Go vertical

Anyone who’s seen my work here or on social media may have picked up on a tendency of mine. A couple years ago, I started shooting more vertical landscapes. No, I’m not a pioneer here. Many photographers do it. But I started doing it as a way to challenge how I see every day scenes. 

What I have come to love about it is the way you can really immerse the viewer in the image. When shooting horizontally, you get a very natural viewpoint, a scene that is presented the way a viewer would see it in nature. But turn it vertical and you’re able to get a much broader focal range. In the case of the image below, the water at the bottom is literally flowing under my feet at the time, while the eye can still wander all the way to the infinite horizon. 

Little Bay Beach, Sydney NSW

Little Bay Beach, Sydney NSW

Sometimes it’s not just about showing a broader foreground/background relationship, but rather just showing how elements above and below your main subject can enhance or balance it. Sometimes we forget to look up and use the sky as part of our landscape. 

I love the connection I can create for the viewer with these kinds if images. Yes, of course you can do this in a horizontal format, and when the composition calls for that, I do it that way. But many people stick to the “rules” when it comes to landscapes, which is to literally shoot in “landscape” mode. I urge you to challenge that a little, to really look closely at a scene and try it from different perspectives.

Dammerels Head, Coffs Coast NSW

Dammerels Head, Coffs Coast NSW

Is it just me?

This post isn’t as much about photography as it is about what goes on in my head and why I need photography. As a photographer, I observe the physical. I look closely at the world around me. But I also look closely inside myself. Maybe too close, too critical. I have issues with anxiety and depression. I have as long as I can remember, even since I was a young kid. I’ve learned to coexist with it. After a difficult transition from teenage to adult years, some well-timed interventions helped teach me coping skills. I learned to bury it, keep it to myself. I’ve been able to do fairly well for myself as a result.

But in recent years, it’s gotten worse. I find it very difficult to place myself in even some of the most benign social situations. I used to speak my mind, now I avoid conflict, steer clear of confrontation. My career has stalled, as I have put a halt to any pursuit of more advanced roles, business expansion, etc. I do everything I can to blend in, or just disappear entirely. It’s only with my closest of friends I feel I can be myself, I can’t open up to anyone else. I only do it here because I know no one reads this, so it’s a good way to get it off my chest, but in a place where I won’t draw attention.

I have started getting out with the camera more as a way to battle this. Photography is where I find my voice, where I feel I am in control. Sharing photos is how I communicate with others, when words and face-to-face interaction fails.

But that fails a lot, too, I have many, many photos that go unshared. I take the pic, get it on screen, tidy it up and make it as nice as I can. Then I find fault. I find a lot of fault. I convince myself that it’s not good enough, that I’m not good enough and that I’d be a fool to share it with anyone. I don’t want to bother people with garbage, don’t want to insult anyone by wasting their time with pedestrian creations. So it sits unseen in a folder on my hard drive, with hundreds of other unshared photos and unpublished blogs.

I want to fix that. I want to feel like I’m good enough. Actually, I want to not worry about what other people think of me or my work. I just want to be able to share it and let my voice be heard.

Hope I can figure out how to do that. Until then, I’ll keep looking for my voice through a lens.

The eastern sky catches the last rays of sunlight at Bombo Quarry, NSW

The eastern sky catches the last rays of sunlight at Bombo Quarry, NSW

How much resolution do you need?

People often ask me what kind of camera they should buy, or “how much resolution do I need?” I’ve addressed the first part of that question before, and will post on it again soon. It’s a complex topic. The second part though, can be much easier to answer. 

When people ask me about resolution, I come back with “What are you doing with your photos?”. Most people tell me they share them on social media, or email them to family and friends. If this is you, let me show you something.

The image below is a pixel-by-pixel comparison of what some of my various cameras will output. The smallest image is how much resolution you need for Instagram, while the next largest image is how much you need to fill a 15” MacBook Pro Retina display.

Pixel-to-pixel comparison of cameras vs online display resolutions.

Pixel-to-pixel comparison of cameras vs online display resolutions.

Get the idea? So basically, if you’re shooting for websites or social media, you’re wasting time and money with anything bigger than 10 megapixels.

If you’re shooting for print, that’s a different story, and of course, most people like the idea of being able to make prints, even if they never actually make them. Having more pixels gives you the latitude to do that, but bear in mind that I’ve done A1 size prints from a 10mp JPEG. Of course, with print work, bigger is always a little better…

Anyway, only you can decide what’s right for you, but when someone tries to sell you on “more pixels”, just keep this comparison in mind. 

Time Travel

Do you ever wish you could go back in time? Of course, everyone does. There are periods of history we’ve all dreamt of being a part of, or seeing for ourselves. Maybe there’s something in your own lifetime you’d like to experience again, or try and do better… or maybe just avoid doing entirely.

Some time ago, a friend and I spent a few weeks traveling around Europe. I considered myself a decent photographer at the time, and as you’d expect, took a lot of photos. To be fair to myself, I did take lot of good ones. But my skill has improved a lot over the years, and when I look at some of those photos now, it’s easy to see what I could have done better. I’d love the chance to do it again.

