Why Hang It On Our Wall?

Mountain cascade

We’re all on a journey. Life is a journey, not a destination. Having guides or at least signposts on the journey helps us to hold to our path. The Images we choose to feature on our walls are representative of our signposts.

I’m not going as deep as the introduction sounds. This is not an offer to be your guide and I am not hanging out a “Life Coach” sign. My point here is that images are one of our guides in our journey. And they are ones we get to choose.

Through recorded history, and even earlier, people have made, commissioned, kept, and wanted to see images. There is something inherent in our makeup that makes these valuable to us. Why is that?

I think images help us in various ways and those ways evolve with time and maturity.. We are alone on our journey, but we are all together. Our journey is unique, but very similar to each of the billions of people who have come before. Pictures can help remind us that we are not a freak. We are a lot like everyone else. They can represent goals we aspire to or document moments we want to remember. Images on our walls can calm us down or make us think. Our moods are influenced by our environment. Our selection of pictures to surround ourselves with is a significant tailoring of that environment.

Telling a story

OK, that’s pretty dense. Let’s unpack it some. People tell me that pictures tell a story, or at least good ones should. I’m not sure that is as true as many artists think. To me a good image gives us the raw material we use to construct our own story. Story is at the heart of our being. We are so tuned to think in stories that when we see a picture we often construct a story for it in our mind. Where was it taken? What were they doing? Why was this happening? What does it mean? I’m sure most of us have found ourselves looking at an image that intrigues us and asking these questions.

The old saying is that a picture is worth a thousand words. This isn’t literally true, of course. But a picture can capture a whole story for us. The story we construct for ourselves for an image can have great symbolism and a deep meaning. Or it could just take us to a happy place and give us peace when we consider it. Looking at an image on our wall that we see every day brings us into that story we have made in an instant.

Why have pictures

What are we looking for, then? There are many reasons to surround ourselves with images. Some that come to mind:

  • Remembering friends or relatives. We want to be reminded of those who are important to us. Pictures can keep them close to us, even take us back to significant events or times. The pictures are there even after they are gone.
  • Remember a peak event in our life. Maybe it is a wedding or starting a business or graduating from college. Whatever it is, looking at the picture brings back the memory of the event.
  • Pictures can feed our aspirational needs. Maybe we love the sea and fill our walls with sea images. If we love to hike or bike we might have grand landscapes showing the areas we want to be in. Maybe it is a mountain we plan to climb or a river we want to kayak. No matter what it is, we tend to surround ourselves with images that give us a warm feeling.
  • Pictures can make us think. Sometimes surreal or abstract images serve to stimulate our imagination. Or, depending on your makeup, it may be an image with lots of detail or strong composition. They can give us a little shot of energy when we glance at them.
  • Pictures can just be calming. Many people appreciate images that are peaceful, pastoral. This often involves nature or natural things. Because it gives us a sense of connectedness to our environment. It reminds us of the natural world out there that we don’t see enough of.
  • Pictures can also give us a sense of continuity. Historical subjects or old things can give us a sense of being part of a longer story. One day I will write on wabi-sari. That’s a Japanese philosophy that reveres things that age with character. But it is a lot more than that. It requires more space than I have here.

So why do we choose pictures to hang on our wall? It varies with each individual and their situation in life at the time. But in general, good images give us a sense of place and a continuity with the longer story of humanity. Choose your environment carefully.

The Sensor

Rock in river, sunset

Putting up a nice safe technical post this week. What is the sensor and why do I care? If we just click the shutter button and expect to see magic happen on our screen, isn’t that enough? No, I obviously do not think it is enough or I wouldn’t be writing about it. The sensor is the heart of the technology of image capture. Without a great sensor none of this would be possible.


Going back, there was rubbing pigment on the wall of caves – Oops, too far. Photography as we would recognize it started in the early 1800’s. Motivated photographers had to mix their own chemicals and wet coat their own glass plates, in the field, in the dark, right before exposing them, then processing them quickly, in the dark, in the trailer they brought. Not for the short attention span crowd.

In the late 1800’s Kodak produced commercial coated transparent film, on a nitrate base. Keep it away from your candles – poof. A few years later cellulose based safety film was invented and replaced the dangerous nitrate film.

