Windows For the Soul - Photography

In need of a telephoto lens... or not.

I hesitated considerably before posting these photos. I mean, I always do, maybe too much... or maybe not enough. This time, though, I had a further reason to question whether I should do it or not. However, this set of photos is a good illustration of a couple of things I feel that are worthy of a few lines. I hope I am not too wrong. The past few weeks, everyday, with an amazing punctuality just before sunset, flocks of cormorants fly over my house, coming from the seaside, flying inland for the night. I had this photo in my mind of one of those flocks (ranging from only two birds to well over twenty) flying in from the sunset from an almost horizontal perspective. How could I do that if they were flying rather high above my head? Well, by climbing onto the roof of my house, of course. With that in mind, I waited for a day with some rain-threatening clouds, but sunny enough to ensure a colourful late afternoon sky. I got lucky with the weather and I was not disappointed with the light conditions. However, when I showed these photos to two very different people, they had quite distinct reactions. The first one, who I usually consider, more or less as a joke, the acid test for my photography, seemed to be quite pleased with the result. I guess it was the colourful sky that got her sympathy. The second one, a friend who, in my opinion (for what it is worth), is a great nature photographer, was kind enough not to trash them bluntly. Kindly, he just said: ”your 80-200 mm lens is short, isn´t it?” I guess he is right, the lens is short because I had to crop some of the photos a bit and still the birds are little more than tiny spots in the sky. I suppose his precious feedback alone should be enough to keep me from posting them and to understand that the photos are, to put it mildly, plain boring. Yet, every single one of these shots is much closer to what I wanted to do than they would be if I had used a longer lens. True, I would have been able to get closer to the cormorants, but I would have lost too much diversity in the sky and it was the sky with the birds that I wanted to capture rather than the other way around. So, this just goes to show a couple of things: first, you should not trust the approval of your most ferocious critic; secondly, if you really want to find opportunities to use your gear, all you have to do is to open your eyes and.... climb to the roof top of your house; finally, sometimes having the gear that one could think that it would be the most suitable for the situation may keep you from taking the photo that you have imagined. The problem is when the photo that you have imagine is a cr*ppy one, as it seems to be the case. Be that as it may, I am still mad at Santa for forgetting that 500 mm that was on my Christmas wish list.

MP2_3998
Nikon D7100, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @200 mm, ISO 900, 1/200, f/7.1.

MP2_4056
Nikon D7100, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @200 mm, ISO 640, 1/250, f/7.1.

MP2_3944
Nikon D7100, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @200 mm, ISO 280, 1/320, f/10.

To publish or not to publish...

Time and again, whenever I drove by this spot, I told myself I had to go there with a little time to spare. I drive by this stork nest on a weekly basis, but always an hour too soon and always with the lot on board. However, pulling over to the side road and telling them “give an hour” is obviously not an option. This is a good example why photography is not a suitable hobby for those who are not selfish enough to systematically abandon the spouse (avoiding gender distinction...) and the offspring, to indulge in a few hours of fiddling around with settings, of composition adjusting, and so on. Finally, I managed to take a little time to go to that stork nest to try to photograph it at “that” time of the day. The task, however, proved to be a bit harder than I expected. The nest is on top of what is left of an old tree and it has been there for years. Unfortunately, this year someone decided, for whatever reason, that the log had to be shortened to almost half of its length. Consequently, the nest is now only about five meters above the road level, right there by the road side and as soon as I get closer the adult storks fly away and only come back when I leave. So, this called for a stealth approach. Hiding behind some bushes on the other side of the road, I managed to find an opening on those bushes that allowed me to be within reach of the nest. The angle was not the best, but it was good enough.

This photo reminds me that a couple of days ago I was discussing with a friend why do people publish photos that are subpar. I suppose that different reasons can explain this and that how and where they choose to publish may also hint at their motivation. Personally, though, I believe that this can be explained by two fundamental reasons: the first reason is the fact that they just don’t know any better; the second is the fact that that subpar work is all they have. Yes, guilty as charged and this photo is a good example. Yes, there are quite a few details on this photo that should lead no a “do not publish” label on it, methinks. However, although I can tell that, I am sure that an experienced photographer would easily spot a whole bunch of details that should award it a “trash it” label (If only I would receive an email from that photographer... ). On the other hand, this photo was taken after a couple of very busy weeks, with little time left for photography. So, after such a painfully long period of time, being able to take the time to finally go to that spot and the great feeling of just being there and doing it can probably cloud my judgment. In my defense, I can only say that, by publishing this subpar stuff, I do not seek meaningless taps on my back. If I wanted that, I would be publishing on Facebook, where so many people scratch each others backs with unfelt compliments on their photos. So, if you have reasons to trash my photos, please, do drop me a line and you will get a big “thank you” from me!

DSC_3173
Nikon D600, Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 @135mm, ISO 360, 1/1000, f/10.

Wishes for 2014

These days, what can one wish for the new year? Well, that it is just as good (or bad) as the one that is finishing. I mean, we did manage through this one, didn’t we?
For what it’s worth, may the year that is coming be whatever we wish it to be.

Bird in the sunset
Nikon D7000, Nikon 80-200 mm f/2.8 @80mm, ISO 640, 1/400, f/16, Tripod.

Look over your shoulder

Quite often, when I am out and about to take a few shots of the sunset (or sunrise, for that matter) I end up missing great opportunities for some colourful photos because I forget to look behind my back. Facing west, obsessed with catching the full colour pallet of the sky, whilst trying to avoid burning part of the shot by the sun, I tend to forget to look around. This was not one of those cases, though.

Coloured skiy Dusk by the river
Nikon D7000, Nikon 50mm f/1.8, ISO 500, 1/60, f/9.0, Tripod.

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...

Autumn sunset_7SC_2308
Nikon D7000, Nikon 50mm f/1.8, ISO 400, 1/40, f/8, Tripod.