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!
The last few days have been, well, different. I wasn’t really planning on blogging the rest of the week, there is simply more important things to deal with right now. You as a community, you “fans” though have been simply amazing! Your out pouring of concern to my family and me has let us know just how blessed we are!
Jake & I both had shot lists, aircraft and folks we wanted to photograph and with the sheer size and magnitude of Reno Air Races, we break things down by days. Now if we see something come up that we know is a once in a lifetime opportunity, we would deviate but otherwise, we kinda stick to our plan so we cover all we want to cover. Sunday night when we got back home, Jake & I realized we were light about 5000 images. Images we planned on taking Saturday and Sunday. Planes and folks we wanted to tell their story visually are missing as there was no Saturday/Sunday. It’s something we’re still coping with.
In the process of communicating with all from the races as we gather ourselves up and move forward, some web comments were brought to my attention. Now I am very use to this in the environmental world, been dealing with it for 30yrs. It is 100% human nature, it’s what we do and it is a survival mechanism that permits us to deal with bad times and horrible information. Sometimes it’s just plain old ignorance and other it’s just the bad information pressed upon us. That’s probably why whenever I blog about doing your homework for wildlife photography, I can hear the jeers arise. For example if I mention climate change in a blog (like I did just now), my email box will fill with emails telling me I’m an idiot. They tell me that what I’ve seen firsthand is not the case, I didn’t see it correctly. I love those emails. Well I’ve got a new one now that has its own folder as well.
I wrote in my Gone West blog that “It is just part of aviation.” Accidents and deaths that is and as a wise person just told me, “You’ll find more submarines at the bottom of the ocean then planes stuck in the sky.” I’d fly right now, right this moment with any of my friends in their aircraft if they’d come and pick me up (this does not include commercial flights). But with that desire, I know accidents, no matter how careful you are, happen. We spend a couple of hours at our Air2Air Workshop talking just safety because it is apart of the passion. The list of planes, pilots, photographers and passengers that I personally know that have tragically lost their lives in a plane crash in the last 45 days is too long to think it’s not part of aviation. From Jimmy Leeward to Frans Dely to Jack “Flash” Mangan to 7 others I know in the last 45 days. If you head to NTSB or PlaneCrashInfo you’ll see this is the tip of the ice berg.
Sharon & I have been fighting the battle, because it is a battle, to make the public aware of the plight of our wild heritage for a long time. It has taken its toll on us over the years as the message falls on fewer and fewer ears with less and less being done on their behalf. We still battle but we now have a wall to protect us from the bad news we feel is coming (critter extinction is hard to handle). That’s why we weren’t surprised by those who think I’m all wrong about what my dear friend calls, “The under belly of flight.” Planes do come down and tragically, good folk pass.
We’re living in a time when change is needed. It’s needed on every level at ever sector for everybody. Talking with so many vets from WWII, I crave that spirit of that era to infuse itself again in us as a society. There are many avenues available to us to make the needed changes and I don’t mean to trivialize the solution, but I think knowledge could take us a long ways to solving our problems. No matter your age, beliefs or goals, pushing yourself to be better educated and informed and knowledgeable, leads to conversations that will unite and improve us all. We don’t all have to agree but with knowledgeable and educated conversation we can make a positive change. Be it politics, the environment, aviation, sports, no matter what, take some time to read, ponder and learn so common sense and not ignorance rules the day. Keep that open heart for your fellow man but don’t forget knowledge is a powerful force!
One of my favorite shots from the day. Simple, clean with light, gesture & color. Schweet!
As Richard said, “You and your clouds!” Now the Super Corsair looks as regal as it is. I like this, it was a good day!
My posting on The Crop brought in a flood of emails, not about cropping but about exposure. The “Don’t give yourself the option of fixing in post” seemed to, ah, intrigue folks. The idea of getting the exposure right in the camera. I’ve written about that many times here on the site. I’ve posted the Teddy Bear exercise which I invented (for film 25yrs ago) and understandably, exposure still eludes many. In Captured, I wrote and illustrated nearly 50pgs on this one topic in an attempt to explain how I approach exposure. I’m hoping this excerpt will open some doors to how I expose and better yet, get some to buy Captured to get the whole explanation. But the bottomline, when I go click, the exposure that I want to communicate what I’m feeling is captured.
