The Photo That Started it All

Looking back now it’s been over three years since I’ve been seriously piddling in photography (at least as much as one can seriously piddle at anything). As I look through my early photos I often roll my eyes and wince at all the things I screwed up and I suspect that I’ll still be doing that in three more years too. However, it occurs to me that very early on I was taking pictures to document things. I have a terrible memory for just about everything so I happily clicked away so that I wouldn’t forget.  It works fairly well.  Even if you forget, you at least have a picture.

I recall though that there was one point in time that I came to the realization that, “Hey!  There’s art in here!”  It was then that I stopped documenting and started actually trying to create.  The picture below of the Bartholomew Country War Memorial in Columbus Indiana… that’s the one that made me realize that there’s more to photography than memories.

Now, a few comments.  You’ll firstly notice that the damn date stamp is turned on.  This picture is from an old point and shoot when I didn’t even know what an f-stop was and when I got home and saw the picture and noticed the date stamp I was sorely annoyed at myself.  When you’re documenting things, of COURSE you want the date stamp on!  Jeeze!  How else will you know when you took it?!!?  When you’re trying to be artful though, a date in the corner is the equivalent of having your thumb in frame.  Compositionally and otherwise though, I’ve never found much to complain about.  Sadly I can’t take a lot of credit for anything but the position because the camera was smart enough to figure out all the exposure (as I sure as heck wasn’t).  Simple truth though is that I love this picture.  Loved it then, love it now and because of that I’ve taken tens of thousands more.

It must be said, however, that this picture and its origins had another effect on me artistically.  When I took this I was just wandering around Columbus.  I didn’t know this monument was here.  I didn’t go out in search of it.  I just happened to be wandering around and thought, “wow!  Cool thing!”  Since that trip I’ve made it a key point to never plan photo expeditions.  I pick a direction and start driving.  If there’s an interesting-looking spot on the map I stop.  If not then I drive until I do find something interesting.  My attitude is that fate will provide.  It’s worked so far.

Related to that, I think we owe it to the fates to be honest in our photography.  As a consequence, I never pose anyone or anything nor manipulate the environment when I shoot.  I take what fate gives me absolutely AS-IS and as a result I think that fate is fairly kind to me.  I can count on one hand the number of times that I’ve gently pushed grass away from some object I was trying to photograph so I could actually get a decent angle on it. Even then I felt like I was taking a liberty.

I took a photography class recently in which the instructor gave us all sorts of tips about taking props out into the woods to shoot with and how you can use a sprayer on a spider web to simulate morning dew.  This concept made me exceptionally sad.  Where’s the artistic integrity in misting down spider webs at high noon?  My take on this is to say that if you aren’t willing to get up while the dew is still on the web then you don’t really deserve the shot.  When we manipulate nature then we cheapen the whole meaning of beauty in the first place.  At least in my never sufficiently humble nor succinct opinion.

Anyway, long wandering diatribe aside, that’s the photo that started my real interest in photography.  At least photography as I define it.  Your definition may vary.


  1. I agree with you on a number of different levels. It is my belief that for an amateur, it is more important to understand composition than to understand f-stops. Today’s modern equipment will take care of the technical aspects for you.

    I refer to my photo outings as photo-safaris, because like you I usually just head out with no destination in mind, just watching for a potential subject. There have been times when I’ve done more driving than shooting, and other times (ie., on the Blue Ridge Parkway) when I drove for five minutes and shot for an hour, moved on and repeated.

    By the way, I moved to North Carolina from Indiana, but didn’t know this memorial was in Columbus. If you’re interested, there are a couple of pretty good utilities out there to remove the date stamp from the shot. In fact, the “Content-aware Fill” in Photoshop does a very nice job.

    • Well, it’s good to know I’m not the only one with this rather free-form concept of a photo outing. I have to admit that reactions are rather mixed when people ask me where I’m going on vacation and I say simply, “north!”

      As for the timestamp, I actually fixed that the old fashioned way ages ago: I went back to Columbus and shot the thing again.

      Thanks for stopping by!

    • I learned long ago there has to be a starting point and a growing period. I still had some of my books I wrote when I was nine years old…until the flood but I looked at those and realized the structure, the flow and the story telling was there even then. This picture definitely was a great start.

