Archive for October 2014

Friday Foto Talk: Learning Photography – Part II   11 comments

Mt Sneffels and its neighbors scrape the sky in southwest Colorado.

Mt Sneffels and its neighbors scrape the sky in southwest Colorado.

I’m thinking you may need a break from Halloween-themed posts and pictures.   This is the second of three parts on learning photography.  Last Friday’s post introduced the topic.

Using your learning time wisely is the reason for this short series about learning photography.  While those who are fairly new to photography may get the most out of it, even old hands know that the learning never stops.  The fact is that all of us, no matter how experienced, could benefit by stopping to think about how we’re going about learning.  It’s at least as important as what you learn.  So make sure to check out Part I.  There you’ll find Tips 1 through 5.

 

Tip 6

  • From the beginning, develop your own unique style.  It’s never too early to begin expressing your own unique take on things: your style.  That includes shooting the things you are passionate about, or at least have a strong interest in.  But don’t get carried away with a narrow focus too soon (see below).

Tip 7

  • Shoot a wide variety of subjects in a variety of lighting.  While learning the basics, do a lot of different kinds of shooting.  You may be most interested in shooting nature or landscapes, for example.  That’s fine, but don’t focus on it too much right away.  To learn about light, to explore the interaction between subject and photographer, to fully appreciate photography, I believe you need to shoot variety: buildings, people, still life, close-ups, indoors as well as out.  You get the idea.
A barn in the best color for a barn, near Ridgway, Colorado.

A barn in the best color for a barn, near Ridgway, Colorado.

Tip 8

  • Personal life can intrude.  Your loved ones will think you just took up a hobby.  But they’ll soon realize it’s much more than that!  As with the two points above, you’ll need to strike another balance here.  Depending on how busy your personal life is, you may need to drop some things, if possible, in order to accommodate the extra demands.  You should be having fun shooting, and that’s not possible if you’re stressed because you have too much on your plate.  That said, your family and work will, as always, be more important.  Be patient.  It may take more time than if you were single with a non-demanding job.  But don’t worry, you’ll still get there.
A prairie dog keeps watch   over his town on the Oklahoma prairie.

A prairie dog keeps watch over his town on the Oklahoma prairie.

Tip 9

  • During your formative period, you should almost completely ignore the images of others.  Period.  You have all the influences you need stored in memory.  You don’t need it now.  Constant comparison to others will likely harm your ability to develop your own style.  Are there exceptions to this rule?  I believe in exceptions to most rules.  But be very selective.  You might visit a gallery, or pick up a book by a seriously great photographer.  But your focus, for at least a year and probably two, should be on shooting and learning, not sharing your images or looking at too much of other shooters.

* This applies especially to the internet.  Facebook in particular can be quite poisonous to a new photographer in my opinion.  If you go online go for a blog post or article purely focused on learning skills.  Later on, after you’ve established a style and know yourself as a photographer, you can start sharing more widely.  It’s only at that point that you’ll continue to learn by viewing (with a critical eye) the images of others.

For some reason I really love rosehips.

For some reason I really love rosehips.

Tip 10

  • Be a harsh self-critic.  This is another thing you need to do right from the beginning.  When you’re selecting images to work on at the computer, try to select only the best.  This is something we all struggle with, especially in the beginning.  Don’t stress that it’s so tough to judge which of your images are good and which aren’t.  Time will make you a better judge of your own pictures.  It will become a little easier as your pictures get better.  Still, you need to be very demanding and only spend time with your best work.

* But you may well ask: “Don’t I need to look at a bunch of pictures online to learn what’s good and what’s not?”  No.  No you don’t.  I can’t emphasize this too strongly.  Scrolling through tons of images on Facebook or 500 px merely teaches you what is popular, not necessarily what is good.  Believe it or not, you already know a strong image from a weak one.  Besides, it is only helpful (especially while learning) to know what makes a good image for you at your particular point of development.  That said, at some time in your learning process, it’s probably a good idea to learn how to critique images.  Later on, you can join a critique forum.

