The cell buzzes and I see my sweet bride is calling. I’m just sitting in the truck with the camera sitting across my lap so I answer. “Whatja doin” she asks? “What I always do, I stare at dirt” I reply. She’s says with a smile in her voice, “And you do it better then anyone else!”
I wish when I started working with the endangered San Joaquin Kit Fox back (one of the 1st species to be listed as endangered back in ’64) in ’87, I kept records of all the months I just started at dirt in anticipation of a fox emerging from a den only to see dirt the whole time. Seriously, I have spent an entire day staring at dirt through the lens looking for activity only to see at most, an ant or fly. It just goes with the game, just because I show up doesn’t mean mother nature will. And you might think I’d learn and perhaps stop or do it better but neither is the case. I am working with the best biologists on the planet and even though some of the dens have collared animals and we know that animal is in that den, it still doesn’t mean when you have light, they will emerge. The Kit Fox is a “nocturnal” animal by nature but it does have some daytime activity. That’s what I count on, that “some” as I stare at dirt.
I got home at 02:00 today after another great week working with my friends, both biologists and kit fox at five different den sites. Two of those sites, I never saw a fox. At one, the photo you see above, that’s the only click I made after a couple of days at the den. One other, I only shot video at night under funky lights and the other, well on the very last day at the very last minute, I was blessed with some great biology in the last glow of light of the day. To me, that is an amazing week of success and that’s because I have come back from a week and all I have are shots of dirt!
I am always very appreciative of folk’s praise when they give me grandiose titles as a wildlife photographer. But I’ve seen images from “weekend warriors” that are much more spectacular then what I’ve captured in my career. What I am probably the best at though is staring at dirt. I’m a long haul, project wildlife photographer not going after the “best” shot but the “best biological” shot that not only tells a story about the critter but answers questions about its biology to move preservation forward. There is a big difference between the two “bests” in my book. And to me part of that is ego and commitment driven. While a “best” photo lives a glamorous life for a short time being heralded as the best, sadly they are forgotten in as short period. On the other hand, “best biological” gets nearly no notoriety but the images lives on for a very long time in science. To me, that’s much more a valid goal for my images.
The D4 was important to me to obtain because of digital as a tool. The D1 besides opening the digital world to my photography (and for many of you as well), captured a photo of the kit fox that went around the world hours after being taken that made an impact. I foresaw the D4 with its high ISO video as well as still abilities able to do the same thing for this same species, one that is very much imperil. All I had to do was get the two together, the D4 and the kit fox which required me to perform my specialty with flawless professionalism, stare at dirt. And that last evening in that last moment of light with the camera ISO set at 1600, something I never did in the past, I made the shots that are in the process of being written up as I type because once again, biology and technology came together for a moment to record while not earth shattering and nothing you’ll see on the evening news, history. You see a hint of that in the photo right above, not even 12hrs old by now. There is no pay, no assignment, no fanfare just the simple reward that applying a craft with passion, a photo can make a difference in the grand scheme of things. All of this doing what Sharon says I’m the best at, I stare at dirt!
One of the incredible blessings of photography is where it takes you, it’s often to a place you never dreamt of going to. Right now I’m down in Kissimmee, FL getting ready for our Air2Air Workshop at a facility a year ago wasn’t even on my radar screen. A year later and I’ve just finished an amazing dinner with folks I consider the best of friends and it’s all because of a click!
The Precons for the NAPP Safari come out of my imagination. I have the fun of finding the location and thinking about the possible photography then the true brain, Kathy, Scott Kelby’s personal assistant has to make my crazy ideas work. So far we’re batting a 1000 so I have only praise for Ms. Kathy. I start planning a Precon about 1 year before the actual date which was the case for the Spring 2010 Photoshop World NAPP Safari in Orlando. We had it all set to happen at the Fantasy of Flight. It was all good to go up until a few weeks prior to the event. Then Fantasy of Flight had a double booking occur, so very common but when you’re good, participants never know there was a wrinkle in the plans. Well, Kathy called me and said, “Houston, we have a problem.”
We needed photography for folks for two hours and since we were doing an “aviation” theme with models, of course I wanted to continue with the theme. I was swamped with life stuff at the time so I told Kathy of this place I had heard nothing but good about pretty close by to where Photoshop World was being held in Orlando. So logistically it would work. I had never work with these folks but I was raised on the simply philosophy, “The least they can say is no.” I told Kathy to use my name in the hopes they might have heard of me. So Kathy called the folks at Stallion 51.
