our photography is real simple…..
I am sure that you receive hundreds if not thousands of emails from people all around the world asking you for things. This is not one of those emails. I am not sure that given your busy schedule you may not even have an opportunity to read mine, but I wanted to send this to you to say thanks. For what you are probably asking. Simply put Moose, your willingness to share your knowledge, your work and skill with those of us that enjoy America’s wild heritage and vast landscapes. It is inspiring to the next generation of us who love the outdoors. I don’t have the means to travel to all the locations that I would like to photograph, but I really do feel a connection to your work and it makes me feel as if I have visited the place or that I have seen it with my own eyes even though in reality I have not. I have read your books and I visit your blog for insights on various techniques and even though I have not had the privilege of meeting you personally Moose, your writings and videos are crafted in such a fun and carefree way that makes all I think who watch, feel as if they know you.
I really strive to apply the lessons that you have learned to my own photography and really enjoy the story telling part of photography. The gratifying thing for me Moose is that my daughter, who is 10 is getting the photography bug and I could not be happier. She caught it by watching me and by looking at the pictures posted on your blog. I think it would be easy to sometimes forget how influential one person can be on another. My daughter and I have always been close. She is a real “Daddy’s girl” and loves coming outside to shoot and watch nature. Without babbling to much Moose, I just want to once again say thanks for the gift, and yes you do have gift, of storytelling through you pictures. It has impacted my life in such a positive way and for that I am grateful.
My daughter wanted to attach these pictures I had taken in our backyard. I am still working on the clean background and I am looking to add some fill flash on the pictures as well.
God Bless Moose,
YOU can change the world with your photography…don’t know how…here’s just one way!
It would seem for at least for a few readers, it’s a waste of time reading my posts on the business of photography. They asked I get back to writing about photography so I thought I would. Wildlife photography if you’ve not noticed is an expensive pursuit. The greatest expense is the time required to get that one great shot. When I say great shot, I’m talking about the one that just doesn’t make you and your spouse happy, the one that mom looks at and says, “You should be a professional photographer,” I’m talking about the one that would stop the world and make them look. Getting out in the field and then spending time there to make that shot requires time and when you work a 9-5 job or your self employed, that’s money. And if you’re not out there to make that great shot, then either you’re not a normal photographer or off a little.
Let’s say you get that great photo and I know with time, you all will. Then what? What do you do with that great photo, post it on Flickr or your Facebook wall and say your done? Is that why you spend all that money and all that time, for that one time view on the web? What if, what if you were to take that great photo and were able to reach a greater audience for 30 days or more with your great photo? Couldn’t you with that one great photo make a bigger impact? Could you possibly change the world? Well, to accomplish that and you can, you need to do a little photo business. And that’s what I want you to do with your photography, I want, no need you to make a difference with your wildlife photography! The wildlife needs you to make a difference! So this is in part why I’m talking about this business stuff. You’ve gotta reach a greater audience and it just can’t be the choir on the web. Hopefully for those wondering why I’ve posted some business thoughts, they now have an answer and I didn’t put them to sleep.
My post of yesterday brought in many great comments and questions, it would seem something I wrote connected for some. One recurring question comes from my comment about inventory, what most photographers call their slide files. Looking up the definition of inventory, you can find this: a merchandise or stock on hand, work in progress, raw materials, finished goods on hand, etc., made each year by a business concern. If you think about this definition as it pertains to a photography business, the very definition is a basic business plan. It starts off with the simple premise that you have something to sell when the year begins, photographs already taken, processed and ready to go to a client. It goes on to suggest you need to have raw materials, ideas, camera gear, execution and passion which you in turn create new, fresh finished photographs for clients. The definition concludes that you’ve followed this basic formula all year. And that you start the next year with the same basic formula. The one thing the definition of inventory leaves out though which is essential is, it is only a small portion of a successful business! Any good photography business has a solid inventory and uses it as a mere starting point and not a ending point. This means that in a photography business, the image is where it all starts but is by no means where it all ends. And that my friends is what makes being in the business of photography such a grand pursuit!
If you’re in the portrait business, how you view and deal with the concept of inventory will be totally different from a wildlife photographer. And if you’re into sports, that would be totally different from car photographer. And if you live on the east coast it will be totally different from someone who lives on the west coast. You can easily have a totally different inventory though in the same business. And when you add in the most important variable to any business equation, YOU, then what we simply call inventory can easily be a lifelong pursuit. We are still talking photography, we are still talking business, basic business at that but you quickly can see, it’s really not that basic. But you should also see why I said what some brought into question. I do believe anybody who wants to make photography a business can do so. The biggest variable and the one that counts the most is the one you have the greatest control over. That’s the person behind the camera!
