How did you learn photography? (part 3)

Photographing agility competitions allowed me to hone my camera skills

Building more skills

Photographing agility competitions allowed me to hone my camera skills, exposure and scene understanding and quick decision making to get just about any shot in an instant.  Add to that an understanding of just about any breed of dog and how they jump, so that I could just about guarantee that I’d catch them in their best look, and I was in demand for dog sport photography.

The one missing element was the personal satisfaction that I was stretching myself creatively to a level that I felt I could.  I had joined a camera club and enjoyed the interaction with other photographers, and this did help me determine to some degree what I wanted to do as a next step.

My true desire was to be able to produce images of the quality that one would expect from a professional photographer; the kind of image that you see in a magazine or in advertising or in a gallery.

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Macaroni and Cheese

So I made a list of the skills that I needed:

  • Lighting a subject under various circumstances
  • A well-developed artistic eye
  • Ability to pose subjects for a pleasing result
  • Knowledge of tools to produce the final image

A pretty basic list, which can take thousands of hours to master.  Time to get serious about learning!

Learning approaches

In addition to the books that I already gathered, I started taking some workshops and seminars and participating in group shoots.  Each of these approaches had their merits and helped me learn in different ways.

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Solitude

On-line courses were great in terms of fitting into a hectic work week, and getting a lot of well-prepared technical or artistic information in written form for later reference; each course required me to submit assignment shots by a certain time, which were then critiqued by the instructor(s).  I took classes ranging from flash skills, conceptual photography (Solitude) and food photography (Macaroni and Cheese).  Food is definitely one area of commercial photography that I enjoy; after all, who doesn’t like food?

Workshops were fantastic opportunities to learn skills within a day or two and often get lots of hands-on work.  I worked with some great instructors, who are truly inspiring.  Rick Friedman’s workshops on Location Lighting taught me how to use Speedlights to light just about any situation creatively and for the effect that you want.  Bobbi Lane’s Portrait Photography workshops added a lot of portrait lighting for effect skill to my bag of tricks, as well as posing models.

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The Lady has Charm

Working with models was also crucial to my development as a photographer; even though most of my artistic work is landscape and abstract, working with models taught me to recognize the importance of managing lines in any shot.

What have I learnt?

Clearly, I have developed as a photographer over the past 10-12 years, and I have received recognition for a number of my images.  During that time, I have learned a lot of technical skills and unlocked some of my artistic ability, but more than anything I have achieved a level of confidence that allows me to take on just about any situation and come up with a solution for getting the shot that I want.

In the next part, I’ll go over some of the strategies that I use to get these images and what I see as the continuing journey of acquiring knowledge, skill and enjoyment from photography.

Hope to see you for that one!

How did you learn photography? (part 2)

After a number of years without much photographic activity, the bug slowly started coming back during the mid to late 1990s

Early Renaissance

After a number of years without much photographic activity, the bug slowly started coming back during the mid to late 1990s.  The advent of the digital camera era got my curiosity aroused, but the high price of the cameras kept me off the playing field.  That is until Kodak came out with a reasonably priced 1MP camera, the DC20, which retailed for $299.  Yes, times have changed!

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Halloween 2000

The DC20 was capable of taking either 8 shots at full resolution or 16 at half resolution and had a fixed focal length lens.  To get the images off the camera required attaching it to a serial port and waiting for the bits to flow!  It was fun for experimenting and some very basic shots, but produced horrible artifacts.

The Olympus C960 (IIRC) came next in 2000 and it allowed me to start doing some actual photography with a digital camera, such as the Halloween shot of my daughter Teegan (left) and her friend.

During this time, the volume of my shooting went up dramatically, as the results were a bit more controllable and pleasing to the eye.  My education in photography was getting back on track, as I started paying closer attention to composition and light conditions; a lot of this was still trial and error, but if I look back at my images over these couple of years, there is a progression.

In 2003, I needed a camera upgrade and found the Minolta Dimage 7i, which was a big step up at 5 MP and much more control.  The improvement in image quality and the added control with the optical zoom enabled me to start exercising more control over the final look of the image.  This accelerated my learning and provided the stepping stone to the next level.

Going to the dogs

In 2004, my wife, Kris, started competing in agility with on of our Cardigan Welsh Corgis, Darwin.  Going with Kris to these competitions, I brought my trusty Minolta with me to get some shots of Darwin in action.  Of course, I would get in a couple of practice shots of other dogs, so that I had an idea what I could expect and where to get the best possible shot of Darwin.  And, because during these competitions most of your time is spent waiting for the next time Darwin gets to run the course, I got bored and started photographing other dogs’ runs.