Recently hired at Stallion 51 unknown to us was the amazing KT. Stallion 51 had never done anything like this, the owner Lee wasn’t even sure what he was having being put in front of him, 60 photographers coming to photograph his P-51D Mustangs with models in tow! That’s an awful a lot to ask of anyone to grasp onto, especially a pilot. But KT was able to explain with the little Kathy was able to present, that this would be good “exposure” for Stallion 51. As one who has been asked to risk a bunch on the mere reward of “exposure,” I don’t blame anyone for saying no to such propositions. To Lee’s and KT’s credit, they said yes and we had a location for our two hour aviation shoot.
With the brilliance of McNally’s lighting, the slap stick acting of Russell Brown and the stars of the shoot, the planes of Stallion 51, we had an incredible great time and made some great images. I heard from a majority of the attendees afterwards who admitted that the idea of shooting “planes” for the day was their last idea of a good time. But afterwards, well two of these folks ditched Photoshop World to shoot and a giant nearby airshow, Sun n’ Fun! And during this whole time, I talked and would become dear friends with KT and the Stallion 51 family.
Advance the calendar forward year and here I am at Stallion 51 again. During that year I’ve come back many a time to Stallion 51, sometimes just to be social and some of the times servicing them as a client, taking care of photographic needs. And all of this because of a click, a moment with a camera and the sharing of an image coming from that moment. And that is one of the most amazing things that ever comes from photography.
Yes, we enjoy those clicks that remind of us of those moment in time that a special. That’s what photography really is all about, not that D4 being delivered at my home tomorrow that I won’t be able to see until Tuesday when I get home. Excuse me, I digressed a moment there. But better than that moment we record for every is the lives we touch and touch ours by that moment. The wise photograph latches onto that and not the miss chosen f/stop or missed split second of gesture. The wise photographer realizes that it’s the lives their photography touches and then reach back to touch ours is truly why we should be and are photographers.
There is no way a year ago when I just threw out an idea of a location did I know the people involved, from participants to clients, would a year later become part of my life! No matter how we describe the power of click, this has to be its greatest power, a life altering movement that might start faster than a heartbeat, as fast as 1/125. So next time you put that camera to your eye and you question the quality of that photograph you are creating, next time question the even bigger picture. Just what will be the blessing of that click?!
When I heard this NPR interview with George Cloony yesterday, a number of things he said resonated with me. I’ve been pondering them for the last day wondering if it was just me. Then a couple of emails came in this morning and I knew it wasn’t just me. The quote that resonates with what I’ve been seeing in some photographers is this….”People are experiencing less and recording more…” Give the interview a listen, some good stuff there for photographers.
Dec 31, 1997 a pelican case arrived at the office. I opened it up to see what at first appeared to be a familiar friend, an F5 body but it wasn’t the same F5 I was use to. It was a Kodak DCS 620, the first “DLSR” that I shot with. Back in the day, we’re only talking 15yrs ago, Kodak was the big player in digital photography from sensors to projectors and everything in between. They’ve now filed Chptr 11 and we have to ask ourselves why and what can we learn from it that which applies to our own photography?
The two product shots of the camera were taken with a Coolpix 900. Nikon had provided me a “black box” to shoot with to be one of the three shooters to introduce Nikon’s entry into the digital age. The Coolpix produced a 1mb Jpeg and the 620, it created this three file thing you had to combine with their software to get a Tiff (can you say painful!). The results though were enough for many of us to realize the potential of digital photography. Kodak had one helluva track record of producing some amazing products. With a little technology and a lot of imagination, photography progressed to what we enjoy today with the D4 being an amazing leap from the 620 of just 15yrs ago. Why didn’t Kodak keep up though to ride the way they help generate?
When I first heard that Kodak was filing, I thought back to a Jr High project where I got an A because I invested my “money” in their stock and it made the best showing during the semester. Then I thought back about the photographers who told me that digital was a fad like the disk camera or APS (remember those from film days?). Some of those shooters are now long gone, no longer shooting and a couple like myself who embraced digital are still out there clicking. What can we learn from this short look at our history? Here’s my lonely $.02 on the matter.
