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!
I’ve never talked with another photographer about this so I could be all on my own with this, but after a successful shoot, be it a day long or two weeks long like our Yellowstone Adventure, there is a big come down when I hit home. In the old days when we went back to our little condo, it was pretty severe. For a long time now we come back to paradise here in the Sierra but I still feel that let down. Have you ever felt that? Am I alone in this? Well, if you’ve not felt this you have no need to read further. If this feeling has hit you, you might just wanna keep on cruising down the page.
Being conditioned to wake up early, once home my eyes fly open still on que even though no alarm sounds. I don’t fight it, I just get up and start to work and perhaps that were the letdown starts. Work just the day before meant being out shooting in the wilds of Yellowstone in this case and the next day it means being within four walls. I don’t do well inside four walls. There is no way around it and I’m incredibly fortunate to come back to work but even recognizing that, I hate paperwork, it’s just not my forte in life. So I aggressively blow past this stuff so I can get back to the creative stuff just as soon as I can. But the trick I found that gets me through this is to have the images I just took on a computer monitor that I can see.
This means that while in the field, I went through my workflow so I not only had material for clients and the blog, but for myself when I get back home as well. I select those images which I consider as favorites ready for viewing. What are favorites? Those are single clicks that sum up for me that moment in time, a memory that when I see the photo all that went into making that image comes rushing back and makes me smile. This is not the same as being the greatest photograph in an artistic sense but rather, simply bring a smile to the heart. And for the last couple of years, this has taken on a new twist.
Video is an amazing tool to get beyond The Come Down Blues. The past week in Yellowstone, I remembered to pull out the GoPro and attach it to the hood of the van. I have hours upon hours upon hours of video of our travels through the park. As you’ll see soon, some of it is pretty boring and some is just freakin cool! Having those segments playing as I work is huge fun and really takes me back down memory row. And that helps with the next task when back in the office, file management.
I came back this time to the dreadful task of having to migrate files on a 4TB NAS to a 8TB NAS. It’s been running for two days now and it’s not even half way done. The worst thing about this is, it’s my Location drive where I need to upload a majority of my Yellowstone images for safe keeping. So while that is taking place on one computer, I’m finishing all the images that are left and making needed submissions, prints, etc that keeps me reflecting back on two great weeks.
And that really is the grounding that keeps it all working, the photographs. After going through this cycle for decades, I learned long ago that The Come Down Blues is simply not being able to actively explore the world with my camera and then capturing those moments I find. You can’t know the high of that discovery if you don’t experience the four wall yuck and if you don’t know the four wall yuck, you don’t push yourself to make the most of the time behind the camera. So what it all comes down to for us is it’s simply we’re very fortunate to be photographers. And that wipes out the blues and puts the smile right back on the face and in the heart!
I’ve had a number of emails of late asking what happened to Friday Thoughts? It’s been quite some time since I’ve added to what I’ve come I find out are an important series to some of you. One writer asked pretty bluntly, “No great thoughts lately?” Ouch! That question had me thinking about this lack of Friday Thoughts and ponder whether I had any thoughts worth putting forth from my experiences. I had to think about the last one I wrote and that would have been for Scott Kelby’s blog at the beginning of the year. So it’s a valid question, this thought process thing so I gave it thought flying up to MT in the hopes that the answer might just give you thought.
“Why hadn’t I had any Friday thoughts?” Most of my material for these come from my having time to have a clear mind to actually think. Busy is no excuse, just the reality. That time usually comes from when I’m driving alone to some project and I can have conversations in my mind about topics that appear in the emptiness of driving. Well, I’ve not been driving much by myself to project for the last few months because I’ve been so fortunate to have Jake with me (soon coming to an end as he heads back to college). I’ve been so spoiled with him doing the driving so I can read.
Now reading often brings thoughts to mind. I like reading other’s thoughts because that starts a train of my own thoughts as I combine their ideas with my own goals. Of late though, I’ve not done much of what I call “pleasure” reading but rather reading more technical stuff. It’s like reading material for a college class then sitting by a fire with a glass of merlot on a snowy day kind of stuff. So no inspiration is coming from that reading (but I am learning which later will cause hopefully a money making thought).
But I think this thought stuff is pretty important to us creatives! Why? What is a photograph? In many instances it is a visual expression of our thought at that moment we went click. Our coming to that moment to make that click took some thought. While for many the thinking process is about f/stop, shutter speed and metering, that essential technical we need to write with light, but those favorite images come when the thought goes much deeper. Sharon at times will tell me to get out of the office and go shooting, obviously I’m bouncing off the walls when she says that. My reply quite often is, “My mind is not clear enough.” That’s just another way of my saying that I have too much life on my mind to let go and be a photographer. Just too much thought to operate!
On the flip side, I think out a lot of projects, planning them out in my mind and on paper. I put a lot of thought into some where there is a possibility of some control. And others the thought is no more than the gathering up of the normal gear for a basic project where the possibility of being skunked is just as good as success. This is a very mechanical thought process and I think of it as the same as thinking of f/stop and shutter speed. It’s the technical side of photography.
Friday Thoughts though are more of the thought process that I feel creative have to think through for the true art of visual communication to come through. This is the process of where you look back at who you are as a person, digest those experience, good or bad that have carved out who you are and then tap into those life moments to make a new one in the form of a photograph. As I like to say, I have more faults then California, some shake up others and some shake up me. No matter which might be the case, with time the scare heals over and new growth comes from the earthquake. That growth is what spurs on my photography. But only when I think about it and make it part of my thought process.
