With 50knt gusts, first dusting of snow on Mt Yak and the flocks of Emperor Geese winging their way south, there is no doubt the season has changed. Alaska this time of year is unpredictable and gorgeous! In our modern life with internet, cities and cars, the spirit of the wilderness is often missed by most. This if for no other reason is why I love being a wildlife photographer. It’s a simple journey back to basics.
Our time at Hallo Bay, Alaska was nothing short of magical. It was also very typical of any wildlife adventure where you plan a year in advance to photograph a critter that has no calendar. We were anything but skunked during our time with as many as seven individual bears photographed in any given day which included mom with three spring cubs. And while being at point blank range with a griz eating barnacles is way beyond way cool, that’s not really the point when we venture out. And it shouldn’t be the only goal of your photography with any critter.
Those of us so fortunate to be on that beach, in that meadow or on that mountain slope with our wild heritage need to strive for perfection in capturing the story. This doesn’t come overnight (in my case still on going after 30yrs) but in that journey, we capture the stories that grab heartstrings and that’s why we continue to do it. And in sharing those stories, our photos, with others we bring back a small slice of what it is to be a wildlife photographer. It permits all to step back a moment from our every day lives to journey back to basics. It brings into our lives the spirit of the wilderness.
There we were in the metal junkyard in Chuchill, Canada. Then from nowhere a Merlin takes to the air cacking at a crow and chasing it out of the area. In June, that’s a sure sign they are nesting. Merlins are a funny little raptor, they tend to nest on the ground in the Arctic. I’ve seen Merlin for the last 30yrs but I’ve never had glass on one long enough to get better than what looks like a dust spot on the sensor. Here was an opportunity that even though less than ideal (shooting in a junkyard with the sun high overhead), it was better than what I had had, nothing. I had no shots in my conventional or digital files of Merlin.
The last 12 month, the #2 question I’ve been asked has changed. It was, “What’s the best f/stop?” but now it’s “How do I get better?” We have known units of measure, inch, ounce, miles per hours, kilowatts, but there is no known unit of measure for … better. If you can’t get a photo sharp, than just getting sharp images is better. If you can’t get “proper” exposure, than just getting a good exposure is better. If you’ve never photographed a subject before, having images of that subject that are sharp, exposed well and recognizable, are better. But once you get past these basic stepping stones in photography, how do you measure better? How do work towards being better from what YOU think could be better? Seriously, what’s better? I’ve asked some folks when they were shooting if what they were doing was making the photo better. The overwhelming response was, “I think so” but when they looked at their images they said, “I don’t know if they are better.” Hard to know without some unit of measure.
In the realm of wildlife photography, one measure of better is bigger. A bigger subject in the frame must be better. The Merlin is in the top frame but you can’t see it. The middle frame, you can see it but the trunks on the left isn’t helping. There is no doubt there’s a Merlin in the bottom frame. But what is better between the three? What might seem odd to you, these images are arranged in the order I like the best to least, the top my favorite and the bottom the least. Yes, I’m stacking the deck here but I want to make a point that hopefully will make you think. All three images were taken with the D4 / 800AFS w/TC-25e (effective 1000f7.1) so the increase in size comes from my feet, not glass. And better, what’s the measure for me, here, with these three images? Personally, sharp and good exposure aren’t a measure for better, it comes from story telling. In these three images, the top images tells more about the biology of the Merlin and therefore a story. No bigger than your basic jay, when they don’t want to be seen, they aren’t going to be seen. Could I get “better” images?” Not from this opportunity but perhaps in the future. What would make the next images better? For me, better story telling. Ultimately, I would like to have an image like I’ve seen from others, a Merlin on a branch in a spotlight of sun with a dead bird in its grasp. Hey, a guy can dream, right? And perhaps that should be our measure for better. Rather than some technical unit, some other’s idea of better, perhaps our “better” should come from our dreams. It’s doesn’t answer the question, but perhaps you might think about the question in a different light. What is better?”
I have no doubt it’s just the quirky way my mind works, but I’ve asked this question for a long, long time. Why? Perhaps that with the answer would come many other answers, which seem to matter in life. So being on this quest, I ask lots of questions. Well, I ask questions that pertain really to just a few areas of my life since, well, I’m not sure I want some of the other answers I might find. But when it comes to critters and photography, I’m really tenacious. I want and seem to think I need those answers.
