way in 2013.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the images, and that 2013 was good to you.  I hope you a fantastic 2014 as well!

Markagunt Plateau Aspens

Aspen grove, Utah. September

Aspens and granite boulders

Aspens & lichen-covered granite, California, August

Blooming Mojave Yucca

Mojave Yucca, California, April

Intimate mountain landscape

Tree & Rocks, California, May

Canyon Abstract 2

Canyon Walls, Utah, June

Carrizo Plain National Monument

Shadows and Hillside, California, March

Death Valley Sunrise

Stormy Desert Sunrise, California, January

The Little Colorado River

Little Colorado River Canyon, Arizona, February

Wildflowers, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Mountain Wildflowers, Wyoming, July

Joining Seasons

Monday, October 7th, 2013

“People do not merely select roles suited to their native talents and personalities.  They also gravitate to environments that reward their hereditary inclinations.” — Edward O. Wilson, Consilience

After a long, painful, and torrential monsoon season soaked the Southwest, the Mojave Desert is greener than I’ve ever seen it.  The creosote almost glows in the midday sun as I drive up the long grade that separates the Colorado Plateau from the low desert.  For a fall day, it’s still warm: nearly 80 degrees.  Finally after many months of other obligations, I’m able to come back for a visit.  Living in southern California, I go saying I miss autumn, but really I just miss the place.

The Colorado Plateau is characterized in part by its vast expanses of Navajo Sandstone; although other formations infiltrate here and there, the Navajo is predominant, and it has many voices.  In harsh summer light, it can appear white as snow.  It glows blue in moonlight.  During twilight hours it turns a creamy pink.   It can be completely red or streaked with ‘desert varnish’; the redness is a continuum that depends on the amount of iron present, and the oxidation state of that iron.

Iron = strength.

I trust iron, and I come here when I need to be reminded of strength.  For some reason I have never been able to warm up to the sea like I have the high deserts and mountains of the southwest, and I don’t look to it for solace.

A sense of place does not arise solely from a space, nor is it necessarily a direct function of time spent there.  Memories and experiences transform a space into a place.   I arrive on the Southwest edge of the Plateau, the first sandstone cliffs greeting me, and memories come flooding back to me.  I can look across a distant vista and remember individual trees, places where I have found bighorn sheep skulls, and the place I found so many Calochortus lilies that I wished I had brought my camera.  I even remember friends who have never been here with me except in spirit.

Markagunt Plateau Aspens

Autumn is a special time to be here.  The busy-ness of summer is leaving, families of tourists are back to their routines at home, and there is a heightened sense of peace.  In the high country, elk bugles make for a perfect alarm clock, and the breeze carries notes of winter, even on an Indian Summer afternoon.   In Navajo, October is called Ghąąji’, which means “the joining of the seasons.”  For them, it is a time to cultivate the richness of the season–summer’s crops–while getting ready for the ceremonies of winter as well as the hardships that lie ahead.

Photographically, I have always struggled when I visit a location for the first time.   I find myself feeling hurried and stressed out, and as a result I cannot find a composition that feels right, cannot read the light, etc.  I just feel out of place.  Granted, sometimes magic happens, but most of the time it doesn’t.  When I visit a place I know well, the opposite is true and I am relaxed, allowed to focus on the details of the place.  I find myself taking fewer images and there are times I may not even take my camera out of the bag.  I don’t think I’m harboring an elitist agenda by only waiting for the “best” light, but I am simply content just to be.

Our world is wonderfully complex and so many things are interwoven.  All too often, we search for truths that are equally complex and intricate.  However, sitting on sun-warmed sandstone in autumn experiencing my own joining of seasons, I am reminded that some truths are simple.

Lava Point Sunrise 2


Lava Point Sunrise

The important lesson

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Sunset along the Kolob Reservoir Road

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve read two blog posts that have made me think quite a bit about social media.  First, Ron Coscorrosa’s incredibly perceptive and well-written, “Avoiding the Internet Popularity Trap,” is a humorous poke at the current state of photography and social media.  The other post is, “7 Ways to be Insufferable on Facebook.” from a blog I’ve recently discovered called Wait but Why.

As I read both of these posts, I laughed at their cleverness, but my laugh quickly devolved to that awkward chuckle you get when you’re in a room full of people and realize you’re the butt of a joke.  For both posts, I need more than one hand to count the number of “offenses,” I’ve made.

I imagine to some extent it was true before social media came along, but there’s no doubt now: Facebook (and its offspring) has made us a funny bunch of people indeed.  The internet has increased the speed of our cultural evolution rapidly–too fast I’m afraid for our poor little brains to keep up with.  This leaves us doing all sorts of weird things for attention, as if we’re that awkward kid in braces at the middle school dance, trying to get the attention of that girl or boy.  You know who I’m talking about.  And you were that awkward kid; we all were.

In response to ribbing critiques of our odd cultural behavior, we have two choices: laugh at ourselves, or get mad.  If you follow the landscape photography circles on Facebook at all, you know about the fallout surrounding Ron’s post–there were some people who took it personally, and for no good reason in my opinion.  We’re all guilty of these things.  That’s why they’re funny, and if it causes us to take a step back for some positive reflection, then so much the better.   Things are so serious in this world…if you can’t laugh at yourself, what can you laugh at?

So with that in mind, here’s my offering of silly Facebook antics that I’m guilty of.  Will I do it again?  Probably.  But, I’m always mindful that it’s the body of work that does the talking, not the lip service.  That’s the important lesson here.

Thanks to Ron and Why but Why for the great posts.