You have to understand, I am incredibly fortunate, incredibly lucky and really good at what I do. Because of the first two things, I try to share what I’ve learned and because of the last, some people want to listen. Jay Maisel is an amazing photographer who gives one of his keys to success away for free all the time and it’s real simple. He carries a camera with him all the time. I am no different, I have it with me all the time and when coupled with being blessed to travel to some cool locations, I’m able to create images that inspire others. I take this all as a huge responsibility which comes in part from a long ago conversation.
Long ago, before I really even knew I was going to be a photographer, I went to a presentation by a very prestigious landscape photographer. His images inspired me to get out and see these locations but when questioned where these exact locations were, he would not reveal the exact locations. His reasoning, if everyone went there then it would be ruined. And history has proved his reasoning as being very true. On the flip side, it belongs to us all, it is all our wild heritage. So when it comes to sharing places I go except for a couple locations where I was asked not to reveal the location to protect a population of a species, I have put it all out there.
Now if you read this blog, you know I share a bunch of those locations. Some are provided for free either in a blog posting, article or in our BT Journal. Others I make folks pay for the information, they’re called workshops. But whatever the case, here’s the one thing photographers seem to miss in this entire process. What you see in my photograph, you will never see again!
No, I don’t set off a nuke when I leave so you can never see the scene again. Rather, no two moments in time are the same! I chase light and when it comes to landscapes, I chase light and clouds. Both are essential elements in my photography and both are fleeting and both are never, ever the same again even if I go back to the exact same spot. Those who travel with me would argue this because they have experienced those magical moments with me, repeatedly, but like I started this whole piece. You have to understand, I am incredibly fortunate, incredibly lucky and really good at what I do. This combination when combined with the KISS theorem makes many aspects of photography repeatable. I have this well honed knack of looking at the elements around me and like Sherlock Holmes, use deductive reasoning to “predict” with some accuracy where I should have my ass to make the shot.
Looking at a map, having a simple iPhone app like Sun Seeker, knowing the light you like, you can do the same thing! In the thousands of pages here on this site, there are lots of suggestions where to be and when. I want YOU ALL to experience the same magic and wonders, capturing them with your camera and then share those results with others. That’s how we will preserve our wild heritage for future generations. That’s why I share so bloody much! Just understand I’m very fortunate, lucky and good at what I do. I do not have the Harry Potter Map to North America Kodak locations nor written it to make the perfect shot any given minute. The key is to simply be out shooting and the rest does tend to unfold. Do your homework, camera, technology, location, weather and I know you will find that Kodak spot for yourself!
When I read a book, it’s often to be entertained where the storyteller paints a mental picture with words leading my imagination where they want to take it. I think a book is a great read when I get done, the story has peaked my imagination and the writer has taken me on a journey I really enjoyed. In this process, the storyteller doesn’t tell the whole story in the first paragraph. Rather, they take lots of time to tap my imagination and let my imagination ask questions, fill in blanks and at the end, satisfies my imagination by letting it know it was right. There’s nothing like a good book!
Can we do the same thing with our photographs? Can we show just enough to tap our viewers imagination and let their imagination do the job of being the storyteller? I’m not talking about cropping here though it is part of the process, I’m talking about moving beyond the basics of photo capture and moving into that realm many don’t see to consider. And that’s the viewer, their life experiences and how we can tap that to grab their imagination. If I were to have posted just the eyes and crown of the Statue of Liberty, you think there are many folks across the globe who wouldn’t have recognized it? If I just had a black shadow of a bison, think there are many who wouldn’t know it’s a bison? So then in our storytelling, our photographs, how much do we have to show?
I ask this question because of a number of images photographers have asked me to comment on in the past couple of weeks. Now I’m not an eyeball photographer, my subjects tend to be real small in the frame. What you see here are eyeball photographs, what was the “IN” thing when I started out 30yrs ago. I never really got into it because I always felt it never left the viewers imagination much room to look. I picked these iamges as examples because they are my best examples of the eyes tapping into your eyes and you’re asking, “What’s going on behind those eyes?” I also selected them because without showing the entire critter, you can easily figure out what species they are. So then, I not only tap your imagination, I make you ask and answer a question. I get you involved with the subject in the photograph.