To put this in immediate terms, where am I right now? We’re up in Yellowstone for the 847th time (I’m making that number up). I’ve been in this park during every month of the year and walked, driven and rode over most of the park a couple of times (put never flown over it, hint, hint flyboy!). I’m about to spend two weeks here exploring it, but it’s not truly new to me or my camera. So the thought goes through my mind more than once, “How do I make something new of an “old” place?” I mean some features haven’t changed in some million years yet I’m so incredibly fortunate to be standing in front of them again. How do I take that good fortune, what I’ve learned since last time I was standing in front of them and turn that into a photograph to inspire you? Giving that question thought has given me a headache!
“I just thought of something!” When I would say that to me dad growing up, he would often come back with, “Did it hurt?” Thinking is something I do a lot but I don’t confuse it with a thought. Ever think of these two as being different? Thinking is a mental process, a thought is a mental process analyzed by the heart. So to answer the original question, I’ve had thoughts but they have been too close to the heart to share in words, but have tried hard to do it in my images.
In many ways, I’m like a little kid on Christmas even when I’m out shooting. The night before a shoot, my mind is busy thinking about what I’m going to shoot and after I think through all the possibilities, problems, solutions and the gear I have packed, the excitement of the shoot grabs hold. Often I can’t sleep for hours if it’s something I’ve long wanted to photograph. Be it a location, a critter or in this case an aircraft, the knowledge of the possibility of making images of it the next day just kicks on the little kid switch. When we were in Oshkosh in July and I was told the next morning the V-22 Osprey would be flying in and its flight path was right over our campsite, I was so excited! I have no clue why this very unconventional aircraft has so caught my imagination but it has. In case you aren’t up on your aircraft, this is a plane that can take off and land like a helicopter. It’s pretty darn cool, it’s pretty darn weird, it’s pretty and I was going to be able to photograph it the next day. I couldn’t wait. The next morning I woke up and looked out the tent and my heart sank. It was foggy with a solid overcast above that. Not the optimal backdrop for a military gray aircraft.
Right on que, the Osprey flew in and as you can see, I photographed it. You might also notice these photos are on my warbirdimages.com site. Some of my more observant and inquisitive readers pick up on these things at time and ask the very valid question, why? Why take the photos, why file the images, why edit them and why revisit them when time is so precious? Whether you’re photographing a pond, a leaf, a lizard, an elk, a sparrow, or eagle or plane or football player, be it your passion or someone else’s there are always lessons to learn. Those learned lessons will most definitely some day save your butt so you are ready to make the photo of the subject. The trick is to learn and if you don’t shoot when it sucks or if you delete images that don’t work, how can you learn? At least for myself, I have to revisit mistakes, unsuccessful images to move my photography forward. Storage space is dirt cheap so I keep sharp images that fall in this category. So what did I learn from the Osprey?
The first thing I wanted to know was what shutter speed to use to blur the props/rotors. If you do a quick search on the web for photos of the V-22, you’ll see the blades are normally frozen like a model hung from the ceiling on string. One key aspect of photography many miss is, we are often photographing living, moving subjects at 1/500sec. We’re freezing life that’s bursting to move! Aircraft when in the air need to appear and feel in the photograph as if they are flying so blurred props/rotors are a must for me. These photos where taken in Shutter Speed priority at 1/90 and I’m not really pleased with the blur (click here for reference). When it comes to post processing, the one think that bugged me was the color cast. It was a dirty blue/tan like a smoggy morning in Los Angeles. I have a number of methods in my arsenal for removing color cast and for aviation, I prefer using Nik’s Color Efex Pro White Neutralizer. There is no guess work with it and it’s really, really fast. By having “bad” images like this in which I need to find a “fix” to make lemonade, I have all these tools when the time comes to make an image work. All of this comes from a discussion I had with a photographer yesterday again stressing that deleting all your “bad” images can be a bad idea. We never have all the answers, we never make the great click, we are all, always learning and there is still no better place to learn then in our own images. I have an opportunity shortly to again photograph the Osprey and with the photo gods willing, I’ll have the right conditions to put to use what I’ve learned from the past.
Photos captured by D3x, 200-400VR2 on Lexar UDMA digital film
The sharing of images brings so many reactions, some good and some, not so good. But the not so good are so blown away and erased by the few good. This one rates as great in my book. If you look back at my postings from Oshkosh back in July, you’ll find post on one gentleman I meet there and the revelation that the event was not about planes, but about people. And in the grand scheme of things, that’s really true of all photography. We take time from our lives to follow our passion, get frustrated with this black box in the hope of concurring it for what? So we can share our good fortunes with others to make them smile. What a grand and noble pursuit it is!
I’ve been very fortunate with the release of my book to hear from a lot more folks from around the planet. Critters and landscapes tend to bring the bright side out in folks. So I’ve heard some very kind words from folks of late (thanks!). But today, I had a note from someone requesting a sample copy of our BT Journal. It’s a short message, but I never thought I would get such a response to my aviation work. This is what Pete had to say.
“thanks for sharing yu vintage airplanes with us. My Dad piloted B17′s and named one after me, little stinky a baby with a load in my diaper. Wonderful plane designed and flown by our greatest generation”
The photograph, it’s power never ceases to amaze me. This photo is for your dad Pete.
In Black and White!
Make it a Grand Photographic Weekend!
I met Monica, I don’t know 5 or 7yrs ago. If you met Monica, you would never forget her because she just oozes life, seriously, you can’t shut her up or deter her smile or laugh! She signed up to be in my MLP and all she owned was a point and shoot camera. That’s a bit below minimum requirements. But there was something about this lady though, something in her letter that just said, “ACCEPT ME, I’M VERY SPECIAL!” The fact she had fought and beaten breast cancer not once, but twice definitely captured my heart along with her unbridled desire to master photography. Then there is this thing she has for life, it’s infectious. There is no doubt she had her hands full with me and I know there were times she wanted to be Homer with me Bart and just make my eyes pop out. There were also times she cried on my shoulder. She’s a very special lady!
