Sunday, December 15, 2013

A Fun Way to Learn Photography

Often people will ask how I learned photography.  While I certainly did my share of reading books and practicing with the camera in areas around my home, I believe I learned the most from attending photography workshops.  I know I've been to more than 15, and even though I'm fairly accomplished, I still attend them and still learn something new each time.

An ideal format for a workshop is for an established photographer to lead a group in a scenic area where the typical day consists of sunrise and sunset shoots, lecture or critique time, and time for participants to develop images from the workshop.  There has to be some scenery to photograph both for inspirational and practical purposes, so most workshops are somewhere especially beautiful and are timed to occur during a season where that location is even more photogenic.  The leader accompanies the group members into the field and shares his/her knowledge of optimal locations for shooting in that area.  The leader makes himself available for questions and assists the participants as they are composing and capturing images.  Most workshop leaders have either a set of lectures with photographic examples to present or will have Q&A sessions. It's very common towards the end of the trip to have a session where each participant presents several images taken during the workshop.  While this gives the leader the option to critique the images, it gives the other participants a chance to see how other people viewed the location and created images.  Since digital photography is very dependent on imaging software skills, participants often bring laptops and develop their images in a common workroom under the guidance of the lead photographer.

Workshops are beneficial for all levels of photographers.  Certainly beginners can learn all aspects of photography in this situation, but even advanced photographers benefit.  If the workshop is in an unfamiliar area, you won't waste time trying to figure out when and where to be during the best light of the day. Sometimes a workshop is the only way to access a sensitive area or private land.  There's safety in numbers for workshops that occur in wilder areas and there is the opportunity for camaraderie and creative synergy with people who share an interest but often have a different viewpoint.  One of my favorite aspects of a photo workshop is to see the compositions from people who were often shooting right next to me but saw something completely different.

The image of a bobcat is from a workshop I just returned from given by Rikk Flohr in the South Dakota Badlands.  I'm essentially a landscape photographer but was interested in the possibility of incorporating animals into my landscape images.  I've been to the badlands in the past, but until this workshop with Rikk and the other lead photographer Laurie Hernandez I didn't realize the variety of wildlife living in the park or where to find them.  One of my favorite photography workshop leaders is Andy Cook who melds the right balance of knowledge, personality, and energy into a workshop that's both educational and really fun.

For so many reasons, a photography workshop is a superb way to improve your skills.  They make great Christmas presents too!  (Chris, are you reading this?)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Photographic Things to be Thankful For

Being that it's the tail end of the Thanksgiving weekend I was musing about things that have to do with photography for which I am thankful. A big category is jets, rental cars, on line reservations and all of the services that make modern travel so much easier than in the past (the TSA is not one of these) and permits you to get to photographically interesting places.  The image above is from the Pacific coast of Costa Rica which took less than a day to reach from Toledo.   It was taken with a mirrorless camera - small enough to carry without needing a chiropractor afterwards, fairly inconspicuous, high quality, and yet not so expensive that if I'd have dropped it overboard I would have been heartbroken.  My Canon M is a great back up camera for trips that aren't designed as hard core dawn to dusk expeditions and is a reasonable primary camera when I'm accompanying the wife somewhere that's not supposed to be a photographic outing (Chris has already learned there's really no such thing!)  Digital itself is another blessing.  I've heard it said that a real photographer has to learn by shooting film first but I disagree.  The instant feedback showing your mistakes makes a digital camera a far better learning tool.  I do not miss the days of slide film when I would review my images from a photography workshop by placing a large trash can next to a light table, peering at slides through a viewing loop, and then pitching many of them into that trash can. It's been derided as  "chimping" when you look at your images on the camera monitor right after capturing them, but the best way to learn is to set the viewscreen to show the image along with the RGB histogram and review as you go.  HDR software is another plus.  When it works, it's sure better than trying to put together a series of exposures by hand.  However, I do often start with the HDR program but then blend that image by hand with one of the original images, usually the one with the best sky, because I find that HDR software often makes a mess out of the sky.  Panoramic software gives you the chance to widen your opportunities for compositions (bad pun intended.) Seriously though, panoramic technique gives one the freedom of composition far beyond the traditional 2x3, 4x5 or square formats.  My last thanks goes out to grocery stores everywhere as I don't have to spend time like the fisherman trying to capture food - I can capture images instead.