Sea Blue Lens


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Breaking Through

The next lesson in my Journey of Fascination is called Creative Breakthroughs. My first reaction was, “I don’t think I’ve ever had one.” I believe that my photography has improved over the years, but it seems to me that it has been a gradual process, rather than anything as dramatic as a “breakthrough” — especially a creative one. There has never been anything that has propelled me in a totally different direction with my photography.

But then I started thinking about it and a few things did come to mind.

One I recalled was my move to Maine. A new environment stimulates new output, and what a gorgeous new environment it was. I felt lit up as I attempted to capture the fresh things I saw around me. Soon after that, I got my first digital camera. Suddenly I could take all the pictures I wanted, at no cost, and just delete any that didn’t turn out. Also, it was a very small camera and I began carrying it with me everywhere. I’m in another new environment now, and again am excited about exploring its photographic possibilities.

First photo with Canon Digital Elph

First photo with Canon Digital Elph (SOOC)

Another was signing up for my first Find Your Eye course. I learned a great deal from the lessons. But that wasn’t the real breakthrough. In order to keep the photo journal that was required for the class, I started this blog. I connected with fellow FYE-ers and even random strangers, and for the first time ever, began to put my work (and myself) out into the world. Literally the WORLD. Making those connections, getting feedback and encouragement about my work, and seeing the work of others has inspired my photography and my life. I want to photograph more, and better, and to release it into the wild.

First photo published on blog

First photo published on blog

One of my happiest creative breakthroughs came with the discovery that giving up seriousness and expectations of perfection can actually improve my photography. I’ve mentioned it a couple of times before — that time when I forgot to make sure my camera was in the bag before meeting a friend for a photoshoot. I didn’t even have my small backup camera with me. So I pulled out my iPhone and started taking photos with it. I didn’t expect to get anything good out of it, but hey, I was there, so why not just have some fun? In spite of its limitations, or maybe because of them, I had a blast and got some of my favorite photos ever.

First photo from (accidental) iPhone photo walk

First photo from (accidental) iPhone photo walk

Recently I had another breakthrough when I took a couple of classes from Kim Klassen on post-processing with Photoshop Elements and Lightroom. I’d been using Photoshop for years, stumbling along with it on my own. Just a couple of lessons with Kim and I learned things that amazed me. I don’t know if it was a breakthrough in creativity, but it sure revolutionized my processing.

Fun with Photoshop

First Photoshop assignment: Learning layers at long last

My latest breakthrough actually happened as I was working on our lesson on Contrasts. I did my photo walk and downloaded the images to my computer. I was so mad! They were not sharp, despite being taken in bright sunlight at very fast shutter speeds. Every single one was just soft, even though my camera is supposed to have one of the best picture qualities out there. I was totally fed up. So I started researching, looking through manuals and online forums, and guess what? I discovered I wasn’t the only one with that problem, and there are camera settings to fix it. So I tried variations on those settings, taking test photos, downloading and comparing them, and then I went out and redid my photoshoot. Now I’m getting the nice sharp images I’ve been looking for all along. A breakthrough in creativity? I don’t know if that will be the result, but now I’m a lot more eager to get out there and see what I can make the little beastie do!

It may not be Art, but at least it's not fuzzy.

First photo, second time around. It may not be Art, but at least it’s not fuzzy.

So I have had and I hope will continue to have breakthroughs. Are they Creative Breakthroughs? I guess only time will tell. But one thing Kat said really rang a bell with me: When I go out and try to force it, it doesn’t happen so much.

Here’s to letting it happen. And maybe just encouraging it a little bit!

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Shooting in Style

No, this isn’t a post about hairstyles. For our Find Your Eye course, Kat has asked us to write about our style of photographing. That is, not the style of photographs we take, but the way in which we take them . . . our “shooting style.”

I’m a girl who likes to travel light. I went to London for 10 days with only a carry-on bag. I recently flew to California for almost two weeks, again with just a carry-on. For everyday use, I carry a wallet-on-a-string sort of bag, just big enough for ID & credit card, a little cash, lip gloss, and cell phone. Pre-cell-phone, the rest of those things just went into my jeans pockets.

