In my last two posts I have focused on what we might call “negative motivations” – those motivations that keep us from doing our best. Sorry if I came across as cynical. 🙂 So let’s look at the more positive motivations this time and focus on what types of experiences we encounter, or create, that help us to want to get out there and do more photography. After all in the second blog “the dozen” made it pretty clear that practice is likely to be the most important variable in helping us improve our photographic skills and our photographs. Let me start with an experience I had last week that really got me excited about photography.
This summer I had three college fraternity brothers from back-in-the-day (more than 45 years ago) stop by our home. Two of them were part of “the dozen” (amateur photographers who had answered my 12 photography questions earlier this summer) and both were interested in stopping by to do some photography. Tom and Larry live in South Carolina and they decided to take a road-trip across the country (yea, a 6000 mile road trip) to take photographs and visit friends. I asked them if they would be interested in me arranging a one-day workshop with a professional photographer in the area. They were gung-ho about the idea and I set-up a full day workshop with Henry Holdsworth (WildbyNatureGallery.com) to visit Yellowstone in early October. It would be my first guided workshop.
It was fun to have two old friends visit, to get reacquainted, and tell stories from our days together in college. The next day we got up early to take some shots of sunrise and look for wildlife in Grand Teton National Park. It was overcast so we didn’t get any great shots and we didn’t see much wildlife until late in the afternoon. Nothing great behind the lens but we had many enjoyable discussions and a great exposure to a beautiful national park. Late in the afternoon we met my wife at a Jackson restaurant for dinner and got back home in Victor early to get ready to meet Henry at his gallery at 6:15 am. It may not sound like this could be a great positive motivator, but it set the stage. I was having fun with friends that were interested in photography and we were all anticipating a great learning experience the next day.
None of us had any problems getting up a 4:30 am and we arrived at the Wild by Nature Gallery early. It had rained over night and there was a dense fog in Jackson Hole. But I wasn’t worried or disappointed; I was pumped to get out there and take some shots. I had told Henry that Tom and Larry were excited about wildlife photography so we started looking for wildlife in the fog as soon as we entered the park – the visibility was terrible. Soon we came across a bull elk with a small harem of about five elk cows. Henry stopped the car and immediately said, “Set your ISO at about 3200 and let’s see what shots we can get.” The sun hadn’t quite risen and the fog was thick but leaving the ISO setting to Henry allowed me to feel confident and I started shooting. I didn’t get a great photograph but considering the conditions I was pleased. Henry had made a very difficult task (exposure setting in very low light) a realistic goal for me by helping with the ISO setting.
After the elk wandered off into the fog Henry said, “Let’s get out of the fog. Let’s drive to the top of Signal Mountain.” I never would of thought of that but I will from now on! We drove up Signal Mountain Road in the fog until we came to a turnout and then WOW, Mount Moran was sitting on a blanket of fog. We all jumped out of the van and Henry said, “Get setup on your tripod, this may not last too long. Watch out for the dead tree on the left.” The next twenty minutes were amazing. The view of Mount Moran changed every minute and the four of us kept shooting with suggestions from Henry. It was so helpful that he wasn’t telling us what to do, but rather offered suggestions. He would look in our viewfinder, give us feedback, and invite us to look in his viewfinder. I felt in control and supported. I got what I consider to be very good photos – but I didn’t “watch out for the dead tree.” When I got home and looked at the photos in Lightroom I noticed what I consider to be a real nice bonus I didn’t see in my viewfinder – the car driving on the road below Mount Moran. It helps tell the story and I think it adds to the photo. I hope to get the “dead tree” removed when I learn more about Lightroom. Henry helped minimize the overwhelming decision-making, but I’m still not quite ready for quick photos when the light is changing so quickly.
