Be a Better Photographer in 2013

Tomorrow at midnight we welcome a new year.  2012 was an exciting time for New England Photo Workshops.  We held more training classes than ever, we conducted more workshops than ever, and we explored more of New England than ever before.  The year 2013 promises to be just as busy and even more exciting.  Bob and I started this venture 3 years ago and neither of us anticipated “it” ever growing as it has.  We are humbled, we are proud, and we are profoundly thankful to say the least.

Every workshop is designed to offer attendees a variety of subjects at carefully chosen locations throughout New England.  We believe it is essential in your growth as a photographer to be as multi-dimensional as possible.  Being a photographer is much more than just pressing the shutter to take a picture.  Photography is a process that requires attention to detail, knowledge, and commitment.  Technology and modern digital SLR’s open up vast potential for successful image making but, there are a few other things you can do in 2013 to make yourself a better photographer as well.

KNOW YOUR TOOLS:

Your camera is just a tool.  Like any tool, the more you understand how to use it the better your results will be.  Many times in the field, or shooting a job, you HAVE to know how to make adjustments quickly and effectively based on changing conditions.  You invested a lot of money in your camera so invest your time in learning it as well.  Take time and become comfortable with your photographer gear. Review your menus, understand how to make changes in the functions of your camera, and learn where all the buttons are.  Yes, your camera is nothing more than a tool but, if learned and used properly, it can become a powerful extension of you.  The more you know about your camera, and your lenses, the greater potential you have to be a successful photographer.

BE A NATURALIST:

I cannot stress this point enough.  Knowing your subject is critical to success when you are in the field.  This holds true for nature and wildlife photography more than anything else.  You cannot photograph a Lady Slipper if you do not know when and where they bloom.  You cannot consistently photograph wildlife if you do not understand their behavior and their habitat.  Just as it takes time to know your camera, you have to invest time in knowing the environments you photograph in. New England is a very diverse region of the country with many habitats, varied landscapes, and numerous flora and fauna.  The more you understand the many elements of nature the more your library of successful photos will grow. Study your environment and learn.  If nothing else, its fun to know stuff!

BE A CONSERVATIONIST:

We cannot photograph subjects if they are not here.  It is as simple as that.  Take care of the world we live in and yes, your photography will prosper.  Take responsibility for YOUR impact on the world around you.   Clean up after yourself, use common sense, and obey rules laid out to protect our environment.  Support local community organizations that protect our natural resources, our historical locations, and our many parks.  Monies and budgets are constantly slashed from many worthwhile organizations so, your contributions are critical to their continued missions.  Their missions are for the benefit of all of us.  Help them help us.  None of us can afford donating to EVERY organization but, I would suggest you pick one and support it.  The money and effort you invest will be returned in the form of opportunity and knowing you made a difference for generations to come.  Preservation and conservation is a must for everyone, not just photographers.

PRACTICE:

It is difficult for anyone to take their camera out and, in an instant, create a great image if you don’t practice.  No one can expect to create a great image during a once in a lifetime trip if you cannot create a great image in your own backyard.  Practice, practice, and more practice.  Think globally and shoot locally.  Take a ride or walk and explore your neighborhood, your town, or your county.  Not everything you shoot needs to be for a class, a competition, or a purpose other than learning.  Hone your skills by shooting often and practicing the proven fundamentals of photography.

SET PERSONAL GOALS:

In photography, just like life, it is important to know your strengths and your weaknesses.  One significant benefit of the digital era is you have immediate feedback to your success or failure with any image.  We all celebrate our keeper images but, study your mistakes and learn from them as well.  Identify shortcomings in your photography and set goals to improve upon them.  Even the best of photographers still set goals to push themselves and challenge their creative vision.  Combine your goals with the other points on this list and your photography WILL improve.

Photography is, and can be, many things.  As an art form, it is dramatic and powerful.  As a visual form of communication, it is bold and captivating.  Nonetheless, most importantly, photography is a highly personal method of self-expression.  Much of your success will be based upon how much time you are willing to invest in your creative vision and voice.  Achieving success as a photographer, to me, means first investing as much of yourself as possible in the process of photography.  Enjoy all that photography has to offer, practice sound fundamentals, and compelling images will happen.  Above all else, always remember, success is only measured by your own standards.  You have no one to please but yourself.   Everything after that is just a bonus.

Express yourself visually more than ever in 2013, be happy, and be safe.  Happy New Year!.

