There are many barriers to our taking photographs and I think the biggest one is ourselves! The one excuse that drives me nuts why we “can’t” that I hear a lot and I mean, a lot is, “It’s expensive, I don’t have any money!” My question is, “Who does?”
If you’re reading this, it means more than likely you’re into photography. That means you have a camera of some shape, form or manufacture. To me, that means that at some point you had money to buy a camera and lens. SO be thankful for your blessings right from the start!! So then instantly the “It’s expensive” excuse just went out the window in my book. I love the folks who bought a D4, $6k camera, and then slammed me when I suggested getting a card for it that coats $200 because it’s “expensive.” Really, you just spent $6k?!
But here’s what really drives me nuts, the “It’s expensive to go take pictures” excuse to not pushing your photography! So what, you bought that camera to be a book end? You live in a card board box and can’t shoot? Why do photographers put up road blocks when there is none? You own a camera, there is no excuse to not shoot. OK, you can’t go to Africa this week to photograph that Lion or head to Alaska to photograph the Polar Bears coming off the ice or Spain for the running of the bulls. You can surely step out the front door and just point the camera up and photograph a cloud and who in the world will know where that cloud is and more to the point, if it’s a cool cloud, who would care?
There are a ton of perceptions and realities in photography, one of the perceptions is us photographers who have “made it” are floating in dough, manufactures give us our gear and we travel the world shooting whatever it is we feel like shooting. Nothing could be further from the truth no matter what photographer you want to throw up as an example. Photographers only survive because they are very good at counting pennies because quite often, that is all we have. Then some say, “Ya, but all the great photograph come from exotic places and I can’t afford to go there so I will never have a great photograph.” Bla, bla, bla!
I’m sure you’ve heard of Jay Maisel and if you’ve watched his shooting in NY class on Kelby Training (and if you haven’t why not?) then you know much of his shooting is done right outside of his front door. Some would say that because he lives in NY, he has a great “outside.” We all do but for many photographers, they look past that to some grand thing that they then say, “It’s too expensive.” A simple potted plant on your front porch could be a whole photographic essay lasting months. It’s just right in front of you!
The photograph I posted here I did so for a reason. This is a $10mil aircraft, P-38 Lighting “Glacier Girl.” I didn’t then and don’t now have the budget to do a shoot with this aircraft. It’s not a shoot I conceived of or thought I could possibly be a part of. It was only my second air to air shoot. It all came about because I stepped out of my house to take photographs. If I hadn’t taken that very simple step, it would never have happened. Ya, I am incredibly fortunate and at the same time, work very hard to make luck happen. And if I hadn’t stepped out of the house many times before so I was proficient with that camera, I wouldn’t have been able to take advantage and this and other opportunities that are so graciously offered me!
So can we agree on one thing then, photography is expensive, we all know that’s a fact. With that agreed upon then, let’s stop making it a barrier to our shooting and simply go shoot. As Cheryl Crow says, “It’s not having what we want, it’s wanting what we have!”
To get to my point, I need to give you a little background trivia. Before the prop ever turns, a brief is held, actually a couple of them. The reason of the brief is to go through the photo mission so all parties are on the same page for a number one reason, the main being safety. I was incredibly fortunate that my friends who fly the Texas Flying Legends Museum aircraft asked if I would do an air to air shoot with them. So they were my client, they had specific formations, “family portraits” they wanted taken. At the same time, they did this amazing flight for two WWII veterans, brothers. One flew in a P-47 (in the back of the P-51 during this flight) and the other a tail gunner in a B-25 (in Betty’s Dream). The photo mission was then not only the family portrait but portraits of the brothers flying again.
Before the main brief with all pilots, Doug (who flew the Corsair) & I sat down and created a Shot List. This is a aerial script of the aircraft/formation sets I wanted to tell the story visually. The shot list is more then, “I want the Corsair and then the Zero” but rather a move by move of planes in and out of the frame. These movements number one priority is safety. Then there is time, time is money because gas is burning. For example the B-25 can’t just dart in and out of place like the P-51D Mustang. So in no time Doug & I had a choreographed shot list for 9 formations in 60min (pilots were so good, we did it in less then 40min capturing 1709 images). With that, we did a brief with just the pilots of the subject planes. Then we did a brief with all pilots, photo platform and subjects. Then we did a walk through brief where we stood in positions of the flight and walk through all the moves for each formation. With all of this planning, we get in our aircraft and go flying.
While we “fly the brief,” simple little things like wind currents which you don’t know until you get in the air can take that planning and send it south. When you do an evening shoot for the light like we did, time is everything. So when one aircraft is taken out of formation for a minute because of turbulence, it then takes minutes for them to get back into position. You add the incredible complexity of five aircraft doing this, even with the best pilots on the planet like I had to work with, getting it all started is a challenge and its something no one has control over.
Our first formation was a Vic, a V formation with the B-25 on point. Getting the tight formation wasn’t coming together quickly and light was fading. It was obvious I was going to have to come up with another solution for the family portrait. All I could do (since I can’t get out and push) was make images to create a pano. The two images below are the two used to create the pano you see above. The biggest challenge was the background was never the same second by second and at the same time, the aircraft were moving up and down. I really didn’t hold much hope for the idea but with the D4 blasting at 10fps, I went for it. The image above is the fist assembly. I am quite pleased!
And the point to all of this? We’ve been finding here on the blog that wildlife photographers aren’t reading posts with a plane photo. Landscape photographers aren’t reading posts with wildlife. Everyone reads a post when there’s a Photoshop technique. How can photographers put their head in the sand like that? If I hadn’t done a ton of panos as a “landscape” photographer, I wouldn’t have had a clue on how to make it work from an aircraft turning 160knts shooting with 70-200 with ever changing background & horizon line! I don’t do portraits for a living and don’t live with flash, but if I didn’t learn those aspects of portraiture, I wouldn’t been able to photograph all the folks I had to this week at an aviation event! I personally don’t know of any aspect of any discipline of photography that doesn’t effect every other. If nothing else, if you don’t have an open mind to all aspects of photography, how can your photography grow and communicate? I’m not saying you need to read everything. I am saying though you might find your photography growing, being more fun and challenging if you simply go outside your comfort zone with the simple idea of learning. While I don’t go out and seek ultra wide panos much anymore, I sure am glad I perfected that technique for my photography. It made it possible to make this click taking care of my clients needs. It’s what photography often boils down to, no control problem solving.
The cell buzzes and I see my sweet bride is calling. I’m just sitting in the truck with the camera sitting across my lap so I answer. “Whatja doin” she asks? “What I always do, I stare at dirt” I reply. She’s says with a smile in her voice, “And you do it better then anyone else!”
I wish when I started working with the endangered San Joaquin Kit Fox back (one of the 1st species to be listed as endangered back in ’64) in ’87, I kept records of all the months I just started at dirt in anticipation of a fox emerging from a den only to see dirt the whole time. Seriously, I have spent an entire day staring at dirt through the lens looking for activity only to see at most, an ant or fly. It just goes with the game, just because I show up doesn’t mean mother nature will. And you might think I’d learn and perhaps stop or do it better but neither is the case. I am working with the best biologists on the planet and even though some of the dens have collared animals and we know that animal is in that den, it still doesn’t mean when you have light, they will emerge. The Kit Fox is a “nocturnal” animal by nature but it does have some daytime activity. That’s what I count on, that “some” as I stare at dirt.
I got home at 02:00 today after another great week working with my friends, both biologists and kit fox at five different den sites. Two of those sites, I never saw a fox. At one, the photo you see above, that’s the only click I made after a couple of days at the den. One other, I only shot video at night under funky lights and the other, well on the very last day at the very last minute, I was blessed with some great biology in the last glow of light of the day. To me, that is an amazing week of success and that’s because I have come back from a week and all I have are shots of dirt!
