Photography, in its purist form, is an art whose purpose is to identify and communicate a feeling or experience. There is no better experience than capturing the impossible image or creating an image
with a unique point of view. The photographic experience includes the entire photographic process
starting with the planning and preparing, the actual photographing, selecting the best images,
post-processing those images, and final presentation.
Concepts to Work On:
- It's boring.
- Produce Images That Matter.
- No More Easy Shots.
- A photo is not an Island.
|02/08/17||Fixing the Image versus Fixing the Capture|
A lot of serious amateur photographers spend a lot time "photo shopping" images in post processing.
The common belief is that the image is being manipulated. There are some pretty heated conversations about how much is too much on photo blogs. While I've spent a lot of time photographing scenics and I
do a lot of post processing, there are a lot of first class images out there with colors I've never seen in
nature. To me, that's just too far.
I just had a revelation that there is a difference between fixing an "image" and fixing a "capture" and
I've always believed that I was fixing the "image". Now I have realized that I was fixing the capture.
Whether the camera is set to capture a JPEG file or a RAW file, each type of file has its own built-in presets. Most photographers already know the need to set the white-balance correctly if you are shooting for
JPEG files. Getting the white balance correct is critical.
What most photographers don't understand is that RAW files also have their own pre-sets programmed
by the engineers that not only designed the sensor but also the chip that writes the RAW files to the
memory card. I don't want to get technical, but the design of a particular chip for red, green, and blue
colors is a whole different ballgame. Just like in the old days when Fuji Reala film had its own personality,
so do sensor chips. And no, RAW capture is not a neutral capture like you have been taught to believe.
So now I have a real rationale for post processing an image. I'm fixing the "capture" (not the image) so
I can now support my regimen of post processing techniques on almost every image without guilt.
I was responding to a photography post last week regarding auto-ISO and one of the comments stated that only lazy photographers use auto-ISO. Interesting comment because I consider myself kind of lazy. I really prefer to call it efficient. I simply don't do all the technical stuff that some photographers do. Not only does it take the creativity aspect out of photography but it distracts me from focusing on composition and the intended meaning and purpose of the image. These elements are what I feel are the most important elements of my photography.
More precisely, before I shoot, I set the ISO to 200, the aperture to F8, and make sure that dynamic metering, aperture priority, and auto focus are turned on. Now I'm ready to go and I will more than likely change the ISO and the F-stop in the field depending on the lighting and situation.
I also never change lenses in the field. Changing lenses slows me down, could cause dust on the sensor, and could result in a dropped lens or some other unanticipated problem. I'm also really lazy. Instead, I pair lenses with bodies that I feel, from experience, produce the best results. When I'm in the field, I simple pull the combo out of my backpack that is the best combo tool to capture the image.
For scenics that would be the D810 with 24-105 Art, for birds the 150-600 G2, for close-ups the D7200 with 17-70 Macro C, and for tight scenics and architecture the D750 with 12-24 Art. These are only some of the combos that I use and I will match and switch out my backpack depending on what types of images I anticipate in advance. I've been wrong in the past and weight is a consideration, especially when traveling.
|08/21/16||"Making" the Image|
There a many images around us, we just don't see most of them. The first step in nature photography
is to find the image. When someone says you have a good "eye", this is what they mean, you can find
the image. This is one of the advantages of going on a trip and shooting with a bunch of other
photographers. When reviewing other photographers images at the end of the day, there are always
those images that someone took and you think to yourself, how did they find that image. It happens.
When I go on trips where the weather is lousy or the sun and sky are not cooperating, this is another opportunity to test your ability to see. Whether you switch your focus from scenics without sky or macro photography, it's up to you to get the image. There are photographic opportunities, you just have to find them. They may not be the image you intended to get when you planned the trip, but you might be
pleasantly surprised at the results if you maintain a good attitude and that's often the real challenge.
