Waves, Color and Light in Photography

There are a million valid approaches to photography and any of them can lead a dedicated lover of light to a path of making successful images. The goal of all photography is the same, however: it is to be seen. The experience of looking at a photograph is the thing that we are contributing to the public. What kind of looking experience are you hoping to create?

Sunset Watchers

I’ve been thinking lately about the difference between photography that is inner directed versus externally stimulated. This is a key distinction and I’m not saying that one is better than the other, but if you want your work to have style and vision then you might need to think about this nexus. It always comes down to the question: why are you taking the photograph? What is your motivation?

Tension in the Water

When you photograph a product or a lifestyle shot you have certain goals. You are trying to please a client and to create beautiful images that they can use confidently to represent their brand. You want to tell a story about the experience that they are offering. This helps you to understand how to direct the elements of your photography. When you do work for a client, you start with the purpose of the shot.

Morning Show

You can do the same thing for yourself, too. You just have to think about it as though you are your own boss, because you are. There is a tremendous urge in the era of social media to create images that are pleasing to the public. Sunsets, puppies, etc. Are these things genuinely your interests or are they just an effective way of getting your work seen? They say that is one of the first rules of marketing. If you want to sell lots of stuff then choose something that people already like. Some things are more appealing than others, even though it is really up to the public to decide. If you are making things that people like, where is your point of view being expressed?

Waves and Light

That is why it is important to do personal work as well as the work that is going to pay the bills. If you spend time scratching your own itch, if you figure out what it is you really like and why, then your work will grow. The thing is, you can still like the things that other people like. You don’t have to avoid the sunsets just because they are popular. That’s not what I’m saying. I think that it is important to carve out your own inner driven photography, too.

What Draws Your Attention?

What does it mean to do inner driven photography? I guess it is easier to explain the opposite. Yesterday morning I was writing and finishing up my coffee when I checked the window in the kitchen that faces the ocean and I could see the clouds already starting to light up. At that moment, I could tell that if I didn’t move quickly I would miss my favorite part of the sunrise light. So, I got my stuff together and met the morning light ready to get those shots. This was not motivated by my feelings about where we are as humans, well not entirely. Maybe it is just how you think about it, too. But it was the indication of color in the sky that alerted me to the possibility of an amazing shot. And, since we are in the business of getting things seen it is important to be there to get those shots, too.

A popular spot to watch the sunset

The shots that I am working on that are more inner driven and personal are portraits of Madison that we do on our hikes. Those are more meaningful to me because of our connection. We are in love and we share some amazing areas of overlap in our interests. She is a beautiful woman and a model so when we work together our personal feelings are enhanced by our professional skills. By combining these elements, my hope is to create images that will be profoundly individual but also universal. Love is one of the great powers that humans have access to and this is a project that is based in love.

Love the break of day

Since it is flu season, however, not every morning is available for hiking into the cold to get a beautiful photo. So, I have been going solo. And yesterday morning it was obviously going to be an amazing day. The sunrise was mystical as any day breaking over the sanctuary of Monterey Bay has ever been. Huge sets bringing high tide steamers through crashed against the cliff and increased the drama and energy of the morning. The sunrise is a symbol of hope and renewal. At least it is for me. It is also an amazing show. My love for sunrise and sunset is genuine as anything ever has been. As a painter, I am continually amazed by my own capacity for shock.

The qualities of light in the morning are varied. First of all, you have the blue hour. This is when the darkness of space gradually gives way to the day’s illumination in silver blue tones. We read color symbolically, so this time of day is often a mood that invites calm and reflection if not melancholy, but if there is the right amount of clouds in the sky, then that blue is violently interrupted by shocking hues of red and pink that are brighter and more gauche than any neon artist’s dreams. In fact, there is something so lacking in subtlety about the sunrise that it is extremely tasteless. No rich person would ever choose to paint the sunrise the way it happens on those most colorful days. No, that kind of color is too much for old money. It begs too much attention. It is narcissistic. It is a performer on the stage. To some people, the sunrise is a dancing bear working for peanuts.

