#607. WIP: Order in chaos

By Steffen Kamprath | Opinion

Jun 14

What is WIP

Work In Progress (WIP) is a new series I just came up with. The goal is to share ongoing long-term concepts and photo series. We at DS talked a lot about personal development as a photographer, and, in my opinion, there’s little more pro than thinking in series and concepts spanning over a long period of time, wrapping up different opportunities under one strategic umbrella. We also celebrate the mindset of open learning, as you can grow faster when you share your successes, failures and learnings with others and gather feedback and inspiration as fast as possible. This is also an invitation to regular and irregular contributors, as well as our beloved readership to participate and share what you are currently working on. Let me start first …


Order in chaos


I read a rant article about the current state of landscape photography a couple of years ago, about how over-processed everything is, how artificial, too much HDR, ultra-wide angle… There is simply a huge gap between 500px top landscape shots and the nature you see just outside your door.

I totally agreed. I want to photograph nature as I see it. So I went to the next woods and took some random shots. They turned out great. Not only did they show “natural” nature as intended, but they also evoke something within me. I loved the opposites they represent: structures and uncontrollability, simplicity and complexity, beauty and grime.


Deutscher Winterwald/Winterly Forest (Brandenburg, Germany)
Deutscher Winterwald/Winterly Forest (Brandenburg, Germany)
Deutscher Winterwald/Winterly Forest (Brandenburg, Germany)


So I did some more photos in a different place. This time with some early hoar-frost. Same thoughts: I simply loved the verticality of the repeating lines, the gritty atmosphere they created and the limited color palette.


Deutscher Winterwald/Winterly Forest (Brandenburg, Germany)
Deutscher Winterwald/Winterly Forest (Brandenburg, Germany)
Deutscher Winterwald/Winterly Forest (Brandenburg, Germany)


I posted these shots together as “Deutscher Winterwald” (Winterly Forest) in 2014.


A couple of months later, I had a short trip to Saxon Switzerland in South-Germany. Again, I also took a few photos in a similar way.


Saxon Switzerland, Germany
Saxon Switzerland, Germany
Saxon Switzerland, Germany


And I now started thinking about something bigger than just some random shots here and there. But what particular attracts me?


Growing of the concept

Well, it’s not a documentation project of the current state of forest, nor is it a general lifelike approach to landscape photography. What eventually interests me is the chaos of such structures … and then bringing a visual anchor to that chaos; a kind of order. A quick look into the woods reveals natural chaos. That’s quite uninteresting to me at this point. But I, as the photographer, the creator, the filter, can guide the viewer into this chaos by selectively pointing at a structure or subject that creates order to the chaos. In the forest that can be a tree that strikes out of the others, or separation through depth of field, or the emphasis of repeating patterns, or a path through these chaotic structures. So the working title and concept “Order In Chaos” evolved. I now started taking photos for this overarching series whenever I had the opportunity.


Forest on Jasmund peninsula, Rügen (Germany)

Frozen Oder flooded land, Brandenburg (Germany)
Dead lake, Mecklenburg Lake Plateau (Germany)
Dead lake, Mecklenburg Lake Plateau (Germany)
Dead lake, Mecklenburg Lake Plateau (Germany)


I especially like the last ones in stark black & white from my Dead Lake series.


But I have only focussed on forest so far. I’d like to step-up the level. “Chaos” is not just limited to tree trunks. What else can be uncontrollable? (Images are for illustration purpose only)


Philippine jungle of Southern Leyte with road and tricycle, Sogod Bay (Leyte, The Philippines)

Maybe other kind of forest …

… or wood 😉

Dandelion flower close-up

Getting closer?

Backlit reed at frozen Oder river, Oderbruch (Germany)

Grass, reed, or corn fields?

Milky cloudscape

I like clouds very much (very ordered in this case) …

Chimney II, Rummelsburg (Berlin, Germany)

… or smoke is chaotic and ordered at the same time: form, direction, ordered in the beginning and dissolve into chaos.

Diving inside a giant school of sardines, Moalboal, Cebu (The Philippines)

Wild animals like this swarm of sardines.

For the team! Danish fan with flag on 2016 Lisbon ETU Triathlon European Championships, Parque das Nações, Lisbon (Portugal

Random people on public places should work.

Stacked buildings of Istanbul, Turkey

What about certain cityscapes like Istanbul?

Or man-made chaos?

Or man-made order dissolving into chaos?

Tiger stripes, Tierpark (Berlin, Germany)

Man domesticating chaos? (Though a very high-flying interpretation and eventually only working in this particular photo.)

Or man creating ordered nature? (could be anything from botanic gardens to flower bed to aquariums)

Close-up of Aiko Tezuka's Thin Membrane/Pictures Come Down, Embroidery on cloth, 2009

Pure abstracts?


But the more I try to expand the concept, the more I feel I’m losing focus. And when I add more different scenes, I need many more. I can’t just take 10 forest images, 1 cityscape and 1 people. I’d need one of each. I’m uncertain.


Current state

And that’s pretty much the current state of the series. I made sense of those random shots with which I started 2½ years ago, will continue to add more photos over time and am trying to expand the variety of subjects, and finally see how far I’ll get with that.

