location, location, location

Few issues divide outdoor communities as deeply as locations. Do we share valuable beta with others, or not?

We are photographers. We are explorers. We are hikers. We are canyoneers. We are climbers. We are travelers. Immersing ourselves in our surroundings is what inspires us, what drives us. 

Others who join us in this experience are themselves part of the experience. There can be nothing more inspiring than sharing special conditions at a wild location with a few people we hold dear. And there is nothing less inspiring than standing in a line of 50 tripods in a place we once held dear. 

Whether or not to reveal our beta is one of the most difficult choices we face. Do we want to risk ruining a sensitive place? To some: of course. Locations are locations, just places for creativity. Let people come see them, just as others have done for us. 

But what if the location is...

  • ...closed to the public, or closed at the time of day the image was made, and photographers there must not attract attention? 
  • ...fragile, and susceptible to trampling, garbage, and vandalism?
  • ...sacred to native people? 
  • ...dangerous and potentially life-threatening to access or photograph from?
  • ...too small to fit more than one or two photographers?
  • ...on private property, and you had permission, but others might not seek it?
  • ...a place you simply enjoy solitude and just want to keep it that way?

If you discovered one of these places, and most of us have -- would you STILL share it with the world?

We all draw our line in a different place -- but I believe we all have a line somewhere. Where the problems arise is how we present our beta to the public in the context of our images. This is where social media brings out the worst in us. 

The simple answer is, if you discover a new or little-known location, or come up with a new concept for an image, you have three choices:

  1. Share it with the world. Post it to social media, tell people where it is and how it's done. 
  2. Keep it to yourself. You must not share images of the location, even if untagged. 
  3. An "unhappy medium" between (1) and (2). Perhaps share an image but exclude specific location and technique information, and refuse or obfuscate this information to most viewers who inquire. 

The problem with (1), sharing, is... it rapidly destroys the place. Large crowds quickly appear. And you caused it. Issues with landowners may arise. You might return next year and find no space for your tripod, or have your images ruined by light painters or model shoots. There may be a new permit system in place, or the location may become closed due to the actions of others -- you might not be able to visit at all. And your image will quickly become lost in a sea of similar-looking images from others. 

The problem with (2), keeping completely to yourself, is... you miss out on the joy of sharing your work with the world. Others inspired you, and you will surely inspire others... but you can't do that if you don't share your work. And there is little joy in creating if we have no one to share it with. 

The problem with (3), the "unhappy medium", is... it destroys the place AND makes you a jerk. Others helped you discover little-known locations. You claimed the fame but gave nothing back. You have contributed nothing to the art. If you were inspired by someone else, you took their idea and gave nothing back... well, that's stealing. AND, worse yet... it doesn't even work. Intrepid explorers will still quietly use your images to reverse engineer the locations and concepts. And you'll have no control over how they handle the information. They'll tell a few friends. Who will tell a few friends. And it's over. Same outcome. Just delayed. Location destroyed. AND you were a jerk. 

So... what does that leave us with? We can't win, can we? 

Social media, of course, is the primary driver, and makes the problem worse than ever. Most photographers chase images that perform well online, or sell well. If you achieve these, there will be people knocking on your door for information, so they, too, can get in on the social media action. The information will get out, whether you provide it or not. Crowd growth is exponential. Social media photography is a disease. It must die. If I think you're gonna post your image to Instagram, I'm sorry, but I won't be sharing my beta with you. 

I can understand both sides. I go back and forth between them myself. I enjoy sharing beta for the happiness it brings others, and to give back to a community that has helped me so much. However, I have experienced firsthand the pain of publishing unique work from unique locations, and soon returning to find dozens of tripods chasing my creative success. I have tried to find the unhappy medium, but always failed. And that unhappy medium, of course, comes with being a jerk. 

If the image appears on social media, even without information, it will not be unique for long, and its location will no longer provide solitude. It may never be the same again. And you have to live with the fact that... well, you are responsible for that. Despite your best efforts, you let it out. And you were a jerk by refusing to give back to others who were interested. What a mess. 

