Layers upon Layers

Aaaahhhh, Italia.

Italy seems to be coming up for me a lot lately. Just little remembrances, here and there. It’s like a soft realization that my time in Italy has been absorbed into the layers of me, of my history. No longer the most important layer, or the most fragile, raw layer. A layer that’s been safely ensconced by “before” and “after.”

Italy Sorrento Bicycle Kat Sloma Photography

Sorrento, Italy

Maybe it’s because now — heading on 3 years later — I know there is a “Kat” after Italy. Life has continued to go on. There has been more creativity, more learning. More growth. I’ve reinvented myself again, as a new person, after Italy.

My time in Italy was about reinventing myself. Beyond the scope of my normal life it was this chance in a new place to dig deeper and find who I am at my core. I uncovered the creative, artistic part of me again. I found confidence in myself outside of my previous frames of reference.

But it was still with a frame of reference, and reliance, on Italy. I took my identity as an artist, as a photographer and writer, from the place. From the travels and adventures around Europe. So, coming back I had to reinvent myself once again, in a new context. The context of “after.”

For a while, Italy was still my frame of reference. That layer was on the surface, always to be referred to, compared to, examined against. And then, when it started to get covered up, the top layer was too fragile. I couldn’t dig down to Italy, because I would damage things on the surface. I need to let it go, and move forward.

But now… I can revisit it again. It’s like picking up a treasured object; savoring a special memory. A layer of who I am, like any other. Not one that defines me any longer, but one that enabled my definition. And a layer that, because I found I could transform, allows me to continue to transform. Because of Italy, and the return, I know I can learn and grow and forever change.

I am all layers. I am adding to myself all the time. No one layer dominates. No one layer defines. The beauty is in the strata… Layers upon layers.

Understanding the Process

If “what do I want to say” is the question I ask myself when I put the camera to my eye, then “how do I want this image to feel” is the question I ask myself when I go to post-process.

In last weekend’s workshop, David talked a lot about making very intentional decisions at the time of capture to convey what we want to say. But we also talked about the role of post-processing and how he uses it. He shared some examples of images he’d edited and said, “Did it look exactly like that when I captured it? No. But this is how it felt to me.” Warm or cool, dreamy or contrasty, all of these are choices we have in our post-processing to further the expression of the image.

Explore with Me

This coastal scene from earlier in the summer is an example, edited early last week to prep for an exhibition submission. Was the light this pink on the evening I captured it? No. But the processing captures the emotion of the moment for me. The connection of mother and child is there in the bicycles and the figures in the background, and the warm feeling of that connection is in the tones.

This conversation comes at a time when I’ve already been thinking about my creative process and the relationship I have with post-processing. On my recent trip to England I realized how incredibly important post-processing had become to me as part of creating images. I didn’t quite know how important until I was without Lightroom, my primary tool for editing. Sure, I could make very, very basic adjustments, but it wasn’t enough. (Not to mention any edits were painfully slow in the netbook I had borrowed.) I felt, literally, like my hands were tied. I could see where I wanted to tweak highlights and shadows, maybe shift the white balance a bit. I could see where I wanted the images to end up. And I couldn’t get there. I couldn’t make the images say what I wanted them to say, feel how I wanted them to feel, without this step of the process.

The RAW files my camera captured have become just that… raw material. Incredibly important raw material — you can’t create a final image you love without the composition and exposure and choices at the time of capture spot on — but raw material nonetheless. Not finished. Not yet conveying what I want them to convey, feeling how I want them to feel. Not yet ready to share with the world.

This was an incredibly important realization for me to make. It’s a dramatic shift from where I used to be; where I thought I was. I’ve been learning photography for 12+ years but I’ve only used Lightroom for 1 year. I had no idea how integral it had become to my process. But because I now better understand my process, I can more intentionally express myself through my images. I can more intentionally tailor what I do to get the end result I want. I don’t have to follow someone else’s process or choices, I can stand up and say, “This is who I am and how I work as an artist.”

How I work right now, at least. It will change. A month from now or a year from now I’ll have some new realization. But right now…

This is who I am and how I work as an artist.

Yeah, that feels good.

How about you? Do you understand your process, and how it helps you create work that expresses yourself? Let’s discuss here in the comments.

Travel Shifts

What is your idea of “travel?”