One of the great blessings of photography has been meeting folks like Monica! Over the years we have kept in touch and like these two images, she shares with me her triumphs and she has had many winning many awards, becoming president of her club and best of all, carrying on the greatest tradition in photography, inspiring others with her photographs. All this while she is once again battling stage 4 breast cancer, the bastard came back! Despite having lived through me as a mentor and cancer, she’s never once complained, never given up but always, always carried on with a camera in her hand sharing her passion for life with everyone she meets with the biggest smile on the planet.
She doesn’t know this, but there have been times when feeling sorry for myself for some petty photographic thing not going the way I want it, her email would show up in my email box and I would instantly feel ashamed knowing what this lady has gone through to be a photographer. That’s why I’m sharing Monica’s story with you. I asked her if it was OK and she said yes, that’s just her nature, but she didn’t know what I was going to say. Photographic problems don’t amount to a hill of beans compared to battling for your life. When you meet someone like Monica who while she is battling for her life, she’s battling more to grab your heartstrings with her images, you simply can’t find more inspiration for your photography. We are so fortunate as photographers to be able to pursue our passion that moans and groans really don’t fit. We all could take a play from Monica’s playbook and be better for it. It’s real simple, she just wants to make folks smile with her life and photography. Personally, I know of no greater gift! Thanks Monica…God’s speed!
It all started in March. “We have an opportunity, a once in a lifetime one to have a gathering of five P-38s” was how the phone call began. For the non-aviation enthusiast, the P-38 Lightning is a WWII fighter of incredible fame. Between those in static displays and flying, we’re looking at just a handful of these dual boom flying machines of an ancient era left in the world. Personally, it was a plane my father, a bombardier/navigator in B-29s in WWII was involved with in the factory. I grew up on stories of this fabled aircraft with models and photos about the house. So when the call came and I was asked to help in the effort to bring the P-38s to the Reno Air Races in Sept, I jumped right in.
Fast forward the clock to the races just last week. As it is with aircraft that are 60-80 years old, things happen. And running these warbirds takes money, just the gas bill alone makes me gulp. So at the start of race week, we only had one P-38 at the races, the very famous Glacier Girl and that was it. So what had been planned for months had fallen by the wayside. I had brought my Ken Lab Gyro K4 with me, made plans but like so many previous times in my career, the best laid plans…well, you know the rest.
The second day of the races and the ramp rumor (what I call them) was that the 23 Skidoo P-38 from Planes of Fame was flying up. Then the plan was hatched, how about a shoot with the two P-38s and the two F7F Tiger Cats at the races? It had never been done before and the likelihood it would ever happen again were slim to none. OK, the shoot might be on. The next day, it was off again. The next day, it was on again. My good friend Richard said about the whole thing, “I’ll believe it once we’ve landed.” The goal was to do an air-to-air photographing a flight of four planes from the rear of a C-130. Talk about grandiose! The next day, the flight was off again and then on the last possible day we could do it, it was on, then off and then on if they can get the tire on the C-130 changed soon enough. As Dave put it (the guy ramroding the whole adventure), “Its a roller coaster ride!”
Then came the call…we’re on for 17:30. Then it was 16:30 and then it was 17:00 and finally, briefing would be at 17:30 for a flight at 18:00. Holly Cow! There were to be only eight photographers on this historic flight and I was very incredibly, incredibly, incredibly fortunate to be even asked to be one of them. My emotions went up and down from my throat to my toes so many times I felt I’d already taken the flight. As we walked over to where we were going to have the briefing, details kept changing, time of the briefing, location, up until the very moment the briefing began, things were in flux. While I had brought and thought through the camera gear I was going to use, with each change in the plans I would fret through what gear to take. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, there would be NO reshoots!
We all gathered right next to where Glacier Girl (a ten million dollar beaut!) was parked all week. She had been pulled out to the ramp and parked next to 23 Skidoo, Here Kitty Kitty and Big Bossman (F7F Tiger Cats). And there I am, the “rookie” with aviation photographer stars Paul Bowen, Richard VanderMeulen, Dave Leininger, Scott Slocum, Kevin Graham, Buckie and Jimmy listening to four legendary pilots brief us on the flight. I pinched myself twice. This flight was a first for everyone, from the pilots to the planes to the photographers. And the stakes were very high, there was zero room for any mistakes. And there I was, the rookie, wide eyed, nervous, sweating, excited, taking it all in while counting every blessing. Keep in mind that I’ve only been doing aviation photography for three years and my first air-to-air in January and here I was, incredibly blessed to be included. Later, when I asked why I was included, I was told, “your reputation and a big thanks.”
The briefing was over and we basically ran back to the Media Room to get our gear, get in the van and get loaded up in the C-130. From the briefing to the Media Room I was rethinking the lenses I would use once again. It’s then that it occurred to me that Bill Pekala from NPS was there shooting with the new 28-300VR. Changing lenses while shooting wasn’t an option. We would be shooting in groups of four photographers at a time with each group getting at most 20min to shoot. I needed to have THE lens on THE body from the get go. I walked up to Bill, told him the situation and asked point blank, “Would you trust this lens to such an event?” I trust him 100% and when he said, “Without hesitation” I asked if I could borrow the 28-300 (and did it perform!). I walked out of the Media Room with the 28-300VR on the D3x and the 24-70AFS on the D3s. With that, we were in the van and then walking into the C-130 getting briefed.
