cole thompson photography
Issue 119 - April 5, 2022
Dunes of Nude No. 57
My Friend!

To travel again, to create feels good!
In this issue:

  • Quotes

  • If You Could Do Just One Thing to Improve Your Photography...

  • New Images

  • "The Story Behind the Image"

  • Random Thoughts

  • Print Drawing

Some of my favorite inspirational quotes:

"I’m not here to belong to a genre or adapt myself to any kind of rules, I just do what I instinctively feel I want to do."


“I’ve always tried to make records that I want to listen to, but people always say, ‘Do you make music for your fanbase?’ And I go, ‘No.’ If I made music for my fanbase, I wouldn’t be happy. What’s the quote: ‘There’s no key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone.’ So just do you.”

Ed Sheeran

"The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things with words."

Elliott Erwitt

"It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not."

Andre Gide 

"The most important part of being an artist is to learn about yourself, the photographs are less important than the life one is leading."

Robert Mapplethorpe

"When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked me one day what I did at work. I told her I worked at a college - that my job was to teach people how to draw. She stared back at me, incredulous, and said: You mean they forget?" 

Howard Ikemoto 

“No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, then he would cease to be an artist.” 

Oscar Wilde

"Art begins where words end..."

Edward Weston

"Men often become what they believe themselves to be. If I believe I cannot do something, it makes me incapable of doing it. But when I believe I can, then I acquire the ability to do it even if I didn't have it in the beginning."

Mahatma Gandhi

"The best and most beautiful things cannot be seen or touched - they must be felt with the heart."

Helen Keller

"Black and white distills everything down to its essence. An image is composition and content. The addition of color simply confuses me."

Frank Baudino

“When subject matter is forced to fit into preconceived patterns, there can be no freshness of vision. Following rules of composition can only lead to a tedious repetition of pictorial clichés.”

Edward Weston

If You Could Do Just One Thing to Improve Your Photography...What Would It Be?

If you wanted to improve your photography and you could do just one thing...what would it be? What, among all of the many possibilities, would help you create better images?

I Googled this question and here are some of the many ideas I found:

  • Buy a better camera
  • Take a Photoshop or Lightroom class
  • Study the work of Photographers that you admire to get some new ideas
  • Join a photo club
  • Take a photo workshop
  • Go to a great location that inspires you
  • Study and better understand the rules of composition
  • Learn more about your camera’s capability
  • Get closer
  • Learn to shoot in manual mode
  • Use a tripod
  • Slow down
  • Learn more about light and the best light to photograph in
  • Purchase prime lenses
  • Develop a unique style
  • Photograph things that no one else has photographed
  • Deconstruct famous photographs to see why they work
  • Experiment with different techniques
  • Create images that are like the most popular ones on social media
  • Have your work critiqued
  • Learn new skills by recreating the photos that you admire

Some of these suggestions may be appropriate if your goal is to take better family and vacation photos. By all means learn more about your camera, Photoshop, and some compositional rules to help keep telephone poles from sticking out of head of your subjects!

But if your goal is to create images, not just take pictures, as a form of self-expression, then my suggestion would be to throw out all of the items on this list. Some are simply time wasters, some send you down the wrong path and others are actually harmful to the creative process. do need to know the basics on how to operate your camera and your post-processing software, but you certainly don't need to be an expert to get started. Most of what I know about my camera and software, came about as I needed to do something specific.

For example: I have never needed to use layers and so I've never spent the time to learn them. But now I have a project that can only be done with layers and so I will learn it with the help of my friend John Barclay (whom I've been trying to help become a better photographer for years, but I fear it is hopeless!)

The items above are all red herrings and should be ignored, in my opinion.

Okay, it's easy to tell people what NOT to do, but what would you recommend someone do to improve their photography?

If you could do just one thing to improve your photography, it would be to find and follow your Vision. That is the driving creative force behind all my images. It's not the camera, the software, the location, the rules of composition, following photographic fads, or imitating others.

For me, it's finding my Vision and following it. Knowing what I love and pursuing it. Ignoring what others are doing and creating images that I love, regardless of what anyone else thinks of them.

Nothing can compensate for a lack of Vision!

Shooting with a prime lens at the optimal aperture means nothing if you have a boring, lifeless image. And having the world's most complicated post-processing routine will not help a poor and uninteresting composition.

I know because that's the path I followed for so many years! I took that technical path because I didn't think I had a Vision or any creative ability. I also followed that path because learning your camera and photoshop is not only fun, it's straightforward and concrete.

And finding your Vision is the exact opposite of straightforward and concrete. First, Vision is such a difficult concept to understand (until you've found it, and then it's so ridiculously simple). Second, there are no instruction manuals on how to go about finding your Vision. And Third, it takes a lot of difficult and sometimes painful introspection to find your Vision.

It took me 35 years to get to a point of even wanting to find out if I had a Vision, and then two long and hard years to do so.

Ceremonial Wash Basin

Now, if I could expand beyond this one suggestion, and offer one more:

Critically analyze your own work. I personally find this recent trend to have one's work critiqued by an expert disturbing. What you are getting is only an opinion and there are many of those out there. And the critiquer's opinions are colored by their Vision and their personal preferences.

And so whose opinion should you listen to?

I say listen to your own, it's the most important one if you're trying to create work that you love. Experts may be expert in many things, but there's one subject they can never be an expert in: your Vision.

So how do you improve without hearing suggestions and new ideas? By critically analyzing your own work...that's what I do.

Study your image and ask what you could do to make it better, and more in keeping with your Vision. What do you like and dislike about your image? Is there something you could change to make it better? If you could do it over, what would you do differently?

