Take a Camera on your Weekend Getaway
We just returned from a whirlwind weekend in San Francisco, where we joined friends from Arizona. The four of us had non-stop exploration, and I had an opportunity to collect artist reference photos! We walked five miles a day (12,000+ steps, yeowza!) to gaze at shorelines and parks, dine at neighborhood cafes and watch a Giants baseball game. San Francisco couldn’t be more different from the spaces we occupy every day at home, which is always stimulating to the artist’s eye.
Since we compressed San Francisco into a weekend, I knew there wouldn’t be time to sketch or paint locally. I get asked about this a lot; what to do when travel in a beautiful place doesn’t include art-making time? For this trip, I packed a camera, and a moleskine sketchbook. That’s it. Other than drawing on the plane (the flight is barely 55 minutes), I used my camera to collect scenes for paintings.
If your upcoming travel is focused on touring, and drawing has to wait until evenings or after you’re home, pack light and take a good camera. I use a lightweight, compact Evecase shoulder bag to carry my Canon T6i Even though the bag is small (see below), the padded separator allows me to carry a spare lens. And small, zippered side pockets provide storage for extra memory cards, lens caps, the battery and charger.
Once and artist’s eye, always an artist’s eye
Traveling is a bombardment of unfamiliar. As a fully hibernating homebody who stays weeks in my studio without noticing we’re out of food, travel can be stressful and exhausting. But it’s also full of perspective, enlightenment, tastes, smells and atmospheres wholly opposite from our familiars. When you travel, take your artist’s eyes with you. Squint at scenery, and look for big shapes, interesting compositions and traceable patterns of color. (In the photo below, notice how the aqua-green starts on the left, in the cluster of buildings behind the lawn. Then it meanders towards the right and climbs the tall building in the middle… I’m wagging my eyebrows at that… are you?) Collect your ideas, and then bring them all home with you in your camera.
We had an overcast, chilly weekend in San Francisco, so most of the scenery was muted and absent of blue sky backdrops and city-shaped shadows. I love bright, high-contrast colors in late afternoon sunlight, and long-finger building shadows, so I was a little disappointed. But tonal scenery is lovely too, and when I squinted at complicated city shorelines, potential paintings and printmaking ideas practically leapt into my camera.
The pleasure we derive from journeys is perhaps dependent more on the mindset with which we travel than on the destination we travel to. ~Alain de Botton
My Favorite DSLR Camera and Lens
I snapped photos with both my iphone and my Canon t6i. The Canon photos win for discernable color gradations, color saturation and temperature, clouds and faint background details. (All the photos in this post were taken with the Canon.) I also took my Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens, which I *love* for low-light, shallow depth of field, close-proximity shots. (It’s a fixed distance lens, so you can’t zoom in or out.) If you want to see what different cameras and lenses will do, take a look at the camera and lens survey site, PixelPeeper. Here is their page of Canon 50mm f/1.4 shots, harvested from Flickr.
Alternative DSLR Camera Options
Let’s say you don’t have a DSLR camera, and you collect all your artist reference images on your phone. No worries, because you can absolutely harvest plenty of great inspiration from the amazing cameras included in our phones. During the week, my iphone6 is my camera full time. The onl7y exception to that would be a scheduled camera shoot for painting material. Many of my paintings and printmaking projects originate from my phone, as do many other artists, I’m sure.
Lately, I’ve been enjoying a lens attachment for my phone that produces both a Wide Angle and a Macro view. The BullyEyes lens is about $20, and it clips to your phone (check the details/specs to see if it works on your flavor of phone). The lens comes in a little draw-string pouch, it’s small, and easy to carry in my bag. The attachment takes great wide angle shots, and when you unscrew the upper lens-piece, you have a macro lens for cool pattern, bug or flower close ups.
What do you use for Artist Reference Photos?
If you asked in comments or via email or twitter about my camera and lens preferences, and you have more questions about taking artist reference photos, leave them in the comments below, and I’ll get back to you. And if you have tips and tricks to share, please leave those too! For those of you planning to travel this Fall and Winter (where are you going?), I hope you take your artist’s eyes along on the trip, and harvest so much inspiration, your art supplies shudder with excitement on your return!
Thanks for visiting, and I’ll see you in the next post!
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A dominant impulse on encountering beauty is to wish to hold on to it, to possess it and give it weight in one’s life. There is an urge to say, ‘I was here, I saw this and it mattered to me’.
~ Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel