Welcome to My World

My World 1I have been thinking a bit about why we photograph. I think a little self-awareness here can help one find better and more soul-satisfying photography. A lot of photography is chasing, and I am tired of that, both from my work and what I see of others – chasing what other photographers are doing, chasing what is hot (from gear to software), chasing competitions, chasing camera club approval, chasing goals that come from our past and are not relevant today, and so it goes.

A good friend of mine, Chuck Summers, sometimes photographs for a "therapy" of sorts and I think that is pretty cool. He actually calls it his "macro therapy" and he goes out with just his camera and one lens, his macro lens, gets in close, and gets lost in a world of color, form, shapes and whatever he finds. He does this purely for himself.

One of my favorite types of photography is close-up and macro photography. For me, that means entering a different world, a new world from our day-to-day human-scale world. I feel limited with just a macro lens (I don't like being stuck with one focal length – see my blog at www.mirrorlessnature.com to see more about different focal lengths and close-ups), so I will shoot with wide-angle and telephotos up close. The series of photos seen here are shot up close and very personal with a fisheye lens literally next to a solitary bee's nest (also called a miner bee). I am bringing you into a world that most people never see, the world of a miner bee coming into her nest.

My World 2I am beginning to understand, and this is after a lifetime of photography, that my most satisfying work comes when I go into this close-up world as me and photograph what best connects there with me. Such as using a fisheye up close next to a miner bee's nest! This then makes my photography a reflection of my world. I am actually finding that now I sometimes say, "No", to a photograph when I feel it is too derivative of other work or if it tries too hard to chase something that my mind wants to chase rather than staying focused on what is important to me.

My World 3Saying, "No", is an important choice for photographers because it says you are aware of what works and does not work for a photograph. By recognizing a subject and scene as a "No", you are encouraged to move on to photos you can say, "Yes!" to.

I find the close-up world of nature fascinating, always. And of course, as a photographer, I want to share it, but what is important to me is not that I am simply sharing photos or subjects, but sharing a vision that is, good or bad, unique to me. That is my world and I truly do want to welcome others to it.

My World 4I think this can be true for all of us as photographers. Sharing the world as you see it is important, but this can only happen if you start thinking, "Welcome to my world", as you photograph rather than thinking things like, "I have to get this subject", "I have to get a better shot for display at the camera club", "I have to use my macro lens better so that [person] will be impressed", "I have to take as many photos as possible because I am only here a short time", "I have to get pictures that will impress an editor", and so on and on.

My World 5I have begun to realize that photography that connects best with me, and I have noticed, often connects well with others, is photography that truly brings us into a special world that is seen by that photographer. I think the challenge for all of us is to find ways to make our unique views of the world, which then become our world, connect with others through our photography.

For me, this is really important because of my feelings about nature. I think nature is very important for all of us. I want to bring people into the natural world as I see it through my photography and help them discover cool things there that I have discovered. I want to welcome people into my world through photography.

My World 6

Posted in Close Up Photography, Nature photography | 4 Comments

New Books

coverIt is fun to see some cool new books coming out from photographer friends. These are self-published which is an increasingly important way for photographers to share their work and ideas.

Bill Campbell has completed a terrific guidebook to a relatively unknown and spectacular location in SE Tennessee near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the Photography Guide to the Cherohala Skyway. The Smokies is a superb location for photography, but it is often overrun with people, cars and photographers. I have been to the Cherohala Skyway with Bill and it is Smokies caliber landscape and nature photography without the hassle of the crowds. This is one of those "secret" hotspots for photography that photographers who love nature and photography will really love.

Chap grab

page grabNothing has been offered as a guide to this area for photographers. Bill does a beautiful job of showing so much that is there, from the Tellico River Gorge (with its beautiful waterfalls) to the mountain ridges along the skyway. This is an iBook available from the Apple iBookstore and a guide to check out if you are anywhere near SE Tennessee and the Smokies.  Or if you just want to see some pretty pictures of the area!

Photo Apr 08, 12 35 24 PMAnother wonderful book is Curious Critters, Volume Two by David FitzSimmons. I loved his first book, and this one is just as good. This is a children's book featuring terrific portraits of some remarkable wildlife from an indigo bunting to an eyed elator to a bluegill. The text is short and oriented toward kids, plus there are a couple of sections at the end of the book that give a quick look at all of the animals, including relative sizes (which is very cool). You can see more at the Curious Critters website.


Posted in Books, Landscape photography, Nature photography | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments


Judgment 5It is interesting to think about how much judgment plays a part in our world, in our lives, yet how much of a problem it can be. We do need judgment and discernment at times. That helps us figure things out and evaluate things that need to be evaluated, such as buying a new car. But we get into trouble when this starts spilling into things that should not be judged, such as thinking too critically about who we are as photographers, how we think creatively, our personal choices.