Another technique I use to analyze my image is to process it, let it sit for a week and then analyze it again. Sometimes it goes straight in the trash bin at that second viewing. Then I'll tweak it, let it sit for another week and do it again...and again...and again if necessary.

At the point that I no longer make changes to the image, it is finished.

When you have found your Vision, your opinion is the only one that matters and you have no interest in the opinion of others. Once you have found your Vision, there are no need for critiques.
If you could do just one thing to improve your photography...I hope you'll consider finding your Vision, because Vision is the single most important tool in your toolbox.

Here is an article which details the steps I took on my Vision journey.

New Images
Dunes of Nude No 310
Three Crows

Sometimes people ask me: how do you get such descriptive titles for your images?

It's a gift.
Stovepipe Wells Ravens
Road to Nowhere No. 11
Death Valley Moonset
Powerlines No. 48
Powerlines No. 34
Panamint Valley Dust
Road to Nowhere No. 10
Lone Man No. 75 - Zabriskie Point
Road Dust
Dunes of Nude No. 308
Dunes of Nude No. 306
Dunes of Nude No. 303
Dunes of Nude No. 307
Mt Whitney in Cloud and Shadow
The Lone Photographer
Harbinger No. 49
Dunes of Nude No. 309
Clouds Over Death Valley
Death Valley Jet Trails
Death Valley Streaking Clouds
Powerlines No 46
Dunes of Nude No. 34
Death Valley Wind Storm
Dunes of Nude No. 305
"The Story Behind the Image"
Hopewell Rocks at the Bay of Fundy

When I was in Newfoundland creating the "Melting Giants" series, I heard about the Bay of Fundy, in neighboring New Brunswick. It's famous for having the highest tides in the world, over 55 feet!
So off I went, but when I arrived, the tide was out. That was disappointing because I really liked what I was enVisioning, but waiting around for the entire day for one photograph...I wasn't sure it was worth it.

But, I had learned from many past experiences that you must create an image when it presents itself. There is no such thing as coming back at another time to get it. It just never happens.

Sometimes you don't get back. Sometimes you do but the conditions are not the same. And often, you come back and your Vision just doesn't speak to you in the same way.

So over the course of many missed images, I have learned, to always stop.

And so I waited around until 10 pm when the tide came in.
During those hours of waiting, I photographed the Hopewell Rocks at various angles and levels of rising tide.
But I really wanted high tide, and so I waited.
Finally, as high tide approached, I positioned myself down at the bottom step of the stairway that led down to the bay. My perch, once high and dry, started to be engulfed by the rising tide until my tripod legs were partially submerged.

It was really dark and I had to shoot at 1600 ISO (which would add noise) and a 5 minute exposure (which would add more noise) with the lens wide open.

I wanted some detail in those side hills and so used my flashlight to paint them during the exposure.
But of course, getting the shot is not the end of the creation process. Here's what my RAW image looked like, and so next my challenge was to bring the shot into compliance with my Vision.

The image had lots of noise and I really had to work to control and subdue it. There was some cloning, lots of dodging and burning and then finally, a pinch of contrast was added.
The wait was worth it! I loved the almost daylight look of the image, and the smoothness of the water.

And that's the Story Behind the Image.
But here's the rest of the story:

Just recently the Hopewell Rocks collapsed due to erosion.

I sure am glad that I stayed and waited to create this image. This experience reinforces my philosophy of "Always Stop."
Random Thoughts
Death Valley Fun

Why do we gravitate to the iconic locations, to take the iconic shots, that millions of others have photographed before us? We all do it, but why?

Brooks Jensen mentioned that nowadays, people do not really study an image, and on average only spend a few seconds looking at one.

Don't believe it? How long did you spend on each of my images above? My own tests bear this out for myself, and now I'm wondering what are the implications of this, both as a viewer and a creator?

Two of my grandchildren live with me, ages 8 and 10, and observing them reminds me of how much children want to fit in, to be liked and care what other's think of them. And then I realize; we are all children inside and want the same things.

Even at the start of her career, aged 21, Streisand struck a deal with Columbia Records to take less money in exchange for full creative control. "It wasn't important to me to know the amount of money I'd get," she says. "All I wanted was to sing any song I wanted to."
The deal almost immediately proved necessary. Columbia wanted the singer's debut album to be called Sweet and Saucy Streisand. Instead, it was released as The Barbra Streisand Album. “I said, 'What is the truth of it? It's the Barbra Streisand album.' If you saw me on TV, you could just go [to the record shop] and ask for the Barbra Streisand album. It's common sense."
Twenty-two years and 13 top 10 albums later, she was still relying on that original contract to stop the label pushing her around. "When I did The Broadway Album, they said, 'Oh no, that's not pop songs', and I said, 'But I have the right to sing what I want to sing.' "They wouldn't even, at that time, pay me until it sold two and a half million copies [but] it became a number one and I think I won Grammy for it, too.
You have to trust your own instincts if you're an artist at all, and go with what you believe and not anyone else."

Barbara Streisand 

Two photographers overheard at a diner:
I love shooting animals.
I’ve never really gotten into that, but I do like shooting children. In fact, I’m going to the park today to shoot some.
Do the parents get upset if you shoot them?
I always ask first.
Print Drawing
Isolated No. 21

The winner of my last print drawing is Hugh Maaskant from the Netherlands who will be receiving a print of "Separation."

Congratulations Hugh! Please contact me and arrange for your print to be delivered.
For this month's print drawing, I'll be giving away "Isolated No. 21" (above).

To enter: send an email to and put "Isolated No. 21" in the subject line.

Thanks for entering!