The topic for today's photo challenge is "Natural."

"Oh," you say, eyes quickly skimming past the waterfall of prattle to see what today's photos are, "she's posting sunrises and birds. Nature stuff. Kind of an obvious choice, but okay."

Yes, guilty, but there's more to why these pictures are "Natural."

A week or two ago I was bumming around Pinterest and found some ridiculous guide to figuring out what "level" of photographer you are. By the time I was done reading, I had my own rubric for determining the author's level of asshole. (Huge and hemorrhoidy, for the record.)

Buried among his more solid points was recurring snark repeated at nearly ever single level about people who "still" enjoy spot color.

I get it. Some processing techniques are so popular that as viewers it's easy to tire of them, especially when the application is heavy handed. If I see another baby photo with "catchlights" so bright that the infant looks like a Technicolor Talking Tina, I may opt to sit out the rest of 2014 in cryogenic storage, waiting for better days. (Stop taxidermizing your children in Photoshop, people!)

I know I'm also a little sensitive because I've loved selective-color-over-bw ever since I first saw it in fading family photos. Here's a bad scan of my great-Aunt Mabel's high school graduation portrait (circa 1929). It used to hang in my grandmother's dining room. I love it.

Portrait - Stockman, Mabel

Granted, this isn't the best (meaning the spottiest) example of spot color, but I don't have a more selectively tinted black and white print handy.... well, unless I were to walk into the next room, open the tub that has my Marshall oils, and dig around for some of my own hand-tinted fiber prints. Like I said, I've love the technique for decades now. That won't stop just because for $1.99 there's an app that does it for you all day long.

I wasn't ever really good at coloring photos, but it was fun. I still like looking at even my most laughable efforts. True, I'd never put forth those photos as proof that I know how to wrangle a camera, but thankfully my interest in photography isn't about proving anything other than my interest being genuine.

So it's insulting to have that interest downplayed as cluelessness. I'll always be interested spot color; I'll never get past the bottom stages of being a photographer according to that guy's chart. 

As I always say, good thing I'm only doing this for fun.

Fun, and fun money. I sold a couple of photos recently for a hundred bucks. Deposited the check last week. To a professional photographer, that's embarrassing, but to me it was a fair price for a couple of terrible snapshots that I idly took at Disneyland and happened to share on Flickr. Took with a pocket point-and shoot, even. The photos will be used in a TV documentary that is likely to be in heavy rotation on a major cable channel. (More on that once it airs.)

According to our spot-color-hating friend's categorization, I'm a pretty serious photographer. I sell work that appeals to a wide audience. (I forget his exact words.)

So which is it, dude? Do I totally suck or am I living the dream? (Or am I that most terrible creature who does both? Good lord - am I a Kardashian? A... Shardashian?)

Photography has changed. The more bitter regiments of the old guard won't admit this, but we have an incredible number of ordinary people making photos everyday that, twenty years ago, would've landed them public accolades if not solo exhibitions. 

But that doesn't happen, because the bar has been raised for standing out, and that's fine. So goes progress. But beautiful photos are everywhere, hiding in people's social media, taken by untrained eyes and hands, never to be seen beyond family and friends. Just because the look of those photos is common or easy to achieve doesn't make them less beautiful. (Just because one guy doesn't like them doesn't mean a certain aesthetic satisfaction can't be acknowledged.)

Which brings us to flora and fauna and the sky and the sea, subjects that even non-assholes who want to helpfully explain photography to the world wish that budding shooters would either leave alone or make more interesting than the existing 9,999,999,999(repeating) examples.

When holding the camera, it's easy to be so impressed by the beauty of the natural world that we let the subject stand on its own, without much thought to composition (or maybe just rule-of-thirds at best). But the poor viewer can only look at so many photos of buttercups before tuning out. (Insert your own double-meaning joke about over-saturation here.)

My point is (finally!) this: it's natural to want to take photos of these pretty things. Even if the photos themselves aren't very special. It's natural to want to record your memories, even if they hold little meaning for anyone else. It's natural to be content with having fun. And so my choices for today's topic of "Natural" came to me rather, heh, naturally:

Soft Sunrise

The Sun My Camera Saw

(Here the world was spared a detour within this post about how people think photos taken "naturally" in the camera are more truthful or better than those processed later. The above photo is exactly the image that was originally recorded to my camera when I pressed the shutter button. And yet I don't live on Mars. Weird.)

What's That You Have?

(It's natural for grey butcherbirds to haul around their mangled prey, looking for a "hook" on which to hang it. To which I still say, ew, little birdie. Ew.)

Ew, Birdie.

(It's also natural for me to earnestly type opinions of little importance, carrying on at such a length that any showcase I might've made for accompanying photographs is soured by association. Good thing I'm only doing this for fun!)


09 January 2014 |






Carnival Elation (2009)
Carnival Splendor (2009)
Carnival Spirit (2010)
Carnival Spirit (2011)
Carnival Splendor (2011)
Norwegian Pearl to Alaska (2012)