With experience and practice, you can even envision a preliminarily bland looking image and what it
would look like after post processing. Sometimes a scenic might look bland but after working the
composition and exposure and then working the crop and saturation in post processing, the final
image might look acceptable, especially if you are just documenting your trip and the image is useful
for reference when telling a story. Digitally equipment today offers more photographic tools than ever
before, it's just a matter of knowing when and how to use them.
|08/20/16||Who Do I Shoot For|
The simple answer is that I shoot for myself. I am fortunate to have the financial means (within limits), the time, and the enthusiasm to shoot at a number of go-to locations in SoCal and sometimes even venture
out of my comfort zone and shoot in another country. In the another country category, I have plenty of
room to improve and lots of potential opportunity.
When I shoot, I don't necessarily follow all the conventions of what is considered the gold standard in
current nature photography. My composition is more akin to 19th century painting than the photographic
rule of thirds. I like simple compositions but I also like complicated ones that make the viewer actually
look at the image and try to figure out what is going on. There is a very fine line between a complex composition and an image that is just garbage. I simply can't get enough of the images from early
My colors are not jacked with hues that don't exist in nature, at least as far as I can see. I do intensify
colors but only to the point to where I thought that is what I saw on location. I must admit that the latest
3rd generation camera sensors are achieving color accuracy that is a lot closer to shat I saw. Even the
best cameras of several years ago don't compare to the color improvements of the latest cameras.
There have also been major improvements in lens characteristics for clarity and micro contrast. I'm not
sure these terms even existed relative to phototropic capture 5 years ago. It doesn't matter to me if
these are important factors to the viewer but they sure are to me. I seem to get great personal satisfaction producing images of almost 3D-like clarity without entering into the realm of 3D. It just seems to add
a bit of reality to an image.
Unfortunately, it's easy to get caught up in camera clubs and peer review. However, why would I even
think about peer review. I'm not shooting for other photographers and I really don't care what they think;
I have to keep reminding myself of this. I shoot for myself and perhaps individuals who appreciate art,
at least I try to produce art. Current photographic trends are so stereotyped, that sometimes I don't think
of current photographic trends as artistic. Yes, there are some awesome photographic captures but these
are not the art I am attempting to emulate.
|08/06/16||Got the Shot|
Getting the shot is the primary objective of photography and many photographers will go to great
lengths to get the shot. I see no shortage of images taken with remote cameras, cameras on
drones, and other high tech stuff. There is some amazing photography captured using
modern technology. Even today's DSLR's do most of the exposure work for you which lets the
photographer focus (pun) on composition, even if you are beginner.
On the other had, in the good old days, the photographer had to spend considerable attention getting
the exposure and focus correct, and ended up missing the shot. Been there, done that. We are very
lucky to live in an age where all the technical issues and impediments to successful photography
can be easily overcome using a modern DSLR.
Now to my main point. I was just reading a photography magazine where they were displaying some
imagery taken remotely from the air. Good stuff, but I began to wonder what kind of personal
experience was achieved by the photographer. Yes, the photographer was technically proficient, but
did the photographer have any personal connection to the final image. For some photographers, the experience is the connection with the technology that made the great image.
For me, the personal experience of capturing the image is right up there with getting the shot. I like to
look at an image and remember the circumstance and the emotional connection that was made while
making the shot. This applies mostly to my "location" images, and, in particular, some specific
experiences discussed under "Out-of-Body Experience" in the section below. Some events are so
awe-inspiring, that I don't even need to get the shot because the image and the experience is
vividly etched in my mind forever.
Well, not quite an out-of-body experience but consciously close to it. Life presents a person a lot
of experiences over a lifetime but you have to be open to them and recognize and appreciate them
for whatever they are.
As an amateur photographer, I've traveled to some really great places like Yellowstone, Iceland, and Patagonia and captured some images that I really liked. These are great experiences but the experience
I'm talking about is the momentary flash of shock and awe from witnessing a view so stunning that you are literally paralyzed with amazement. These experiences are beyond photography and etch themselves in
your mind so vividly that no photograph could ever come close to replicating them.
1) Lamar Valley - Yellowstone NP - fall - middle of day - snow falling - wild animals everywhere.
2) Mt. Basin - Bishop CA - fall - snow capped mountains - mountains lit up with early morning colors.