As the fog moved in to cover Mount Moran we jumped back in the van and drove to the top – and another WOW ! The valley below us to the east was a blanket of fog that was changing – it seemed by the second – with the sun slightly above the Gros Ventre Mountains. The view was constantly changing but it wasn’t evaporating so we had plenty of time to LEARN. We talked about exposure, composition, the edges, and I learned important key elements to look for in my photos. We stayed at the top of Signal Mountain for over an hour, looked at each other’s viewfinders (including Henry’s), discussed what was happening and what each of us was seeing. I felt supported and confident that I was learning and improving as a photographer. Henry encouraged the three of us to make comments on the details of each person’s composition in their viewfinder and gave us specific details about what he though was strong or weak. And I felt really really motivated. Why ?
As I said in my last post, each of us is different in our motivation – both the positive motivations that get us pumped-up and the “negative motivations” that undermine the behaviors that help us to improve. So what I took from the morning with Henry, Tom, and Larry may not be true for all of you, but I suspect it is true for many of us. To save some space, let me put the positive motivations in a list:
Let’s Have Fun – This is pretty much a no-brainer but it can be something to include in your motivational plan. Taking photographs should NOT be stressful and disappointing; if you are frustrated and disheartened today, are you going to want to do this again tomorrow? Tom and Larry and I had a great time because we were with old friends that enjoyed being with one another doing something we valued. We weren’t “partying” but our conversation and interaction was woven into photography.
Learning is Enjoyable – Some of you may have had bad experiences in school, which unfortunately might lead you to believe learning isn’t enjoyable. But learning doesn’t stop when school ends. Most of what we learn in life happens after we leave school. There are a number of key elements in the process of learning that are likely to increase our motivation. Sorry but I’m going to get a little academic 🙂 and compare our experience to Ed Deci’s Theory of Intrinsic Motivation. Intrinsic Motivation doesn’t require any “reward” because what motivates us is an enjoyment of what we are doing. Deci says that there are three things that help encourage intrinsic motivation:
- Optimal Challenge – Whenever the goals for which we are striving are challenging, and also within our grasp, we are likely to increase our positive motivation. When Henry gave me the ISO for the elk photo in the low light situation he was making the task within my grasp. Be careful about comparing your work to the work of others; for some folks competition can actually undermine motivation. Choose realistic goals that are a challenge but not outlandish. When you have both short-term and long-term goals you can control the optimal challenge.
- Choice – Whenever we are put in situations where we are given choice and feel in control we are more likely to have a positive motivation. When WE decide what our goals are we are more likely to achieve them. Henry guided us at the Mount Moran turnout and at the top of Signal Mountain but he never told us what to do. He gave us choices and support for the tough stuff. And he “let me fail.” He told us to “Watch out for the dead tree” but let me learn my own lesson. I’ll check with him about how to get rid of that dead tree with Lightroom :-).
- Informational Feedback as opposed to Evaluative Feedback – This is critical. When I see comments on FB they are almost always Evaluative Feedback: they say something like “Beautiful” but seldom explain what is beautiful about the photo. Informational feedback is a statement of what is good, or not-so-good, about the photograph: “I like the leading lines in the composition” or “I think the composition would be improved if you cleaned up the edges.” I believe that Henry is a very good teacher for many reasons but a very important reason is that he gave me specific feedback about what he thought was effective in my composition and what detracted from my composition. He setup an environment in which we critiqued one another’s photographs using specific details NOT something like “Wow, that is great” or “Boy, that stinks.”
By the way, it’s been raining here for a couple days and there was supposed to be rain today. But I got up at 5:00 am and drove to a very foggy Grand Teton National Park. I could have gotten discouraged but as soon as I saw the fog I thought, I can drive up Signal Mountain above the fog. It turned out pretty good. I would have liked some folks to talk with and share Informational Feedback but after my experience last week I have gained confidence to improve my own photos.
I imaging some of you highly motivated folks may be tired of talking about motivation, so let’s move on. The next post will focus on photographic gear. I asked “the dozen” what they believe is the most important photographic gear they have acquired that has improved their photography. Their answers were very diverse and interesting. I would like for you to think about the top two pieces of equipment (cameras, lenses, tripods, computers, software, even books) that had the most impact on your photography and send me your top-2 and why they have been important to your improvement. Come on everyone, that isn’t that hard to do. Hit the reply button and send me your homework and any ideas you have to improve FirstanAmateur.com.