We would be shooting from the ramp at the rear of the C-130. We would be in the suck zone where anything will be sucked up and out! This includes photographers as well as camera gear not secured. So each photographer would be wearing a harness which was secured to the floor of the C-130. I was in group 2, second group to shoot so we picked a shooter from group one to partner up with. We went through putting on and taking off the harness, something where there is no room for mistakes. Any mistake, of a person or object falling out the back of the C-130 would not mean just the loss of that life or object, but also the planes behind us which the item would crash into doing 200+ knots bringing them down as well. This was very serious stuff. With all of this talked over and practiced under the watchful eye of the load master of the C-130, we sat down, put on our seat belts and the C-130 taxed out.
After all these months, after this amazing roller coaster ride, we are actually taxing to take off. Five of us in the very back of the plane are giddy as kids and of course being photographers, we are taking photos of each other. The excitement nearly took my breath away because before I knew it, we were airborn. Then I could feel us in a bank. Dave tapped on my shoulder and pointed out the window on the side of the C-130 where we could see the ground and then the runway. We were flying the race course! After one lap it was off to our appointment over Pyramid Lake with four amazing aircraft. Once in the air, there was no communication except by yelling in the ear to someone next to you (we all were wearing ear protection). The sign came up, we were down to only three aircraft, a Tiger Cat was having issues and flying back to Stead Airport. The slight disappointment was just setting in when we got the sign that we were back to four aircraft. What a roller coaster ride! Then was the sign to get the first four shooters in their harnesses and with that, the top half of the ramp door opened. We all strained to see in the bright light the flight behind us but we could see nothing. The first four photographers got up on the edge of the ramp and you could tell from their body gestures they were shooting and loving every moment of it. Their twenty minutes of shooting seemed to last all day. Without a word, when their time was up, they skinned down the ramp, took off their harnesses and just as we practiced, we put them on and moved up the ramp to shoot. What I had been thinking about for months was about to be in my viewfinder.
Dave & I went up the ramp together. We skinned up and as we neared the edge the suck zone started to pull us up the last few feet. I couldn’t see anything out the back of the C-130 and I wondered if the four planes had left formation and would be joining up with us shortly. I got up to the edge of the ramp, have my knees literally on the edge of the ramp, one more inch and I would be flying, I look out to see Glacier Girl parked right behind the C-130!!! OMG!!! I was not prepared to be nose to nose with history. Dave and I just looked at Glacier Girl and then each other really not believing what we were seeing. It literally took my breath away! Then we came out of the dream, SHOOT!!!!
The first shots were taken at 1/250, for sure sharp images. Like I said, this had not been done before and more than likely will never happen again so had to have some images tack sharp. With those recorded on both bodies, I went to work with the D3x/28-300 shooting at 1/90. Why that shutter speed? That’s what gives you the beautiful blur to the props and when the planes are flying right into the sun, it’s magical! Now keep in mind, you’re tied down to the C-130 by a fifteen foot tether with your knees on the edge of a metal ramp covered with non-skid material. It was great!!!! Using proper handholding, leaning out on the tether and pulling against the tether using my thighs I steadied myself and shot.
We were making a constant clockwise circle over Pyramid Lake, the background and light constantly changing. Richard worked the four planes into different formations so we could constantly shoot something a little different. The pilots of the four aircraft have amazing skills coming in making the most incredible turn into something beyond belief. The whole time we were fighting the clock. The sun was setting, fuel is expensive. With every turn the background changed, the light changed and the formation changed. I would fill up the buffer on the D3x and switch on the D3s and once the D3x was ready, I switched back. In our twenty minutes of shooting, I had over 800 images. If two were tack sharp, I would feel really good. Oh yeah, the doubts and fears raced through my mind. Opportunity of a lifetime, using a new lens for the first time, shooting at 1/90 in conditions where 1/1000 was required, there was plenty of room for total failure!
Time was up, slipped back down the ramp, got out of the harness and strapped back down in my seat. I looked at the LCD and I saw a sharp image. Phew! It was then time for giant smiles, high fives and the satisfaction of success. We landed, hugged and celebrated the moment with the killer C-130 crew, shook hands one more time and walked over to the Media Opps party. We were greeted like heroes with folks wanting to hear the story you just read and see the images. I handed my two bodies to our sons Brent & Jake and from their faces, I could see I had succeeded in capturing the magic of the experience in the images.
Each and every one of us can be and are rewarded by our photography on a daily basis. Yeah, this was one of those events that only happens to a photographer, to me, once in a lifetime. I will never, ever forget that moment coming up to the ramp of the C-130 and seeing Glacier Girl parked right there! There is nothing holding you back from the same reward! I wish it were possible for you to photograph the same four planes, but other grand opportunities are out there for you to find, explore and capture. Little or big, each and every opportunity you find, photograph and can share are just as tremendous in my book as this grand adventure. I want this story and these images to inspire you to go out and follow your heart and dreams with your photography taking you to new heights. Hopefully there are even more in my future and I have the same hope for you and your photography. My being in the back on that C-130 was a combination of ability and friends, the same combo that makes most things in life go around. It’s a recipe you too can follow and bring you the same rewards. With photography, dreams can take flight!
(Note: I ended up with 76% of my images shot tack sharp but I kept every single image I shot. Each and every one a special memory that I must save! A special thanks to Dave & Valerie for one of the greatest rewards friendship and this profession has ever graced me with!)
