Category Archives: Creative

Colorado Aspen


One of my favorite scenes from our recent trip to Colorado.  I’m sharing both the “straight” image (above) as well as the multiple exposure (below).


Also posted in Colorado Tagged , , |

Aspen Multiple


I love multiple exposures. Two of my favorite images from our last trip to Colorado were multiples. Because my Fuji does not have the capability, I brought my Nikon D3x that does. I’ve been shooting a lot of them and having a blast. The posted image is a new favorite.

Tagged , , |

Swiping the Palouse

And now for something a bit different.  Not all images from the Palouse need to be tack sharp.  Sometimes its fun to try “swipes,” a technique where you move your camera while depressing the shutter.  Oft times you will need to shoot a number of them to get one “keeper,” but its worth it and they are fun to do.  If you’re lucky you’ll have an unknown photographer near you wondering what on earth you are doing.  If this happens, just smile and tell them you’re creating art!




[Tweet “Swiping the Palouse”]

Also posted in Palouse Tagged , , |

Color Versus B&W



I love this picture in color, AND, I love it in B&W.





I asked my wife which she liked best, she said, “I like them both, however, they each evoke a different emotion. They create two very different moods. The color is full of life and happiness making me want to go there. The B&W is full of mystery, drama  and wonder.  What lies beyond the fog?” I am frequently suggesting that B&W is a choice, and should be used with purpose. I believe the two versions here illustrate my point well.  Neither is better than the other, however, each creates a very different response from the viewer.  That is of course unless you’re Cole Thompson to which color is noise or Chuck Kimmerle who sees color as the anti-christ.  Which do you respond to?

A note for the Fuji fans out there.  I shot the entire trip to the Smokies with the X-E2. To say I am happy is an understatement.  I wanted to shoot the new X-T1, however, the Really Right Stuff “L” bracket did not arrive in time. The good news is they started shipping this week. This was shot with the 10-24mm zoom at 10mm which is effectively 15mm in the full frame world.  Very happy with this wide angle zoom from Fuji.

Also posted in B&W, Color, Smoky Mountains Tagged , , |

More on Photo Celibacy


Recently I featured a terrific post written by my tour partner Dan Sniffin about his ideas with regard to photo celibacy which Cole Thompson tries to live by.  Dan’s article was written before we spent the week with Cole and the group.  The tour started with a wonderful lecture by Cole titled “Why B&W.”  In it he spoke not only about B&W but also more about his ideas on photo celibacy.  But what happened after the talk was quite powerful. I asked the group to respond to Cole’s ideas specifically about celibacy. What did they think? It was one of the most stimulating discussions I’ve been part of.  Some agreed, others challenged Cole with good honest questions. Some spoke about the need for a basic understanding of technique. We spoke about technique versus vision.  We spoke about the value of others opinions.  We spoke about rules and guidelines and much more. It was a stimulating hour of discussion!  I’m not sure we resolved anything but we carried the spirit of the discussion with us throughout the week. In fact, I am still pondering on the matter and would like to continue the discussion here.  

I am reading a book suggested by Chuck Kimmerle titled “Why People Photograph” by Robert Adams.  These quotes resonated in lieu of our discussion.

“I really didn’t have much to teach. I didn’t even believe in it. I felt so strongly that everybody had to find their own way. And nobody can teach you your own way…. in terms of art, the only real answer that I know of is to do it.  If you don’t’ do it you don’t know what might happen”  Harry Callahan,1991

“Can photography be taught?  If this mean the history and techniques of the medium, I think it can….. If, however, teaching photography means bringing students to find their own individual photographic visions, I think it is impossible. We would be pretending to offer the students, in Wililam Stafford’s phrase, “a wilderness with a map.”  We can give beginners directions about how to use a compass, we can tell them stories about our exploration of different but possibly analogous geographies, and we can bless them with our caring, but we cannot know the unknown and thus make sure a path to real discovery.” Robert Adams
“Even now I don’t like to discuss work that isn’t finished, because until it is revised over the span of a year or several years there are crucial parts that are present only in my minds eye, pieces intended but not yet realized……  “Art is made by the alone for the alone.”” Robert Adams with inserted quote by Luis Barragan.
“I knew I didn’t want to study at length contemporaries’ pictures, fearing that their work might come close to mine and blur my vision.”  Robert Adams
What do you think?  Are vision and technique connected?  Can you achieve your vision without some guidelines about good composition?  Can vision be taught?  Does looking at others work influence yours?  

