Archive for the ‘learning’ Tag

Friday Foto Talk: Keepin’ it Fresh   5 comments

Fog over the Forest, Rocky Mtn. foothills, Montana.

Fog over the Forest, Rocky Mtn. foothills, Montana.

It happens to all of us, and we’re usually in deep before we even realize it.  I’m talking about stagnation, burnout.  It happens in life and it happens in photography.  You’re comfortable, producing some nice shots, even a few great ones.  You got this down, right?

Not so fast!  One day you wake up and realize you’ve been in your comfort zone for way too long.  Maybe you’re not strictly bored with photography.  But you’re not happy with where you are either.  You’re simply not growing as a photographer.  If you’re not growing you’re stagnant.  And that stinks.

This is where I’ve found myself lately.  Too many landscapes.  Not too much nature, but too many similar images of nature.  I’ve been trying to get more wildlife images, and that has helped.  But it’s not often enough.  Getting back into shooting macro has also helped.  But that feels too familiar.  I needed a real shake-up.  To find out what I did, go to the end of the post for an ‘Extra’.

A duck does some early-morning grooming at Hosmer Lake, Oregon Cascade Range.

A duck does some early-morning grooming at Hosmer Lake, Oregon Cascade Range.  Shot from kayak w/600 mm. lens, 1/640 sec. @ f/8, ISO 400.

What I call a semi-abstract, this type of picture is a way to straddle the boundary (and thus break it down) between two types of photography.  I like "semi-candid" portraits too.

Shot the other day at Devil’s Lake, Oregon, this “semi-abstract” is a way to straddle the boundary (and thus break it down) between two types of photography. I like “semi-candid” portraits too.  90 mm., 1/60 sec. @ f/10, ISO 400.

So has your image-making become staid or even boring?  Here are a few ways to fight that tendency:

  • Keep Learning:  The most obvious strategy is to keep learning about all aspects of photography.  Especially if you’re still a relative novice, this is a sure-fire way to stay interested.  But again, it shouldn’t be about spending a lot of money.  So be careful of workshops that might be more about going to a beautiful place than really learning something.


  • Practice another Type of Photography:  If you’ve been doing mainly landscapes, corral someone to act as a model and do some portraits.  You can do a lot with natural light, so don’t think you need to buy or rent artificial lighting.  On the other hand, if you want to learn about artificial lighting techniques, renting is a great option.  In fact, this weekend I’m going to shoot some senior portraits of a friend’s son.
Another friend's son, but this one has a ways to go before his senior pictures.

Another friend’s son, but he has quite a ways to go before his senior pictures.


  • Practice with Different Exposure, etc:  If you’re a nature photographer and haven’t gotten into it yet, macro (close-up) photography is a gimme.  You can do it without buying an expensive new (macro) lens.  Just get a Canon 500D close-up filter that fits a lens you already have (it works best with telephoto zooms, such as 70-200 mm.).  Or get a set of extension tubes.  If you haven’t done any very long exposure photography, get a neutral density filter or two and go for it!  If you’ve mostly done standard portraits at long focal lengths, practice environmental portraiture, where you get up close with a wide-angle lens and emphasize backgrounds more.

A water lily in the same lake as the above duck, shot from boat hand-held: 100 mm. macro lens, 1/800 sec. @ f/14, ISO 500.


  • Practice another Style:  If you already have a well-developed style of your own, dive into another one or two that you admire.  But if you aren’t confident of your style I don’t recommend this.  You don’t want to be an imitator after all.  You can stretch both your capture and post-processing skills this way.


  • Go Mono:  Shooting in monochrome (black and white) is a simple way to fight boredom.  Set your camera to display what you shoot in B&W for a session or two.  You can still shoot in RAW so that the capture is in color, but your LCD shows each picture in black and white.  If you instead shoot Jpeg, you’ll end up with only black and white photographs.