  2. It’s a fabulous photo. I’m also an amateur photographer but I’m hopeless at understanding all the techie bits involved. F buttons, White balance this and that. If I take a decent photo it’s more by accident than design. I’m afraid I cannot take credit for images in my blog as working on an iPad with no connection to my ancient laptop where my photos are stored I have to download from web sites and credit the images to the owner.

    • welcome Jessie! I understand your … sense of intimidation? If I may call it that? With the technical aspects of photography but I guess I would argue that it’s possible for absolutely anyone to get the jist of photography and just take GREAT technical shots with 20 minutes of instruction. Photography is all about trade-offs. Once you know what those trade offs are you’re all set to make the great decisions that make for great shots. I think that sometimes photographers like to make this seem more complex and arcane than it really is. At some point I’ll write the 20-minute photography how-to guide. 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I love this post. I can point to one photo that really got me into exploring my creative/artistic side too. I always liked “pretty” photos, but this photo went beyond it. So i can appreciate what this photo did to you.

    I too have dislike of changing things that I photograph, but that being said, some people’s eyes go in an artistic way that includes doing those things. And the more I photograph, the more I think at some point, my artistic vision may go towards that also.

    But I still work trying to get good composition without changing what I see, so I admire that in others. Great post! 🙂

    • Thanks, Katie! As for other people’s bent on photography and modifying their photos, yeah, I have seen a few people who take that approach and they do some good work. There’s certainly room for all of us in the art. The only place I start to get REALLY itchy is when people modify in an attempt to deceive and make it look like something was there that wasn’t. Personally, I think the world is quite beautiful and interesting enough all on its own without me mucking about with it. 🙂

  4. I’ve had a similar experience. I took lots of documentary photos, but a few of them turned out to be quite pleasing. It led me to want to make pleasing photos, and to learn more about it.

  5. That is an awesome photo! 🙂 I love the left-right symmetry, yet the slightly off center top-bottom position adds a lot of interest.

    I admire your photographer’s ethic, but don’t beat yourself up too much for occasionally moving grass out of the way… 🙂

  6. I like this post a lot – I agree with your point of view re: not manipulating nature, this is my approach too. I also think the photo is wonderful. As for the date stamp: why not crop a bit from the bottom, just enough to lose the stamp? I think it would still be a wonderful photo – maybe even better since the centre of the monument would no longer be centre of the frame (excuse my Canadian spelling of “centre” here!).

    • Thanks for stopping by, Laurie!

      As for cropping, I agree that probably would improve it in a couple of ways. At this point though, that picture stands as sort of a key landmark so I’m really against touching it. If nothing else, it’s a great reminder to double check the camera settings before taking a shot!

      Oh, and on the Canadian spelling, no worries about that. I intentionally use theatre and colour all the time just for the heck of it. 🙂

  7. Here’s what I’m struggling with. Every time you take a photo, you make all kinds of choices from the camera you use to the settings to taking it with or without a tripod, taking it still or moving, and so on. Doesn’t each of those choices manipulate or colour the reality of your subject? If the answer is yes, then it’s only a small leap to moving that soda can off the grass in front of your subject, to waiting until that cyclist rides by to ultimately manipulating the light on a computer program.

    • I would argue, I suppose, that the two are fundamentally different. When you make choices with the camera that’s all in an attempt to capture something that really IS there. Even if you use a long exposure and gather more light, you’re still just capturing some piece of reality. There’s only so much you can do. If you take a picture and completely recolor it though, you’re creating with your computer and making something that was never there.

  8. It’s a great image Rob and I can see why it set you off down the photography path. Mostly I don’t manipulate anything, but now and then I move a distracting leaf or branch out of the frame. If I didn’t do it at the point of shooting I’d probably do it in the processing, which is far more time-consuming.

    • Heh, well, the only post processing I do is to crop and sometimes adjust color temperature and brightness if it’s unnatural. It gives me the deep heebie-jeebies to think of editing out some part of a shot except by cropping (which one could have achieved with the camera just by moving or zooming.) It just feels like an intrinsic wrongness to create a shot that never really physically existed. That said, my artistic value system is much too firmly rooted in the physical, so I’m willing to admit that I’m on the fringe. 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by, btw!

