First let me start by apologizing for not putting up a post for more than a month. Like many of you, the only excuse I have for slowing down my life is covid-19, and it doesn’t seem like a very good explanation. I’ve had plenty of “available time” but I didn’t seem to have the appropriate motivation to use that time constructively. But I’m slowly getting over this hurdle and I must admit that the opening of the National Park and a bit more photography seems to be helping. So, can focusing on taking photographs actually improve my general motivation? Maybe. I’m feeling better and glad to get out and take some photographs of the beauty around me. And I just had a learning experience I’d like to share with you.
I think there is a connection within this locked-up-at-home situation that I can use to improving my photography. Let me explain and give you an example. I think one of the most difficult problems for improving as an amateur photographer is moving beyond the click-click-click approach to taking photos. When I think of my “growth” as an amateur, I typically remember my photos when on vacation away from work. I went to really good venues (e.g., national parks like Yellowstone and Grand Teton) and fired away, even though I was taking photos with film. I was terribly disappointed when I got the slides or prints back, and it wasn’t much better when I took the film into my own darkroom. My mind was focused on my camera not on the product my camera produced. It got a wee-bit better when I got a digital camera because I could see the inferior product on the monitor of my camera, but I still had miles to go.
Retirement helped because I could stick with photography day-after-day, but the progress started slowly. I can see now that I needed to put in more time; I needed a mentor and regular critiques of my photos; I needed to really improve my mastery of my camera and other paraphernalia; but probably the most important change was my “involvement” in what I was photographing. Here are two questions to think about to assess your level of “photo involvement”: Does your use of your camera and equipment require that you think carefully about what to do with it as you take photos, or is it mostly second nature to you? When you are taking landscape, wildlife, portrait, or street photography do you have to think about the “environment” or do you truly feel like you are “part of the environment”? As you are taking photos, are you emotionally engrossed in the process or are you thinking/worrying about how things are going? Sound familiar?
Let me share an unforgettable not so good story I recently experienced. I have improved significantly over the past few years in relation to my experience using my camera and feeling part of the environment; I’m usually comfortable and focused. While locked down in my house the past month I have tried to add a few new tactics that have been mentioned in our peer mentor meetings. Staying at home with a rather open topic for the peer mentor program I started using an old macro lens that I hadn’t used in years and got some pretty good images. I had recently bought a flash and tried to figure that out, without a lot of success. I went back to teaching myself how to use bracketing on my Nikon and using HDR in Lightroom. It kept me busy and feeling pretty good about learning new skills and tricks that I needed to practice to feel comfortable.
Then a couple days ago I was walking Koty, our dog, the day after a snow storm (yep, a snow storm in the middle of May) and as we were walking down the road back to our house I could see that the valley below us was blanketed by real heavy fog: Time to get my camera and drive up the road to look down on a receding fog in Teton Valley. Koty and I hurried home, but the fog was lifting pretty fast. I grabbed my camera (no time to get the tripod), jumped in the car, and drove up the road to about 500’ above the valley floor. The fog was lifting really fast ! I took about 4 or 5 sets of photos so Lightroom could put together some panos from a variety of places up the hill. I checked my first photo on the monitor and it was fine. I was really rushed so I hit the shutter release button as quickly as I could for all the images for each of the panos as I moved around the hill. Ah, these were going to be great ! I was excited to see the new panoramas
Now I could relax, go home for breakfast, and then go to the computer to have LR stitch the panos together. The rush-rush-rush was over and I could chill-out and enjoy the beauty.
But when my computer loaded the images into LR I was shocked ! The exposure was WAY off for 2 of every 3 images. What in the world happened? I needed to fire the shots off so fast that I didn’t give them any thought once I saw that the first image on the monitor was A-OK. In the rush did I accidently move the shutter speed or the aperture? But why are some images over-exposed and others under-exposed? Let me share with you three of the photos, despite the fact that this can be quite embarrassing BUT don’t go beyond these first 3 photos. Try to figure out the problem.
Oh my gosh, how did this happen. This image was shot at 1/250 f 5.6 ISO 100 with a 62 mm.
This is a little better but still over-exposed. This image was shot at 1/500 f 5.6 ISO 100 with a 62mm.
This exposure is quite a bit better. This image was shot at 1/1000 f 5.6 ISO 100 with a 62mm.
I hate to admit this, but I bet you have figured this out a lot faster than I figured it out … but I just told you that 2 of every 3 had a bad exposure and some were over-exposed and others were under-exposed. AND you aren’t upset like I was :-(. Yep, I was really upset. I have to admit that I didn’t figure out why the photos were crazy-exposed right away, until I calmed down and went and got a cup (or two) of coffee. Then …
Before I tell you what you may already know, let me point out a key ingredient in the surprise failure. I never took the time to be “One with the Environment.” I didn’t take the time to check out the images past that very first one. I didn’t calm down and enjoy the beauty. I let a “gotta get this done” get in the way. How about you? Have you ever showed up late for a sunrise or sunset or a mommy bear and her 4 babies going back into the woods? Did you take the time to think about your camera settings? Did you feel comfortable and relaxed? Did you feel “one with the environment” to the point where you felt that you were looking for a way to share the emotions you were experiencing through the images you were taking?
My emotional “Quick, get these shots before the fog lifts completely!!!” reaction kept me from understanding what I was doing wrong: I didn’t turn off the bracket button the last time I used it. And I never took the time to appreciate the beauty of the fog in the valley. Have you ever had that happen to you? So Randy, what is the lesson to be learned here?
This is a classic easier said than done.
1. I need to practice-practice-practice new photography skills IF they might be needed in an “emergency” situation. When you learn a new skill or acquire a new gadget, give it plenty of practice on venues that aren’t very important … where you aren’t emotionally out of control.
2. Getting emotionally involved is good IF you have those emotions under control. A good way to have those emotions under control is to have plenty of time to set-up and feel one with the environment: how is the environment around you influencing how you feel.
3. Whenever possible, take a few photos before that emotional event is likely to happen. For example, if you anticipate that an awesome sunrise is going to happen take a few photos BEFORE the golden hour. Now that you are using a digital camera you have nothing to lose and a calming experience to gain.
4. Take time to be reflective about how you feel. How are you emotionally moved by the environment you are experiencing? I have close friends who love to view the Teton/Yellowstone baby bears every spring BUT now they look for mommy and baby bears with hundred, even thousands, of other photographers, and in Covid-19 those other photographers are not applying social distancing … from the bears or one another.
Take your time and enjoy the environment that you have the opportunity to experience. Being one with the environment will calm your soul, improve your photographic experience, and enrich your images.
And if you are wondering, the panorama at the top of this Blog was a clean-up of the crazy-exposure bracketing. LR didn’t like to splice together images that were extremely different (at least I didn’t know how to get LR to do it) but when I edit some of the photos LR allowed a pano splice. Here is a larger view: