May 25 2015

Technical Photography & Fine Art: Why the two are inseparable for producing convincing imagery & the importance of communicating intent in composition


I recently had the honor of judging one of the local camera club’s monthly exhibitions.  This was super fun and super daunting.  It wasn’t just those whose images were being considered that were on the hotseat that evening.  One of the major comments I received (and it was meant as a compliment), was that they were surprised at how technical my commentary was– that they expected the artsy types to focus more on the emotional and artistic content of the image and less on the technical elements of it.  I’ve thought about this quite a lot now and come to some interesting conclusions, not the least of which is that what is missing from that assumption is an accommodation for the fact that the two are not mutually exclusive by any means.

Ever heard the saying “You have no idea how much make-up it takes to look like you are not wearing any!”?  Well, basically, one might also say “You have no idea how much Photoshop and knowledge of the technical elements of an image it takes to create an image that doesn’t look Photoshopped.”  (For more on this, see my upcoming post detailing the creation of a Fine Art composite from start to finish.)

While that may sound strange coming from someone such as myself given it’s pretty clear I’m completely unapologetic about my use of post-processing and often make utterly no effort to hide that an image has been subjected to (a lot of) it, and I often work much more like a painter than your average photographer, that doesn’t mean I am not concerned about making sure that my processing has some elements of realism.  And, that involves knowing, understanding, and often applying a lot of technical knowledge to my images.

By way of example, a popular local restaurant in Albuquerque had an artist paint murals in their dining room.  Many years ago, prior to my being dedicated as a full-time artist, my husband (who had a minor in Fine Art and could have majored in it) said to me “Argh! That mural is making me nuts! The light is all wrong!”.  I hadn’t even noticed.  Now, I am a great lover of hyper-realism and surrealism.  I don’t mind when visual art wanders into that uncanny valley where things aren’t quite as they would be in real life.  But, not to sound harsh (or even hypocritical), the painter whose work was nice enough, was clearly a mediocre talent.  My husband was right.  When you actually looked at the image, you noticed that the light was indeed all wrong– shadows were at the wrong angles, inconsistent, and even on the wrong sides of objects… It seemed clear that the artist had not done this with intent, but rather out of naiveté.  While sometimes we consider this charming, it doesn’t always work.

Just as intent matters when a crime is committed, so it matters to our understanding of art and whether we interpret it qualitatively as “good” or “bad”.  One can get away with quite a lot compositionally, but if the viewer is not convinced that it seems intentional, it may not be well-received.  When you are venturing into conceptual work or taking a lot of liberties with a piece, a great deal of consideration with regard to composition should be taken.  For me, that means making sure that things like light and shadows are correct (-ish– for the most part– I often intentionally take forays into that aforementioned uncanny valley).  It means that the sense of depth of field I am creating should make sense– unless it’s obviously not supposed to…  and so on…  Clearly, there are stylistic liberties which are and should be allowable, and some imperfections may be permissible or even desirable, but your viewer needs to understand that what they are seeing was done with intent and is not just shoddy workmanship.  As such, the capture, the cropping, and the physics of the light in the image may all still matter even if your image is highly conceptual or abstract.  This is why we talk so much about “learning the rules so we can break them”.

Typically, photographers tend to be opportunistic shooters.  We love the “happy accident”, that amazing shot we just happen to stumble upon or even discover later we’ve captured unintentionally.  Some of us premeditate more– we scout locations and the light there, and we make sure we are there for the perfect shot.  Some of us are gear-heads that absolutely love, love, love to get everything right in camera.  But, far fewer of us work conceptually, and doing so requires a broader tool-set than any of the former mindsets.  When evaluating more conceptual work, it’s good to keep in mind this concept of intent.  No matter how you are working, or what you are aiming to accomplish, your viewer should know that what they are seeing, and how they are seeing it is exactly as you intended them to.  -Amy

May 19 2015

What goes into an image, and why does art cost so much? (Part 1 of 2)


Every now and again, a visitor to the gallery in Old Town will grumble about the price of an image.  I know that I am not the only one to have either had someone look at me directly and say “what’s the big deal, it’s just a photograph” or heard it whispered as someone walks away.  It doesn’t happen often.  Most people understand the value of art and what goes into it.  But, when it does, it is difficult to not list off the litany of reasons this attitude is so very, very wrong.