This old lookout at Cape Perpetua on the Oregon Coast was built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) in the 1930s as part of Franklin Roosevelt's jobs program.  21 mm., 1/80 sec. @ f/11, ISO 200.

This old lookout at Cape Perpetua on the Oregon Coast was built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) in the 1930s as part of Franklin Roosevelt’s jobs program. 21 mm., 1/80 sec. @ f/11, ISO 200.

  • Teach Someone:  If you know a budding photographer volunteer to take them out shooting.  Follow up later and help them to evaluate & process their images.  Playing off a newbie’s enthusiasm is a tried and true way to get jazzed back up.

I’m sure you can come up with other ways to stretch your skills and freshen up your photography.  Please don’t be shy about sharing them in the comments below.  Have a fantastic weekend and happy shooting!


I recently purchased a waterproof housing for my camera, plus a kayak.  The kayak is also great for wildlife, along with fishing and just plain fun!  I bought both the housing and kayak used; both can be quite spendy!

But a caveat: mine may not be the best example in one respect: money.  Although freshening up your photography is very worthwhile, both for personal growth and for the diversity of your portfolio, it is most definitely not about spending a lot of money on new gear.  Still, depending on your particular solution to burnout, a purchase or two may be necessary.  For me, taking it under water has been playing on my mind off and on for a couple years.

A verdant alcove in OIympic National Park hosts Merriman Falls.  Wonder what it'd be like to shoot it from underneath!

A verdant alcove in OIympic National Park hosts Merriman Falls. Wonder what it’d be like to shoot it from underneath!

Now I’m not talking here of shooting clownfish and coral while on vacation.  Although I’d love to combine scuba diving with photography at some point, images from warm ocean environments are just too common.  Standard scuba photography may not be a new enough thing to be a burnout-buster, and I can’t afford tropical getaways right now anyway.

What I plan to do is snorkel and free dive in fresh water ecosystems closer to home: clear lakes and rivers.  Getting good images of unusual subjects under water promises to be difficult.  But that’s the point.  If it were too easy it wouldn’t be challenging enough.  Stay tuned.  Soon you’ll see my trials, errors and (hopefully) successes right here!

A paddle then a sunset at Lost Lake, Oregon.  21 mm., 5 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50, tripod.

A paddle then a sunset at Lost Lake, Oregon. 21 mm., 5 sec. @ f/11, ISO 50, tripod.

Friday Foto Talk: Post-Processing, Part I   5 comments

The Grand Tetons appear  smaller than they really are in this wide view.  Often very wide-angle shots call for minimal processing.

The Grand Tetons appear smaller than they really are in this wide view. Often very wide-angle shots call for minimal processing.

Last Friday wrapped up the short series of posts on learning photography.  But I thought I’d follow up this week with one more thing you need to think about: post-processing.  This post will cover general considerations and decisions you’ll need to make.  Next time I’ll go into specific software choices.

When I first bought a digital camera, I was under the naive impression that the photos coming out of the camera were what they were.  I knew you could do fancy things with Photoshop, things like putting several pictures together to make a scene that looked like it belonged on a cover from a Yes album (a 70s era prog. rock band for all you millenials!).  Or even merging my face onto Arnold Schwarzenegger’s body (I never did that!).  But since I knew I didn’t want to get into any of that, I just didn’t see the need to buy software.

Although I was blissfully ignorant of the real situation, I was partly right.  I was shooting in Jpeg.  And when you shoot in Jpeg the camera edits pictures before it displays them on the LCD screen.  You can load those Jpegs into your computer and do a lot of extra editing of course.  But the whole idea of shooting in Jpeg is so that you can do a basic edit “in-camera” and get the pictures out without extra work.  Now we have things like Instagram, which does (often dramatic) extra work on pictures before they are shared on the internet.  And all of this without you spending any extra time.

Like the image above, this one from the Texas Panhandle is processed to maximize the details in the scene.  Above it's in the trees while here it's in the layered clouds.