I am always very appreciative of folk’s praise when they give me grandiose titles as a wildlife photographer. But I’ve seen images from “weekend warriors” that are much more spectacular then what I’ve captured in my career. What I am probably the best at though is staring at dirt. I’m a long haul, project wildlife photographer not going after the “best” shot but the “best biological” shot that not only tells a story about the critter but answers questions about its biology to move preservation forward. There is a big difference between the two “bests” in my book. And to me part of that is ego and commitment driven. While a “best” photo lives a glamorous life for a short time being heralded as the best, sadly they are forgotten in as short period. On the other hand, “best biological” gets nearly no notoriety but the images lives on for a very long time in science. To me, that’s much more a valid goal for my images.
The D4 was important to me to obtain because of digital as a tool. The D1 besides opening the digital world to my photography (and for many of you as well), captured a photo of the kit fox that went around the world hours after being taken that made an impact. I foresaw the D4 with its high ISO video as well as still abilities able to do the same thing for this same species, one that is very much imperil. All I had to do was get the two together, the D4 and the kit fox which required me to perform my specialty with flawless professionalism, stare at dirt. And that last evening in that last moment of light with the camera ISO set at 1600, something I never did in the past, I made the shots that are in the process of being written up as I type because once again, biology and technology came together for a moment to record while not earth shattering and nothing you’ll see on the evening news, history. You see a hint of that in the photo right above, not even 12hrs old by now. There is no pay, no assignment, no fanfare just the simple reward that applying a craft with passion, a photo can make a difference in the grand scheme of things. All of this doing what Sharon says I’m the best at, I stare at dirt!
One of the incredible blessings of photography is where it takes you, it’s often to a place you never dreamt of going to. Right now I’m down in Kissimmee, FL getting ready for our Air2Air Workshop at a facility a year ago wasn’t even on my radar screen. A year later and I’ve just finished an amazing dinner with folks I consider the best of friends and it’s all because of a click!
The Precons for the NAPP Safari come out of my imagination. I have the fun of finding the location and thinking about the possible photography then the true brain, Kathy, Scott Kelby’s personal assistant has to make my crazy ideas work. So far we’re batting a 1000 so I have only praise for Ms. Kathy. I start planning a Precon about 1 year before the actual date which was the case for the Spring 2010 Photoshop World NAPP Safari in Orlando. We had it all set to happen at the Fantasy of Flight. It was all good to go up until a few weeks prior to the event. Then Fantasy of Flight had a double booking occur, so very common but when you’re good, participants never know there was a wrinkle in the plans. Well, Kathy called me and said, “Houston, we have a problem.”
We needed photography for folks for two hours and since we were doing an “aviation” theme with models, of course I wanted to continue with the theme. I was swamped with life stuff at the time so I told Kathy of this place I had heard nothing but good about pretty close by to where Photoshop World was being held in Orlando. So logistically it would work. I had never work with these folks but I was raised on the simply philosophy, “The least they can say is no.” I told Kathy to use my name in the hopes they might have heard of me. So Kathy called the folks at Stallion 51.
Recently hired at Stallion 51 unknown to us was the amazing KT. Stallion 51 had never done anything like this, the owner Lee wasn’t even sure what he was having being put in front of him, 60 photographers coming to photograph his P-51D Mustangs with models in tow! That’s an awful a lot to ask of anyone to grasp onto, especially a pilot. But KT was able to explain with the little Kathy was able to present, that this would be good “exposure” for Stallion 51. As one who has been asked to risk a bunch on the mere reward of “exposure,” I don’t blame anyone for saying no to such propositions. To Lee’s and KT’s credit, they said yes and we had a location for our two hour aviation shoot.
With the brilliance of McNally’s lighting, the slap stick acting of Russell Brown and the stars of the shoot, the planes of Stallion 51, we had an incredible great time and made some great images. I heard from a majority of the attendees afterwards who admitted that the idea of shooting “planes” for the day was their last idea of a good time. But afterwards, well two of these folks ditched Photoshop World to shoot and a giant nearby airshow, Sun n’ Fun! And during this whole time, I talked and would become dear friends with KT and the Stallion 51 family.
Advance the calendar forward year and here I am at Stallion 51 again. During that year I’ve come back many a time to Stallion 51, sometimes just to be social and some of the times servicing them as a client, taking care of photographic needs. And all of this because of a click, a moment with a camera and the sharing of an image coming from that moment. And that is one of the most amazing things that ever comes from photography.
Yes, we enjoy those clicks that remind of us of those moment in time that a special. That’s what photography really is all about, not that D4 being delivered at my home tomorrow that I won’t be able to see until Tuesday when I get home. Excuse me, I digressed a moment there. But better than that moment we record for every is the lives we touch and touch ours by that moment. The wise photograph latches onto that and not the miss chosen f/stop or missed split second of gesture. The wise photographer realizes that it’s the lives their photography touches and then reach back to touch ours is truly why we should be and are photographers.
There is no way a year ago when I just threw out an idea of a location did I know the people involved, from participants to clients, would a year later become part of my life! No matter how we describe the power of click, this has to be its greatest power, a life altering movement that might start faster than a heartbeat, as fast as 1/125. So next time you put that camera to your eye and you question the quality of that photograph you are creating, next time question the even bigger picture. Just what will be the blessing of that click?!
When I heard this NPR interview with George Cloony yesterday, a number of things he said resonated with me. I’ve been pondering them for the last day wondering if it was just me. Then a couple of emails came in this morning and I knew it wasn’t just me. The quote that resonates with what I’ve been seeing in some photographers is this….”People are experiencing less and recording more…” Give the interview a listen, some good stuff there for photographers.
Dec 31, 1997 a pelican case arrived at the office. I opened it up to see what at first appeared to be a familiar friend, an F5 body but it wasn’t the same F5 I was use to. It was a Kodak DCS 620, the first “DLSR” that I shot with. Back in the day, we’re only talking 15yrs ago, Kodak was the big player in digital photography from sensors to projectors and everything in between. They’ve now filed Chptr 11 and we have to ask ourselves why and what can we learn from it that which applies to our own photography?
The two product shots of the camera were taken with a Coolpix 900. Nikon had provided me a “black box” to shoot with to be one of the three shooters to introduce Nikon’s entry into the digital age. The Coolpix produced a 1mb Jpeg and the 620, it created this three file thing you had to combine with their software to get a Tiff (can you say painful!). The results though were enough for many of us to realize the potential of digital photography. Kodak had one helluva track record of producing some amazing products. With a little technology and a lot of imagination, photography progressed to what we enjoy today with the D4 being an amazing leap from the 620 of just 15yrs ago. Why didn’t Kodak keep up though to ride the way they help generate?
When I first heard that Kodak was filing, I thought back to a Jr High project where I got an A because I invested my “money” in their stock and it made the best showing during the semester. Then I thought back about the photographers who told me that digital was a fad like the disk camera or APS (remember those from film days?). Some of those shooters are now long gone, no longer shooting and a couple like myself who embraced digital are still out there clicking. What can we learn from this short look at our history? Here’s my lonely $.02 on the matter.
(photo of my light table filled with the latest project at the time, taken with the Kodak DCS 620)
There’s this thought that gear isn’t important, the photographer is. There’s this thought that the photographer isn’t important, the gear is. Personally, I don’t see how you can divorce either from the other in a creative world of visually communicating.The human spirit drives both, the photographer and the gear. At least, that’s how I see it. I know in no uncertain terms that the D3 obtained for me a photograph NO OTHER way possible until it hit my hands. The GEAR made the photo but the PHOTOGRAPHER had to recognize the problem and realize its solution. It was a MARRIAGE between the two that made the one image possible and when it came to the Greater Sage Grouse project, it was pivotal in the solution! The solution required both photographer and gear, neither one could do it alone.
