Saturday, February 23, 2008

Setting Goals

Have you ever thought about setting goals with your photo hobby? I have people come up to me all the time (well, not ALL the time) to tell me that they want to learn how to do this or that with a camera, but finding the time to do this makes it impossible! One thing that I’ve noticed over the last couple years of reading photo blogs of serious and professional photographers, is that they set goals for themselves on their blogs at the beginning of each year. When developing these goals, they will divide them up into several categories (like ‘developing their skill’, ‘improving their business’, etc). So, I began the year thinking about things that would improve my skills and make me a better photographer. To set good goals, they must be positive, precise and small enough to achieve in one year. With that in mind, I’ve set 3 goals for my hobby this year.

1. My first goal is to go out shooting pictures with another photographer. The idea here is to have the opportunity to share skills and ideas with another person. It will also give the opportunity to see ‘pictures’ from another perspective. Have you ever tried this? I’ve been on trips out west in the national parks with groups of high school students. The picture above is of the 2006 group I traveled west with.  This is a picture from a hike that we did in the Tetons.  Most of the students have some type of camera with them. They look like sheep as they all head for the same spot, but they’re really no different than most of the other tourist out there. They want to make sure they get the typical shot that they’ve seen on the postcard and in the magazines. However, there’s usually one that goes off on their own, looking for the ‘different’ shot. Usually, when we return from the trip, we meet and will share our various pictures from the trip. It’s always interesting to see the unusual pictures from that one student. Some can be very interesting and good! As of yet, I don’t yet have another photographer in mind, so this is one goal I’ll be working on.

2. My second goal is to give myself a photo assignment. It would need to be something that I’m motivated to do, but yet involve a skill I’m deficient in (that leaves me a lot to choose from!). For this, I chose a task that I’ve played around with on a couple of occasions over the years, but never spent the quality time needed to be successful. The assignment is to take pictures of moving water and achieve the silky look in the water that comes from slow shutter speeds. This silky look can really add to the feeling you’re trying to achieve in a water shot. I will probably try to go north this summer for this one and find a river or falls area, although I will have other opportunities this year too. I will be in the Smokey Mountains in early April and out by California’s Mt. Whitney in mid-July.

3. Now, for my third. After traveling west almost every summer for the last 20 years and reading photography magazines, I’ve seen many photography expeditions advertised and written about. The photographers that have written about these in the blogs almost always rave about what they’ve learned. I really would love to go to the Rockies in the fall and take part in one of these expeditions. Well, of all my goals, this one I’ve taken the first step on. I’ve registered for Moose Peterson’s Wildlife Photographer’s Base Camp. It takes place next October in Yellowstone National Park. I’m so excited about this one I’m not sure I’ll be able to wait!

So, what are your photography goals for this year? I would like to hear them. It doesn’t matter if they’re big or small goals, just set some and then share with us. Maybe it will be just submitting a picture in the next assignment on SPS photography group on Flickr! Come-on, share with us!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Learn by Listening?

We can learn photography by listening.  I listen to a number of photography podcasts while I run.  I hate running!  But it's the only thing that allows me to keep trekking up the mountain trails in the summer.  To make it less painful, I download podcasts by professional photographers and listen to them on my iPod shuffle while I run (by the way, Apple dropped the price of the shuffle by $30 - check it out here).  Recently while reading Scott Kelby's blog, I learned that many of the talks given at the latest MacWorld Convention in California are now available online for free (did I say "For Free"?).  They are available in the Quicktime format.  Just click here, and you will see 4 to choose from.  I've just started listening to "Beginner Digital Photography" by Lesa & Shawn King.  It's interesting.  It's very similar to the topics we talked about at the Cool Tools Workshop at school.  But, they use many different slides to demo the point and talk about it from different angles.  Maybe it will resonate better with you.  So far, I'm enjoying it!
There are other titles there and they sound very interesting.  There's; "Five shooting technique's to make your pictures look better" by Derrick Story.  Derrick does a weekly podcast here.
Others that I will be sure to check out are; "How to Capture Killer Sport Images", by Ben Chen (Ben is a photoshop guru also), and "The Art and Craft of Digital Photography", by Chris Orwig.  Many differrent podcasters raved about Chris' presentation.
So, if you get a chance to check some of these out, share your comments here for us to discuss!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Just a couple thoughts

