cole thompson photography
Issue 118 - January 8, 2022
Dunes of Nude No. 57
My Friend!

It has been almost one year since my last newsletter. This is long overdue!
In this issue:

  • Quotes on Vision

  • New Images

  • "The Story Behind the Image"

  • Random Thoughts

  • My LensWork Portfolios

  • Black and White: Like it's the 1930's

  • Print Drawing
Vision Quotes

Some of my favorite quotes on Vision:

If I already have a vision, my work is almost done. The rest is a just a technical problem.

Hiroshi Sugimoto 
“I asked my father one day if I could take voice lessons. He said, "Why? Do you want to sound like everybody else in the choir?" And I thought, "That was odd."

And he said, "First of all, find your own voice. See the way you want to sing. And then if you want to get better at it of course, then you can get a voice coach, but right now, just sing from your heart."

Deana Martin (daughter of Dean Martin)
“Everyone looks at what I am looking at, but no one sees what I see.” 

Félicité Lamennais
"Imagination is more important than knowledge." 

Albert Einstein
"Under the charmed light of scholars, surrounded by abstract and learned discussions, his own vision and reality grew dim."

Ben Shahn
There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.

Ansel Adams
"Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside awakens." 

Carl Jung
“I realized that I had things in my head not like what I had been taught – not like what I had seen – shapes and ideas so familiar to me that it hadn’t occurred to me to put them down,” O’Keeffe said. “I decided to stop painting, to put away everything I had done, and to start to say the things that were my own. 

Georgia O'Keeffe
And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.

Friedrich Nietzsche
It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation. 

Herman Melville
"An artist is not paid for his labor but for his vision."

James Whistler
It’s a terrible thing to see and have no vision.

Helen Keller
New Images
Isolated No. 25

I have seen and admired this tree for years and years, but never photographed it. I've seen it with and without leaves, and wanted to photograph it without.

Well, this winter has been so warm that I finally went out and did it. I had some wonderful moving backlit clouds and loved how this turned out.

Light Poles

Here's another scene that I passed by several times a day, for years. I loved the composition, but the foreground was so cluttered that I didn't know how to create the image.

Then one day I was driving home at dusk and it occurred to me how to do it.

I love the simplicity of this image.

Clouds No. 11

Like everyone, I love clouds. But I find them challenging to photograph, to make them look as good as they do in real life. This is an attempt to portray the drama of a storm cloud.


Several years ago I was in the Moscow subway and had this idea for a portfolio. Only recently have I explored doing it, and I'm still not certain if I will.

As of yet, it is untitled.

"The Story Behind the Image"
Moai, Sitting for Portrait No. 36
Let met start at the beginning: It was 1969 and I had borrowed the book Aku Aku from my high school teacher, friend and mentor, John Holland. This is how I was introduced to the Moai of Easter Island.

I became fascinated with the Moai and would spend hours and hours trying to imagine how and why they were built and even more perplexing: why they stopped? Even though this was my only “contact” with the them, they have been on my mind these many, many, years.

And interestingly, I have always imagined the Moai as being living beings. 

Fast forward to 2014: my wife and I are creating a bucket list and I said: I'd love to go to Easter Island, but of course that's impossible. And my wife responded: Why?

Within a few weeks later the trip was planned.

In keeping with my Photographic Celibacy I did not look at what other photographers had done before me. I wanted my Vision to be pure and unsullied by the ideas and Vision of others. However this approach has some disadvantages: what if I created work that was similar to what others had done, simply because I didn’t know what others had done?

I was willing to take that risk and proceeded blindly.

My trips are never planned, I simply go to a location, wander about and trust that something will inspire me. However this can cause great anxiety if I don’t find something that sparks an idea quickly and I start to worry that I’ll come home empty handed. I’ve had that happen to me several times before but fortunately something always seems to capture imagination and passion.

As we flew to Easter Island I like a child on Christmas eve, wondering what gifts I would find in the morning. And as I wondered what the morning would bring I fell asleep and dreamt, I dreamt that I had met the Moai and invited them to come to my studio to sit for a formal portrait…and they did!

When I awoke I thought to myself, why not? I had always thought of them as being alive and I would create studio portraits of them as though they were. This idea really got me excited, as excited as I’d ever been for a project. It just seemed like a natural for me!

I was certainly out of my depth in several areas: I have no portrait experience, I could not control the lighting and I had never done anything this complex in Photoshop before. But a lack of skills has never stopped me before and instead I viewed it as a challenge.

In my mind I laid out my plan of action: I would photograph the Moai as though they were sitting in my studio, a tight shot and at appropriate angles. I’d try to catch them in diffused light and later I’d try to make it look like studio lighting. And lastly I’d outline the Moai and drop them into a digital backdrop that I would create.

I had to get the shots right because I had only one chance at this. I took a huge number of photographs from every angle and vantage point I could think of. I followed the sun and each morning went to one side of the island and each afternoon I went to other. Because I was looking for subdued light and could not control what I got, I had to wait for many hours at each location for a cloud to pass overhead. 

