Archive for the ‘Art’ Tag

Does artistic value diminish with ease of creation?   1 comment

I am a frequent reader of a variety of blogs that provide helpful tips on how to use tools like Photoshop and Lightroom, two of my primary post processing tools. I recently commented on one of those blogs on the topic of  the authorship of an image which can be found  here.

My response, as you can read below was my attempt to bring to light a broader issue facing photographers today. The question of “ease” and the value we place on our images relative to the circumstances which placed us in front of a scene and in front of our camera, pressing the shutter release at a moment in time. The photographic community apologizes far too quickly for the ease with which the art we create is in fact created. I think that fact is what devalues the art form and it is time we allow the image to speak for itself and we stop speaking for it or at the very least excusing it.

Before I get to my comment, I thought I would share the before and after of a picture I recently took on a visit to Gibbs Gardens with my wife this past weekend.

Before – Straight Out Of Camera (SOOC)

© 2013 Paul Coffin Photography


© 2013 Paul Coffin Photography

It is clear (at least it is to me) that  the second image is superior in many ways to the image that is not processed in any way. If I said I worked on it for 8 hours perfecting the color and contrast would that mean it had more artistic value than the first? If I said it took one click of a button in Photoshop would that devalue it? What if, as it happens is the case, that it was my wife who suggested I take this particular picture from this particular angle. Does that fact make me any less a photographer and the image any less brilliant? I think not.

Perhaps I have been hanging around other photographers too much and my bias on ease is formed from that dialogue.  In the end, I would suggest it doesn’t matter any more or less than the size of the paint brush for a painting or edge of a chisel used on a marble sculpture.

I am thrilled with the latest technology and relative ease with which an image can be truly transformed in post processing and make absolutely no excuses for it. All I can hope for is that when you look at the second image you say wow and that it moves you emotionally in some way. At that point, I hope, how I made it is less important than that I made it in the first place.

Here are my comments from the blog I mentioned above.


You pose a great inquiry and offer an even better debate on the very nature of photography as a form of artistic expression. I would suggest this predicament is no different than the much debated question “is photography art”. The availability of the tools to the masses to make photographs has been around since the time Kodak gave away thousands of Brownies. Anyone can “take” a photograph but not very many can make art from a photograph. That for me is where the line is drawn.

Whether in the plane or on the conference floor, the real question is not “the how” but “the what”! As photographers we seem to be constantly apologizing for the how or at a minimum explaining it. Why does the how matter to anyone but ourselves as artists. The how is a mystery for me when looking at the folds of fabric carved in marble, and while fascinating, my mind dwells more on the subject, the pose and the beauty of form than the chisel, hammer and sand paper.

So it is with your photo from the plane. The fact is, the very moment you finger pressed the shutter release, something special happened. Could the person beside you have pressed their button at the same time pointing their lens in the same direction, sure. Does that make it any less special, I would suggest not.

It’s true, there is a technical element of the mastery of photography that we all must overcome to create great art, no different that the mastery of hammer and chisel or paint and paint brush. The various incarnations of David each with its own unique interpretation of the “original”, and I use that term carefully, are masterpieces in and of themselves. The ability to repeat “the how”, as is the case with the wedding photographer example, is meant only to demonstrate to the consumer the ability to achieve the technical capability of the toolset and nothing more. The real mastery comes from the subtle use of these tools to capture a moment in time that reflects back to the audience an image the moves the viewer with emotion.

That it was “easy” for you to press the shutter because the circumstances that put you there were not of your own doing is no different than the presence of a magnificent sunset that just happened to occur when you were about to press the shutter. The difficulty of the capturing of the moment, for me at least, is of much less importance, than the fact that you captured it in the first place.

Here is something else to wrap your noodle around. What if you had a time machine and went back to the very second Henri Cartier Bresson pressed the shutter on his infamous photograph, Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, in 1932 and took the same picture with your D800. Which photograph do you think would be considered a masterpiece, yours or his and would the other be any less for it?

As always, thanks for stopping by and please, your comments are most welcome.


Controlling Light and Visual Interest   Leave a comment

Tulip Bulbs

© 2013 Paul Coffin Photography

I have often been accused by my wife of committing “art speak” when expressing my feelings about art or my photography. Accused, suggesting a distaste, for the perceived pontification of analysis of art. I actually like to take an in-depth journey into what art means to me, though stop short of an “art world” historically influenced, high brow  view often posited by intellectuals; and yes that is my distaste.

I like to speak about how art makes me feel, where my eye travels in the image and how the subtle elements of contrast, color, form and composition influence the feelings I feel when I stare into the artwork and am moved by its presence in my world.

So it is with this image that I am pulled into it, examining its detail, not looking for meaning, but simply basking in the beauty of the pedals, the bulbs,  the roots, the lighting, and the life of the flowers suspended in water. Life emitting from the chaos of a root system visible through the container in which it is held.

