Sunday, December 29, 2013

What I Learned in 2013

I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods 

I have tried to advance my photography in a positive direction this year.  I've gone new places,  tried new things and learned all along the way.   My experience says Thoreau was right -- "we will meet with a success unexpected in common hours".  I usually go out with a photographic objectives in mind.  I want to try a new technique, photograph a new subject, get that iconic shot, and better yet get the one that no one else has.   Sometimes I meet my objectives, but more often I learn things and have success in unexpected ways.   Of course photography is a passion so I'm going to have a good time.

As I look back on 2013 I have decided to not do a "best of 2013" collection.   I've already shared my best shots on my calendar, on Google+, and on facebook and no one really wants to see them again.  Instead I have decided to share some things I have learned this year and some successes I have had at unexpected times.  These are not my best photos of the year but they can illustrate a point.

If you click on any of the photos below you will get a window with a larger version.  You can then use the right and left arrows to browse through the images.

Here goes.
  • If you try new things you'll learn something new.  If I go at it with the right attitude I will have fun, even if I don't get anything worth sharing.   I've tried water drop photography a couple times and done it differently each time.  You never know what you'll get.
  • You don't always have to go far to find opportunities.   The photo below was taken a short walk from the lodge where we were staying.  We had taken an eagle tour, drove around the lake and didn't find any better opportunities than right next door.

  • There are always photographs to be made, if you just look around.   The photo below was shot from an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway one cold morning when snow was still covering the road.   It's not what we were looking for that morning.

  • If you don't try you'll never get the shot.   I shot this photo of a very active bee while hand holding my camera.   It's a low probability shot, but if I didn't try my probability would have been zero.

  • Rainy days are great times for photography in the woods.  It was raining pretty hard when I took this.  The rain drops don't show because of the slow shutter speed.  The overcast light was great and the rain made the colors more vibrant.

  • Shoot the details.  This is just part of a steam locomotive I shot this year.  Because I shot this detail of a lamp I had a customer buy three large canvas prints of the Shay #4 engine, including this one.

  • Don't shoot from the first place  you set your tripod.   My first position for this shot was a few steps to the left and the mountain in the distance wasn't visible between the trees.  All that was visible was blah white sky.  I took a few steps to the right and got a better composition.

  • Get away from the crowd.  I took the shot below while on a photography workshop.  I don't think anyone else got this shot because June and I were the only ones that didn't follow the crowd down the mountain that day.

  • Be aware of your surroundings.  While photographing a waterfall we noticed this American Dipper (aka Water Ouzel) catching food in the stream. We then noticed a juvenile near by on a moss covered rock.  I put my long lens on, waited and was rewarded.

  • Don't be timid.  Just act like you belong there.  At a concert at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville  I walked up to the edge of the stage to shoot this. 

  • Don't give up when you're lost.  On the way back home after a weekend away we stopped for gas and saw a sign for a waterfall and took off up the mountain.  After a while we realized there was no waterfall where we were.  It was getting dark and we had a long drive ahead of us.  We could have given up but instead we tried and eventually found the right road.

  • Have fun.  This Ibis was perched on top of the bird food dispenser.    He must not have read that is said "Feed the ducks, geese, and swans."  

  • Finally, give back and help others.   I volunteer to take pictures at a couple different community events.  They get some free photography and I get to try new things.

I've learned a lot this year and improved a little.  I hope you get something from what I've learned.  

“It's not about what it is, it's about what it can become.
― Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Evolution of a Composition

I haven't been out shooting much lately.  Winter in East Tennessee does not provide many opportunities for beautiful landscapes.  The colors are grey or muted brown.   It does not snow often and when it does I'm usually at work. 

Today was different.  I checked the weather forecast last night and saw that they were calling for 30% cloud cover at dawn.   You have to have some clouds to get a good colorful sunrise, but not so much that the sky becomes overcast.  Thirty percent sounded pretty good to me so I set the alarm. 

It was worth it!  Here's what June and I witnessed this morning.

Pretty special, huh?  

Afterwards we drove around a bit looking for other opportunities and found ourselves at the shore of Patrick Henry Lake.  I was hoping the sunrise would light up the fog on the lake but it didn't happen.  At June's suggestion I shot this.

I always listen to June's suggestions.   My photography is better when she is with me. 

The photo above is cropped and a little tone adjustments were added.    The colors are too blah but the contrast between the bare trees on the left and the fog is interesting.   When there is little color but interesting contrasts it's a good idea to convert to black and white and see how it comes out.

I think this is more interesting than the color version, but the real interesting part of this shot is the branch sticking out of the fog on the left side.   This was shot at 200mm.  I really needed to zoom in closer to isolate that section.  I could have gotten my 300 and 1.4 teleconverter to more than double to focal length but I was too lazy to walk back to the car. 

I decided to crop the photo to isolate what I thought was the interesting part.  The problem is this reduced my 21 megapixel original down to a 1.9 megapixel photo.  OK for a small version on facebook, but too small for anything else. 