My involvement with Kodak digital ended around 2002 so I’m not sure all that occurred since then to lead up to the filing, but we had the feeling back then that the connection between gear and the photographer was being missed. In the beginning of digital, most everyone missed it but as we know, history has shown that digital ain’t all that bad. I have to admit when I heard the D4 was being announced, I said to myself, “Here we go again.” Much to my great surprise, the upgrade in technology has been for the most part embraced and not criticized! While I now have over 2200 emails with questions about the D4 to answer, they are all boil down to the basic question, “How will this technology improve my photography?”
And to be honest with you, alone I don’t think it will. What I do think it will do is open the doors to your imagination permitting you to go places you might not have realized you could have gone without it. The D4 in itself is not the game changer. You, yourself are not the game changer. It is when the two come together, the spirit and the technology, that’s the game changer will occur. Personally, I know that many of the photographs I’ve taken in the last 15yrs with digital I could have done with film. I also know there is one image, one very important one that change the world for a species, that could only have made with a D3, digital. It’s that one, that one possible click that constantly pushes me to embrace new technology.
You’ve gotta take risks in every form as a photographer to move forward. You often fall down and you have to pick yourself back up and learn from that fall. You don’t and you will fall again. But if you do, you’re up an running. For way too many, these are tough times which saddens me as photography is just to joyous of a life pursuit to have that pressure. For those, thinking about obtaining a D4 just isn’t possible but don’t let that stop you from moving in that direction. I often hear, “Got to learn what my camera can do now before I upgrade.” It’s not what your camera can do, it’s what you can do with your camera! The last thing I want you to do is go Chptr 11 on your photography so push yourself to push your gear! Shutter speeds and apertures are still the exact same as there were 100yrs ago. Light will always be a mystery we chase. Wrap them up in your spirit and you won’t go bankrupt. Our photographic future is awfully damn bright, go out and click and share never forgetting, YOU with your camera can change the world with a photograph!
The phone rings, Paul’s on the other end wanting to know if we’re home, they want to drop by and give me something. When the flight director of the Space Shuttle Program who lives in TX says he wants to drop by, you make sure you are home! We had done an air to air shoot with Paul & his lovely wife Louise in their RVs a couple of month back and as I always do, I sent them like I send all pilots prints as a thank you for their time and skill. They came over and we talked for a while, got caught up on plane stuff and made some new plans for 2012. Paul had walked in with apparently nothing in his hands so my mind was wondering what was up. Then Paul reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out something which he placed in my hand. “We had a couple of these made up special using metal that flew in the Shuttle for a few million miles” he says as he lets the challenge coin drop in my hand. WOW!
It is really easy for me to pull heartstrings when I throw up a photo of a bunny. Everyone loves Peter Cottontail so it’s easy to hit home. I can throw up some moody shot of a landscape with a little color here, a rock there and clouds everywhere and most of the time it hits its mark in the heart. But throw up a photo of a craft made of metal (or in this case plastic) and grabbing the heartstrings has a whole new challenge about it. It’s been a week of gift receiving with plane owners sending a book they created about the restoration of their aircraft in which I was involved in, an Air2Air Workshop student sending a gorgeous calendar of his images to say thanks, a facility manager thanking me for an article and then the challenge coin. It all comes from a passion for photography AND sharing it!
I firmly believe the #1 person who must be thrilled with your photography is YOURSELF! I’m not suggesting we fall in love with every click but I am saying we must be in love with photography and our photography for where it is at this moment in time. We should be able to grab our own heartstrings with our clicks so that we not only find enjoyment for what we did today, but find the inspiration for what we want to do tomorrow. That’s how you keep the passion alive!
I also believe that this process only succeeds when we get past our satisfaction and start reaching out and touching others with our photos. I’m not talking about those comments you receive when you post your image to some web group, I’m talking about placing your image in the hands of someone and all you see is that smile. You know what I’m talking about, you’ve all seen it, that warm smile that comes from the heart. That’s when you know, you know you are reaching out and saying something with your photograph. Paul wanting to fly with me again was thanks enough, telling me two of my prints hang on his office wall in Houston, that’s over the top! But to come all this way to put that coin in my hand…. And then when the recipient of your photo is so moved by them that they in return feel they need to give you something in return, well, there simply are no words for that satisfaction.
It is truly easy to get wrapped up in the latest gear, newest post product or technique but don’t ever forget that it’s the passion that you put into that click that is revealed with all of that stuff in that final image! While we don’t hit the mark every time, it really only takes those couple that hit the bullseye dead center to keep you clicking to reach that point one more time. While gifts are great and a tangible means of knowing you’ve reached your goal, the best gifts often go unspoken except by the heart. Don’t let f/stop and shutter speed get in the way of the main target of your photography and that’s reaching out and telling the story of your great fortune to others. Remember, heartstrings are the target!
“How can I make money with my photography?” The #4 question I’m asked, moving up from #9 in the last qtr (the things I keep track of). The quick answer is yes but it’s just not that simple. In fact, when our son Jake (on the lift with Casey shooting Super Corsairs here) decided to follow his parents path of careers, to say we were concerned is an understatement. The one giant advantage Jake has over most though is he has seen and heard for most of his life the trials, tribulations, successes and rewards his parents have had in this industry. Time is one of the essential ingredients in making it in this biz! The question on the table though is, “How can I make money with my photography?”
I don’t have all the answers, I’ve not even worked in 1% of the photo industry. I only know those things that have worked for us. To me it’s real simple, you wanna succeed long term then you’ve gotta first succeed in the editorial market. I’m constantly hearing from photographers how tough that is (because it was so easy 30yrs ago). I use to curse that, it being so tough but now I welcome it for so many reasons. The main being is I think it’s supposed to be tough so only those shooters with a passion for photography and not the drive for just money “make it” (and I don’t know what that is yet). What I’ve said from the beginning still holds true today. Without the photograph, you have nothing to sell, print, put on the wall or page or in the the show! That means real simply, you wanna make money, you have to shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, and then shoot some more!
Many who I’ve told that too just look me in the eye and say one way or the other, “sure!” Typically with that I reply with a question, “You ever seen a photograph in a magazine that really sucked?” Most of the time folks say yeah. I then ask, “You have better then that in your files?” And quite often the answer comes back, yeap! That leads me to one of my favorite sayings. The photographs you see in print are not from the best photographers, but from the best business men. And those who have the best photographs and are the best businessmen are the ones who last decades. And how do you acquire both of those skills, the photograph and the biz? The editorial market place IMHO.
A year ago, Sharon & I were pretty concerned with Jake’s decision to follow us. This are changing times. The photography biz is not a 40hrs job, it’s a 365 24/7 passion and is all consuming and most are simply not cut out for the ups and downs and the constant push to create content. Moving the clock forward a year, while we still have that basic parental concern for Jake, as for his biz, we have lots of confidence now. Yesterday is a good example of why. He was at his bank yesterday morning dealing with accepting int’l payments for articles he’s had published in Germany and in the afternoon at the new airport terminal in Bozeman where a permanent display of his prints is getting ready to be hung. Other then taking him out shooting, we had nothing to do with those successes. He earned these rewards all on his own by shooting a lot and working the biz. This doesn’t include the covers, dbl trucks and articles he’s had published in the last six months. This is a 23yr old showing that some old fashion business practices with solid photographs still does work!