Judgment 2Judgment 3Creativity is about trying new things, about exploration, about discovery. Too often our creativity is snuffed out by judgment around us. "Why did you take THAT picture?" "What are you going to do with all of those photos?" "You're shooting with what gear?" "You should be shooting with a Nikon (or Canon or whatever – the name doesn't matter, the judgment does)." "No one takes pictures of those things."

Judgment 4A funny thing about that – a part of me wants to say, “But! Sometimes those things need to be judged. It is oddly interesting to hear that voice – and not helpful! I want to say “Shut up!, but I am learning that that is not so helpful either. This is like parents who tell a kid not to do something and the kids want to do it even more. I know now that telling myself to "shut up" when I am being too judgmental is more likely to end up with that part of me wanting more attention.

Yet we all do have a part of us that is set up for discernment. We do need to judge when to take a picture, how to compose a shot, what shutter speed and f-stop do we need, how far away do we need to be from the subject. These are all part of the craft of being a photographer. I accept that there is part of me needed for discernment, for appropriate judgment, but it just gets a little overactive at times, taking on things like it shouldn't, such as judging us on our creativity when we are just experimenting with new ideas. "You're going to do that? Why? No one else does."

In order to grow as photographers, we need to tame the judgment beast and turn it back into a discernment advisor. I can say, “It is okay, judgment part of me (and parents and school and culture). I have this now. I am not here to please you. You are an advisor and will always be a trusted advisor, but you are not calling the shots. I am in charge, and you have to trust me. No options there. You know I am smart and capable. I will take your ideas under advisement, but I choose and I don't want to hear so much about judging my personal ideas, who I am, how I think, my personal choices about my work, my photography, my creative ideas. Your point of view is too narrow in these matters. Yet, you still are a trusted advisor on other matters. Put your attention there where it can really help.

Judgment 1I really like this quote from author Joan Chittester, “We get so accustomed to being defined by the things and people around us, we forget how to be ourselves if we ever knew.

These photos all come from a recent visit to the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont, California, a place that only displays native plants and does much research about them. The top is our "spring snow", a snowdrop bush. The second two are an interesting relative of yucca called nolina or sometimes beargrass, the third is a tiny native bee in a California poppy and the last is baby blue eyes.

Interested in a direct, no-nonsense approach to Lightroom? Check out my video courses on Lightroom at Skillfeed.com, Photo Success with Lightroom and Lightroom Organization Plain and Simple. I am also now doing one-on-one instruction in all sorts of things, from Lightroom to specific nature photography needs, through Paul's Photo in Torrance, California.

Posted in Native plants, Nature photography | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

Experiencing a Lens

New lens 4I strongly believe that experience is important to mastering your photographic tools, and that is important for anyone at any level. I just got a new lens for my Panasonic GH3 and took it out for a spin today.

The important thing is not the lens, but the experience of taking it out into the field, and only that lens with my camera. This is something I started a long time ago and continue it to today. Every lens has a personality of sorts, i.e., it will handle a certain way. Sometimes I hear photographers complaining about a lens they have rather than working with it to understand how to best use it.

New lens 2When you take a specific lens, and only that lens, out with you to just experience shooting with it, you are forced to focus on that lens and that lens alone. This is not a bad exercise for anyone to do whenever you need a jumpstart on working with your gear. I have often done this, even when a lens is not new, because this creates an interesting discipline that includes forcing you to move around rather than setting up in one spot and changing lenses.

I bought an Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro (I love having such a wide range of lenses available in MFT format). I have shot macro lenses for a lot of years, so I hardly needed more experience with macro lenses. But I had never shot with this particular lens. Its size, the way it handles, all of these things are unique to it. By limiting myself to just this one lens as I shot close-ups of flowers and bees at a nearby native plants garden (at Madrona Marsh in Torrance, California), I could become intimate with it in a way that is simply not possible if I just threw it in with my gear to "maybe" use the next time I went out into the Santa Monica Mountains, for example. I could begin to "feel" how it worked, how it focussed, the shooting distance to subjects, the feel in my hand. You could "learn" some of this from the specs, but you cannot "experience" it directly so you start to gain an intuitive feel for the lens without doing this shooting.

New lens 1This lens does not have a direct mechanical connection to the focus ring (this is not uncommon with lenses for mirrorless cameras – it makes the lenses smaller). I don't like the feel of this type of focusing, so I started using the lens more on automatic than I might otherwise do. However, that does not mean I simply pressed the shutter button and shot with whatever the camera found to autofocus on. I used the autofocus a little like manual focus. I got in close to where I wanted to be, next I locked focus on the subject, then I moved gently to and from the subject until the subject was sharp.

This is a quick, easy and accurate way to use autofocus up close. It is good to know how working with your lens will work best before you are on a location and fighting changing light or other challenging conditions. (On a tripod, I will magnify the Live View and use manual focus as needed.)