  9. have you ever thought to go back with better equipment? i consider myself to be a non-technical photographer.. learning f-stops, white balance etc is relatively new… but i’ve been told i have a good eye. I just tell folks to take a LOT of photos! And, always say, “who cares” when composing.. tell a story!

    • Well, I actually went back with my Canon 20D a few months after that shot. The old version though still strikes me as the best. It was later in the day and I didn’t have that luxury on my return. Anyway, I have sort of a “been there, done that” sort of attitude. Given the infinitude of things there are to take photos of, it seems a shame to repeat anything on purpose! 🙂

  10. Beautiful photo, Rob. Thanks for stopping by I’m learning more about photography everyday as a consequence of working as an artist in other mediums. I’m only vaguely aware of an f-stop, but haven’t found it on my camera yet…

  11. what a great shot..the date is a bit distracting but its not totally impossible to remove it with photoshop ..since the colors are fairly solid you can clone it very very carefully and have a perfect shot…dont feel bad about manipulating that aren’t changing the beauty of the shot at have a great eye..

    • Thanks, Theresa! I leave that date in just to remind me to be more careful when I’m shooting. It is reparable, but as long as it’s wrong it’s a reminder. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

  12. It’s like sky opened up, and an artist with his unique vision is born. It’s the little imperfections that make us unique, stand out , even connect to the person who admires our work. Nature opens up and reveal itself to those who sees it for its entirety. Nature knows you are passionate about her and so comes those amazing shots!!! Thanks for sharing. Happy Holidays.

  13. Oh, my. You described my evolution of photography perfectly! The date/time stamp in early photos is too funny! I often photoshop that out on some of my better photos, but it’s still hard to get it just right… LOVE your site!!!!

    • Thanks! And I’m glad that my take on things could appeal. 🙂 And yep, Indiana born and bred. It’s astonishing, given that, that I don’t have more photos featuring corn. 🙂

  14. It’s a great photo, and why not let the camera do all the calculating stuff…it’s the eye that’s important…to recognize what will make a good picture…which obviously you have.

    • Thanks! I guess for me I’m a bit of a purist. I hate for the camera to do any of the work but of course it’s doing most of it. 🙂 I’m just not ready to admit it!

  15. Rob, I love this shot, and I love your spontanious outlook but I’m really glad that you made one planned photo excursion back to the memorial to retake the shot in the same or better natural light as you did in 2008.

    If you hadn’t, I would have advised you to not use Photoshop or some other software to remove the date stamp. PS is a great tool but sometimes its best to make it an adventure, big or small, to experience going back to a location to do it better next the time. After all, it is seldom in life that we get to fix the mistakes we’ve made, and often that we wish we could.

    Happy New Year!

  16. Hi Rob, I am no photography expert, but this is a great photo and a unique perspective! Thanks so much for your visit and I hope you’ll return again! Happy New Year and I’m going to follow you to keep up with your wonderful photos!

  17. ciao rob! well, while i agree on the necessity of getting up early and get that damn dew as it is, hehe (little sacrifice compared to the miracles the dawns usually give away), i’m on the opposite side when it comes to manipulation 🙂 first, because a camera, even the more precise and faithful, IS a manipulation; second, because photography IS a manipulation: beauty of nature is not in a still, but in its dramatic motion: so you see, every shot is a betrayal 😉 third, because manipulation is lots of fun, is like playing with nature, the way you play with a lover.
    anyway, the shot that started it all is great! thanx for coming by my place, see you around

  18. Growth is inevitable when you take what you do serious.
    Photography can be art, maybe it even should be 🙂

    Thanks for liking my latest post!

  19. I clicked like, but I need to comment REALLY LIKE! I haven’t ventured into artistic photography (other than memories), but I have the same approach to children and family photography. I may suggest things they like to do when I’m taking pics, but I snap anything and everything the kids do. The parents seem to validate the candid, unposed approach. They LOVE the idiosyncrasies that are their children!