Maybe it’s fun, seeking experiences that help you enjoy the moment.
Maybe it’s relaxation, sitting with your feet up looking at a beautiful view.
Maybe it’s exploration, experiencing something new and different.

For me, “travel” is learning. There is something about being out of my usual environment and in different places that opens me to new things. I’m more aware and observant of my surroundings and of myself. Travel brings moments of fun, relaxation and exploration, but it also brings moments of insight and clarity. Especially travelling alone, where you don’t have someone to turn to every moment of the day. I had to become comfortable with myself.

Off to Work, King’s Cross Station

I’m always seeking to understand new things, to grow and expand my point of view. Maybe that’s why travel has become so important to me — the learning. Maybe that’s why this trip was so important to me… It wasn’t just about teaching the on location workshops and connecting with friends. It was about connecting with myself, my art and exploring what comes next. I didn’t expect or seek those things, but they came along the way.

Looking Back, near Brick Lane

Some of the shifts will take a while to make themselves known. But there were some shifts that were more obvious, because they were visible in my photographs. Instead of always seeking the empty view within the frame, I started to capture people. Not very many of my images included people, but more of them did than ever before. And, funny thing, these images are the ones that stuck in my mind the most. I had to go through my photographs and find them first. Share them first.

Smoke Break, St. Pancras Station

Part of me wonders why and part of me knows to just go with it. It will all become clear with time.

Into the Light, Westminster Underground Station

For the Love of It

It is easy to always be looking to the future. Wanting, wishing, working toward a goal. To have plans and to be moving toward them. But once in a while, it’s good to look around you and notice where you are. To appreciate where life is and not were it will be… could be… should be… somewhere down the road.

I’m having one of those moments today. Looking around me and saying, “Hey, I’m in a pretty good place!” This feeling was brought on by a conversation I had Friday morning with a fellow engineer/artist friend, who is now retired from the corporate world and pursuing her art full time. As we both shared what we’ve been up to, she commented, “You can tell, you love what you do.”

Everything welled up inside of me. I do. I love what I do. It was a moment of conscious recognition. A moment of acknowledgement, of how lucky I am to do what I love.

I love photography. My passion for this art form has increased as I continue on my journey. Somewhere in the back of my head, I was worried that my love of photography would diminish after I moved home from Italy. That worry was so invalid! I love exploring the world around me, no matter where I am. I love finding scenes like this one, that connect with me and tell stories all their own through my camera lens.

I love writing. I love expressing an idea through words, communicating and connecting with others in this world. I love writing about my journey and the connections to my heart and soul inspired by the images I create. I love taking ideas from other places, thinking about them, exploring them and then transforming them into something new.

I love teaching. For me, teaching is the ultimate way to learn. I love to discover new things, experience new challenges, and gain new skills. I have to organize my thoughts. Transform my experiences into something useful to others. I learn by the process of helping others learn something new and from seeing the varied experiences that are born of that.

And I love so many other aspects of my life. I enjoy my corporate job as an engineering program manager. I get to work with teams of fabulous people and lead projects that matter to the company. I love being with my husband and son. We have fun exploring together and making a life together. I love seeing my son transform as he grows and faces new life experiences, like starting middle school this week.

She was right. I love what I do. All of the different pieces of it. They all fit together into a very full and very fulfilled life. It’s nice to pause and acknowledge that for a moment today.

Where are you? Do you love where you are, and what you do?

Exploring with a Camera: Repetition

Welcome to August’s Exploring with a Camera! This month I’m playing around with Repetition. I’m defining repetition as using repeated elements throughout the frame to tie a composition together. You’ll note the use of “elements” here… Effective repetition is not just about repeating objects, but any design element like object, shape, color, line, form, light and even information, that helps create a cohesive whole in our photographs.

vintage bicycle, schwinn

Repetition of Object and Shape

While repetition plays into some past Exploring with a Camera topics, such as Repeating Patterns, Linear Perspective and Group of Three, it is a broader concept than any of these past topics. Let’s explore different ways to use repetition to create interesting photographs.

Repetition of Object

It is easy to focus in on repetition of the physical objects in our photographs, so I’ll start here. The bicycle photograph above, captured on my recent trip to Montana, is a good example of repetition of object. The bicycle is repeated three times, each time with an almost identical shape. It’s also in a very linear composition, with the repetition at regular intervals receding toward the wall.