It’s a mess though, taken with different gear, at different times, at different situations, with very different post-processing, and particularly for different purposes. Especially the new expandable directions are just moods from my vault.

So, there you have it. One of my unfinished series. What do you think? Anything valuable in there? Where do you think I have to start carving out the diamond — if any?

And I’m excited to see your pearls shown here soon. So just start writing, send it to Pascal via the contact form (contact him first of course) and we will all grow together.


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  • David Mack says:

    Great!! I love it. Seven ears ago, when I very first started photography, I took a class in Yosemite NP, wanting to be like Ansel Adams of course. The grandeur of the Valley is over-whelming, especially since it was my first visit. After doing the basics, academic, and being forced to not take pics of the standard iconic scenes, I chose the forest beneath El Cap. It was full of fallen trees, crisscrossing each other, stacked and interspersed with large boulders. My instructor came along and asked me what the H— I was doing. I explained that the iconic shots are easy, but what about the chaos of the real world?? He smiled, shook his head and walked off. But it had a chilling effect on me and I haven’t followed up until now.
    I suspect many of us are subconsciously influenced by a off-hand comment that we may not really acknowledge, but sticks for better or worse. But yet, life is at best organized chaos, often not so much that falls into total chaos, which we deny or try to rectify all the time. Maybe more of us should take a look at. Chaos can be turned into the abstract, both literally and artistically.

    • Well said, David! It’s exactly like that: Why always look at the iconic sites and beautiful stuff. What about the mundane, ordinary things? As if we have forgotten they exist. But aren’t they’re beautiful as well? Chaos, full life … and you glance into it … and eventually fixate something. The impossible composition, I’d like to call it, or the non-composition. I like that challenge.

      I mean, I not always need it like that. But from time to time, and I have this little photo project going on. So I walk the earth eyes wide open.

      But as I read between the lines, you would rather stick to the nature theme for this topic to proceed?

  • Andy Carl says:

    I can relate to the author. I find overphotographed places boring. I admire the large prints in the Ansel Adams galleries and remember my first time in Yosemite 20 years ago. Great place, but too many people in summer and way too many photographers who all want to take the same pictures. The other day I was approached by a representative of a photo tour travel agency. She pointed out that their package tour stay in Iceland would take me to iconic places. I couldn’t help feeling bored by looking at the pictures in their brochure. Great objects and vistas to photograph, but I’ve seen them all. I strongly believe that our creativity can be fostered by studying the works of other photographers (and especially painters, illustrators, architects and other artists – for example on Behance), but restaging and copying just to impress your friends on Instagram and 500 px can’t be our ambition.

  • Jean Luc says:

    That reminds me some years ago, I enjoyed Robert Glenn Ketchum book “Order from Chaos” : an interesting look at the world, in particular trees…
    GREAT idea, go on, I won’t miss your photos

    • Thank you very much for pointing this photo book to me. I never heard of Ketchum before, nor of his book (more about the project here). But it seems, it’s pretty much what I wanted to go for. That’s definitely a bummer now. That’s why it’s good to show off your work before. Now I definitely need to shift the project’s scope and name.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Human beings seem to have a herd instinct, and only a few mavericks are happy to “go it alone”, and dismiss other people’s opinions. Which is a shame – because frankly, most people’s “opinions” aren’t worth a pinch of cocky sh*t, to use an Australian colloquial expression.

    I take the point – made often, here in DearSusan – that taking yet another photo of a tourist icon like the Statue of Liberty, Cheops’ pyramid, the Eiffel Tower, or whatever, is scarcely likely to win a photography competition. It doesn’t mean that nobody can take a really good photo of these things, it’s just that it’s that much harder to come up with anything that’s truly “original” and hasn’t been done (done to death?) before. It just means that the reaction it might produce is likely to be little more than “that’s nice, dear!”.

    I also find I am still cursing “critics” because they seem to imagine their job title imposes on them an obligation to “criticise” – usually, with a touch of acid which they imagine is a light humorous note – and they never seem to care what damage they cause. That’s not exactly news – I first became aware of it as a teenager, and that’s a hell of a long way back, now. They annoyed me with their pathetic attempts at sarcasm, in their articles in the papers of the day. I discovered early on that one of the best ways to discover a good film to see was, in fact, to find one that the critics had torn to shreds, because almost invariably that was the film that was a “must see”, and heaps more enjoyable than the rest.

    So what critics have to say doesn’t worry me – never has, never will. I guess I am one of those mavericks that I mentioned at the start. It’s an enjoyable vantage point. I can dissect their criticisms, analyse their feeble intellectual prowess, assess their victims’ works for myself and form my own views – and all the while, do my own thing, with a complete disregard for the existence of the critics, trolls or whatever, out there. Reading between the lines, you can often find a fresh approach, a new project or some other “start up”, falling out of the sky as a result of the babble of their tongues.

  • Adrian says:

    I really like the last abstract picture, in part because of the lovely shade of red.

    You have reminded me that I was working on a series of photographs of “alley cats” in South East Asia, but with all the interruptions to my work, I had partly forgotten about it. When I have access to them all, I would love to show a selection here, if you would be interested?

