Studio Notebooks

Notes and thoughts about making and printing photographs - technique, philosophy and tools.

Black & White Master Print - December 4-7, 2017 Santa Fe, New Mexico

"After nearly 25 years of teaching the B&W Master Print at Santa Fe Workshops I am passing this very popular workshop to Memphis Barbree. Reid Callanan, the Director of Santa Fe Photographic Workshops asked me who I thought would be the best person to teach this class. I did not hesitate. Out of all the great B&W photographers I can think of, Memphis is the best there is when it comes to both print quality and teaching. She is the best B&W student I have had in my teaching career." - George DeWolfe


To create a Black and White Master Print is to express the depth and passion of your love for the light and the reason you made the photograph. Making a Black & White Master Print is more than a filter, it's more than a software trick or technique. It's a journey along the path of the masters and it will take you as deep within yourself and the light as you are willing to go.

Join me December 4-7, 2017 in Santa Fe for a journey along the path of the masters in Black & White Master Print.

Photographing Totality

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I found out just one week prior to the eclipse that I had a camp spot in the Totality Zone in Madras, Oregon on Lake Simtustus with the Oregon Airstream Club. It was late notice so I began preparing rapidly. Fortunately, I was in the San Francisco Bay Area and had Samy's Cameras and the internet at my fingertips. I wrote a post about this in my Field Notebooks.

When I arrived in Madras, Oregon, I had four days before the eclipse and began scouting the location and watching the sun move through the landscape each morning's eclipse time frame. I hoped for an epic eclipse-in-landscape image, but my location just wasn't offering me anything I felt strongly about. I came up with perhaps a dozen different plans and on the morning of the eclipse I scrapped them all - not unusual for  me - and chose to create what you see here as the Totality folio.

I'm not one that's big on lists of equipment and camera settings because there are often so many variables involved in making a photograph, that settings and equipment lists just aren't any help in how to make an image, in my view. In the case of a solar eclipse, it is a somewhat technical undertaking however. So here's my equipment list for the photographs of Totality and some tips with a link to a wonderful source of eclipse technical information.

Camera Equipment List:
Nikon D750 with 300 mm lens
Lee Filter Foundation Kit
Lee 82 mm adapter ring
Kenko 67-82 stepping ring
Lee Solar Eclipse Filter 100x100
Fully charged camera battery
2 - 32 GB SD cards in camera
Sturdy tripod and head
Remote camera release

In the week prior to the trip, I also did copious amounts of research. One of the most helpful piles of information on photographing a solar (or lunar) eclipse has been created by a man known as Mr. Eclipse - Fred Espenak - http://www.mreclipse.com. If you study Mr. Eclipse's site, you'll know more about eclipses and photographing eclipses than you could ever be afraid to ask.

I started with his charts for exposure settings and adjusted based on my situation. He says himself that you'll have to use his guide as a reference and make your own adjustments because every situation will be different. For instance, I had a thick blanket of wildfire smoke descend on my viewing spot the day before and morning of the eclipse. So I had to work fast to adjust my camera settings to meet those lighting conditions as soon as the totality phase began. I wasn't far off though, because I had studied Fred's charts and estimated what the light levels were going to be based on settings from photographing full moons and landscapes at dusk.

A couple key tips I can offer from my experience.

  • Don't try to do too much, especially your first eclipse. Pick one aspect of the eclipse, focus on it and work to photograph it well.
  • If you want to photograph only the totality phase, you don't need a solar filter or any other specialized filter. It is safe for you and your camera DURING TOTALITY PHASE ONLY to photograph and view the sun without special filters.
  • Bracket shutter speed widely to expose for the various subtleties of the corona.
  • Remember the sun is moving - well, actually the earth is moving in reference to the sun - so don't expose more than 1 second or you will quite probably get motion blur.
  • Use ISO settings not greater than 100-400 to avoid digital noise.
  • F/16 because I wanted my aperture to be somewhat small so I might get a hint of starburst in the light coming through the lens. An even smaller aperture would have made it even more dramatic, but I didn't want too much so I was conservative.
  • Use a tripod and remote release to avoid camera shake. Remember to turn off lens stabilization since you're on a tripod.
  • The totality phase goes by much more quickly than you think it will. Be ready. I set alarms on my iPhone to help me keep track and stay on schedule.
  • Think about the eclipse and what story you want to tell about it so that you can plan your images accordingly. It all comes down to the story. Technique is nothing without the story.
  • Practice and scout ahead of time.
  • Enjoy.
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Totality Folio is available for purchase on my website: http://www.memphisbarbree.com/foliostore/totality

The Moment

The moment – a brief, unspecified amount of time.