You’ve probably noticed I really like working with biologists. In fact, I’m pretty dependent on them and their expertise which is why I’ve always credited them for my success in the field. One aspect why I truly enjoy working with biologists is that they are very practical, worldly folks who openly share their wisdom. Much of this comes out as we’re working on a project in the process of collecting information. That’s what the projects we are involved with are all about, the collecting of data that can be used to understand and conserve a species. Data is everything, you could actually substitute the word data with knowledge (except we never really know mother nature). Many, many years ago finishing up a trap line (live traps) at the end of a project, we came to the last trap and it, like all the rest that weekend, was empty. As we closed up the last trap and put it away, I made a comment on the situation and how we hadn’t trapped any critters and gained no new information. The biologists simply looked up at me and said, “There’s data in no data.”
I stood there for a moment and must have had a very puzzled look on my face because the biologist went on to say, “the absence of any squirrels simply means they are not here at this moment or aren’t using this habitat. ” “We need to know that as much as where they are or the habitat they do use.” And while this is true and useful information for the biologist, for me the photographer who traveled five hours and spent a few days to work the lines and photograph the squirrel, this reality didn’t help me. I’ve been very fortunate in my career though to be told these little phrases of wisdom that tend to stick in some gooey part of my mind and bounce back at those times when I need them most. Our last week in the Arctic brought this oldie but goodie to mind.
In photography, I’ve come across many a practitioner of the art who, after a short period of time (a year or two) gives up on photography all together. The vast majority of the time it’s because of the failure they experienced in the pursuit of their art. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve never found a notice with my Nikon body or lens, Lexar flash card or Wacom Cintiq or any other piece of photographic gear I’ve purchased of that guarantees any sort of photographic success just because I bought them. And in reading their instruction books, you almost get a guarantee of frustration if anything. They don’t guarantee failure either but there sure is a big troubleshooting section which hints that failure is possible. Yet despite this, while we all start out the same, some make the cut and others don’t. Ever ask yourself why that is? I do quite often.
Some take failure really hard, really hard. They take it personally, an emotionally reaction to what is really just a reality that you’ve stepped in. Folks either get sucked in or they step out, wipe off their foot and place it in front of the other foot and move forward. I always feel I’m being picked on because of all failures I experience on what seems to be like a daily basis. Fortunately long ago though I was told the simple fact, there is data in no date.
After busting butt up the side of a mountain in the rain and then sitting in the rain for six hours waiting for a critter to appear that I’d planned to photograph for a year, failure is the least of the descriptors that went through my mind for the moment. And after the appropriate period of feeling sorry for myself (I have a table laminated to a card in my pocket telling me that period) my mind starts to take the “no data” and turn that into “data.” In other words, how do you turn around failure or, take no photos into some photos (not even shooting for great photos here) from what I’ve learned?
Failure is measured by everyone differently depending on where they are in their photographic pursuits. With that being a given, then the measure of success for each one of us will be different as well. For most just starting out, just getting a decent exposure and reasonable sharpness is considered success and that’s just fine. At least that’s how it was for me and from that small success (which can only be determined by having the failure to use as a measure) I moved forward. In this case in the Arctic, I hadn’t even had the opportunity yet to fail since I hadn’t gone click. The no data I had was no subject to focus on. Why was that? The one thing these marmots crave is sunshine and all we had was rain. Well damn, what are the odds I can do something about that problem? But that’s the first problem that had to be solved to move forward.
What’s the problem you have to solve to turn that failure into a success? I sure hope it’s not as monumental as mine of turning rain into sunshine. But it sure might feel that monumental and that in itself is a problem for most photographers. A problem a photographer addressed to me this week in their frustration is a very valid one. In a nutshell it was, “How will I ever have a style so someone looking at my photo will know I took it?” Of course, the answer could be as simple as, how cares or why is that important? Our road blocks to moving forward no matter what they are at that moment they are stopping us, are monumental. But a week or two later and they’re yesterday news.
What is it that anyone of us expect from our photography? What demands do we put on each click that we use to determine failure? Are those expectations realistic? My planning a year in advance to travel to the Arctic in the hopes in the short window of a week to find the subject in the perfect light to make the perfect photo, realistic? Do we set ourselves up for failure? You might be saying yes but I don’t think those who succeed in photography do. Rather, I think we set themselves up to succeed using failure as a stepping stone to that success! How can that work?
How did I know looking up Slope Mtn it was going to kick my butt? Because I’ve climbed such mountains before and they’ve kicked my butt and yet, I still keep climbing them (can apply that to my life). I’ve traveled to Alaska and the Arctic how many times now? And I still go thinking I’m going to have the light for my project I need as I pack my rain shell and paints, take the tent with extra space to dry clothes expecting rain. I don’t think creatives, photographers, communicators can move forward without the occasional step or two backwards. We don’t know the peaks without experiencing the valleys. My first day on that mountain not seeing anything but gray, literally gray and not even a marmot shit to know they were present is about as close as I like to get to no data. Yet, you saw yesterday that I did get the photo and not just the photo but one of the first photos of this unique critter of our wild heritage. Success is all too often measured in some tangible thing in the hand like a photo. I think life has taught me, when I’m smart enough to learn from it, that success is most of the time measured in every other way then some tangible object or photograph. It took me all these words to sum up words of advice that I use all the time and want to pass along in these matters. There’s data in no data!
I’ve been looking for an answer for over thirty years, ever since I picked up a camera and decided to make it my career. I remember all too clearly leaving a night college class and thinking out loud, “What’s the answer?” And here’s the problem. I don’t know the question. Seriously, I know the answer is out there, the one that will make it all work, make it all right, the one that solves all the problems and put everything in its right place. But if there is an answer, shouldn’t there be a question?
