How did you learn photography? (finale)

Some of what I have learnt that helped improve my images

Developing an approach

Thus far, we have journeyed through some of my early photography, how my interest got rekindled and blossomed through lots of learning methods and activities.  In this final episode, as promised, I’ll go over some of my approaches and methods for getting the images that I do.

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The Alley

The first item I want to clarify is that everything I do to get an enticing image can be learned and practiced until it becomes second nature.  There is no denying that some people will learn quicker and develop their abilities faster, which is often referred to as talent.  However, talent alone is not enough to produce great results in any field.  There is no substitute for making bad photos and learning from your mistakes.

So what are the not-so-magical steps to my process for getting the images that I want?  No surprise, but they are pretty straightforward:

  • Find something that is interesting to photograph
  • Have an idea of how you want to portray what you have found
  • Decide what steps in execution get you that result

Like I said: it’s pretty simple, when you break it down this way.  So let’s take a look at them in a bit more detail.

Discovery

It is pretty self-evident that without finding something interesting to photograph, there is no photo.  While this may be obvious, how often do you drive or walk by some place without noticing that there is a photo there?  Of course, all of us know how to recognize lots of photogenic subjects, such as El Capitan, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Great Pyramid, or the leaning tower of Pisa and the list goes on and on.  However, most of us don’t live right by these locations or have the budget to go travel to these places on a whim; so what to do?

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Blue Pond

A significant amount of my landscape photography is done during my commute to and from work.  As I look to vary my route, so that I don’t get into the same rut day upon day, there are a number of spots along the drive that have become some of my favorites to photograph.  The key to finding those special locations is awareness of your surroundings.  Don’t be afraid to stop on your way and check things out!

Another key item in finding that interesting shot is that sometimes your best shot is behind you rather than in front; such was the case for Blue Pond, which you see to the right.  I stopped to photograph the marsh and passing train, which didn’t really impress me, so I turned around and noticed how I could get the sky to play off the pond; a much more pleasing shot!

The skill needed to find images everywhere can be developed through exercises that challenge your vision to explore scenes in new ways.  Always look for more!

Visualization

Now that you have found that really cool subject that you can’t help, but photograph, it is time to decide how you want to show it to your audience.  It is all too easy to shoot a beautiful subject in a way that detracts from its brilliance; I’m sure you have seen snapshots from friends of that amazing waterfall that is so poorly composed that it’s lost its power.

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Bath Harbor Light

So how do you go about ensuring that your shot doesn’t suffer the same fate?  The first step is to frame a picture in your mind that brings out the exact sense of beauty that you feel from what you see.  Look through your lens to see what it shows you; if it is a zoom lens, see what zooming in or out presents to you.  Change your perspective by moving around or lowering your vantage point (this can be particularly effective when looking at a reflection).

The image of Bath Harbor Light demonstrates this principle.  If you have ever been to Acadia in Maine, you may have vistied this sight and you’ll see lots of photos of this particular lighthouse.  Most of these photos do not show it from this angle, but rather from a vantage point that eliminates the trees.  The rocks were filled with photographers looking for exactly that angle (it’s a ways to the left and lower, if you ever want to find it).  As the light was not ideal on this day, I decided that framing the lighthouse between the trees provided context and more visual interest.

Again, this is a skill that can be gained through ample practice!

Execution

Naturally, all your work to this point should not be allowed to go to waste with a poorly exposed image.  Therefore, the final step is to decide how you want your camera to read the light (assuming you’re not going 100% manual), the depth of field that gives the right feel, what shutter speed might work best.

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The Lady Gazes

Even if you use a 100% automatic, such as an iPhone, which I often do, there are still ways to control exposure; good material for future posts, maybe.

In your visualization, you may have given thought to what parts of the image should be sharp, while other parts should blur somewhat.  Think about what F-stop will give you what you’re looking to portray.

If your camera is even in partially automatic mode, you will want to make sure that your exposure reading is not fooled by bright white or very dark colors.  Learn to adapt for that by using pre-exposure compensation (DSLRs will have this, but not all point-and-shoots do).

When this all comes together, you get to express your vision and amaze your friends (no guarantee of that!).

