Disappointed but Learning

Two weeks ago I went to a conference in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. Chris, my wife, is on the local School Board and the conference was about schools, so Koty (our dog) and I were just along for the ride. I’ve heard about the beauty of Coeur D’Alene for years, so I was excited to have the opportunity to spend 3 or 4 days hiking around the majestic lake taking photos. A few days before the conference the weather report was sketchy, but I was confident that a little “weather” would be just fine as long as there were a few sunrises and/or sunsets with good light.

The drive from Victor, Idaho to Coeur D’Alene was gorgeous. When we arrived late in the afternoon on Wednesday there was good light and some sun. It was Chris’ conference so when I took Koty for a walk I left my camera in the room.   We walked around to see the sights and my goal was to get an idea of where I might take some photos the next day. In retrospect, as always, leaving my camera behind was not a good idea!

Thursday morning I took Koty on a walk and checked out a beautiful peninsula called Tubbs Hill, a few hundred yards from our hotel. It is a two-mile hike around the hill on a trail that follows the lake with a beautiful rugged shoreline: a perfect location for great sunrises and sunsets IF I got good light. “No problem. I’ll take Koty back to the room, have breakfast, and go out for a shoot. Great location for photography. Lots of time to get some good shots.” Not a great decision.

Before the trip I bought a used 70-200mm f2.8 Nikon lens (yea, I decided to get some “good glass”) and Thursday morning I decided to just take my camera and new lens with me. I knew the hike was quite hilly and I didn’t want to lug my backpack and all the gear with me. Another not-so-great-decision, but I’m learning.

Tubbs Hill Day #1 (1 of 4)

It was partly sunny and a little chilly but relatively good weather for shooting. It was Veteran’s Day and I met a group of college students who were hiking. Some of them taking photos and some were having trouble with their cameras.

When they saw that I had a Nikon and a big lens they asked me if I could help them take a photo of them. If you want other folks to think you are a big-time photographer, put your camera with a big lens on a tripod and bingo, you are a pro. 🙂  I agreed but then noticed the Nikon 7200 she gave me was shooting at something like 2000 at f16 on a partly cloudy day. I was really surprised and probably looked shocked. The owner came up to me and said, “I don’t know how to fix that. It is shooting at ISO 2500.” Ah-ha, I quickly changed the ISO and the exposure and took the shot. It turns out the camera owner had taken night-shots recently and couldn’t remember how to reset the ISO. I helped her out and gave her some advice.  She thanked me many times. This may sound weird, but as I continued my hike I felt confident; their need for some help made me feel like I knew what I was doing, when usually I don’t see myself that way at all.

I’ve been with a lot of really advanced amateur and pro photographers the last few months through my involvement in the Teton Photography Group. I have to admit I’ve felt like I knew very little about photography most of the time, maybe because I was comparing myself to folks who were really good photographers. But on the Tubbs Hill hike that day I felt like I knew something important – and I did, even if more advanced photographers would think ISO was just super-basic.

Tubbs Hill Day #1 (3 of 4)

I continued on with the hike and met my “new friends” again and again; oh how fun it was back-in-the-day when I had energy.  You can see them in this photo (above) out on the point.  Unfortunately, I soon realized that the 70-200 lens I was carrying wasn’t what I needed. I needed a wide-angle lens, but since I didn’t bring my gear backpack I didn’t have one. Man, these bad decisions are pilling up.

Tubbs Hill Day #1 (4 of 4)

Later that afternoon I went out for sunset.  It was getting really windy but I got an OK shot of the sunset. I didn’t worry about the weather since the report for the next day was partly sunny.  But the next day I never saw the sun.

Tubbs Hill Day #2 (2 of 3)

The next day wasn’t partly cloudy – it was very cloudy and looked stormy. I was tempted to just take my wide angle lens but I had learned the prior day that I might need others lenses so I took my backpack and all my gear. Finally a good decision.

Tubbs Hill Day #2 (3 of 3)

But it was chilly and very windy so, guess what – I made another bad decision. The sky was dark but had detail and the shoreline had very little light. Ah-ha, I need my graduated neutral density filter to decrease the expose on the sky. But it was cold and windy and (I have to admit it) I was lazy. I didn’t put the holder for the filter on my lens and simply held the filter in front of the lens. I took a number of shots along the beautiful stormy shoreline. When I got back to the hotel room and looked at the shots in Lightroom I had mixed feelings.

What did I learn and re-learn?

Since this blog as a story about my journey, to help you with your journey, let me share what I learned:

  1. Don’t Put Off Until Tomorrow – It is easy to assume that you can get “this great shot” tomorrow, but that probably never happens. I have read a hundred times that I should carry my camera with me all the time, and I usually do keep it with me in the car. But you can never be sure tomorrow will have good weather for a good photo shoot. Take the shot now and bring your camera along for all your rides.
  2. You Might Know More than You Think – My experience with the college students gave me a new confidence: it showed me that I know some valuable information and can solve more photography problems than I thought. The people I am around typically know way more than me, but many of them are professional photographers. Don’t compare yourself to others. Take time to reflect on how much you have learned and how much better your photos are today than last year or last month.
  3. Don’t Rush, Take your Time, Think about each Shot – It was cold and windy but that is no excuse for not taking a couple minutes to attach the filter holder to the lens. Sure, my hands were freezing and I needed to go back into my backpack to get the filter holder.  But the time would have improved my photos. If you want quality photos, you can’t rush the product.

But most of all, enjoy what you are doing. For some of us it is easy to be self-critical to the extent that we rarely take time to enjoy the progress we are making, to enjoy the actual products/photographs we are creating, to enjoy the environments in which we are taking the photographs, and just to enjoy life. Don’t beat yourself up. You are making progress.

Have a Wonderful Thanksgiving.