Saturday, September 19, 2015

Comparing Old & New Photographs

"Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop." --Ansel Adams
That Ansel Adams quote above is a part of the basis of this post. I'm going to compare twelve photographs captured about four years ago with twelve photographs captured over the last year. I saw someone else do something similar, and I thought it would interesting to do it myself.

The older photographs were captured between March of 2011 and February of 2012. I picked one photograph to represent each month. I didn't go January-to-December because it would have taken a little more effort to find the photographs I captured in the first two months of 2011 (they're on the hard drive of a computer that is sitting in a box in a closet). 

I wouldn't say that these twelve are the best twelve images from those months. I was a more prolific photographer some months and less in other months, yet only one photograph from each month is found in this post. Some of these photographs would make my list of "Top 12 Photographs Between March 2011 And February 2012" if I made such a list, but some others wouldn't make the cut.

The newer photographs have been captured over the last twelve months, although most of them were captured since February. I wanted to find comparable images--photographs that looked in some way similar to the older images--so I didn't go month-by-month.

The newer photographs are not necessarily my best photographs captured over the last year--a few of them might be. I didn't include all of the twelve best photographs captured over the last twelve months because I wanted to find photographs that were comparable to the older images.

All of these 24 photographs I considered good at one time. When I saw them I liked them. But time has a way of clarifying what is actually good and what isn't. Some of these photographs--especially many of the older ones--make me cringe. Four years ago I thought highly of them, but now I'm a little embarrassed by them.

The point of this exercise is to look back and see if I've made progress as a photographer. Have I improved? Am I more innovative? Am I more creative? Am I more technically sound? Am I moving forward?

Let's take a look:
Saguaro Sunset - Ehrenburg, Arizona
March 2011.
The Sun Has Set - Stallion Springs, California
July 2015.
The two photographs above, captured about four years and four months apart, are quite similar. They both feature dramatic sunsets with deep red clouds. There is a silhouetted foreground in each image. The saguaro in the top image is perhaps more interesting than the hills in the bottom photograph. The technical image quality of the bottom photograph is significantly superior.

I can see some small flaws in the top image, but overall they are basically the same. Based on these two images, not much has changed in my photography.

Red Saguaro - Goodyear, Arizona
April 2011.
Red Chairs - Cambria, California
March 2015.
I had trouble finding a similar image to Red Saguaro that I've captured over the last year. I decided that I would go with a landscape that featured bold red and lots of sky. The two photographs are similar in that regard. The bottom photograph is superior in pretty much every way. The top photograph would be a good photograph if it had been better executed.

The change in my photographic understanding is obvious. The top photograph is a bit too simple--there is no story or context, although the cactus is interesting in its own right. The bottom photograph uses color contrast effectively and provides some context to the chairs that allows the viewer to imagine what the story might be.

Arizona Hills - Quartzsite, Arizona
May 2011.
Clouds Over Desert Mountains - Glendale, Nevada
May 2015.
These two photographs, captured four years apart, are similar because they feature desert hills and dramatic skies. I don't like how I toned the top image--it's much too red. At the time that I made it I thought the warmer tone fit the scene, but I see now that a little moderation would have gone a long ways. The top photograph is too busy and it's easy to miss what is most interesting in the scene.

The bottom image is stronger because the vision is more refined. It's about tones more than any specific feature. The tones give it a certain feel that's missing in the top photograph.

Fast Freight - Cajon Pass, California
June 2011.
From Darkness To Light - Tehachapi, California
July 2015.
Two different trains in two different mountains--one color and one monochrome. The top photograph works in color because it features color contrast that draws the viewer right into the subject. Interestingly enough, the train was actually moving slow--I used a long exposure to achieve the look.

The reason the bottom image isn't color is because there wasn't any color contrast in it (aside from a little with the blue port-a-potty and the yellow grass, which is not where I wanted the viewer's eyes to be attracted to). I gave it a tilt-shift effect in post-processing to give it a "miniature" look.

I think both photographs are interesting. The top photograph is one of my better ones from that year. The bottom one is a little different for me and might be a trend to watch for.

Man At Shoshone Point - Grand Canyon, Arizona
July 2011.
Pacific Dudes - Avila Beach, California
February 2015.
The top photograph is one of my favorites from 2011, as well. The man adds scale to the scene and an uneasiness--it looks like another step forward and he'd fall off the cliff and into the canyon. His shirt matches the red in the canyon and the warm sun paints his skin the same color as the rocks. However, one criticism is that it is easy to overlook the man as he blends into the busy scene.