Around this same time roll film was also invented, so more than one exposure could be made before changing film. This was a contribution to most photographers. Leica’s adaptation of the 35mm film size and the development of an excellent, small hand held camera system greatly advanced the use of photography. In 1935 Kodak released one of the greatest advances in photography – Kodachrome film. Color photography was finally practical and it became very popular. A very large market for both color and black and white film developed with Kodak, Fuji, Agfa and many other brands vying for position.

This is not an exact history of the development of photography and all of its branches. The point is that the technology of recording images has always been central to photography and it has been a subject of heated discussion/argument by photographers. I have witnessed people almost coming to blows about Kodachrome vs Fuji Velvia.

Film Was Our Sensor

Most “serious” photographers had their 2 or 3 favorite films that they used regularly. They learned the characteristics of each well enough that they could predict the results. This is very important, because photography has always been a mixture of technology and art. How the sensor (film) records light is necessary to know so the artist can determine how to use it to achieve the results they want. Pushing the limits of the sensor technology was a common artistic effect.

But then photography’s “shot heard around the world” happened in 1975. From Kodak’s web site: “Kodak invented the world’s first digital camera. The prototype was the size of a toaster and captured black-and-white images at a resolution of 10,000 pixels (.01 megapixels).” From that trivial sounding start, Kodak killed it’s own business and the multi-billion film business around the world. Digital sensors forever changed the course of photography. And this was a good thing for photographers.

Digital Image Capture

Image capture in a digital sensor is completely different from film. Instead of photons of light causing a chemical reaction in the film, the photons caused the emission of electrons in the sensor chip. These electrons are accumulated over the duration of the exposure, then transferred out serially and sampled to “count” the electrons. From this, complex and high speed processing reconstructs an array of “pixels” (picture elements) which is so dense it fools our eye into seeing a smooth image. This constructed data set is recorded onto a memory chip in the camera. Then usually transferred to a computer.

Over the years, good engineering has improved the process so much that few people still argue that images from film are superior to digital captures. My personal transition happened in about 2004. I finally concluded that the Nikon D70 was at least at parity with 35mm film. That was a 6 Mega Pixel sensor. The image accompanying this post was shot with that camera. Now, when I look at a good quality scan of a 35mm slide compared to a capture off my 47 Mega Pixel Nikon Z-7 sensor I have to shake my head and marvel at the improvement of our photographic technology. Yes, some of this comes from greatly improved lens design, but the sensor is one of the biggest effects.

So with digital sensors I am free to push the limits more, to experiment more, to have more fun with photography, to post process to a much larger degree. Sensor development has removed many of the barriers of resolution, dynamic range, reliability, noise, etc. Photography now can be driven more by artistic vision than by a struggle to produce a usable image.

Do We Need To Understand the Technology Anymore?

Do we as artists need to know about the technology of our sensors? I believe YES. Photography is unique in being a strong mix of technology and art. A good craftsman cannot ignore either of them. These marvelous devices must be understood to be used to their full potential. Digital sensors have limitations and their own quirky characteristics. Dig in; understand the transfer curves; understand the dynamic range; understand the behavior at maximum brightness or darkness; understand noise; understand moire patterns. Understand other related things like the focus system in your camera. Nothing is trivial. But have a very high regard for the sensor.

Much more can be written about the sensor. I may in the future if requested. As an engineer I enjoy digging into the technology.

To the sensor developers at Kodak and Nikon and Canon and Sony and Fuji and all the others – Thank you!


Abstract paint

Outcome vs. process. I believe this is a source of frustration and confusion for many people. I know it took me a long time to learn the difference. Outcome is the result we would like to achieve. Process is what we do.

We seek an outcome like being selected for a gallery or winning a certain award or being published. The reality is, we have no control over these things happening. We can seek them and create opportunity, but other people make the decisions. If we are not chosen we will likely never know why. Not getting the outcome we want may be no fault of ours and it is not an indication that we are a failure.

Should Have Given Up?

J.K. Rowling’s synopsis and sample chapters for Harry Potter was rejected by 12 publishers. Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie, was rejected 30 times. He was so discouraged he threw it away. Luckily his wife retrieved it from the trash. The winner I could find was Kate DiCamillo’s 473 rejections before Because of Winn-Dixie was published. The persistent and popular Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield was rejected 144 times. Canfield later wrote. “I encourage you to reject rejection. If someone says no, just say NEXT!”

All of these examples are for novels, because that seems to be the easiest to find documentation for. I believe it applies to all art, and to most of life.