(photo of my light table filled with the latest project at the time, taken with the Kodak DCS 620)
There’s this thought that gear isn’t important, the photographer is. There’s this thought that the photographer isn’t important, the gear is. Personally, I don’t see how you can divorce either from the other in a creative world of visually communicating.The human spirit drives both, the photographer and the gear. At least, that’s how I see it. I know in no uncertain terms that the D3 obtained for me a photograph NO OTHER way possible until it hit my hands. The GEAR made the photo but the PHOTOGRAPHER had to recognize the problem and realize its solution. It was a MARRIAGE between the two that made the one image possible and when it came to the Greater Sage Grouse project, it was pivotal in the solution! The solution required both photographer and gear, neither one could do it alone.
My involvement with Kodak digital ended around 2002 so I’m not sure all that occurred since then to lead up to the filing, but we had the feeling back then that the connection between gear and the photographer was being missed. In the beginning of digital, most everyone missed it but as we know, history has shown that digital ain’t all that bad. I have to admit when I heard the D4 was being announced, I said to myself, “Here we go again.” Much to my great surprise, the upgrade in technology has been for the most part embraced and not criticized! While I now have over 2200 emails with questions about the D4 to answer, they are all boil down to the basic question, “How will this technology improve my photography?”
And to be honest with you, alone I don’t think it will. What I do think it will do is open the doors to your imagination permitting you to go places you might not have realized you could have gone without it. The D4 in itself is not the game changer. You, yourself are not the game changer. It is when the two come together, the spirit and the technology, that’s the game changer will occur. Personally, I know that many of the photographs I’ve taken in the last 15yrs with digital I could have done with film. I also know there is one image, one very important one that change the world for a species, that could only have made with a D3, digital. It’s that one, that one possible click that constantly pushes me to embrace new technology.
You’ve gotta take risks in every form as a photographer to move forward. You often fall down and you have to pick yourself back up and learn from that fall. You don’t and you will fall again. But if you do, you’re up an running. For way too many, these are tough times which saddens me as photography is just to joyous of a life pursuit to have that pressure. For those, thinking about obtaining a D4 just isn’t possible but don’t let that stop you from moving in that direction. I often hear, “Got to learn what my camera can do now before I upgrade.” It’s not what your camera can do, it’s what you can do with your camera! The last thing I want you to do is go Chptr 11 on your photography so push yourself to push your gear! Shutter speeds and apertures are still the exact same as there were 100yrs ago. Light will always be a mystery we chase. Wrap them up in your spirit and you won’t go bankrupt. Our photographic future is awfully damn bright, go out and click and share never forgetting, YOU with your camera can change the world with a photograph!
The phone rings, Paul’s on the other end wanting to know if we’re home, they want to drop by and give me something. When the flight director of the Space Shuttle Program who lives in TX says he wants to drop by, you make sure you are home! We had done an air to air shoot with Paul & his lovely wife Louise in their RVs a couple of month back and as I always do, I sent them like I send all pilots prints as a thank you for their time and skill. They came over and we talked for a while, got caught up on plane stuff and made some new plans for 2012. Paul had walked in with apparently nothing in his hands so my mind was wondering what was up. Then Paul reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out something which he placed in my hand. “We had a couple of these made up special using metal that flew in the Shuttle for a few million miles” he says as he lets the challenge coin drop in my hand. WOW!
It is really easy for me to pull heartstrings when I throw up a photo of a bunny. Everyone loves Peter Cottontail so it’s easy to hit home. I can throw up some moody shot of a landscape with a little color here, a rock there and clouds everywhere and most of the time it hits its mark in the heart. But throw up a photo of a craft made of metal (or in this case plastic) and grabbing the heartstrings has a whole new challenge about it. It’s been a week of gift receiving with plane owners sending a book they created about the restoration of their aircraft in which I was involved in, an Air2Air Workshop student sending a gorgeous calendar of his images to say thanks, a facility manager thanking me for an article and then the challenge coin. It all comes from a passion for photography AND sharing it!
I firmly believe the #1 person who must be thrilled with your photography is YOURSELF! I’m not suggesting we fall in love with every click but I am saying we must be in love with photography and our photography for where it is at this moment in time. We should be able to grab our own heartstrings with our clicks so that we not only find enjoyment for what we did today, but find the inspiration for what we want to do tomorrow. That’s how you keep the passion alive!
