Notes, comments and links for mentees. 

Advice from Cole Thompson on Finding One's "Vision"

Why do I focus on Vision so much? It’s because I believe that Vision is what makes an image great. It’s what makes the difference between a technically perfect image and one with feeling. It’s what makes your images unique. Great images do not come about because of equipment and processes, but rather from Vision that drives these tools to do wonderful things. What good are great technical skills if you don’t have an idea worthy of them?  If I had to choose between the best equipment in the world and no Vision or having a Kodak Brownie and my Vision… I’d take the Brownie.

A lot of people ask: “How do I go about finding my Vision?” I’m not sure I can answer that for everyone, but here is how I discovered mine:

Several years ago I was attending Review Santa Fe where over the course of a day my work was evaluated by a number of gallery owners, curators, publishers and “experts” in the field.  During the last review of a very long day, the reviewer quickly looked at my work, brusquely pushed it back to me and said “It looks like you’re trying to copy Ansel Adams.”  I replied that I was, because I loved his work! He then said something that would change my life: “Ansel’s already done Ansel and you’re not going to do him any better.  What can you create that shows your unique vision?” Those words really stung, but over the next two years the message did sink in: Was it my life’s ambition to be known as the world’s best Ansel Adams imitator? Had I no higher aspirations than that? I desperately wanted to know if I had a Vision, but there was a huge problem: what exactly was Vision and how did I develop it?  I researched Vision but I couldn’t relate to the definitions and explanations that I found. Was it a look, a style or a technique? Was it something you were born with or something you developed? And then there was the nagging doubt: what if I didn’t have a Vision? I feared that it was something you either “had” or you “didn’t have”  and perhaps I did not? And how was I to go about finding my Vision? With so many unanswered questions and with no idea on how to proceed, I simply forged ahead with what made sense to me.  Here is what I did:

1. Sort Your Portfolio -- I took 100 of my best images, printed them out and then divided them into two groups: the ones I REALLY loved…and all the rest. I decided that the ones that went in the “loved” pile had to be images that “I” loved, and not just ones that I was attached to because they had received a lot praise, won awards or sold the best. And if I loved an image and nobody else did, I still picked it. 

2. Make the Commitment -- I committed that from that point on, I would only pursue those kinds of images, the ones that I really loved. Too often I had been sidetracked when I chose to pursue images simply because others liked them.

3. Practice Photographic Celibacy-- I started practicing Photographic Celibacy and stopped looking at other photographer’s work. I reasoned that to find my Vision, I had to stop immersing myself in the Vision and images of others. I used to spend hours and hours looking at other photographer’s work and would find myself copying their style or even their specific images. I knew that I couldn’t wipe the blackboard of my mind clean of those images, but I could certainly stop focusing on their Vision and instead focus on mine.  When I looked at a scene I didn’t want to see it through another photographer’s eyes, I wanted to see it through mine!

4. Simplify Your Processes -- I embarked on a mission to simplify my photography.  In the past I had focused on the technical and now I was going to focus on the creative. I disposed of everything that was not necessary: extra equipment, gadgets, plug-ins, programs, processes and all of those toys we technophiles love. I went back to the basics which simplified my photography, gave me more time and it reminded me that I wanted to put more focus on my creative abilities.

5. Ignore Other’s Advice -- I ignored the advice that well intentioned friends and experts gave me. So much of this advice had never felt right for me and I was torn between following their recommendations or my own intuition. In the end I decided that only by pleasing myself could I create my best work, and that no matter how expert someone was, they were not an expert about my Vision or what I wanted.

6. Change Your Mindset -- I worked to change my mindset from photographer to artist. I had always thought of myself as a photographer who documented, but I could see that this role was limiting and the truth was that I wanted to be an artist that created.  To help me make this mental shift I started calling myself an artist (I felt like such a fraud at first)  figuring that I must play the part to become the part. I also stopped using certain words and phrases, for example instead of saying “take a picture” I would say “create an image.”  That may seem like small and inconsequential thing, but it helped to continually remind me that I wanted to be an artist who created, and not a photographer who documented.

7. Question Your Motives -- I questioned my motives and honestly answered some hard question such as: why am I creating? Who am I trying to please? What do I want from my photography? How do I define success? It seemed to me that Vision was something honest and that if I were going to find my Vision, I had to be honest about the reasons I was pursuing it.

8. Stop Comparing -- I stopped comparing my work to other photographers. I noticed that when I compared, it led to doubts about my abilities and it left me deflated. All I could see were their strengths and my weaknesses, which was an unfair comparison.  I decided that if my goal was to produce the best work that I could, then it did not matter what others were doing. I had to remind myself that this was not a race or a contest, I was not competing against others…I was competing with myself.

