5 tips for becoming a better photographer

national gallery of art, washington dc, photography tips,

-know your camera inside and out-

Whatever camera you have — SLR, mirrorless, point & shoot, iPhone — what matters most is that you know it! Know its every quirk. Know how the flash system works. Know what all the dials are for. Know every page of the menu system. When you pick up the camera you should not have to think. It has to be second nature. One of the best ways to achieve that comfort level is to get out and shoot as much and as often as possible. But have it down pat before your first big assignment! Don’t want to be fooling around with buttons, dials and menus while the bride and groom impatiently stand by!

-R-E-S-P-E-C-T-

I don’t think photographers should strictly avoid shooting homeless people or the indigent or the mentally disabled. However, I hope photographers would first ask themselves, “Why?” Why am I photographing that guy sleeping on a bench? That lady in the tattered, dirty clothing? The young man talking erratically to himself? Show some respect. Think before you shoot.

-step outside your comfort zone-

Are you a portrait photographer? A wedding photographer? Have you ever tried street photography or nature photography? You should! Exploring different styles is nerve wracking and exhilarating at the same time. It also gives you an informed appreciation for the work of others. And it affects the way you shoot your everyday work. Much of what you learn from one genre can be applied to another. Expand your horizons.

-become an avid reader-

Fiction and nonfiction. Learning how the world works and seeing the world through the eyes of others is vital for a well rounded life. Reading lets us step outside our bubble, literally and figuratively. Ultimately, this helps photographers approach their subject with more empathy, creativity, and thoughtfulness.

-avoid cliches-

Give the obvious a wide berth. Someone jumping over a puddle? A cactus in foreground with snow-peaked mountain in background? An old nun walking past a poster of a scantily clad woman? If you think you’ve seen it a million times before, do yourself (and the rest of us!) a favor, don’t click the shutter.

Great Blue Heron, C&O Canal NHP.

I photographed this young great blue heron the other morning in one of the locks at the C&O Canal National Historical Park in Potomac, Maryland.

Preening helps keep feathers in tip-top condition; realigning feathers for better aerodynamics, removing parasites and spreading secreted oils to each feather for waterproofing.

Great Blue Heron at the C&O Canal NHP in Potomac, Maryland.

Great Blue Heron at the C&O Canal NHP.

On The Road: Southern California

106º F is hot! How hot? So hot that when you stick your arm out the window doing 75 MPH it still feels hot! Like burning uncomfortably hot! Wind chill factor did not seem to apply. This was somewhere along I-10 just south of Joshua Tree National Park. I’d never experienced heat that great before, and I’ll be fine if I never do again.

It was 6 hours on the road through the southern California desert, on our way to Oceanside. We’d left Phoenix earlier that morning and had the A/C cranking nonstop. The temperature had dropped to 102º by the time we reached the Dinosaurs of Cabazon. So, you know… cool! Despite the heat we couldn’t resist that famous roadside attraction. Americana at it’s weirdest!

Eventually, jumped back in the air conditioned compact and pushed on to the coast to visit with family, attend nephew’s wedding, hangout by the beach and just generally explore Oceanside, California. Which, by the way, never broke 80º our entire stay.

dinosaur. roadside attractions. Southern california. I-10

Rachel and a Cabazon Dinosaur.

jessica and brendan at their wedding rehearsal.

Wedding practice in Oceanside.

wedding planner. this is not a rehearsal! It's the real thing!

The wedding planner keeping us in line.

flower girl at wedding in oceanside, ca.

Flower girl.

silhouette of man under oceanside pier. oceanside, california.

Timing the surging waves under the Oceanside pier.

surfer paddling out past the breakers. Oceanside, ca.

Paddling out past the breakers.

beach comber on oceanside beach. Oceanside, ca. early morning.

Early morning stroll along the Oceanside beach.

Wildlife Photography with an iPhone.

Move slowly, be patient. This is my mantra when it comes to wildlife. And it is especially important when you’re without a telephoto lens!

This morning as I walked along the C&O Canal towpath I saw a heron far up ahead as it landed on the edge of the trail. I was armed only with my iPhone so I thought I’d see how close I could get before it took off. And who knows, I thought, maybe it’ll fly in my general direction and I’ll get a shot as it soars past.

This was my first photo. (I’ve edited out many more that were repetitious and didn’t add to the story) From this point on I closed in… little by little, pausing between each small step.

