photography

Life Is A Blur

SO…. SLOW DOWN AND LIVE A LITTLE.

One day, before you know it, you will reach the time of reckoning. You will sit at the edge of your bed and you will think about your life; whether it was fulfilling, lackluster, or somewhere in between. In today’s world it is easy to get lost in the endless feeds of content creation we call social media. A long list of stories that only a small handful of your “followers” actually give a damn about. We forget to be present, we forget to be ourselves, we attempt to create “content” that will resonate with the masses and get us a momentary spot of recognition before we are swallowed up by the endless tide of incoming posts.

I used to chase followers, thinking that they were important to build my career, until I had a small epiphany. They are called “followers” for a reason, to follow. If they controlled my path in life and photography, they would be called leaders… and I would be a slave to their demands.

I remember a time when I would spend hours in a dark room creating a tangible photographic print that could be held and viewed as a 3 dimensional piece of art. Nowadays, a vast majority of my images never leave the computer screen. They sit in a catalog of a thousand images on a hard drive in a place weirdly reminiscent of the island of forgotten toys from the classic Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer tale. Those images had their moment on the endless social media train, some of which received momentary glory before being tossed aside for the next new image. Now they collect digital dust and may never be seen again.

What does this all have to do with a photography blog post and reaching the inevitable end of the road?

Last week, as I sat in Yellowstone National Park staring at a sunset that was so beautiful it practically rendered me speechless, I had an epiphany. I realized I was constantly trying to create content for the next social media post instead of creating work for myself, work that resonated with me. Because I had been creating work for the momentary pleasure of strangers, I had stopped seeing and enjoying for myself. It had become a wash, rinse, repeat cycle form of creation and I wasn’t getting any joy from the incredibly beautiful scene playing out in front of me. The pungent smell of the sulphuric gases fuming from the geysers, the interaction of steam and cloud, of light and shadow; I was viewing the scene as if I were behind a screen. I wasn’t present in the moment. I was too focused on “content creation”, and that is a travesty.

So in that moment I stopped shooting wildly, walked away from a mediocre composition, took a deep breath and studied the interactions occurring in front of me. I felt the warm steam as the south eastwardly blowing wind pushed the water vapors towards me and up over the hillside behind. I watched the light dance across the shallow pools of water on the delicate surface of the geyser basin. I listened to the water as it bubbled up through the geyser pools, steadily releasing sulphuric gases into the atmosphere. I reminded myself I was standing on the worlds largest volcanic hotspot, and of the power it held beneath the surface.

I set my camera back up and took one photograph. Just one.

© Andrew Lockwood 2019

© Andrew Lockwood 2019

As a photographer I made the decision that I want my images to resonate with me first, with the experience and feeling I had within that moment. I want my images to speak to me, to make me feel, to wonder. Like the artists’ work I adorned my walls with as a budding adult, I want my images to inspire me. If I can create images that provoke those feelings within me, then those same images are bound to provoke the same sense of wonder in others.

Let’s tie this all back into this posts title.

Life is a blur, so slow down, be present, and experience the subtle nuances of the many places you will find yourself as you write your life story. If you are an artist, create for yourself first, your creations will speak louder, and in turn get noticed by those that matter. You will feel more fulfilled at the end of the day and when your judgement day comes you can say, “ I experienced my life, and in doing so, created something meaningful, something lasting. I was present each and every day and made true connections with others, and with the planet around me. I lived.”

In that moment, I reignited the fire of exploration, discovery, and creation within me and am excited to slow down and experience the many, many events and places that will shape me as I continue to get older.

Mastery, at its root, is the ability to overcome excessive failure.

Research, Logistics, Gear, Creativity, Camera Settings, Composition, Timing, Light, and Luck.

There is a lot going on behind the scenes of a good photograph, and it is easy to mess it up if you're not paying attention.  

From encountering new scenarios, lacking the proper equipment, forgetting to charge batteries, to hitting that metaphorical wall we have all grown to despise called Creativity Block. These are just some of the things that can go wrong when photographing the perfect landscape. In this week's post I am going to touch on some of my massive failures on the road to mastery. Every day I am making mistakes; learning and growing as a photographer. Even the greatest photographers alive will attest that making mistakes, missing the shot, and ultimately failing has gotten them to where they are today. 