Pretty soon, people started asking me, if I would consider selling the pictures I took of their dogs to them.  I wasn’t ready for that yet, particularly since my camera had a slight problem: shutter lag.  If you’re familiar with the Minolta Dimage 7i, you might know that there is about 1/3 second between pressing the shutter and image capture; not bad for photographing a posed group, but tricky when you try to get running dogs at just the right time.

You get the idea: upgrade time to my first Digital SLR, the Canon 10D.  This immediately solved the shutter lag problem and gave me full control over all the functions of the camera.  Now the learning had to go into high gear, as my plan was to pay for this camera with photo sales from agility competitions.  I convinced a couple of clubs to let me photograph their agility trials and found something out very quickly: people love photos of their dogs in action.

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Buford, Superdog

Looking back at the images from the first couple of trials, I have to admit that they were pretty rough.  The first step was to learn what the limits of my camera and lens were in terms of the exposure triangle.  Stopping motion of a dog in mid-flight requires a reasonably fast shutter speed.  And with this camera, I couldn’t push the ISO too high, as color cast would appear due to the graininess.

By early 2005, I had a decent handle on my camera and was able to produce shots, such as this Basset Hound doing a superdog flight over the final jump (there is a story behind this shot…).  The key learning piece was all about learning to master the equipment, so that to a casual observer it would simply look like all these shots required was a simple press of the shutter.  I learned to estimate exposure values, adjust for the difference in reflected light off different colors, compensate exposure depending on the color of the dog, and anticipate what the dog would do.

During this time, I did start buying photography books to accelerate my learning.  One of the books that I found invaluable is Brian Peterson’s Understanding Exposure, which covers much more than just exposure, as he spends quite a bit of time on composition as well.

What’s Next?

In terms of learning, photographing action was an excellent school, as the goal is to not miss any great shot and be prepared for anything.  I learned to shoot with both eyes open, as my non-dominant left eye can pick up on what is outside the right eye’s field of view through the lens.  I studied a tremendous amount about exposure, and learned how to look at a location to quickly analyze where the good vantage points are.

What was lacking from the dog-sport and other action photography was a sense of artistic expression.  The next step was to expand my range of photography and skills, so that I could take on new challenges.

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Rose Particle

In the next part, we’ll go over the range of skills and artistic expansion exercises that have led me to where I am today.  Hope you’re enjoying this little journey along my photographic path.

The Fires of Friday

It’s weekend time, so let’s get some work done!

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Pyroplasm 3x

At last, the workweek is over and it’s time to unwind and put together some plans for the weekend!  Great time to catch up on a whole bunch of things:

  • Get some playtime with the blog and catch up reading a bunch of cool blogs
  • Install my new iMac
  • Work on some Rolling Stones songs on guitar
  • Further cleaning and organization of the basement
  • Finish putting together my pedal board

Blog playtime will result in the final tweaks and some beautification, as suggest by Josh, our Happiness Engineer, who teaches the Blogging101 course I’m taking.  I like the basics of my blog, but want to see, if I can take it up to the next level.

Reading some of the awesome blogs that I follow, such as Project Relish, which not only has lots of great articles about food and travel, but also features great photography and a layout that is simply fantastic!  Expect to see some posts about some of the blogs over the weekend.

My 7-year old iMac still works, but due to its thermal sensors dying a month or so back, the fans now run at top speed.  Not a bad thing for most uses, but not ideal when you’re working with music 🙂  So I waited for a sale on the iMac I want and scored one today.  I’ll kick the process off overnight and should have everything set by the morning.

As some of you know, I’m learning to play the guitar (2 years of playing this week).  A couple of months ago, I joined a Meetup group that gets together once a month to have an acoustic jam.  The first Saturday in February, we’re getting together to play Rolling Stones songs; during this week’s guitar lesson, my teacher and I worked on 4 different songs, so I’ve got some work to do.

Ah, the basement!  We have a mouse issue, which we discovered when my daughter, Teegan, stopped by over the holidays and went through some of the boxes she has stored in our basement to take things back to her apartment.  In the boxes we found cat food that had been stolen by mice out of the cat’s food dish.  The cat got a stern talking-to, but is clearly not a mouser!  Traps (humane ones) are now addressing the rodent issue (12 caught and counting).  To store things better, shelves and better, plastic containers will be the solution.

Guitar pedal board should be a breeze, but has a challenge or two.  One of the pedals doesn’t like the connectors from my new 8 outlet power supply.  Might take a bit of customization!

