I have started a new job, one that I’m genuinely happy to be endeavoring on. Of course, this means changes to my routine, and every routine change prompts me to think about what is important in my life. Because I have so many interests, I have to figure out how much time I’m going to devote to them, although these choices aren’t usually consciously made. That’s…a problem, actually.
Photography is one of my interests, but it’s not the only one. I tend to take on very demanding goals when I pursue a hobby, and taking pictures is full of those types of goals. So is writing. So is running. Lately, photography is where I’ve made the most headway. On the one hand, this is a good thing in light of next year’s plans. On the other hand, this headway is coming at the cost of slacking in my other interests.
I entered Adoramapix’s Your Best Shot 2015 contest and (surprisingly) got into the Top 100 with a shot that I didn’t hold in super high regard. In previous years, I’ve made my initial selections and then asked for feedback from people on my Facebook friends list. This time around, I hard some major difficult in whittling it down to less than 10 photos. I called upon a couple of photo-happy friends to narrow down a 30 photo list before I presented the selections to people on Facebook. They listed their top ten picks, and I grabbed the photo names that appeared on both lists. The results surprised me.
In previous years, I’ve gone with close-ups of flowers or machines in bright sunlight. These subjects have become my wheelhouses, if you will. What I found safe and appealing, though, was not unanimously liked by my photographer friends. Though close ups were still dominant in the selections, the lighting and subjects all vastly differed from each other. In that mix was an ultralow light shot I snagged in the Twin Cities Model Railroad Museum in January 2014. I still need to blog about that visit, but the point is one of those shots appeared on both lists. It was also near the top, to boot. I ended up selecting six photos to share on Facebook for more general feedback. While three of them were well liked, that railroad museum shot quickly became a favorite. Even though the ISO was jacked so high that noise was a bit of a problem, I decided to go with the feedback and enter that photo.
What you see there is my entry, and that photo has gotten further than anything I’ve entered in a photo competition (and a national one, to boot). For me, it was a huge risk. I had no choice but to edit it to reduce the noise, but I made sure I spent no more than ten minutes making noise reduction/color corrections. While I didn’t get any further, it showed me I have reached a major point in my photography evolution. I have shown I can hold my own in photography competitions (even with a lower end DSLR and a kit lens). There is still plenty to learn, but I now see that I just might have a chance to make something of all the photography work I’ve done throughout the years.
At this point, the question becomes what do I do in terms of going further with photography and entering competitions? Do I want to try to diversify my subjects to get further in competition? Diversification in subjects is going to mean practicing people photography more frequently. I’m kind of doing this with sports photography so my Olympics photos look at least halfway decent. At its core, though, art (and photography) centers on triggering emotional responses, which is easier to do on a large scale with photos of people. As someone who is autistic, that is incredibly challenging. Hiking through ice caves with 50 pounds of gear sounds blissful compared to photographing other people. Portraits are not necessarily a strong point for me, and I’m not sure how much I can bring myself to practice that, anyhow. Street photography is more suited to my spontaneous approach to photography, but not having a solid grasp on the legal implications makes that a bit tough to swallow at the moment.
My instinct is to improve from a technical standpoint. This means seeking out more challenging lighting situations, such as nights, sunrises/sunsets, action in low light, and lots of other scenarios. It also means more gear grappling. I’ll probably need to bring my tripod around more as well as invest in a a remote shutter release device. I’ve already started pricing out the latter, but getting in the habit of juggling the former is going to take time. I’m not used to it. On top of that, figuring out how well that all works with an older Tamron lens is going to be an annoyance for the ages. I will most likely have to break down and buy at least one new Nikon lens to resolve the autofocus compatibility issues I’m having. Right now, my reflexes are not quick enough to execute manual focus on action shots (although I have been trying my hand at that lately with somewhat mixed results).
I have goals, and I know what needs work. That’s about the easiest part of determining what to do abot photography in the short and semi-long term. The question is what I ought to be doing with a schedule that is getting increasingly intense. I am motivated to bring my mile time down, and the training needed will be longer and more intense in the next few months. Work is also going to be a very long learning process (although it feels strangely okay right now). With writing, I have a novel project planned since I don’t have a full novel to my name. That’s about the only thing I haven’t done writing-wise. It looks like photography may have to kick back a little bit in 2015. That almost makes sense considering how much time I devoted to it last year and will be devoting to it next year. I just hope I can maintain the skills I have.