All too often when folks join me on a workshop, at some point during the week the statement comes out, “I don’t know the question to ask to get the answer I need.” Ever had that problem? Don’t know the question to ask to get the answer we need, I get stuck on that one a lot. I think I have for a long, long time. Of course this answer centers around the one thing I eat and sleep, that’s photography. It’s not that I go out seeking just the one answer because in my thirty year search so far I know it’s not out there. Hell, I do look for answers everyday for simple things like what f/stop or what lens or which software, those are the easy questions to ask and answers to find. It’s what we do as photographers and perhaps that’s my problem, the answer goes beyond a mere photographic click. And the fun thing is these simple questions keep changing so the rewards in finding their answers come nearly on a daily basis. I often say I’m proud I don’t have all the answers, but I do seek this one. But what about the big answer, where does one find that?
Once I thought I was on to it. When I started out, most photographers looked for that one thing that when they came up with “it,” “it” would keep generating income without nursing it along. It was a constant source of a small amount of income that would permit you to pursue your art without the daily grind of looking for work or selling an image (what would be a true luxury). I looked for years for just such a goose that laid us that golden egg and then I thought I found it. But like all such things that seem to be too good to be true, it was too good to be true. There is no such thing. The only long ranging security in this business is simply constantly putting the right foot in front of the left foot and staying vertical as you push yourself and your craft forward.
In the long winded career, the answer seems even more challenging to find. Every day one wakes up to turn empty space and pixels into photographs and not just photographs but at some point, a paycheck. But the answer has to be greater than just a photograph, just a paycheck. Perhaps the question might center around what are your goals for your photography and what you want your photography to bring you. Goals are a good thing and for someone like myself they are essential to provide some direction. Someone as weak minded as myself, going off on tangents that takes me down a path to nowhere is all too easy. I know, I’ve done it too many times, it’s embarrassing! Defining goals isn’t the answer I seek either, that’s just a part of life.
I find myself when my passion for wildlife photography being foiled by weather or timing or something, always looking back and just saying to myself, “there has to be an answer, I know there is an answer” though it and its question elude me. When I get questions from other photographers, some with obvious answers and some with no answer I know of, I go looking for the answer and yet, at times none comes. I ponder if I’m the only one looking for this answer. So I read a lot, words and thoughts by those I respect and those I don’t even know, wondering if someone else found the answer I seek. Perhaps I read in search of just someone else looking for an answer as I do to find solace in that I’m not alone in my search.
What do I think this answer might do for me or my photography? One possibility is permit me to just shoot, shoot with reckless abandon and not worrying about the outcome. Not worry that it pays the bills, not worry it makes anyone else happy, just make myself happy with my results. But that ain’t going to happen. The answer might just permit folks to accept what I have to put forth with no conditions, just that it is what it is without reading between the lines. Which of course means they just look at the images and not try to read between the lines. That would mean I could stop writing, that ain’t going to happen anytime soon either. So the answer won’t solve that. Then just what the hell is the answer I’ve been looking for all these years?
Ever heard Garth Brooks Unanswered Prayers? I kinda wonder if this answer I seek is along the same lines. I sometimes entertain the thought that just looking for the answer is the answer. Is the mere act of constantly looking for something, does that keep one going through tough times and good, could that be an answer? Is it that simple? Why does my gut doubt that, things never come that easily in photography. I hate to disappoint you thinking that after reading these ramblings of a mad man that I have the answer, I don’t have the answer for you or me. Whatever that greater question that keeps us creatives going, that keeps some of us old photographers still clicking after the decades of defeat and triumph I have the feeling will always be just beyond our grasps. The only thing I do know for sure, I will wake up tomorrow with the same feeling, out there somewhere is an answer!
The first post drew a whole bunch of responses and emails. I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of “wannabes” with tons of talent come and go over the decades. I know of some out there right now who are traveling down the road of disappointment. I remember the tough times when to pay bills, a lens had to be sold. I also know that if I can make it, anybody can make it but nobody including me, but, never said it was easy. There’s just no crying in photography!
This weekend I went to the Dayton Ohio Air Show and had a great time doing some aviation photography. Knowing my lens just wouldn’t be good enough I went to a camera store and rented the Nikon 300MM 2.8 lens, a beast of a lens, and boy does it turn heads! I’m still processing the photos but they seem to be pretty good for my first air show attempt. I’ll attach a couple of them so you can see a sample of my work. By the way, hats off to you for your aviation work. You just can’t explain to someone how challenging it is to photograph a jet going 600mph, it must be attempted to fully appreciate it.
And here is how a business begins. A spark of an idea, the “what if’ moment I’ve written about before and following through with it. And here is how ones discovers the smart way the answer to the what if moment. I’ve heard from a number of folks who have been wondering about aviation photography or have been bitten by the bug because of my photography (one of the greatest compliments any photographer can receive). In this case, the what if question was answered using great business sense that anyone can apply to any genre of photography.
How do you find the answer? You get behind the camera for the least amount of capitol while investing the greatest amount of time. Wanna know about aviation photography, go to a local airshow and see if it’s your cup of tea. You have the smallest investment in travel, really only paying for gas and parking. I know of so many folks who want to become wildlife photographers and the first place they go is Africa. Holly cow! Could you waste anymore money?! Going to Africa after you have skills, after you have the gear and after you know your market, that’s when you go to Africa. But you don’t spend all that time and money to find out if wildlife photography is in your future!
Next, he went to the airshow and after doing some research (in part reading the material here on this site), realized he didn’t have the lens for the event. Rather than going out and buying the big piece of glass, he rented! That’s simply damn smart and good business!
This is also how your learn that YOU CAN DO IT TOO! When it comes to aviation photography, I’m in the learning curve. While I might have started up the curver higher then the newbie, I’m still on that learning curve. What’s moving me up that curve is the passion for those silver gas hawks. There is nothing in photography that only one photographer can do and no one else!
