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Writing about art can daunting. After all, aren’t we creating work to communicate in a visual way? Finding the right words to describe art work is like looking for the wind sometimes. Ever changing and invisible. However, the wind has some major impacts- we can see its shifts in other ways. This is how we have to look at examining our own work- the subtleties.

Thankfully, I had 5 years in art school that taught me writing about art was not only a challenge but also essential. Compelling work will ask for more- including those magic words that describe your work.

What is perhaps even more of a challenge for some of you will be narrowing down words to describe your work. I know this is the case for me, since I am inspired by so many things- see the image of my ‘Inspiration Web’ below. All of these pieces  are true inspiration, but not all of them are evident in my work.

The Exercise

Step 1: Gather and Observe

You need to be looking at something in order to decide the words for your work. So, gather some of your favorite pieces or alternatively look at you Instagram or Website Gallery. Spend at least 10 minutes if not more scrolling through your work.

Now grab out a piece of paper or your journal to start some brainstorms.

Step 2: Decide what Elements of Art or Principles of Design  are most prevalent

Elements of Art are the foundation building blocks for composition and how we choose to arrange elements in the frame. It is important to recognize that these are conscious choices and not random (even if some artists prefer to think this way). You brain is constantly processing visual information and making choices about it.

Elements:

  • Line
  • Color
  • Texture
  • Shape
  • Value/Contrast
  • Form
  • Space

Principles of Design are the general ideas about HOW you arrange the elements. These are often intertwined with your theme.

  • Balance
  • Unity
  • Variety
  • Emphasis
  • Movement
  • Pattern/Repetition
  • Proportion/ Scale
  • Rhythm

After looking at both of the lists- narrow down the elements or principles most evident in your work. You list should include about 5, but no more than 8. Keep it precise.

Step 3: Consider Moods and Themes

Mood is created by one of two things: lighting or subject. Cliche mood images with light are things like a sunrise or sunset. However, lighting such as fog or bright harsh light can create different moods. Subject created mood depends on the viewers relationship to it. For example, a puppy can bring a joyful mood while a lone park bench can bring a solitary mood.

Mood is the viewers feeling to your work. Tone is your own (the photographer’s) attitude regarding the subject. So try to keep these separate and examine your work from he viewers perspectives.

To get you started here are a few Mood Words: (Some of they may apply, but don’t hesitate to Google a mood word list)

  • Abandoment
  • Vulnerable
  • Intimate
  • Harsh/Removed
  • Energetic
  • Judgmental
  • Observant/Voyeuristic
  • Proud
  • Provocative
  • Respected
  • Worthy

Themes may also come forward during this brainstorm. Themes are general categories for us to store information under. A way to describe our work that is a bit more removed from the feeling. This may be more accessible for you work than a mood.

Themes can also be closely tied to genre’s of art or art history as shown in the examples below.

Here is a list of themes to give you some examples:

  • Pop Art
  • Motown
  • Found Objects
  • Nature
  • Questions
  • Faux
  • Photo-journalistic
  • Garish
  • Vivid
  • Artificial
Step 4: Time to Journal

One of my favorite books that changed my perspective on photography and art in general is called “Photographs Not Taken” by Will Steacy. It is a book about Photography that has no photographs – only the words of photographers describing a photo they did not take.

This journal prompt has been one of the best parts of this exercise for me and insightful for what I find valuable or beautiful about images.

Get out your pencil and do as all of these photographers did; answer this question.

Describe a photograph you did not take, but still vividly remember today? If you can, consider what stopped you from taking that image?

Step 5: Review what others have to say

Lastly, take an opportunity to read what others have to say about their work. Choose photographers that you admire or follow. What words do they use?

Careful not to fall into the trap of using their words- but instead see how they line up with the work and how they have chosen to approach the pieces. To read interviews with 5 photographers who have inspired me with their work and how they describe it go here.

Final Three Words:

The idea is to be succinct and have words you can utilize in a variety of ways (see below). After all of your note taking stop and put it away for two days. Come back and scan over your notes. Circle the first three words that still pop out at you. While this may be it for some of you- others might be dissatisfied with the three words. Perhaps this means that your work needs to grow in a new direction OR go through again a few days later and see what else pops out.

Write down the three words that most describe your work.

My three words are: Textured, Reductionist, and Natural/Organic.

I am also open to these words changing and evolving overtime as I do. At one time I did everything from documentary to the narrative and now I tend to remove elements in order to create a minimal, piece. (Reductionist).