In the end, what it all comes down to is, if you have a secret location that you want to preserve, do not share it, and do not share images of it. Posting landscape images for "preservation" but withholding beta on them is a snake's tactic, not a happy medium. If you truly want to "preserve", or just want to enjoy it for yourself, there is nothing wrong with that -- but do exactly that. By sharing the image, you are now enjoying it with others, who will want to see it for themselves. You can't have fame and recognition for your discovery without also making it popular. You can't have your cake and eat it too. It's just a choice we have to make.

I find this choice is best made on a case-by-case basis. With each new image you produce, consider this: Is this an image you would like to establish your name with, or is this a place you would like to return and have it to yourself? 

Because you can't have both. 

When Two Worlds Collide: Art vs. Social Media

Debates continue to rage within the social media photography community, over issues like “comp stomping” and what amounts of post-processing are acceptable. Occasionally the pot boils over, then briefly returns to simmering, only to boil over again in the coming weeks. 

If I released a cover of your song, of course I’d credit you. Why don’t photographers do the same? Shouldn’t they?

Similarly, how is it fair to a photographer who runs their business by creating honest photographs, or does some blending to compensate for camera limitations, but doesn’t drop in skies from other days – when someone else can just drop their sky in and get more attention? It’s not fair, right?

But this is social media. This is business. This is a society that worships likes, comments, and dollars.

Photography isn’t any of those. Photography is art. What are the rules in art, anyway? There aren’t any. Who are we to impose our personal beliefs and limitations on others? If I say one thing is OK, but something else isn’t, who am I to make the rules for someone else?

Both sides are right, really. But it’s the approach that determines the opinion.

The real, underlying problem is when one tries to put all photographers on a level playing field on social media, while everyone is taking different kinds and amounts of steroids. This is a world (a bubble, if you will) where all work is the same -- “photography” -- and competes for likes, favorites, comments, and other forms of attention. Money may be involved, too. Success is typically defined by the amount of attention an image gets. In a social media world, it absolutely isn’t fair if your honest image, which you worked hard for, gets 100 likes, while someone drops a sky over the same scene in 10 minutes and gets 1000 likes. And it isn’t fair if your fresh image, which you worked hard to scout for, gets 100 likes, while someone else copies your composition, doesn’t credit you, and gets 1000 likes.

But wait a second – are we talking about photography, the art, or are we talking about social media? Those are different!

If you insert a sky from halfway around the world, you have obviously taken steroids. If you move the contrast slider or add a tone curve, you have also taken steroids. And if you use a single long exposure to blur moving water, you, too, have taken steroids.

“But what I do is different,” you say. “I stretch reality, but it’s believable. It’s natural. It’s not fake.”

What the hell are you talking about? Get off your high horse. Of course your work is fake. You altered the raw file that came out of your camera, which didn’t represent reality in the first place. Who cares?

Social media cares, and rightfully so. Because it isn’t fair to have everyone play the game using different kinds of steroids on a level playing field.

But we have to understand something here. Social media does not promote art. The web promotes competing for attention and business, and by rewarding replication of trending topics, it ends up suppressing creativity as much as it fosters it. That’s one of the reasons why I recently stopped posting most of my images on social media, and just direct them to my website.

Interestingly, since I’ve stopped posting online, I’ve noticed myself doing new kinds of blends and other Photoshop experimentation that I wouldn’t have done before. I’ve blended blue hour city lights with a sunrise burn and a post-sunrise sunstar. I’ve dropped in a similar Milky Way from a day later to fix a couple issues with the original one. I’ve stretched the hell out of whatever I want. And I’ll copy any damn comp I feel like.

Why? Because I don’t have to prove to anyone that it’s real, original, or worthy of their like or comment. I don’t have to brace myself for comments from trolls and self-proclaimed experts. I don’t have to weather the storm of photographers defending “their” comps. I simply don’t have to give two shits what they think. It’s not like I’m trying to use the comp to get 1000 likes, to draw attention to my work, to drive traffic to my workshops page. I’m back to making art. And I enjoy that. I still have personal guidelines that I generally adhere to, but… really, once you remove the competition and comparison, who cares?

Seriously, who cares?

Ah, right – social media cares. Artists couldn’t care less.

