It’s All in the Details


I am not a big picture person.

In my professional career, I was master of the details. I thrived on solving intricate, discrete problems; researching solutions; documenting results; developing action plans. I lived in the nitty-gritty, the day-to-day minutiae, figuring out how all the tiny pieces worked together. And I was really good at it.

Not surprisingly, that detail orientation, that way of seeing and working in the world, has followed me into my photography.

This week, we kicked off Kat Sloma’s “Find Your Eye: Starting the Journey” e-course in which I am participating. Our current assignment is to create an “Inspiration File” – a collection of our best images. Not necessarily best in terms of technique or execution. Not the ones which received the most Flickr comments or the ones that drew “oohs” and “ahhs” from family or friends. No, what we are looking for are the images that make our hearts flutter. The ones that provide that jolt of recognition, that frisson of excitement. The ones where we say to ourselves: “I love this”. Even if no one else “gets it”, this image moves me.

And as I have begun that process of review and contemplation, as I study my work, it is readily apparent that details are my way of visually interpreting the world around me.

I am currently reading Twyla Tharp’s excellent book “The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life”. In Chapter 3, Tharp discusses what she calls our “creative DNA…those strands that govern our creative impulses”. In describing these strands, she uses the focal length of a lens as a metaphor for the way any artist sees the world:

“All of us find comfort in seeing the world either from a great distance, at arm’s length, or in close-up…Each of us is hard-wired a certain way. And that hard-wiring insinuates itself into our work.”

Close-up is my focal length.

My images are not sweeping or grand. You don’t get a sense of place or context from my shots. I fill the frame with my subject, forcing the viewer to see the details that engaged my eye. There is rarely a narrative or story except for that told through line, form, shape, texture. The play of light and shadow. Abstract geometry. Rust and decay. Shiny reflections. Images that ask: “what is it?” These are the common threads that wind themselves through my work.

It’s not to say that I don’t experiment with seeing the big picture or taking a middle distance viewpoint. After all, that is part of the learning process.

And yet. Close-up – this is the way that I see the world.

Photography has given me this gift – a way of capturing my unique vision. A way of saying: “This is beautiful to me”.  For me, it’s all in the details.

What about you? What is your “focal length”? How do you see the world?


Posted on July 29, 2011, in Photography and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. Your photos are very, very nice. I love this post and it gave me ideas to think about my work, such as range, and pallette. You write very well.

    You seem to have found your style.

    • Sally,

      I am so glad that my words provided you with something to think about as we begin the search toward defining our style. While it may seem that I have “found” mine, I still feel unsure and try out different points of focus, different viewpoints, different subjects to see if any “click”. I am still a work in process but hope that this question of style will be clarified through the FYE course.

      I do hope you will stop by again.

  2. I enjoyed reading your entry on the inspiration file and I actually find your entire site inspirational. I have been reading some of entries and learned so much from them. You really have an excellent eye for detail and I am now inspired by shadows and patterns. I am going to try to “see” a bit more detail in the scenes I pass by.

    • Monique – that is such a high compliment to know that you found my site an inspiration to you (because I know from your blog how good your photography is). Perhaps we can inspire each other, yes?

      Warning: hunting for shadows is a highly addictive past-time. Don’t say you haven’t been warned!

    • Hi Brenda, that would be good if we inspire each other. I look forward to some shadow hunting 🙂

  3. I love how you are seeing your work abilities/interests come out in your photography. Twyla’s quote is perfect! We do have a creative DNA, a natural way to see and interpret the world. We can love artist’s work that is different than ours, but we create our best work when we stick to our creative DNA. Lovely images and post.

    • Kat – thanks for stopping by and commenting on my “Inspiration File” post. I always find assessing my own work a difficult process – I am still whittling down my final selections.

      And it is so true about the work of others – I greatly admire photographers who capture people or wide-open landscapes but these are things that, thus far at least, have eluded my photographic skills or desires.

      I am enjoying class very much!

  4. I love your selection of photos as your inspiration file. Thanks for sharing it with the world and for your choice of words…all very inspiring.

  5. I enjoyed your post so much!! I feel pretty much the same as you, I enjoy the close-up, fill the frame, detailed images!! You have a wonderful way with words!!

    • Cathy – that is such a lovely compliment! When I started this blog, it was intended to be a visual adventure – a place to share my photography. I didn’t really think too much about the writing part of it. And it is oftentimes a struggle to find the right words. So I really do appreciate your comment.

      And I’m glad to know that you have a similar photographic vision as me!

  6. Lovely to read about how you have come to find your eye and define your style. Your images do all seem to have a certain abstract quality that results from close-ups. Wonderful composition and color palette. I love the quote and it’s gotten me thinking…. thanks so much.

    • Gina – not sure that I’m quite “there” yet but it seems that I am perhaps on the right path. All of the exercises have been very helpful in trying to hone in on what is meaningful to me. The Twyla Tharp book was also helpful in this journey. I’m glad that the quote spoke to you as well.

      And I already follow your blog – don’t remember now how I found you but sometimes it is actually a small online world!

  7. p.s. I don’t twitter, — my blog is Gina

  8. Oh my! That is something to think about and hits the nail on the head on why I’m finding this exercise so challenging. I love the macro and close-up, but I just can’t quite capture it satisfactory at times. I spend a lot of time in the mid-range because it is the only way I can capture my kids–they move so fast, but the images rarely speak to me–I love the close-ups of their eyes best. Landscapes…had to take quite a few this weekend because there were some lovely views, but one of each is fine.

    Sorry, I’m doing my journaling here, but you just made me start thinking so hard.

    • Tharp’s analysis was extremely helpful to me – I guess it helped put into words something that perhaps I knew instinctively. I am so glad that it is helping you in your search as well and that it has made you think, maybe in a way that you wouldn’t have without these words. In that case, I am so glad that I shared them with the class. There is nothing more rewarding than writing a post that speaks to others.

  9. I was so inspired by your blog entry that I went ahead and ordered the book you quoted – thank you!

    • JJ – thank you so much for letting me know. I am thrilled that you were inspired by Tharp’s words. I think you will find the book very helpful in learning about the creative process from a very creative person. I do hope you will stop by again.

  10. I certainly plan to stop by often!

  11. I love this exercise and the clarity with which you have identified your own style and inspiration. I find your photos very engaging, as is your way of thinking about them.

    Trying to think about what would go in my own inspiration file now too…

    • Corinna – as Kat explains in class, the process of finding your eye is ongoing. But there is something very satisfying about the review process, of searching for common elements and themes that present themselves when you are looking for them. I hope you find the creation of your own inspiration file exciting. Kat recommends creating a separate folder for these images – I just used Adobe Bridge to add a keyword (Inspiration File) to my chosen images so that I can easily find them. I assume that you could do something similar in LIghtroom.

      Let me know what you find on your search and whether you are suprised with the results.

I greatly appreciate your comments!

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