Windows For the Soul - Photography

What can I photograph when the lions don't show up?

As much as I would love that, there are no lions, zebras, leopards, wildebeests, etc., around here. Although there is, I imagine, a good number of different species that could surely be worthy of a photo, they just don’t cross my way when I am running all my daily errands, which is pretty much all I do most of my day. Either that or seat at my desk, stuck on my desktop, trying to do what pays the bills. They call it working. Anyway, as I was saying, I lack the usual interesting subjects for a shot that is worthy of more than 2 seconds of attention. Of course, I lack much more than just that, but I’d rather not go into that because it’s easier to complain about what is beyond my power to change. So (I keep digressing, I know), what could possibly make the difference between a photo of a simple horse on a field, or what a friend of mine would call a “Frére Jacques” (sorry for the private joke) kind of photo, and a decent shot? On my way to the car wash, late in the afternoon on a sunny day about to turn into a stormy one, I was keeping an eye on the sunset when I looked inland and saw the sky with these strong colours, threatening to drop a shower on my head pretty soon. And yet, in front of me all I had was a busy rush hour avenue packed with cars entering a roundabout. Not the prettiest sight. To the left, I spotted this horse in the middle of a field, about fifty meters from the road and I found my subject. I wasn’t wearing the best shoes to walk into the knee-high grass but... who cares? The horse was facing westward, barely lit by what was left of the sunset light. I dialled the compensation down a bit and managed to take a couple of shots just before the horse’s ears showed that my presence wasn’t welcome and my model turned away to as far as the rope allowed. I had to leave, because my car was supposed to be ready and I had just 5 minutes to pick it up. Or so I thought, because I had to wait almost an hour more, instead of taking some more photos elsewhere. Typical...
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Nikon D7100, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @80 mm, ISO 640, 1/320, f/6.3, -2/3EV.

When the threads of time get tangled up

We have all heard too many times the expression “the decisive moment”, but forgive me for bringing up my own preference for “decisive moments”. When coincidence creates a scene that is somewhat unexpected, awkward, ironic, or even somewhat nonsense, if I happen to have my camera with me and my frequent clumsiness does not stand between me and the photo I wish to take, I’m a happy camper. In such cases, I can even be less frustrated if I can spot potential technical flaws on the shots taken. I don’t really care too much, as long as I feel that I have managed to freeze that moment when the threads of time got tangled up.
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Nikon D300, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @200 mm, ISO 500, 1/500, f/5.

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Nikon D300, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @80 mm, ISO 400, 1/800, f/9.

Shooting between appointments

Most of the best opportunities I get to make use of my camera do not arise when I expect them to. Often times, I get the chance to take a little time off and go for a walk but I end up deleting every single picture I took and I return home with a blank SD card on my camera. A couple of weeks ago, I had been having a bit of a hard time trying to find one of these butterflies standing still before my lens long enough for me to photograph it and I always ended up watching them flying by in windy days or waltzing over the fields, not stopping long enough for me to get closer. Between two work-related appointments, I saw a couple of these on a roadside field flying between flowers. With a quick glance at my watch, I realised that I had 15 minutes to spare. I just grabbed my camera, already with the macro lens on, switched into my “all-road” shoes (I always keep them in the boot of my car) and off I went into the field to indulged with a 15 minute break following this beauty as it floated around from flower to flower. It was high noon, though, and the sun was burning hot. The light was harsh, the background wasn’t as pleasant as I would have liked it to be, so this meant using a larger aperture than the close distance would have recommended, just to through that background out of focus. With a little effort I managed to have just enough depth of field to keep the butterfly sharp (the Micro 105mm f/2.8 is truly superb), but from the settings one can tell just how harsh the light was. I managed to take a few of these and I was quite happy with the result. Shame, though, I still wasn’t able to take a single shot of it with its wings spread open. From what I have seen this kind of butterfly always keeps its wings closed together when it is not flying. This is just another exemple of the reason why I always get my gear out.