Tip 11

  •  Be calm, relaxed and observant while shooting.  I’ve hit on this point in prior posts.  When I’m around other photographers, I sometimes notice they miss things, seemingly because they’re rushing through the process for no good reason.  And I’m not immune.  I often need to remind myself to keep a calm mind.  I’m naturally observant, at least in nature.  But I’m also habitually late for things, including sunset.  I’ve had to learn that this is no excuse for feeling stressed when I do arrive.

* All of this is directly related to observation.  And that strongly influences how many good shots you’ll get. It’s not just creativity as a whole that suffers from stress.  Your observational abilities also go down when you allow stress to creep in.  Granted, sometimes you need to go pretty fast if the light is changing quickly or you’re working with a skittish subject.  But you can always keep a calm and receptive attitude, no matter what the shooting situation.

Dramatic skies and a thinly forested ridgeline combine with nice light in this picture in the Colorado Rockies

Dramatic skies and a thinly forested ridge-line combine with nice light in this picture in the Colorado Rockies

Tip 12

  • Have fun!  Everything you do in photography, as with life, will turn out better if you make it fun.  There’s something I’ve always found strange.  Even though I greatly appreciate all complements on my pictures, I’m always confused when people say “nice work”.  If this were work to me I wouldn’t be doing it!  A lot easier said than done, you say?  You’re right!  For example, I know from personal experience that it’s hard not to beat yourself up when you miss a great shot.  At those times I try to remember that there is always a next time.  It is so important to maintain perspective.  Don’t take photography too seriously.  And please, no matter how good you eventually get, don’t take yourself as a photographer too seriously.  Have fun!

 

Stay tuned next week for the last post in this series.  Have a great weekend!

The sun sets over the Cimarron River.

The sun sets over the Cimarron River.

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Happy Halloween!   14 comments

There are plenty of opportunities in Oregon to capture fog in all its variations.

There are plenty of opportunities in Oregon to capture fog in all its variations.

Tomorrow is Halloween, a holiday I’ve always been of two minds on.  On one hand, I’ve had many fun Halloweens.  We used to decorate the basement in the house I grew up in, and on a couple occasions I remember parties down there with all my friends from school and the neighborhood.  We would run around all amped up on sugar, bobbing for apples and playing pranks.  The evening was capped off by sitting on the cement walls bordering the backyard, that huge oak tree forming a black silhouette in the center, telling ghost stories.

On the other hand, since reaching adulthood, I haven’t really taken to the holiday like when I was a kid.  To me, it is a holiday for children, and never has had the enduring spirit of Christmas.  It seems a little ridiculous how excited some adults get.  I’ve even cynically thought of it as simply an excuse to get drunk at Halloween parties.  Am I too much the curmudgeon?  Probably, haha!  Anyway, here are a few shots I managed to find with a more or less spooky mood to them.

Happy Halloween!

A termite tower in Botswana's Okavango Delta takes on a sinister aspect next to an equally spooky looking acacia tree.

A termite tower in Botswana’s Okavango Delta takes on a sinister aspect next to an equally spooky looking acacia tree.

The streets at night in Campeche, a colonial town in Mexico, are very atmospheric.

The streets at night in Campeche, a colonial town in Mexico, are very atmospheric.

 

More good old Oregon fog.  I don't think this shot is that scary looking.  The light was rather magical but not scary.

More good old Oregon fog. I don’t think this shot is that scary looking. The light was rather magical but not scary.

Mayan temples, such as this one at Tikal, Guatemala, don't necessarily look scary.  That is, until you realize what happened  just inside that small doorway - human sacrifice!

Mayan temples, such as this one at Tikal, Guatemala, don’t necessarily look scary. That is, until you realize what happened just inside that small doorway – human sacrifice!