Many ask, and I’m sure this piece will open the door to more questions, just how do you break into the editorial market place, how do you make money? We use to teach a 4 day workshop in our office to answer that one question. That means that not in this blog posting, an email or G+ response can I answer that question for you. It’s a bloody long answer to that one question. If I could sum it up I would say this. EVERY one of you can make it (but probably won’t) if you have the passion and time. With those two ingredients you will have the photographs and with the photographs, you can learn the biz (face it, if I can, anybody can). If you want it, I mean really want it because you wanna tell your story visually and are willing to make the scarifies for your passion, then the sky is the limit. And here’s the key, the biz, it’s all about the photograph!
It was one of those weeks where the highs and lows come and go with breakneck speed. Leaving the house at 05:00, Jake and I drove ten hours through the desert to arrive in Mesa in time to jump on the lift and go up 45 feet to shoot at sunset. Then we went to this marvelous party with all our pilot friends knowing we’d be on the field at 06:00 to continue shooting at sunrise. After an amazing day at the Wing, we were up in the air again, this time in the back of an A36 Bonanza photographing an event not seen since 1949 and what we were told would never be seen again. We then spent the next day at the hangar shooting, talking and laughing and then packed up all the gear, said our good-byes and Happy New Years and drove the 10 hours back through the desert to home. Other than a couple of UFOs over the desert, it was a quite drive ending at 03:00 back in Mammoth.
Photography is this marvelous pursuit where we gather up all these magical black boxes and tubes in padded bags, travel to some location and make marvelous images and then come home until the next adventure. When the photographs turn out great, it was a great trip. If the photos don’t turn out so good, the trip tends to be not so good. And if there is any business involved in this process, a whole new set of pressures can come or go. But in all of this, was the end photograph really the reward, what is it that brings the high and low? Or rather, is it the process where the photograph represents in a tangible way our feeling for that process?
We’re coming to the end of another year and I hope for you all, it was a great year. It was for us no matter how you add the plusses and minuses. And there are plenty of both and depending which happened last, you’re pleased or not pleased. And at the end of the year, we tend to reflect and ponder how we did and as photographers, that means our photographs. And while Monday will come and it will be a new year, in the scheme of things, it is really just the next day of our life. But we tend to reflect so how can we reflect, photographically and put our best foot forward for 2012?
While I tend to do it on a weekly bases, looking forward with the crystal ball can provide some direction. Being rather old fashioned, I try to remember the saying, “Those who don’t learn from the past tend to relive it.” For example, I shot my first two seat cockpit pano a month ago and at the camera, it didn’t go as smoothly as I would have liked so made changes so when I did them this week, that issue was resolved. But as it is with photography, those old issues solved so in moving forward, new ones arose now to be solved. By not making the same mistake over again, I did move forward if only to find new problems. That pretty much sums up photography, and life. And that I think this is to be celebrated!
As you might imagine, I have a few dates on a calendar with some parts of my life planned up until 2015. While I feel very fortunate to have that small slice of security in my profession, when those dates set so long ago are now passed, I tend to wonder where the time went. I try to reflect back as I ask myself, “Did I do the most with that time?” And all of this reflection, there is actually a way I find I can find a tangible answer, one that no matter how you mentally add up the columns, always brings a smile to my face.
It’s the photographs! Going through the 710k images filed this year isn’t practical but those I have finished and deem as my favorites (not all the same images as I put out for the public) tends to instantly put on the rose colored glasses and make the world all right again. Yeah, one or two bring back the memories of disasters that had to be dealt with but since there is a photograph there to represent that moment, in the end it all turned out for the best.
2011 was a year of evolution for Moose and WRP as some adventures closed their doors and other new ones opened for the first time. But 2011 was no different really then the thirty-one years that came before it for the business. Probably though why I’m poor is that like all photographers, my measure of success isn’t that check book but the images. This is a pursuit of passion and not money so no wonder photographers don’t have any money but have lots of passion since that’s what we chase.
This is the time of the year when we gather the family, tell stories of the past and create the new to then reflect upon next time we gather. Embrace this same approach to your photography and it will grow as you grow. As I sit here scrolling through my year of images, I reflect on what went into those images as I take notes how I want to improve them the next time out. And at the end of next year as I’ve done for the last three decades, I will look back again as I plan forward to the next click. It’s been a very good year and I expect at the very least, the same for next year. I wish you experienced and will experience the same and that your photography is your portal to this marvelous world we are so fortunate to explore. Share your adventures, share your photographs all year long but right now especially to light up those around you with the wonders photography can bring. It’s the best way to reflect on year!
Happy New Year!
We just finished another of our Photoshop for Shooters this weekend. Great group, great time! It’s fourteen hours of really talking light in all its complications and implications from the viewfinder to computer. The experience and level skill of the class filled the spectrum as you might expect. I like that challenge, makes me push myself to elaborate on some aspects I personally take for granted for those just starting out while putting out “cutting edge” concepts for those pushing their craft to keep all entertained. And the whole time, try to keep it entertaining and instructive. It tires me out after a couple days but I do love the challenge.
And while I’m challenged as the instructor, the student is challenged even more. Since I am often on the opposite side of the podium as I’m being taught new features of this piece of gear or software, I can totally relate to the frustration of having information thrown at you that goes flying over your head. Or in a Photoshop class where a recipe is being provided and you attempt to take notes but you know you’ve missed that one step that is probably the most critical. In a short time, the frustration sets in and the learning experience is no longer a challenge, it’s a disaster. But you so want the information, you want to improve, you want to grow. How do you get past this wall?
Having just gone through some training again, all I can recommend is what I do myself. The vast majority of the classes I go to, I’m after techniques I’ve not explored. I’m looking for those little treasures that might land in my imagination that I can then go chase down after the class. I know personally I’m simply not smart enough to sit in a class for eight hours and learn all that’s coming at me, that’s just not what I can do as I hit overload typically after the teacher introduces themselves (I am just horrible with names). Knowing my own short far, I have mastered the four word note.
With the web and its vast resources, I know that the majority of the time I can with a couple of clicks find enough information to fill in the gap of my knowledge permitting me to take the next step forward. When it comes to pushing my photography when learning from others then, I look at the before and after photos, the before and after technique concepts and if I see a problem solver in what was just presented, then I simply right down a four word description of that new idea and continue to listen as the presenter keeps moving forward. Quite often those lessons that resonate are ones that solve an immediate problem I’m facing so that night after class, I look and my notes and then take time to write down my problem, expand on what I learned that I think might solve it and then get a good night’s sleep (my head usually hurts after days like this).
Then, once back in the safety of my office where no one can see me fail, I go searching on the web for all the pieces of the lesson I think will help me and start creating my own recipe. By having to teach myself the steps, I not only get to “customize” them to my own style, but they start taking hold in my head and picture taking process. Now quite often the new ideas go down in flames but then there will be that one gem that works and that’s the one that makes the whole class worth while taking. If you’ve ever sat in my class, you’ll hear me say I learned this from Scott Kelby or Russell Brown or Julianne Kost or RC. Those are the classes I sat in and took away that little nugget that I then pass on to others.
It’s way too easy in this day and age to get overloaded in the learning process. That’s when the fun and excitement of learning becomes a chore and we all know how we feel about chores. I absolutely love learning and the capturing of new knowledge because it all at some points improves my photography which is why I’m pushing the learning curve even harder! Head into that classroom with an open mind and open heart and look for that one pearl of wisdom, just that one that will propel your photography forward then you will know the art of learning!
The last few days have been, well, different. I wasn’t really planning on blogging the rest of the week, there is simply more important things to deal with right now. You as a community, you “fans” though have been simply amazing! Your out pouring of concern to my family and me has let us know just how blessed we are!
Jake & I both had shot lists, aircraft and folks we wanted to photograph and with the sheer size and magnitude of Reno Air Races, we break things down by days. Now if we see something come up that we know is a once in a lifetime opportunity, we would deviate but otherwise, we kinda stick to our plan so we cover all we want to cover. Sunday night when we got back home, Jake & I realized we were light about 5000 images. Images we planned on taking Saturday and Sunday. Planes and folks we wanted to tell their story visually are missing as there was no Saturday/Sunday. It’s something we’re still coping with.