I also believe that this process only succeeds when we get past our satisfaction and start reaching out and touching others with our photos. I’m not talking about those comments you receive when you post your image to some web group, I’m talking about placing your image in the hands of someone and all you see is that smile. You know what I’m talking about, you’ve all seen it, that warm smile that comes from the heart. That’s when you know, you know you are reaching out and saying something with your photograph. Paul wanting to fly with me again was thanks enough, telling me two of my prints hang on his office wall in Houston, that’s over the top! But to come all this way to put that coin in my hand…. And then when the recipient of your photo is so moved by them that they in return feel they need to give you something in return, well, there simply are no words for that satisfaction.
It is truly easy to get wrapped up in the latest gear, newest post product or technique but don’t ever forget that it’s the passion that you put into that click that is revealed with all of that stuff in that final image! While we don’t hit the mark every time, it really only takes those couple that hit the bullseye dead center to keep you clicking to reach that point one more time. While gifts are great and a tangible means of knowing you’ve reached your goal, the best gifts often go unspoken except by the heart. Don’t let f/stop and shutter speed get in the way of the main target of your photography and that’s reaching out and telling the story of your great fortune to others. Remember, heartstrings are the target!
the best part of a snow storm is when the sun comes back out.
“How can I make money with my photography?” The #4 question I’m asked, moving up from #9 in the last qtr (the things I keep track of). The quick answer is yes but it’s just not that simple. In fact, when our son Jake (on the lift with Casey shooting Super Corsairs here) decided to follow his parents path of careers, to say we were concerned is an understatement. The one giant advantage Jake has over most though is he has seen and heard for most of his life the trials, tribulations, successes and rewards his parents have had in this industry. Time is one of the essential ingredients in making it in this biz! The question on the table though is, “How can I make money with my photography?”
I don’t have all the answers, I’ve not even worked in 1% of the photo industry. I only know those things that have worked for us. To me it’s real simple, you wanna succeed long term then you’ve gotta first succeed in the editorial market. I’m constantly hearing from photographers how tough that is (because it was so easy 30yrs ago). I use to curse that, it being so tough but now I welcome it for so many reasons. The main being is I think it’s supposed to be tough so only those shooters with a passion for photography and not the drive for just money “make it” (and I don’t know what that is yet). What I’ve said from the beginning still holds true today. Without the photograph, you have nothing to sell, print, put on the wall or page or in the the show! That means real simply, you wanna make money, you have to shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, shoot, and then shoot some more!
Many who I’ve told that too just look me in the eye and say one way or the other, “sure!” Typically with that I reply with a question, “You ever seen a photograph in a magazine that really sucked?” Most of the time folks say yeah. I then ask, “You have better then that in your files?” And quite often the answer comes back, yeap! That leads me to one of my favorite sayings. The photographs you see in print are not from the best photographers, but from the best business men. And those who have the best photographs and are the best businessmen are the ones who last decades. And how do you acquire both of those skills, the photograph and the biz? The editorial market place IMHO.
A year ago, Sharon & I were pretty concerned with Jake’s decision to follow us. This are changing times. The photography biz is not a 40hrs job, it’s a 365 24/7 passion and is all consuming and most are simply not cut out for the ups and downs and the constant push to create content. Moving the clock forward a year, while we still have that basic parental concern for Jake, as for his biz, we have lots of confidence now. Yesterday is a good example of why. He was at his bank yesterday morning dealing with accepting int’l payments for articles he’s had published in Germany and in the afternoon at the new airport terminal in Bozeman where a permanent display of his prints is getting ready to be hung. Other then taking him out shooting, we had nothing to do with those successes. He earned these rewards all on his own by shooting a lot and working the biz. This doesn’t include the covers, dbl trucks and articles he’s had published in the last six months. This is a 23yr old showing that some old fashion business practices with solid photographs still does work!