9. Stop Caring What Others Think -- I made a conscious decision to stop caring what others thought of my work. I recognized that in trying to please others, I was left feeling insecure and empty. At the end of the day, it was just me, my work and what I thought of it. As long as I cared what others thought, I was a slave and could never be free.

10. Get Inspired

I re-read Ayn Rand’s novel “The Fountainhead” which I had first read at age 17. It has been one of the most influential books of my life because it gave me hope that I could become truly independent, that I could think for myself and define my own future. I know this book can cause strong reactions in people, both for good and ill, but it was a tremendous help in finding my Vision. I really was proceeding blindly, but I believed that if I listened to my own desires, pursued what I loved and eliminated all other voices, I would learn something about my Vision. I did this for two years and there were many times that I became discouraged and didn’t feel like I was making any progress. I didn’t really know what I expected to happen, perhaps I thought I’d have a revelatory experience where my Vision would suddenly appear in a moment of inspiration! But that didn’t happen. And then one day it just occurred to me: I understood…I understood what my Vision was.  It came in an anticlimatical and quiet moment of understanding, and after all of that worrying and angst…it now seemed so incredibly simple. Vision was not something I needed to acquire or develop, it had been there all along and all that I needed to do was to “discover” it. Vision was simply the sum total of my life experiences that caused me to see the world in a unique way. When I looked at a scene and imagined it a certain way…that was my vision. My Vision had always been there but over the years it had been buried by layers of “junk.” Each layer obscured my vision until it was lost and I doubted my creative abilities.  Some of those layers were valuing other’s opinions over my own, fear of failing, imitating others and creating for recognition.  Each time I created for external rewards, each time I put accolades before personal satisfaction, each time I cared what others would think…I buried my natural creativity under another layer until it was buried and forgotten. Interestingly I came to conclude that Vision had little to do with photography or art and had more to do with being a well-adjusted, confident and independent human being. Once I had the confidence to pursue my art on my terms, and define success for myself, I was free to pursue my Vision without fear of rejection or need for acceptance. Something else I learned about Vision: it is not a look or a style. It is not focusing on one subject or genre and following your Vision will not make your work look all the same. Vision gives you the freedom to pursue any subject, create in any style and do anything that you want. But finding my Vision was not the end of the journey, because now I had to follow it which was equally as hard. I am still tempted to create for recognition, to care what others think and to want to be acknowledged. It takes constant discipline to stay centered, to remember why I’m creating and to follow my definition of success. If you could have known me before I found my Vision, you would have found a technician that doubted his creative abilities, a photographer who felt that it was wrong to “manipulate” the image, a person who sought the generally accepted definition of success: money, fame and accolades, and you would have found an insecure person who needed others to like his images in order to feel good about his work. Thankfully, that person is gone. While my initial search was for my Vision, what I really found was myself which allowed my natural Vision to flourish once again.   Cole Thompson


Friday, July 24, 2015 at 11:31 PM   

Hi Shana, If you got what I got this AM you must have some “pretty” pictures on your computer. It was a 10 sunrise. Honestly, I have never been a sunset (sunrise) junkie. They are all over FB and Flickr, one more garish than the next, not saying much except, “I saw a pretty sunrise today.". I have many pretty ones, but I have them in my heart, and that is what really makes them special. (Now I have a Shana sunrise.Whoa...)  Still, learning how the shutter changes the look of the photo is important. If you can make the camera do what you want to communicate you are on the right track.
And I found a Mutt and Jeff tripod shot that made me smile. good for me to illustrate what NOT to buy. A light breeze might knock yours into the sea.
On another note, download Avgcampro and see what you can do with it. I can only imagine what yo will do with it! I’ve attached a few images using this app. Lots of possibilities.
I am doing a Long X workshop on Sept 12 in the evening. I’d like to have you come if you can,  and help, be my “assistant”, etc. Per our agreement you go for half price. I am also doing an iPhone workshop that would be worth attending. Lots of info that may be useful. That is Aug 15  at Wickford AA, and I will sneak you in. Again 50% discount. Let me know on both.
Come with 4 or 5 pictures for your “book” when we meet again on July 31st at 6:30 PM, not AM. Bring a small flashlight to paint with, your flash and oh, yes, bring, Jesus, (or some other prop, or use my girl, Wendy.
As always, fun to shoot with you, and I hope you feel you are getting your money’s  worth hanging out with me. Please tell me if I am not giving you what you want and need. You may have noticed I am intentionally pretty hands off as to you style and aesthetic because your vision is just fine without me tampering with it. Follow your heart. I know you will. I will give you a shove here or there when I think you need one.Like, " Jesus Christ Shana, what the fuck are doing?????"

