Fifty Years, by Keith Carter – Learning by Looking

The new book Fifty Years offers a wonderful opportunity to explore a sampling of the complete career of a single photographer. When that photographer is Keith Carter, such exploration is especially satisfying because for the last fifty years, Keith has produced work that is sometimes exemplary, and is always interesting. Even if you’re not taken by Carter’s style, diving deep into a single photographic career is a valuable exercise.

It can take a long time, and a lot of work, to develop your own style. During that process, you can find yourself worrying about all sorts of things from “am I repeating myself?” to “is this a cliché?” to “Is this a dead end/have I taken a wrong turn?” In addition to sapping your confidence, such thoughts are a distraction – they keep you from doing the thinking you should be doing when you’re working. What can be difficult to understand is that everyone has these thoughts, and no one follows a simple, consistent, linear path when pursuing any creative endeavor.

Obviously, no photo book is going to present a photographer’s failures. To prepare a retrospective on an entire career, a photographer – and their editors – looks for representative samples of the best work from particular stages. So while you won’t see contact sheets or rejects in this book, you’ll still be able to see the ways that, through the years, Carter has pursued different kinds of subject matter while, through it all, developing a particular photographic vocabulary.

Obviously, there are photographers that are known for particular things – Sally Mann and Richard Avedon for different approaches to portraiture, Robert Frank for photo essays, and so on. As you look through Fifty Years, though, you won’t see a single subject matter or approach. While large sections of the book presents Carter’s documentation of small Texas towns, another section presents stylized images of taxidermy and insects. However, through all these images you will see the development of a consistent approach to these unrelated subjects. Visually, Carter’s journey over fifty years makes sense. Carter’s eyes see, for want of a better word, mythologically. Informed by technical skill and a deep understanding of photographic history, he has developed a visual style that brings this mythological view to just about any subject. This book has a strong atmosphere about it, but it’s an atmosphere defined as much by approach and visual sensibility as by subject matter.

After a while you might think “oh I get it, he likes a lot of texture and blur,” but that’s too simple an assessment, for even his images that possess sharp focus and lack texture still maintain that Keith Carter “atmosphere.” Further, it takes a profound level of photographic artistry to understand when you can render a subject completely out of focus and still have an image that works.

You should buy this book because it’s a strong, important work from a major contemporary photographer. But as a student of photography, you should spend time with this book because it presents such a good example of the importance of constant photographic exploration and experimentation. Seeing the result of that process might help you with some of your own concerns as you try to develop your own photographic vision. Furthermore, simply trying to find an explanation for creates the feeling of atmosphere in these images will provide some great lessons.

I should say that I worked on the production of this book (something about which I’ll have more to say later) but I don’t get any kind of royalty from sales – I’m not pushing this book because of possible profit, but because it’s a great book. (The New Yorker agrees.)

You can order Fifty Years, by Keith Carter, from Amazon.

Coming Soon—Advanced Flash: Modifiers and Strobes

Last week we wrapped the shooting of my latest LinkedIn Learning (Lynda.com) course, Advanced Flash: Modifiers and Strobes. This was a fun one because we crafted scenarios to light and shoot. Shown above is “writer having a good day” which contrasted heavily, lighting-wise, with “writer having a bad day.” We also brought in dancer Andrew Palermo to provide some fast-moving action to freeze with strobes and to do a little modeling. This course will walk you through more advanced uses for your handheld flashes, how to work with larger strobes, addresses the question of when you need to move to a larger strobe, (and how to buy one) details the use of several kinds of modifiers, and outlines a thought process for solving lighting problems. Keep an eye on this site for details of when it’s live, or you can check out my LinkedIn Learning author page.