Many ask, and I’m sure this piece will open the door to more questions, just how do you break into the editorial market place, how do you make money? We use to teach a 4 day workshop in our office to answer that one question. That means that not in this blog posting, an email or G+ response can I answer that question for you. It’s a bloody long answer to that one question. If I could sum it up I would say this. EVERY one of you can make it (but probably won’t) if you have the passion and time. With those two ingredients you will have the photographs and with the photographs, you can learn the biz (face it, if I can, anybody can). If you want it, I mean really want it because you wanna tell your story visually and are willing to make the scarifies for your passion, then the sky is the limit. And here’s the key, the biz, it’s all about the photograph!
It was one of those weeks where the highs and lows come and go with breakneck speed. Leaving the house at 05:00, Jake and I drove ten hours through the desert to arrive in Mesa in time to jump on the lift and go up 45 feet to shoot at sunset. Then we went to this marvelous party with all our pilot friends knowing we’d be on the field at 06:00 to continue shooting at sunrise. After an amazing day at the Wing, we were up in the air again, this time in the back of an A36 Bonanza photographing an event not seen since 1949 and what we were told would never be seen again. We then spent the next day at the hangar shooting, talking and laughing and then packed up all the gear, said our good-byes and Happy New Years and drove the 10 hours back through the desert to home. Other than a couple of UFOs over the desert, it was a quite drive ending at 03:00 back in Mammoth.
Photography is this marvelous pursuit where we gather up all these magical black boxes and tubes in padded bags, travel to some location and make marvelous images and then come home until the next adventure. When the photographs turn out great, it was a great trip. If the photos don’t turn out so good, the trip tends to be not so good. And if there is any business involved in this process, a whole new set of pressures can come or go. But in all of this, was the end photograph really the reward, what is it that brings the high and low? Or rather, is it the process where the photograph represents in a tangible way our feeling for that process?
We’re coming to the end of another year and I hope for you all, it was a great year. It was for us no matter how you add the plusses and minuses. And there are plenty of both and depending which happened last, you’re pleased or not pleased. And at the end of the year, we tend to reflect and ponder how we did and as photographers, that means our photographs. And while Monday will come and it will be a new year, in the scheme of things, it is really just the next day of our life. But we tend to reflect so how can we reflect, photographically and put our best foot forward for 2012?
While I tend to do it on a weekly bases, looking forward with the crystal ball can provide some direction. Being rather old fashioned, I try to remember the saying, “Those who don’t learn from the past tend to relive it.” For example, I shot my first two seat cockpit pano a month ago and at the camera, it didn’t go as smoothly as I would have liked so made changes so when I did them this week, that issue was resolved. But as it is with photography, those old issues solved so in moving forward, new ones arose now to be solved. By not making the same mistake over again, I did move forward if only to find new problems. That pretty much sums up photography, and life. And that I think this is to be celebrated!
As you might imagine, I have a few dates on a calendar with some parts of my life planned up until 2015. While I feel very fortunate to have that small slice of security in my profession, when those dates set so long ago are now passed, I tend to wonder where the time went. I try to reflect back as I ask myself, “Did I do the most with that time?” And all of this reflection, there is actually a way I find I can find a tangible answer, one that no matter how you mentally add up the columns, always brings a smile to my face.
It’s the photographs! Going through the 710k images filed this year isn’t practical but those I have finished and deem as my favorites (not all the same images as I put out for the public) tends to instantly put on the rose colored glasses and make the world all right again. Yeah, one or two bring back the memories of disasters that had to be dealt with but since there is a photograph there to represent that moment, in the end it all turned out for the best.
2011 was a year of evolution for Moose and WRP as some adventures closed their doors and other new ones opened for the first time. But 2011 was no different really then the thirty-one years that came before it for the business. Probably though why I’m poor is that like all photographers, my measure of success isn’t that check book but the images. This is a pursuit of passion and not money so no wonder photographers don’t have any money but have lots of passion since that’s what we chase.
This is the time of the year when we gather the family, tell stories of the past and create the new to then reflect upon next time we gather. Embrace this same approach to your photography and it will grow as you grow. As I sit here scrolling through my year of images, I reflect on what went into those images as I take notes how I want to improve them the next time out. And at the end of next year as I’ve done for the last three decades, I will look back again as I plan forward to the next click. It’s been a very good year and I expect at the very least, the same for next year. I wish you experienced and will experience the same and that your photography is your portal to this marvelous world we are so fortunate to explore. Share your adventures, share your photographs all year long but right now especially to light up those around you with the wonders photography can bring. It’s the best way to reflect on year!