Tuesday, July 21, 2015 at 3:25 PM    Mentoring Sonja Lemoi  

Hi Sonja, You have a great style. Now we need to hone your "craft". Here's is water dogs and water babies.!/portfolio This guy has found a niche. Water... Yours could be farm animals, especially ducks.Elizabeth Opalenik, Figure photographer par excellence: http://www.elizabethopalenik.comI'm also sending you a cheat sheet on apertures  and shutter speeds. See you next week.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015 at 3:47 PM   Mentoring Elizabeth Jackson

Hi Elizabeth, At first the head will get in the way but eventually you will be able to play the camera like a concert pianist plays the keyboard, with out looking. But it takes time and practice, lots of it.I’d like you to try to create two interesting photographs, one that stops the action, and one that intentionally blurs it. Different subjects, different light.Check out my friend Elizabeth’s work, many with slow shutter speeds.

Monday, July 20, 2015 at 4:21 PM   

Hi Elizabeth, Very nice camera! Good student! Here’s the link to the A7r manual PDF  Your homework assignment is to capture two beautiful moments, one long and slow, another one very brief by making your camera use a fast or slow shutter speed. This is the “craft”. Part, making your camera do your bidding. The vision part has to come from you so I am sure that will be easier. At first craft fights with vision because you are too much in left brain mode. I note here I have noticed that women take better photos because, as a general rule, they shoot from the heart, not their head. However,the best photographers, regardless of gender, can do both. You can make your camera use a fast shutter speed by increasing the ISO, (using a faster film) AND by opening up the lens - that is, by using a larger aperture (a low number like f/4).

You can make the camera do the opposite, that is, use a slow shutter speed by doing the opposite. Lower the volume… Use  low ISO number like 100 or 50 AND a small aperture like f/16. Blur intentionally by moving or zooming, or both. This works well in overcast light, or low light. It does not work when it is too bright

10 (ten) 2 + hr  lessons at $55 (special) = $550. You can pay this by check in either one or two installments. Thank you. 

Link to sent to Katcas, Sonja and Shana on 7/19/2015

Hi Jan, We're on for the 27th, I'll see you at 5:15 in the parking lot.  I'll have the wide angle lens, ND filter, and tripod ready to go.  My chai tea will be consumed on my drive there so I can almost guarantee something other than a frown.  ;)

From Shana on May 19th,Hi Shana, Fun shoot last night. I hope you have some pictures worth saving to your “SELECTt” collection. (More on this when we next meet. Ask me...)
I think we share a passion for the medium, and i feel the chemistry between us is quite good. You are obviously committed. I think working with you will be beneficial for us both. Teachers learn as much or more than the student. Regarding “The Shana Mentorship Program”, here are my thoughts. Please offer yours: We do a photo shoot about every three weeks followed by a Lightroom workflow critique of your photos (about a week later) here on at the cabin. This will give you ample time to edit, and process your work. Each session here will also cover certain technology issues. From time to time I will suggest inspiration from various resources, web, books, lectures, gallery visits, all part of the growth process to become an accomplished photographer. You will also provide links to work you like as a springboard for discussion. (I enjoyed your link to those studio portraits of the young girl. Beautiful work, great subject, moving story.)
In addition, you will have the opportunity to participate in other classes I am teaching if you schedule allows. As my "assistant" you will receive a 50% discount on those classes. (Most of these workshops are pretty inexpensive.) Besides High line NYC, I have two forthcoming. (Tex-Effects on June 13th and Summer Solstice on June 11th). These and the photo excursions we do together should introduce you to many different kinds of photography so you can find your groove.

Below are the sessions we might do. All will go about 2-3 hours or longer:
Street (NYC) and along the sea wall
The landscape and long exposure photography
Portraiture by window light (maybe your wife could model for us or maybe we can do a maternity shoot with the woman we met last night)
Kids (and babies)
Sill Life in the studio
Macro photography 

My fee for each photography session is $75. (Each of these should go about 2 hours or so.) My fee for each following Lightroom Workflow is $50 (each of these about 60 to 90 minutes long). All sessions paid with cash, of course. My goal is perfecting your photography. As your mentor I will coach, critique and provide inspiration. By 2016 you could be a most awesome digital photographer! I am thinking a sunrise landscape shoot on Narragansett beach for our first excursion, on either May 27, 28 or 29. Sunrise is about 5 AM and waits for no one. Are you interested? You can still be at work by 9 AM, sleepy, yes, but there.

Inspiration:  Cig’s in Boston…. At Robert Klei, Seeing her large prints is a vey worthwhile experience. And be sure to take a look at her website too.

