It's easy to discover an artist or photographer or writer when they are more advanced in their craft, and feel like they've always been that good at what they do. Often the hard work, the learning, and the growth goes on behind closed doors, and rarely do we get to see evidence of that growth when the work is taken one piece or image at a time, as it so often is when shared on social media. When a collection created over several years is presented, such as on my own website, sometimes the hints of growth are there, but even then, websites do not usually serve as a retrospective where the learning process can be truly observed. It's only when a true retrospective of an artist's work that we can truly appreciate the growth that took place from the earliest work to the most recent.
Over the years, viewers of my work have described my work as detailed, with bold color, sharpness, and depth that appears to allow you to enter the scene. It's gratifying to hear when someone says that, because it means I'm close to achieving my goals in creating an image. Not that any of the above was the result of a single conscious decision. Over time, as a photographer, I've learned what I like in my own images, and through viewing other photographers' work, I've seen elements I would like to incorporate into my own work.
The growth in my own work is especially evident when similar subjects are viewed side by side with images taken early in my career as a photographer. "Dawn on Wells Beach", above, is a perfect example. I made that photograph in March of 2017, shortly after moving to Maine. All of the hallmarks of my style are present - vibrant color, deep, enveloping depth of field, detailed foreground, fine sharpness to the scene, and strong composition. In addition, you can see my affinity for reflections in water, as I captured the reflections of the clouds in the pool on the beach.
In the above image, taken at Wells Beach in November 1999, almost 18 years earlier, you can see the beginnings of my style. I had just begun to photograph landscapes. This was taken on color slide film, Fuji Velvia to be exact. Velvia was known to have vibrant color, which due to the nature of the light, didn't matter all that much. But Velvia was also very contrasty, and you can see the loss of the detail on the left side of the photo. The composition isn't quite as strong as I would have liked, but you can see where I paid attention to the reflection in the pool, and included the textured sand in the foreground. Learning to control the contrast and better compose the photo were things I still needed to learn, but it was a start.
The image above, of Fire Island Lighthouse after a winter storm, was taken in January of 2000. At this time, I was working full time as a sports photographer but was becoming more interested in landscape work as a way of relaxing with my camera. I was living on Long Island and Fire Island lighthouse was a favorite subject of mine. This image again shows that strong and detailed foreground, with the dune grass encased in ice, as well as the bold color provided by my film choice. I still had quite a bit to learn, however.
The above image of Fire Island Lighthouse was taken in 2016. One of my biggest lessons was waiting for better light. The snowstorm photo was taken at midday, when the light was at its harshest. The image still works, but I think it could have been much stronger taken later in the day, or earlier in the day for more dramatic light. I think the biggest change is that in my transition to digital, I now have far more control over the final photo. Slide film is the true "straight-out-of-the-camera" experience, where what you get is it. Using print film gives you more control, if you have your own darkroom, but at the time I didn't, and I wanted to do my best to get everything correct in camera. I didn't do too badly, but I do enjoy the freedom of post processing to darken and lighten areas of a scene as needed. To me, it's the complete photographic experience, well beyond pushing the shutter button.
Above is the first time I photographed the Nubble Lighthouse in Cape Neddick, Maine. It was November 1999, and again I was using Fuji Velvia film. I hadn't yet learned to control the contrast with this film, something I would learn later. But here you can see an early attempt at trying to photograph moving water. Over the years, people have commented on my use of various shutter speeds to create a certain look with moving water. It took quite a while for me to understand the nuances of this. While in this photo I caught a nice splash, to me it's not perfect and I'm not a fan of the form the wave created in the shot.
"Autumn Storm at Cape Neddick" was taken 11 years later, using a digital camera. By this time my compositional skills had gotten better, and I better understood the use of shutter speed to manipulate the look of moving water. You'll also notice the second photo has more depth in the scene, a result of more subtle contrast and better use of the foreground.
So the question then becomes, how does a photographer develop his or her style? Step one is to keep photographing. Beginning in 2007, I started photographing landscapes far more, and the development of my style happened quickly. I very quickly began to see what I liked and what I didn't in my own work, and from that, was able to repeat those elements. In addition, I began to see what I liked in others' work and was able incorporate it into my own.
As I continue to create new images, I'm seeing smaller changes in the composition and exposure side of my work, while I'm seeing greater jumps in the processing of my images - the manipulation of color and contrast in the scene. It's an area I've been focusing on for the past few years. Prior to that, I used one-size-fits-all recipes for my images, and while they weren't too bad, I find I am getting better results using a more customized approach to adjusting color and contrast, that only affects certain tones, or certain areas of the scene, rather than trying to force a change over the entire scene that might work for one portion of the photo, but is too heavy handed for another.
For that reason, many of the images offered as prints on my website are reworked using new techniques to provide a more nuanced edit of the photo, breathing new life into images captured years ago that my processing failed to do justice to. Examples are "Shrouded in Clouds", "Sand Harbor Tahoe", and "Kaaterskill Creek".
To be clear, photographers, painters, sculptors, writers, and musician continue to grow as long as they continue to create new work. Sometimes those changes in style are obvious, but more often, it is an evolution of style, changing slowly, in ways that often go unnoticed unless looking at the body of work that includes the earliest images as well as the most recent. With any luck, my style will continue to evolve for years to come.