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Nikon D600, Nikon 105 mm f/2.8, ISO 200, 1/1600, f/5.6.

A photographer's dull life or creative jealousy?

A post by John Schell (Turning Around That Creative Jealousy) on stoppers.com brought me back to the subject on a previous post. Basically, the question could be summarised as something like “why does my work stink?” I imagine that many of those who love photography but are only newbies or even enthusiasts often look at their shots and think: “Sh**! What happened to the photo I thought I had taken? What have I done?” And things get worse when we look at the work of others and realize how poor our portfolio is. Sometimes I get quite blown away with some photos I see on the web. The jealousy meter would not reach the red line if all those shot were taken by real pros, with real pro gear, in dream-only scenarios and stuff like that. The problem is that often enough those jaw-dropping shots are taken by amateurs, with amateur gear, in everyday scenarios. How can one live with the quality of one’s work? How can one not give up in hopeless frustration? Too often we can find people selling their gear for confessed lack of use. I wonder if this is not a sign of forfeiting to creative jealousy.
Creative Jealousy, as John Schell called it on his post, must not lead to forfeiting one’s dream of being able to capture his vision of the world through photography. This jealousy must be accepted as natural. Recognising it is, indeed, liberating. If you don't feel it at all, you are probably wrongly convinced that what you do is great and you face the risk you being ridiculous. Just go through all the profiles on Flickr and such and when you find people looking for meaningless compliments you will see a lot of that. However, just feeling that Jealousy but failing to recognise it may lead you to hide what you do, not daring to expose yourself to honest criticism. Once you acknowledge the true (small) size of your work, you accept what you are and become much more open to get slammed in the face with criticism. Of course, much can be justified with differences in gear, in subjects, places, opportunities, time available, etc., but when deep down you accept that what you do is just so-so, you are truly ready to start learning. Acknowledging that most of what goes wrong in my photos is my own doing is the only way to improve. Understanding what went wrong is a condition for you to go back, to take my time, not to rush, to correct your settings and try to do it properly. Many times, though, it is not possible, either because that dawn is gone, the bird has flown or the skills are just too short. Even when this is the case, there is surely a learning outcome.
The work of others is more and more cause for admiration rather than true jealousy. The more I struggle to get results that I can be happy with, the more I admire the work of others but also the more I understand how often there is so much post processing into some photos, sometimes way too much. In the end, what really matters is how I feel about my photos, more than what others do, as long as I keep my feet on the ground...

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Nikon D7000, Nikon 50mm f/1.8, ISO 400, 1/40, f/8, Tripod.

A helping hand

I left home committed to get the shot properly, this time. I had been there the day before, on my way to picking up the little one from school at lunch hour, but because of the strong sun and the fact that I was without my hood loupe I could not check the result properly on the spot. When I got in front of my computer, I wasn’t quite happy with the outcome. So, there I was again, at the same daisy covered field, but this time I went there early in the morning, just after I dropped the offspring at school. Tough luck...it was a rainy morning. I had to go back to work but I did not want the few minutes of the detour to go to waste. So, like I said, I was committed to getting “the” shot, but I would settle for “a” shot.

Nature has this way of giving us a motive when we least expect. In front of me I had nothing but a field of “sleeping” soaked flowers, but the light was soft, the grass was green and with a little help from nature I found a reason to kneel down. In a whole field there was this one little daisy that decided I needed a help.

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Nikon D7000, Nikon 105 mm f/2.8, ISO 800, 1/200, f/6.3.

A photographer's dull life - Part II

There are many photos that I see on the web that really make me envy the photographers who took them. I envy their talent, their skills and the opportunities they have to be there, on whichever magnificent beach, desert, mountain, jungle, river, and so on, where they captured their fantastic photos. It is a healthy form of envy, though, one that I try to turn into learning, one that keeps me dreaming about the day that I will (or would, by now...) have their opportunities, their talent and their skills. On Nature Photo Blog I find many photos that are truly inspiring and this photo by Luciano Gaudenzio is one of the countless examples I could choose in that blog. This is also one of those photos that makes me question whether someone who spends most of his day in front of his computer can expect to ever have a proper portfolio, as I did in my post “A photographer's dull life - Part I” on the blog page. I guess, however, that someone who will ever have a chance to have this kind of opportunities will always be someone who will do something about it, rather than whining on his blog over his dull life.