  20. I like that photo a great deal and can see what about the scene caught your eye. As a music critic, I am drawn to competently shot album cover art, because it too draws the eye in and (when done right) focuses you on a completely different aspect of the band’s artistic vision. A couple of my favorites:

  21. Thanks for hitting the like button on my poem “A House Divided.”
    I love the picture, date stamp and all, it even adds a color element that blends nicely with the background.
    Your attitude towards your work, is right out of Shakespeare…”To thine own self be true.” Nice.
    Thanks again.

  22. I think the best artists have a humble respect for their subjects. In this world of Facebook, etc., the amount of photo staging for the sake of attention is downright sad. I find your honest, date-stamped photo very refreshing. (I love the furry little guy on your blog header. Amazing!)

  23. I think having a good eye beats having a good camera any day. The technical knowledge can’t give you an eye for composition and it can’t give you creativity. I dabble in picutres and my cheapo digital camera still gives me pictures I’m proud of.

    And time stamp aside, that’s a great picture.

  24. Love the photo that started it all!
    Thank you for visiting and liking my pics! I agree with so much of what you said in this post. Getting up early to catch the real dew. Sometimes I do set up of things in nature – like Ice Hearts or making art on the beach and photographing it there.
    Quote I have heard several times in the last few days: “Not all wanderers are lost. They are going in their own direction.”
    I wander, too, usually in wonder.

  25. Couldn’t agree with you more, Rob. I like my photos to be ‘as taken’ not ‘as Photoshopped’ as much as possible. I wouldn’t say I never use PS but it’s a light touch. My daughter is the one who can make PS sing.

    And yes I have been guilty of the date-stamp thing too when I had a point and press.

    • Yeah, I’ve come to be OK with the “light touch” as you put it, but when one starts creating in PS… I guess though, how is that any different than painting a picture? Dunno, some evolution of thought in my mind, clearly. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

  26. Wonderful picture! I can see why that made you take the leap. Thanks so much for stopping by The Neophyte Photographer and “liking” my latest. I love your point of view about photography, and while I try to keep it real in my photography, I’ve got to agree with thepiratehorizon that all photography is manipulation of some kind. Depending on the choices the photographer makes: aperture, shutter speed, focal length, point of view, perspective, yada yada, the photographer doesn’t just “take a picture,” but instead, as I’ve heard many of them say, she “makes a photograph.” Personally, I love playing with my camera and learning all the things it can do. I’m told I have a good eye. That may be so. But unless my photo is technically good, something will be missing. I think both are needed. (And yeah, sometimes I’m going to push some grass out of the way, or dispose of a cigarette butt.) That being said, I only use Photoshop to process my raw files, maybe pop color and levels and sharpen ever so slightly, not to wildly manipulate the photograph to make it something else. Of course, that’s likely because I’ve never seen myself that way artistically anyway. Again, thanks for stopping by my place. I’m looking forward to exploring your blog.

    • well thanks, bluelyon. I will admit that as time has gone one, I’ve more and more been swayed by the the idea of manipulation. I’m pondering the best way to start down the path. I’m sure there’s a photoshop class or something I could get involved in. So yes, the masses have mostly convinced me that I need to use all the tools at my disposal rather than just going with the barest of tools. That said, I still refuse to pose people. There are limits. 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to stop by!

      • I took an Intro to Digital Photography class at UNR last semester and it taught me so much, not just technically, but how to really “see.” In addition, the discipline of being assigned a project (illusion, narrative, etc), really challenged all of us. To see the improvement in everyone’s photography (including mine) over the course of the semester was really gratifying! We used Photoshop to process and it is a useful tool to make a good photograph better. And as our instructor said, as she would show us famous photographers’ works, “If you think these artists did not manipulate their photography, you are mistaken.” Even the beloved Ansel Adams manipulated his photographs up the wahzoo! Anyway, I’m taking the lighting class next semester, and I can’t wait. (And never say never about posing – someday you may just want to do that). 🙂

  27. Very artistic photo. I really like and agree with your comment about integrity. setting up a photo in nature seems wrong, just wrong. I can see it if the photo is a still life kinda thing indoors, or a portrait. but nature is “as is”

  28. Hey Rob – thanks for stopping by Enthusiast Photographer – it sounds like a title worthy of you and your blog (and probably more worthy than me!). I think what you see in this picture is your “eye”. I have seen lots of photographers who are extremely technically knowledgeable but just don’t have a sense of composition or the moment. Sadly, it seems like something you can improve on but you really can’t teach – you have it or you don’t. Some people seem to find it, but others just fail. Don’t ask me where I am on that scale! 😉

    My epiphany wasn’t a particular photograph – it was getting a new camera and wanting to be worthy of it. I read Scott Kelby’s “Digital Photography” trio and Bryan Peterson’s “Understanding Exposure” and they really opened doors for me.

