Monday, October 05, 2009

Great Autumn weekend "Workshop"

I spent this weekend shooting pictures with friends up here in the Haliburton Highlands. It was an educational as well as a fun weekend so I labelled this post, "workshop". Read on, to learn a few things about making pictures.

I don't get out shooting with other people enough. Everybody is different and I learned a whole lot of photography stuff because of them. You have to watch others shooting and, perhaps more importantly, view their images to understand that there are other ways of doing things. It's not about COPYING their techniques. Oh, there are some technical things to copy, but it's about understanding other approaches.

If there's a single message here it's this: OPEN YOUR EYES. GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE AND LOOK AT THINGS DIFFERENTLY.

By the way I was really uncomfortable with my apparent skill level as compared to theirs. I put it down to "some days you have it, others you don't", but I found myself walking around with them, not seeing scenes to shoot, while they're clicking away. I put it down to two things: one, I've shot up here for two years and what seems new and exciting to them is humdrum and boring to me; and two, there's no question, as Iris and others know, I can't multitask well. The distraction of them being there and the pressure to perform put me off quite a bit. I need to clear my mind more. A little Zen goes a long way.

I'd like to show some of their images here but not everyone is as quick as I am to get their stuff edited, and besides, obviously I'd need their permission. In a future Blog posting, I'll either put up some examples or links to their own galleries.

In the meantime, here are a few things I learned or observations from the weekend.
  • Shannon sees things I wish I could see. Until now, I never thought of using a reflection in water as the PRIMARY subject of a picture. She took pictures in exactly the same place that I did and while I took a picture of a fall scene reflecting in the water, she photographed the colour and lines in the water. I looked at my images and yes, there was something there, but it was incidental. In fact, I had discarded the following picture because Ron was in the frame. But crop it a bit, and here's what I got (be sure to click on the image to blow it up: you can get a better feel for it if you do):


Hers had some spectacular reflected colour as well, which I couldn't capture. By the way, Lance saw Shannon's images right in the camera at the time she took them, and ended up with some very similar shots. "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery"! Now here's a shot I took the following day on my own:



I would never have shot this before I saw Shannon's pictures.

  • Jim saw things I didn't as well. We were up at the top of the fire tower in Dorset (quite a climb, and kudos to Shannon who doesn't do well with heights, who climbed up with us as well). In all of my photos from up there, I assiduously (look it up!) avoided including any element of the tower in the shot. Not Jim. He took a picture of the 'cage' we were in at the top, showing the wire mesh, while I tried to get my lens hood through the mesh so it wouldn't interfere with my shots. He also took a shot of the latticework of the tower itself against the fall backdrop. My shots were so boring that I had to pump up the saturation to make them a little exciting. Here's one:


Jim also suggested going to a vivid setting in the camera. The shot above and the reflection shot are at vivid. I haven't figured out yet how to match my Camera Raw output to what I see in the camera, but I was able to emulate it manually (yes, Jim, I know Lightroom does it... soon!). Pastels are nice too: this is from my own comfort zone:


And this is as a result of listening to Jim:





  • Every time I looked at Lance, he had his camera pointing down at something on the ground between his feet. "Been there, done that", I thought and besides, pictures of dead leaves on the ground all look alike. NOT! Lance's pictures are characterized by
    • being tack sharp
    • subject isolated against the background
    • perfectly exposed and lit.
    I don't have anything close to that to show you.

  • Ron shoots 10 frames for every one I shoot. I'm somewhere in the middle — Shannon shoots much less than me. I can't imagine sorting through so many images but I get that each frame is subtly different from the others and my pictures might be better if I took the trouble. For now, I'm going to keep that technique for sports photography. At the Wolf centre, I took about 50 frames. Shannon took 9. Ron took about 300. Of course his new 600mm f/4 lens needed a workout! Here's my best image from there:

 
Iris and Fern were with us too. I didn't see their images, really, because I was working on mine when theirs were projected. I take that back: I did see some of Iris's and everything she shot was purely the way it came out of the camera because she didn't have Photoshop on the laptop she had with her. She has a great sense of composition and makes an effort to get a different perspective in her shots.

One more teaching point, this one from me.
  • I try to isolate my subject. There are many ways of doing that, in camera or on the desktop. One of those ways is through the selective use of depth of field. So I deliberately shot this fisherman at f/2.8 to isolate him from the background.


But check out this image taken a few seconds later at f/16.



Although it has lots of depth of field, the slower shutter speed imparted a different kind of blur to the background water, which worked too. The hint of motion in the fishing rod adds an action feel to the shot, although if you look closely, it's not as sharp overall as the other one. Not surprising: shooting handheld with a 200mm lens at 1/15 second! VR helps.
So now what? I'm going to use this weekend as a learning experience. I'm going to look at my image making a different way and try to get out of the groove I'm stuck in. For I am a mere grasshopper...

PS: Check out my Smugmug gallery for more images from this weekend.