Like the image above, this one from the Texas Panhandle is processed to maximize the details in the scene. Above it’s in the trees while here it’s in the layered clouds.

Through this entire series I’ve assumed you all are on the road toward excellence in photography, and that you want to optimize your time and money on that journey.  The bad news is that in order to fully control what your pictures look like you’ll need to learn to edit them using one or several computer programs.  And this takes even more time and money.  You can limit the damage for the latter by buying your software while taking a formal photography class (say, at a community college).  Student discounts on the most popular software by Adobe and others are very significant, often well over 50% off!  The time you spend learning is directly related to how quickly you pick up computer software.  My experience included a good amount of frustration, and I consider myself rather an ordinary image-editor.  You may have more success.  But however it turns out, if you embark on learning how to use photo software you will eventually become proficient.  So never mind the misplaced images and other screw-ups, the plateaus in learning.  Stick with it!

Fairly soft black and white processing is best for this simple image of fog and trees on the Sandy River delta in Oregon.

Fairly soft black and white processing is best for this simple image of fog and trees on the Sandy River delta in Oregon.

All I wanted to do with this flower shot from a recent trip to Grand Teton National Park was to highlight the blue.

All I wanted to do with this flower shot from a recent trip to Grand Teton National Park was to highlight the blue.


One more thing before I continue with recommendations.  You’ll occasionally see folks posting pictures on the web with a caption that seems to brag “straight out of camera”, or words to that effect.  I’m not sure why people do this.  Are they saying their photos are inherently so good that they don’t need any further enhancement on the computer?  Or are they building in an excuse for unedited images because they don’t think they measure up to their usual high standards?  Or are they just feeling guilty about being too lazy to edit?

Whatever it is, they are using flawed logic.  Digital photography is similar to film in a very fundamental way.  Just as with film, in order for a digital photo to be finished it has to be developed, or edited.  Whether you shoot in RAW or Jpeg, the picture that appears on your LCD has been edited on a computer – the computer inside your camera.  Often the editing is quite minimal, but depending on how advanced your camera is you can (automatically) do quite significant things to an image simply by adjusting camera settings.

I can understand if somebody wants to share a picture but they don’t have the time or inclination to edit it.  Just don’t pretend the image hasn’t been “sullied” by computer-based editing, and is thus somehow more pure than an edited shot.  In the film days I didn’t like to look at negatives; I wanted to see the finished product.  It’s the same with digital.  The image starts as a digital file – ones and zeroes – and then gets rendered by a computer (in camera or out) into an image we can all understand and appreciate.

Two wildlife shots are pretty rare for me in one post.  This is one of my favorite little animals in the world, the American pika.

Two wildlife shots in one post are pretty rare for me. This is one of my favorite little animals in the world, the American pika.

On a trip to Grand Tetons this past September I followed a creek up into the forest from where it entered a lake, and finally found this little waterfall.

On a trip to Grand Tetons this past September I followed a creek up into the forest from where it entered a lake, and finally found this little waterfall.


The issue isn’t whether you want your images to look “photoshopped” or real.  The computer only makes images look unreal or unnatural if you tell it to.  No, the real issue is this:  do you want to invest the time and effort to learn software and take full control of the editing process?  Or would you rather just use the camera to edit your photos automatically?  Do you like the idea of an intermediate option, making quick choices using Instagram?  One final option is to hire one of the many outlets that’ll edit your photos for you?

I’m not here to convince you one way or the other.  It’s your time, your pictures.  And your choice on this doesn’t mark you as either serious or casual, pro or amateur.  Believe it or not, pros shoot Jpeg, using in-camera processing.  They’re sports photographers who need to get their photos of the game out to online outlets while the game goes on and they’re still shooting.  I made the choice to learn some software and do my own editing.  But I sometimes question that decision.  Sitting at the computer is not my favorite thing to do by a long shot!