Where you will use these words:

Hopefully you came up with three words to describe your own work or style in art. After this, you have the opportunity to use them in a variety of ways. Artists have to do some self advocating and often are expected to explain their work at some time or another. For example you could use these words as the building blocks for any of the following:

  • Artist’s Statement
  • Artist Bio
  • Resume
  • Cover Letter
  • Applications or Entries to Shows/Competitions
  • Talking to your parents
  • Talking to your friends or generally anyone who has not been asked to consider art
  • As journal prompts
  • For inspiration when you feel like your work has lost touch
  • On your Instagram or Twitter Bio
  • You can create a poll on Facebook or Twitter for your followers to see which of the words they feel like describes your work more

Self Reflection can be one of the most powerful tools for continuing to create. This is the process after all. This can also be one of your powerful tools in self promotion and growth- connection and understanding between you an the viewer. Photography and art is always a two way street and the viewer is important. Let these words guide them.

What are your three words? Please share them below in the comments! 

Have you ever had a time when you needed to talk about your work and were at a loss for words? I would love to hear these stories as well. 

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Photography. The ability to capture and freeze a moment. In today’s age people are photographing all the time thanks to the device that does not leave their hand. But why? Why do people feel the need to photograph? What compels them to keep photographing? Is it only because their cat is cute or is it something else? Why Photograph?

For myself I have felt that photography is natural. It is a way of living. A way of experiencing the world. It is not about what comes after the image- for me. The sharing and showing is something I have struggled with. So it was not about the fame or popularity or even the attention a great photograph can bring. It is something more. To me, being a photographer is someone who is in love with the world. Or as I say to my friends, “It is because I love to find the good stuff.” It is a way of practicing joy.

This very conversation was one I had in a college class with my professor who change everything about how I look at photography and therefore the world. That is where the featured image stems from- a conversation and his notes on the board.

27 Reasons that People Photograph:

  1. Memories
  2. Documentation
  3. Money
  4. A way of Engaging with the World
  5. A way of Practicing Joy
  6. To Find the Good Stuff
  7. Challenging Concepts
  8. Propaganda
  9. Obsessive
  10. Fun
  11. Addiction
  12. A Drive to Create
  13. A Drive to Capture Beauty
  14. Photography as a way of knowing
  15. Libidinal
  16. Intellectual
  17. Camera Junkies
  18. Gear Heads
  19. Popularity
  20. Advertising
  21. Manipulating
  22. A Compulsion
  23. Not able to let go
  24. Impressions
  25. To Tell a Story
  26. To Make
  27. To Make Art

Let me say that again. To make. To make art. Humans are engineered to make. The visual is not foreign. It is how we first communicated and will be how we communicate forever into the future. The visual is essential to connection and can be essential to disconnection.

This is why visual arts education and media literacy is so important for our current students. It is the world we operate in and it is not going away.

To continue your search for why- read the interviews of 5 inspiring and expert photographers I recently did. To see what I find beautiful- see this.

Where do you all fit? Why do you photograph?
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After the popularity of “Posing Tips: Make your Subject Feel (& Look) like a Model” I decided to share some posing secrets for portraits that are not as obvious. There are a few mirco-movements that make a major impact when posing for portraits.

As always, make your subject comfortable and feel at ease. The first 10 shots or so in a session I rarely let them see. They are just a way for us to find a rhythm and connect with this strange object I keep pointing in their face. After those initial shots and established relationship, then you can start to employ some of these secrets for posing in portraits.

Note: This is the very first post where the images were taken from a free stock photo website. This is due to the fact that I do not have permission from all my subjects to share and blog about our sessions. However, all tips are mine and ones I use often. 

Secret #1 

Place the tongue to the roof of the mouth.

What it does: Creates a muscle tension/flex and lifts the chin skin up.

Area of Concern Addressed:  Double chin/lack of a defined jaw

Use When: Shooting profile views or 3/4 views

Secret #2

Part the Lips

What it does: Creates a sultry look or elongates the face

Area of Concern Addressed: None- only an added effect. Can be useful for those with especially round faces when paired with a upper angle.

Use When: Shooting close ups or during boudoir sessions

Secret #3

Angle the face

What it does: Creates structure and gives interest. Defines the jaw and intensifies the eyes. Universally flattering.

Area of Concern Addressed: Lazy eyes – this is the best trick for an individual who may have a lazy eye which is especially prominent in photos.  Angle the face and have them look in the direction of the lazy eye if possible. Shooting them straight on will not be flattering in most cases.

Use When: Shooting portraits or head shots

Secret #4

Hands on the waist (instead of the hips)

What it does: Creates a hourglass figure and gives the illusion of a smaller frame. Lifts the arms off the torso.

Area of Concern Addressed: Extra flowy clothes or a subject who has requested to look thinner (I get asked for this all the time).