Contrast this with another image that is primarily repetition of object, below. In this image, the newspaper boxes are the repeated object, yet they are all different sizes and shapes.

newspaper boxes, brick wall

The object, peppers, is repeated in the image below, but there is not much else repeating. Color, shape, and orientation of the peppers is all different. This image emphasizes variety over sameness.

With these lucky cats, the effect of repeating the object is much different than the peppers. This image emphasizes sameness over variety. Shape, color and orientation are all repeated, while there is variation only in the size of the objects.

Repetition of Shape

Repetition of object and shape are often intermixed, as in the bicycle example above, but they don’t have to be. In this image, the oval shape is repeated multiple times by different objects: Mirror, bowl, lamp shade and lamp base. I love how the repeated shape works together to make this image feel complete.

Even when there are multiple elements repeating, there is usually a dominant element forming a primary repetition. In the image below, the object of the bicycle is repeated but I see the repetition as primarily of shape due to the framing. All of the circles created by the layered wheels, hubs and chainrings tie this image together.

Repetition of Color

Since color, especially bright color, catches our eye it can be an effective element to repeat. You can pull completely unrelated elements together within the frame through the repetition of color. In this scooter scene found in Sicily, the red ties the scooter, the niche and the potted flowers together into a cohesive whole. It creates a stronger visual relationship between disparate elements than proximity alone.

Repetition of the color blue ties this port scene from Greece together.

The same happens with this image of a row of potted plants in Korkula. The repetition is made stronger by the repeated color along with object.

Repetition of Line

Lines are easily used as elements of repetition, often because our man-made world is made up of regular and repeating lines. In this image, repetition is created not only by the lines of the pillars, but the lines of the shadows and even the lines of the black deposits on the inside of the pillars repeat the outline of the pillar itself.

Repetition of lines can be used to support the primary elements in a photograph. Even though the lines of this staircase are primarily diagonal, the repetition of the lines in the railing and steps work together to echo the diagonal lines.

Here is another example of lines, where the regular repetition of the trees creates lines that echo the converging lines of the path. You can begin to see how Repetition and Linear Perspective are related: Repeat an element regularly into the distance, and you are working with linear perspective.

Parco di Monza, linear perspective, path, tree, morning

Repetition of Message

Repetition of message is used in the real world to get important ideas across. This image from San Francisco takes advantage of that, capturing the repeated messages of “danger” and “no parking” along with the repeating elements of object and shape.

You can convey messages in your photographs as well, by repeating elements that all lead to the same conclusion. The image below shouts “LONDON” through the repeating elements of phonebooth, flag and signs.

Repetition of Light

Light is everything in our photographs, and variations in light can become an element on their own for repetition. The warm light of the candles is repeated on the faces of the girls and reflected in the painting, pulling the scene together to tell a story.

Combining Elements

In many of the examples above, you find more than one of the elements repeating. Whenever you combine multiple elements in the repetition, you create emphasis. In this example of the flower pots, there is repetition of not only object, but color, shape, texture and line. This creates a very harmonious image, and the repetition not only ties the elements together but almost becomes the subject of the image itself.

Wow! Did you realize there were so many ways to use repetition to create a cohesive photograph? I didn’t realize it myself, until I started to explore this topic over the last few weeks. It’s been fun to discover how I use repetition in my archive, and to look for opportunities to use repetition as I create new photographs.

Now it’s your turn! Take a look at your archives and then go out and explore the world with repetition in mind. What do you find? Share it with us here!

Waiting for a Sale

Waiting, waiting, waiting. How much of our lives are spent waiting? What do we do with that time? Do we use it as a breather, an enjoyable respite in the day, or are we impatient? It’s so easy to view waiting as “in our way” to get to something else. What if we change our view? How would that affect our day?

Consider this gentleman, a flower vendor in Paris. Waiting for a sale. Here at the edge of the market, customers peruse his wares and he waits. What ultimate patience he must have, to sit quietly and watch. All day, every day. Let people decide, on their own time scale and terms, if they want to buy anything. There is something we can learn from this gentleman who seems to have mastered waiting.

This is definitely one of the more “busy” of my new Market/Wheels images. There is so much going on in this picture, between the flower booth, the bike and the background. But there is this island of calm, the vendor who waits, that draws me in.

Tomorrow I will share the last of my new Market/Wheels images, and turn the tables to you to get your opinions on which I should include in the exhibition. It will be fun to hear what you have to say, and I have a great giveaway to go along with it too! See you then.