I’ve seen images lately that the photographer was happy as hell (until they talked to me) with their photo just because it was in focus. As in, that was it’s only redeeming value. There is no doubt that in the beginning, sharpness, exposure and all those basics when they are in place provide us with a level of satisfaction. But this sorry to say is not enough which everyone figures out sooner or later. But then many look for what it takes to move their photos forward. Making images that tap into the viewers imagination is a real challenge, there is no easy way to do it, there is no formula, no online class you can watch to point the way. You have to tap your own imagination and ask it what makes it tick, what excites it? You then have to look in your viewfinder and find that answer your imagination just told you and put that in your photographs. And what goes hand in hand with your imagination? The all important think called passion. I realize that just grasping f/stops and shutter speeds are a challenge at times and that’s OK. I want to encourage you though to share your images and that greatest statisfaction from sharing comes from when you tap the viewers imagination and at the same time, satisfy it with the answer you provide in the same photograph. Just ask yourself a simple question to get the ball rolling. How much do you have to show?
Out of window right now, my model takes a break from a stressful morning.
If you do, then run! Run to find a great foreground and subject to put with them. Clouds have the magic to transform the common into uncommon just by their very being. The key is to place your subject in the clouds but not letting the clouds overcome the subject. You want to use the clouds to give the imagination to roam and then bring the mind’s eye back down to the subject. This requires not only a great shape but also highlights and shadows that move the eye through the frame. In this process, you might have to use a split grad and the point of capture and Curves in post to manipulate those highlights and shadows. But if you have clouds, you have photographic gold!
Our dear friend Monica passed away last night, losing her 3rd round with cancer. I posted this back in Oct ’10, thought it would be good to repost now.
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!
Spent the evening in the office at the computer and wanted something playing. I grabbed the iPad and hit the HBO Go app and clicked on Documentaries. That’s when I saw Dark Light: The Art of Blind Photographers. This 2010 piece is simply marvelous, you can’t help but learn and be inspired. And it removes all excuses bringing to light the true joys of being a photographer. You can find it on HBO GO and probably other HBO outlets or you can order it. It’s a must see: it’s totally humbling!
It’s been a long week, even with the holiday, full of ups and downs. I was just about to sit down and write a boring post titled, “The Frustrations of a Blogger” about how many, not all look at the photo in the blog and that’s all. They don’t read the post but treat the photo like a book cover and judge its contents accordingly. I put a lot of time into my posts but this week, I was getting beaten up for not helping the right folks at the right moment, for free. Then I read an email like this and all those negatives go away and I know why I blog…..
Subject: Truly Grateful
I’ve nearly written this email 5-6 times and have finally decided to drop you a line, if for no other reason than to give you something other than “What do you think of the new D4?” to read.
About 1.5 years ago I was given a DSLR as a gift. I was super thrilled, but what I couldn’t anticipate was how happy it would make me.
The turning point came when I also received a gift card to Barnes and Noble. At the time I was having some car issues and was interested in trying to do the repairs myself so I was planning on using the gift card to purchase a repair manual for my vehicle. I wandered the aisles in B&N and turned a corner into the photography section. I glanced at a few “how-to” books, but my eyes were fixated on the nature/wildlife photography books. I picked up a couple, my mouth agape at the beauty of the photos, but returned them to the shelf for various reasons. Then I saw your book, “Captured,” peeking out towards the back. I grabbed it, flipped it open, started reading some of the text, turned on my heel, went to the counter, handed the lady my gift card, declined a plastic bag (to quote my father, “That’s OK, I’ll eat it here”), walked to my car, drove home, and spent the next two hours reading and re-reading sections of your book. I was captivated! Over the next several weeks I read your book cover to cover, taking notes along the way.
I hate bullshit and you’re a no bullshit guy. I love swear words and you dropped a few in the book (I’m pretty sure you did… I could be making that up!), which earned you major brownie points with me. But the way you wrote the book clicked with me. I’m a fisheries scientist by training and a nature lover at heart. Your stories and anecdotes of working with biologists rang true with me. One year ago (almost to the day) I was assisting a post-doc as she played surgeon and implanted acoustic transmitters in a popular fish species (walleye) and between surgeries (2-3 mins/surgery) I was grabbing my DSLR and snapping pictures like a madman, dropping it when I had to to get back and transfer the fish to recover chambers. The biologists I worked with were super grateful that I was there to document the study and be available to help, and I was elated to have the experience! I LOVE documenting research projects. It would be lovely if I could make a career out of it, but I digress.