Happy New Year!
Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should! This little rant originates from a photographer who insists on sending me really horrible images, I think because he wants to see how many times I can say SUCKS! This photographer insists on shooting everything as HDR, I mean everything (really, a toilet seat?)! What you see here are two of my suckie HDR images to illustrate the point of this rant. Just because you know HDR doesn’t mean it will make a suckie photograph better. Garbage in is still garbage OUT! These two images suck (which means when you see them on G+ you don’t write amazing because you’ll look really silly!) and HDR didn’t make them one bit better!
Whether it’s HDR or flash fill (I see plenty of suckie flash photos too) or Fisheye or any other technique, just because you can apply it successfully doesn’t turn a horrible image into magic, at least not in my book. If I know that, why did I take the two photos you see above? Because I just wanted to shoot and they were available. The light sucked but I didn’t have these two aircraft in my files, in fact a number of the aircraft on the deck of the Intrepid I didn’t have so I shot them all to have a record in my files of them. I shot them all as 5 image HDR because the light sucked and if this photographer had got the message in the 20+ emails that said sucks, you would never see these images. But I need something that sucked and these were fresh in my mind.
More important then they suck is WHY they suck. And that answer is the heart and soul of photography. They suck because the light sucks. Not the number of stops or the direction but the quality of the light. There simply is no LIFE to the light, no drama, no impact, no emotion, no mood, it’s just there and HDR isn’t going to make that better. I wish I had images of the same subjects in good light to show you the difference but in the real world of photography, you don’t have side by side comparisons when you shoot. You just have what’s presented you and from that you make the photographic decision to click or don’t click. I’m trying to encourage you to click only when you see and feel something in the viewfinder.
Now this is NOT an indictment of HDR. Since I just had a double truck published of a P-51C that is a HDR, to say I use it would be an understatement. What I am saying is that just because you own Photomatix Pro doesn’t mean EVERY photograph has to be run through it. This photography thing is not about who owns the most toys but who sees, feels and communicates light. And just because I use HDR as you see in the photo below which is on the “realistic” side and not the “Elvis on Velvet” side, I have no problem with that when it’s done because it was needed. But using a photographing technique just because you can, don’t! You’re a story teller with your photography. Use the techniques that tell your story and you will successful. end of rant
Good Morning NYC – such a view as we pack to head out to our next adventure. Good-bye as well. Thanks to all at B&H, Unique & Foto Care who made it such a great trip! Your kind words & love notes made the whole trip very special for Sharon & I. A special thanks to Howard for all the fun!
Woke up to a gorgeous day and view. It’s going to be a good day in NYC!
I fear it’s just me, but I love these shapes in the canyon walls. Just a play of light and color.
I just got a new project offered to me this past week and I’m really, very excited about it. It’s another of those kinds of projects that I am particularly good at. It’s in a cold place, very little is known biologically about the critter and there are very few photographs of the critter, the Alaskan Hare. When I get projects like this, I go into a favorite mode, research. I just love looking for, uncovering and learning new knowledge especially when I know it will improve my photography. In this particular case, I have no special insider info, no one expert I can query, I have to hit the books and learn it for myself. That’s a pretty typical MO and not just for me but for most of my peers be it wildlife or landscape or portraits or aviation. There just isn’t a road map, we have to create our own.
This little box on my Firefox toolbar should look a whole lot more warn then it does because I pound this thing. I’ve learned some tricks over the years to be fast at finding the trivia I want, but it seems I’m there all the time. It’s in this search for knowledge I find out things like what lens I might need, not that someone says, “You’re going after the Green-spotted Shank use a 18-200 lens,” but rather gathering the pieces so I can do the math that then tells me this. For a long, long time, research has shown that most when they use Google Search never click on Page 2, they never get past Page 1. Understanding how quickly folks want information, I did the silly thing of creating a website so finding information on the particular subject of wildlife photography might be faster. That’s why there’s over 2500 pages of trivia here and over 100 videos, all here created in my quest for knowledge.
