A Clean Style

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I recently bought a pack of VSCO filters. I have yet to use any of them.

For those who don’t know, VSCO are post-processing filters that replicate a selection of the best and most popular film photography from back in the day. It supposedly gives modern digital photography a vintage film look.

Normally I like this look. Filters like VSCO and others get flack from some photographers because they believe it is a lazy post-processing technique, or that people are simply using these filters to copy popular Instagram or Tumblr looks without developing their own style.

From what I understand, most good photographers can uses these preset filters as a starting point only, and then alter and adjust as needed until they have something that matches their own style, or the needs of a client.  VSCO is just another tool in the toolbox.

I take back my original statement: I have used one VSCO filters a total of four times.  Here is one example.

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I started with a filter that simulated old Tri-X black and white film, and tweeked until I got something I liked.

But, for some reason, I just can’t bring myself to do that with other photographs, especially photographs of people.

I like a simple style. I have tried to cultivate a simple style.  I have worked very hard to never rely on fancy edits or post-processing trickery.  From searching for basic geometric shapes that exist in suburbia air-conditionerlight-pole-shadowsuburban-mailbox

to trying to get the cleanest, straightforward shots of cars and other cool stuff, I like to think of my style as bare bones, letting the objects and colors speak for themselves.

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Sometimes I watch cooking shows.  I don’t cook, but my wife does, which means when she is watching cooking shows, I’m watching cooking shows.  While never actually learning how to cook, I have learned one thing from watching cooking shows; when you start with really great ingredients, a good cut of beef or fresh vegetables, you don’t need to do a lot to them to make a great meal.  If the ingredients are delicious to start with, you’re most of the way there.  In fact, pouring heavy sauces or using too many spices over good ingredients can actually serve to wreck a decent meal.

This is how I approach my photography.  I want to start off with something great in camera.

This doesn’t mean I don’t do post-processing work.  It means I work to make sure my post-processing work isn’t noticed.  Sharpening, gradations, dodging & burning, cloning, curves adjustments, these are all tools in my toolbox that help me create the best final image possible.  But my goal is never to draw attention to these edits. My goal is to make sure you, the viewer, never notice them.  I can do several dozens of tweeks, adjustments and changes to a final image, hundreds even, and my hope is that you’ll never be the wiser.

I like a clean style.

Some Notes On Style

Ford Bronco

All of my pictures look the same.  And that’s not a bad thing.

Fair enough, they don’t look exactly the same, not always.  But, like many great artists, I have developed a specific visual language which helps me explore a litany of recurring themes within my work.  That’s fancy/schmancy art-speak for “I have a certain schtick that’s my go-to composition.”  Basically.

It’s usually a profile of cars, trucks or other vehicles in front of buildings or other objects. You can see it in this previous blog post, and you can really see it in this set I created on my flickr page.

Profiles Of Cars And Other Vehicles

Profiles Of Cars And Other Vehicles

Again, this isn’t a bad thing.  As I have said many times before, I come from a Fine Art background.  I repeat that often because it is how I view most of what I do here.  When I was a kid, I started drawing cars.  I did this for two reasons.  First, there was a magazine at the time called CARtoons, which was just that; cartoons about cars, motorcycles, vans, and other cool stuff.  Artists like George Trosley, Shawn Kerri, Dave Deal and others really sparked my imagination and inspired me to take up drawing.  The other reason was, if I gave cool drawings of cars to bullies, they would leave me alone.  Basically.

So, I spent my childhood drawing cars, motorcycles, vans and other cool stuff.  In high school, I expanded out to people.  In college, I expanded out to Fine Art.  And, after many years of dedication, I started to develop a style.  Which is cool.  You can usually tell an artists work by their style.  I know my Picasso from my Pissaro, my Caravaggio from my Cassatt, even my Manet from my Monet.   I can tell a Franz Klein from a Clyfford Still from a dozen paces.  Why?  Because they all have their own certain style.

Photographers, like artists, often develop their own style as well, but it simply isn’t as widely discussed like it is in Fine Art circles.  We talk about gear more than style.  We often obsess with how to get that “perfect” exposure, without thinking that sometimes “perfect” isn’t actually the right choice.  Too often a photographers goal is to get all the technical details right, without capturing the substance.  Or the heart.

If photographers do develop their own style, it is more often the result of circumstance rather than any artistic forethought.  Maybe they only use a certain camera/lens combo that gets a specific result.  Maybe they can only afford old school lenses, which often have miles more character than much newer lens, which might be razor sharp but totally lacking in soul.  Maybe they only take macro pictures of summer fruit. Maybe they are just stuck on a specific Lightroom Preset that they just can’t get out of.  Who knows.  The point is, I don’t believe there are many photographers out there who consciously pursue their own style.

Geo Metro

I know I have a style.  My style.  I do have recurring themes in my work.  I do have a visual vocabulary I work from.  I have ideas in my head that I want to bring into being.  I see issues that I want to try to make people think about in a different way.  It’s why I went into the Fine Arts instead of the Graphic Arts.  I could have made a living as a Graphic Artists, I know it.  But I didn’t want to make a living simply making catsup bottles look good.  Yes, that’s an oversimplification of the job, but not by much.

And that’s why, partly, I think it is going to be difficult for me to ever make any money from this photography lark.  I still don’t want to make catsup bottles look good.

But, if you need a picture of the profile of a car against a building, you’re damn right I’m your go to guy.