Fast-forward a few months and my life quickly changed. I rolled the dice and decided that I would accept a job as a fisheries biologist and move from where I was living in Ottawa, Ontario to Chicago before completing my Master’s degree. This turned out to be a HUGE transition. My time in Ottawa was the best two years of my life: I made wonderful, life-long friends; was knee deep in some fantastic fishing (I’m a fisherman through and through); and met the woman of my dreams. I left all of that (still have the girlfriend, fortunately, though she’s doing a PhD on Prince Edward Island some 1,600 miles away). Culture shock hit me when I moved to Chicago, despite having lots of family around. Before photography, I used to eat, sleep, and breathe fishing; it was all I could think about and was my only hobby and my only escape. The fishing opportunities are limited in Chicago and those that are a available require specialized techniques that take years to develop.
Photography saved me. That may sound cliche or over the top, but in a sense it’s true. It made the shock of moving from a place I loved to a place I was less than enthused to be in (in this economy, you take what you can get), particularly since I couldn’t get out and fish easily. Though I missed fishing, I turned my attention to photography. I read everything I could get my hands on. I watched tutorials online. Perused various photographers’ portfolios to get ideas for my own images. Signed in to Facebook just to see if you’d posted something on your page and blog. Bought gear, bought software. Took my camera nearly every place I went, including with me to work (documenting research!). Spent and continue to spend more time at work looking at photography websites than I probably should! I still do all of these things (just finished reading your D4 settings and BT Journal iPad blog posts) with gusto.
I see the world differently around me. I look at a lone light fixture hanging off my apartment building and think, “How could I capture an image that would convey what my minds eye sees when I look at that light?” I look at sunrises or sunsets and think “This would be great light to shoot in!” I look at reflections in my parents’ dog’s eye and think of catch lights. I look at buildings and think of textures. I look at a red fire hydrant poking through a snow bank and think of the juxtaposition of an all white scene with a prominent red object intruding. I drive over a rickety bridge and think of wide-angle lenses and vanishing points. I look at a scene and assess what kind of dynamic range is there. I look at a plane and think, “What would Moose do?”
I have you, your teachings, and your willingness to share your knowledge and images to thank. My new-found love for photography has been a gift and blessing. I am so thankful to have something else to look forward to in life, particularly with my girlfriend living 1,600 miles away, and a creative outlet. It all started with your book!
If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for reading. It’s something I’ve wanted to write for a long time. Hopefully someday I can join you on one of your workshops and I can get to shake your hand!
S’mores roasted on a summer’s bonfire and sharing the sweetness with a friend waiting for the fireflys to emerge to light up the night. At the end of a grass strip filled with planes, the hangar by their owners enjoying birthday cake, that’s just about as good as life gets. The rewards photography brings can’t be summed up or better measured then moments like this. All done in a heartbeat with a simple click!
Here’s an example of the pieces when they mesh. An unique aircraft, A-26 normally tucked away in the back corner of the hangar with no photographic possibility. One day as things get moved around, it gets pulled out and I just happen to be there, the skies just happen to cooperate and the light is just right with nothing in the background to make a simple, clean click. I’ve been incredibly fortunate that many a time, the right cloud, rock, critter or person will be in the right place at the right time in front of my lens. In fact, I actually work hard to put myself in front of those interesting things so when it doesn’t happen, my mind starts spinning.
Here’s just such a case. We were in SD for our K&M Adventure a couple of weeks back and arrived at the South Dakota Air and Space Museum just as the storm broke. The skies were to die for, the light great and there in the back corner was a C-54 Skymaster looking really great. That’s if you like planes on sticks. I enjoy looking at them, learning about them but photographically, planes on sticks leave a lot to be desired for me. So I says to myself, “You know Photoshop, remove the sticks and park it on the grass.” Strictly a personal challenge, not something I was going to put out to photo buyers, I made the best possible images I could thinking the sticks and cement would disappear. I tried a couple of methods “parking” with this being the least offensive but they all suck. What bugs me most about the image are the tires, they simply look very wrong and that’s the only part of the photograph that actually has been messed with. I tried a number of techniques but no matter what, I simply don’t like the tires.
Now typically I don’t post images like the middle one, this is one of those experiments I talk about going down in flames that I keep to myself. It’s from these experiments though that I push my photography forward. Whether I succeed or go down in flames, you just never know until you try. And even though this experiment went down in misery, I’ll keep thinking about and working on a solution because at some point in time, I will have to make the photograph in similar conditions and then, failure won’t be an option. As my good friend Joe would say, it’s about getting out of your comfort zone. As a tow truck driver just reminded me, if you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space!
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!”