Where to go next

Development and continuous improvement are a never-ending mantra for anything, about which you are truly passionate; once the bug bites you, you’ll spend countless hours improving.

There are two things that you should never stop doing in your photography:

  • Study, not just books, but learn from every photo that you like by determining what you like about it and why it works.
  • Stay inspired, both by what others do and what you do!

This is the last in this series, but I think there may be some follow-on posts from this.  Of course, I love to find out what you like to read more about.

P.S. yes, I left out post-processing…  I will do some posts on how I like to tackle that.

3 Day Quote Challenge (Day 3)

Where the train takes us may not be important…

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Past meets present, as we reach infinity.

 

“My heart is warm with the friends I make,
And better friends I’ll not be knowing,
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.”
– Edna St. Vincent Millay, The Selected Poetry

THE 3 DAY QUOTE CHALLENGE

This is the final day of the 3-day quote challenge that I was given by Mysticalwriter.  First of all thank you for given me the challenge.  As you can tell, I stuck to my plan of using photos to lead me to quotes.
Today’s quote is from American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay; her poetry has always stuck a chord with me.  These lines are a perfect description of life’s journey, which ties back to the image.

HERE ARE THE RULES:

One quote a day for three days. They can be your quotes or quotes from other people. Post one a day for three days and nominate three bloggers per post. Also, thank the person that nominated you.
My nominees for today are:
  1. Instamatic Gratification
  2. With Only One Life
  3. Things Understood

Have fun!

Shot of the Week – vol 3

The path leads forward…

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The Path

This week’s shot of the week was taken this past Thursday during my commute.  As I prefer backroads when driving to work, there are plenty of opportunities to find spots that have some photogenic qualities.

My favorite spots are those that are not apparent to all who pass them; this is definitely one of those, as this is a road that goes up to a state mental hospital that is no longer in use (of course it is about time that the good old mental hospitals from the 50’s and 60’s are being shuttered).  Just out of the shot to the left is a ‘No Trespassing’ sign, which didn’t deter this person walking their dog.

This photo was taken with my iPhone 6S with the standard camera app and adjusted with Instagram.

3 Day Quote Challenge (Day 2)

The sound of the waterfall…

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Chapman Falls in Devil’s Hopyard State Park, East Haddam, CT.

“When I was walking in the mountains with the Japanese man and began to hear the water, he said, ‘What is the sound of the waterfall?’ ‘Silence,’ he finally told me.”

– Jack Gilbert, Collected Poems

The 3 Day Quote Challenge

This is the second day of the 3-day quote challenge that I was given by Mysticalwriter.  First of all thank you for given me the challenge.  My plan is to use one of my photos each day and find some quote to go with the photo.
Today’s quote is from American poet Jack Gilbert.  I like it for its simple depth and zen quality.

Here are the rules:

One quote a day for three days. They can be your quotes or quotes from other people. Post one a day for three days and nominate three bloggers per post. Also, thank the person that nominated you.
My nominees for today are:
  1. Zero Creativity Learnings
  2. silverpepperofstars
  3. MIDI Mike

Have fun!

Let’s Talk Some Trash!

Broncos will be busted with some Patriot missiles!!

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Return for Refill!

The work week is coming to an end once again, or at least slowing down a bit, as there will be some testing that I’ll continue over the weekend.

Of course, like most of you, I have plans for the weekend, but most of them will be rather pleasant and relaxing, as I’m not overdoing it after fighting off this nasty stomach bug!  So here it goes…

  • Guitar lesson on Saturday!  Yes, this will be an hour of fun, as my guitar teacher makes it enjoyable and ensures that at the end of an hour’s playing, I always feel better about my ability than I should realistically.
  • The basement project shall continue…I’ll at least spend a couple of hours to further progress.  Baby steps!!
  • Hang with the dogs!  Did I ever mention that Cardigans are a blast to hang around with?
  • Hopefully not clear too much snow…the forecasters are saying that most will stay south of us, but you never know!
  • And watch the all-important game this weekend, as the Patriots exact revenge on the Broncos to complete their next step in the Farewell Goodell Tour!  Sorry Peyton (not really), but this is not your time, as Brady has his weapons of choice and will not be denied!

Enough trash talk for the moment!  What are your plans for the weekend?  Whatever they are, have a great one!!

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!