Ok so let me get to my question finally, I loved doing the aviation pics how but can I turn this into a paying and maybe profitable career? The expense for the lens that I want to get, the Nikon 200-400MM VRII is about 7,000 as you know. While my wife does love me she laughed when I told her how much the “perfect” lens for this type of photography cost. Is there mostly just a market for selling prints or is there an association that I can contact? Also how do you handle licensing, can you even sell prints of airplains that you take without property and model releases? I know I’m probably not asking the right question or in the right way but I sure would appreciate any information you could provide.
And here lies the six million dollar question for any photographer in any sector of the profession! And you know what, there is no secret answer, there is no one answer, there are years of answers that for the most part only work for you!
Answering the very specific questions here, I’m not sure I can even begin to give valid answers. If he were asking about wildlife photography, I might have some past experience that, after a four or five day discussion be of value. But aviation, hell, I’ve only been thinking of making it a segment of our business for a few months. And in the very short time of the three years I’ve been building my aviation slide library the one thing I do know, it’s nothing like the business of wildlife photography other than a camera and lens is involved. The bottomline to answering the question, “…loved doing aviation pics how but can I turn this into a paying and maybe profitable career,” I’m just figuring that out for myself.
This email made it through with two images attached so I have some hint of the writer’s abilities. While the two images attached were good, they aren’t a cut above the rest. What raises a warning flag for me more is his statement he has only “processed” some of the images. Even in this day and age, the reliance of the digital darkroom to make a visual difference has evened out the playing field for so many that if you don’t do it better at the camera, you ain’t going to stand out. The photograph is everything and as I learned so long ago, you are only as good as your last photo.
I know probably the best thing I can do is to continue saving money up so I can do a one day private tutoring session with you. Then I can have an opportunity to not only improve on my photography skills but to also cover some of these types of questions. I am working on saving up the money for it but it sure feels like its taking forever, lol.
While this is a compliment, as a business plan it’s a little weak. Saving money to spend time behind the camera, that’s a smart business plan! When it comes to learning the business of photography, no one day tutoring or even five day workshop with me is enough. it just takes one thing like the start of the Gulf War to make you realize that if you’re in the wildlife photography business, you’d best start looking for other work unless you have photographs of oil soaked wildlife from the gulf.
Time is still the one answer that is universal and works. The problem though with this answer, most can’t or don’t give it time. That’s where passion comes in!
Well I certainly appreciate your hanging in during my ramblings, I tried to narrow my thousand questions down to just a couple to help get me pointed in the right direction. Thank you for any input that you may have to help me out!!
I hope this helps not only the writer but a couple of you as well. Photography to me is the only and best profession on the planet! It has been very good to me and we have been very fortunate that hanging in for the long run, things have turned out ok. I know that if you have passion for photography, it will take care of you as well!
Remember, YOU can change the world with your photographs!
What a bloody valid and pertinent question! Normally my spam filter prevents emails coming in with attachments from folks I don’t know but for some reason, this one made it through. I took that as a sign, it’s a big ass question that I should attempt to answer for all wanting to read. So Mark, here’s some answers for you, they’re just my two cents worth and hope they help. Just keep this in mind, I think anybody can make it in this business if they have just one thing, passion for photography. If you’re in this business for any other reason, you are doomed. Because you will need that passion to push through the tough times and you’ll need it to cherish the great times.
Well I don’t know where to start. I am starting out as a professional photographer and feel a little bit lost and overwhelmed.
For the record, this is exactly how I started and as far as I know from conversations with my peers, how they started as well. And the reality is, there is no easy way past this point. It’s what weeds out many from the get go. So, how do you get beyond being lost and overwhelmed?
There is only one answer I know of, time! I’m sure you’ve heard that old saying of paying your dues, but we’re talking about more than that. When I talk to folks about the business of photography, the first thing I tend to ask (once I feel they are sincere) them is where they want their photography to take them in five years. A common answer is the ‘ol “fame and fortune” which is an instant ticket to nowhere. The “I don’t really know” or the “I never thought of that” are the more sincere answer you should have. And once you realize you need to think that far out and then, to the best of your ability, find a good answer to the question, you’re on the road to not being lost or overwhelmed.
In practical terms, you’ve got to think of it strictly as a business. Money in – money out, they say for every dollar you spend you’ve gotta earn five. With this in mind comes my signature mantra when it comes to the business of wildlife photography. The only time you make money is when you are behind the camera! Without that photo, you’ve got nothing for the wall, the screen or printed page. And when you think about it, putting you efforts, time and money behind the camera all you can pays more dividends then just more inventory. I know, this is easy for me to say to are thinking. You might be working a 9-5 job when time to shoot is short and precious. If you think it’s tough working a 9-5 job, just wait until you’re self employed! No matter how hard you work monday through friday, no one pays you for all that hard work. You only get paid when you earn it with your camera. So, if you’re lost and overwhelmed in the beginning, get use to it and learn to use it as your motivation to put the right foot in front of the left foot in front of the right foot and keep moving forward.
As far as my professional work goes I am finding it very difficult to get portrait or senior photo work with the economy being what it is. I have been doing mostly wildlife and some landscape photography to help improve my skills. I am in the process of setting up my website so I can hopefully sell some of those types of prints online but I’m not sure of a better way to showcase them to bigger buyers.
I’m not sure where this notion got started that having a website is how one starts a photography business. Seriously, do you think those with money to spend on photography search the web for a place to spend it? “Well gee Moose, you have a website or two or three!” Yep, had one of the first wildlife websites in the world back in 1994 but it’s never been for the sale of my wildlife photography. I don’t wait for the buyer to find me, I go and find them. There is nothing passive about our business plan, it is very aggressive going out and finding the clients we feel our photography in our inventory will help their business, their message. I don’t wait for the phone to ring, we ring it!