-jl

trust

last week, a few crazy friends and i saw an #escaype forecast for maximum potential and an intense, colorful burn at mt. shasta at sunrise and sunset. 

the four of us piled into the car on no sleep,

drove 5 hours from the bay area,

crashed in a motel room for a while,

hiked a few miles,

set up our tripods,

watched the sky blow up while we screamed "holy sh*t!"with oogly eyes,

hiked back down to the car,

and drove 5 hours back home. 

 

in #escaype we trust.

fission and fusion

another image taken with an #escaype prediction, at rodeo beach last monday. 

We brought three friends along on this night, all world-class photographers. The skies were completely dull grey and overcast. To the untrained eye, it looked like a sky to write off, but Escaype was predicting one of the best skies imaginable, and as I followed the event on the satellite I could see that everything was on track. When we drove over the hill to the beach, we couldn't help but smile when we saw the promised orange slit on the horizon, one of the classic telltale signs that the grey sky would soon erupt. Then everything happened in a hurry. Incredible undulating textures became visible under the clouds as the blinding sun streamed through the gap like a laser, then the entire sky burst into some of the most intense sunset colors we had ever seen. 

Here are a few of my friends' jaw-dropping images from the shoot: 

Rapture, by Michael Shainblum

Divine Light, by Nick Steinberg

Something amazing that the world will hopefully someday see, by Erin Babnik (she has locked herself away while she creates her masterpiece)

Amazing evening and fun week! 

A new About page is up on the site, which should answer most of the common questions we've been getting. Sorry we've been taking a few days to get back to emails -- we have been getting bombarded, and are doing our best!

imagine

Imagine what life as a photographer would be like... if you had a weatherman in your pocket who sent you text messages telling you where and when to go to nail your dream shots. 

Imagine what life would be like without all those wasted hours of driving... all that gas money... all those skipped meetings at work... all the priceless lost family time... all ending in cursing upon visiting a beautiful beach for the fifteenth time and watching another epic-looking sky fade to grey... 

Imagine if all that never had to happen again.

Imagine this: the next time you drive three hours, spend money on gas, skip a work meeting, and miss priceless family time... things are different. This time, you have a text message from the weatherman himself, and you KNOW the sky is going to blow up and you are going to go home with a big smile on your face. 

Until recently, that's just what you had to do... imagine it. 

It's time to join the club of photographers who don't try fifteen times. We are the club that tries once. And we score. 

Welcome to Escaype. 

P.S. Make sure to use our #escaype tag on social media... you might be rewarded for it. ;)

a surprise skunk?

In landscape photography, we often call it a "skunk" if the light, well, sucks. A skunk is especially painful if it LOOKS like it could be great, but fizzles at the last possible moment.

 

A feast for the eyes of hopeful photographers all over the Bay Area this evening, the clouds were BEAUTIFUL just before sunset, inspiring photographers to head out to the coast, city, and other vantage points.

  [image: Steve (Birdo) Guisinger,   NRB Photography  ]

[image: Steve (Birdo) Guisinger, NRB Photography]

 

Some might have questioned the escaype prediction of very little post-sunset color, save for a few high clouds at 5.5km height that would catch yellow-orange light about 6 degrees above the horizon to the west-southwest, 1-3 minutes after sunset.

 

Ten minutes before sunset, as the undersides of the clouds began to catch some pleasant pre-burn light, even we, the cotton candy team, were biting our nails a bit. We'd told a handful of people to stay home, so we'd better not be wrong, or they'd miss an epic shot! The picture text messages of "look at this epic sunset I'm about to get!" began to flood my phone. Well... this could be awkward.

 

Suddenly, three minutes after sunset, as if someone had pulled the stage curtain early, all the light vanished, clouds disappeared, and the color was gone. Whew! We were safe.


 [image: Yan Larsen, Yan L Photography]

[image: Yan Larsen, Yan L Photography]

 

But what happened to all those high clouds that we'd seen 20 minutes before? Had they really evaporated that fast? And why did that light die, anyway? And how did we know that there would be a few high clouds about 6 degrees above the western horizon that would catch some light? 

Well, the short answer is, there were clouds on the horizon, but in reality things are more complicated. That's why we let the computer churn the numbers. Say hello to escaype. :) 


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