A woman once alluded to me the fact that she thought that artists were a bunch of entitled slackers and I could not figure out what the heck she was talking about.  My artist friends are some of the most hardworking people I know.  And, they often do it sacrificing a far more comfortable existence for something that they love.  Art is their living, and it is often a scant one.  The vision in people’s heads of artists partying like rockstars all of the time is oddly juxtaposed with the common usage of the term “starving artist”.  Yet, folks seem to manage to hold both beliefs in parallel without suffering much in the way of cognitive dissonance.

So, which is it?  Is our work overpriced?  Bluntly, no.

Much goes into even the most conventional photographic art in the form of talent, time, and monetary resources.  That is no “snapshot” you are looking at on the gallery wall.

In general, photographers have a comparatively high overhead.  We have lots of expensive equipment, anything from cameras to printers and computers, and those things must be maintained and replaced regularly.  They also must be insured.  Further, as they say “time is money”.  There is the time that goes into coming up with a photo concept, the time (and cost) of traveling to that special location, and the time spent waiting (often days or months) for that special light or moment.  There is the time spent developing our images, be it in an old-school or digital darkroom, which can be extensive (see part 2 of this blog series).  And then, there is all of the effort we must go to to get that image to you and the cost of doing so.  Printing can be costly, especially if we utilize special paper or techniques (consider the cost of a platinum print), and if we print on alternative media such as canvas or infused aluminum, that price is also dramatically greater.  If we show in a conventional gallery, we may not have to spend the time selling our work, but they take a hefty commission for doing it for us (40-60% is typical).  If we show in a cooperative, we pay rent or fees to do so, and we work days at the gallery effectively for free, the sale of our work being our only compensation.  And, many of us work several art and craft shows a year– usually 3 day events with long hours and high booth fees– to which we must haul whole tents and booth setups comprised of walls on which to hang our work (which we must purchase at no small expense), and all of the heavy frames and mats that we take with us to display and sell at those events.

We do all of this, because we love what we do.  And, most of us are not charging you anywhere near what our work is worth, given all of these considerations.  So, next time you are tempted to grumble “why does it cost so much, it’s just a photograph”… Think again.  That image isn’t just an expression of our personal vision and talent.  It probably has days or even weeks of our time and many other resources invested in it.  What we take home per image after you subtract out printing costs, taxes, and possibly commission fees isn’t often much.  We don’t ask you to accept less for what you do for a living, why would you devalue what we do?

We are so grateful for the support and enthusiasm of those that understand what goes into our work.  It helps immeasurably in going forward when times are tough.  To give you an idea of what may go into a single image of my own, see part 2 of this blog series (to be posted later): A Fine Art Fantasy Image from Start to Finish.  -Amy

Sep 4 2013

NM Wine Festival in Bernalillo

It’s always entertaining hanging out with a bunch of happy people, music, and essentially an open bar on an extremely hot day. The 2013 New Mexico Wine Festival over the Labor Day weekend was no exception. I was there to help Amy tend her art booth (and, alas, did not get to sample any of the wines except a glass from the friendly folks and booth-neighbors at Ponderosa Winery), but it was a highly entertaining event. There are a surprising number of New Mexico wineries! Grapes prefer difficult soil and wines prefer dry climates during harvesting. As long as the grapes are established and get enough water, in theory they should thrive in many parts of New Mexico.

Amy M Ditto tending her photography booth. Amy was the only photographer at the festival. Most photographers stopped attending the Wine Festival due to poor sales. Amy was undeterred.