Near dark deep in a Columbia River Gorge side-canyon, fog and water combine to create a ghostly aparition.

Near dark deep in a Columbia River Gorge side-canyon, fog and water combine to create a ghostly aparition.

The only shot like this I got in Africa, these scavenging Maribou storks are perched above an elephant carcass at sunset.  Don't worry, the elephant was not the victim of poachers in this case.

The only shot like this I got in Africa, these scavenging marabou storks are perched above an elephant carcass at sunset. Don’t worry, the elephant was not the victim of poachers in this case.

Friday Foto Talk: Learning Photography – Part I   7 comments

Ranch land in southwestern Colorado

Ranch land in southwestern Colorado

How long have you been into photography?  Are you just starting out?  If so, you’re in for an adventure!  Learning how to make images you’re really proud of (as opposed to snapshots) is much more involved than it may seem at first.  That’s part of what makes it so fun!

We all come to photography in ways unique to us.  I believe strongly that there is no “right” way to learn photography.  But I also think there are things worth focusing on and things that only serve to distract you as you mature as a photographer.

Photography is interesting in that you can pick it up fairly easily, and yet struggle for years trying to get truly good images.  Anyone can take a picture.  And these days especially, everyone does.  But it’s a different ballgame altogether when it comes to creating images that look good hanging in a gallery.  Photography is like any art form.  It takes practice and dedication to produce something that is worthy of being called art.

Every post in my ongoing Friday Foto Talk series is, of course, about learning photography.  But this short three-part series gets away from the theme of how to do photography.  Instead it covers how best to learn photography.

Spruce and aspen, Colorado Rockies

 Tip 1

  • Make sure you know what you’re getting into.  As just mentioned, serious photography is a fairly intense undertaking, and that applies to both your time and money.  While you certainly don’t have to spend as much money as camera companies would like you to think, you’ll still put a serious dent in your bank account.  Also, you will be investing a large amount of time in order to get good.  Much of it will be alone.  Make sure you are ready for that.  If you’re not ready, that’s perfectly fine.  If you just want to record life – its milestones and funny moments, a bit of its beauty – there’s nothing wrong with sticking to snapshots.  Leave the serious shooting to those who want to invest the time and money.  Don’t feel pressured to become a photographer if your interest is only casual.
Weather moves into the spruce forest of the southern Colorado Rockies.

Weather moves into a spruce forest in the southern Colorado Rockies.

Tip 2

  • Think about how you want to learn the basics.  This isn’t really about what kind of learner you are.  After all, ultimately we all need to practice something to really learn it.  However, in order to learn basic principles, you’ll need to take advantage of books, videos, classes or workshops to one degree or another.  Personally, I like books as long as they’re good.  I got a lot out of Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Photography Field Guide, for example.  Scott Kelby’s Digital Photography Books (vol. 1-3) give great tips on how to shoot a wide variety of subjects.  He also has a well-regarded training website, chock full of training videos.
  • Workshops can be a fun and engaging way to learn.  But they’re also expensive and can include too many other (travel) aspects besides learning photography.  They are also mostly run by folks with no teacher training. Good ones are certainly worthwhile, but are probably best done further down the road, after you’ve gotten the basics down.  The worst workshops are merely some guy’s (or gal’s) attempt to have you help pay for his trip to shoot in an exotic locale.  Unfortunately the latter are ubiquitous.  A regular photography class with field trips may be a better option for you.
Are you tired of fall colors yet?  San Juan Mtns., Colorado

Are you tired of fall colors yet? San Juan Mtns., Colorado

Tip 3

  • Get the right gear, but no more.  More on this in a later post.  For now just realize you’ll need to strike a balance.  You need enough gear of sufficient quality of course.  But you also need to avoid going overboard.

Tip 4

  • No holding back.  Once you decide you’re going to learn to produce great images, you have to focus your energies.  Don’t let anything become an excuse.  Absorb and learn.  Get out and shoot anytime you get a chance.  From the beginning you should adopt a mindset that allows (almost) nothing to come between you and a great image.