The bottom image is a more refined vision of man in a landscape. The main subject isn't hard to spot because the scene is much simpler and the placement within the frame is better. The small wave leads from the left surfer to the pier and the pier adds some context and interest. It's a much stronger image than the top one.

Rainbow Valley Sunset - Goodyear, Arizona
August 2011.
A September Sunset - Stallion Springs, California
September 2014.
This was another photograph that I struggled to find a similar image for. I have one that is similar and stronger, but it was captured more than a year ago. In any event, I did pick an image to compare.

The top photograph would have been much more interesting if I had found a saguaro to place into the composition. There is one in the background if you look closely, but it is much too far away. The bottom photograph relies on the silhouetted oak trees to give it interest. I used the tops of some foreground trees to add subtle depth.

Exit 195B - Phoenix, Arizona
September 2011.
I-15 Travelers - Las Vegas, Nevada
May 215.
I captured the top photograph while driving 60 miles per hour. Literally one hand was on the wheel and the other hand was on the camera. The bottom photograph was also captured from a moving car, but I was the passenger and not the driver.

I like both photographs for different reasons; however, neither one would make any "top" lists. The older image suffers from poor image quality due to gear limitations and poor post-processing techniques. The bottom photograph lacks a punchline. If I had to pick, I'd say that the superior vision of the top photograph supersedes it's image quality shortcomings and it is the better of the two.

666 Coffee - Avondale, Arizona
October 2011
The Best Palm To Buy - Las Vegas, Nevada
May 2015.
The top photograph was captured using a Holga film camera. A light leak caused the frame numbers from the paper wrapped around the 120 film to be exposed onto this frame (which wasn't frame six or nine). Interestingly enough, as I captured this exposure the Starbucks manager came running out of the store yelling for me to stop photographing. At the time Starbucks had a no-photography policy, and I guess he was adamant about it.

The bottom photograph was also photographed using film, but instead of a Holga camera I used a FED. The composition is much superior and the image is better in pretty much every way, yet the top image tells a more interesting story. Sometimes the storytelling aspect of a photograph supersedes the technical aspects.

Moon Over Desert Sunrise - Mojave, California
November 2011.
Pacific Sunset - Morro Bay, California
February 2015.
Moon Over Desert Sunrise is one of my favorite photographs from 2011. It was a long exposure and I didn't have a tripod, so I used the hood of my car and the self-timer instead. The moon's placement in the frame is what makes this photograph interesting. I should have removed the distant town lights in post-processing.

Pacific Sunset is one of my favorite photographs from this year. I think the small detail that makes it interesting are the birds in the distance. Of the two, this is the stronger image.

Train and Truck - Tehachapi, California
December 2011.
We Will Deliver - Rosamond, California
March 2015.
When I captured the bottom photograph, the top image was in my mind. The older photograph was a good concept, but it lacked execution. I can see mistakes in composition, lighting and post-processing.

Those mistakes were in my mind when I captured the bottom photograph. I was more careful and the result is a stronger image. Yet, even the newer image isn't without faults--it's better, but not perfect.

Southern Sierras At Sundown - Bodfish, California
January 2011.
Green Hill, White Mountain - Fruit Heights, Utah
May 2015.
These two photographs feature majestic mountains. The top image is of the Sierra Nevada range in California and the bottom photograph is of the Wasatch range in Utah.

The top photograph has good evening-lit warmth. The unusual tree on the right provides good balance for the mountain peak on the left. The technical image quality isn't great due to gear and post-processing limitations.

What is interesting about the bottom image is the juxtaposition of the lush green lower hill with the snow-dusted peaks. The clouds add interest to the sky. It's definitely the better photograph of the two.

BNSF Covered Hopper - Tehachapi, California
February 2012

Reflecting On Strife - Barstow, California
July 2015.
I like the top image. It looks vintage, which fits the subject well. It seems to have good compositional balance. It was captured with a cell phone, and the technical image quality disadvantages were turned into advantages with careful and extensive post-processing.

The bottom photograph is a good image, too. It's a reflection in a window at the Barstow, California historic Harvey House. I gave it a vintage look in post processing, as well, because it fits the subject. It has tons of repeated lines (vertical and horizontal).

I think the bottom photograph is more creative than the top and I think it tells a better story. The top image has stronger contrast so it grabs you more than the bottom. I'm happy with both photographs, but I like the newer one just a little more.

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