A place for me to share my recent work, random musings on photography and reflect on my thoughts, experiences, ideas and revelations.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

October 2010 Calendar

My, how time flies!  October already, the busiest time of the year for nature photographers.  Kathy & I have a big month coming up, although we won't be running around quite as much this year as we have in years past.  One big week starting with a CNPA outing in Brevard and ending with Kevin Adams' Fall Photo Tour, plus a few random day trips thrown in, will be a great time and should make for some productive photography.

Fall can be so easy that it ends up being hard.  When the color starts to show it can be tempting to just point and shoot.  The trouble with that is that it's hard to go beyond the obvious.  And that is really going to be my focus this year - to go beyond the obvious.  I intend to photograph mindfully and intentionally, seeing lines, patterns colors and relationships.  We'll see how how I did a month from now.

I liked the photo from my last post so much I've decided to make it the October wallpaper calendar.  It's a little bit different look at Hooker Falls in Dupont State Forest.  This photo illustrates what I mean by "beyond the obvious" and is the kind of photograph I hope to make a lot more of.

I hope you enjoy this month's calendar, and hope you all have an excellent October.  See you somewhere along the way!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

When the “Stars” Align

A friend of mine recently posted a question on Facebook that became an interesting topic of discussion. The Facebook discussion is long over but I’ve been pondering it in my own mind. The friend asked, “on a photo outing, would you rather get one 5* image or five-ten 3-4* images?” Predictably, there were opinions on both sides of the question, with most – OK, all - of the responders answering the opposite of me.

My answer was “I agree that the ‘Wow!’ image is the one you always hope for, but those are so dependent on circumstance that you can hardly be disappointed if you don’t come home with one. Plus, what people buy... doesn’t tend to agree with my rating!

If I come home with a handful of ‘3s’ I can say I had a pretty good day, and a solid group of ‘3s’ makes a foundation for a gallery display, a calendar or a book.”

So let’s look at that. First, to know how to answer that question we all need to agree on what a “5 Star” image is, right? I’m guessing we’re pretty much all on the same page, as most of us probably consider 5 stars to be ‘Best of the Best’. I don’t even think about upgrading to 4 or 5 stars until I’ve done extensive processing to my images and have come up with a print that I am happy with. In my mind the tricky part is when we define what images get 3 stars in the first place. Everyone has a workflow that suits them, and I’ve developed some pretty high standards when it comes to giving my images star ratings.

Back when I was shooting film, I considered one “keeper” per roll of film to be good shooting. The number might have been a little higher with 35mm and 36 exposures on a roll, but when I was using 220 film and getting 20 images on a roll, one keeper per roll was my goal. Not that the others were bad, but I’ve found that there is always one shot that best captured my intentions with a particular subject or scene, and that was my “keeper.” I kept all of my film except the absolute bad ones, but marked the keeper as the one that I would have printed, sent to a magazine or (later) scanned into a digital file for the computer. I didn’t worry about star ratings then because there wasn’t really a need to.

Now that I am using digital cameras I don’t measure my images by rolls of film. I measure them in Gigabytes - dozens and perhaps hundreds of shots from a particular scene or subject. Does shooting more photographs mean I have more keepers? Hardly. The number of keepers – now we call them “Picks” – is perhaps a little higher, but as a percentage of the total it is much, much lower. I have become a ruthless editor. In a day where I shoot 500 photos, I might initially end up with 50 or so Picks, but once I go through them and narrow it down to the very best ones I might end up with 8 or 10 that get the 3 Star rating. There’s no reason to have 20 keepers from a sunrise or sunset, for example, when there are one or two that captured the peak moment. You might select a few more than that if you captured some variety, or shot verticals and horizontals, and then only if it was really something special.

I’m picking on sunrises and sunsets here, but I’m hoping to make a point. A lot of folks trudge out hours before dawn, shoot until the sun comes up then go eat breakfast. In the evening we grab dinner or a glass of wine just about the time things are getting interesting, then head out to our favorite spot just in time to see the ball of the sun disappear into an overcast sky or have the clouds move in just before the “magic moment.” There’s a lot to shoot besides the sun, and shooting the sun makes for some boring pictures more often than not. And when you’re standing at an overlook with 20 of your closest friends, cameras all pointed in the same direction waiting until the magic moment, you’re certainly not going to get anything different!

Truthfully, a lot of my sunrises and sunsets don’t even get picked unless they are better than something I already have. Not that I have a “been there done that” attitude but unless they are spectacular, sunrises are generally pretty cliché. I truly have some pretty good sunrises and sunsets already, and unless something is really different or a lot better than what I have I’m probably better off looking for something else. Hopefully, if I am really paying attention and thinking about what I’m doing, I’m looking for other things to shoot instead of waiting for a boring sunset to turn into something special. That’s where the 3s come from. Look for something that is enhanced by the nice light, or find something interesting and see what I can make of that.

But I digress. The thing I find interesting is that my definition of a 5 star rating changes constantly. I have my All Time Favorites, but periodically I go back, move all my 4 and 5 star images back to 3 stars and re-rate the whole batch. That forces me to re-look objectively at each one of them to confirm that it does or does not meet my 4 star criteria. Most recently I have begun to re-process old files with new software and am surprised at the differences I see. Usually the difference is for the better as the newer software allows me to get even more out of my older files. But often I’ll find an image that I thought was excellent that isn’t, and it stays a 3 or gets deleted. More often than not I start over and re-process the RAW file and delete the old PSD file that was processed in Elements or an older version of Photoshop.

This discussion has been a great exercise and I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and the more I think about it the more I stand by my original response. A good solid group of ‘3s’ means I had a productive outing, that I was seeing well, inspired and creative. If I come back from an outing with a 5 star image I consider myself lucky. If I come back from an image with NO 3 star images I was either uninspired, lazy or not working very hard. To become the photographer I want to be it’s far more important to consistently come home with 3s than to come home with no 3s and a 5. The ideal situation would be to come home with some of each. Once in a while that happens, and when it does it is very, very nice!

Photo is one of those lousy "3-star" images from a trip to Hooker Falls in Dupont State Forest last October. It's got a pretty good shot at getting a promotion, I think.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Glint in the Eye

This past weekend I attended a presentation by noted nature and wildlife photographer Bill Lea. During Bill's presentation he showed a number of excellent wildlife images – bear, deer, fox, wolf and more. At one point he made the statement that a successful animal photograph should always include a “glint” in the animal’s eye. I agree completely, but to take it a step further, I feel that a successful photograph of any kind is one that puts a glint in the photographer’s eye.