I had a friend at work approach me last week with some photography questions. His wife had just bought a new digital SLR camera and wanted some advice about taking better photographs. My head filled with a hundred of the most important things to impart about better pictures using a new DSLR. Poor guy, my brain opened up and a dozen things started to come out. I covered f-stop and depth of field to ISO and white balance before stopping myself and doing a reality check. Any information imparted has to be suited to the audience to be relevant. Any expert in their field has two dozen chapters to fill with their wisdom, but none of it counts if the audience fails to connect. What is f-stop or shutter speed to a new photographer who has been using an i-phone or a Point-and-Shoot?… Nothing. So I stopped myself and thought hard about the number one thing. Much like trying to decide what to build first – what is my biggest return on investment? So for learning photography, mine was ‘take your camera off AUTO mode’. Shoot manually. Become immersed in the work. If you are forced to make adjustments yourself, then you have to learn something about your new tool. Don’t get me wrong, automation is a thing of beauty. I use every tool and feature at my disposal in our new world to make things easy. Maybe it is just the Luddite in me talking, but I still believe that doing the math, long hand, is the best way to understand the real fundamentals of how things work. So, my advice was ‘take it off auto mode’ and figure out the rest. Poor woman, she is probably cursing me now, wondering why all her photos look like crap or maybe she has gone back to auto and is happily shooting mediocre (still fun but less artsy) pictures of the kids (which is great by the way). Point is, I was so excited to have someone come to me, recognizing me as some expert, to get my advice. I had to really stop myself and focus (work through the myriad of noise in my head) to offer some relevant bit of wisdom that might make sense to anyone beginning a new journey. Sharing is indeed caring, but only if you get it right.
Often photographed scenes can easily be just another mundane shot. It took some extra effort to capture this image of Mobius Arch in the Alabama Hills area of California. Only 100 miles from Badwater in Death Valley, Mount Whitney looms in the distance. The tallest point in the continental US lies so close to the lowest point it seems impossible. This scene has been photographed thousands of times. Most good images show the peak lit by the morning sun with the arch filling the frame. It can be a stunning sight. (I have one of those too.)
To get a different mood I chose the image taken well before sunrise. In the late fall it can be quite cold in the eastern Sierras so it wasn’t the most comfortable shoot prior to sunrise. (I won’t complain since we landscape photographers go through much worse to get a great image.) I scouted the location the day before, found the trail and calculated where the sun would be the next morning. I checked possible vantage points, looking for something different from the many images I have seen. I did not anticipate the pastel nature of the light the next morning and I am delighted with the somber mood of the photograph. Making the arch and the smooth rock textures of the Alabama Hills the focus makes the image stand out from its peers yet still captures the spectacle of the high country in the background.
Taking the time and effort to get a different perspective pays off in my photography work and in most every aspect of my life. Great results seldom come from the easy stuff.