3) Mono Lake - Eastern Sierra CA - very early morning, 30 degrees F - flat, slight wind - no one in site.
4) Cooks Meadow - Yosemite NP - sunrise - lit up valley floor - wet - everything was like golden crystals.
5) Descanso Gardens CA - Camellia Garden - winter - massive blooms on plants, on ground, overhead -
early morning sun shining through with defined sun rays crossing and intersecting everywhere.
All of the above experiences have something in common, there was not another person around as
far as I could see. These are generally fleeting moments rarely seen by most humans and it is a
special privilege to have witnessed them.
While the chart below looks more like an equipment list, it's really supposed to be about the functional use of equipment. At the very basic, you can't take a picture if you don't have a camera and that is where the Smart Phone excels. I don't know about you, but mine is on me all the time. That's why it is at the top of the list.
|Combos: Opinion vs. Expectation|
Most experienced photographers will carry a primary and backup body with an assortment of lenses. I do it a little differently. I carry 4 bodies attached to 4 lenses in my back pack and never change lenses in the field. This greatly reduces the possibility of dust on the camera sensor. It also makes it easy to reach in my backpack and pick a body-lens combination that fits the situation. I'm also quite lazy and hate changing lenses, especially in the field. However, the main reason I do this is that certain combos just work better than others. DXO is the only equipment reviewer that actually tests lens on specific bodies. It does make a difference, an important difference.
The purpose of this commentary is not to show test results of different combinations, but just give an opinion on the different combinations I have used over the years relative to my expectation. Once I discover a successful combo, I tend to stick with it. The selection of combos below is a little skewed since these are the combos I use on a regular basis.
|03/27/16||The Images Are Real|
The images on this site are real but enhanced digitally in post processing to capture the experience and what I believe I saw when I captured the image. Photography is not painting. For an image to remain a photograph, I cannot render or illustrate a scene differently than what it really is. The camera is not a perfect instrument, and the sensor itself interprets an image based on it's own programming. It may not just be mine.
I might have a little latitude in interpreting a scene and that's what lenses, filters, and technique are for. I do use high shutter speeds to freeze motion and a neutral density filter to smooth moving water and clouds. I use the term "experience" as my license to enhance an image to more closely represent what I think I saw and felt while capturing the image.
The simple explanation is that I do not add or remove elements from an image but I do compose and crop an image. I do not add or remove colors form an image but I do enhance the color, convert images to monochrome, and blend colors (but this should be obvious without explanation). I do dodge and burn images but so did Ansel Adams. So as you are viewing the images, they are real, unless I say they are digital, meaning that I've applied some sort of computer filter and they are therefore not real according to my own definition.
|06/26/11||Seeing Better -|
I generally shoot at least once a week on Sunday mornings and I choose the location based on what I think what I'm going to see. For example, in June I would expect to see sunflowers at Descanso Gardens in La Canada, California. I don't know if I'll actually see sunflowers in the condition I'm anticipating but I'll give it a try anyway. Even in formal gardens, nothing is the same from year to year. You have to keep your mind and eyes open to seeing things you had not previously anticipated. The images are there, you just have to find them. The photographer that sees better, is therefore going to capture more interesting images, along with a bunch of bad ones too.
Seeing better takes work and the proper attitude. If I'm in a hurry, I'll seldom find that extra special image. Slow down and let your eyes and mind work together. This is not a situation where you can consciously force an image. It take practice and sometimes absolutely nothing will work. The other times, it's magical.
|06/26/11||Shooting Style -|
|I just got back from a model shoot where the objective was to create a scene in a studio with a model that tells a story. This requires preplanning and a very conscious effort. At first, I was kind of confused because this is not my shooting style but I couldn't articulate why nothing made sense. In fact, I felt very disconnected to the process. I did buck-up and request a master photographer to guide me through his process of creating an image in the style aforementioned. It was a wonderful experience but definitely not my style. I just felt that his results were more preconceived theatrics and and did not delve into the personal and emotional realm of the model as a human being.|
Phasing In -
Phasing in is definitely the opposite of phasing out. It's like your mind going into turbo drive. In an automobile, the engine develops horse power you didn't know you had. With your camera and subject, whether it be a flower or nude model, your eyes and mind combine to see potential images you would never see under normal conditions. You are able to explore the subject at a higher level of visualization. This is undoubtedly one of the most exciting aspects of photography.