So everyday I head out with my camera on this quest for knowledge that might lead to wisdom. Now the fact I seek it from a black box that can’t talk and from critters who’s language I don’t speak in itself might lead one to rightly think, I’m nuts to start with. And that for the most part is the case which explains much from the start. Yet, I push on. And in my thirty year pursuit, what have I discovered?
Wisdom starts when we’re young, that’s time when we make so many mistakes that seemingly roll off our back. Mistakes we’d best learn from because as we get older, those same mistakes sting a whole lot more. Wisdom starts when you accept failure as part of the natural course to success. Wisdom grows with age as you look back at all of this and understand it’s part of being human and that perfection has nothing to do with wisdom. And none of this adds up to being wise!
And wisdom can be gained when we look back out our photography and see this path unfold. See, there is no perfect photo just like there is no perfect person. In the beginning we make plenty of mistakes and if we learn from them, the photo we take today is just that much better than yesterday. But it’s not perfect and more than likely, it never will be, “perfect.” Seth Godin said it well in his Polishing Perfect post: “Perfect doesn’t mean flawless. Perfect means it does exactly what I need it to do…” If you can start to not only understand this but implement it, than you have some wisdom and your photography is better than it was in the beginning. And understanding this cycle in a photographer’s life, does it bring wisdom? It brings us closer, but I don’t think I’ll ever stop asking, where does wisdom come from?
This is such a vast landscape! I am always intrigued and surprised who reaches out from the smallest of towns in the loneliest of places to just say thanks. When that happens, it just points out that while we are scattered to all four corners we can come together through the visual world we label photography. It just takes that one image that reaches that one person that tells us that shutter speed and f/stop don’t really matter. It the content that contains YOU that really matters because that’s what reaches out to others.
And it’s not just photography that can do this. Over the 4th, Sharon & I had the sincere honor to fly with the Texas Flying Legends Museum. We started the day in Minot helping to wash the C-53 and preparing it to fly to the small town of Rolla who was having an “airshow” to celebrate the 4th. An hour later we were in the air for the 45min flight to Rolla. The TFLM also took their Zero, both planes going over as a good neighbor gesture. It wasn’t a paid gig. Flying over, the skies turned dark with the threat of rain. Coming into the airport, Casey, at the stick of the C-53 saw the 4th of July parade going on down below. With a quick clearance, an unscheduled fly over of the parade was done to the waves of all below. Then we landed to what any airshow goer would say, was a small crowd. But it was the whole town!
And then they streamed out to the C-53. You looked at the road into the airport and it was like the movie Field of Dreams, the ending shot with headlights as far as you could see as the entire countryside came. The act of sharing, in this case an airplane, it made a difference to a whole lot of people who, until we landed, were strangers. Such was not the case afterwards and that’s the point. The act of sharing, no matter how big or small is an act of giving a little of yourself that can’t but help positively affect the next person. No words need to be attached to the act, it speaks for itself. So when you’re out shooting this weekend, keep in mind you don’t have to have the perfect photo with the perfect shutter speed or Photoshop finish. It just has to contain a piece of you to be great. With that, put it out with no words and share it and it will positively affect someone. Remember, you share for one.
Getting better, that is a constant theme in just about everything photographic. Is it just human nature or is it just the nature of photographers? Whatever it is, getting better at our craft is a huge part of what it is to be a photographer. You know what I’m talking about. You do it, we all do it, that’s why you’re reading this blog post right now. You’re hoping that some pearl of wisdom will leak out of my pea brain that will help you be a better photographer. I’m just as guilty of it. I’m constantly looking for that piece of advice of a posting, that one statement in a video that will trigger a response in my head to send me out clicking. But quite often, I find some of my best learning comes right from my own files.
I was looking for a specific image of a specific aircraft for a client. They wanted a particular angle, which while important to the client, didn’t really excite me at the time I took it so it wasn’t one of the images I finished for myself. In the process of locating the image, I came across the original Nefs of the AZ Wing of CAF B-17G “Sentimental Journey.” A favorite of mine, I never was satisfied with the 24×30 print. I didn’t like the blue reflection of the sky in the fuselage. I didn’t like the gesture in the frame and I wasn’t satisfied with sharpness. The image, which is now almost 4yrs old, was selected as a favorite 4yrs ago. That’s a LONG time ago in the life of a photographer!