 Tip 5

  • Patience is key.  You won’t get good right away.  Every new photographer thinks he or she can shorten the learning curve, and many even think they can leapfrog ahead by buying high-end, pro-style gear.  Believe me, the saying “Your first 10,000 photos are your worst” is true for all of us.  Depending on how much you shoot, it will take at least one, probably two years of serious shooting to become a decent to good photographer.

 Do you have any experiences to relate about learning photography?  Anything you would recommend or avoid?  Please comment below.  Do you have any questions to ask about this topic?  No matter how irrelevant they seem to be, I want to hear them.  So please don’t hesitate.  Stay tuned for Part II, where you’ll find more tips on how best to learn photography.  Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!

The sun sets on golden aspen in leaf as viewed from atop a ridge of burned trees.

The sun sets on golden aspen in leaf as viewed from atop a ridge of burned trees.

Wordless Wednesday: A Pond in Autumn   5 comments

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Friday Foto Talk – Taking a Break: Is it Worth it?   20 comments

Quaking aspen in peak color not far from Telluride, Colorado.

Quaking aspen in peak color not far from Telluride, Colorado.

Earlier this year I took a break from serious photography for a few months.  Finally in late July I purchased a new DSLR and began shooting seriously again.  Although my break was essentially forced on me by the loss of a camera, I now see the benefits (and cautions) of purposefully taking a break from shooting.  Here are a few things I learned.

Why take a Break?

  • Burnout:  If you are shooting a bunch for a long time you will  undoubtedly become better with all that practice.  But you may also reach a point of diminishing returns.  It’s possible, even for the most enthusiastic photographer, to get tired of it.  And as soon as you begin to lose even a little motivation, you are not doing as good a job.  You stay in your comfort zone.  You don’t work quite as hard for that image.  If you find yourself not searching as much for unique compositions; if you’re shooting the same subjects in the same sort of light, if you aren’t working the subject like you used to, you could be burned out.  And it could be solved simply by taking a break.
  • New Creative Outlet:  Although you can certainly continue to shoot while trying your hand at painting or writing, for example, it may be best depending on your personality and time demands to focus your attention and efforts solely on the new undertaking, without the distraction of shooting.
  • New Subject or Genre:  If you want to transition from one type of photography to something completely different, you’ll need to learn some things.  Of course you will need to shoot to learn, but before you do this it may be advantageous to take a break from all shooting.  Then you can read about and view images of the new genre.  Also, you’re going to define a different style, or at least a variation on your shooting style.  This takes some time and some thinking.  It may help, before you jump right into the new genre, to pause and view it from an outsider’s perspective.  While doing this you can do some serious thinking about how you want to approach the new thing.
  • Renew your Passion:  This reason is relevant to all of the above points.  For example, if you will be changing photography genres, taking a break will help you really get into it when you return to shooting.  This goes double if you are borderline burnt out.  In fact, it may be because you are burnt out that you consider a new type of photography or a new creative outlet in the first place.  I’ve found that photography is no different than anything else.  In order to do well you need to really go for it.  You need to be passionate.
Sunset approaches at Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado.

Sunset approaches at Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado.

Driving up into the mountains of SW Colorado in autumn, and Chimney Rock looms ahead.