    I think it is always interesting to pursue certain types of work or themes, as it give you the opportunity to grow artistically, develop your style, and understand the things that interest you and what you want to say about them. It is in part why I have been actively photographing physique sports, and also why I spent several years shooting Buddhist temples – a few years ago I made a project to visit 10 temples regarded as being very “lucky” (for different things) in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, at different times of day, and would also love to show them here if the opportunity arose.

    @pete: regarding critics, there are a few film critics that I will read reviews by, and it always helps to understand a critic and their likes and sensibilities to frame their reviews. Often ok films are at least damned by feint praise, or sometimes savaged, when they still had interesting themes or stories. However, we now seem to have entered an age where well made high production value drivel – I am thinking of Marvel films in particular – which garner 5 star reviews yet are mostly devoid of anything that previously would have constituted a “good” film. I can only assume it is the result of money or commercial pressure.

    In the age of the internet and social media, it is hard not be swayed by online opinions and feel the need to garner “Likes” and other fleeting praise, which can often become a means to it’s own end. Much work shared online is very “over processed” to have slap in the eye instant appeal, and whilst I am not against photographs that have an instant appeal, much work seems to have become digital art rather than photography, and is far away from any “fine arts” tradition. Fine Arts tradition is another example of critics and criticism with it’s own set of self imposed “rules” that must be obeyed, and can be just as stagnant and lifeless as much social media content.

    Not all photography has to be original, unless it’s being made with some artistic or commercial intent, and as amateurs most of us should do what we enjoy, with the aim of growing or developing along the way.

    • Don’t ask me, Adrian. Just show us your series and concepts at any stage! I’m personally very interested in the Asian ones. But that’s just me. Show us whatever comes to your mind and heart. I myself have a couple of other series to show soon. One by one.

      As a help: Tell us about the background (why), how you came to the series, what the current state is, and how you want to proceed (optional). Maybe you also have some open questions to the community.

      • Adrian says:

        Thanks for your kind comments. For personal reasons that Pascal is aware of, its not very easy for me to pull anything together at the moment because I don’t have access to all the required photos – but I will look into it as soon as I can.

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      OMG – I love that last paragraph, Adrian. It is so true!

      While I’ve been waiting for other members of the group to add their comments, I’ve been thinking about the comparison with “art”. There were dreadful criticisms hurled at Monet and the other Impressionists, by the French Academy, for their presumptuous and (of course) erroneous claims that shadows were blue. That’s not much more than a century ago. And strangely, while I can rattle of the names of heaps of Impressionist painters, and I’ve drooled over their paintings in countless galleries, over so many decades of my life – I don’t believe I could name one single artist from the French Academy, responsible for those criticisms, or recall any of their paintings (some of which I HAVE seen over the years).

      For me, the Impressionist school was a MAJOR advance in seeing. And with that, a major advance in the art of painting. It doesn’t phase me in the slightest that Monet painted all those paintings of hay stacks – I behave in a similar way with my photography, whenever I am studying a particular facet or field of interest – I think that’s a healthy and normal part of study in any field of art. if it’s not possible for it to be “original” to follow that example of his work, tough – I couldn’t care less – I do it anyway, it’s one of the key ways to improve the quality of my photographs.

      As you say yourself, Adrian, “it gives you the opportunity to grow artistically, develop your style, and understand the things that interest you and what you want to say about them. And I’d love to see some of your other work, when you feel like posting it. What you’ve posted in this group is most impressive! (While I’d rather drink water than cheap wine, I never turn down a chance to enjoy a glass of a really good wine! 🙂 )

      BTW – I take your point regarding over processed stuff. My goal is to do the best I can, while taking the shot – to minimise what is necessary later, when I am post processing it. Can’t always win – but it certainly cuts post processing time to a comfortable minimum, it boosts the quality of the result, and saves a bundle in printing paper & inks.

      • Adrian says:

        Thank you for your very kind comments. I have a few things I am thinking about, some discussed with Pascal, but at the moment I am restricted by not having access to much of my library.

        It’s always best to get as much right in camera as possible, as even if preparation takes time it will probably be much less than that required in post to fix it later. As an example, when I shoot a physique portrait with artificial light, it’s best to invest the time trying to get it as “right” as I can, even if it’s a little boring for the subject. If I don’t, I mau have to fix problems in post, perhaps taking a hour or two, and repeat the process for every shot I decide to publish. I enjoy the finished result bit I certainly don’t enjoy having to do editing and retouching on several photos over and over again, especially when its for stupid issues that I should have seen and fixed before I shot. Dropping or exposure adjustment takes seconds or minutes, whilst editing can take hours per shot.

        I still prefer to process from raw even on straight forward shots, as it gives more control over colour and final “look” that maybe the camera creative styles dont allow (e.g. SilkyPix has colour profiles that can make water a lovely green blue, whereas the camera creative styles don’t look the same).

  • philberphoto says:

    Brilliant, Steffen! Pascal calls my photgraphy: “balance amid imbalance”, or “imbalance, yet balance”, so your “order in chaos” really resonates with me. Great stuff!

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