In my own files, I found what 4yrs later I think is a better image. Why is it better? Since the photo itself is 4yrs old, it’s not because I shot it differently. Rather, what in my mind as a definition of what makes a better image has changed. At the same time, while software offers more options, how I use those options has evolved as I’ve learned more. What I have learned (and has stuck in my mind) then affects how I see and how I communicate. By looking at my own files, I’m not finding “new” images that can be reprocessed, but can find what new lessons have taught me that can be put into action.
But more importantly, by looking at your own files when you put that camera to your eye, you see better when you go click. While I might fine that one file that I can reprocess to produce a better image, more importantly that one file might click in my own mind an important lesson I want to put into practice in the viewfinder. Ya, you run the huge risk of seeing images you’ll say quietly to yourself “that sucks, what was I thinking” but that’s OK, you learn from them just as well. Why is that? Because we are our own best teachers!
Yeap, I was there, sitting in the audience with my jaw hitting the floor and Sharon shaking me back to the real world as I heard him utter those words! And the scary part, what really concerned me was, the audience didn’t even hear him. They were way to tuned into comments that had dollar signs in them, what so many think is why photographers are in business. While it is a necessity, money is not why the successful and long term photographers are in the business of photography!
Dave’s class at Photoshop World on the business of Sports Photography was simply freakin great! I don’t care where you are in your sports photography business, or any business, he had inspiration and pearls in every sentence. Though he gave away the secret to success in photography within the first five minutes of his hour long presentation, it didn’t even come up during the Q&A, which still has me scratching my head!
First, understand that Dave is not only a dear friend, I hold him and his talent in the highest esteem! There simply is no one better than Dave so when he speaks, I listen! What’s the secret Dave let out of the bag? Well it had nothing to do with image quality though that is essential for longevity in the business. It had nothing to do with camera brands, how old or new your cameras are. It had nothing to do with how much camera gear you owned. It certainly had nothing to do with file formats. And while he didn’t say it in his words, every single image he presented during his talk screamed light and color so while not stated as important verbally, it sure in the hell was visually. Yet that’s not the secret Dave let out of the bag.
And I have to admit, I’m leery about giving away the secret here, now, since it was put out there and missed the first time. But I figure since Dave was the first to let it out of the bag, no one can point the finger at me. Yet, I wonder if my putting it out now, if it won’t just be missed again so why bother. Then I received an email from my last MLP, Bob, relating all his successes using this very basic yet primal element in a successful photography business and decided that if at least one photographer hears the secret and applies it, than it’s worth repeating.
I’ve been home only 23 days in 2013, the rest of the days I was on the road working. Now, this isn’t bragging, I don’t say this seeking sympathy. This is a simple statement kind of stating the success of my time behind the camera. It has everything to do with the secret to success. In fact, you could say it’s at the heart of it, which was almost the opposite of what the audience was seeking at Dave’s talk which is probably more why my jaw hit the ground.
What’s the secret, why have I made you wait this long to hear it? Well, I figured that if you really want to know the secret, you would read this. And if you really don’t, then you’re not even reading this now. And if you are just skimming this, I know the secret will remain the secret. Here is it, just like how Dave said it so matter of factly, emphasized with great images larger than life on the screen behind him. “Success comes from hard work! Why? Because few others want too!” Yeap, that’s it, that’s all there is to it.
Is it sharp? This incredibly important question is asked of me almost hourly as photographers look for filtering on what they should and should not buy. It’s pretty simple, we must have a sharp lens because we must have a sharp image. We can never forget that the second element the mind’s eye seeks out is sharpness. At the same time, one of the prime reasons we delete a file is because, it’s not sharp. So sharpness is very important to our visual communication! The main tool we use to achieve sharpness is the lens. So it’s ability to resolve what we focus on as sharp logically makes the lens very important. And for this reason, we spend alot of money, many spend countless hours shooting charts and reading reviews on the web, and send poor Moose emails asking if the lens he is shooting is really sharp. To the last part, I can answer with some simple logic. While you wouldn’t know it by how much I blog, I actually do have a photography business and one that after 30+yrs, is still going very strong and growing. That is because I deliver to my clients in part, a very sharp image. No sharpness, no clients, no business and, no blog. So the lenses I depend on have to be sharp, it’s real simple business.