Not for us, though. For us, it is inspiration. It is courage with color. It is aggressive happiness. The sunrise is a message of more than hope. It is screaming at us. This is your essence. You are this beautiful, crass, dramatic extreme moment of wild untamed energy. The sunrise is our true calling. We are eternal, we are infinite, we are light. When you see it and recognize it your entire being fills with that energy. And then the first five minutes of light after the sun crosses that horizon line are the softest most golden rays of light you will ever have access to. There is no softbox in the world, no reflector, no strobe, no led, no nothing that can compare to the beauty of that light. This is a subtle light, though, and it is exactly the kind of light that old money loves. It is gold, it is finite, it is rare. This special light can be used in a number of valuable ways. It is only five minutes past sunrise and you have already experienced three radically different kinds of light. This is what it means to be a photographer to me.

Some days the light is amazing. Some days the ocean offers you a dynamic swell that you could just chase and watch all day. Some days you get both. This is when it is very difficult to do anything but feast. It is an embarrassment of riches and you feel like you are shooting fish in a barrel, but they are still fish.

When the waves are good, Santa Cruz focuses on the ocean. Most people are trying to get in position to get some waves. For me, I get as much satisfaction from a great photograph of a wave as a ride on one, and I can use the photos afterwards, so I stick with the camera. I think that some people can do all kinds of things, and I do work in a lot of different media already. But, I like to keep my obsession squarely directed towards the act of making photos. I don’t dilute any of my drive. I focus it on photography and let making images be supremely important to me.

Also, it gives me the opportunity to photograph professional surfers or my friends who want photos. Photographing surfing is difficult. You need the right equipment and a lot of knowledge. Angles and timing are even more important when you are trying to capture the act of riding a moving ramp of water that wraps around the reef hitting moments of light and reflection that create magical sparks of interest in the photos.

Yesterday my friend Sasha hit me up mid-day with a report of some good waves and so I met him somewhere cool and got a few photos. Standing on the beach looking through a 400mm lens watching the sets and trying to pick out my buddy from the pack of non-descript wetsuit-wearing surfers is a challenge for sure. There are so many distractions from the birds to the people walking by and the waves themselves are constantly drawing your attention. As you wait for someone to take off on a peak you see a grinding barrel down the beach. It takes a lot of timing, patience and self-control to stick with one surfer and try to get them shots. Yesterday, we got some good ones. Sasha is a brilliant lawyer who also happens to love surfing and art, so we get along well and laugh at ourselves as often as possible. It’s so important to me to not take myself too seriously. You have to laugh at yourself. It is mandatory in my book. Out in the morning watching the sky painted with crazy colors that would make a hip-hop artist blush and you are standing there with a tripod and a camera. It’s funny.

Due to the popularity of surfing, there is often a lot of tension in the water. The best way to deal with this increasing tendency is to be respectful, but you see a lot of conflicts going down. There are limited amounts of waves each day and sometimes people fight over them. It happens and if nobody gets too hurt, it is funny. Of course, it is much, much better to be cool and respectful and to enjoy your time in the water peacefully. There is definitely the potential in the water to achieve a powerful state of equanimity and equilibrium. It is good for us. But, the stress of trying to compete for waves can get the best of us, too.

Yesterday was a day that couldn’t stop giving. The sunset was just as dramatic and powerful as sunrise. The cliffs were full of people watching the sunset and it was a great scene. Instead of just getting the color and the landscape I enjoyed portraying the whole scene including the sunset watchers and the guy with funny santa pajama bottoms on. You see a lot more people watching the sunset, which doesn’t make it less valuable to me. I just like to get them in the scene sometimes. That is one of the great things about living here. We see sunrises and sunsets over the water.

We are in the middle of an amazing run of weather and waves and so busy is the way to be, but I’m looking forward to a slower time coming up when I can refocus on the work that we are doing up at Wilder, which is much more inner driven and important to me. It’s all important, but I feel like that work is the greatest contribution that I have to make. You have to be the judge of your own work. You have to say what you think is good and important even if nobody else likes it. You get to decide what you put out there and what you leave behind. What other people think of it is not yours to control, and that can be difficult when people don’t see what you do, but that is the nature of art and photography.