“Photograph What You Feel”

Don

 

Some of my personal photography goals for 2013:

1)      To be a better leader and instructor

2)      To continue work on my “Haverhillat Night” series

3)      To display more of my personal work

4)      To write more and post more blogs

5)      To become a better portrait photographer

6)      To learn more about location lighting with my Nikon speedlights and light modifiers

7)      To become a better Black and White photographer

8)      To become a very good print maker

9)      To learn more about, and explore, more ofNew England

10)  To be a more patient photographer

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A Good Day

Life is busy.  Life means family, friends, work, responsibility, and, hopefully, some fun along the way.  Everything that touches our lives requires a great deal of time, effort, and more work.  Life is beautiful in many ways but, at times, it can be exhausting as well.  Amid all of that busy life stuff are good days and bad days.  Hopefully, for all of us, there are many more of the former and far less of the latter.  We never wish for bad days but, they can, and do, happen.  The best thing about good days is that we can plan them.

Quite often good days happen of their own accord.  Perhaps the weather is just right for working in your yard or taking a walk, maybe you laugh with your kids and share a moment that makes you smile, or possibly you simply enjoy the beauty of the day.  Good days happen, but many times you can, and should, create your own good day.  In the past many weeks I have been on the run with work constantly.  I love what I do, very dearly, but, months have slipped away quickly while I dashed from job to job.  Sadly, I have had very little time to myself which means I have had very little time for family, friends, and other responsibilities, let alone some fun.  Lack of time also means little energy for practicing my craft or tapping into any personal creativity.  That is not good.  I have burned the candle at both ends and subsequently life becomes a blur.  Photographers can’t have blurry vision!!!

I spent last week in Florida covering a PGA tournament.  The work schedule was incredibly hectic but, I managed a few free hours on Wednesday morning.  A long time friend was working with me and we had not been out together shooting in a few years; we used to go often.  I planned a trip to a swamp for both of us and we spent our time exploring, talking about everything, laughing, and making images of nature.  The time spent reconnected me to a wonderful friend, rejuvenated me for the week, stirred my creative vision,  and motivated me to start the new year on a energized note.  It was a much needed break from what felt like a never ending schedule.   So often, a little can go a long way: much like a kind word, a helping hand, and being nice to each other.  It was a very good day.  For me, being out with my camera puts me in a special place where I see and feel the world to such an extent that it makes “me” better.  My photography is my solice.  We all need to find that niche that soothes our soul and fuels are drive to be the best we can be, always.  Little did I realize that just two days later, December 14th, my beloved New England, and our country, would have its collective hearts broken in the wake of senseless, cruel, and unspeakable violence.  My good day no longer mattered but, for us to all heal, especially those devasted families, we need to somehow move beyond the worst of days and plan for better ones ahead.  Better days start with us, at home, around our kitchen tables talking to each other and to our children.  Better days start with us once again embracing the value of life and instilling those values, and common sense, into our every day living.  Lets plan for better days.  Our children cannot afford for us to accept, live with, or disregard the worst of days.

Do not be greedy.  Do not be selfish.  Do not forsake the needs of others.  However, take time and invest in yourself and your self.  We cannot begin to move forward as a whole until we heal as individuals.  For us to be at our best as a nation, we must first be at our best as individual people.  Take stock of your self and make the changes necessary so our children grow to be better than we are, or ever could be.  Everything in our lives begins, or ends, with us.  Right now, more than ever, we must reflect upon ourselves, our communities, and our society.   Right now, more than ever, we all need the solice of a good day.

Peace to all.

Don Toothaker

“Photograph What You Feel”

 

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Emotion in Motion

I am an emotional person therefore, I am an emotional photographer.  Whenever I am in the field, I do my best to photograph with purpose.  How can I not?  What happens in the world has a profound effect on me. Making images of my world has a lasting, meaningful effect on me.  What I see today stays with me through many, many tomorrows.   When creating an image, to me, it is my composition that defines my story and my set shutter speed that adds drama.  However, it is my emotion that dictates both.

The world is in constant motion.  Time and light never stand still.  As photographers we can stop action in an instant but, it is just that – one fleeting moment.  No sooner has the image appeared on our LCD screen than time carries on.  However, not everything needs to appear  frozen in time.  Shutter speeds allow us to capture many types of scenes; varying our shutter speeds allows us great creativity.  Being a photographer makes me very happy but, it is the process of making images that fulfills the greatest part of me.  The process goes well beyond just pushing some buttons.  The process means being involved, physically and mentally, in why you pushed the buttons.  This is the difference between taking a snapshot and creating an image.  I want to look back at my image and remember the feeling of THAT moment, not simply view a photo.

