Like any self-respecting conceptual thinker I always have a small notebook tucked in a pocket or bag in close proximity. Particles of thought often randomly leap into existence just long enough to capture only if a way to record them is immediately available. Fragile in their hopelessly transient nature, they often disappear without a trace just as suddenly as they appeared. The particular notebook I have been using is a black Moleskine given to me by award winning freelance photographer David Spielman. It's just like any other notebook with the exception of a short quote penned in capital letters for emphasis and a stamped logo. Each time I record a thought I am reminded of the transformative power of art by the quote of French painter Edgar Degas.
As my life experiences over the last several years have shaped my thinking, my photographic output has not adjusted with it. Am I still making others see the things I am most passionate about? There is only so much divergence of concept and finished product before you begin finding your own work somewhat vapid and meaningless, therefore my work has come to a crossroads where it must evolve to keep pace with my changing philosophy and vision. Expect to see more specificity of message, less color, larger groupings of images and bodies of accompanying text in upcoming projects. The creative process is unpredictable, and there are no answers at the back of the textbook. Expect failures along with success but know that I am working hard to create images that resonate strongly with me, and hopefully with those who view my work.
Many of the hills running alongside the Missouri River that were once seen as a strategic asset to Native Americans have been developed into quiet neighborhoods with homes possessing unique views of the surrounding landscape. Developed by Henry and Clara Wyman at the beginning of the twentieth century, Wyman Heights is a peaceful retreat from the dense core of the city despite its close proximity. Nestled between narrow winding streets and patches of mature trees, a diverse collection of homes showcase the Tudor Revival, craftsman and mid-century modern architectural styles. The houses built on the east end of 29th street offer stunning views of the river that become more intimate as you work your way down the hill to the southern end of the neighborhood.
Good photographs are found at the crossroads of light and shadow. An unrelenting sea of light appears flat and lifeless. Ask any passionate photographer; the most beautiful times of day are dawn and dusk when shadows are long, offering contrast, refuge, shape and form. Shadows breathe life into the world and add a brilliant sparkle to luminance; light can't be fully appreciated without darkness. Renaissance painters knew this well and developed a technique called Chiaroscuro (Italian for "light-dark") to dramatically model three dimensional form with light. Ironically, many of the books that have aided my photography over the years have been treatises on painting. Despite the many differences between painting and photography, photographers can learn much from the master painters of the past.
Rembrandt van Rijn illuminated his subjects from above and to one side. This gives a very distinct look with the side of the sitter's face closest to the light source bathed in light and the opposite side largely in shadow. A triangular highlight below the eye on the dark side of the subject's face accentuates the contours of the cheek. Rembrandt kept his color palette limited, drawing further emphasis to the prominent contrast and nuanced lighting.
Though stylistically different from Rembrandt, Leonardo da Vinci's treatment of light is no less masterful. His most famous work, the Mona Lisa, is another ingenious example of the transformative power in light and shadow. Most of the painting's contrast is conveyed in the form of light, not color. It is interesting to note that the subject's hands are modeled in light with as much precision as the face; no detail is too small to be irrelevant.
Perhaps history's greatest lesson to the modern photographer is this: No exotic sensor design, blazingly fast autofocus system, extreme megapixel count, dynamic range capability or impressively large f-stop can overshadow the photographer's skill in searching for light or creating interesting light. We live in a time when we have everything, yet we will never be able to transcend the same fundamentals of art mastered by those who came long before us.
It will come to no surprise to all who have ever driven with me in my car when I admit that I am severely directionally challenged. Even trips meticulously planned and guided by GPS can quickly become calamitous. That is why I was blissfully unaware my car was approaching the Cathedral Historic District as I drove through South Dakota into downtown Sioux Falls. Sitting proudly atop a hill overlooking downtown Sioux Falls, the sculpted limestone of St. Joseph Cathedral makes a statement. The heavily ornamented twin spires of this Renaissance Revival structure can be seen from miles away, and it was these very spires that drew my attention and guided me into the district.
The Bishop of Sioux Falls asked French-American architect Emmanuel Louis Masqueray to design St. Joseph Cathedral after visiting the recently finished Cathedral of St. Paul in Minnesota and being impressed with Masqueray's design. Construction of St. Joseph Cathedral started in 1915 but was stalled by material shortages during World War I. Emmanuel Masqueray died in 1917, two years before construction was completed.
The exterior of the cathedral remains largely unchanged; however, notable changes have been made to the interior over the years. A Kilgen pipe organ was installed in 1935, but a fire did significant damage to the cathedral's interior in 1942. Major renovations in the 1970's and 2000's have left the interior in good condition but somewhat changed in overall character.
It's a question I often receive from new photographers. Photographic equipment is very expensive, so it is understandable that people are interested in what works well and why. Equipment choice is an extremely personal thing and is ultimately more inconsequential to the final image than people often realize, but the following is a list of gear I have found useful:
1. Canon 5D Mark III
More than 95% of the images in my library were taken with this camera. The 5D Mark III has enough resolution for large prints of heavily corrected files. It's a large DSLR, but more convenient mirrorless cameras do not yet posses the battery life or perspective control lenses required for serious architectural photography.
2. Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II
This is possibly the best lens Canon makes. It's manual focus only since it is a specialized lens that physically tilts and shifts, but no amount of Photoshop wizardry can replace the ability to control perspective in camera.
3. Canon 16-35mm f/4L
A versatile wide angle lens is convenient for small home interiors when you need to be in and out quickly. There's a significant amount of barrel distortion, but it can be almost completely removed with a good lens profile.
4. Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L II
Architecture is primarily done with wide and normal lenses, but a short telephoto lens is great for exterior details of large buildings. It's extremely large and heavy but has great contrast and sharpness.
5. Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II
I don't use this lens for architecture because it has a large amount of distortion, but this is mounted to my camera for nearly everything else. If I could only have one lens for a wide range of photography this would probably be it.
6. Manfrotto MT055CXPRO3
Every serious photographer needs a tripod. The Manfrotto is extremely stable despite its light weight.