I got a copy of Perfect Resize for Christmas.  Using that software I was able to enlarge it back to 16 megapixels, more than big enough for most anything I want to do with it.

This composition evolved from the original as shot, to a wide crop, to a black and white, to an extreme crop black and white.   I like the last one, but each one is different and conveys a different mood.

This has been a pretty good day for shooting.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Calendar Chronicals - The End of 2013

Christmas is behind us and there are just a few days left in 2013.   I have one more photo to share from the 2013 calendar and that's The Joy Boat on the back.

AM Shot
As I said in an early post, we found this boat on the shore of Swiftcurrent Lake on the way to Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park.   We passed it at 9:42 AM on the way up and again at 5:30 PM on our way back.  Both times we stopped so I could take some shots of the boat with the lake and mountains in the background.  

I've learned to take the shot when I see it and don't count on getting it later.  You never know what the conditions will be later.   The boat might not have been there later, it could have been raining, and the light would be different. 

PM Shot

The conditions for the morning and evening shots were similar.  Other than the direction, the light was pretty much the same.   I composed the shot differently each time.  We were in more of a hurry in the morning and didn't stay long at the boat.  After a day of hiking we were too tired to move quickly in the evening.  After spending some time with our tired feet in the cold lake water we stopped again and I took a little more time composing the shot the second time around.  

The morning shot was taken at 17mm, the widest lens setting I have.  The afternoon was taken at 24mm, which didn't distort the boat as much and brought the trees on the far shore in closer.   I also took the afternoon shot from a lower position to get a better perspective on the boat.  I didn't include the mountain peak in the afternoon shot because it was pretty dark a featureless due to the angle of the sun. 

I have two different shots of the same subject.  I prefer the afternoon because of the sunlight and the camera angle. You may prefer the morning shot with the mountains.  There's no right or wrong answer.

The verse for this photo is Psalm 30:5 - "Joy comes in the morning".  As we wrap up another year we can look forward to God providing joy in our lives.  We will all have trials in 2014 but God promises Joy.  All we have to do is ask and it will be given.  

I hope you have a joyful 2014.   Stay tuned as the Calendar Chronicles continues in 2014.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Calendar Chronicles - December 2013

The photo for December 2013 was not taken in the middle of winter but in September 2012 just a few days after the November calendar photo and is also from Glacier National Park.   I choose this photo for December because it is a very peaceful scene, perfect for the Luke 2:14 verse.  People have told me that they would love to be sitting in those chairs.  I can't blame them.

Sunrise ViewFrom The Many Glacier Hotel
"Glory to God in the highest, and or earth peace to men on whom his favor rests"

This is the deck of the Many Glacier Hotel on Swiftcurrent Lake in Glacier National Park.  This beautiful hotel sits right on the lake with view of the Grinnell Glacier off in the distance.  This morning was one of the few times there wasn't white caps on the lake. 

Here's the front of this hotel to give you some perspective.

Many Glacier HotelClassic panoramic shot.  We stayed here four nights.  Best place in the park!
Many Glacier Hotel

The Many Glacier Hotel was completed in 1915 by the Great Northern Railway as part of a series of hotels and back country chalets in the park. The locations were carefully chosen so the distances between hotels was a days ride by horseback.  The foundation of this historic hotel is made of stone, with a wood superstructure. The four-story lobby is surrounded by balconies, whose railings are patterned after Swiss designs.  The massive pillars holding up the roof over the lobby are tree trunks.

Many Glacier HotelThe lobby was the place to hang out.  Most of the time it was filled with people (this was 7:30 in the morning) because it was the only place to get a wifi signal.  Those columns are tree trunks.
Lobby of The Many Glacier Hotel
The photo above was taken around sunrise before most people were up.  Normally the lobby is full of people with laptops and tablets because it was the only place you could get a wifi signal and internet service.

The calendar photo was taken shortly after sunrise and the sun was just lighting up Grinnell Point across the lake.  The night before I had gone out on this same deck to try and get some pictures of the star filled night sky.  The wind was so fierce that those chairs blew across the deck and about knocked me down. 

As with most of my photographs this shot was taken with my camera mounted on a sturdy tripod.   The aperture was a tiny f/22 which allowed me to have the chairs and mountains all in focus.  This meant I had a long shutter speed of 3.2 seconds.  I also used a wide angle 17mm lens to be able to take it all in and emphasize the chairs.

After a hearty breakfast we took off and hiked the six miles to Grinnell Glacier.  Seeing a glacier up close is a special experience.  It's unfortunate that all the glaciers in Glacier National Park may be gone as early as 2030. You can see the glacier in the center of the photo just to the right of Grinnell Point.  It took us all day to hike to the glacier and back.  For some reason it takes us 4 times as long to get anywhere when I have my camera with me.  There must be some correlation there.

The photo of the Joy Boat on the back of the 2013 calendar was taken on our way back to the hotel that afternoon.

I am enjoying reliving the times when the calendar photos were taken.  I hope you are enjoying the photos and maybe getting something out of the stories and descriptions.