Yes, I’ve heard, read and been sent many a lens report telling me the lens I’m shooting isn’t sharp. That’s because those folks snuck into my office and tested my lens for me. Really? I think Adobe’s “new technology” preview at Photoshop World tells the story more accurately. Adobe is working on a future technology called “anti-camera shake” that when boiled down takes care of an ancient photographic issue I call pilot error. Simply, the camera wasn’t held still when the photo was taken. This causes an unsharp image that is not the lenses fault. In all of my years, I’ve only seen three lenses that were themselves unsharp. All the rest of the problems put before and lenses sharpness where in fact, pilot error. Either in the capturing of the photo or in the post processing of the image. I’ve been pounded of late with the question if the new 80-400AFS (top image) and even more, the new 18-35AFS (bottom image) are really sharp lenses. The 80-400AFS question comes from the lens is replaces. The 18-35 comes from its price. Photographers by their very nature are, well, let’s say skeptics to be polite.
Yes, the lens used is a very important part of the sharpness equation, there is no doubt. I bigger and more important of that equation though is the photographer! There is only one time you can sharpen a pixel and that’s when you focus the lens. And to that you can add DOF, depth of focus which most call depth of field. How can you truly measure if a lens is really sharp? To be honest with you, I don’t know the perfect, 100% technical answer. For myself, the 24×30 print has always been my measuring stick along with the checks from our clients. I want to leave you though with this thought. How many photographs have you seen in print that were not sharp? I’ve seen a lot which begs the question, is sharpness as life or death as some make it out to be? Can a photograph tell it’s story is the image isn’t tack sharp but just sharp? Sharpness is important, don’t get me wrong but I just don’t think it’s worth having a heart attack over worrying if the lens you have or want to be is the “best.” If you, the photographer behind the lens is doing their best, then that lens will be the best. That is guaranteed!
I’m often asked how I approach a location such as Death Valley. The basic scenario is one has just a couple of days to make the photos, the clock is tickin as soon as your feet hit the ground. How do you make the most of that time? The first issue with this is the pressure to produce. How many photos do you need to have from a locale to say simply in your photos, “It was gorgeous?” Do you need 1000, 100, 10? I would contend you need only that 10 if that many. Think about it, when you show off images to your friends about a location you were just at, don’t you grab your smartphone, bring up that one image that exemplifies all that you were saying about that location? If that’s the case, then how many images do you need from a trip to really say, it was gorgeous? One?
With that in mind, when I go out to shoot, it’s just that one image that I’m looking for. That means chasing the light is just that, a chase for that one image. In this example, we left the Furnace Creek Inn and pulled out to Hwy190 and I looked right, I looked left and based on what I saw in the clouds, we headed south (turned right). I was looking for just that one shot, the one with the light that would simply say, gorgeous. Now in this pursuit we don’t always succeed but there are benefits going on this chase with this goal in mind. When you’re looking for the handful of images rather than the cards full, the pressure is off, the spending time looking at crappy pictures in post is gone, the guilt of trying to make those crappy pictures that you took that you feel you need to fix since you have them, is gone. At the same time, the failure rate it higher since you’re going on an all stakes adventure.
We had some clouds and more importantly, some sky. It had socked in all around us and there is nothing worse than that. So we turned up Artist Drive and hiked up the ridge and sat. Ya, sitting is a favorite shooting technique of mine, watching life unfold. In this case, watching the light paint across the landscape waiting for that one little beam to light up or not light up the foreground. So we went out for the afternoon and put all our cards in making the photo into this one location, this one time. And this time, the photo Gods rewarded us with a couple of photos that simply said, “It was a gorgeous afternoon.” So perhaps the next time you head out if you’re looking for a path, focus in on the light and making just that one solid, clean, romantic click. You might just experience the rewards of chasing the light.