Things to Do While on Hiatus

  • Think:  One thing I’d recommend while on hiatus from photography is to think about how you’re going about it.  Are you developing a style you are comfortable with or merely chasing popularity on Facebook?  Think about the way you’re shooting, the types of subjects you’re naturally attracted to vs. the ones that elicit the “wows”.  Envision the way you’ll go about photography when you return to it.
  • Read:  This is also a great time to do some reading on photography.  While there’s nothing wrong with reading up on technique and how-to, this is the best time to read about the history of photography and some of the great early photographers.  Anything that gets your mind working as you reevaluate your approach and style is a great use of your time.  And while shooting, especially if you are shooting every day, it’s harder to find the time for this.
  • Look at Images of other photographers:  I’m not really talking so much about the internet here.  It’s more related to the above point.  As you read, for example, about Edward Weston or Dorothea Lange, you will naturally be viewing their work too.  Of course you can do this while shooting too, but during a pause the effect on you might be different, more conducive to objective analysis of your approach.
  • Try something else creative:  Even if this is not your reason for taking a pause, it’s a great way to recharge your batteries and broaden your outlook on the arts.  Even something as simple as model railroading or origami can pay unexpected and unpredictable  dividends when you return to shooting.
  • Get your Portfolio squared away:  There are plenty of ways to improve your portfolio of images, from re-editing a few of your older pictures to a wholesale reshuffling of the images displayed in your online galleries.  Is it time to design or redesign a website?  All of this is more easily done when there are no new images coming in.  This subject is worth its own post.  But a break in shooting is the perfect time to go through your existing portfolio and improve it.
  • Get your Images in front of more eyes:  After going through your portfolio, the logical next step is to look at ways to promote it.  Whether you want to start selling some images, want to get some of them critiqued, or simply want to connect with new people via your images, you now have time to focus on getting your images circulated.  Now is also a great time to print some of those you’ve been wanting to print, to look into art shows, farmer’s markets and even galleries.
  • Catch up on the Blogging World:  You knew this was coming!  Now you might be also taking a break from the internet.  While that’s worth considering too, there’s no reason it has to be the same time as a photography break.  This is a great time to expand (in moderation – see below) your reading and image-viewing online.  Find new bloggers and connect more with those you already know.  If you don’t blog, why not start one now?

 

A blustery-cold snow-squall moves in and the fall colors just soften.

A waterfall near Creede, Colo.

A waterfall near Creede, Colo.

 

 

Cautions and Caveats

  • Getting rusty:  It’s very likely that your photography skills will, depending on how long your break is, suffer a decline.  But this “rustiness” is only temporary.  It’s certainly not a reason, in my opinion, to forego a photography hiatus.  Just be aware of it when you return to shooting.  Don’t beat yourself up if you screw up some shots that you would’ve nailed before.  You’ll get it back.
  • Equipment envy:  It’s amazing to realize how quickly new camera gear comes out these days.  Especially if you decide on a months-long break, there will be new “breakthrough” cameras and other toys to tempt you.  Friends you shot with before may have fancy new equipment when you get back together with them.  My recommendation is to ignore it.  Invest in new gear only if you feel you’re at a point to make it really pay (whether in real money or in significant advantages in your ability to make the images you want).  Returning from hiatus you’re unlikely to be at a point where new equipment will pay off.  Shoot for awhile first.
  • Image envy:  It’s probably inevitable that a pause in shooting will enable you to view a lot more online imagery than you previously had time for.  Depending on where you are as a photographer, you’ll need to rein in this inclination to a greater or lesser degree.  It’s a good idea to search for new and different photographers while on pause, but moderation is the key.  Don’t fall into the trap that others are racing ahead of you, or that you’re missing out on a great time of year to shoot (they’re all great!).
  • Shooting Casually:  I did this but I’m not sure how productive it was.  I had a little point and shoot and occasionally shot with that during my break.  It was pretty casual but I found myself trying to make the camera do some pretty heavy lifting.  While I did get some nice images this way, it sorta defeated the purpose of taking a break.  If you’re sure you can do snapshots only and not get too serious, I say go for it.  But realize it’s a little like taking a drink or smoking just one cigarette.  Realize also that when you return to shooting you’ll need to get completely out of snapshot mode and back into serious shooting.  That’s not always easy.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison just before dark, Colorado.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison just before dark, Colorado.