In the process of communicating with all from the races as we gather ourselves up and move forward, some web comments were brought to my attention. Now I am very use to this in the environmental world, been dealing with it for 30yrs. It is 100% human nature, it’s what we do and it is a survival mechanism that permits us to deal with bad times and horrible information. Sometimes it’s just plain old ignorance and other it’s just the bad information pressed upon us. That’s probably why whenever I blog about doing your homework for wildlife photography, I can hear the jeers arise. For example if I mention climate change in a blog (like I did just now), my email box will fill with emails telling me I’m an idiot. They tell me that what I’ve seen firsthand is not the case, I didn’t see it correctly. I love those emails. Well I’ve got a new one now that has its own folder as well.
I wrote in my Gone West blog that “It is just part of aviation.” Accidents and deaths that is and as a wise person just told me, “You’ll find more submarines at the bottom of the ocean then planes stuck in the sky.” I’d fly right now, right this moment with any of my friends in their aircraft if they’d come and pick me up (this does not include commercial flights). But with that desire, I know accidents, no matter how careful you are, happen. We spend a couple of hours at our Air2Air Workshop talking just safety because it is apart of the passion. The list of planes, pilots, photographers and passengers that I personally know that have tragically lost their lives in a plane crash in the last 45 days is too long to think it’s not part of aviation. From Jimmy Leeward to Frans Dely to Jack “Flash” Mangan to 7 others I know in the last 45 days. If you head to NTSB or PlaneCrashInfo you’ll see this is the tip of the ice berg.
Sharon & I have been fighting the battle, because it is a battle, to make the public aware of the plight of our wild heritage for a long time. It has taken its toll on us over the years as the message falls on fewer and fewer ears with less and less being done on their behalf. We still battle but we now have a wall to protect us from the bad news we feel is coming (critter extinction is hard to handle). That’s why we weren’t surprised by those who think I’m all wrong about what my dear friend calls, “The under belly of flight.” Planes do come down and tragically, good folk pass.
We’re living in a time when change is needed. It’s needed on every level at ever sector for everybody. Talking with so many vets from WWII, I crave that spirit of that era to infuse itself again in us as a society. There are many avenues available to us to make the needed changes and I don’t mean to trivialize the solution, but I think knowledge could take us a long ways to solving our problems. No matter your age, beliefs or goals, pushing yourself to be better educated and informed and knowledgeable, leads to conversations that will unite and improve us all. We don’t all have to agree but with knowledgeable and educated conversation we can make a positive change. Be it politics, the environment, aviation, sports, no matter what, take some time to read, ponder and learn so common sense and not ignorance rules the day. Keep that open heart for your fellow man but don’t forget knowledge is a powerful force!
My posting on The Crop brought in a flood of emails, not about cropping but about exposure. The “Don’t give yourself the option of fixing in post” seemed to, ah, intrigue folks. The idea of getting the exposure right in the camera. I’ve written about that many times here on the site. I’ve posted the Teddy Bear exercise which I invented (for film 25yrs ago) and understandably, exposure still eludes many. In Captured, I wrote and illustrated nearly 50pgs on this one topic in an attempt to explain how I approach exposure. I’m hoping this excerpt will open some doors to how I expose and better yet, get some to buy Captured to get the whole explanation. But the bottomline, when I go click, the exposure that I want to communicate what I’m feeling is captured.
“Seeing” light, “feeling” light is such a challenge yet so essential. Getting to the point where you point your lens at that Alaskan Range, know how much exposure compensation to dial in a click takes many clicks before that one from over the years but shooting digital cuts down the learning curve and time by lifetimes if you use it by thinking! Just looking at your own digital images, looking at the metadata and learning from what you did in the past can greatly impact the clicks you make tomorrow. Those images you like, how did you deal with the exposure? Those images you don’t like, how did you expose for them? Remember both so you can repeat the successes and avoid the failures. (Which are still a learning opportunity so don’t be afraid of failure!)
You have a feature on your camera (available on nearly all cameras these days) called Highlight Warning. I affectionately call it Blinkies because that’s what they do. Remember we have a five stop range of light that we can capture with one click (HDR doesn’t work for wildlife). When you have more than five stops of light, when you have 5.1 stops of light, you’re outside the range of the camera’s single click ability to hold detail in highlights and shadows. With the Blinkies turned on, those highlight areas in your photograph that are outside the five stop range literally blink at you, black then white. You have to use your LCD (a good reason to look at it) and have the Highlight Warning turned on in your menus and active on your LCD to see them. When you’re trying to learn light, Blinkies will teach you instantly when you are outside that five stop range. But they can help your photography even more than that! They show you exactly where in your photograph you have lost that highlight information. That’s big time important!
What does the mind’s eye crave first in a photograph? Yeah, light and bright. If you look at those blinkies as not only a possible exposure problem, because blinkies are not necessarily bad, but as something the mind’s eye is guaranteed to latch onto, you can then make the decision of if they are good or bad, not for exposure sake but visual communication sake. It is amazing that your digital camera cannot only teach you about the range of light, but also predict where the mind’s eye is going to go in your photograph and visually show that to you. Wow!
Let’s say you’re photographing that Great Egret, an all white bird. What if you see a couple of small blinkies on its body? Is that a good or a bad thing? The knowledge and sight of blinkies doesn’t mean all is lost. In this case the subject is all white. Is the loss of some detail in that white messing with what you’re communicating visually? Is it taking the mind’s eye somewhere you don’t want it to? I don’t have that answer, you will have to answer those questions when you have it in the viewfinder and on the LCD. Half the battle is knowing what question to ask, your camera can help you there with blinkies. Loosing some detail in a white subject I don’t think is the end of the world though so personally, more than likely I wouldn’t worry about a couple of small blinkies. You have to make that call but at least, you now have a tool to use and a thought process to employ to make an informed decision. Just remember in this process you don’t forget to ask what’s the subject.
Here’s another way to think about it (because you do have to think about it). If you write a paragraph of words and then from that paragraph take away 20% of the words near the beginning of that paragraph, would someone understand what you’re trying to say? Now imagine your photograph between the X & Y axis being 100%. If you don’t have information in 20% of that top area (like blown out clouds) because it’s information lost (or anything else visually distracting), the blinkies are going wild, will someone understand what you’re trying to say visually in your photograph? Don’t lose sight we are visual communicators and one of our key methods of communicating visually is with light!
When you start thinking about light and the levels of light in your photograph that you control via exposure in this way, you start to feel it in your photograph. The photograph of the White Ibis, if you look at the butts of some of them (bird perverts), you’ll notice there is NO detail, it’s just paper white. When I looked on the LCD to do a visual check because white subjects in the shade are not a great light situation, I could see blinkies. Yet, the photo is in the book and the image is a favorite. Why?
The mangrove forest in which the ibis are standing in front of is a real busy one, real busy. Those roots go every which way and instantly grab the eye’s attention. Standing in the water and looking through the viewfinder, they came glaring in. But where are those roots in the photograph? They are in the shade and lost because of the exposure range. What’s the subject (there’s that question again)? The subject is the line of Ibis and their reflection, White Ibis in mixed light. It’s not one individual Ibis. What’s the light range between the background, the roots and the subject, the Ibis? You think, 7, 8, 9, 10 stops? How many stops do we know the camera can capture in one click? Five right. So then knowing the meter is going to sacrifice the shadows (why, because of that light and bright thing the mind’s eye craves), with that kind of light range, the roots in the shadows will go black making their busyness disappear literally in the shadows and creating a background that makes the ibis blaze off the page. That’s feeling the light and letting it work for our photography. I exposed with my normal -1/2 dialed in. Normal?