“Amazing,” Incredible,” Beautiful!” “Love it,” the accolades that can be heaped on an image posted on the web can give you that, ooooooie warm feeling all down under. I wonder, does that really help our photography though? I wonder this in part looking at images that sometimes get posted. You know the ones, you look at them, you look around the room, you look back and them and you simply shake your head. There are simply some images that definitely fit the, “In the eyes of the beholder” category. But with that addictive accolade drug if you hit it right waiting out there, many take the risk when they shouldn’t.
One of the hardest things to do in photography is be our own best critic. Ever wonder why that is? Ever wonder why a year after you look at your favorite image it is often not you favorite so much anymore? They are all wrapped up in the same issue, our own emotions! Yeap, we have an emotional investment with our photography and that’s how it’s supposed to be. We are supposed to put our passion in each pixel to the point it reaches out and grabs the hearts of others. In that process though, something at times goes wrong. Our emotional tie to our photograph causes the blinders to come on.
Picking the images to share and those not to share is a hard learned lesson. It’s one that takes a whole bunch of time to master, if mastering is even possible. What was for such a long time referred to as editing images, the term editing is now more often thought of as post processing, rather than selecting those images that best tell a story, grab the heart. But editing is what a lot of posters need to learn.
Where do you learn this? Now we’re getting down to the $64mil question. While we love our families, they are not the best judge of a good photograph. Many put images into contests, which might be some valid measure but having been a judge in a few contests, I have my doubts. Having your images critiqued has always been a very popular method of getting feedback. That’s only if you can put away the hurt feelings, really hear what’s being said and then remember to act on what you’ve learned. So you might be asking then if these aren’t so hot, what is a good way to get feedback you need about your images?
I have two suggestions and I’m here to tell you that following them means grabbing the bull by the horns and going for one helluva a ride (hence my bull moose photos with the blog). Both of these methods require time, money and a real open mind. They require being honest with yourself, parking your emotional investment in the photo (not to be confused with the passion you put into the photo) and really listening to the reactions your photos bring.
The first way I’d recommend is a simple gallery showing. I’m not talking about trying to get your images in a gallery, but rather getting them on the wall at a restaurant, bakery, library or airport. Spend the time and money on getting that wall space, picking the images, getting the prints, getting them framed and then, and this is the important part, sit in the corner and watch the viewer’s reaction to your images! Ya, with pencil and paper watch the reactions or, lack or reactions to your photographs. And with both, figure out what is getting reaction and what isn’t. This is hard, I did it for years and while it taught me some things, I’m still learning.
The best way as far as I’m concern can really hurt the most, but it pays the biggest dividends. And that’s putting your images in front of those masters of visual communicating. The editorial photo editors are the best teachers when it comes to images that reach out and grab viewers. And they are the best, though at times very brutal, to tell you why your images don’t work. And that’s where the lessons lie, some of the very best in the world. Of course, this means you have to learn how to get your images to those folks in the first place and that is a whole other story for another day, or week.
Don’t get me wrong, I want to encourage you to keep sharing your photography and if that means you do it on the web, that’s killer! What I want to encourage you though is to share those special images, go with the quality over quantity approach. An editor told me long ago, “You’re only as good as your last published image,” a quote I always think about when putting out images. It’s a natural way to keep raising your own bar to put your best foot forward.
Growing up, my family had an almost quarterly family party. It would go from home to home amongst the family, usually focusing around birthdays. My one aunt, a marvelous baker made fabulous cakes. My dad would bar-b-que amazing meat. We’d swim in the pool, play volleyball and badminton and then when it got dark, the slide projector would come out, the 5×5 screen set up and everyone would grab a piece of floor. Then for the next couple of hours we’d look at photos of parties past and laugh until our sides hurt. When all over, we’d hug, dry our eyes, pack the cars and set the date and location for the next get together.
In between those parties on many a weekend eve, in our home the projector would be out and we would relive family vacations, holidays and occasions. With little goading, my dad who carried his Argus with him all during WWII & Korea, would pull out those old slides and tell his stories. For over twenty years, even after I started to contribute to the nighttime show, that’s how photography in our home was always treasured. It was all about memories, stories and then more memories. It is still that way to this day for Sharon & I especially now as we get a little older and the photo serves to fill in some of those details that some of our newer adventures have covered up. And I think that’s really the treasure of photography, memories!