    One of these days I’ll take a photography class, but in the meantime, I just get out there and shoot – sometimes with a buddy and sometimes just me, stumbling around in the weeds and briars, learning lessons. 🙂

    I’m curious – have you been back to that spot? I keep finding myself at the harbor in Charleston, SC, shooting this one particular pilot boat at dawn…

  29. Hello Rob, cool picture. I feel the same way about photography…it is more of the “Wow, that’s a great shot.” Some of the best advice I was ever given about photography is to make sure you have a camera with you at all times. You never know when that perfect photo will appear. I’m also still wrestling with the timestamp issue. Do I keep it on or off? Thanks for stopping by my blog and for the likes!

  30. Hi Rob. Thanks for visiting Onelifethislife. I think this post is great! I also go scouting for photos and most of the time it’s when I’m not scouting that find some pretty interesting subjects or just things that catch my eye. I am not one to manipulate my photos for two reasons; one I don’t have a decent editing software which explains why I am not editing my photos but mainly because I believe photos should be raw and unedited as nature is. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against editing, I just enjoy the experience and memories of an untouched photo better.

    I love you work and your vision. You’re an inspiration!

  31. It would be so easy to clone the date samp off of there but I’m sure you know that. Personally I think it’s too beautiful to leave on. Perhaps you could save the original and an unstamped copy, too. I would.

    • well, I’ve been tack at least twice now. I went and took the same photo in daylight and then at night. So it’s still represented. Regardless, it really did act as an inspiration.

  32. Thanks for the visit and the ‘like’ on my recent post…and WOW….aren’t you interesting!?! I’ll have to spend some time reading you, and checking out your photography. I love the shot, by the way, even with the timestamp.

  33. I love photos like this one. It reminds me of when I was a teen and someone bet me that I could not tell what the object in the photo was. Try as I might, I did not figure it out. This one is wonderful and yes I did figure it out. Thanks for sharing it with everyone.

  34. This really is a stunning photograph. When I first looked at it, I thought it was an optical illusion, with positive and negative space being interchangeable. I like images with an element of surprise!

  35. Thank you for sharing your photographic creativity, it is a joy to follow your blog. I am nominating you for The Versatile Blogger Award. Again, thank you for sharing your work. Continued Success, Jay The Baker – Positive Cookie Attitudes(tm)

  36. I know what you mean about wincing at your 1early’ photos. I started out, along time ago, with B&W film photography. Then I put it down for about 20 years, and started my photography back up early last year with digital. I got a really good Canon camera for christmas and have been taking A LOT of pictures since. When I look back at MY 1early’ work, which is less than a year old, I can’t believe I actually thought some of those photos were good!! That’s one aspect of photography that I love; the `art’ just gets better and better the more you do it.

  37. Hi, Rob. Thanks for stopping by my blog, and for the Like, as well. I hope you’ll come back often, and consider introducing yourself and your blog on my Friends page. I’m looking forward to looking around here — I’m intrigued 😎

  38. Hi Rob, thanks for liking my blog. Some great shots here, and I also went to see your other blog, The Tattered Thread. Very thought provoking post yesterday about your reasons for blogging at all, I guess applies to most of us.

  39. I love this shot. It shows real imagination. I understand your frustration with the date stamp, but that’s what PhotoShop is for!
    Thanks for stopping by my blog. I am so flattered that other photographers seem to enjoy my stuff.

  40. I have to say, I find this photo mesmerising and although you were displeased with the date stamp, if you look at the photo for long enough it almost starts to look like a piece of computer generated design, thanks to the beautiful lines and symmetry, so the pesky date stamp almost reminds you that it is, in fact, a photo!

    Composition is something I truly struggle with. I so want to be better at photography, but I seem to spend such a long time on each shot that nothing ever looks good and natural. Almost like the perfectionist in me is ruining the creative being in me.

  41. LOL—I almost commented to advise you to turn off the date stamp…then I continued reading and didn’t have to. As a graphic designer (by profession), I cannot STAND those dang date stamps. There is no earthly reason why the average shooter has to know the exact date a photo was taken. When I shoot, I transfer the images to a folder with a subject name and the day/date/year. As a graphic designer, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had to remove the stamp from a photo in Photoshop to make it presentable in a printed publication. I advise EVERYONE to please turn the date stamp off. One other piece of advice—always shoot on the highest resolution your camera can do (either high rez jpg or raw, if you have software to open raw, that is). You can always rez down a photo, you can’t rez one up! Thanks for visiting my blog and happy photographing! (but turn that stamp off! 😉

  42. Ah, lovely photo anyway. Enjoyed your thinking out loud about it, too. BTW, I’m originally from Noble County, IN (northeast corner of the state), now living in Southern California. I love found photos.

  43. I completely agree with keeping it natural and ‘as is’. It’s rare I tinker with my photos after I’ve had them printed either (still on film and wanting to stay that way) – I see it as a form of cheating. I’m by no means any kind of expert photographer but I do believe that it’s more about composition and imagination than the technology of photography…

  44. Phew! Got a cramp scrolling clear down to the bottom. Wow that’s a cool picture! And you got it on your first try! You must have been a photographer in a previous life or something. I going to go look around your site and I have a feeling I am going to like it!

  45. Rob, thank you for your recent post and comment. Photography is more about one’ s vision and creativity than anything else. Ansel Adams was so right when he said that we don’t just take a picture but we make a picture. To put it another way, it is more in how we see things than what we see. The camera as marvelous an instrment as it is is limited in it’s capacity to reveal the totality of our creative abiities. Take care, rek.

  46. Hi Rob,

    Thanks for visiting my blog and liking the posts. I must say you are correct, it all starts at one point and the rest is a story (I would like that to be said as mystery). Your blog is awesome and what a stupid I must be for not finding it till now 🙂

    Keep up the good work and looking forward for your new posts.

    Keep well,

  47. Great post and great shot! I agree with you…I like to just take the photos as I see them…I’m not a planner or a plotter. That said, there are certain places that lend themselves to great photos and you can go there expecting to take a lot of shots. My husband and I used to do that for fun…one time we just went to Harvard campus in the fall and just walked around taking pictures…it was a blast and we enjoyed seeing the photos we each felt inspired to take (that was back in the days of film!).

    • Oh my. I’m a eral fan of college campuses so when you said Harvard a thrill went through me. Soooo jealous. 🙂 And yes, there are some places that just plane can’t lose as photographers go.

  48. I’m browsing your site, Rob, and enjoying the journey, I love this one, the image is stunning. I might be a while browsing, but I will comment. Great blog you have here. Thanks for stopping by my blog.
    Val (in the UK)

  49. There’s always a turning point that starts a new wave in life! It’s great that you still have this photo with you, so you’ll never forget that special moment.

    And I actually think that date stamp shouldn’t be removed; afterall, it Is part of the story the photo’s trying to tell.

  50. Hey there!
    I really like you’r blog and especially your photographs. I am a photographer my self actually but i did never really publish any of my own. I was actually considering starting a photo blog/gallery online when you “liked” my blog post. This did just encourage me more to start my own. Thank you! I will surely be looking here again.

  51. I can relate to the timestamp. I found a “jigsaw puzzle shot” near Truckee, California and snapped th photo. I arrive home and discovered I forgot to turn the feature off. Now I’m forced to find time to travel to the area and retake the photo.

  52. Hi Rob,

    I agree, it’s the artistic integrity, but so much is about how the light will play on what you look at. So taking a shot 100 times on different gear, or shooting in another state is what it’s all about. I feel the questions we seek never stop. As I’m too, liking med format / 4 x5 / polaroid & pinhole ! It’s all good. The best shots are usually the ones your not sure of…


  53. Hi Rob. Thanks for liking my post. I like what you write here about using props, absolutely spot on. It is important to look for the art in the scene instead of just documenting. Keep up the good work.

Please leave a comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s