What I’m saying is to think of using a computer to edit a digital image file just as you would using chemicals to transform a film negative into a beautiful color photograph.  How much you do to the file is up to you.  You can keep it as close as memory allows to the way the scene was as you squeezed the shutter button.  Or you can take off on a flight of fancy.  Or something in between.  Your approach will, of course, help to define your style.  But however you swing it, computer-based editing is an inseparable part of the image-making process.

The sun sets early these November days.  Good night!

The sun sets early these November days. Good night!

Friday Foto Talk: Learning Photography, Part IV   10 comments

An old fence-line tops a ridge and Colorado's San Juan Mountains show off their autumn colors.

An old fence-line tops a ridge and Colorado’s San Juan Mountains show off their autumn colors.

This is the final installment in this short series on learning photography.  Check out the first three posts on this topic for tips on how to make the most of your time and money when you set out to get serious about making images.  Enjoy some images from my most recent two trips.


Quality is number one in the lens arena.  When I bought my first serious DSLR (a Canon 5D Mark II), I made the mistake of buying a Sigma 24-70 mm. lens with it.  I never was happy with that lens, and ended up returning it for a Canon.  Of course you can’t do that in most places, but I had bought it in Singapore.  The guys in the shop were very surprised to see me return almost a year later.  I had told them where I was from so they didn’t expect to ever see me again.  But I like Singapore. It’s a fine place to break a long flight to somewhere like India or Nepal, a convenient jumping off point for Borneo, Indonesia & PNG, and the atmosphere (and food!) on the street is great.

After some spirited negotiation, I traded the Sigma in for a Canon and from that point on stuck with quality, mostly Canon L lenses. There are important exceptions to the L rule regarding Canon.  Not really knowing Nikon I can’t say for sure, but I expect it applies as well.  There are a few non-L Canon lenses that match the image quality of L lenses.  One example is the EF-S 17-55 mm., an excellent lens made specifically for crop-frame cameras.  Another is the 100 mm. macro (the older, non-L macro).  Conversely, there are a few Canon L lenses that have somewhat lower image quality (though all L lenses have high build quality).

Fog and a full moon combine to create a unique atmosphere in which to shoot along the Buffalo River, Arkansas.

Fog and a full moon combine to create a unique atmosphere in which to shoot along the Buffalo River, Arkansas.

With Nikon there isn’t such a clear way to tell which lens has better build/image quality like with the red ring of Canon L lenses.  But Nikon lenses with gold rings and “ED” in their names generally represent higher quality.  Bottom line is you need to evaluate lenses on a case by case basis. Even some 3rd party lenses are worth considering.  Though I can’t vouch for any Sigma or Tamron lens, I do know they carry good models.

I can personally vouch for Tokina’s wide-angle zoom, the 16-28 mm. f/2.8, and pretty much anything made by Zeiss is quality both in build and clarity (and will put a dent in your wallet!).  Note that Zeiss has traditionally made only fixed (non-zoom) lenses with manual-focus only.  However, they’ve been departing from that practice lately, building zooms for Sony.  They may be about to do the same for Canon and Nikon.

Note that I haven’t mentioned any kit lenses. That’s because I think you should try to eschew kit lenses, even starting out.  If one comes with your camera and you’re sure you can make a little money by selling it, by all means get it and sell it off.  Or use it until you can afford to upgrade.  Once again there are exceptions.  The Canon 24-105 mm. f/4L is sold as a kit lens with their 5D cameras, and though some will argue, this is a very good lens.

Heading up for a fall hike in the mountains, San Juan Mtns., Colorado

Heading up for a fall hike in the mountains: San Juan Mtns., Colorado


When starting out you should probably just go for the “wedding setup”.  If you’re like me you loathe the idea of shooting a wedding (or even attending one, hehe!).  But that doesn’t mean you won’t do very well in a wide variety of situations with the lenses that most wedding shooters go with.  That is, a mid-range zoom in the neighborhood of 24-70 mm. focal length plus a 70-200 mm. zoom. This focal length (24-200 mm.) is mandatory for you to cover. You don’t necessarily need to cover every millimeter of it of course; for example, if you plan on going with fixed-focal length lenses.  But try to cover most of it.  Slightly less important (unless you’re into landscapes, where it’s a necessity) is a wider-angle zoom in the range starting at 14-16 mm. on the wide end and going up to 24-40 mm. on the long end.