Use When: Anytime you are tempted to say “Put your hand on your hips” . This will lift the arm from the torso which is good and flattering for how the camera picks up this part of the image, but it is not good for the size of the frame. Hands on the inner waist will cinch in the frame. This is also very helpful if your subject wore super flowy clothes since these have a tendency to drown your the form.

Secret #4

Lift the Collar Bone and Extend the Neck

What it does: Creates the illusion of a “thinner” look.

Area of Concern Addressed: None- only a effect (being thinner is desired by clients, but not something I think should ever be a “area of concern”)

Use When: Laughing photos or intense and serious photos (both will be intensified with this pose)

Secret #5

Cross your Ankles

What it does: Creates a point at the end of the frame and tilts the body slightly. Makes you appear taller.

Area of Concern: When two subjects are drastically different heights – have one subject cross ankles with one foot in front to appear taller.

Use When: Photographing couples or when using a wide lens (as those tend to make people look shorter and squatty)

 

That is all for now! Give it a shot and tell me how it goes. Or better yet, if you have some of your own secrets for posing, comment below.  Thank you all!

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This expert round up features photographers of all kinds who inspire me on the daily with their Instagram feeds. Diverse styles and different technology, these photographers answered 5 questions including giving their best advice, editing choices, and even braving the question of a photographers current place in society.

If you are looking for inspiration in your own work or just to freshen up your feed I hope these photographers resonate with you as much as they have with me.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

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Photographic images are containers for information. They tell a story. Or at least they should right? We are conditioned to expect images to talk about something so when they offer very little and are in fact abstract what does this mean? Abstract photography evolved out of frustration, but turned out to be one of the best things I ever investigated.

This talk investigates my path to the abstract photograph and the ideas behind that slur of information. On here and on Instagram I rarely share this portion of my work. I save this for my fine art that resides on my artists website.  However, I am still making this work and felt it could be appropriate to share my Ted Talk here as well.

If you struggle to understand the abstract or are drawn to creating the abstract this talk gives insight into both as well as my journey with photography.

As always, I welcome your ideas and commentary on abstraction and the photograph.

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Look at Good Work and Read About Good Work

As some of you may know I am a photography and design teacher by day. I had a professor in college that said, “If you are not looking at good work, you are not making good work.” Photography books are a plenty, but there are a few that have truly impacted me and are worth your time.

To this day, I try to embody this mentality within my own practice and that of my students. We start every class with our Artist of the Day looking at photographers from the very start of the invention that captured light.

I often come across individuals who are so consumed with being their “own” person and not looking at other artist’s work. Or God Forbid the Instagram game of follow and unfollow without considering the album of work. (Someone explain to me why people play the follow unfollow game! Ugh!)

I digress, the point being as an artist, creator or photographer I strongly believe you should be looking to improve your practice. The best way to do this is to look at others work and hear what they have to say about it.

5 Must Reads

As a photographer, there have been a few books that have changed the most powerful tool I possess; my perspective.

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Japanese Gardens – 120 Film- 9×12 Pinhole Camera

Art is something.

The notion of what art is can range depending on your art literacy. The term art is so encompassing that it can be something used to both describe and discuss.

However, what is that talking about?

Art is talking about the artist’s life and all that is entailed in that; it is the art of their life. More importantly art is a personal experience, in which we can engage in a visual dialogue unique to
our species.

It is this visual dialogue that puts the category of art into such a jumbling and
often confusing array of niches in our society. Art can be the vendor in the market, the
billboard, the comics, or heaven help us Damien Hirst.

How do we talk about it with integrity?
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Hello Friends!

I have been experimenting with video outside of the “How To” realm. This started with my “On the Road” series which will continue, however now I am starting to create  new series. These will develop overtime in 2018 and I already have a whole list of ideas.

These will be cinematic videos and all titled “A Study of ______”. I was inspired to explore this idea after I put together a small sequence of square black and white images titled “A Study“. This can be viewed on my Artists website bethanymccamish.com along with additional series.

For years photography as been used to capture both the real and imagined. It can be a close and intimate look at the photographers world. It can also be an objective assignment to gather data or document.  In my case it is always the latter.

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An Early Start to the Pinhole

A Pinhole camera is any light tight container with an aperture (hole) and a shutter (something to cover the hole.

Interest in perspective and optics during the Renaissance is what led to the first necessary discovery for the pinhole camera: the camera obscura. Leonardo De Vinci described the camera obscura very clearly as early as the 16th century. (Alternative Processes)

A camera obscura is a dark chamber, container or room with a singular entry point of light. Once your eyes have adjusted, the outside will appear on the wall upside down. You can see how this would  be useful for artists to trace and have an accurate perspective.

Create a camera obscura right now out of your own room!

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