Yes, the pursuit of photography for the technical, the art, the advertising and the ego are all very valid reasons to jump through all the hoops we go through as photographers. But if you’re anything like me, those photographs which are the most treasured are those that are not only good photographs, but ones that have memories which are the sweetest, best and more treasured. Perhaps that’s why when the photograph doesn’t turn out as good as we hoped we are disappointed. It might tarnish the memory?
And we can easily swap the word memory with history to give some of our images the more importance. All you have to do is watch a Ken Burns special and you realize just how important photographs are to our history and our memory of history. But there is one big difference between the photograph that is history and the other memory, and that’s the emotional attachment we have to the photograph that forever records a memory, a moment in time.
We’d literally just gotten off the boat on our B&H / Lexar / Circle Line / Moose NYC cruise when Howard said, “I’ve got dinner reservations, need to get to the cars.” It had been a long, great day. I was tired, grimy and wanted to get back and put my feet up and look at my images, those basic photographer things. But Howard is such a great guy and we so enjoy spending time with him, it was a no-brainer just to go along and besides, he was like a kid on Christmas morning so we knew he had something up his sleeve. Next thing I knew, I was wearing a suit jacket from the River Café loan closet and sitting at the most magnificent table with the most magnificent view of Lower Manhattan you can imagine!
Normally, you have to make a reservation months in advance but Howard worked his magic so we had a great table this evening. Located at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge Tower, the River Café was built in a floating barge. The first time we felt the movement of the barge, we had no clue what it was because we didn’t know we were on a barge. Me being me, I asked our waitress (we already had a thing going) who chuckled and told me we were on a barge. Every boat that went by, you could feel the swell rock us. It was cool!
We were there with our good friend including Jeff Cable who, like I, had come to the table with our cameras and knowing it would be a long time until we would be back here again, shot like silly tourists. And having fun, I would hit the shutter release on the D4 and just let it rip. I love folk’s expression when they hear that. Jay Maisel is a wise man and his advice to always have your camera with you is very sound. I sure was this night!
Four nights later, Super Storm Sandy came through and as we all know with devastating destruction, changing the lives of many. One of the casualties of Sandy is the River Café. Howard just passed along the word to us that it will be no more. Not only is an unique piece of NYC history gone, but all those who made it so special are now no longer a working family bringing so much delight to so many others.
That evening lives on though, in our minds, our hearts and thank goodness, our photographs. The memories of the friendship, the laughs, the food, the atmosphere and of course the magnificent view can be relived in those images. Yes, I used a D4 and raised the ISO with the 24f1.4 to make the images. Those technical aspects of the photography helped preserve the memories, but only more cleanly, more succinct. But it wasn’t needed because the heart would have filled in any missed detail, brighten any darkness. And that is because photography is all about the recording of memories, which are an emotional response to our daily lives. And perhaps that’s why I shoot do damn much, I am so fortunate to have so many good memories. And as we all know, memories are not perfect which is why stressing over the perfect photograph isn’t important to making it great. Howard & River Cafe and its staff, thanks ever so much for the memories! Photographs, they really serve another very important purpose.
“I was reading on the web…” was the start to an email over the weekend. That’s always a HUGE red flag to me. But in the process of learning about photography, reading is definitely part of the equation. The problem comes though when website A says black and website B says white and you’re stuck in the middle wondering which is right. And more importantly, which is right for YOUR photography! When you’re starting out or even further down the road, where do you turn to find the answers?
“Your images all look dark!” This was a comment made about my prints at our recent Photo Bi$ class. And the observer was right. He wasn’t talking about the printing job but rather that the majority of the tones in my photos are on the subdued side. You could generalize that the majority of my images are technically, underexposed. And if you look at the entire body of my photography over the last three decades, you’d see that same thing runs true through all my images. That’s how I like them.
How did I start out more or less with the underexposure “style” that I still use today? Back in the day when I started, there was no Internet but there was this great resource called books. I love to read but photography books in my day were mostly photos, short on words. I learned to look at photographs, look for those aspects I liked and then figure out how it was accomplished. This was a training that has served me well, one I still use to this day. In this process, I constantly found myself pulled to the “darker” images. The color, mystery, the use of space, the importance of light and bright to me was obvious as a simple yet effective tool to visually communicate. And since I was seeing images like this in print, from masters, then to me it was obvious. This was a style that worked.