Notes to a Young Artist

Nobody taught us how to say goodbye. It’s really gonna hurt. Hurtling towards that time when we have to go, running around the coffee shop like a 5-year old hopped up on espresso.

It just hit me. I’m not ready. I’m not ready for any of it, but it doesn’t matter. Not one little bit. It’s gonna happen. To me, to you, to everyone we love.

Have a kid you love. Then feel that.

It’s too fucked to be real, but real it is.

This is why Shakespeare was so great. He expressed the comical levity and the tragic certainty of life with equal energy. It’s a beautiful place full of ecstatic feelings and from time to time the most horrific experiences occur. The more wonderful it seems the harder it stings.

This is one reason why I love punk music. Bands like Black Flag help us to grit our teeth. You gotta get through the hard times. It’s gonna take a lot of hutzpah, kid.

It was the best of times and the worst of times and they just keep getting more intense. Just remember, pain is temporary. Everything passes. If you can embrace it all, make art out of everything. Judge nothing. Trust your own ability to read energy. That’s all it is. Just a bunch of signals.

Somewhere someone right now is suffering because they forgot this. A love was lost, a fortune squandered, their last chance spilled like red wine on white carpet.

Compassion is our greatest strength. To think of others is the hardest task. There’s always room for improvement. And this is how you do it. Be unbothered. Know yourself better than anything else, and especially understand that you are as finite as a wave and as infinite as water. The world is a tremendous paradox and nobody is better or worse than you.

Kindness is strength, violence is weakness, love is everything that matters.

Meditation Medication: Martina Lin

Meditation is so hot right now. Actually, it’s been pretty popular since sometime around the 6th century B.C.E. when Siddhartha Gautama used it to become enlightened. Subsequently, Buddhism arose and grew to become one of the world’s biggest religions spreading the practice of meditation throughout Asia and the world, growing and changing forms through time and place. The thing that remained constant despite whatever other changes transpired has been the practice of meditation.

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Martina Lin: Meditation Specialist

Buddhism and meditation became popular in the United States during the 20th century through a variety of teachers and practitioners including Alan Watts, Jack Kerouac and more recently Jack Kornfield, Ken Wilber and Noah Levine among countless others. It’s been a big part of California culture especially since the 60s and the rise of the counterculture alongside the rise of psychedelics. There’s a collection of essays entitled Zig Zag Zen that explores the relationship between psychedelics and meditation. During the radical decade of the 60s and now, people in California became actively interested in finding ways to create mental breakthroughs. Certain historical periods call for this kind of change.

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Who couldn’t use a little enlightenment during heavy and dark times? The thing is, it’s hard to know how to practice meditation effectively. That’s why we need teachers. My grandfather was Buddhist and Quaker and practiced meditation on a daily basis. He held two Ph.D.s: one in Philosophy and one in East Asian Religion and wrote about how those worlds combined and overlapped. What meditation did for my grandfather has always inspired me. He was a seeker and learned a lot about meditation and followed it up with practice. Lots of people use meditation, today, and it has never been more important as we face monumental challenges together.

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That is why I was really excited for the opportunity to meet and work with Martina Lin, a meditation specialist in Santa Cruz. During our first meeting I was seriously impressed by her presence. Just talking to her had a calming effect. I always strive to do my best when doing someone’s portrait, but I was especially excited to work with someone doing something so important.

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We ended up finding a great window of time together, too. Our portrait session ended up taking place during two separate times as the first meeting was during high tide with a huge swell and that made accessing the rock formation I wanted to work on top of impossible. The second time we met, the skies were clear and the tide was low, so we had full access to the space and a great golden hour. Again, in her presence I felt calm and grounded. Some people have this special thing that you can’t quite explain but can feel, and whether it’s something she was born with or something she cultivated through practice, Martina has this quality. Check out Martina’s 7-day Meditation Challenge and book a session with her to take your meditation practice to another level or to start one if you don’t already meditate. And book a portrait session with me if you have something you are trying to promote your business, an event, or if you just want to record this moment in time.

