Thursday, August 28, 2014

Why I like some of my photos more than others

June and I got to spend 3+ days with some great photographers who are even nicer people last weekend at the Shaker Villiage near Harrodsburg, KY.   The reason for this gathering of friends was to spend time together and of course take lots of photos.   Personally I came home with over 900.   Hey that's only about 300 a day, which is not that much considering.

I'll be working through those photos over the next few weeks.  I've already shared a few on facebook.  I want to share four more here today.

The Hallway


Spiral Staircase

While I'm happy with all four, I like two better than the other two, and it's not because they are better photos.   I used none of my personal creativity on the last two.  They are shots everyone in the group took and are copies of photos taken by dozens if not hundreds of photographers before me.  For the Spiral Staircase photo we took turns going up the two floors and shooting down.  We all pretty much made the same photos.  If placed side by side I don't know if I could tell mine from the next guys.  They are that similar.   The Lemons photo was an attempt to copy a beautiful photo made by Bill Fortney years ago.  We have all made it and added it to our portfolio.   These are not bad photos. Taking these help me to learn what goes into making a good photo.  I'm glad I took them and can share them with others. They are just not my photos.  To me this feels like the photography equivalent of paint by numbers.  There is none of my personal creativity involved.

The first two I made all on my own.  No one said stand here and make this shot.   As far as I know I may be the only one to get these shots this past weekend.   Photographically they are not as good as the Spiral Staircase or Lemons photos, but they are mine and that's why I like them better.   I feel much the same way about iconic landscapes.   Most everyone who goes to Zion National Park stands on the same bridge and takes the same afternoon photo of The Watchman and the Virgin River.  Go ahead and google it and you'll see what I mean.   

There's nothing wrong with taking the iconic shots or attempting to emulate great photographers like Bill Fortney.   In the end I take photos because I enjoy the creative process and that creativity is what makes my photos something I treasure.  My advise is to take those iconic shots, learn from them, enjoy them, but make sure you make your own creative photos.  Those may be your favorites!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Scouting For Ideas

I'll be leading a photo outing to South Holston Dam near Bristol Tennessee on August 16 for the Eastman Camera Club.   Anyone is welcome to join us.   Trip details are available at   Send me an email if you have questions -

It's been a couple years since I was up there and I decided I had better do a little scouting before next Saturday.   I need to have some suggestions for photography to offer.  Here's what I found.

The wildflowers are not the primary photo opportunity in mid-August.  The Cut Leaf Coneflowers that bloom along the river banks have seen better days.   There were a few Jewelweed or Touch-Me-Not still in bloom, but they were not growing where they were easy to get to.

TVA was generating so the water flow was pretty high over the Weir Dam and after a couple cloudy rainy days the sun was out making it difficult to take long exposure shots of the flowing water.

What I found was some really cool reflections and patterns.

Hanging On

Golden Reflections

Cut Leaf Coneflowers
Golden Flow

Stump - Long Exposure


Repeating Patterns

Weir Dam Patterns

If you join us Saturday, here's some suggestions:

Stuff to bring:

  • A picnic dinner.  We will eat and have some social time at the picnic area before starting our photographic journey.
  • A tripod.  You will want to try some long exposures of the water flow.
  • A polarizing filter.  It can make a tremendous difference with the reflections and the fog that rises off the river in the evenings.
  • A long lens.   I found I wanted something longer than 200mm for many of my shots.   Except from the top of the dam, there are not many wide angle shots.
  • A neutral density filter if you have one.  It will cut the light and allow you to get longer exposures and blur flowing water.
  • A hat or something to shade the front of your lens.   Late afternoon sun can cause flares in your pictures if it shines on the front of the lens.
  • Comfortable shoes.  There is a nice 1.8 mile trail around Osceola Island.  This is where we will spend most of our time.
  • Bug spray.  There were a few pesky bugs but nothing bad.
Things to look for:
  • Reflections in the surface of the water.  The greens will give way to golden reflections as the sun gets lower.
  • People fishing, canoeing, etc.  People can add interest to your photos.
  • Patterns
  • The little details
  • Light - no telling what the light will be like when we get there.  We'll work with what we get.  If we're lucky there will be some clouds, but enough light to give the warm light of sunset. 
  • Fog - sometimes the fog off the river is very thick.   This creates perfect soft light.  Watch for sunbeams in the fog.
  • Wildlife.  I haven't seen any wildlife there, but it should be a good place for herons and other birds.
If you are interested in joining us meet me at the Colonial Heights location or up at the Weir Dam.   If you have questions just email me at

Sunday, August 3, 2014

What Happened To July?

Where did July go?  I completely missed writing about the July calendar photo.  I was so focused on getting through the Korea and Memory Lane photos that I completely forgot.

Canon Beach, Oregon
Time to get back on track.  If you haven't done it yet, turn your calendar over to August for a view of Palouse Washington.

Lone Farm, Palouse Region, Washington State
The Palouse is a fertile farming region in Eastern Washington State and Western  Idaho.  The rolling dunes of the Palouse Prairie were formed during the ice ages when silt was blown in from the glacial outwash plains to the west and south.  These rolling hills are reminiscent of Tuscany Italy except where Tuscany has vineyards the main crops in Palouse are wheat and rapeseed (Canola).

This photo was taken from the top of Steptoe Butte, which is a quartzite island jutting out of the rolling hills. At 3,612 feet (1,101 m) in elevation it is approximately 1,000 feet (300 m) above the surrounding countryside, which makes a great vantage point for photographing the hills.

Stepetoe Butte is a favorite place for photographers to gather around sunrise and sunset.  When the sun is low in the sky it creates interesting shadows and highlights, which define the contours of the rolling hills.  If the same photo had been taken at mid day the contours of the land would be hard to distinguish and the photo would appear flat and two dimensional.

I made two intentional decisions when composing the photo above.  First, I found a position where the sunlight was coming in from the side to maximize the contrast that defines the contours.  Second, I positioned the farm in the powerpoint position defined by the rule of thirds.   If the farm was dead center in this photo it would have felt static and less interesting.  The fact that the barn is red in a sea of green makes us want to look at the farm first.

Before Dawn
The photo above shows that you don't have to have strong light to define the contours.  This was taken more or less at ground level before the sun came up.  Although the sun was not up yet, there was enough side light to create soft shadows and highlights.  

It may appear that everything was green but in fact, they were growing different crops that had very different colors.   In this case the yellow wheat glowed in the morning sunlight.

It's amazing how beautiful something as simple as wheat fields can be.  God created such stunning beauty for us to enjoy!

Now that it is August it's time to start thinking about the 2015 Calendar.  I will be putting one together over the next couple months.   If you have enjoyed the 2014 Calendar, please save room on your wall for next year.  I will again be donating all the profit to Hope Haven Ministries in Kingsport.