What do I mean by “normal” exposure compensation dialed in? How many of you shot film? Do you remember how we would take Kodachrome 64 and rate it at ASA 80? Do you remember why we did that? Because that underexposure of 1/3 stop saturated the colors and made the shadows go a little deeper black. For those same reasons and some more (like protecting some highlights), color saturation and darker shadows, the majority of the time I underexpose by 1/2 stop. That’s all that was done in this case but that made those roots a little darker, the red in the bills a little more vibrant and possibly brought one or two of the blinking pixels back within five stops.
Light, mind’s eye, exposure, they are all so intertwined I don’t really believe they can be separated. And when you think of these as all ways of expressing emotions, I don’t think they should be separated. For some though this “touchy-feelie” approach to combining shutter speeds and apertures just won’t work when it comes to making an exposure (just gotta have those numbers). I understand that but guess what, since I don’t use that method, I can’t begin to address that side of exposure. I think the last thing the world needs is another technically perfect photograph. What the world needs are more photographs with passion. You have to decide if the system you have brings to life the drama you see and if it does, disregard this conversation. I bet though you might find some wiggle room where there is something in my images you would like to incorporate into yours. If that’s the case, you might just want to try feeling the light. The worst that can happen is you delete the photograph, right? And the best thing, your exposure problems disappear!
It must have been the first or at the most, the second crit at school the very first semester of the very first year. A student put up their image up on the screen and it was this little, itty pity image. I scratched my head, the instructor just stared. He took the slide out of the carrousel and looked at it, it was all taped up with silver tape leaving this little aperture. All Steve said was, “What, you couldn’t have moved closer, changed lenses?”
I seem to have earned quite a reputation for many things, one of them is having a thing against cropping an image. So I’ll say this right off the bat so you don’t have to read any further if you don’t want to, what anyone does with their images is strictly up to them! I am not the photo police! But when photographers show me their images and ask for comments, then they will get my comments and when I see an image has been cropped (yes, I think it’s really easy to see), what screams through my head is, “Couldn’t you have moved closer or changes lenses?”
Back in the day when I started, submitting prints was on its way out, submitting slides was in. When you create a print, you naturally have to crop an image since paper is not the same ratio as a 35mm slide/neg. Since I printed up a storm, I had to crop and learned how to be successful at shooting for that crop knowing I would be cropping when printing. The print would be the final presentation of my vision. Once printing went away and all I shot were slides, then composition was still done in the viewfinder but that was it. There was no cropping to be done, it was all done.
When sending slides to photo buyers, taking your image and applying the very obvious silver tape to “crop” the slide in the slide mount stuck out like a sore thumb. I remember one conversation with a photo buyer complaining about a photographer who had done just that, sent in their slides cropped with silver tape. All the photo buyer could say was, “You have any idea how stuck those images were in the slide page?” That wasn’t an impression I would ever want to leave with a photo buyer, I could get right in the viewfinder or slides covered with stickem. So what does that have to do with this day and age and digital?
Yeah, you can set a preset with the Crop Tool in Photoshop and crop all day long. And unless you make a print 24×30, you probably won’t see any possible quality loss from cropping. So then why do I not crop my images still? It’s just one of those benchmarks I took hold of that signifies a photographer as, a photographer. It goes along with getting the exposure right and the image sharp when you go click. You compose within the viewfinder and get it right when you go click.
When I look at the work of those who I hold in high regards, Jay Maisel, Joe McNally, Dave Black, Joel Sartore, Wayne Lynch and others, they do all their cropping in the viewfinder as well. I’m sure there are a lot more and there’s a reason for that standard. Arranging the elements in the viewfinder so the subject pops and the rest of the elements support the subject while telling the story, well, isn’t that visual story telling? That’s my definition of photography. There are definitely pros and cons to this standard. The pros are the workflow is simpler and faster (important when you’re in the business of selling images) and quality assured. Cons, the biggest one is it makes taking the photo one helluva of a lot more challenging when you know you’ve gotta get it right when you go click. And when you don’t have it, you don’t go click.
You might have heard I don’t like my images cropped even when they are used editorially. That’s true, I get kinda serious when an photo buyer wants to edit my click. I mean, why buy the photo in the first place if you don’t like it? If you got a copy of my book Captured, rest assured those images aren’t cropped either. I was very blessed in that I had the best in the biz, Jess laying out the book honoring my no cropping request. In those regards, I am totally, completely, out there on my own. I am a nut! And that’s the whole point!
Just because that’s my standard, it does not mean a single other photographer has to follow it. But if you ask me about your photo, heads up. It’s my own quest in being a better photographer, to get it right when I go click. I rather love being able to say, “What you see is what I saw in the viewfinder” when it comes to the crop (landscape & aviation images are often finished in PS. Wildlife images are not). When you don’t give yourself the option to “fix it in post,” photographers push themselves. This always make a better click and the story telling, the subject, that passion of that click becomes clearer and clearer. We all must find whatever the tools, techniques and personal vision at the camera and the computer that work best for you. For me and my photography, that means using my feet and lens to put in the viewfinder what it is I want to communicate to you the passion I’m feeling at moment.
It was a cold, gray morning a few days after New Year, 2010. I had a contract to create content so this was no pleasure cruise though with the family in tow, you wouldn’t have guessed it. As a matter of fact, acting very much the kid, you would have no clue that there was a bunch of money on the line, a reputation and client to please at the end of the day. Then I again, I always say photography should be fun because otherwise, well, it’s just a glorified desk job. We were having fun!
This was a first for us, as in, I said yes and took a job to photograph something I had never, ever photographed before! It’s not the first time I’d done this in my career and have done it many times since. It’s the nature of the work and it sure is one way to make your photography grow. Fear is such a great motivator! The panic only began when we looked at the overcast skies and the project was about to be called off because of weather. The window to get the work done was itty pitty as we were working in a window between Sierra winter storms. I pulled out the iPhone and looked at the Radar picture. Over Lake Tahoe there was a window in the clouds, what appeared to be about 20-30 minutes of clearing. It was my checkbook, it was my call. Take the risk and spend the money and chase that light or not? I do was what I always do, a bull in a china shop (and some wonder why my dad named me Moose) so we went for it!
Jake got in the T-6 and I in the other T-6. PIC of the T-6 I was in would turn out to become a dear friend, flying with him a whole bunch since, nearly every opportunity we have. At that moment, I didn’t know that would be the outcome, he was just someone close and came recommended to me by my bud Richard. Off we launched, up into the gray skies and looking even grayer then just minutes before. It was such a rush, not just being up in a T-6 Texan, an old warbird but doing our first ever air to air shoot! And, I was getting paid to do this, have this much fun! I was just counting my blessing with these thoughts running through my mind when it was interrupted. My headset rang out, “I see nothing but gray skies, what do you want to do?” We’re traveling south and I knew that 40 miles straight ahead was blue sky, I had just come from there. But that air time would take my payday and blow it all away. It’s still a business, can’t lose sight of that, ever!
I’m scanning the skies as if I were a WWII fighter pilot looking for the enemy to jump us but I’m looking for light. What’s new? I’m scanning and off to our right, looking west over the Kingsbury Grade I see a little light and perhaps even blue. I asked Dennis, “Does that look like an opening to you at 3 O’clock, it’s where the radar said there was a hole.” “Yeah, kind of, not really, not sure I trust it,” came back in my headset. “What do you want to do?” “Let’s head for it.” With Jake in the other T-6 on our wing, we turned and headed for that light. Well, the rest of the flight as they would say is history.