Most of us will never be a J.K. Rowling or a Stephen King. That is not the point. They almost weren’t them either. If they had gotten discouraged and given up they would not have made it. The gatekeepers making the determination of who is worthy are not all knowing and all wise. Sometimes they are very blind. Coming to the realization that I cannot control their decision is a significant step in my growth.

What We Can Control

Anthony Moore had a great post recently that resonated with me. HIs point is that true champions focus on the process. They practice; they develop their craft; they become the best they can be. They realize they have to put in the long, boring, lonely work to achieve excellence in their field.

He says “Ordinary people focus on the outcome. Extraordinary people focus on what they can control — the process.” This is a hard message. I want to be chosen. I want to win. But I need to realize that I cannot make someone pick me. All I can really do is continue working to become the best I can be. Maybe that is not good enough. But if I am the best I can be, that is all I can do.

As a matter of fact, life gets a lot easier when we stop trying to run the world and instead focus on what we can control.

I don’t want to oversimplify or get tripped up in words. The world is not neat and simple. Sometimes the outcome is critical. If you are doing work for a client, it has to meet or exceed their expectations. If you are shooting a wedding, for instance, you can’t say “oops, I didn’t get it; we need to redo the wedding”.

This kind of outcome is the work we deliver. We can and do control that. The outcome we cannot control is whether or not we get selected to shoot the wedding.


So when I am discouraged, when I have been rejected, what I can do is commit to doubling down and focusing on my process. I will intensify my technical and artistic effort and I will also become good at marketing. I realize that I cannot make anyone select me, but I can do important things to increase the likelihood that they will.

All of this: technical, artistic and business is part of the process required to succeed in my art. More importantly, I need to always realize that my goal is not to beat someone else, it is to be my best.



Attitude, that engine that underlies our outlook toward the world. When things go against us it is hard to keep our attitude upbeat. Sometimes I want to just sit and sulk and watch TV until my head rots.

Life can be a tough place. You get turned down for something you wanted; you get sick; you have a car wreck; it seems like there is never enough money. This is the “real” world we all live in. It seems to want to suck the life out of us.

What can you do? I’m going to sidestep the Christian message at this time. I hope you have the assurance that, no matter what happens to you here, you have something better waiting. But this is not the place to go into that.

Well, what I can do is work on my attitude. When I feel beat up it is easy to want the bitter satisfaction of wallowing in it rather than picking myself up and getting on with things. Wallowing is not productive and it does not help anything. It is just a way of feeling sorry for yourself.

Act it

My wife has always been good at acting like she is upbeat even when she is not. It serves her well as a fitness instructor who has to lead multiple classes everyday. I used to think this was silly and maybe a little fake, but now I see it as a very healthy technique for managing everyday bad situations. Many people demonstrate that if you act the way you want to feel then after a while you really begin to feel that way.

Harry Stack Sullivan said “It is easier to act yourself into a new way of feeling than to feel yourself into a new way of acting”. Gretchen Rubin‘s Third Commandment is “Act the way you want to feel”. She goes on to say “Although we presume that we act because of the way we feel, in fact, we often feel because of the way we act.”

Simple, Not Easy

Few important things in life are really this straightforward or simple. When you are really hurting it is hard to act upbeat or encouraging. Sometimes your feelings really do influence your actions. But it is a 2 way street. Deciding to have a good attitude really can help bring us to a better place. Sometimes it may be slow, but it may also be fairly quick. Either way, I recommend learning to act ourselves into feeling better and acting better. It is not dishonest. It is good behavioral psychology to bring about an attitude change by modeling the behavior we what to have.

Getting Real

Enough vague, general philosophy. I have had some strong headwinds in my career lately. Things that cause me to reevaluate my path. It is depressing at times. I want to make art, not worry about things like marketing or advertising. Why does it all have to be hard?

It has to be hard because life is hard and only the strong survive. If it were easy, there would be no accomplishment. In this school everyone does not get a ribbon for participating. If I want to be one of the survivors, one of the successful artists, I have to be able to fight the battles. I have to pick up and keep going when I feel knocked down.

There are peaks and valleys, in art and life. One of the important coping skills is to realize that neither lasts forever. I may be in a deep valley right now, but I know I will rise to a peak when I get my attitude together and get back to pursuing my craft with a solid focus. I can’t control when, but I can know that it will happen. It has in the past and it will again in the future.

Meanwhile, fake it until you make it.