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Link: Wild Dolomites by Luciano Gaudenzio.

A photographer's dull life - Part I

If you want to build a portfolio that does not embarrass you, just how much of a handicap is it having a dull life? How much of the result is made by the object alone and how much does it depend on the photographer? I keep asking myself these questions whenever I come across portfolios of photographers, pros and amateurs, showcasing their photos of stunning landscapes and dramatic wildlife shots. How can someone who spends most of his day in front of his computer expect to ever have a proper portfolio? I suppose it really depends on the photographic path, so to speak, that one wants to choose. But the fact is that, at least for me (but I suspect the same happens with the majority of “photo viewers”...), the photographs that tend to capture greater attention are not photos that someone who spends most of his time in daily dull routines could take. I know that these are “no excuses” (hence the name of one of the categories of posts here) that may justify the lack of use of one’s gear, but I suppose it is beyond contention that it is harder to find a crowd-pleaser on a commuter’s route than on a photography trip to, say, the Patagonia or some snowy mountain destination. And with this argument I am by no means taking the merits from photos like the one I mention in my post “A photographer's dull life - Part II”, on the “Photography on the web” page of this site, but I believe it is not really unfair saying that the subject of the photo can be a winner almost by itself. Of course, an incompetent photographer can always manage to mess up the great work of mother nature. I mean...been there, done that.
Still, I would dare say that it is harder to find consensual interest in a photo of an ordinary detail or episode of life, than it is to gather general applause with photos of cuddly baby seals, of a colourful exotic bird or of a jaw-dropping landscape.
Having said that, assuming there is some truth in this, there is little appreciation that a photographer can expect to receive from a photo of a most ordinary detail that any other person would have the hardest time trying to see some interest in. Yet, how often do we take a picture that for some reason we like, but always end up having to explain why we like it and what we saw that caught our attention. It happens to me all the time and I can only see this as a sign that I should never give up my day job. This photo is an example of that. There I was, waiting for my train. In front of me was this clock on the wall. Stopped, broken and with the logo of our public railways company. I liked the symbolic nature of the shot of a broken clock of a broke company (kept by tax-payers’ money) and the geometry in the clock’s framing on the wall. Of course, I should not expect anyone to see it like me, but as long as I am happy with it, it’s ok. Obviously, tough, the path to a career as a photographer is not paved with photos like this one. Maybe I should bear this in mind in future posts.

Broken train station clock
Nikon D90, Nikon 55-200 mm f/4.0-5.6 @200mm, ISO 200, 1/80, f/8.0.

Mushroom effects

This is one of my pet-projects. On an old log, or on what is left of it, in my parents’ backyard I have been following the life of these mushrooms (Trametes Versicolor, aka Turkey Tail Mushroom) for a couple of years now. Every week, before my usual sunday lunch, I check on them. Their exotic aspect does not suggest that they could be of any interest, at least from a gastronomic point-of-view. However, they are actually commonly consumed, for example as tea, they have been used in traditional medicine (e.g. Traditional Chinese Medicine) and they even seem to have promising qualities in the treatment of cancer. They also provide an interesting photography subject, at least for the photography enthusiast with no better subject available at the moment. In this shot, the speedlight and the underexposure highlighted the white rims of the mushrooms, concealing (albeit not totally as I would have preferred) the grass on the ground in the corners of the photo.

Trametes Versicolor from above perspective
Nikon D7000, Nikon 50mm f/1.8, ISO 200, 1.3sec, f/22, Tripod, SB-28 off-camera.

Links for examples of sites with information on this type of mushroom: Wild Brunch Mushrooms and American Cancer Society.