Are there possibly technical drawbacks to this style? Of course, and who cares! Other photographers in their very normal insecure style will happily point out all the technical issues. The general public though, the mass consumer of images doesn’t give a rats ass! They will simply vote thumbs up or thumbs down with the flip of a page. What they look for in a photo is education and entertainment, not noise or that other stuff you’re constantly told you need to worry about. Put a smile on a viewer’s face and you can even have a photograph not tack sharp. It doesn’t matter, you created the smile, that’s all that matters!
Still comes back though to the issue…how DO YOU arrive to that point? Reading is always good but make sure you combine that with looking at photographs. I’m talking really looking and looking at just as many images in print as on the web. Keep in mind that many of the images on the web have had no filter, they are just put up because the person likes the photo. But those images in print have gone through a very important filter, the editor. It is those folks who have taught many of us what works and what doesn’t work and why. Their knowledge and expertise in what reaches the masses successfully is a very important learning tool that ultimately is the best way to learn about photography. So, no matter what you read or someone tells you, remember it’s YOUR photography!
Sharon & I had a great weekend with the folks over at FotoClave. We’ve presented for them many times over the years and it was fun to see old friends and make new. Though I knew of Darrel Gulin, this past weekend I had the opportunity to not only see his killer images, but get to know him. That was really cool! So on our drive back home (which takes us through Yosemite), we go through the small town of Groveland. I don’t know how many hundreds of times we’ve traveled through this great little town but we’ve never stopped. We keep saying we’re going to, we never do. Today, we made the time to stop. With D600 and 24f1.4AFS on my shoulder, I took my girl’s hand and walked through town.
We stopped in the Iron Door Saloon, the oldest bar in California to take a look. It appeared so cool and we were greeted with smiling faces, we took a seat. It’s a great place, good food, great ale and really nice folks. And the ambience inside is killer! After reading the story on the back of the menu, we started to look at the walls and reading all the history there. Then we started to look at the ceiling which had even more history. And the whole time, the camera was there. It was great to have a moment with my wife alone, just the two of us to do what we do best, watch life pass by. Had to have that photo!
And this is just one slice of the interior of Iron Door Saloon. Not that any of these photos are really blog worthy, they are just nice snaps of a simple yet grand experience. They recorded for all time a time when we stopped and smelled the roses, ale actually and just watched life float by. It’s what photography’s original intent was all about, to record what we feel are special moments in our lives. It’s easy to get caught up in the technical stuff to making a photo, the artistic stuff to make a photo, but there are times we must remember the simple life experiences the camera is great at recording when we only have to get caught up in the experiences of life.
I’m not sure what I enjoy more, photographing flowing water or, listening to the water as I’m photographing it. Whatever the case, I do enjoy it. The process of capturing flowing water, I illustrated a few weeks ago and it hasn’t been modified so far since then. And when it comes to time spent at a location, the reason why I park at times in one location for so long I expressed in this post. And while what I want to talk about now, I’ve taked about before, I wanted to elaborate on a bit more by telling the story of one afernoon. Much of what I want to talk about is summed up in this photo.
This is Flume Gorge in the White Mountains, NH. During our K&M Adventures a couple of weeks ago, we ventured to the Gorge the first time in the mid afternoon. The light was OK at best but the crowds, oh my lord! There wasn’t a place to wedge a pixel into! We didn’t stop, we just kept on driving to another gorgeous locale.
The next day, all bundled up to embrace the cold, we headed over to the Cog Railroad to get a ride to the top of Mt Washington. A great ride, we were really looking forward to it. We got there to see the cloud ceiling getting lower, the winds higher, snow blustering and the railroad only running 3/4 up the mountain. After shooting around the railroad for an hour, we packed it in and went back down the mountain. The light was dark, it was raining by the time we got down the mountain. The choice was either head back to the lodge or….I said let’s go back to the Flume. Off we went. We arrived 30min later about an hour before sunset (though we couldn’t see the sun) to a basically empty parking lot. Up the hill we went. It was raining, foggy, empty and gorgeous in the gorge! The story doesn’t lie here either
The higher we climbed into the gorge, the more we got into the clouds and the more gorgeous it all became. With that rain, there wasn’t a dry rock to be found anywhere (dry rocks suck) and the color in them was spectacular! We got up to the Flume proper and the magic was happening everywhere we turned. It just goes to show, the worst weather can produce the best photography. That’s still not the point.