New lens 3

The photos show a couple of really cool things. There is a tiny native bee in one of the poppy flower shots (native California poppies), plus there is a crab spider who has caught a   native metallic sweat bee. The other two photos are of a bush snapdragon (top) and a bush lupine.

For those interested in this particular lens, it is a beautiful lens. It is one of the sharpest lenses I have owned and it also has great contrast and color.

Posted in Close Up Photography, Gear, lenses, Native plants, Nature photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments


Enough-1Sometimes I am really amazed by how many messages you get in a day that you don't have or are enough. An awful lot of stuff on Internet and in "advertising" is about what you don't have. This is different than being inspired by something. I think this has a big impact on how we look at photography and nature.

I understand that is what advertising is about. It's purpose is to show you things a company makes or distributes and let you know what it can do that whatever you have now cannot do.

Advertising and promotion is not necessarily what the Internet has to be about, yet a lot of it is, and I am not talking just about the manufacturers now. A lot of folks promote gear or a unique way of photographing or a place you "have to go" in nature. This is largely not sponsored, either, yet it is a lot about what they have and you don't.

Part of this is human nature. We want connection with others. We want to share ideas about products that work for us, partly because of the need for sharing, but partly for the affirmation that we are connected to a group who shares similar ideas to ours. There is also a need that all of us have at times, I believe, and that is to feel secure in our own choices by convincing others they need to make the same buying decisions as we did. You see a lot of these things going on in the passionate Nikon vs. Canon users.

I wonder, though, if the Internet and advertising could not offer something more. I think Apple has shown us what might be possible. Apple now has an amazing series of commercials based on Robin Williams passionate speech about poetry from The Dead Poets Society. They played a lot during the Winter Olympics. The visuals of the ads show people photographing and video recording life around them, from sports to stunning natural scenes and much more. If you have not seen it, here is a link to the full-length version, http://youtu.be/jiyIcz7wUH0.

Those commercials were inspiring. They were about Apple products, absolutely, but much more than that, they were about photography, about engaging with life, about connecting with subjects such as nature, about what you could do with your own voice as a photographer, as a creator. You saw the Apple products connected with this pursuit and that gave you ideas on how they might be used. But more important, these commercials made you think about getting out and creating your own work.

I would like to see a lot more of such work both in advertising and on the Internet. I know that is unlikely to happen, but think of the possibilities. Instead of another blog doing the same old reviews of equipment, for example, how about a blog showing what is possible with photography using that equipment, photography that is inspiring. Most of the time photographs on equipment review blogs are uninteresting and uninspiring. They might show what a lens or camera can do, but they don't inspire anyone to get out and photograph. Unfortunately, such photography encourages a cultural impression of photography that it is more about better snapshots with good gear than it is about creating meaningful and interesting photography that engages both the photographer and the viewer.

Enough-2Primose-willow, Ludwigia peruvianaImagine what it would like to open a magazine filled with inspiring ads instead of a lot of pretty pictures of cameras and lenses. Now think about the message that comes from an ad, no matter how beautiful it is, that just features a camera and similar gear. That photography is about pretty gear, not actually taking pictures?

I have seen ads that try to do better than just showing the gear. I do understand the need to show something of the gear. Apple did that really well. But still, a lot of the ads imply that you are not enough, that you could never take such pictures that they are showing without that gear. The Apple ads do not imply that (though they do try to show that shooting with Apple products is cool and fun).

I have struggled over my life at times with "not enough." I had to do more, be better, match someone else's work. This came from many parts of my past, including deep psychic wounds from not getting support for who I was as a photographer, a creative person as I grew up through my teens. I have resolved much of that today, and in going through that resolution, I discovered that this is not uncommon.

Enough-4Enough-5Maybe that is why so much advertising and Internet stuff about photography is about implying you are not enough without this or that camera, lens, software, technique, and the list goes on. Get that (__________ fill in the blank) and you will finally have enough, you will be enough! So often we don't feel "enough" and this plays into some of our deepest fears.

Of course, the messages continue. "You thought you were enough, but that was before we introduced this new product. Now you cannot be enough without it." And the culture, especially a lot of the photography culture, buys into that. How often do you see people with new gear that does nothing for them photographically, but they "have to have it"?

This is actually a bigger issue than you might think. Sales of DSLRs and mirrorless (or DSLM) cameras are down across the board. People are starting to realize that they have enough megapixels, that their gear is weighing them down. The Apple ads actually say nothing about megapixels, sensor size or anything like that, but they do imply that using their "cameras" can be fun and inspiring. Maybe if camera manufacturers started thinking fun and inspiring, both in terms of their products and their ads, they would sell more, but in doing so, they would be encouraging people to be more, to be inspired, not to feel that they are "not enough."