At first, I thought I was just being "lucky" and capturing images of a subject that were definitely more photogenic than I had originally envisioned. But after being able to recreate the condition and repetitively generate a similar experience of different subjects at different times, I no longer believe it is just luck. This state-of-mind does require incredible concentration on the subject whether or not a I had a preconceived image in mind.
Apparent Sharpness -
Maybe it is just me but when I look at an image, I don't want the lack of apparent sharpness to detract from the image. It is perfectly acceptable for areas of the image to be blurry or even the entire image, but that lack of sharpness has to contribute to the meaning and purpose of the image.
There actually a lot more to apparent sharpness than just just sharp pixels. Apparent sharpness can be broken down, in order of importance, as follows:
1. Dynamic range
2. Edge definition or contrast
3. Color including hue & saturation
4. Individual pixels.
It's interesting that "individual pixels" is the least important attribute to the Apparent sharpness of an image.
What you see may not be what you get -
I remember shooting with a brownie camera back in the 50s. I remember the disappointment of getting the images back from the local drug store and they didn't look anything like what I had seen when I took the photo. That's what this site is all about. Things have gotten a little more complicated with the introduction of digital cameras and processes associated with them. For example:
1. Visually, you arrive at Yosemite and you are awestruck. I have to take a picture.
2. You look thru the viewfinder of your camera and it's equally impressive.
3. After taking the picture, you look at the LCD and are truly impressed.
4. Download images to computer and view on monitor. Some look OK.
5. You post process the best and then print them. Ugh. what was I thinking.
It's amazing that we still have the same problem today that we had in the 50s'. It's just a longer process with more stages where something can go wrong, and usually does.
Deliberate vs. Spontaneous -
|I admire photographers that seem to know what they want and then take the necessary steps to achieve that goal. I have never had the ability to look that far in advance to precisely prepare for a photo shoot. Instead, I select equipment that I think might be helpful, and then wing it. Given a situation, I shoot a lot of images changing positions, lenses, and style and hope to sort it out on the computer. I suspect that the best photographers in years past would be in shock. Hey, as equipment capabilities have changed, shooting style can change also.|
Experience Process -
- Trip Planning
- Trip prep- equipment
- On Location - subject...lighting...composition
- Image organization
- Image Post Processing
- Image Display
What I Saw -
|When I was younger I would photograph a scene, and when I got my photos back, they just didn't seem to convey what I remembered seeing. Could my mind have enhanced the image from the time I pressed the shutter release until the time I printed the image? Of course, but at least with digital, it's possible to post-process the pixels into an image that more closely resembles the image I thought I originally saw.|
Shoot it Again -
I always go to a location with a sense of purpose. I may not know in advance the best subject for the day, but whatever it is, I'll photographic it. A couple ways to greatly improve results are:
1) Once you capture the image, shoot it again.
2) When your ready to leave, shoot it again.
Get into it -
Shooting a subject can often absorb practically all of my mental focus. I was recently photographing butterflies at Wild Animal Park in San Diego. When I began, there were only a couple other persons in the green house. An hour later when I was preparing to leave, I realized that the green house was absolutely packed with people. Yea, I kind of knew there were a lot of people in the green house while shooting but I was so focused on the butterflies I really didn't have an appreciation of how packed it really was. I couldn't get to the exit fast enough.
It may also take a little while for me to transition from "logical" mode to "intuitive" mode but this is a critical part of being creative.