With regard to the blog image from the Alabama Hills. Yes, the recent tour was focused on B&W and my folder of images is 99% B&W, however, that did not stop me from processing this one in color!  Why color versus B&W?  I wish I had a good answer, sometimes color just makes more sense and I run with my gut feeling.  In the dunes, I can’t imagine anything but B&W yet I’ve seen some wonderful images that are color.  So color or B&W becomes a creative choice, there is no right or wrong.  

[Tweet “More on Photo Celibacy”]

Also posted in Chuck Kimmerle, Cole Thompson, Color, Inspiration Tagged , , , , |


The other day Tony Sweet emailed a picture of his Mom. He made the image with his iPhone while taking his iMom to the eye doctor or iDoc as he calls her.  


Tony made a blog post about his thoughts on his image here.

These are my thoughts. Great photography creates an emotional response. This is a classic photograph that underscores the idea that it is not about the camera but rather about connection. Connection to subject, be it a person or a sand dune for that matter. This image is full of connection. Full of joy, silliness and fun. And that is clearly felt by the photographer and now by me, the viewer. Thus, Tony has created a very successful image, no matter the camera, because of the connection. I love this picture and can’t stop looking at it.  Tony emailed me this morning and simply said, “I’m still giggling”.  Me too!

To further cement my thoughts.  Our special guest instructor for the Eastern Sierra tour last week was the amazing Cole Thompson.  One of his most successful images is  “The Angel Gabriel”  Cole has given me permission to use it and his words below. Yes, the image is special but read the story and tell me that connection was not part of its success.

2006-5-20 The Angel Gabriel - Final 10-15-2007 750

The Angel Gabriel – Newport Beach, CA – 2006

This is the Angel Gabriel.  I met him on the Newport Beach pier as he was eating French Fries out of a trash can. 
He was homeless and hungry.  I asked him if he would help me with a photograph and in return, I would buy him lunch.
The pier was very crowded and I wanted to take a 30 second exposure so that everyone would disappear except Gabriel. 
We tried a few shots and then Gabriel wanted to hold his bible.  The image worked and the only
people you can see besides Gabriel are those “ghosts” who lingered long enough for the camera. 
Gabriel and I then went into a restaurant to share a meal; he ordered steak with mushrooms and onions.  When it came,
he ate it with his hands.  I discovered he was Romanian and so am I, so we talked about Romania.  He was simple,
kind and a pleasure to talk with.  I asked Gabriel how I might contact him, in case I sold some of the photographs and
wanted to share the money with him.  He said I should give the money to someone who could really use it; that he had
everything that he needed. 
Then the Angel Gabriel walked away, content and carrying his only two possessions: a Bible and a bed roll.



Now, with the idea of connection clearly in mind, pay attention to how you feel and respond to the images below. 








Eastern Sierra_2014Feb01_0104-Edit



This is a favorite image of Nancy Rotenberg.  My regular blog readers will know who she is and what she meant to me.  Now that you know who she is, does it affect your reaction?

The more you connect with your subject, the more those who view your image will too.

If you’re finding value in this site, might I ask that you share with your social communities?  Thank you!

[Tweet “Connecting – A post about Photography”]


Also posted in Cole Thompson, Inspiration, Nancy Rotenberg Tagged , , , , |

The making of a Princess Castle


If you missed my last post, my wife and I just got back from a wonderful vacation to Disney.  This image was captured hand-held at ISO 3200.  The ever changing color and lights on the castle are really quite beautiful.  A “straight” image didn’t do it for me, so I decided to play with Totally Rad Dirty Pictures and FlyPaper Textures.  If you are interested in how Dirty Pictures works, take a look at my video tutorial here.  You might also look at this tutorial as it adds more helpful information.  Clicking on the highlighted links will take you to the webpages for Totally Rad and Flypaper.  Discounts are available if you wish to purchase either.  Just go to my discounts page and use the associated code.

Here is the eveloution of this creation.  Below is the original capture.


Next I converted the image to B&W


Then I inverted the B&W image to create this.


Then I used Totally Rad Dirty Pictures with a FlyPaper Texture to create this.


[Tweet “Disney Castle with Flypaper Texture using Totally Rad Dirty Pictures”]

Also posted in Flypaper textures, Texture, Totally Rad Tagged , , , , |

Photography and the Creative Life

 South Africa

Nancy Rotenberg’s book, “Photography and The Creative Life”, is one of my most cherished books, a book I refer to often.  It is full of inspiration and passion, Nancy’s passion.  It is not a book about technique, f/stops or shutter speeds. In fact, she does not even caption her magnificent images.  She would rather you decide what they mean to you. Nancy was my mentor, friend and advisor.  She alone is responsible for pushing me kicking and screaming into leading photography workshops.  And while cancer took Nancy much too early, her spirit remains and is ever present in my walk with photography and the creative life.