Cold Air + Camera:  Yesterday I wrote about taking pictures in cold, snowy weather.  Latter I realized that I left out a very important point about shooting when it's very cold outside.  Never, never (strong enough?), bring your cold camera directly back into the house.  The warm, moister air in the house will condense all over the surfaces (inside and out) of your digital camera.  Since most of the surfaces inside your camera involve electric circuitry, this can do very expensive damage.  The 'howto' avoid this is simple.  Take a ziplock bag (or two) with you when you go out shooting.  Before you come back into the house (or for that matter, into your warm car), put your camera into the zip lock bag.  Now with a big DSLR, you may need a very big zip lock bag, or need to break your camera/lens down into 2 separate bags.  Try to squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible.  The air in the bag is a lot dryer than that in your house (cold air can't hold as much moisture).  Once your camera returns to room temperature, you can take it out of the bag.
Race Cars: One of my short term goals for the readers of this blog is to convince them to look at photos of other photographers frequently.  With this internet thing, you are able to look at the pictures of some of the best photographers in the world ... for free!  If you check out the right panel of this blog, you will see that I list some of the blogs that I read on a daily basis.  Those blogs are by some of the photographers that I often try to imitate the techniques that I see on their sites.  So, today I would like to introduce you to such a pro photographer, Jamie Squire.  He recently photographed the Daytona 500.  You can check out his photos from that event here.  While you are looking at some of his photos, ask yourself how he managed to get some of his shots.  Look down to third row of photos at picture #79816105.  How do you think he managed to get the foreground blurry and the cars in sharp focus?
Celestial Opportunity: Tomorrow night (Feb 20th) there will be a Total Lunar Eclipse.  A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes into the earth's shadow, blocking out the sun's rays. Now the moon won't be completely dark.  In fact, it should be light by some sunlight bending around our planet and should appear orangish to reddish.  This will be our last opportunity to see this kind of event till 2010.  According to the Meteorlogists, there is a good chance we might get to see it.  So get your cameras out and see if you can get a good shot.  If you do, post it to our flickr group for all of us to see.  

Monday, February 18, 2008

Taking Pictures of Snow

For my birthday I bought a new pair of snow shoes!  I've wanted a pair for a long time, but had a hard time justifying the expense with the winters we've been having for the last 10 years.  Heck, I even sold my snow blower.  But, then came this winter!  So, this weekend I decided to give them a try on our local golf course.  So, I strapped my camera on and went trekking.  Man it was cold, but thankfully no wind.  It was about 9am, so the winter sun was still relatively low.  I was hoping for some open water to shoot on the rivers, but they were mostly frozen over.  So, I decided to shoot some of the plant life left over from the fall, trying to catch their shadows in the powdery snow.
In general, cameras figure out the correct exposure for something in your picture that it thinks is an average gray.   Snow usually gives it trouble.  It is generally worse if it's an overcast day.  In that case, it will expose the white snow as gray.  On a sunny day it's generally not as bad.  In the past, I've compensated for what my camera says is the correct exposure by about 1.3 stops (over expose).  So, I was thinking that on this bright sunny day that I would only need about 1/3 overexposure compensation.  So, I took 4 photos.  The first one was at the exposure the camera wanted (zero compensation), and then 3 more increasing the exposure by 1/3 on each one.  Much to my surprise, the one that turned out closest to right on was the last one.  I had to compensate a full stop to get the proper white in my picture!  Now, this was with my DSLR (Nikon D2x).  I suspect that I need to test it out (Sunny 16 Rule) to make sure that it is computing the exposure correctly.  
These days, most point and shoot digital cameras have a menu option that allows the use of exposure compensation.  Check it out on your camera.  This will be a perfect opportunity to go out and experiment with moving away from the just basics with your camera.  Practice 'Bracketing' your exposures.  That is take at least 3 pictures of the same thing.  Expose one with no compensation, then one 1/3 -2/3rds over and the same compensation under (-1/3-2/3rds).  When you get back to your nice warm chair in front of the computer, see which one looks the best!  If you have joined our flickr photo club, post your experiment their for us to see.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Online Photography Club?

This last month I’ve tried to start an online photo club with the teacher’s at Shepherd. I taught a photography workshop in the media center for about 8 teachers in January. After going through some photography basics, I had them all establish an online site to upload their pictures to. We used Flickr for our online site. Many of you are probably familiar with the flickr site as it has been around for a number of years. There are many different types of photography groups on flickr that you can join. But, we decided to start our own group. We call it the ‘SPS Photography Club’ (real original, eh?). I thought this would be a good idea because it would give us a source of contact where we could share questions and answers year around instead of at a workshop just once a year. In addition, we decided to have periodic ‘assignments’ where we could take pictures whose subject would be centered around a specific topic. Our first topic is ‘Cold’, (since we’ve had such a cold winter!). Take a look at the pictures that were uploaded and feel free to make comments - please be kind. If you would like to join our club, establish a flickr account and upload some of your pictures to it. Then join our group. We haven’t decided on our next photo assignment yet, if you have some ideas - share them!
In a future post I plan on discussing the photo editing that you can do on flickr.  If you haven't tried it out, give it a go and let me know what you think of it.