“Seeing” light, “feeling” light is such a challenge yet so essential. Getting to the point where you point your lens at that Alaskan Range, know how much exposure compensation to dial in a click takes many clicks before that one from over the years but shooting digital cuts down the learning curve and time by lifetimes if you use it by thinking! Just looking at your own digital images, looking at the metadata and learning from what you did in the past can greatly impact the clicks you make tomorrow. Those images you like, how did you deal with the exposure? Those images you don’t like, how did you expose for them? Remember both so you can repeat the successes and avoid the failures. (Which are still a learning opportunity so don’t be afraid of failure!)
You have a feature on your camera (available on nearly all cameras these days) called Highlight Warning. I affectionately call it Blinkies because that’s what they do. Remember we have a five stop range of light that we can capture with one click (HDR doesn’t work for wildlife). When you have more than five stops of light, when you have 5.1 stops of light, you’re outside the range of the camera’s single click ability to hold detail in highlights and shadows. With the Blinkies turned on, those highlight areas in your photograph that are outside the five stop range literally blink at you, black then white. You have to use your LCD (a good reason to look at it) and have the Highlight Warning turned on in your menus and active on your LCD to see them. When you’re trying to learn light, Blinkies will teach you instantly when you are outside that five stop range. But they can help your photography even more than that! They show you exactly where in your photograph you have lost that highlight information. That’s big time important!
What does the mind’s eye crave first in a photograph? Yeah, light and bright. If you look at those blinkies as not only a possible exposure problem, because blinkies are not necessarily bad, but as something the mind’s eye is guaranteed to latch onto, you can then make the decision of if they are good or bad, not for exposure sake but visual communication sake. It is amazing that your digital camera cannot only teach you about the range of light, but also predict where the mind’s eye is going to go in your photograph and visually show that to you. Wow!
Let’s say you’re photographing that Great Egret, an all white bird. What if you see a couple of small blinkies on its body? Is that a good or a bad thing? The knowledge and sight of blinkies doesn’t mean all is lost. In this case the subject is all white. Is the loss of some detail in that white messing with what you’re communicating visually? Is it taking the mind’s eye somewhere you don’t want it to? I don’t have that answer, you will have to answer those questions when you have it in the viewfinder and on the LCD. Half the battle is knowing what question to ask, your camera can help you there with blinkies. Loosing some detail in a white subject I don’t think is the end of the world though so personally, more than likely I wouldn’t worry about a couple of small blinkies. You have to make that call but at least, you now have a tool to use and a thought process to employ to make an informed decision. Just remember in this process you don’t forget to ask what’s the subject.
Here’s another way to think about it (because you do have to think about it). If you write a paragraph of words and then from that paragraph take away 20% of the words near the beginning of that paragraph, would someone understand what you’re trying to say? Now imagine your photograph between the X & Y axis being 100%. If you don’t have information in 20% of that top area (like blown out clouds) because it’s information lost (or anything else visually distracting), the blinkies are going wild, will someone understand what you’re trying to say visually in your photograph? Don’t lose sight we are visual communicators and one of our key methods of communicating visually is with light!
When you start thinking about light and the levels of light in your photograph that you control via exposure in this way, you start to feel it in your photograph. The photograph of the White Ibis, if you look at the butts of some of them (bird perverts), you’ll notice there is NO detail, it’s just paper white. When I looked on the LCD to do a visual check because white subjects in the shade are not a great light situation, I could see blinkies. Yet, the photo is in the book and the image is a favorite. Why?