Greg Russell's Facebook Post

A dew-covered world

Monday, September 9th, 2013

This last weekend, my family and I visited the eastern Sierra for an event I was attending.  We had a few extra hours on Saturday afternoon and decided to drive up to Tuolumne Meadows.  On our way up Tioga Pass, I wondered if we would see any evidence of the Rim Fire.  Highway 120, which connects Yosemite’s high country to the Valley is currently closed, so it was very quiet in Tuolumne Meadows, and as I expected, a very large smoke plume was evident across the western and northern skies.   As evening arrived, the wind shifted and heavy smoke moved into Lee Vining Canyon, filling the Mono Basin.

Negit Island Mono Lake

Negit Island and smoke from the Rim Fire

Although it’s now 80% contained, the Rim fire has been burning since mid-August, and has charred over a quarter of a million acres, making it one of the most destructive fires in California’s history.  Fire is becoming more and more a way of life in the West, but in the face of a blaze this size, outdoor enthusiasts, photographers, hikers, and simply the general public have stood in awe and horror as fire crews scrambled to get the upper hand in hot and dry conditions.

Unlike most people, when I think of Yosemite, I don’t think of the Valley.  I think of Tuolumne Meadows and the granite domes, Mts. Dana and Gibbs and the Cathedral Range (one of my favorite mountain chains anywhere).  This is the Yosemite I know.  Standing there on Saturday, looking at the smoke, something didn’t feel right.   I know I’m not alone in this feeling.

In the face of such destruction, whether it’s a forest fire or something more personal and human, we experience a visceral suffering.  Pico Iyer had a wonderful op-ed piece in this Sunday’s New York Times, “The Value of Suffering,” in which he concludes that with love and trust, maybe we can be strong enough to witness suffering, and freely admit that we will never get the upper hand over it.

To put it another way, consider the interesting Japanese word nen.  Nen is the smallest unit of time any human being can experience, and in any nen one can return to something, anything…whether it’s a breath, partner, path, or choice.  This decision to return is the foundation of Zen practice.

In any nen–whether watching the Rim Fire from a distant Tuolumne Meadows or thinking about a loved one, we have the choice to return.  I don’t want to distract from the mess that the Rim Fire has caused and allude to any single benefit, but we are an angry enough world as it is; it’s time to return to a more compassionate path and be thankful for the dew that covers the meadow each morning.

Mono Lake sunset

Black Point Fissures and smoke from the Rim Fire

Unicorns, Rainbows, and Website Design

Friday, August 30th, 2013

Over the last few months, I’ve been working on a website re-design, which I finally have implemented in the last week.  You won’t see many changes here on the blog, but my image galleries have changed significantly, and I hope you’ll take a few minutes, using the links to the right, to look around and tell me what you think.

Rebuilding a website is not easy, especially for someone like me who doesn’t do it everyday.  In fact, it’s exhausting; I would often walk away from the computer feeling like my brain had turned to mush.  This is the total opposite of what I wanted to feel; I wanted to be exhilarated as i watched my website change, like unicorns and rainbows had surrounded me.  That feeling hopefully will come later, now that I have finished the task and have had some distance from the monotonous coding.  Despite the fact I feel like I lost some brain cells from the process, I do feel like every photographer should be either rebuilding their website or at least reevaluating it every couple of years.  Here’s why.

In thinking about my project, I started in the most logical place: the image.  The focus of a photographer’s website should be the photography.  I began at the ground level, working upward by re-editing almost every image on my site.  The creative process of photography, as you probably already know, only begins in the field, and it is too easy to edit an image, save it, sit back, and let it rest on its laurels for the remainder of its life.  By doing the opposite and revisiting each image, I accomplished two goals.

First, I was able to spend time with every image and decide whether I wanted to include it in my body of work.  As you browse my site, you’ll see that each image has its own devoted page.  The focus is on the photograph, and collectively they speak to who I am as an artist.  I’ve taken thousands of images, but my website has fewer than 100 on it right now–why wouldn’t I want to put my best foot forward?

Second, in the time since I’ve made some of the images on my website, my image processing skills have improved and I’ve got more tools in my digital toolbox.  Applying those has the ability to enhance images already in my portfolio.

Deciding what images to include is always a challenge.  Having edited and finalized my “candidates,” I pushed forward, choosing to include images that, despite not necessarily being huge crowed pleasers on social media sites, were consistent with my own artistic vision.  Am I saying that every image you see on my site is terribly unique?  No.  However, every image tells a story, and I hope the viewer can connect with it in some way.  Creating a personal experience for the viewer was not without sacrifice however, because I chose to eliminate certain images that may be more popular on social media, etc, at the cost of staying true my ideals.  For a photographer connected to his/her work, that can be painful and difficult, however I feel that it’s a critical and crucial step in developing as an artist.

Finally, as I said above, I wanted each image to have its own dedicated page, such that any individual photograph is not lost in the mix, so to speak.  I purchased my WordPress theme several years ago (during another website redesign) from a photography-oriented vendor, but have never been completely satisfied with their options for galleries.  The dust has cleared this week, and I realize all I’m really using the theme for now is the built-in CSS (which every WordPress theme should have), but also the menu options.  Everything else is homegrown or third-party plugin (for SEO, etc).  I think it illustrates that pre-built themes can be a good starting point, but even photographer-centric companies still don’t have everything we are looking for.

Although it’s a lot of work and can involve some ruthless culling from the herd, revisiting your portfolio from time to time can give you a good opportunity to examine and reflect on the current state of your vision, processing, and presentation.   Don’t expect any unicorns or rainbows, though.  At least not right away.

Aspens and granite boulders