Yes, I could go back to Europe someday, and I will, but that’s not what I mean. I can never go back to that time, to that experience. Even if I re-traced my steps exactly, I could never have the same sense of discovery that I had then.

Photographers often go out and reshoot old subject matter. Exploring old themes is a great way to measure progress, and to train oneself to see differently. But how great would it be if you could go back to an old experience, but temporarily forget that you had already been there? You could approach it as if for the first time, but with all the new knowledge and skill you’ve gained since then. Then, magically, all your memories would return, and you’d be able to compare the efforts of your old self vs new self in the same time and place.

All right, that might be a little trippy and science-fictiony (by the way, nobody steal that idea, please). But do you see what I mean? All artists compare their old and new work all the time. But it’s not a fair comparison, because we can never know what path we would have taken if our knowledge and experience had been different in the past. Maybe we would have done the same things, only better. Maybe our current self  would go down different pathways entirely. On my Europe trip, I was fascinated by architecture, so I took a lot of photos of churches, castles and old buildings. I still like that stuff, but these days I really enjoy trying to show human interaction with the environment. It’s likely if I experienced that trip again, I would spend less time looking at sculptures and stained glass, and more time observing how people interacted with those places.

Of course, we can’t go back in time, but we can try and mimic the effect. Here’s your challenge (and mine): The next time you go someplace really familiar, pretend it’s not. OK, that’s not an easy ask, but let’s take it step-by-step. Start with your own house. You’ve walked through your front door thousands of times. You can find the light switch in the dark, you know where the hall stand is, and so on. But try walking through your door as if you’d never been there before. Really study how the light falls, where objects and furniture are placed, the color of the walls, the height of the ceilings, the texture of the floor. I’ll bet if won’t take long before you see something you never noticed before.

Imagine how much more you’ll take in when you go someplace you haven’t seen a thousand times. If you really take the time to look close, it could be like a brand new experience.

Everyone is a photographer

If you’ve ever looked at something then remembered it later, you’re a photographer.

Is this a stretch? I’ve never heard anyone else make this kind of claim, so perhaps it is a bit out there, but think about it: a photographer looks at the world, navigates through their daily life, filters out clutter and seeks out subjects. Once spotted, they then use a lens to focus reflected light onto a surface that records the image.

Do your eyes and brain not do that exact same thing? You get up every day and go about your business. Some things are routine; you don’t remember them a minute later. But some things stand out – a happy moment with a child, a nice meal, a cool car, a glorious sunset, an attractive person. You remember these things above others you saw because you find them remarkable. Maybe you even went out of your way to get a better look, to take it in as much as possible, to record it in your mind.

So congratulations, you are a photographer! …In a way. You are the only one who sees through your eyes, and in your mind you record the things you see and are impactful to you. The image is created, and just like a photographer might edit their image to display, you can choose to either tell it like it was, leave out or embellish detail, or maybe just keep it to yourself.

Of course, this is all a philosophical viewpoint, a thought experiment, and I’m sure there are many ways to poke holes in it. That’s OK, because it’s a creative exercise, not smashing atoms or performing brain surgery. We can be a little loose about things, as long as it helps us in the creative process.

And that’s the whole point here. People look at good photographers’ work and wish they could do what they do. Well, why can’t you? It’s true that some people pick it up a little more naturally while others struggle, but realize that all photographers started the same way – by making the decision that the things they saw in the world around them were worth turning into art. Once that decision was made, a long journey of study, practice, failure and discovery was begun. A good photographer is someone who embraces that journey. If you decide to set out yourself, you’ll find your images getting better with every step.

Welcome to my site!

This has been a long time coming. There were two reasons it’s taken me this long; First, I always felt I needed to design and build the site from scratch in order for it to be “mine”. That felt like an overwhelming process, so I put it off. And Second, I never really felt secure enough in my work to want it put out there for public consumption and, well, criticism.

Well, I got over the first reason and used a template-based platform. I’m still unsure about the second reason, but here we are. I get really anxious about showing my work to…anyone, so this is a big step for me, and I’m still not sure I’m ready for it. To my parents and family, friends, co-workers and anyone else who’s liked, commented on, or even bought my work, you’re the reason I keep doing this, and I hope I can count on your continuing support.

If you’re wondering about why it’s called “Merrill Creative”, rather than “Merrill Photo”, well, it’s because this isn’t my first website. I’ve owned this domain for a while, and the first iteration was as a graphic design portfolio. I never shared the site with anyone except prospective employers or clients. When I decided to go online again, I had similar reasons, so I kept the domain name and here we are.

Of course, you’ll notice there is no actual graphic design on here. That might change as I seek new opportunities in that industry. But for now, I hope you enjoy the photos. I’ll update as I can, and you can expect to see additional features over time, such as a commerce page for anyone who wants to buy prints or commission work. But until that’s up and running, feel free to look, share and contact me via the page provided.

Thanks again for stopping by. Be sure to check back often, share this page, comment, discuss, and enjoy.