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The bird did not seem troubled by my presence so I pushed on. Step… Pause… Step… Pause…

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At this point I was kind of hoping the creature would just take off and give me that nice action shot I was thinking about. A bird standing still isn’t all that remarkable. But no… It seemed to be perfectly content to hang out. So I moved closer. Step… Pause…

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Now it’s just getting ridiculous. I’m within 10 feet! It has to be feeling a little uncomfortable with this human’s presence, right? Surely you want to fly away! Apparently not.

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The heron simply saunters a few feet down the path and stops there. However, now a bicyclist is barrelling down the path toward us and I feel certain this will freak the bird out and send it on its way. Action shot to come!

IMG_1139

 

Nope. The creature casually ignores the bike and opens its wings and begins to dry itself in the sun. Its not going anywhere. OK, fine. Now I’m thinking, if it will let a mountain bike zoom past at close range I should be able to walk behind it and get a decent backlit photo from there. So I work my way slowly in that direction. (Careful to avoid that big pile of horse crap there on the left!)

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I move around the backside and get into position. This photo will be OK, I think. Not great. But OK. Then I notice the water stretching out to the right has interesting shadows and light. So I move a little further to my left. And…

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There. Much better. A groovy silhouette.

great blue heron silhouette. c&o canal nhp. potomac, maryland.

 

From start to finish this took about 15 minutes. Slow, deliberate movements, a laid back bird, and constantly on the lookout for an interesting composition, I finally ended up with this. Not bad for an iPhone, I’d say.

Thanks for tuning in.

Good light and good shooting.

On The Road: Colorado

A short but spectacular trip.

prairie scene. electrical lines and fence posts. monte vista, Colorado

Prairie scene near Monte Vista, CO.

two women in salida, colorado. legs and brick wall.

Street scene in Salida, CO.

seven kayaks against brick wall in salida, colorado.

Kayak motif in Salida.

woman kayaking at lake vallecito. Vallecito, colorado.

Kayaking at Vallecito Reservoir.

Kayaking Vallecito Reservoir. Photographer's point of view. Red kayak.

Kayaking Vallecito Reservoir. Photographer’s point of view.

Chickens in their coop. Vallecito, Colorado.

Chickens in their coop. Vallecito, Colorado.

railroad worker with hardhat in durango, colorado. narrow gauge.

Working on the railroad. Narrow gauge, Durango to Silverton, Colorado.

durango, colorado. woman in train station window on a rainy afternoon.

Having fun in Durango at the Silverton to Durango narrow gauge railroad station.

jeremy wade shockley and his wife Rachel at Durango's very own speakeasy, Bookcase & Barber

Enjoying a drink at Durango’s Bookcase & Barber. A modern day speakeasy.

jeremy wade shockley at open shutter gallery.

Photojournalist Jeremy Wade Shockley at his show in the Red Room
at The Open Shutter Gallery in Durango. Sadly, his was one of the last.
The venerable Open Shutter is closing down.

historic rochester hotel. downtown durango, colorado

One of the oldest hotels in Durango. The historic Rochester at dusk.

 

Civil War at the C&O Canal

This past weekend I met a group of Civil War re-enactors at the Canal. After talking to the men honoring the 7th Pennsylvania Reserves from 1861 I learned a good deal about what drives some to go into Living History representations. Very thoughtful fellows. Hope you enjoy:

“The Power of the Photograph.” – COOPH

Can a photograph change the world? Not likely. At least not directly. I mean, we do still have outrageous horrors taking place all around the globe as we sit here and read these words. The powerfully moving photographs from Nazi concentration camps did not prevent the genocide of Rwanda in 1994. The photographs of the agony suffered by millions in Bangladesh in 1974 hasn’t removed famine or starvation from the planet. The image of a naked, screaming Vietnamese girl– her skin burning from napalm– may have had somewhat of an impact on America’s role in the Vietnam War, but the U.S. and other countries continue to wage foolish, unnecessary wars to this very day.

Photographs cannot change the world. But people…if they want to… can. And photography at it’s most sublime level can move people to want to. The photographs in this short video by COOPH are worth your time. It is worth your time to find a few minutes to sit quietly and take in what some photographers have done and are doing in this world; to understand that as a visual and empathetic species we can indeed be moved.

What a photograph can do…what photographs do…is touch people in ways they never thought possible. And when you can move one person, you can move others. And when you move others you can, maybe, possibly, change the world.