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I call the above image veiled perfection. I got to my location early, composed this image well in advance, set my ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, and focused correctly, then waited for the sun to set over the distant mountain.... What I didn't do was adjust my shutter speed as the light faded and got darker. You see, I got my exposure reading in broad daylight with the sun directly overhead, and in my excitement forgot to adjust my shutter speed to compensate for the change in available light. In todays world digital cameras save our butts 90% of the time and we can still get the shot if heaven forbid something like this happens. 

Here's a fun one! The ever common image stack to get everything in focus. In layman terms, when your subject matters are too spread out and your camera cannot compensate to get the entire image in focus, it is sometimes necessary to "focus stack". This is taking images at different focusing distances then combining them later in post to get uniform sharpness across the image. When you screw this up it is the most frustrating thing in the world because it can be easily overlooked while shooting. In the image below look closely across the first hillside. The entirety of it is out of focus. This is because I only shot two images to stack and focused too close on my initial image. Ideally a tilt shift lens would be the best solution, but a costly one. So, focus stacking is a necessity at times to get the best image. I stopped editing this image when I noticed the error because there is only one way to fix this: Buy a new camera that allows you to change focus later. Thankfully I wasn't satisfied with the image 100% to begin with as the flowers were beginning to wilt. I found a different composition that I was more pleased with. 

 

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Here is an awesome picture of a blurry moose. 

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When photographing wildlife its oftentimes smart to turn on your autofocus, especially for beginners. I am not a beginner (nor am I an expert), but I try to do things as close to old school film shooting as possible and sometimes it bites me in the @$$. Here I attempted to manually focus on the moose with a semi fast aperture of ƒ4.5, while slowly moving backward since we walked up on each other. As I walked backward so did my point of focus, effectively focusing perfectly on the pine tree in front of my subject causing my moose friend to look velvety smooth and extremely blurry ... Chance missed!

Thankfully for all the times I've royally screwed up or done something goofy, there has been countless times when I've done something right. The below image is the most popular image I've ever taken. With 300+ more instagram likes than any other image, multiple reposts, over 60 combined comments, and multiple personal offline congratulations; it's safe to say I did something right when taking this image. 

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I'm no master, but you can be darn sure that I will continue making mistakes until I am. After all, failure is what drives success.

Landscape Photography: Advice for new locations and nerves


One of the most important qualities of a landscape photographer is having the ability to quickly adapt to ever changing scenarios and environments. We seem to be constantly thrown out of our comfort zone and into new experiences. I have 3 useful tips that I will share later in this post that might help ease you into your next photography scenario.

      Before I do that however, I want to give you a bit of background about myself. I have been photographing landscape images all across the United States for the past 6 years. I am from Cincinnati, Ohio and I am currently in North Carolina. In my current location, I may travel through 3-4 different ecosystems a day to get an image. From mountains and forests, to beaches and marshes, each ecosystem is unique and requires a different mindset to photograph them properly. I’ll discuss a bit about each ecosystem below.

 

Mountains

 

      Mountainous Regions are my bread and butter. I am definitely in my comfort zone when taking photos in the mountains. I use apps like Google Earth along with Photographers Ephemeris and skippysky.com to research when my best chance for the perfect shot will be. Late morning and afternoon light can be just as good as sunrise or sunset in the mountains and often allows for beautiful black and white images with the use of a polarizer. Study the scene and look for light falling into a valley or hitting the side of a mountain. Just before or just after a storm can create some of the most interesting scenes. Find a good leading line and then wait for the image to happen. Don't be afraid to get out your zoom lens and pick out details. The mountains are dynamic. Don't be afraid to add the human element. It can add a nice sense of scale to your image.  Always be looking around for unique compositions to show themselves and I guarantee you come home with a great image.

Linville Gorge,  Grand Canyon of The East

Linville Gorge,  Grand Canyon of The East

Forests

      The forest is the most common ecosystem on land and one that most of us are familiar with. At some point in your life, you probably have experienced a moment where sunlight was playing through the trees and thought to yourself how that might make an interesting picture. Next time this happens, I suggest you try to photograph it. While it is typical to photograph a forested environment in overcast or rainy weather for vibrant colors and subtle contrast, you can also capture wonderful wooded shots with sun as well. I recommend taking your sunny forest shots mid morning to late afternoon to keep your histogram happy. This will help reduce underexposing part of your image if the sky is visible. Personally, I tend to keep the sky out of my wooded images altogether. Another thought for the forest is to photograph macro and occasionally look down at your feet. There are tons of subtleties in the forest landscape, and if you take a moment to look, you may find an amazing detail shot. 