Once home I started off by creating a portrait background for my Moai. I then blurred it to give the image a shallow depth of field and a three dimensional look. Later when I looked at all of the images as a group, the background looked redundant and so I created several slightly different versions to break things up a bit.

Next I needed to learn how to outline the Moai. I was very fortunate to be working with objects that had hard edges which made the outlining much easier. A great deal of this work had to be done manually at 300% magnification because the Moai’s background interfered with some of the more automatic methods of selection. This is where a tablet really shines, I simply could not have done this outlining with a mouse!

Next I pasted the outlined Moai into the background but felt that it looked unnatural. I learned that an object looks “pasted in” when the edges of the object are sharper than the object itself. So I took a 3 pixel blur tool and manually blurred the edge of the Moai at 300% magnification.

Then came the lighting: how could I make the lighting look as though the Moai had been lit in a studio? With no lighting experience, I simply experimented with dodging and burning, trying to make the light source appear to come from a particular direction.

With a small amount of practice I found I could bring a Moai to this point in about an hour. But the final refining of the image is what took the longest. 
I would let the images sit for a week and then would come back to see them with a fresh eye.

On the first pass I was unhappy with the lighting and modified it quite a bit; lessening the directional lighting effect and opening up the shadows more. I let it sit for another week and tweaked some more. And then I repeated this a third and fourth time until there were no more changes.

Here are a couple “before and after” images to show you the original shot and the final image.

Outlining was easy when the Moai were against the sky and I could use the automatic methods of selection. But when the background was cluttered as in the lower half of this one, I had to manually outline.

When I shot this image I was not thinking portraits, but these first three Moai on the left worked out perfectly anyway.

The images from the quarry were harder to put into the studio because they were photographed against the grass. I had to stay on designated paths and that limited my choice of angles and consequently the background. These images were completely hand outlined and often I had to clone out the weeds that were in the way.

In the end I created forty portraits of the Moai and I love them. The trip was a wonderful adventure in itself, but to pursue a project that treated the Moai as though they were alive, really was dream come true. 

This project reinforced three of my guiding principles as a fine art photographer:

1. I must pursue a project that I am passionate about and have a Vision of.

2. Skills come second to Vision. If I don’t have the skills, I can always learn the them.

3. I must create for myself and love what I’ve created.


P.S. You can see the full portfolio here:

Random Thoughts
Rocks and Mist
Would you rather….

  • Create an image that you loved, but not many others did or:

  • Create an image that everyone loved, won contests and earned likes…but you did not love?
Do you wish to create or imitate?
Imitating includes following the rules, looking at other’s work to “inspire” (copy), following the latest photographic fads or photographing the iconic sites.

Do you take a technical approach or a Vision approach with your photography?
The technical approach is centered around equipment and processes. It is the unspoken belief that equipment and skills are the key to a great image.
The Vision approach finds the idea first, and then says: What tools and skills do I need to execute that Vision?

Do you remember "Paint by Number?" As children we were told that if we followed the rules (put the right color in the right numbers and paint within the lines) that we would create a masterpiece!

Well, not a masterpiece, but a crude copy of one.

You do not create a masterpiece by following the numbers...or following the rules. At best all you will create is an inferior imitation.

My LensWork Portfolios
There is only one accolade that I am proud of, and that is my appearance in LensWork. I have long appreciated the type of work published there, and the incredible quality of the reproductions.

Here are my portfolios that have been featured in LensWork.

Black and White: Like it's the 1930's
NY Times, 11/4/2021

This movie season, black and white films are everywhere. Kyle Buchanan spoke with the cinematographers behind three major monochromatic features to examine the trend.
A new spin on Shakespeare, “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” is not only leached of color, but also shot in a claustrophobic aspect ratio rarely used since the 1950s. “It’s meant to bring theatricality, and to lose temporality,” the cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel said.

The technique can also have a narrative purpose, as it does in “Passing,” which follows two light-skinned Black women, one who has been passing for white. In a scene where the friends are reunited, the movie’s cinematographer, Eduard Grau, flooded the shots with light. “We didn’t want to clearly show to the audience at first whether our characters were white or Black or mixed race,” Grau said. “Everything is so bright that it’s difficult to tell.”
One of the strengths of black and white “is not to tell you how a person or place looks, but how they feel,” said Haris Zambarloukos, the cinematographer for “Belfast,” a film about a boy in Northern Ireland during the 1960s. “It has a transcendental quality to be of the past and the present. It’s realistic, but it has a certain magical sense to it as well.” 

Sanam Yar, a Morning writer
Print Drawing

The winner of my last print drawing is David Hull who will be receiving a print of "Birkenau No. 1."

Congratulations David! Please contact me and arrange for your print to be delivered.
For this month's print drawing, I'll be giving away "Separation" (above).

To enter: send an email to and put "Separation" in the subject line.

Thanks for entering!