Early attempts at lighting were naturally trained on the yellow pedals, until mid way through the shoot, I began to become more and more fascinated with the bulbs and root system of the arrangement. Adjusting my studio strobes to concentrate their power on the lower section of the flowers resulted in some glare and required some fine tuning and post production tweaks to ensure the clarity of the area I wanted to draw the viewers attention to was unencumbered.

I have written before that I only marginally obey compositional rules like the rule of thirds, discreetly and intuitively. That said, what I love about this image is the unbalance within the balance. The leaf, partially broken, straddling the lip of the vase, rests conspicuously in front, demanding attention to itself in its denial of its peers attempts to stand tall. The bulbs, often hidden from view, brightly calling awareness to themselves, like younger siblings seeking notice. Beneath the water, lies another layer of support, roots stretching in all directions, the labyrinth now contained only by the clear glass, taking its shape and wanting. Finally, the yellow tulip flowers, accustomed to the stare of the voyeur, now found competing for that gaze.  They are but a subplot in the play, the best supporting actor, no longer the protagonist.

Set against a plain black background all this drama might otherwise be lost, if not for some careful lighting and visual “slight of hand”, working its way through your consciousness, or at the very least mine.

Thanks  for stopping by …  and indulging me my visual soapbox

Posted March 15, 2013 by Paul Coffin in Art, Nature, Photography, Studio

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Music in The Air   1 comment

While I can’t claim the images in this post represent originality, I will say that experimenting with photographing smoke did result in some very original forms from which I was most pleasantly surprised.

© 2013 Paul Coffin Photography

I have seen smoke photographs in the past, but it wasn’t until I was able to really study them, that the beauty of the form and texture emerged. The motion of the smoke,  influenced by the occasional puff of air or wave of my hand, was beautifully captured against a black background to accentuate the movement and sense of motion. Honestly I can’t say that I have ever seen smoke this way before or that it was even possible to take such shape.

© 2013 Paul Coffin Photography

Music in The Air

© 2013 Paul Coffin Photography

As my artist wife was quick to remind me, titling a photograph has its pitfalls and so it was that I stopped short of attempting to name every image. But the image above did remind me of musical notes and so it is aptly titled, Music in The Air.

I am very pleased with the results of these experiments, but I am also anxious to look for ways to bring something original to the subject. We’ll see what I can come up with.

Thanks for stopping by.

The Boutique Art Deco Hotels of South Beach, FL   Leave a comment

Rarely am I satisfied with my architectural photography. Buildings, cityscapes, right angles, and flat colors, offer little enthusiasm for photographic exploration for me. When compared to landscape, people, animals, even the studio, the subject of architecture is not high on my list of themes to explore. So it was indeed a rare opportunity and surprising pleasure for me to explore the Art Deco boutique hotels that neighbor one another along Ocean Dr. in South Beach, Fl.

Royal Palm Shorecrest

© 2013 Paul Coffin Photography

Elongated parallel lines stretching into the sky with elements of color to accentuate the style suited my wide angle lens and a subtle use of high dynamic processing pulled out the detail that might otherwise have been lost to a “normally” exposed image. Partly cloudy skies, my favorite when photographing landscapes and now cityscapes, helped add just the right amount of contrast to the architecture to bring it to life.

Park Central Hotel


© 2013 Paul Coffin Photography

The nostalgia of South Beach was enhanced by the occasional hotelier who parked an antique car outside their front entrance. No doubt if this were a B&W photo, it could easily appear to have been taken in the 1930’s.  Below is an extract from Wikipedia regarding this particular style of Art Deco architecture called Streamline Moderne.

In the 1930s, an architectural revolution came to South Beach, bringing Art Deco, Streamline Moderne, and Nautical Moderne architecture  to the Beach. South Beach claims to be the world’s largest collection of Streamline Moderne Art Deco architecture

Streamline Moderne, sometimes referred to by either name alone or as Art Moderne, was a late type of the Art Deco design style which emerged during the 1930s. Its architectural style emphasized curving forms, long horizontal lines, and sometimes nautical elements.

Breakwater Hotel

© 2013 Paul Coffin Photography

14th Street Restrooms

© 2013 Paul Coffin Photography

Not to be overlooked, even the public restrooms that appear along the public beaches are styled in the Streamline Moderne motif.

Still Waters – The National Hotel

© 2013 Paul Coffin Photography

Miami in February can still have a chill in the air and this empty pool was evidence of that. The early morning sun cast just enough of a shadow through the palm branches to make for a wonderful reflection in the still waters.

Miami Nightlife

© 2013 Paul Coffin Photography

The night in Miami offers a completely different experience as the true life of the city emerges. I have long outgrown the desire for late nights and dancing; to be honest I never really had them, however if you are prone to shake a leg or move a hip at the hint of heart pounding dance music, this is your town.

Miami isn’t for everyone, but it is for many and for me it is a city I hope one day to return to.

Thanks for stopping by.