Just like time and light, emotion is in constant motion as well.  Your emotions can be a great tool if you use them in your creative process.  When I say “Photograph What You Feel”, I mean just that.  A slow shutter speed can render your scene with different feeling.  A slow shutter speed transforms moving water into smooth wisps of white that can look like cotton candy.   I love that.  A slow shutter speed blurs action and conveys a feeling of increased action. This is very dramatic.  Panning is when you purposefully move your camera during your exposure.  This technique has long been used for blurring out a background while keeping your main subject sharp as you track them in motion (such as a running horses, or kids playing soccer, or a race car).   I like to pan my camera during exposures to “paint” a scene and give it a more creative, abstract feeling.  Most often, I do this with trees and the colorful coast as my subject.  There is no right or wrong way to do it;  there is no better technique than another.  You simply set a longer shutter speed and move your camera, either horizontally or vertically, during the exposure.  The images you “keep” are all based on how you felt about what was before you.  Connect to your scene and be creative.  Do more than just push buttons on your camera.  Visualize the moment and create what you feel.

During a recent workshop we were at Annisquam Light for sunset.  The bold, bright colors in the sky created beautiful reflections on Ipswich Bay.  I composed my scene to capture the colors of the sunset in the sky and water but, also have some part of land mass visible for scale and contrast.  I clicked and clicked and clicked but, nothing resonated with me as a “keeper”.   As the light began to fade I became more anxious, more hurried, to capture an image that shared the beauty of this sunset.  I felt like I was going to lose the moment since I could not freeze the scene with a press of my shutter.  Staring out over the bay I could literally see time and light moving and, with it, my opportunity was fading away.  Wait!  I could SEE time and light moving!  That was it!  I quickly changed my perspective, set my exposure, loosened the lateral movement of my Kirk ballhead, and panned with the moving light.   I did not want to freeze the action;  I wanted to capture the feeling of a beautiful sunset moving over the bay.  In a moment I felt my image and created it.

Occasionally, it is best to slow everything down and move with time.

 

Photograph What You Feel

Don Toothaker

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Facing My Creative Beast

Creativity is my photographic Achilles Heel.  I feel confident with my equipment, I feel confident composing a scene, and I feel confident photographing a variety of subjects.  Despite all of that, creativity remains a personal beast that I struggle to tame.  Creativity is what separates good images from spectacular images.  I routinely encourage other photographers to think out of the box and push their vision but, it is me that needs to heed this advice more than anyone.  I, Donald Edward Toothaker, struggle to be creative.

So often I read about photographers envisioning an image before shooting it.  Ansel Adams did it.  Lou Jones does it. Joe McNally exemplifies it. These photographers cultivate their vision by paying attention to light and subject throughout the day.  They have the ability to see beyond the moment to another day, or another season.  Some of that is experience that comes with time, but, most of that is raw instinct.  Their planning is a pre-visualized path to spectacular images.   I understand exactly what these visionaries are saying but, too often my own creative voice eludes me.  I want to be better; I need to be better.

Creativity comes from within but, inspiration to be creative is provided by events, and people, that surround us every day.  Within every photographer is a visual voice that craves inspiration.  The trick, I think, is to welcome inspiration whenever possible but, act upon it with patience and clarity.  Inspiration does not come in a neat, packaged box; it comes from connecting to your subject.  The more you invest of yourself  in your photographic process the more rewarding your images will become.  Take the time to understand your subject and explore your creative voice.  Emotion is part of the photographic process:   Photograph What You Feel.  In general, I am not very well spoken, my edges are rougher than most, and my inner voice is too often a mere whimper but, I DYING to be creative.  I have potential. We all have potential.

This weekend I had, for me, a great success.  I photographed my beautiful daughter posing in a stand of familiar Red Pine trees but, it was so much more than that.  The success is not so much in the image itself but, in my vision of the image weeks before I pressed the shutter.  I had vision.  One night this spring while sitting next to my campfire I watched night creep through the woods just as it does in the city:  a slow parade of twilight blue giving way to total darkness brought inspiration.  Immediately, I envisioned “blue” Red Pine trees.   I was excited to make that image right then but, I knew that summer-time would yield an image with green vegetation growing around the base of the trees for added color and interest.  I waited.  Then, this past Saturday I was picking blueberries with my daughter among the Red Pines when inspiration struck again:  watching my daughter move among the trees I now wanted a red headed Fairy Princess in “blue” Red Pines for scale, impact, and visual interest.  I could hardly wait for twilight.


At twilight I set up my camera and lighting, posed my daughter, and pressed the shutter on images that I had envisioned weeks before.  I saw, I felt, and I planned.  Due to my inspiration, I made a quick series of beautiful images that I will treasure forever.  No, I am not Ansel Adams, Lou Jones, or Joe McNally, but for a single, beautiful twilight I had vision just like them.  I, Donald Edward Toothaker, was creative.  You can be too.

 

Photograph What You Feel

Don

 

Image information

“Soft Blue Fairy Princess”

Nikon D800

Nikon 24-70 lens

ISO:  100

APT: f6.3

EXP:  1/4 second with White Balance set to Tungsten

SB900 gelled with color correcting filter and triggered using PocketWizard TT1, TT5, and AC3

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Using Your Lens Sharply!