A sunny morning in 2001, I made this photograph of a sunflower in the garden of a small house in which I was living in Nambe, New Mexico. I made the photograph and then stood there looking at the flower and thinking about the moment – a brief, unspecified amount of time. It suddenly seemed to me a very reasonable and worthy practice to devote the entirety of my foreseeable future to a moment, the moment, and so I began.

I approach photography as a practice of meditation, an art of witnessing, experiencing, communing, and sharing. It is an opportunity to be present, right here, right now, wherever I am, with both an inner and outer experience of life. At every moment is an opportunity to pause, to enter a place of silence, to open to and connect deeply with the world around me. Any separation perceived between ourselves and the rest of existence is created by the mind, the intellect. To be captured by and to dive in to a moment, offers a chance to stop the mind,  pause the intellect, and to enter a more full and real perception and experience of life.

Light,

Memphis

The Decisive Moments

There are moments in life when something suddenly changes, shifts. Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “the decisive moment” – a split second that reveals a larger truth – is one of the most famous phrases in photography. The decisive moments that I’m referring to are moments in the growth and development of a photographer in technique and vision. Such moments can come like a bolt of lightning and thunderclap, a spark onto gasoline, or it might be the moment between tides or the one when summer turns to fall. 

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In my experience, if I’m conscious, paying attention, what we think of as subtle moments of change are just as strong, bold – decisive – as the loudest thunderclap I’ve ever heard.

In regards to photography, there have been a number of defining moments for me. In fact, I believe that unless we quit growing and learning, there will always be yet another decisive or defining moment.

When I was first learning to print my own work I struggled to grasp at vision and understanding of what exactly I was after. I made print after print, filling the trash can in my studio day after day, week after week. It just wasn’t coming. I doggedly pursued my elusive result – journeying through what seemed to be a jungle of options on techniques, tips and tricks, paper types and printer profiles, display calibrations and software presets. It really was a thick, tangled jungle back in those days. The most important thing I had to find though – and find first before I could even begin to weave a pathway through that jungle, was my goal. The goal of what I was really after in a print, what my vision was.

One warm July afternoon in a spare bedroom studio in Vermont, came my decisive moment – the moment I came to connect with my vision, came to understand how to express what my mind’s eye saw rather than what my eyes or the camera saw. The ‘how’ to print it came very simply and automatically seconds after that. I was working on an image that I had made 4 years prior, on the other side of the country in Pilar, New Mexico. I was standing beside a winding river road and looked up at the hill in front of me. My eyes could make out the detail on the side of the hill but the image I saw in my mind’s eye was the echo of the cloud above the hill and the profile edge of the hill. It was yin and yang, a dance of earth and sky, a union of opposite yet complementary energies. I snapped the photograph and it sat on my storage drive for four years until that afternoon that lightning struck and summer became fall, so to speak.

I felt I had found myself, my vision and how to express it. I sent a copy of the file to my friend and mentor, George DeWolfe. He wrote back:

Whatever the feeling you had when you made this image is the one you want to lasso. To me you just went through the "hole in the thicket." It is full of light, grace and mystery.

George has written about his own visual journey:

My study of awareness started with a single photograph in 1970 that broke through the “surface” boundaries of reality. It was accomplished both with vision and technique. The White Rock was my first introduction to my own authenticity to see beyond the boundaries of the real. It encompassed both the awareness of what I was feeling and seeing about the rock and the technical skills I had learned to develop the negative and print accordingly to achieve the final photograph.

For the seeker to break through to reach their own benchmarks, decisive moments, breakthroughs, they must be thirsty for it, diligent, dogged, studious and tenacious. For me, I used both jungle and barefoot across the hot desert metaphors - it really, really does take that.

Light,
Memphis