Okay, that’s two to three lenses, depending on money & whether you will be doing a lot of landscapes.  I would, early on, add a fast 50 mm.lens, fast meaning one with a wide maximum aperture (f/1.8 or so).  This will allow you to shoot in low-light without spending a ton of money (50s are cheap).  If you are indeed going to be shooting indoors with plenty of portraits (such as weddings – ugh!), you’ll need to get faster, more expensive lenses.  In a zoom, this normally means a maximum aperture of f/2.8.  If you’ll be doing a lot of landscape or general photography, lenses with maximum aperture of f/4 are just fine.  I wouldn’t go slower that that except for lenses longer than 300 mm.  And I wouldn’t go with lenses that have a variable maximum aperture.  Again, this leaves out most kit lenses, most of which have variable maximum apertures.

Prairie dog town, Oklahoma

Prairie dog town, Oklahoma


Unless you’re very sure you want to get deeply into macro photography straight off, I would wait to get a macro lens. Sure, you can skip the 70-200 mm. f/4 lens and get a 100 mm. f/2.8 macro instead.  This would give you a good portrait lens and of course allow macro.  But you’re giving up the flexibility of a 70-200, particularly in the landscape arena.  Instead of going macro right away, you can instead buy a Canon 500D close-up lens.  It screws on like a filter to any lens (doesn’t need to be Canon), yielding high-quality close-up images.  It works very well with a 70-200 mm. zoom lens, and goes for about $150.


This is where many companies have sprung up trying to cash in on the photography craze.  Resist the urge to go crazy on extras.  You will need the following: tripod, tripod head, mounting plates, backpack or other camera bag, a filter or three, camera protection and cleaning stuff.  For the latter, get a couple very good cleaning cloths, maybe a lens pen, plus swabs and solution for the sensor.  You would think all lens cloths are the same, but they aren’t.  I really love my “Tiger” cloth, a large orange cleaning cloth made by an outfit called Kinetronics.

I like this type of rail fence, not just for its looks but because it is so easy to climb!


While you don’t need to buy the best there is, you do need to go with quality here.  I would strongly consider a carbon fiber model if money allows, but a regular  aluminum tripod, though heavier, will do the job as well.  Manfrotto is one of several companies with well-built medium-priced tripods that come in both aluminum and carbon-fiber versions.  Just don’t go too cheap ($150 or under).  You can easily buy several tripods, not being happy with any of them, and end up going with a good one costing at least $200. The reason for this is the aggravation that results from using a tripod that is made cheap or is too lightweight.  Better to just pony up in the beginning.  Used is always an option with tripods of course, but make sure it’s only a year or two old.

That’s just the tripod legs.  You still need to get a head, and it may be best to buy your tripod and head separately.  You can either go with a pan- or ball-head. A ball-head will enable you to quickly pick any angle and lock it down. A pan-head is better for video and for panning. Unless you already know which you prefer, I’d get a ballhead.  Again, spend a little more and get a good one; at least $200 should do it.  One with an Arca-Swiss type of clamp is best, for its ease of use. It clamps onto a plate that you mount on the bottom of your camera (or lens when using telephotos).

Get a plate made specifically for your camera and match it well to the clamp on the ball-head. The same brand for both head and plate is good but not strictly necessary.  Check when you get it that the fit is perfect; if it’s not send it back and get a plate that matches.  You can’t afford to fool around with this, since all your expensive gear could go crashing if it’s not mounted very securely to your tripod.  By the way, I use an L plate, which wraps around one side of the camera, allowing it to be mounted vertically on the tripod head.  Though more expensive than a regular plate, it is much more stable and offers protection too.