Practicing Photographer videos free until May 28

Ben Long has been producing the weekly Practicing Photographer video series on Lynda.com (now LinkedIn Learning) for five years. To celebrate, LinkedIn is making the series available free to all viewers through May 28:

In The Practicing Photographer, photographer and teacher Ben Long shares a weekly serving of photographic instruction and inspiration. Each installment focuses on a photographic shooting scenario, a piece of gear, or a software technique. Each one concludes with a call to action designed to inspire you to pick up your camera (or your mouse or smartphone) to try the technique for yourself.

The series includes more 450 videos, with most of them well under 10 minutes in length. (You’ll need a full day—and then some—if you want to watch them all.) There is a list of topics on the Practicing Photographer home page.

Meet Liz, one of the voices behind the blog

You may have noticed that there’s a new voice behind the Complete Digital Photography blog. Hi, my name is Liz LePage! Let me give you a quick introduction into who I am and what I do:

I’m a professional photographer, a creative retoucher, a dedicated educator and a life-long artist. I was lucky enough to be raised in an artistic household, with a father who loved photography and a mother who loved quilting. They both taught me to always try new things and to never let fear stop me from living. Their lessons have carried on with me and seep into every part of my life: I’ve never thought of myself as just a photographer. And I think that’s my biggest asset. I’ve tried everything from paper making to screen printing to oil painting, and I am constantly searching for new ways to express myself. Read more »

Welcome to the new Complete Digital Photography

This blog has been published in various forms since 2001. Ben started with hand-crafted HTML before moving on to the WordPress platform in 2004 (or thereabouts—our memories are hazy on these points), and I (Rick) have helped out here and there at various times over the years—and over on our dear, departed sister site, Printerville.

[If you’re interested, you can see the first version of the site over on the Wayback Machine, as well as some choice variations along the way. Be kind, please.]

Since the beginning, this website’s primary focus has been to support the various editions of Complete Digital Photography with example files and extra content, and that’s been our only constant since this site went live. The support page for the current 8th edition of the book is here; and you can still access the the 7th edition’s support page here.

Read more »

Easy Tiny Planet video

Yesterday I mounted the Ricoh Theta on my motorcycle’s handlebars and went for a spin with a friend. The Theta software has a built-in Tiny Planets feature that is very fun. Sadly, it only outputs a final product that’s 640 pixels wide, but given that it’s a 2-button solution to create this effect, I’m still impressed! Read more »

Now Shipping: Complete Digital Photography, 7th Edition

CDP7e The seventh, and latest, edition of this site’s namesake book is now available. The newest version of Complete Digital Photography features full updating for Photoshop CS6, the latest version of Camera Raw, and new sections on composition, low light shooting, printing, and workflow. For the most part, the book maintains the organization of the last edition, with a few new sections and a few others eliminated. In addition to the included step-by-step post-production tutorials included in the book, many additional tutorials are included on the companion web pages. Order your copy now!

Now Available: Foundations of Photography, HDR

As amazing as current digital camera technology is, it can’t compare with those two squishy orbs in the front of your head. In addition to great autofocus, exceptional white balance, and amazing low light capabilities, your eyes also have tremendous dynamic range (that is, an ability to perceive an extremely wide range of dark to light). In fact, your eyes probably have almost twice the dynamic range as the digital camera you’re currently using.

Read more »

All Photos Are Manipulated

Unlike film photographers, most of whom would never have considered carrying a darkroom with them, (though there are some that do) as digital shooters we expect to have a little post-production capability in the field, if for no other reason than to offload media. While I normally travel with a Macbook Air, or a netbook Hackintosh, for this trip, I decided to try to make due with only an iPad, for a few different reasons.

The whole story of what I did, and how it worked is detailed right here.

Foundations of Photography: Black and White

In an effort to make the world less colorful, I recently produced a course on black and white photography for Lynda.com. That course is now live and, thanks to the incredibly talented Lynda.com crew, it looks great! They did a fantastic job of crafting evocative noirish sets using only light and shadow, all of which serve to reinforce the fundamental vocabulary of black and white shooting. Covering shooting, post-production, aesthetics, and how to “see” black and white images, the course is available for immediate viewing here.