Beautiful Locations -
|There are beautiful locations that just yield beautiful images. However, I really have an appreciation for beautiful images of not-so-beautiful locations. It's the more personal interpretation of less than perfect location that really stands out in my mind. They're also a much greater challenge to capture but you often get something better than you saw. Now that's an experience worth remembering.|
Remembering Film -
|During the days when film was dominant I'm the kind of person that was always less than excited by the images processed by the local lab. Photoshop (and other imaging programs) give the capability back to the photographer to recreate the image on paper that was experienced in real life.|
Often times, when shooting at a location, what other people say to you can help enlighten the experience. For example, while I was leaving a location, an older couple asked me "did you get what you came for?" I looked back and responded "I'm an opportunist". By their reaction, they knew exactly what I meant. "That's even better." A few minutes later as I walked towards the parking lot, two persons laden with movie gear looked at me and one of them said "Done?". My immediate reactions was "Yea.". I kept walking and thought to myself, yea, done for the day but that's all; I'm really never done.
These two comments brought to mind a situation that occurred to me several years ago when I was just beginning to take photography seriously. I was photographing the patterns in some grasses in San Diego when I heard a young child say to his dad "Look dad' he's taking a picture of nothing". Think about it; children never lie?
Goal vs. Process
Working in a corporate environment, I tend to differentiate between the goal of photography and the process of photography. Both are part of the experience of photography. From capturing hard to photograph wildlife or capturing the beauty of an exquisite flower and relaying that beauty to others represents the goal. Preparing for the trip, selecting the appropriate equipment, finding and selecting the subject matter, composing, and digitizing the image is the process.
Personally, successfully reaching the goal yields a short term euphoria while the process, especially the trip itself, produced a longer term and more memorable satisfaction. Either way, both are part of the photography experience.
For scenic photography, one should thoroughly research the location via written media, the internet, fellow photographers, are actual visits if possible. Time of year, weather conditions, events are all important criteria.
Imagine the first time you stepped out of your vehicle to witness the vast expanse of Yellowstone or Yosemite. The imagery and possibilities seem boundless; capturing this reality is not nearly as easy. Photography provides a great excuse and opportunity to visit other places and expand your ability to visualize nature and people.
For wildlife photography, being prepared to take a photograph of an alert and fleeting subject may be critical to success. One second may make the difference between successfully capturing the subject on film or failure. With untamed wildlife, it is not often that the photographer sees the subject first.
I will generally carry an F100 with 80-400 VR, strapped around my neck, ready to shoot. My default settings for the F100 are VR ON, dynamic auto focus ON, focus limit OFF, aperture priority at F 7.1, and ISO 400 film at 320. I will generally shoot first and think later. If the subject remains visible, I will try to improve on the composition and the exposure. The first exposure of a sequence is my insurance shot. As I move closer, I will take additional exposures. If possible, I will repeat this process two or three times.
Some of my most successful photos have resulted from standing in a location for an extended period of time and the animals literally walked within shooting distance. If an animal does not perceive a threat, it will be easier to capture on film. The VR lens demonstrates its usefulness since there is no better way to scare off wildlife than with a tripod.
I also carry and N90 with 17-35 in a shoulder bag. In order for this lens to be an effective wildlife lens, you'd probably have to be at the zoo.
|Efficiency is an aspect of nature photography that is seldom discussed. Professionals on assignment can wait for hours for the perfect opportunity. Amateur photographers, with limited time, don't have this luxury and must maximize their picture taking opportunities. For example, I recently spent 4 days in Yosemite. I went with a group of other photographers who had been photographing Yosemite for many years. Attending an organized photography session may be a few hundred dollars more expensive but those photographers knew exactly where to go and when. On your first visit to a location, this is a productive way to go. You can always go your own way on subsequent trips to that location.|
The pure Experience
Ultimately, the photo experience may not even include taking a single photograph. This may sound contrary to the objective photography but sometimes the situation is just so enlightening, its more appropriate to just enjoy the pure experience rather than interrupt the experience setting up equipment and concentrating on exposure and all of the other procedures involved in capturing an image on film.
This experience occurred in the middle of winter after 2 days of rain in the chaparral of La Canada. The oak forest was pristine and the air unusually crisp and clear. Just outstanding. Actually, if there was a subject that I wanted to capture on film, I don't think I could duplicate the experience. Instead, I was content to enjoy the hike and never regretted not taking a single exposure. This does not happen very often since I am naturally very production oriented. (12/22/02)
|Photography is the excitement of capturing a moment in time or a slice of beauty.|