With the holiday season upon us, might I suggest you pick up a copy of this book and read it.  Don’t read it once, read it twice and then read it again.  For those who have heard my Dream, Believe, Create lecture, you will quickly understand where much of my inspiration comes from.

I’m interested to hear what you have to say about the idea of  “Photography and The Creative LIfe”.   What do you do to tap into your creative side?  What can you share that will help others live a more creative life?

Let me start.  I believe we all have F.U.D., fears, uncertainties and doubts.  We carry these around with us as we try to be creative. Most times they are like big bricks in our camera bags weighing us down.  For me, I did not believe I had a creative bone in my body.  Heck, I couldn’t even draw a stick figure.  How on earth could I be a creative photographer?  As such, I had to look through everyone else’s viewfinder to know what a good image looked like.  I would try to find a good subject, but I never felt like mine was as good as Dan’s or Bill’s or Ferrell’s or Tony’s…..  My breakthrough came in 2004, when I went to South Africa for a workshop with Freeman Patterson.  I went with my friend Ferrell McCollough and learned just before the trip that Nancy was going to be a participant as well!  Can you imagine my excitement?!  As Ferrell and I were exiting the plane in South Africa, he said. “John I have challenge for you.”  What would that be, I asked?  “On this trip, you will not be allowed to look through anyone else’s viewfinder.  I want you to come home believing you are a good photographer and can see worthy images all on your own.”  I’m not going to lie, this scared me to death.  A trip of a lifetime to South Africa with my hero Freeman Patterson and Nancy happens to be on this trip too and I can’t look through her viewfinder to make sure I’m going to get images like hers?!?!  I took Ferrell up on his challenge. It was hard, however, I came home with images that forever changed the course of my journey with photography.  Images that were mine!  Images that I created.  But more importantly, I realized I was creative. I could do this without looking through anyone else’s viewfinder!

The blog image was created on this trip.  It is a montage or “slide sandwich” as we called them in the film days.  One image is of the dancing girl on the rocks in the tiny town of  Nourivier.  The other is a multiple exposure of the wonderful flowers in Freeman’s beloved fields   This creation captures the essence of my journey to South Africa.  I went to be with Freeman to learn about the creative techniques he is so well known for.  Things like slide sandwiches and multiple exposures.  I ended up falling in love with and being taught a valuable lesson by the people in South Africa, especially those from Nourivier. It was in Nouriver that I learned to “dance” as Nancy would say. It seemed natural that I should combine the two images to create a third.  Every time I see this image, I smile. It hangs in my office as a constant reminder of this trip and more importantly, as a reminder that I am creative.

Nancy’a book is hard to find, however, her daughter Marci has some left.  You can contact Marci at


A girl in Nouriver South Africa

[Tweet “Photography and The Creative Life”]

Also posted in Essence, Inspiration Tagged , , , |

Dawn Awakens – Topaz Webinar Available on YouTube.


Fuji X-Pro1 – 14mm Fuji lens

Another from our wonderful morning in Cape May.  The sky was simply amazing.  

A big thank you to all those who support the webinars I do for Topaz.  Yesterday we had another full house, thanks!  The recorded version is available to watch on YouTube NOW!  I will have a link on my TUTORIALS page as well where you’ll always be able to find it for later viewing.

The other day Stephan made a great suggestion.  He suggested I do a texture treatment similar to the one I did on the inverted tree image on the multiple exposure version.  Great idea!  See below.


20131004_New Hampshire_0075Texture

Also posted in Abstract, Fuji, Fuji X-Pro1 Tagged , , |

Fun with Textures in New Hampshire

20131004_New Hampshire_0860

While in New Hampshire, my tour partner Dan was drawn to this particular scene.  At first, I thought it would make a strong b&w but then I thought it might be even better with texture.   To make this happen, I used the INVERSE command to make the base image a negative of the original (see below) and then I used my favorite tools for texture work, Totally Rad’s Dirty Pictures along with FlyPaper Textures.  For a discount on either of these please go to my discount page by clicking here.

20131004_New Hampshire_0860invert

Inverted image  CMD I in Photoshop

20131004_New Hampshire_0860BW

Original b&w image

[Tweet “Fun with Texture!”]

Also posted in Abstract, Flypaper textures, Totally Rad Tagged , , , , |