Links from Shana:I'm sharing a few youtube videos of Shane Koyczan.  He is my writer husband, we haven't met yet, but I hope to someday.  I find inspiration in the rawness of his words, they make me think and find beauty around me.  He's been on TED Talks for his spoken word poetry about his childhood of being bullied.  I have a couple of his albums and will often play them in my car on my way to take pictures.    

Shane Koyczan 'Heaven, or Whatever'

View on

Shane Koyczan - Visiting Hours (The Short Story Long) 

View on

May 6, 2015 Hi Shana, Snaps attached, "The next Mary Ellen Mark”. Take a close look at a master photographer. One of the very best. See you in two weeks?  Monday, May 18, at 5:30 PM. Please confirm.Homework: Explore the creative possibilities of the shutter, i.e. stopping time, unseen moments, panning, and creative blur.Also, a  “subject" a day for practice. Film’s cheap...The Mystery Nanny, watch trailer:  Her photos:, wonderful photographs that almost disappeared in the trash.

July 18th, 2015 Shana, It’s been too long… I don’t remember exactly why we scheduled such a long interval between sessions but it doesn’t feel right.Sunrise on the 24th is at 5:45 AM. Right now let’s still meet at Narragansett Beach at 5:15 because before and after the sunrise we will have “other” opportunities to make pictures. Let’s talk a day before. Shoot should run from 5:30 to 7 AM and then chat and download for a while after. Bring your laptop and tripod. An aside...I know it is pretty early for you but please scroll down to Sapna Reddy’s FB comment on getting up early for her sunrise shoot on July 13 in Yosemite. hope our experience will compare even if the scenery isn’t quite so spectacular. (Yes, stunning locations get the adrenalin going, but I believe you do not have to be at Tunnel View to make a memorable picture). Looking forward to seeing you.If the weather should be lousy we will just have to move the date forward. Hard for me… never been long on patience, and I do want to catch up.

PS: Please note that the above link is not an endorsement of Sapna’s photography which is way way over the top processing.   PSS: On the other hand, regarding locations for pictures, National Geo Photog Jim Rchardson (a great one at ) once said, “If you want to take great photographs, stand in front of something interesting..” Dahhh PSS; Do you have your business cards made up yet?

Good morning folks,Some interesting links for you.First, you may wish to get on Eric Hovermale’s Community BB, a collection what’s going on local art scene. Always worth a look. Email him to get on his list: Second, followed some links there that are certainly worth checking out:

Good documentary work by newcomer David Wells. I looked at several of his projects and was impressed. Here an interesting podcast with visuals on how David shoots a project on foeclosed homes: Way different than my style. Interesting technique with tabletop tripod.You may have to subscribe to this site to see the podcast but it’s worth the hassle.

Abigail Gubiner, “Sculpted Photographs”   two videos. She takes photos of hot rods and horses and turns them into sculpture. Very cool. (Many possibilities!!! Mike, Eric, Ron, Elizabeth, take notice). Shana, this one’s for you, because it just may be a good place to find some “Dreamers”:

Saturday, July 11, 2015 at 6:53 AM   d

Hi Sonja, Confirming our meeting on Friday, July 17th at 10 AM. Bring your laptop and your external drive. The fee for a 2 to 2 ½ hr session is $65. Please confirm the day before!

We talked a little about mentoring. Yes, this is really a good way improve your photography, different than Lightroom lessons. As your mentor I would help you master Lightroom (and other programs) but way more than that. My goal would be to turn you into an accomplished photographer. Below is what I’m thinking. We can modify this as necessary for you, The Mom with Kids and Ducks.

“The Sonja Mentorship Program” ------------------------

We do a photo shoot together about every three weeks followed by a Lightroom workflow critique of your photos (about a week later) here on at the cabin. This will give you ample time to edit, and process your work. Each session here will also cover certain technology issues. From time to time I will suggest inspiration from various resources, web, books, lectures, gallery visits, all part of the growth process to become an accomplished photographer. You will also provide links to work you like as a springboard for discussion.  In addition, you will have the opportunity to participate in other classes I am teaching if you schedule allows. As my "assistant" you will receive a 50% discount on those classes. (Most of these workshops are pretty inexpensive.)

Below are the sessions we might do. All will go about 2 hours or longer. 
Street shooting along the sea wall or in the city. 
The landscape and long exposure photography
Portraiture by window light 
Kids (and babies)
Sill Life in the studio
Macro photography 

My fee for each of these photography session is $75. (Each of these should go about 2 hours or so.) My fee for each the following Lightroom evaluation is $50 (these are about 60 to 90 minutes long). All sessions paid with cash, of course. And you pay as you go. You clearly are passionate about photography, and you do have the eye, the imagination and the especially a kind heart. I’d really like to be your photography mentor.  Let me know what you think! xo, Jan