Near LaGrange, Maine: Found this spot while on vacation last week in Maine.  Taken with my Nikon D800E, Carl Zeiss 25mm Lens at iso 100, f7.1 @ 1//160 sec on a tripod.  Eveything is sharp from the foreground to the trees in the background even though I only used f7.1.

Most folks would think they needed an aperture of f16 or f22.  Not true when focused properly and using a tripod.  I used my depth of field preview button to look through the viewfinder and manually focused the lens to get all in focus. (having a full frame camera really helps when using depth of field preview). I adjusted the lens aperture to f7.1 and tried to get all in focus and it was just right.  Just about Every lens whether it’s a prime lens (single focal length) or a zoom have their sharpest aperture around f5.6, f6.3 or f7.1.  Think bell-curve from your school days where only so many kids get an A and only so many fail and the rest are in the middle so to speak. So don’t always ‘run’ to f16 of f22 for a sharp photo as you may not get what you want due to lens diffraction at such small apertures! Look up hyper-focal distance to see how you can do this too!

Bob Ring (www.nephotoworkshops.com)

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The Versatility of You

Digital Photography is incredible.  Never before has our potential as photographers been so unlimited.  Today’s cameras are loaded with technology and capable of producing a broad range of results.  All they need is our creativity to make them shine!  We all should strive to be the best photographers we can be; not just the best portrait photographer or sports photographer or wedding photographer.  Your camera is loaded with versatility and you should be as well.

For me, one of the greatest aspects of digital photography is the opportunities it offers.  Pour yourself a cup of coffee, or something a bit stronger if desired, and spend some time studying your camera.   Look it over and learn its buttons and menus.  Understand what YOU need to do to make adjustments in the field.  How do you change your ISO?  Where is your histogram?  Does your camera have bracketing for HDR shooting?  Can you view your images in Black and White?  How do you set focus tracking?  Where do you set file size?   Contemplate what the camera and its technology is capable of.  Then, think about what it can do when combined with your creativity.  It is critical to know your gear but, it is even more essential to realize your aspirations  as a photographer.  The camera is just a tool and, ultimately, it is only as good as you are.  How good do you want to be?   Be aware, be creative, and be versatile.

The latest line of DSLR’s, both pro and consumer grades, give us more versatility than ever.  Seven years ago I bought my first DSLR – the 6 megapixel Nikon D70s.  It was a great consumer grade camera but, struggled at any ISO higher than 400.  I shot scenic’s at ISO 100 and used ISO 400 for sports/low light shooting.  I never went over ISO 400 unless I had to:   very similar to how we worked with film when you think about it.   My new Nikon D800 is a 36 megapixel powerhouse that will transform 35mm digital photography as we know it.  Right now, it gives me once unimaginable potential and versatility.  I welcome  that.
When I was a film shooter and headed to Maine for a weekend, I would typically bring 10 rolls of Fuji Velvia for pretty scenic’s, 10 rolls of 400 speed Fuji Provia for shooting in lower light, and 5 rolls of Kodak Black and White TMAX 400.  Each film had a job to do that was necessary but, costly and, at times, frustrating.  It would never seem to fail that I had half a roll of Velvia still left in my F5 but, now wanted to shoot a portrait in Black and White.  Instead of wasting film, I wasted opportunities.  Now, I dial a button and blow away anything that those films could ever do.  Think about that.  Think about the amazing versatility of that from a technology standpoint.  Now, think about the versatility of that as a photographer.  In a moments notice you can adapt to any situation and capture it with beautiful results.  That is not only very exciting but, it is highly empowering.
All of us should be very excited at the options available to us through technology.   The increasing resolution of today’s camera’s gives us breathtaking detail.  Being able to produce high quality images at ISO’s of 1600, 3200, and 6400 is mind boggling.   I can be in my garden shooting macro shots at ISO 100 and capture fine detail and rich colors.  A short time later, in order to defeat a frustrating breeze,  I can change my ISO to 800 and create a sharp, abstract image with similarly beautiful results. Then, just a few minutes later, change my ISO to 3200 and catch a GREAT portrait of my cat in poor, indoor light.  The power of versatility.   Wow.  No, seriously, Wow!!  
Technology continues to grow at an amazing pace but, to make it effective you must grow as well.  Having the latest, greatest camera does not make you a photographer.  YOU make yourself a photographer.  Push the limits of technology but, push your imagination just as far.  Nurture your creative energy, embrace the versatility of your camera, and harness the power of “you”.   The LCD screen and histogram give immediate feedback on your successes, your failures, and your necessary adjustments but, the best results all come from within.
How Versatile are You?
Don
“Photograph What You Feel”
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