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Water Power

The Oroville dam is about to bust. Somewhere near 180,000 people had to be evacuated, but that is just the start of the problems. People are losing their homes and there’s no telling how far that water will spread once it is set free. Water is like power is like money. It flows freely and seeks its own level. It is only with major acts of engineering or natural acts of geography that it is ever stored in one place in large amounts. So many of the tragedies we see today are actually symptoms of deeper problems, of engineered imbalances. Building border walls is like building nuclear power plants is like building dams: all bad ideas with consequences nobody wants to experience. Meanwhile, here in little ol’ Santa Cruz the morning was preceded by flash bombs and helicopters. Was it a raid in the planning for 5 years designed to arrest truly violent gang members, or was it a raid on immigrants without the right legal paperwork?
One day, sometime not too far away, this cave will collapse. It kinda makes you appreciate it more when you think of that.

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Being Loyal

  • jjt-bpt-january-2017-2Loyalty is a rare value, today. Values in general are scarcer and scarcer in this age of vanity and digital complacency. What is loyalty? It’s both what you will and won’t do. It’s with whom you will and won’t share your time and energy. Loyalty is the foundation of trust. If you are loyal to me, then I can give you the best of me, because I know if I need it, then it’s coming right back. Loyalty is what makes families strong and the lack of it is what causes us to falter. Being loyal is vowing to never betray those who matter most to you.

 

Shoot it Like It’s Rented

This week I have in my hands a beautiful little camera, the Sony a7ii with a 55mm 1.8 Zeiss lens. I rented this setup from Borrow Lenses and so far I am happy as could be with the results. Here are some photos from my first two days with the camera.

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The Camera in Your Pocket

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Is that a camera in your pocket or are you happy to see me? LOL. Almost everyone has a camera in their pocket these days. This is the first step to making great photos: possess a camera. Beyond owning the device and mastering its settings, you also have to haunt the phone. You have to imbue this little electronic device with some of your spirit. This is happening every day, anyways. We use our phones so much that they smooth from our touch. The electrical exchange between us and our phones extends into these moments we find in the world.

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Vintage Stories

The Blues are back. Santa Cruz is one of its unlikely new homes. How do these things happen? How do cultural scenes coalesce? Bigger than the sum of its parts, a cultural movement is the product of people who will it into being. JJT.15.April.2016.blog-6Big Jon Atkinson is a large part of the reason why the Blues is prominent in Santa Cruz, these days thanks to Larry Ingram, owner of Aptos St BBQ and Mission St BBQ. Larry is the huge force behind this development, bringing Christopher “Preacher Boy” Watkins, Big Jon Atkinson, and a deep pool of legendary Blues talent on board. Larry has live Blues music in both restaurants 7 nights a week from 6-8. Big Jon and Larry have been JJT.15.April.2016.blog-7My last two art exhibitions have had the Blues as part of their theme, explicitly and implied through tone. The first was a series of experimental paintings with poems that was entitled “Pogonip Blues.” It was a series inspired by the idea of the Blues expressed visually and with words, in response to things that were happening around the world and here in Santa Cruz. The next extended series I worked on was entitled “Dark Fields, Bright Spots.” The Blues have historical roots in the US American South, but they speak to a universal spirit of resilience in the face of uneven odds and challenging times.JJT.15.April.2016.blog-8

Awakening in April

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Bigfoot

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Tri-tip Salad from Mission St. BBQ

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Jewel from Broken Shades at Mission St. BBQ

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Wyatt Barrabee

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Craft Beer at Mission St. BBQ

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BBQ Dinner at Mission St. BBQ

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Tommy is Back!

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The Giant DIPA is back!

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Aki Kumar at Aptos St. BBQ

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Kendra at Pilates 26

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Kendra on the machine

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New Pilates Instructor at Pilates 26

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Sunset from the Therapeutic Healing Collective

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Making Cookies at Big Pete’s Treats

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Beet Burger from Cremer House

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Taz ripping

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Shatter by Punch Extracts from Therapeutic Healing Collective