When I do my Minnesota State Fair recaps on Writing.com, I title the entries with a fair related pun. I’ve decided to try that out on this blog as well. I’m not sure if I’ll do so from here on out. Only time will tell on that one.
While we ate less and walked around more this year, one thing that was consistent was photography. Even when I started feeling a bit under the weather, I still felt good enough to take pictures. I’m actually pretty proud of what I’ve done, especially when it comes to the livestock photos (the bread and butter of this entry).
The early closure of the livestock barns forced my husband and me to visit the animals earlier than usual. This worked out pretty well for lighting, even in the super dark Moo Booth. Seriously, I use the term lighting very loosely there. The animals were in the process of being moooved out (hehheh), but they were still in great poses for photography. The pigs were sleepy, but the goats and sheep were happy to get attention. Likewise, with the sun being higher, the skylights were actually worth something during our visit. While Rigoberto is pretty good in low light, I don’t yet have an f/1.8 lens to really work in such conditions. My kit lens and I didn’t have to work as hard since the sun was in a better position. The skylights helped diffuse the light, to boot, which it turns out is just ad effective on animal portraits as it is for humans. I prefer photographing animals, though. They’re less self conscious, which makes it easier for me to work it out there.
Speaking of portraits, I’m surprised at how many photos I have utilize portrait orientation. I think part of it stems from the lens. On Cameron, the telephoto lens was narrow enough to poke through some of the cages, so landscape orientation was possible even on tight shots. Since Rigoberto’s kit lens is wider even at its highest zoom, I had to turn the camera in order to get a shot relatively free of obstructions. I don’t know how well this would work on other lenses. I’m considering renting a telephoto lens for my upcoming trip to Vancouver, so I might test this theory when that happens. In any case, vertical pictures have taken over my selections for the state fair. You can see it here now and also in part two. 🙂
In between juggling job applications and restructuring my finances, I have made some headway in organizing my trove of photos. I’ve mostly posted to Facebook, but I did select the photos I wanted to share from my visit to the Stone Arch Bridge Festival. As always, I’m there for the cars. The selection was rather small this year, but what was lacking in variety was more than compensated in great detail work and lighting that gave me a little bit of experimenting leeway.
The previous day had been terrible weather-wise. I was out in it for the Green Line opening and leaving a rock concert later that evening. Thus, when Sunday rolled around, I was a tad apprehensive. The wind was strong, but eventually so was the sun. The sun made all the colors really pop and provided me with sparkling reflections that reclaim the dignity Edward Cullen stole from the quality of sparkling. Even so, as the afternoon progressed, I found myself doing something unexpected: going black and white. I know. What’s up with that? As I walked between the two areas where they set up the vintage cars (and really old Harley), I was thinking about the fact that I have had my camera for several months but have never tried shooting in black and white. So I decided to go for it at the festival. It’s not a typical setup: black and white photography in strong sunlight. Since when have I been known for being typical? 😀 I rather like the combination because the detail is retained even when depth of field is reduced. I might try it more often but probably not anytime soon. After all, between the Fourth of July, the All Star events, and the Aquatennial, I have a lot of things to shoot that call for color.
Confession time. I occasionally forget to adjust my shutter speed when I move from a bright environment to one with less light. As a result, I get some underexposed shots. The thing is, I sometimes get frames that I really like. When I Google deliberate underexposure, there’s very little that discusses the shutter speed tweaks that I use without any post processing work. So for all I know I’m using horrible technique! Let’s take a look at what I’ve done. It’s not a whole lot, and it’s spread out over four years/two cameras. My oblivious nature is the uniting thread in all these.