My goal is to stop paying attention to the "not enough" messages. You can't avoid seeing or looking at them if you are part of today's world. They are everywhere. And I am going to start working on  inspirational messages to myself that what I do and how I do it is up to me and that engaging with the world through my photography is enough, always.

My friend, Dewitt Jones, has a wonderful website, Celebrate What's Right with the World, that is inspirational and has nothing about "not enough." For Dewitt, the world is always enough. I think it is, too.

It seems that I am constantly drawn toward a deeper look at photography, so I am thinking about changing the name of my blog to something that reflects that. Part of that, I know, is due to a lot of thinking about photography and my connection to it and nature over the past year. I have been working on a very personal ebook about that journey that I will hopefully be able to share soon.

The photos here are a Sonoran bumblebee on locoweed flowers in Southern California, a wood stork in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Florida, a primrose willow flower in a cypress swamp in the Everglades in Florida, and two winter scenes from the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota.

Posted in Nature photography | Tagged , , | 23 Comments

Going for Better or More Engaging?

Spiders3We all want to be a better photographer. If we can become better, we can better use our gear, better capture the subject, better engage our viewers, our audience, no matter who they are. Or so the common thinking goes. Is it true?

I got to thinking about this after a recent trip to Florida flying Virgin America. An aside -- I started to hate flying any long distance until I started to fly Virgin America. I actually enjoy flying now if I use them. They are priced very competitively, but more important, they connect with the passenger in unique ways immediately from check-in. And when you board, you know you are on a different airline.

But what got me thinking about what "better" really means was Virgin America's pre-flight safety video. Most airlines seem to be going this video route. I have seen very professional, extremely well done videos from other airlines that include personable, appealing airline people talking to the camera (to "me"), that cover the safety aspects perfectly. Watch them and you will learn what you need to know ... if you don't fall asleep first. Airlines have worked to make these videos "better" (I have seen them improve in quality and in presentation), even spending quite a bit of money on their production, but they are still dealing with subject matter that most of us really don't need to see again ... and again ... and again. Even if the FAA requires it.

Virgin America took a totally different approach. They did not try to simply make a safety video that was better, they took a whole different look at what this video might mean. What if you created a video that people actually enjoyed watching? What if you created a video that people would look for on YouTube? In other words, what if you did not simply think about making a "better" safety video, but you thought about making a video that actually connected with people? If you have not see it, here it is (if the video does not play, go directly to this link, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtyfiPIHsIg):

This really connects some dots for me. Think about it. There is an awful lot of nature that is important to you and me that most people don't know about. Simply making a "better" photo, better use of Lightroom, better camera, better anything technological, isn't going to connect with people any better (other than maybe another photographer who wants to know how you shot the image or what camera you used).

So much of nature photography today is the same sort of thing we have seen forever, just shot with better gear, etc. And unfortunately, a lot of that just becomes visual noise for the average person because, like the standard airline safety video, there is nothing that shows them anything different or anything fresh and compelling. Now if you start thinking, "But they had so much money for their video," then you are focusing on the wrong thing. That is a distraction from the idea that creating compelling visuals today means breaking free of the standard ways of doing things, even if they keep getting "better."

It is also worth noting that this Virgin America safety video is very conservative in how it presents itself visually. There are no special effects, no computer-generated characters, no HDR, no in-camera blurs, just a straightforward approach to the material. This is as much like an old dance movie of the past as anything else. What that says to me is that doing something fresh and original does not mean you have to have some wonky new special effect or unusual software program.

I don't have "the answer" for this. I don't know exactly what it means for us as nature photographers to take a step to the side and find whole new approaches to subjects beyond simply taking "better" pictures. I do feel that simply being aware of such possibilities, however, can be exciting and push us to find new ways of shooting, new ways of presenting, new ways of connecting with audiences. The reason for the spider photos with this blog is because spiders are like safety videos – an important subject matter for me, but not something the average person really cares about. So how do you go beyond the standard spider photo that everyone has seen and could not care about?

Spiders4In part, I think it has to do with respecting and honoring people who look at nature and nature photography. Virgin America respected its audience, recognizing that while the audience literally was "captive", their attention was not, and that simply doing a perfect safety video would have no impact. In fact, such "perfect safety videos" treat the audience badly because they imply that the audience is really not all that important, only the message is.

Too often I see nature photography that is more about impressing people with the photographer's skills than about true connection with nature. For me, Virgin America's safety video is an inspiring wake-up call of fresh and unique ways of thinking. Of course, most of us will never have the budget they had for that video, but the budget is a distraction and is far less important than the thought process of getting to such a way of communicating. It is okay to want to entertain and delight our viewers. It is possible to think about pushing the envelope, about breaking traditions and standards, not just to do something different but to affect the people who see our work. That is something available to all of us.


Posted in Nature photography | 16 Comments