Blue Ridge Parkway, Forest of Flowers

Blue Ridge Parkway, Forest of Flowers

Beaches

      In my experience with photographing beaches, the photoshoots seem to be more playful than the previous two locations. I tend to experiment a bit more with compositions, long exposures and my subjects. I have found that it is beneficial to stay low while taking images at the beach. By doing this, you emphasize the foreground subject matter and create visual tension between the foreground and background. Be careful to watch the waves! You don’t want to get caught off guard and have a wave hit your camera. Salt water can be very damaging to your camera and sensor. If you are planning on heading to the beach with your camera I recommend a Camera Rain Cover. There are many options available all with their own features and benefits. I have linked one that I personally like using that is inexpensive and does a decent job. I can't emphasize enough to protect your camera now to prevent a headache in the future.

USEFUL TIP: Plan your beach trips around interesting skies and tides. The sky goes a long way when photographing the beach. It can turn a relatively flat horizon line into a beautiful composition. Low and high tides can create drastically different effects. Don’t be afraid to have fun and experiment with your images!

Kure Beach, Coquina Rocks

Kure Beach, Coquina Rocks

Marshland

      If the mountains are my bread and butter, then the marshes are my kryptonite. If you are like me, try to use your fear to your advantage. Do your research ahead of time and plan your moves. If you are uncomfortable getting in the water, a location in the middle of the marsh may not be best for you to start with. For me the biggest issue was alligators. I’m sure that watching "Lake Placid" and "Creature Of The Black Lagoon" when I was younger didn’t help this fear .

      SO… before I came to North Carolina I researched alligators and learned a lot about these animals and subsequently have  less fear of them now (Crocodiles still scare the bejeezus out of me). More on that here: Understanding Alligators.

      When photographing marshes, I recommend side light early in the day. Try to align yourself at a 90 degree angle from the sun. Much like a forest too much contrast and information will make your images seem cluttered. I use my CANON 70-200 USM II f.4 to zoom in for detail shots. If you’re lucky enough to come across some fog in the morning, this can further enhance your wetland images. Check back next month for a post on my trip to the Great Dismal Swamp.

Lumber River, Sentinels  

Lumber River, Sentinels  

Here are 3 tips to help you loosen the nerves for your next photo outing:

1.) A little bit of research goes a long way. 

If you know where you are heading, I suggest looking it up on Google Earth to see how the light will fall throughout the day. This is one way I scout a location that I am not able to see in person before I shoot. Earlier I mentioned using the app Photographers Ephemeris to help you plan. Here are a couple more: Skippysky.com.au , Google Earth , Photographer's Tools , Meteo Earth 

If you don’t know exactly where you’re headed, it might be helpful to do an online keyword search and pull up some articles and images on interesting places around the area. These areas are always a good starting point. Once there, you can familiarize yourself with the location and broaden your search for the perfect shot.

2.)  Join the conversation!

Chances are, someone else has been to the location that you are headed to. They may have even written about it. Utilize this! Park offices, other photographers, Facebook, blogs, along with friends and family can all help you plan. If you are contacting other photographer's or park offices, I suggest avoiding broad questions when sending emails looking for more information. Instead try to come up with 2-3 specific questions that really ask what you need to know.

3.) Pack in advance

This may seem like common sense, but being prepared with the right gear can make or break your shoot. Packing in advance helps avoid the feeling of being rushed, and allows you to double and triple check that you have everything you might need. If you are heading to a marsh you don’t want to forget the Bugspray. Weather is unpredictable so I generally carry a Rain Jacket and Rain Pants that pack down small when out shooting.  Remember to have extra camera batteries charged, and check your headlamp! Packing in advance allows for peace of mind, peace of mind allows for confidence, and confidence makes great photos.

BONUS….

Using these 3 tips in order can help you feel ready to tackle a new photographic location. Once you’ve done your research, asked around for information from those who know the area, and packed ahead of time, the only thing that's left is to take some awesome photos!

 

If you found this post helpful, and would like to subscribe to my blog you can do so below. Subscribing is free and will give you regular trip reports, gear and location reviews, along with helpful tips and tricks to maximize your photographic potential.

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Hope you enjoyed this post. See you out in the field!

 

All images are © Andrew Lockwood unless specifically stated otherwise.