My Best Tip for Better Photographs

I am generally a pretty friendly guy when out shooting landscapes.  Being friendly, I often get a lot of questions.  The questions range from “what camera do you use?” to “why do you have those filters on the front of the camera?”.  The former question will almost always lead into a discussion of why some other brand of camera is better than the one that I am using.  Frequently, this comment is followed by a long dissertation about equipment in an attempt to show off technical knowledge about cameras and lenses.  However, I was recently asked by a young fellow what single piece of advice I would recommend to a novice landscape photographer that would make a significant improvement in their photographs.

At first, I was tempted to throw out something about learning your camera, or taking a class or in-field workshop from one of the many wonderful landscape photographers.  Education is something that I highly value.  While I pondered my answer, I noticed that his camera was still in the bag.  I asked if he intended to take some photographs.  To my surprise, he said no, he was on his way to dinner.  I would love to be able to tell you that I gave him some inspirational answer before he wandered off.  Unfortunately, my brain doesn’t work that fast.

A few months went by before the question popped back into my head.  We were at a camera club meeting and I happened to overhear a conversation between two fellow photographers.  They were discussing the various merits of using filters versus high dynamic range (HDR) techniques.  The conversation went back and forth for a while before I realized neither had ever actually used either technique.  They were full of knowledge and opinions but had no experience.  It was at that point, the young man’s question came back to me.

The answer I wished I had given the young man to become a better photographer  was practice.  Take your camera out of the bag and use it!  I would add that there has to be intent behind the practice to make it really useful.  Shooting with intent means practicing specific skills in a wide range of conditions.  It also means critical evaluation of the results.  For landscape photography, this often means getting up before the sunrise or being out after sunset.  It means doing the work to put yourself in the best situation to catch the very best light and composition and practicing with the equipment you have to learn what will happen when you shoot with a variety of camera settings, elevations, angles and lenses.  Practice taking photographs from different heights, and learn how getting down lower to the ground affects the composition.  Practice with wide angle and telephoto lens to see what impact they will have on your composition.   Try out a variety of techniques, including using neutral density gradient filters and/or the methods for HDR photography.   Learn about focus stacking and try it out during a photo session and with the associated digital darkroom methods.

I am a big fan of education.  However, you gain virtually nothing if you do not go out to practice what you learn.  Having more knowledge without experience will not make you a better photographer! Perhaps your first attempt at a new skill will not yield great photographs.  This happens to me all the time.  However, don’t give up after one disappointing attempt.   Do some more research (e.g., reading or videos) and try the technique again and again.   With practice, the knowledge will yield greater proficiency and more satisfying images.

Another reason to go and practice a skill is that it helps you learn when it will be most useful.    You may know how but do you know when and will you recognize the opportunity when it arises.  In my experience, recognizing the opportunity only comes with a lot of practice.

So my advice to that young man is to forget about going to dinner.  Get your camera out and practice with intent, practice your skills and take more photographs, lots and lots of photographs under all types of different conditions and then critically analyze the results.  Then start all over again!

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Back on the Water

SalishLady_BohoBay

We are back on our boat Salish Lady for another year of cruising in the Pacific Northwest (and BC southwest).  This year is a little different because I (Shawn) have semi-retired from some of my business concerns and hope to be fully retired by the end of the year.  Although I still have some business responsibilities, this is the first time in many years where I can set my own agenda every day.

Spending time on our boat has helped with the transition because there are always maintenance tasks to be completed.  She can be a demanding lady at times.  Boat projects are a nice distraction because they are discrete tasks that can be planned and completed in a few days.  It is always nice to progress through a “To Do” list relatively quickly.

I was very fatigued because the last few years have been extremely stressful. The downtime I have had in the last month to rest and recover has been rejuvenating.

I am now starting to turn my focus to writing and photography, two hobbies that have had the potential to be much more than just hobbies.  In previous years, we had a pretty good stream of articles and photographs that were published in boating magazines, but that activity waned as I had more demands on my time and energy due to my businesses.

Currently, Corinne and I are working on two different book projects.  As I start to put more energy into them, my days have become increasingly busy and it won’t be long before I will whine about never having enough time.  We also plan to put together more of our images with the “she saw/he saw” theme that we initiated last winter.  We post many of these on our Z Frontier Photography Facebook page  (https://www.facebook.com/zfrontierphoto).

All-in-all it has been a nice transition to a new focus for my time and energy and I am enjoying the chance to work on some creative endeavors.