Amy M. Ditto tending her photography booth. Amy was the only photographer at the festival this year, but there were several other artists, including several jewelers, painters, glass and tile artists, and sculptors.

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May 23 2013

Madrid NM Crawdaddy Blues Fest 2013

In a random “Let’s go to Madrid to hang out with friends” event, Amy and I visited Madrid, NM, for their Crawdad and Blues Festival which was held behind the Mine Shaft Tavern. I have to admit, I’ve never been a huge fan of “mud bugs”, but this was not only a ton of fun, a ton of food, a ton of beer, and a ton of great music … but those mud bugs can be really tasty! The billing says “Live Blues Crawfish and Shrimp Boil” and yes, it was indeed live crayfish being boiled! It doesn’t get fresher.


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Feb 3 2013

Lee Marmon– The Acoma Collection

Photo by Tom Corbett (2006)

Lee Marmon with his signature image “White Man’s Moccasins” (1954)
Photo by Tom Corbett (2006)

The best concert I ever went to was a BB King concert.  I’ve seen him several times, but this time was different.  It was in a small, intimate venue and before almost every song, BB would tell a little story about the origins of the song or what it meant to him.  It… was… awesome!  This was an experience I will never forget, and am so glad I got to see–nay, be a part of–because that’s how it felt.  I wasn’t just a casual observer of some great blues, BB was talking to me and everyone in that room that night.

It’s not often you get to meet an icon. Someone who was positioned perfectly in space and time to document a culture in flux. And, someone with the talent to do it well.  That’s who eighty-seven year old Lee Marmon is.  And, although I haven’t met him yet, I, like you, will have the opportunity to do so the evening of March 1st, at the Albuquerque Photographers’ Gallery in Old Town.  Although I personally have not met Lee, several of my colleagues have, and they tell me he is a warm, delightful, unassuming story-teller of a man.  This is not something I want to miss.  Meeting Lee will be something I will remember fondly and his opening at APG will be something I know I will be glad to be a part of.

So, why is this guy so special?  If you are not familiar with the name, I’d be surprised if you’re not familiar with his work.  Born in Laguna in 1925, Lee’s signature image “White Man’s Moccasins” (1954) is only one of many images of tribal elders and life to be globally recognized as a visual documentary of cultural change throughout the Southwest in the mid-twentieth century.  His collection of images has been deemed of such significance that the University of New Mexico purchased his negatives in 2009.
Lee’s photographic career includes service as the official photographer for the Bob Hope Desert Classic Golf Tournament (1967-1973), publication in books and magazines such as Time, The New York Times Magazine, Aperture, the Saturday Evening Post, the Los Angeles Times, New Mexico Magazine, Native Peoples, and Southwest Art.  His works were also featured in the Peabody Award-winning PBS series, “Surviving Columbus”.  His 2004 book “The Pueblo Imagination”, written in collaboration with Joy Harjo, Simon Ortiz, and Leslie Marmon Silko is award-winning.  And, in June 2006, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts for the “legacy of integrity” his works have inspired during the 59 years Marmon has been practicing his craft.

If you’re not sufficiently impressed enough yet, I’ll let the imagery do the talking.












That’s right boys and girls.  Lee Marmon is a photographic “rockstar”.  And, you can meet him with me.  You don’t want to miss this!

Lee will be at the Albuquerque Photographers’ Gallery signing fine art posters of four of his images including a special edition of White Man’s Moccasins (1954) on March 1st from 5-8pm.  His work will be on display throughout March and April, 2013.  The exhibit includes 21 signed silver gelatin prints which represent the last prints the artist will ever make of these images (as noted previously, the University of New Mexico purchased his negatives in ’09).  All of the images linked above (including White Man’s Moccasins) and many more will be on display and available for sale.  I’ve seen many of them.  They’re fantastic.  (And no, “fantastic” doesn’t even begin to capture how wonderful these images are.  You’ll just have to come see for yourself.  You think you have seen someone’s art, and then you see it in person, and everything changes.)  Hope to see you March 1st!
Lee Marmon- The Acoma Collection
March 1- April 30, 2013
Opening reception: Friday, March 1 (5-8pm)



The Albuquerque Photographers’ Gallery
Plaza Don Luis, Old Town
303 Romero Street NW
(upstairs) STE N208
Albuquerque, NM 87104


For even more information about Lee, check out the Wikipedia article on him.