The mangrove forest in which the ibis are standing in front of is a real busy one, real busy. Those roots go every which way and instantly grab the eye’s attention. Standing in the water and looking through the viewfinder, they came glaring in. But where are those roots in the photograph? They are in the shade and lost because of the exposure range. What’s the subject (there’s that question again)? The subject is the line of Ibis and their reflection, White Ibis in mixed light. It’s not one individual Ibis. What’s the light range between the background, the roots and the subject, the Ibis? You think, 7, 8, 9, 10 stops? How many stops do we know the camera can capture in one click? Five right. So then knowing the meter is going to sacrifice the shadows (why, because of that light and bright thing the mind’s eye craves), with that kind of light range, the roots in the shadows will go black making their busyness disappear literally in the shadows and creating a background that makes the ibis blaze off the page. That’s feeling the light and letting it work for our photography. I exposed with my normal -1/2 dialed in. Normal?
What do I mean by “normal” exposure compensation dialed in? How many of you shot film? Do you remember how we would take Kodachrome 64 and rate it at ASA 80? Do you remember why we did that? Because that underexposure of 1/3 stop saturated the colors and made the shadows go a little deeper black. For those same reasons and some more (like protecting some highlights), color saturation and darker shadows, the majority of the time I underexpose by 1/2 stop. That’s all that was done in this case but that made those roots a little darker, the red in the bills a little more vibrant and possibly brought one or two of the blinking pixels back within five stops.
Light, mind’s eye, exposure, they are all so intertwined I don’t really believe they can be separated. And when you think of these as all ways of expressing emotions, I don’t think they should be separated. For some though this “touchy-feelie” approach to combining shutter speeds and apertures just won’t work when it comes to making an exposure (just gotta have those numbers). I understand that but guess what, since I don’t use that method, I can’t begin to address that side of exposure. I think the last thing the world needs is another technically perfect photograph. What the world needs are more photographs with passion. You have to decide if the system you have brings to life the drama you see and if it does, disregard this conversation. I bet though you might find some wiggle room where there is something in my images you would like to incorporate into yours. If that’s the case, you might just want to try feeling the light. The worst that can happen is you delete the photograph, right? And the best thing, your exposure problems disappear!
It must have been the first or at the most, the second crit at school the very first semester of the very first year. A student put up their image up on the screen and it was this little, itty pity image. I scratched my head, the instructor just stared. He took the slide out of the carrousel and looked at it, it was all taped up with silver tape leaving this little aperture. All Steve said was, “What, you couldn’t have moved closer, changed lenses?”
I seem to have earned quite a reputation for many things, one of them is having a thing against cropping an image. So I’ll say this right off the bat so you don’t have to read any further if you don’t want to, what anyone does with their images is strictly up to them! I am not the photo police! But when photographers show me their images and ask for comments, then they will get my comments and when I see an image has been cropped (yes, I think it’s really easy to see), what screams through my head is, “Couldn’t you have moved closer or changes lenses?”
Back in the day when I started, submitting prints was on its way out, submitting slides was in. When you create a print, you naturally have to crop an image since paper is not the same ratio as a 35mm slide/neg. Since I printed up a storm, I had to crop and learned how to be successful at shooting for that crop knowing I would be cropping when printing. The print would be the final presentation of my vision. Once printing went away and all I shot were slides, then composition was still done in the viewfinder but that was it. There was no cropping to be done, it was all done.
When sending slides to photo buyers, taking your image and applying the very obvious silver tape to “crop” the slide in the slide mount stuck out like a sore thumb. I remember one conversation with a photo buyer complaining about a photographer who had done just that, sent in their slides cropped with silver tape. All the photo buyer could say was, “You have any idea how stuck those images were in the slide page?” That wasn’t an impression I would ever want to leave with a photo buyer, I could get right in the viewfinder or slides covered with stickem. So what does that have to do with this day and age and digital?
Yeah, you can set a preset with the Crop Tool in Photoshop and crop all day long. And unless you make a print 24×30, you probably won’t see any possible quality loss from cropping. So then why do I not crop my images still? It’s just one of those benchmarks I took hold of that signifies a photographer as, a photographer. It goes along with getting the exposure right and the image sharp when you go click. You compose within the viewfinder and get it right when you go click.