As you can see in this example from 2010, I accidentally use an ultrafast shutter speed when photographing a brightly colored object in the shade or other muted lighting. I usually do this when I’m constantly switching environments and am not paying attention to the lighting changes. When you think about it, we photographers spend a good amount of time switching environments even if we’re in the same locale. Light can change in the space of two minutes and/or two feet. I’ve worked to pay closer attention, so I generally don’t create these accidental but interesting looking shots all that much. When I got Rigoberto, however, I had a whole bunch of these moments. What was weird about that was I’d already had Rigoberto for a couple months and had done extended shoots before. We could probably write it off as me being a space cadet or being overwhelmed by the kids around. In all fairness, I was there around 2:30 or so on a Friday afternoon, so toddlers and any kids who could get out of school early were bound to be there. Maybe I should try for 10 AM on a Tuesday or something next time. We’ll see about that.
Okay, that last one wasn’t a good example, but I felt like including it since it had a related effect. In any case, I might try deliberately underexposing shots and see what happens. I’ll just need to make sure I can find enough brightly colored objects, and I’ll try to photograph things besides flowers. I have so many flower photographs it’s not even funny.
Believe it or not, there was more to my vacation than photographing birds (although I did quite a bit of that). The majority of the trip was spent in Florida. My parents reside in South Florida, but my husband and I did venture a little ways north one day. I was really eager to get to Lake Wales because I had never taken photos there with Cameron. My previous visits involved my old Fuji compact digital and Kodak APS cameras (which I promise I will discuss one day). Given that I had a camera with more controls, I was eager to revisit a spot and take new pictures. Of course, with it being December, the lighting was rather muted on the hill, and the dense vegetation in many part of the gardens cut down the light even further. I also went into the Pinewood Mansion, which was decked out in holiday decor during my time there. It was a great time to get in some more low light work (which netted some good results even without flash). Other photography endeavors (namely plants, architecture and animals) were also productive even though the number of plants in bloom was somewhat limited (mostly poinsettias and camellias). Since a lot of photos were taken, I decided that an entry devoted entirely to Bok Tower and Gardens photos was in order. Since I already showed off some bird photos from this visit, feast your eyes on some of the other offerings that caught mine. 🙂
I’ve gone on the record a couple times discussing why I’m not a big fan of editing photos. When I post things to this blog, I don’t retouch them. The material is all original and determined at the shoot. I take pride in that fact and am pleased when I get compliments for what is essentially fresh work. The fact that I can even get kudos for my unedited items at all is kind of amazing.
That said, I feel kind of weird when I lurk in photographer discussions that almost always end up including some discussion of Photoshop, Lightroom or another photo editing software. Editing photos is not my style. However, I’ve had a conundrum on my hands with a few photos in the last several months. I love one of the elements, but there’s a flaw that is too glaring to ignore. For me, this is especially annoying with composition, as that is something that really can be fixed from the getgo. On the other hand, there was a photo from my unofficial spring break that was an awesome accident (had the shutter going entirely too fast indoors) but had some stuff at the bottom that really detracted from the simplicity of wrinkled sheets and shades of blue. I really wanted to display this picture, so I had no choice but to do some cropping. It broke my heart to do it, but I got what I wanted. After that, I decided to work on lighting fixes in the editing room, as that doesn’t bother me so much. Lighting has historically been a little tough for me to grasp (although it’s becoming easier to manage now). When I did this tinkering, I found I was having to do less and less to refine the frame. It made me feel a little bit better.
I think that if I ever upgrade from PaintShopPro I will only get Lightroom. The reason for that is their chromatic aberration fix is simple to use. For the record, PSP does have this fix, but it is a nightmare if you do have to use it. Likewise, since the features are more focused on light refinement and less on manipulation of the image, Lightroom fits my mindset toward editing. I’m still not a fan of the editing room, but I can deal with it every once in a while. I never said I dealt with it well. I just said I can deal with it these days. On that note, here are some photos. Are they edited? I’ll let you make the call.
I actually went to the zoo with my husband back in late August after we scored free tickets to an IMAX movie. We were also able to get free zoo tickets, giving me a chance to practice photographing animals. I’d almost venture to say I did better on my practice run. Given how much time I spent outdoors, it’s not a big surprise. I cut my teeth shooting pictures outdoors, so my experience leans toward gaging outdoor light much more easily. A number of the animals were active, making for an unpredictable time. I liked quite a few of the 500+ photos I took that day and entered a few in the zoo’s photo contest. None of my entries were selected for Facebook voting to determine the winners, so now I can show them off here (as well as a few other gems I liked). Enjoy!