Everyone loves art; we all marvel over pretty paintings, and admire the beauty of a well-conducted photograph. But what’s behind all of that art? What happens when you peel back the paint, peek behind the ink, and paper, and look at the art as a process. When you think about all of the dynamics that make art, it makes you start to question: What is art?
Lucky for me, I happen to find myself a part of this process quite often (in fact, I’m writing this in the car as a photo is being done right now). My significant other is local photographer Russell Eck, who specializes in long exposure night photography, and almost all the time I tag along with him as he’s creating his art. I know the ins-and-outs of what makes a nice photo, but I got to wondering; do you? It’s an interesting process that takes a lot more time and effort than people think, and I think it is an important part of art appreciation to understand just exactly what it takes.
Saturday night in Reno consisted of cabin fever-meets-warm weather spontaneity that had Russell grabbing for his camera and his trusty assistant: me. He thought up some ideas, called up a friend, and the three of us made a night of it. As I said earlier, Russell does long exposure night photography, so we ended up fending for ourselves down by the Truckee River in the dead of twilight—well, not actually, but we did come across some unruly teenagers in the process, and I did have to confront another photographer about snapping unannounced photos of us doing our work (and flashing a few statement fingers, since the woman never stopped).
The process goes something like this:
- Stakeout: it begins. This is one of the major places the artist comes in—they have a certain eye (generally a photographer’s eye, but I think this applies to all artists in a different sense), which is able to pick out interesting things that the rest of the world doesn’t see.
- Spot picked: set up. Lugging the equipment (i.e., camera bag, tripod, flash, flashlights, and knives because let’s face it, this is downtown Reno) to various places, which range from off the roadside in the city, to miles up a hiking trail in places most people never see. Then, after the hike, comes the actual setting up—the moving, adjusting, testing, snapping, adjusting again moments until the artist is happy—time taken for this step generally ranges.
3. The wait: exposure time. This is where the breadth of the process truly lies. Since it is night photography, the camera itself requires longer exposure for enough amounts of light to reach the sensors and make a nice photo. Also—as Russell has often done—there are photo processes such as startrails and long exposure water shots that require a lot of time, sometimes hours. This is when we wind up goofing off and having tons of fun though—an unusual luxury of an unfaltering assistant 😉
4. The follow-up: on a technicality. This is the stuff that people really don’t think about when looking at a photograph. This is the double exposure times, the editing in computers, and finally the uploading, printing and matting. This part isn’t as glorious as the others, but is equally as necessary and still takes a certain skill and practice.
I tag along for the first few parts, but generally I don’t see the finished product until we’re at home and Russell is pretty much done. I’ve learned about the different types of photography, the different works that go into it, and ultimately have a heightened appreciation for much of the work that I come across. Does it help knowing what goes into art? I’m not sure, but for me knowing the effort an artist puts into their reveals a sense of passion, and ignites in me ideas and motivation for my next creative project. The finished picture for the night turned out like this:
Find Russell here: