What to do After Leaving the Comfort Zone ?

Once outside your comfort zone, what will help you improve?  It is easy to say you’re gonna try some new approach in photography, but what will keep you motivated to stick to a new approach when you are likely to stumble?  I’d suggest that you have a partner to work with and have them critique your photos.

In my last Blog (https://firstanamateur.com/2021/06/17/stepping-our-of-your-comfort-zone/) I shared the photos from our Peer Mentor Monthly Silhouette Theme and invited all of the blog followers to comment on the photos.  I ended the blog with the Peer Mentor July Theme Challenge of Macro and invited you to take some macro photos.  I didn’t receive any from you, but I hope some of you may have taken a few.  What criteria did you use to critique your own photos?  What did you learn?  Let me be the guinea pig for learning Macro :-).

July was a tough month for our family since we discovered our dog (Koty) had bone cancer which resulted in an amputation.  Koty is now doing well for a 3-legged dog, and we stayed with him all the time.  I wanted to follow the July Theme and was comfortable taking macro photos in our yard.   Now I realize, thanks to our peer mentor critiques, that I was too comfortable and less focused on how to improve my macro photography.  Did you catch that I said I was “less focused” … sorry for the pun.

The Peer Mentor Macro Theme Challenge has really helped me realize that macro photography is more than  just getting a close-up photo.  I could say that Koty was the reason I didn’t put enough emphasis on the criteria of focus for a good macro photo, but that is a poor excuse.  The discussion of excellence in macro photos at the peer mentor meeting, and the review of 14 photos that were submitted, helped me realize that I had missed something very important in creating great macro photos – Sharp Focus and Controlled Blur.

To tell the truth, if it wasn’t for the Peer Mentor Critique, I might have just ignored that my photos were not nearly as super-sharp from front-to-back.  Some of the photos that my peer mentor colleagues shared really stood out, because of their super sharp focus.  I didn’t really consider how focus, and blur, was always critical to creating great macro photos.  SO, are the critique of peer mentors critical to improving?  I am sure that they are critical to MY improvement.  Let me share my macro photos and then share the outstanding winning photos.  If you had read articles about macro photography, would you have critiqued the focus of your own photos?

Learning from examples “before voting”

We start our peer mentor zoom meetings with a discussion of what the peer mentors have learned about the monthly theme, especially from the online articles posted on our webpage.  Lately at the end of our discussions I share a couple photos that have the characteristics that could be consider as good or not so good. Here are two macro photo examples.  What is your feedback/critique of each of these photos?









Which of these two images do you think is the best example of a Macro Photo?  Or are either of these a Macro Photo?  What is your critique for the photo on the left?  What is your critique for the photo on the right?  What would each of them need to improve upon? 

Randy’ Macro Submission

This was my July Macro Theme Challenge.  It fits the requirement for a macro photo, but the critique from the peer mentors (these critiques are always “blind voting” critiques) had one concern: the focus of this shot is a bit soft on the eye of the wasp and also in the nest.  What do you think about this as a macro photo?  

I was thankful to get feedback from my peers because it set me up to think about the comments as we  explored and critiqued the top four photos.  The most important characteristic of Macro photos is that this tiny object is super sharp and that the background is very blurry.  I know that seems so obvious that it is silly to say … or is it?  I didn’t really give it enough thought … I just took a close-up photo.    


After examining the next 4 photos and learning from the discussion of the Macro Challenge I began to realize what I needed to do to Leave My Comfort Zone …

The Final Four Macro Challenge Photos

So here are the final 4 images for the Macro Monthly Theme ChallengeTo view more details in these photos by seeing larger images, click on one of the photos and then use the arrows to move thru the 4 photos.  When you are finished, click on the “X” in the upper right-hand corner to return to the blog.  Which one or two do you think is the best Macro image and why do you think that image or two is a good example of a Macro Photo?

What did I Learn ?

I believe that sometimes finding out what you need to learn once you step outside your comfort zone can be a difficult challenge.  If you were challenged by the Silhouette Challenge you could probably go out and take quite a few silhouette photos and see an immediate improvement.  But if your challenge was Macro photography, you might find it difficult to improve your macro photos BECAUSE you needed to learn a new skill.  I haven’t used Photoshop is more than 20 years.  But to learn how to use Focus Stacking it is necessary that I feel somewhat comfortable using Photoshop.

After doing a bit of on-line exploring with PhotographyLife.com (https://photographylife.com/reviews/nikon-z7/6), I realized that my Nikon Z7 had the built-in software to create the necessary photos for photo stacking.  So now all I have to do is learn more about how to use Photoshop which I will also explore on PhotographLife.com (https://photographylife.com/landscapes/focus-stacking-tutorial-for-landscape-photography).  I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this but sometimes I don’t follow thru with what I know I need to learn.  So, I guess I can count on you to hassle me about moving forward and learning Focus Stacking 🙂

Maybe my next Blog should be about taking that step to learning a new photo skill on my own … a skill that I see as challenging even though many of my colleagues will say that learning that skill is “really easy.”  Have you ever been intimidated by the “support” of the comment about how easy that skill is ? ? ?  Me too.

So What is there to Learn about Leaving Your Comfort Zone ?

The message I have been trying to send with this blog is about your photo comfort zone.  It is easy, and probably normal, to stick with taking the photos you enjoy taking.  But sooner or later your comfort zone becomes boring.  If you are OK with taking photos of family, vacations, etc. you may not need to step out of that comfort zone.  But if your goal is to make big improvements to your photography, you need to step out of your comfort zone and stick with it when you feel un-comfortable.

I’m NOT feeling comfortable about telling you that I am going to step out and learn to use Photoshop to teach me how to use Focus Stacking.  I’m a little embarrassed (maybe more than a little) that I don’t know how to do this.  But the purpose of stepping out of a comfort zone is to improve, so I  better get to work on learning even if it is embarrassing.  I guess I can be a good role model if I admit I lack a skill and work to improve.

For many of us “normal folks”, making photo improvements ain’t easy.  

Join me, even if you are uncomfortable.