A burnished looking landscape in central Oklahoma.

A burnished landscape in central Oklahoma.


For some reason this is the hardest thing to resist going crazy on.  I’m not generally a gear-head, but I really love camera backpacks.  If I didn’t exert serious willpower I’d own a dozen.  Unless you see yourself doing only street photography (for which many prefer shoulder bags), or something like sports (where backpacks are clunky), I would just go for a comfortable camera backpack.  Backpacks aren’t just for hikers; they allow a lot of gear to be carried in the most efficient way possible.  We’re getting into the topic of travel here, so I’ll save the discussion of backpacks and luggage for another post.

If you want to go with an optional second bag, I’d get a smaller one for those times you want to carry only your camera and a lens (or two). You could get a smallish shoulder bag, or one of the Lowepro Toploaders, which have shoulder slings but can also be attached to an optional chest sling (I use this for XC skiing).  You can get a lens case that attaches optionally to the Toploader.  Then you have camera, two lenses plus accessories in an easily-carried, protected bag.

One more fall colors shot from my trip to SW Colorado in October.


In the film days filters were a big deal.  Not so much anymore, since software can simulate most of what filters used to do.  One thing software doesn’t really simulate is polarization.  So I think a circular polarizer is necessary, especially if you’re into landscapes.  You can get just one that is the size of the largest lens you’ll use it on, then get step-down rings that allow it to fit smaller lenses.  I have two for convenience.  Neutral density filters are good to have if you’re into landscapes, and they come in handy in other situations too.  I’ve already posted on these in detail.

Should you get UV filters for each of your lenses?  It depends.  They don’t really do anything except help protect your lens.  But get just one scratch on a lens and you’ll wish you had bought one.  Despite what some say, they are more sure protection than a hood (which you should also use).  The main knock on them is they put another layer of glass between you and the image, potentially impacting quality.  So if you’re going with them you need high-quality UV filters (B&W brand or better).  If you’re pretty careful with equipment, I’d probably skip them.  But if you’re like me, rough on your equipment, they may be worthwhile.

Morning light hits rose hip leaves.

There is one more thing you should definitely get when you buy a camera, and that’s protection.  First off, get something to protect your LCD display(s).  Unlike lenses, these will scratch if you look at them.  The best option in my opinion are the thin, rigid stick-on covers.  Not the flexible stick-on film you buy in packages of 20.  I’m talking about the rigid ones you buy just one of, made by GGS & others.  They’re thin & inconspicuous and yet very durable.  Some even come in a package of two, one for your main rear LCD & one for the small LCD on top of many DSLRs.  Put them on as soon as you get the camera out of its box.  Also consider a rain-cover if you’ll be shooting somewhere with a wet climate.  Even if it’s just a shower-cap &/or thick terry towel (which is what I use), always have it in your camera bag.

Do you need a flash?  Some cameras have built-in flash, but these rarely produce good results.  In my opinion you should learn to shoot in natural light first, then later on, if desired, you can learn about using off-camera flash and other artificial lighting.  If you plan, right off the bat, to shoot indoors a lot, you might want to get a good off-camera flash plus accessories to get the most out of it.  I’d stick with the same brand as your camera, but you don’t necessarily need the top of the line model.  For instance, I have the Canon 430 EX II ($250) plus a synch cord (to fire the flash from above or to the side of the camera).  I also have a hand-held diffuser and reflector.  I don’t use this stuff much, but it’s all I need for fill light plus the occasional indoor portrait.

Well that just about does it.  Thanks for sticking with this lengthy post!  I hope it helped in your quest to get the right gear (but no more), and to lessen some of the sticker shock that comes with getting serious about photography.  Have a fun weekend!

Yesterday evening I was wandering around at sunset when I saw this barn sitting quietly in the day’s last light.

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.

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.

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