We went over the Grade to find Lake Tahoe completely open, gorgeous light and fresh snow on the peaks for a backdrop. For the next 25min we flew orbits around the lake as I created the contracted content. We even made time to do barrel rolls, loops and some other really fun stuff. Jake even flew part of the way back to the airfield. We landed and there was enough time for Sharon & Brent to get in the T-6s and head up to the lake. But by the time they got there, the window had closed in, the winds came up so they made a big orbit around the basin and returned. We totally lucked out!
A week later I submitted all the images and video and invoice and 30days later the payday arrived in the mail. And for most, that would be the end and they would pat themselves on the back and say Job Well Done! Not me, not the way I was raised, money is not the end. I wanted to see my photographs, video and story put out there which is what I was contracted to create. Nothing, it was put on a hard drive and abandoned! I asked and asked about it but I never heard a word. As in literally, it was buried, no word yea or na, it was like it had never been created. And why was it buried, I never knew and it has always really bothered me. Yeah, I had been paid for the work. But that wasn’t enough, it never is with me. Then……
I still work with the client, they have run a half dozen pieces since that shoot. They paid for the job and still use me yet that piece which I had such an emotional attachment to languished on some hard drive in a corner of some building doing nothing. The phone rang this week and it was the client (who I’m not going to name) looking to do another project. After going over the particulars I had to ask about what we had labeled, “The Lost Flight.” Still no answer but I figured I had nothing too loose so I pushed it, usual Bull in a China Shop and I’m glad I did!
The outcome, that piece is still forever buried on a hard drive but I now know why. The photographs, the video, what all that good luck and fun had made possible, the images were just not dramatic! Sharon & I have looked at those photos a lot, one is a very large medal print in our office. It has a ton of great memories attached but when compared to the air to air shoots I’ve done since, it definitely is not as dramatic. It’s what I’ve described so many times referring to landscape photography (photography is photography no matter the subject matter). You have to say in your photograph, “You Need To Be Here” and not just say, “I Was Here.” These photos say no more then, I was here but I couldn’t see it because I knew and felt all the back end stuff.
I have shot and rode in #33 a whole bunch, it being a subject and photo ship many times in the last 18months. #43 won the Reno Air Races in 2010. I’ve never flown in her but I do love photographing her and that’s because Dennis smiles the most when flying this speedster. So in an air to air we did last week, the story was just that, the speed this old warbird has and it being the 2010 champ. And with that story line, that reason for shooting makes all the difference in the world in the final image. The drama of flight is told and how do I know that? That client that shelved the first piece with my persistence is now running a new piece, same topic but new images. When I sent the new set of images they said on the phone and in an email that the new ones have so much more, drama!
We all have an emotional attachment to our images, that’s how it is supposed to work. We protect them and try to find them the perfect home. When that falls through, like any lost love, it hurts and leaves us wondering. Money aside, it’s that acceptance for our photographs that is the greatest payday. No matter if you’re just starting out or have been doing this click thing for 30yrs, we all share this one very basic and important aspect of photography. An no matter where you are in that pursuit, it’s hard to recognize and remember this very basic, very human fact. It was again another reminder that while my photography is still improving, there is still room for improvement!
Faster than a heartbeat, a photograph is born. And if done correctly and if the stars are all aligned, that moment in time frozen by the shutter affects lives for time unending. If that is the possibility, and it has been proven over and over again, then why isn’t time reported as one of the most important aspects of photography?
I’m all too aware of the importance of 1/60, 1/500, 8sec and all the rest of the “times” that most associate with photographic time. And while they are important for communicating the emotion that exposure brings to life, I’m referring to an even more important measure of time. I’m talking about the time behind the camera. You could look at the time behind the camera for one image, one shoot, one day, one week, one month or more what I’m thinking about, one lifetime being the measure of time!
I was recently asked what went through my mind as we approached the subject. I was rather surprised when my answer, which contained mostly past life experiences that led up to my decision to my approach, was cast aside for the answer the questioner really wanted, lens, f/stop and shutter speed. Seriously! That’s probably why I couldn’t connect, the time before the click is just as influential in the approach as the time of the click for me. And if all goes well, that click will survive the test of time.
I know I’m not alone in treasuring time. The time spent with a spouse, the time spent with kids and family. We all know how precious these and others are. What about the simple pleasures, time with a good book, a glass of wine, watching a fire or birds in the feeder? Just as precious. How many curse the waste of time being stuck in a line, at an airport or in traffic? Why then is the time behind the camera for so many rushed? As a working pro, one of my biggest challenges is getting enough time in behind the camera to follow my own particular passion of wildlife photography. What pushes that desire?
And what makes the time behind the camera now so special? It’s all that has been learned from the time already put in behind the camera. It’s all the challenges, successes, failures and rewards already experienced from the time behind the camera that lead to promise at the next time behind the camera. Adding to these experiences are all the life experiences that make you, you!
Last week I was reminded about this again by Jeremy. While he doesn’t have the accumulative time behind the camera that I do, he does take his time when behind the camera. A luxury I didn’t have at that moment. He’s the complete opposite of what I call a “panicked photographer.” Jeremy took his time, made his shot and smoked everyone, especially me. His photos of Owl’s Head Light and at Firefly were images I wanted in my files. Then, the dirty, rotten kid made the image of Portland Lighthouse that I wanted. Talk about rubbing salt in the wounds! Seeing his B&W image from there on his monitor and thinking I had it drove me nuts until this week when I had time to go through all my images and finding I did have one frame. What’s Jeremy’s key to success? He’s 18 and doesn’t know time is so precious and hard to come by when you get older so spends it lavishly behind the camera now. And my little moment of triumph came not from confidence at the camera, but starring at a monitor after the fact. That’s the worst use of my time, the digital darkroom.
Now that I’m officially an “old fart,” (I like that title), I find shooting with “kids” very rewarding and a real photographic push. Talk about being pushed, look what our son Jake is doing to me! Holy crap, he’s running me ragged. Where does he find the time to shoot AND blog and go to college all at the same time? What the hell is my excuse for not shooting more? What Jake has going for him, which he just consciously realized this summer is that while his “time” behind the camera has only been a couple of years, he’s been preparing for the time his entire life. We’re talking about the youngest American ever to be on a permit to handle endangered species. He’s been in the field with his parents since he was two weeks old (says he doesn’t remember that). What does that all add up to? That culmination of time that is frozen in time when he presses the shutter release can’t be measured by that shutter speed, time in the field that day, week or year, but by a lifetime even though to an old fart, that time is short.
So why have I taken the time to write this? Perhaps because of my own frustration in not spending enough time with wildlife of late or perhaps counting the minutes until I am photographing wildlife in a couple of days. Perhaps it’s the sting still hanging around from getting skunked by a kid who took his time at a lighthouse and I didn’t. Perhaps it’s the frustration of dealing with a handful of folks who felt time in the digital darkroom was more important than being behind the camera. Perhaps I just felt it was time to talk ever more outwardly about what I’ve always felt is the most important ingredient in photography. Time!!
Do you know the work of Jay Maisel? He’s a real hero of mine for so many reasons. He can say your photograph sucks and that’s OK. I say it and oh man, the sky is falling (gotta work on that delivery). But more to the point, it’s his photography that I so love. I love seeing my world through his lens. Why is that, why are his images so powerful, so vibrant, so heart touching? He spends every breathing moment behind the camera! Jay always, always has a camera with him, in his hands, exploring his craft, expressing his life, his world, our world with every waking moment. Can you grasp what Jay’s saying, what I’m saying? Photography = time!