When I look at the work of those who I hold in high regards, Jay Maisel, Joe McNally, Dave Black, Joel Sartore, Wayne Lynch and others, they do all their cropping in the viewfinder as well. I’m sure there are a lot more and there’s a reason for that standard. Arranging the elements in the viewfinder so the subject pops and the rest of the elements support the subject while telling the story, well, isn’t that visual story telling? That’s my definition of photography. There are definitely pros and cons to this standard. The pros are the workflow is simpler and faster (important when you’re in the business of selling images) and quality assured. Cons, the biggest one is it makes taking the photo one helluva of a lot more challenging when you know you’ve gotta get it right when you go click. And when you don’t have it, you don’t go click.
You might have heard I don’t like my images cropped even when they are used editorially. That’s true, I get kinda serious when an photo buyer wants to edit my click. I mean, why buy the photo in the first place if you don’t like it? If you got a copy of my book Captured, rest assured those images aren’t cropped either. I was very blessed in that I had the best in the biz, Jess laying out the book honoring my no cropping request. In those regards, I am totally, completely, out there on my own. I am a nut! And that’s the whole point!
Just because that’s my standard, it does not mean a single other photographer has to follow it. But if you ask me about your photo, heads up. It’s my own quest in being a better photographer, to get it right when I go click. I rather love being able to say, “What you see is what I saw in the viewfinder” when it comes to the crop (landscape & aviation images are often finished in PS. Wildlife images are not). When you don’t give yourself the option to “fix it in post,” photographers push themselves. This always make a better click and the story telling, the subject, that passion of that click becomes clearer and clearer. We all must find whatever the tools, techniques and personal vision at the camera and the computer that work best for you. For me and my photography, that means using my feet and lens to put in the viewfinder what it is I want to communicate to you the passion I’m feeling at moment.
A T-28 at sunrise. I liked the drama of the moment, not sure on finishing but its a start.
While not a great sunset, at least the clouds left so we could have our firework shot. Just in Time!
As the thunderstorms leaving can be just as good as the coming. I love the drama as the energy is released!
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!
I just love this going away shot. The ridgeline, clouds and plane attitude come together to say one thing, bye-bye!
And then the sun came up, I went down and the Tigercat just shinned!
Jake and I were just coming off a break and were heading back out to the line. We’d been working the flight line since 07:30, talking with pilots and crews, shooting, drinking coffee and of course, shooting some more. It was an excellent morning and we wanted to get off our feet for a moment. I naturally grabbed the iPad, checked emails and took care of some work. Even though the light had gotten hard, Jake & I know that sitting inside guarantees we’ll make no images. Even in bad light, at least being outside, there is the possibility something good will come along (and it did). We were just heading back out and I saw this photo which so reflected an email I had just read. Basically, a shooter had emailed bemoaning shooting at airshows because they didn’t have unique access to aircraft, the light was hard and there are crowds. So airshows are stupid. There’s no doubt they aren’t for everyone which is why photography is SO amazing, we can all have cameras and point them to so many different things and still enjoy photography together. What I have an issue with is, photography only happens when the lights perfect, the birds sing and music plays in the air. Photos happen where YOU make them happen, period! You wanna go out in the worst light and make great images, YOU can do it! You wanna go out in crowds and make great images, you can do it! The only thing stopping you is you! If shooting in hard light is hard then push yourself and start shooting in it. If you wanna do aviation photography for example, most airshows are during hard light times so if you wanna do aviation, guess what? And until you have those images you can show others that you have talent, you can’t move up the ladder to shooting those better aircraft in better light. It can be a very, long, hard, hot walk walking the line from beginner to professional, from failure to successful but if you don’t start walking now, today, we all know you will never make it to the other end. And if you think you are alone, think again. The only difference in this photography game, some are simply further down the line then the others. But I’ve yet to meet anyone who has made it all the way to the other end!