But doing our own research, we found that our Search feature gets used so little, I’m thinking about putting a spider web graphic on it. Here’s my beef. Folks not coming to my site to seek knowledge isn’t the problem. My problem is what seems to be a good portion of photographers don’t seek knowledge, period! I teach a lot of workshops and interface with a helluva of a lot of photographers and the percentage who don’t even understand the workings of their cameras, I’m talking just the setting, boggles my mind! And that’s just the start of the quest of knowledge. Why is that? Just paying for the expensive camera doesn’t mean it will take great photos for you. It’s like you buy a car and then expect it to drive you everywhere while you watch the sites. Taking this one step further, I am just blown away when photographers spend a ton of money on gear then on traveling to some great locale arriving not knowing a thing about how their camera works! Really?! This is the time to learn about how that tool works?
Had a long travel day yesterday, took 26hrs to get home so I had a bunch of time to think. I thought not of the wonderful bunch of students we had this past week at Lake Placid DLWS but rather my peers, those photographers I have great respect and admiration for. I went back in my memory to our many discussions about our trade and came to a realization that we all have one thing very much in common. We are all always in search of knowledge! We all do a ton of research when heading out for a project. We all do a ton of research on our gear and test before we go out on that project and then once on site, we search and search with our camera in telling the story. This does not guarantee success, there is no such guarantee in photography. But what it will do is guarantee you’ll have fun! That’s the main reward in photography that knowledge brings. The satisfaction of doing the research, connecting the dots and then putting that into play with the camera even with failure is fun and it’s that fun that keeps the passion of photography alive!
We just finished another of our Photoshop for Shooters this weekend. Great group, great time! It’s fourteen hours of really talking light in all its complications and implications from the viewfinder to computer. The experience and level skill of the class filled the spectrum as you might expect. I like that challenge, makes me push myself to elaborate on some aspects I personally take for granted for those just starting out while putting out “cutting edge” concepts for those pushing their craft to keep all entertained. And the whole time, try to keep it entertaining and instructive. It tires me out after a couple days but I do love the challenge.
And while I’m challenged as the instructor, the student is challenged even more. Since I am often on the opposite side of the podium as I’m being taught new features of this piece of gear or software, I can totally relate to the frustration of having information thrown at you that goes flying over your head. Or in a Photoshop class where a recipe is being provided and you attempt to take notes but you know you’ve missed that one step that is probably the most critical. In a short time, the frustration sets in and the learning experience is no longer a challenge, it’s a disaster. But you so want the information, you want to improve, you want to grow. How do you get past this wall?
Having just gone through some training again, all I can recommend is what I do myself. The vast majority of the classes I go to, I’m after techniques I’ve not explored. I’m looking for those little treasures that might land in my imagination that I can then go chase down after the class. I know personally I’m simply not smart enough to sit in a class for eight hours and learn all that’s coming at me, that’s just not what I can do as I hit overload typically after the teacher introduces themselves (I am just horrible with names). Knowing my own short far, I have mastered the four word note.
With the web and its vast resources, I know that the majority of the time I can with a couple of clicks find enough information to fill in the gap of my knowledge permitting me to take the next step forward. When it comes to pushing my photography when learning from others then, I look at the before and after photos, the before and after technique concepts and if I see a problem solver in what was just presented, then I simply right down a four word description of that new idea and continue to listen as the presenter keeps moving forward. Quite often those lessons that resonate are ones that solve an immediate problem I’m facing so that night after class, I look and my notes and then take time to write down my problem, expand on what I learned that I think might solve it and then get a good night’s sleep (my head usually hurts after days like this).
Then, once back in the safety of my office where no one can see me fail, I go searching on the web for all the pieces of the lesson I think will help me and start creating my own recipe. By having to teach myself the steps, I not only get to “customize” them to my own style, but they start taking hold in my head and picture taking process. Now quite often the new ideas go down in flames but then there will be that one gem that works and that’s the one that makes the whole class worth while taking. If you’ve ever sat in my class, you’ll hear me say I learned this from Scott Kelby or Russell Brown or Julianne Kost or RC. Those are the classes I sat in and took away that little nugget that I then pass on to others.
It’s way too easy in this day and age to get overloaded in the learning process. That’s when the fun and excitement of learning becomes a chore and we all know how we feel about chores. I absolutely love learning and the capturing of new knowledge because it all at some points improves my photography which is why I’m pushing the learning curve even harder! Head into that classroom with an open mind and open heart and look for that one pearl of wisdom, just that one that will propel your photography forward then you will know the art of learning!