When shooting with folks, I often get frustrated and they contribute that as I have issues with them. What they don’t realize is having done this for 30yrs, I know the value of time behind the camera and when that time is wasted, I get frustrated. Now, I’m not saying every minute behind the camera that one is making a great click, not at all. It just takes one great click to make my day, week, or….nah, not going there. Sitting at my desk, working on a computer, doing chores, doing anything but spending time, time behind the camera is hard for me. Spending 9 months writing a book just about killed me. I have to hope that the time I put into it and not being behind the camera is worth your time to read it. Just like this piece. It’s all about time, the magical, magnificent and most important ingredient in a photograph!
17 Jan, 1991, I had been self employed for a whole three months when that decision blew up in my face. I had been in the business of wildlife photography for a decade and with Sharon, built it up to where we felt our sales would permit me to stop working a 60hr a week job to concentrate on just photography. The first three months were going OK, not great but OK. I’ve never known a day of security being a wildlife photographer, that’s not part of the job description but things were moving in the right direction. Well on that day in January, the Gulf War started and for the next six to nine months, you couldn’t give away a North American wildlife critter photo!
As I’ve quoted so many times, as my good friend Wayne Lynch likes to say, “Wildlife photographers start each day unemployed!” That fact is probably what keeps so many from trying and many who do try from ever succeeding. Well, as the war continued our business slipped and as the image sales went down the tubes we really only had two options. We could either go back to our day jobs (not a cheery proposition) or tighten the ol belt, dig our heels in and produce even more (yeah, crank up production). And with time and that old fashion work ethic (thanks Dad) we managed to survive and that slowly became business growth. And for a while with such jobs as being the Nature Editor for Popular Photography, we started to feel good about how business was going.
Then the economy started to go south and one of the first things to feel the pinch is photography (also the last thing to feel the upswing). While we were doing OK, that’s not the same as putting money away for a rainy day. This was the first time we’d as a business had to work through an economic down turn and we weren’t ready for it. Sharon & I had had our business and economic college classes but no one ever said, “You in photography, when you see the economy hinting things are going to be bad, you’d best hold onto your pants!” That first one was really, really, really hard and there were some cherished lenses sold to pay bills. We cranked up the content creation another notch, kept shooting film but only got what was needed processed and the rest stayed in the freezer until we had the money for processing and wiggled forward. And with time again, things pulled out and were on the right road.
We’ve gone through that cycle three times since we started in the photography business. We saw this one coming and as best as we could, prepared for the down swing in photography. There was no way one could see all the photographers from closed newspapers flooding the market. No way one could predict the influence devices like the iPad would have, but as always, we dug our heels in and just cranked up the content making machine. It’s what we and all the successful photographers in business have done since the late 1800s when times get tough, you simply create even more!
During this whole time, we’ve tried a number of ventures in the attempt to pull out ahead of the curve. Those that have been successful you know about like the wildlife photography or our DLWS series. Those that went down in flames, only us and our account know about and there have been some real doozers! That’s when the saying, no pain, no gain takes on an all too real connection. But that’s how it is. That’s just as much a part of photography as f/stop and shutter speeds. But if you’re not in the business, you would never know or experience any of that.
When you’re not in the business of photography, your only real concern is do you have the money for that particular piece of gear, that particular trip or special workshop (and are just as real). And in these times, that is a real valid concern. If you watch the news broadcasting more economic gloom and doom you feel like you’re on the fantail of the Titanic looking down at the frigid Atlantic going down for the last count. What I’ve been hearing from a lot of photographers lately is when it comes to doing something beyond the box, the response of “When I win the lottery.” Not to be one to lecture anyone but, WTF?! What has happened to self determination, pride, work ethic, riding out the storm, pushing ahead, and all the other bad sayings that go with kicking your own ass back up the road?
I’ve been talking with a lot, a lot of WWII vets the last six months, doing interviews with what has been rightfully described as the Greatest Generation. They were kids who had just come through the great depression and for just pennies a day, went off to war because, well, simply, it had to be done. They came back home and built so much of what we enjoy today. They didn’t wait to win the lottery, the majority of them simply dug their heels in and created….jobs and products and art and music and towns and dreams, the American Dream!
There is no way that you can’t have really bad days where picking up the camera is simply not an option. I don’t know about you, but personally for example, I can’t write a word when I’m not in a good mood. And when it comes to shooting, yeah, there are days when that isn’t an option. But I know that if I don’t put the right foot in front of the left one and keep moving forward even at a snail’s pace, I won’t get anywhere. Even in these economic “bad times,” I still take risks because that’s what photographers do. A good example is my venture into aviation photography where my heart took me and the brain followed to make it work. There are a whole lot more peaks then valleys but you do have both in the pursuit of art and self expression. We’re in the business of creating a lifetime of treasures and not just a moment of pleasure. Don’t wait for that lottery, change the rules of the game and make your own win. At least that’s what we’ve done, it’s the life cycle of a photographer!
For the life of me, I can’t remember the critter but I know it was a bird. I had been shooting all day with the 600mm on a tripod and getting some really cool stuff, biology that hadn’t been recorded before. I was really excited, too excited as it turned out. When the film came back (yeah, this was a while ago), all the images were soft. The pile of slides in the trash can got taller and taller and my spirits sank further and further. It was a disaster and there was nothing I could do about it. I felt like shit!
I’ve not had that experience since, it is amazing how such an event seared into my head to always press my eye against the eyecup for proper long lens technique. But the human psyche is a funny place. This past weekend another photographer had a once in a lifetime opportunity and, at least in his mind, toasted it by making a typical, what I call, pilot error. Did they know it at the time, this big mistake? Nope, they were so caught up in the amazing moment that they missed an important aspect to shooting so when later that night they looked at their images, they experienced the horrible sick feeling that inflicts photographers when they screwed up.
The next day is the worse, especially if you’ve gotta shoot again. You put that camera up to the eye and all that “failure” from the day before comes crashing back. You often put the camera right back down again, not even taking that shot. You question your worth, wonder why you’re up early again when you blew the opportunity the day before. You question the very reason you’re a photographer. It’s just a really bad day!
And if you haven’t made this mistake, in my opinion you need to! If you’ve not had a major screw up like this, then your photography suffers. You can’t go back and retake a photo (unless it’s in the studio, a subject that’s not living and the light bulbs didn’t blow), it’s over with and life has moved on. You’ve gotta grasp that thought and move on yourself. And if you don’t learn two important lessons from the incident, you are sure to live it again. The first thing you learn, never make that same mistake again (though there are plenty of new ones we can make). Second, that it’s only a photograph!
Now I’m speaking from experience here, don’t have to make this stuff up. We put one heck of a lot of pressure on ourselves when we go out shooting. It can manifest itself from being cranky to the sweats and everything in between. It is, to wrap it up in a big bow when we put this kind of pressure on ourselves, no fun! So then why do we do it, put all that pressure on that click? The fear of failure? I know that was my issue for a long time, especially when I was young and new to this thing. I had to prove myself to someone that I knew what I was doing. Of course, as you get older you realize there is no one to prove yourself to, except yourself!
To this day, I really hate missing a photograph. I really get the maddest when I have an amazing opportunity and I have some type of equipment failure. Those are preventable a lot of the time so the anger while it might be focused on that particular piece of gear, reality soon kicks in and it’s pointed inward. The one difference though for myself today when this happens is, I can blow it off much faster and often relish going back for the second time. A long time ago when I made my first Blog Poster Action, I toasted the action and lost it. I was so pissed at myself. I emailed by friend Peter Bower at the NAPP Help desk and asked if there was any way I could rescue the lost Action. His response is something I often think about, “You make it better the second time.”
If it’s meant to be, those golden photographic moments do return to us. We are older, wiser and often better equipped in every sense to do an even better job the second time. So don’t let the failures of photography get you down. Rather, embrace them and let them make you smile knowing that you are human, you’ll learn from it and that with time, the photo gods will put that opportunity in front of your lens again!