With that kind of business plan, in this day and age if you don’t have editorial credits (and I don’t know how any wildlife photographer can survive as a shooter without them) you’d best have at the very least a very professional website that screams professional and not “lost, scared and praying you’ll use my images” kind of site. I mean when you’re making your website, ask yourself what it is your selling? Because if it’s photography, then that best be what your site screams from the very first click to the very first page.
And to address the “print” sales as a means of producing a secure income (and there is no such thing in this business), forget it! Yeah, you can and will sell prints here and there but just do the math. A print costs you how much to produce and you’re going to sell that print for how much? Now with that profit figure in your mind, how many prints would you have to sell each month just to pay your basic cost of living? After being at this for thirty years, I can honestly say that we have a print sale business but if I depended on just that income each and every month, well let’s just say I would weigh one hell of a lot less then I do. They are great when they happen but I’m very thankful I don’t have to depend on them day in and day out.
Sharon & I wake up every day and count our blessings that we are busy because there are lots of folks who aren’t. How do you get busy? You gotta open up your mind and imagination and find work. I tell most these days that I’m in the content creation business. One of the biggest benefits of being behind the camera all the time is that it feeds the mind and imagination. I realize the economy is weak and certain sectors are simply hurtin but if you’re in business and you are relying on those sectors you can’t help but be hurtin as well. This means only one thing, you find the sector that isn’t hurtin and then supply them with a product that only you can provide and provide it. I’m under no illusion that is easier said than done yet at the same time, it’s what any photographer who is busy is doing to stay busy.
Wildlife photography, any photography business for that matter is not for the faint of heart. It’s not for every hobbyist to take to a profession and it’s not the answer for when times are tough. To repeat myself, I feel anybody can make it in this business if, if they have the one magical ingredient, passion for photography!
I thought about this for a while, why the posting is going up so late. The question is very simple, how do folks vote to say whether they like your photograph or not? We could belabor the point of focus or exposure. These are always very popular reasons that photographers give for liking or not liking their photographs.
We could go on and talk about subject matter or placement. The Rule of Thirds always gets a good beating during that discussion. It normally deteriorates though back to exposure and depth of field. If you’re lucky, color might come into play at some point.
The discussion could elevate to a higher level and talk about light. Now we’re takin photography when we start talking about the light in a photo. There is no arguing that great light makes a great photo so using that as a measuring stick for voting would seem to make sense how folks vote.
But really, why do photographers think folks look at their images through those glasses? I guess if you only take your photographs to only please other photographers, that would be the criteria I guess the audience would use to vote rather they like your photo or not.
But how do the folks we should be shooting for, those not as fortunate to venture out and see the wonders of the world as we do, vote where they like a photograph or not? It’s real simple, they either look at it or they don’t.
Sure, we could debate all that stuff up above and a whole lot more that goes into making the general public like a photo. And while that’s true, doesn’t that debate take us away from the fun and passion that should be going into our images? I’ve yet to see a crowd around a magazine rack looking at one photo debating the merits of any photo. I’ve just seen smiles when they found something they like. I know when I really like a photo, I just smile and shake my head yes. That’s all it should take.
There is no mental debate about exposure or focus, placement of the subject or the light because they don’t know anything about that. They simply know what they like and don’t like. Perhaps putting that simplicity into your shooting might just improve your photography so, folks just simply like them.
I received an email a while back that basically said my aviation photography would improve if I got a pilot license. It made me think. I texted another friend and asked him if he thought that was true, if I got my pilot license, if he thought my aviation photography would improve. He texted back the worst answer, “What is it you tell people?” When I’m asked this question about knowledge, I typically say that knowing your subject is a very important part of wildlife photography.
Knowledge is such a powerful tool in whatever endeavor you might tackle in life. This is especially true in wildlife photography. The knowledge starts with the basics of f/stop and shutter speed and advances to the knowledge of light. It’s from light that all our images are born. This then progresses to applying this knowledge to our subject. With wildlife, we commonly start and are pleased with just finding the critter and getting a sharp image. But as we all know, that’s not the end all of critter photos. What gets you to the end all is, knowledge.
Jake & I made a suicide run to Chino on Saturday, to the Planes of Fame flying event. These are really cool because they bring in pilots who actually flew the aircraft and in this case, it was the TBM Avenger. One of the presenters was Charlie who was aboard the USS Franklin during WWII in the Pacific which was bombed by the Japanese and over 700 were killed. While a B&W film was being played of the Franklin burning and the rescue efforts during the event, it was quite something to think that for Charlie, it wasn’t a B&W film but his memories because he was there. Jake & I now had a little glimpse into history, into what it was like being a pilot of the Avenger with two Zeros on your tail trying to bring you down.
Just how much knowledge of the subject do you need to improve your photography? The real answer is, we can never have enough knowledge. But the question at hand for me is, do I need a pilot license to take better aviation photographs? I have always said that knowing basic biology is very important to be a successful wildlife photographer. At the same time, I don’t think you need a PhD. Personally, I’ve never taken one class in biology. Rather, I’ve learned in the field from the best which has served me very well. So getting a pilot license in my mind is no different than a PhD and I don’t think either would change my photography. Doesn’t mean for a moment I won’t continue my education with critters and planes, but I’m a photographer not a scholar and the knowledge I seek, it’s just part the photograph, not all of it. Seek the knowledge that in the immediate future will answer your questions and if your continue to do that, you can’t help but to improve your photography!