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Getting Back into It

 I recommend not rushing it.  Make sure you’re ready to get back to shooting.  It’s okay to miss photography; just don’t use that as an excuse to end your hiatus too soon.  When it’s time, you’ll be chomping at the bit but also ready in a patient and measured way.  As mentioned, expect some rustiness for awhile.  Keep your expectations modest and don’t stress missed shots.  Just work at the basics and, as always, let your own unique vision guide you.  Have fun!

I have the distinct feeling there is more to this than what I’ve written here.  So if you have anything to add, please don’t be shy about commenting.  Have you taken a break from photography before?  Was it forced on you or voluntary?  You may have an argument for or against going on hiatus.  Or perhaps you’ve an additional caution or caveat to relate.  I will definitely consider it again in the future, despite the drawbacks.

Storm clouds gather and the quaking aspen aren't bothered at all: San Juan Mountains, Colorado.

Storm clouds gather and the quaking aspen aren’t bothered at all: San Juan Mountains, Colorado.

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Evening comes on after a glorious sunset at Dallas Divide, Colorado.

Wordless Wednesday: Fall Color   11 comments

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Posted October 15, 2014 by MJF Images in Nature Photography, Photography

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Single-image Sunday: Autumn in the Rockies   17 comments

It’s funny how the shortening days have played havoc with my good intentions to do a Friday Foto Talk this week.  But by next Friday it will be different, promise.  This is the area I’ve been hanging around lately.  Because it’s so darn beautiful!  It is an arm of the San Juan Mtns., themselves a part of the Rocky Mountains of southwestern Colorado.  Telluride is just the other side of those mountains.

 I was hoping the aspens would still be going here but I didn’t have very high hopes.  What a great surprise: they were in their spectacular peak!  I’m not one to be on the hotline as far as these things go; I’m sure there’s an app for it.  I’d rather be surprised.  And I don’t want to avoid going to a place I know is lovely, fall colors or not, based only on some narrow-focused recommendation off the internet.

This was captured atop a ridge when the sun finally cleared the storm clouds lingering over the higher part of this range, which is out of view to the left.  I climbed atop this rock and used it and the nice pinyon pine as foreground.  I think this image has everything the Rockies are: rugged mountains, golden aspens, pinyon pines and lichen-encrusted metamorphic rock.

I’ve been exploring this area more completely than I have in the past.  In fact, I’m right now burning daylight!  Since this is my last full day here, I am going to finish this post, stop watching football, and drink the beer I ordered faster than I want to.  Hello golden hour!  Have a great week everyone.

 

A beautiful morning and fall colors go together well in the mountains of SW Colorado.

A beautiful morning and fall colors go together well in the mountains of SW Colorado.

I’m Alive!   15 comments

Grass waves in the breeze of dusk in the prairie of western Oklahoma.

I’m not one to apologize for not posting in a long time, but I have to admit to feeling a little guilty just the same.  I took a break that was supposed to be just August and maybe part of September.  It has stretched for longer than I expected.  Guess I just needed to recharge my batteries.

I’m on my second photo trip during that time, and I’ve also been working a lot.  I spent the first couple weeks of September in Yellowstone, Grand Tetons and Rocky Mtn. National Parks.  Now I’m in SW Colorado and very excited about the upcoming lunar eclipse.

The night before I left on this trip, just after we finished up with the project, I went out to shoot at sunset.  I lucked out and found a pretty stretch of tall-grass prairie.  Very tall grass, the kind that reaches up to my chin, is something I’ve always loved.  With the light very nice, and the only sound some distant coyotes calling, it was a peaceful way to get ready for my trip to the southern Rockies.  I know sunsets are a bit cliche, but I’ll never believe they are overdone.

So I just wanted to let everyone know I haven’t dropped out.  I’m hitting the blogging trail again!  Hope everything is going well with all of you.  I can’t wait to get time and check out what you’ve been up to.  Have a great week!

Sunset in the tallgrass prairie.

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