Building on the Advice of Amateurs

March Madness is behind us and the spring season often brings many opportunities for photography.  When I moved into the mountains and began to get serious about photography, I assumed summer would be the best time to grab good photos.  But my regular interaction with experienced landscape photography taught me to see the world around me in a very different way at different times of the year.  I’ll share two spring photos at the end of this blog and ask for your critique.  They may get you thinking about the difference between the two, or at least get you thinking about photography in the spring.

When I first started photography in 2014 with my new Nikon D7000 camera I was confused by all the buttons.  And I created lots of disappointing photographs … with a few that I thought were better than just OK.  I wasn’t ready to make all the changes on my own: I needed some photo friends to work with me.  In this blog I want to share with you some of the building blocks that I, and my peer mentor friends, have used to build our photography.

In my last blog, “Photographic Advice for Beginners,” I talked about what growing amateur photographers had learned, and what advice they would give to themselves now that they had some experience under their belt.  I shared the comments they posted on the Facebook page of the Teton Photography Club in my last Blog.  I was pleased that a number of FaA followers added comments to the Blog with more advice to beginners.  Let me begin by sharing their advice since it can be valuable to you if are committed to improving your photography.

Tom, a longtime friend, suggested that beginners may be overwhelmed by the complications of digital cameras: “I would always recommend that the beginner not be overwhelmed by the camera’s technical features – put the camera on Auto and shoot away.”  I find this to be the case even with advancing amateurs when they purchase mirrorless camera.  I recently bought a Nikon Z7 and became frustrated with an option that now seems so simple.  Don’t be intimidated by folks who tell you “This will be easy” ‘cuz it may not be easy for you.  Take your time and take lots of shots so you feel at least somewhat comfortable and then move on.  Try to hold back your frustration and seek help from a colleague, a book, or a YouTube post.

Tom also suggested that up-and-coming newcomers “get in the reps” and also take time to visualize the photo that is in the viewfinder.  Does the image in the viewfinder or Live View send the message you intended?  You don’t need to know how to use all the buttons to visualize what the subject will look like in your photograph. What you “see” around you may not be what stands-out in your photograph.  As one of my photo mentors says, “Can you describe your photograph with a single word?” Composition is critical and the first step to improve your composition is often to cut out all the distractions; What is the message you are trying to get across?  Are there distractions that take away the viewer’s focus?  Composition will make a good future Blog 🙂

Tris stated that looking at other people’s photos can be really important.  And the photo you explore don’t have to be by professional or expert photographers.  Looking at, and analyzing, great photographers is really valuable; What about those images makes them great?  It is also valuable to have a colleague who will share their photos with you, and encourage you to share your photos and critique with them.  That is a key ingredient in our Peer Mentor Program (more on that in a future Blog).  We found that having our own photos critiqued was really helpful, but we also learned a great deal by being involved in a discussion of other’s photos.

Sue shares a number of valuable learning tools, including histograms, in her comments.  After you have figured out what some of the buttons on your camera do, take time to learn about histograms.  If you look up photography histograms on the internet you will find lots of information … that might be overwhelming.  But if you turn on the histogram on your camera’s Live View (most digital cameras have Live View, check this out you can learn a lot about how to set the exposure in your camera when you move beyond only using Auto on your camera.  If you use a mirrorless camera you may find that looking thru your EVF (Electronic View Finder) with the histogram turned-on will really change how you set your exposure.

Sue also shares a philosophical approach to improving your photography.  I’ve mentioned before that a click-click-click approach to improving your photography can be missing a key ingredient.  Taking a lot of photos when you first get a digital camera is a good place to start.  Back in the film-days click-click-click was expensive, but now you can view your photos immediately on the back of your camera.  But those ”free photos” can take you away from learning to thoughtfully exploring your own photos.  Take time when you get home and look at your photos … BUT also take time WHILE you are taking your photos.  Be thoughtful AS you are about to take a photo and remember what you were trying to present in this photo.

I must admit that it took me a long time to recognize what was truly improving in my photography.  I knew how to use my camera, I had acquired some Lightroom skills, and I had a stronger commitment to getting out and taking photos.  But until I received informational feedback from my peers and was involved in the critique of the photos of the members of our peer mentor group, I didn’t make significant improvements.  Those improvements led me to begin to develop of style for my landscape photography.  And developing a personal style has taken me to look for a mood, or story, or a path into the depth of where the photo is taking me and my viewers.

Here are two photos taken in the spring at a very popular landing on the Snake River in the Grand Teton National Park.  One was taken on April 18, 2015 at Schwabacher’s Landing at about 8:30 am.  The second photo was taken on April 3, 2021 at Schwabacher’s Landing at about 7:30 am.  I see them as very different and view them as evidence of how my photography has changed.  Which one do you prefer?  What is it about your preferred photo that you like and why?  Does the preferred photos have a mood or story or style that encourages you to look at that photo more than the other photo? 

I have found that thinking about the photo as I am getting ready to take the picture has an important impact on my photography: what would you be thinking about as you took that preferred photo?

To view enlarged photos of these two images, click on one of the photos (either one) and that photo will enlarge.  There are then arrows on the photo and a click on the arrow will send you to the next photo.  Hit the “X” in the upper righthand corner to return you to the blog.

I’d appreciate hearing which of these photos you like and WHY !  I hope that the “why” might help you to think-about-thinking when you are out taking photos.  If you only have about 15-20 minutes to take a sunrise photo, I’d suggest you use more of that time to think about what you are taking than to try to take lots of sunrise photos.  It was only 17 degrees as I was taking the 2021 photo but I felt like I was part of the peaceful beauty of the partly frozen Snake River, with the shadows on the snow, and the Tetons in the background.  It was an invitation to continue walking along the river and appreciating the beauty and peace. 

I’m glad to be back in touch with you via this FaA Blog. I hope to be more consistent in posting the FirstAnAmateur blogs.  My next blog will be about our latest Peer Mentor Zoom meeting to give you a “picture” of what we do in the Peer Mentor Program.