Napa Valley in the Fall   2 comments

© 2012 Paul Coffin Photography

Napa Valley, like most wine producing regions has a mystique all its own. There is of course the wealth effect of fine wine and certainly Napa, like many famous wine regions, suffers the ills of the highbrow, that for me can sometimes be off-putting. Be that as it may, there are many welcome and hospitable vintners who, once past the pretense, proudly share the history, flavors and nuance of their wines. Fall in Napa is a sight and smell to behold. Driving along  Redwood Rd. towards Hess Collection winery, in the rolling hills north-west of Napa, the air is filled with the aromas of grapes crushed and fermenting as well as those still hanging from the vines.

© 2012 Paul Coffin Photography

Honestly, I can’t say for sure what I was smelling but it was sweet and delightful. Late October generally marks the end of the harvest, so I was a bit surprised to see grapes still hanging from the vines.

Hess Collection is a winery owned by the Swiss art collector, Donald Hess, on land leased from the Christian Brothers, who occupy a nearby retreat and conference center. Nestled in the hills 7 miles from Napa, this quiet location offered a nice respite for a quick afternoon visit to the area.

© 2012 Paul Coffin Photography

I quietly approached the chapel and found someone who kindly gave me permission to photograph the interior of the church. This image is composed of 9 frames so that I could capture all the highlight and shadow detail. Despite the lack of ornate architecture, the rich colors of the wooden pews and tile floor provided a pleasant contrast to the white walls  balanced with the wooden trusses of the ceiling.

© 2012 Paul Coffin Photography

I was pleasantly surprised to see grapes still hanging on the vines, expecting to see empty vines with fading fall colors. Instead, I was greeted with plump bunches of  bright blue grapes, suspended against green, rust and orange leaves and twisted brown vines. After a light wine tasting I headed back along the quiet roads to make one more stop in Napa for a late lunch.

© 2012 Paul Coffin Photography

The Uptown Theater, in downtown Napa,  made for one last series of photos before I left the area for the day. I could not help but add a duotone effect to add to the nostalgia of the art deco theater. For a brief moment, I was taken back in time and imagined the theater in its days of antique cars, wealthy local socialites draped in fur and black tie affairs that surrounded the Golden era Hollywood premiere. Those really were the days.

As always, thanks for stopping by.

The Photo That Got Me Started   Leave a comment

Landscape #1

© 1980 Paul Coffin Photography

In a recent blog I read, a question was posed about the photo that got you started. It made me think and I went deep into my archives to find that one image that I could trace my love of photography roots to. As it happened I found a few. Not surprisingly, they were landscapes and seascapes that  also had the sun low in the sky, reflecting on the water. It was 1980 and I was 15. I had purchased my first camera, a Nikon FE with my newspaper route money. I wasn’t aware then, as I am now, the impact photography would have on my life, and how ultimately, it would shape the person I would become and how I see the world.

It never ceases to amaze me, how at a very young age, our personalities, tastes, sense of humor and overall sense of who we are is cemented forever. I see it in my own sons over and over. Who they were when they were 5 or 15 or 20 is fundamentally who they are now.

If you are not living a life that is true to who you were when you were young, look back into your personal history books and pick up an old hobby. I firmly believe it is what keeps us young at heart and is at the core of who we are.

Landscape #2

© 1980 Paul Coffin Photography

Posted October 28, 2012 by Paul Coffin in Art, Landscape, Maritime, Nature, Photography

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Little Five Points, Atlanta GA   Leave a comment

I Live The Answer

© 2012 Paul Coffin Photography

What is it about abandoned shoes that is so intriguing? Am I the only one who wonders about their bare footed owners? Abandonment is a pretty powerful emotion, one that conjures a multitude of feelings.  Abandoned objects make a great metaphor for these feelings, and something as intimate as a shoe does that for me.

The shoe suspended and dangling from the wire, suspends in its presence the story of its owner. The miles walked in it, the places it has been, silent like a fly watching dutifully on the wall. I can’t look at an abandoned shoe and not think these thoughts. It overwhelms me.

© 2012 Paul Coffin Photography

There is the abandoned and there is “the” abandoned. Little Five Points in Atlanta is an eclectic mix of bars, old record stores, clothing on consignment and restaurants all coming together at an intersection that attracts every variety of person you can imagine. There are to be sure, those whose lives have fallen on hard times and for whom Little Five Points is home.

I’ve written before about how I am attracted to and afraid of street photography. This particular visit was part of a “Photo Walk”, where photographers gather for a social gathering and to take a few photos. I felt uncomfortable taking this particular photo, but that discomfort was soon overshadowed by the gravity of the life of these two men whose life I stepped into for but a brief moment.

© 2012 Paul Coffin Photography

Aptly named “reflection” this last image completes the triptych. I suppose I could wax on about the masks, the reflections, the sense of luxury and the hollowness of the mannequins, but it was only when I brought them together for this post did the irony hit me. Art and photography should challenge our sensibilities, it should reflect our emotions and feelings and it should juxtapose one realty with another.