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.

6 thoughts on “Disappointed but Learning

  1. Jade Walton

    I absolutely loved this post, Randy! I grew up in Coeur d’ Alene and seeing your photos from there made me homesick. You did a WONDERFUL job capturing the beauty of it. And I agree-my number one mistake is not taking my camera when I should. I missed an incredible shot of a mama and baby moose at sunrise a couple weeks ago. Live and learn.

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  2. Jade, thanks for the comment. Glad to have you on board. My wife and dog and I will be returning to Coeur D’Alene this coming fall. I don’t want to go there when there are millions of people but the lake is absolutely amazing. And yea, bring your camera along.

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  3. Nancy takeda

    Hi Randy!
    First off happy Thanksgiving to you and Chris. Then let me say, those are very dramatic pictures. I really like them. Did you happen to try converting them to black &a white in Lightroom? I really like that type of drama. It tells so much more of a story. I was in Cour d’ alanine a few years ago, in the summer. We did a tour around the lake on a tour boat. No breeze, not a cloud, and 101 degrees. Miserable. I’d take dark sky, chilly temperature and breeze any day. I find that small messenger pouch perfect because it has just a few things. I have only 3 good lenses, so it’s much easier. I would have also taken my tripod, because that scenery was not going to move and I would have had time to get a good shot set up. Did you happen to mention to the I forgot to reset my camera person, that after a speciality shoot that before you put your camera away, you reset to normal settings? I kept getting overly dark pictures when I first started, and Aaron looked it over and said why did you have it set like that. I said I was experimenting. After that, if I use wildly different settings, I try to remember to put my settings back to average. I generally put a freshly charged battery in and do the rest then. Thanks so much for sharing.

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  4. Nancy, thank for the B&W suggestion. I’ll have to look at them that way. I think moving to B&W for the stormy drama is a very good idea. Resetting after specialty shooting is a good idea also. I’ve made goofy changes and forgotten to re-set them also.

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  5. Tom Lehrer

    Randy, I liked your comments from this recent entry. One thing that popped up in my thinking was your anguish about not adequately preparing in taking the equipment that you might need for unanticipated photo opportunities — needing a wide angle when you just had your 70-200mm. I can relate to that, and I think we’ve all been guilty. However, I think back to the experience we had this October, and while this isn’t a perfect analogy, it works. We were in a situation where we didn’t think we had a photograph to take. However, with the oversight of an experienced photographer, we had a professional “model” for us how there were photographs to be taken in that particular site — we were just not opening up to new possibilities.

    So, to take your situation — when you didn’t have the wide angle and only had the 70-200, that’s an opportunity to be creative with the 70-200 and think of new perspectives. Out of that way of thinking, you might be pushed to take some shots you might not have otherwise thought possible, especially if you follow your other advice about thinking and planning for what you shoot.

    Lastly, you were a teacher, and I suspect a very good one. When you taught that inexperienced photographer about changing the ISO setting, that was a seemingly simple adjustment since ISO seems like a very basic part of photography. However, I bet that you and I still could learn volumes about ISO settings, and while it was good to help that person, you might be inclined (as I would be) to investigate ISO again and check on some of the variables that we can use in the future.

    Going back to the first example, I was recently down in Florida and wanted to take some shots of beach chairs during the offseason. I took my camera, lens and hand carried one extra lens. I walked down to the pool and realized that I had forgotten to put the battery in the camera body.
    If I had just taken my whole bag down in the first place, I would have had the battery with me AND my camera equipment would have been transported in a much safer manner. Lesson learned.

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  6. Great response Tom. Yea, when you only bring the wrong lens it is important to step back and look for the best one can do with what one has in hand. I did try that on my first day at Coeur D’Alene (the first photo in the post) but I must also admit that I probably wasn’t looking for good 70-200 shots but rather what I could get by with given I only had a 70-200 – so I shot mostly with the 70mm. Some good telephoto shots would have taught me a lesson.
    After helping the young lady with her ISO I didn’t think about ISO but it did remind me of the “My Menu” on my camera (a way to “collect” hard-to-find menu adjustments) that I was developing on my own camera. I explained to her that she could put various camera changes (like the Auto ISO which was her problem) into “My Menu” which is something I am learning to add to my menu. Camera menus can be confusing but there is a way around it.
    And missing a battery … been there but remembered at the last minute. Now I change up the battery regularly and put it back in the camera before I leave my chair. Learning that lesson. Thanks again for the comment. It is helpful to me and the readers.

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