DCF Event Announcement

Lee Marmon– The Acoma Collection– Facebook Event Page

Jul 25 2012

Curio Cowboys @ O’Neill’s Pub

Some of the best pleasures are those that are unplanned.  Last Sunday Stef and I stopped off for some food at O’Neill’s and wound up meeting the Curio Cowboys, a local western swing group here in Albuquerque.  I suggested to Stef that he take some shots of them, and the next thing I knew he had light stands up everywhere.  Here are the pics!  Oh, and the CC’s were great!


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Jul 19 2012

Nodal Ninja Ultimate R1 and R10 Settings for Google Photographers

It’s tough to find the right settings for the Nodal Ninja R1 and R10 heads for Google Trusted Photographers. To help them out, here’s a big search-engine friendly post with the Nodal Ninja info. Panoramic rotator heads for virtual tours require some specific settings, so if you’re not using a Nodal Ninja R1 or R10 head at 7.5 degree tilt and a Sigma 8mm 3.5, then this info might not apply to you. I will update it as more equipment is reviewed.

Aperture uses Nodal Ninja Ultimate R1 for Google Business Photos

Aperture uses Nodal Ninja Ultimate R1 for Google Business Photos

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Jul 10 2012

Wedding Photojournalism: The Fun Stuff!

I love photojournalism.  One of my favorite things to do is to take pictures of people being people.  The problem is that people don’t always much appreciate that.  I get it.  I tend to avoid being in front of the camera too!  However, this is the great thing about covering weddings.  Everyone at a wedding knows there is a photographer there.  This can make getting some shots tough.  But, if you work hard enough at it, eventually people start to forget about you, and that’s when you can start capturing amazing moments.  Poignant, funny, and full of joy…  These are the moments I aim to capture for the bride and groom so that when they look back on their day even though they were totally focused on each other (as it should be) they won’t have missed a thing.


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Jun 13 2012

Why you need a professional photographer, part 1: “Why do you charge so much? I can take pictures that good!”

For those of you that are unaware, like Stef I shoot portraiture and events, but I also do quite a bit of Fine Art photography.*  Often, people come into the gallery claiming they can take pictures that are “just as good”.  Now without a doubt, some can; but in actuality, most can’t.  This is not just a common occurrence at the gallery though, it is something all professional photographers struggle with on a daily basis.  In an age where everyone has a digital camera, the question/statement “why do you charge so much, I can take pictures that good” comes up so often it makes our teeth gnash.

This post is not about all of the reasons this sentiment is misguided. (For a discussion as to the issue of cost, please read this great article on the subject.) What I am going to do instead is try and illustrate the point for you. Continue reading

Jun 9 2012

“I want that” food photography

When shooting food photography, I strive to evoke a singular response in the viewer:

“I want that.”

Desert Fish - Salmon

Whether it’s conscious or not, I want the viewer’s eyes to widen, her mouth to water, and color to come back into her vision as if suddenly awakened from a reverie of mediocre food.

I want my food photography to be Pavlov’s bell for Albuquerque restaurants. Bringing a physiological and emotional effect is one of the highest compliments and challenges for any photographer, and most people have a long-lost emotional attachment to food. I want them to remember that attachment, and become involved in the simple act of viewing, because it reminds them of the joy of flavor, scent, sound, and the tactile. Whether it’s the crackly sound and feeling of a baguette breaking beneath your fingertips, or the light glistening in a drop of honey with the scent of warm peaches, I want my photography to not only convey the image but also to remind the viewer of good food in one’s past.

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