The group sets up their tripods, we dialed in our exposures (these are 5sec blurs) and we had just settled down to shoot this unbelievable scene before us when…the hords show up! Seriously, I felt like I was in Africa when the Water Buffalo are crossing the river as the hords of people just kept going by! The tripods were vibrating off the bridge! Where in the hell did they come from? The light levels were falling, we didn’t have the luxury of time, what do you do? I just kept shooting and shooting and shooting. I knew some images would be soft, even deleted some in camera knowing when I pushed the shutter release they would be soft. Heck, in the top image, you can see ghosts of the folks walking right through the exposure. And still I kept shooting and loving every moment of it! Photographic opportunities like the one we were experiencing don’t happen everyday. I was shooting with my best friend making some rather crud but poignant jokes about our situations and listening to the roar of the Flume shooting some images I loved.
And that’s the point! When it’s raining, your shoot goes down the drains and you’re having to make lemonade, even after finding success at that you still find yourself in less that ideal shooting conditions, you still find joy in that moment behind the camera. It’s hard at times when you’ve invested so much in finding that moment behind the camera only to have something “spoil” it. But you’ve still gotta enjoy that moment. Because not everyone gets to do it, we are fortunate we can scratch out that moment. And while I couldn’t believe the misfortune of that hord descending upon us, it did make me smile to watch them in the rain, enjoy being out in our wild heritage. I’m a firm believer the photos will happen when they are meant to happen and not before. It’s our mission to be there when they do and then celebrate that moment with others in the images we do capture! That’s shooting the flume!
Just finishing up an amazing week at Photoshop World. It’s a place that if you’re a person like me, you garner from the participants an overwhelming sense of what you’re doing as a photographer is alright. That what you’re saying with a camera is reaching out an tugging at heartstrings invoking in others either simple awe or more importantly, the desire to them to go out and do the same thing, that’s really the whole point of Photoshop World. To empower others to go out, be creative, share the world they explore visually and in that process, change the world. That’s why I think we should be photographers!
No one starts out in this position though. And here lies the problem and why I think so many want their images “reviewed” or “critiqued.” It a huge part of validation some say, knowing they are on the right track is what others says. On the crits forms we were provided at Portfolio Review and Photoshop World there was a category left blank for the photographer to fill in. I was really intrigued when all but one of my critters filed it in as…aspiring. Where is it we’re trying to get with photography or more importantly, where is it we want our photography to take us?
Here, there is a lot of talk of f/stops and shutter speeds, light, composition (a well warn and misunderstood word if there ever was one) and gear….lots of gear! I decided this time at Photoshop World, I would change up some of the words, phrases and concepts I have used in the past when asked to review images. I’ve seen thousands of images this week and the vast majority were really good images. Some were simply amazing! And in the process of giving comments, I adopted one key word for every image I saw, no matter or weak or strong. That word is heart!
At first, each photographer gave me this quisical look when I said heart, their photograph needed more heart. And for each photographer, each image the heart I was referring to was never the same. One image might have need for feeling for the light. Another image might have needed more love for the subject. Another might have needed the heart to hit the delete key. My goal was pretty simple, to get the photographer to put enough emotion, heart into their photograph that the viewer can’t help but feel it. And that get’s to the heart I think of where most what from their photography.
Creatives, visual folks are always wearing their heart on their sleeve which is why some are so easily crushed when their photograph doesn’t work. But what is it we are really striving for, what am I striving for when I put an image out? Why do photographers when they post an image Facebook or G+ look at the comments all day, foregoing other work they should be doing? We’re all looking for acceptance! We are looking to see is our vision of our world excites others.
Once we have that acceptance, photography just seems to get better. Light not so hard, f/stop not as scary and sharing our images, not so terrifying. And that’s where I want you to be right now, without going through all of that other stuff. You can do that simply, like your photos! There is no right or wrong or better and worse. Understand that means that what, you’re photography will always get better. That means you’re always learning and that’s the process of every photographer, past, present and future. The photography you are producing right now is great and it will be better. With that understanding, you can now move forward because what we are all seeking, acceptance!