Other than that…did I mention the New England Patriots are playing?  That will be multi-tasking time 🙂  And I might try to catch a Premier League match, as Liverpool v. Manchester United has potential.  Additional guitar time will be cool too, and possibly some photo editing.

Free time is great!  That’s the time to do what fuels our passion, such as the fires in today’s image, ‘Pyroplasm 3x’.  A couple of notes on this image; the image was captured as shown in camera; the streaking effect was not added in post-production.  Photoshop work on this was a matter of a bit of sharpening, lifting the color a smudge and a crop.

Wishing you a great weekend!!

A Sign of Hope

Spring will come, but let’s have fun with Winter!

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Spring Thaw

Things have gotten a little chilly in New England, as Winter has made her entrance with customary aplomb blasting arctic winds into the area.

Of course, people’s reactions to the influx of frigid air are rather predictable: When does it end? When does Spring start?  Personally, I embrace Winter with all its stark beauty and snow-drifted landscapes, so I look forward to the month of February, which usually can be counted on to deliver.

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Ice Anyone?

Last year, I went on a short tour of the Northern Massachusetts and New Hampshire coast with John Slonina Nature Photography ( Slonina Nature Photography Blog ) at the end of January.  The weather was bitter cold with quite a bit of wind and bright sun; in other words, it made for fantastic photography and even a couple of amusing little snaps, such as ‘Ice Anyone?’.

I’ll be sure to share some of the images from that day in upcoming posts, and, hopefully, some from this year; after all, I invested in a heated fleece that will keep me warm for 6 hours…  It will be used!

For those souls, who are asking about the onset of Spring, I offer the main image with this post as a sign of hope.  Taken a little less than five years ago at a point when the ice was almost all gone and the first notes of green started returning to the trees.  Yes, it shall return, but for now let’s really enjoy Winter!

All who wander…

While lost, something new is found

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Exit

Urban exploration aka urbex has become immensely popular over the past decade to the point that it is mainstream photography.  When increases in processor power made HDR processing available to every photographer, dilapidated buildings could be made to look interesting in completely new ways.

Of course, I have been guilty of a little exploration myself, as I love wandering through old, abandoned sites and checking for some unique vista that speaks to me.  When moving through a building, I let my mind wander and lose itself within the possibilities of transformation through fantasy.

Part of my process relies on visualization of the alternate spin that I can put on the image, so that viewers can feel themselves transported into an alternate reality.  Allowing my imagination to roam free across the landscape of my mind is an enjoyable, stimulating aspect of photography, which is very much enabled by HDR processing, about which I will write more in a future post.

The site of this image was the farm for a state hospital; the structure has been razed since I captured this image.  On the day that I captured this image, the outside light was extremely bright and harsh, giving enough light to get the great definition in the floor and walls.

We’re looking past the animal stalls toward an open door, a possible exit from the dark, stark area, where we find ourselves.  Is it a safe exit, or will it lead into a dimensional trap/

Just for one day

Perseverance is in order as we move forward each day

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Persistence

It’s time to start bringing the mood up again from yesterday’s level of somber.

After a day of reflection, I decided to learn to play ‘Heroes’ on guitar; as always, playing guitar was a great way to unwind, and, while I may still be a novice, each imperfect rendition of a song feels like an accomplishment.

Learning to play the guitar is all about persistence, learning a bit at a time and slowly improving until even you, the student, can no longer deny that you have learned something.  It is about building up calluses, muscle memory, dexterity, strength and will power.  One item that you will not see in that list is something that is sizable part of my day job in high-tech: stress!  

For me, stress doesn’t come from unrealistically short timetables, or work load, but, rather, it comes from the inflexibility within organizations to recognize that new technology requires well-conceived, novel approaches that are founded in the laws of physics.  Challenge is great and welcome; rusty, stumbling blocks should be removed.

Today’s image is one that I captured just over five years ago, not far from my home.

My approach tends to be to allow myself to be guided by a sense of connection to the universe and its every component that surrounds me by staying in the moment; combining this sense with a healthy dose of observation helps me find things of interest.  Walking into the field, the first thing that caught my attention were the lines that presented themselves: horizontals, verticals and the slight diagonals in the sky.

Add the color palette with the warm tones of autumn and the cooler sky tones, and I felt drawn set up for a shot that has had me coming back to it over the years.

The tree’s exemplary stance against the elements brought the concept of ‘Persistence’ to mind, which I felt would be an appropriate title for this image.