End of day at the boatyard in London – A journey into the art of HDR Photography

“The only way a kid is going to practice is if it’s total fun for him… and it was for me.” – Wayne Gretzky

I feel that way about HDR. It takes a little while to get the hang of it, and there are still a challenges I run into…..everyday, but its fun! And it’s also the art I choose to dabble in, but more on that in a bit…..

There is a great book from Malcolm Gladwell that discusses the theory that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master a skill. I like to try to remind myself of that while along the journey of just about everything I decide to perfect and fine tune in my life. It is that process of practice and incessant focus and determination that in my mind, should be welcomed, celebrated, and embraced. Step by step, hour by hour, eventually the process unfolds and perhaps evolves into something bigger, better, and brighter that you could have ever imagined. It’s understanding that it’s ok to keep going, regardless of the background noise….regardless of the opinions of other perhaps….

Before I ramble on too much about where my thoughts are headed, here is a quick video from Bill Gates talking about that theory. I’ll see you after you watch it…..cool? An oh yeah, the image is from a pretty cool walk I took in London while trying to escape the touristy sites and dig a bit deeper into the vibe along the Thames. Looks like a cool place to hang out in a house boat for a couple of months perhaps don’t ya think?

So this little stroll back into my mind regarding the art of photography and specifically HDR, leads me to a critique I received from a workshop a little more than a year ago. I’m still on the fence at how to take it even after a year now. Weird….. So let’s see how this unfolds…..

So the workshop is designed to allow an evening critique of your top 10 or 12 images you worked on over the course of the 4 day period. It’s pre-dawn to post-dusk schedule is more of a “bootcamp” actually, which is pretty cool. Its a complete immersion into the art. Well, as you might know, my passion for over 2 years now has been the art and process of HDR or High Dynamic Range photography. It’s the medium I choose to create with, so of course, that was the way I chose to view all of the scenes I photographed and then processed. It’s just how I see things and how I like to create in my little world. You see, I’m not a professional photographer at all. In fact, that’s the furthest thing from my mind. This little “escape” for me is just that…..an “escape.” A safe place to play I guess. A predictable environment to immerse myself into in as it is sometimes such an unpredictable world. I guess it’s not any wonder that I started the journey into the art soon after I moved out and separated from my ex wife. Those can be extremely confusing times. The diversion away from all of the madness that was and continued to unfold in such a “sad and tragic death” of sorts was a great place to stay grounded and soon became my artistic crutch to hold me up when down. I guess it took a little while to realize that…..

You see, for my critique, I chose the lead instructor. There is a choice of 4 different (and very well known photographers) to choose from, but I chose him. I have had a deep admiration for him for a while now as his “look” is quite diverse and his educational style is really quite good. Remember, 10,000 hours! I kind of also looked up to him as more of a mentor. This would actually have been my 2nd critique with him and I was hoping to get more of a “wow, your work has come a long way” or a “gee, your refinement is getting better.” Not sure why I needed or craved that affirmation, but there I was…..ready for his impression….

Sometimes you just get what ya get though….

Although my work presented wasn’t COMPLETELY trashed as a whole, the word “crutch” was used a quite a bit. “Mike, you have got your HDR down pat, but I think you are using it as a crutch.” Hmmm…I was a bit thrown back. Does one tell a painter that creates in oils or water color that they are using the medium as a crutch? Does one tell a diver that they are using the board as a crutch? Does the author that specializes in the mystery novel get critiqued as someone who writes using a crutch? I was confused! This path I have taken, this safe haven that I continued to perform in and perfect was now being called a crutch. I was told I should move on to grow as a photographer and that bugged me out for a while. Not sure if it was my own personal creative limitations, the fact that I was so busy in my career that I didn’t have the luxury of a lot of time to experiment, or the fear of loosing my identity again, but I was a little lost. Till now……

I guess I have grown to a point in my life as an artist and yes, as an ex husband that I realize….it just doesn’t freaking matter what anyone thinks about you. I am reminded of a couple of quotes from Deepak Chopra…

“To acquire true self power you have to feel beneath no one, be immune to criticism and be fearless.”


“You should be totally independent of the good and the bad opinions of the world…you should have faith in yourself.”

A crutch? I don’t think so. Not for a minute. As my own personal life was falling apart at the seems a couple of years ago, my safe and predictable place to create and turn off the outside noise was actually more like a life raft! I see that now. In the future though, as I continue to grow as an artist of sorts, I hope that I WILL allow myself to grow and experiment more. I think I still have a lot to learn in my chosen medium though, so I still will continue to play there too 🙂

And Moose, thanks challenging me to stretch a bit more. I’m of course not planning on letting go of the life raft completely of course, but I do appreciate your honesty……

It was fun to dig a little deeper than usual into what makes me tick…..

And BTW, I highly recommend this place if you are looking to challenge yourself and create with other like minded photographers. Check it out here >>> DLWS.


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