That’s why I was so enamored (and still am) with my little travel camera. Tons of functionality packed into a very small handful, a bit too big for a pocket but easily slipped into a little pouch to wear on my belt. Now that I have a dSLR, I’m researching and experimenting to find the perfect camera bag. For now, I bought the smallest one I could find just to protect the camera and allow me to safely transport it around. It’s not my ultimate solution, but it’s working for now.

As part of my travel light inclinations, I carry and use very little camera gear. I prefer to handhold my camera rather than use a tripod, even though I know and understand all the very good reasons for using one. I prefer natural light, and seldom use flash. I stick with one lens, though it is a zoom. I don’t use reflectors, remotes, filters, or other accessories, though that may change in time as I get to know my dSLR better.

At the present stage of my life, I seem to be mostly a weekend and vacation shooter. During the week, I’m in an office all day and tired when I get home. In the summer, I do go out with my camera after work sometimes, but this time of year I’m already feeling the pain of lack of light. After the change back to standard time next week, it will be dark before I get off work, so I’ll be doing all my shooting on weekends — and praying for good weather!

I tend to be a spontaneous photographer. That is, I photograph things I come upon, rather than setting out with a deliberate goal in mind. I almost always have a camera with me “just in case.” I will often go somewhere — a drive or a walk — planning to take photos, but not with the intention to shoot anything in particular. I ramble along, taking whatever catches my eye, whether it’s a wide-angle ocean vista or an insect on a flower, an old mill building or a reflection in a puddle.

When I get home and review the images on my computer, I love that moment of discovery when one of them makes me inhale and say Ohh! There might be two or three out of a hundred. But those are the ones that make it worth it. The rest . . . well, I learn from those. I often think, Well, too bad, that didn’t work. Or, Hmm, I wish I had tried . . .  Next time I’ll . . . .

In a way, I guess you could say I’m sort of a sloppy photographer. Or, to be kinder to myself, a casual one. But I’m not really satisfied with that anymore. Learning to think about what I’m doing, and trying to photograph with intention is a new experience for me, one that’s causing me to grow, and not just in my photography. I have a lot to learn, but I’m enjoying the process. I don’t ever want to stop.

The image at the beginning of this post has nothing to do with anything. In fact, I didn’t even take it. I was visiting my daughter and her significant other this evening when their parrot, Cayce, climbed onto my shoulder and began playing with my hair. My daughter took the photo with her iPhone and I really liked it. So here you go, Cayce, your 15 seconds of fame starts now!

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About the Equipment

Columbus Day Weekend, Ocean Park, Maine

In my last post, I said, “Sometimes it is about the equipment.” One of the direct outcomes of the Find Your Eye classes I’ve been taking is that I have just purchased my first digital SLR.

Just to cut to the chase, I’d like to say…Whoo hoo!!!

A little history

My first SLR was a hand-me-down Nikkormat. In the mid-70’s I bought a Pentax ME, which I adored for its compact size that fit my hands and my style perfectly. By the end of the 80’s, some vision changes meant that I was missing a lot of shots because I couldn’t focus properly, so I bought a Nikon N8008 autofocus SLR. It was an awesome camera, and I still have it, though I haven’t used it in at least ten years.

In the late 90’s, I discovered the compact, autofocus point-and-shoot. The sweet little Minolta I got was small enough to slip into my purse, and took brilliant photos. The bag full of heavy Nikon equipment slipped to the back of the closet, while the little Minolta went to England with me three times. (I’ll be happy to show you my picture of Her Majesty!)

In 2003, I discovered the delights of digital with a tiny Canon Digital Elph. What an amazing camera! It took great photos in almost any light, and it had an actual viewfinder along with its little LCD screen. I wore it out — one sad day it simply would no longer record images.

Next came a Canon Powershot S2 IS. I loved the 10X optical zoom and other features, and it, too, had a viewfinder as well as a swiveling LCD screen. But it was too bulky and heavy to slip into a purse. To fulfill that need, last January I got a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7. Wow! Leica lens, 25mm wide angle, 12X zoom…all in a camera about the size of a pack of cigarettes (not that I’ve ever carried around packs of cigarettes, but you know what I mean).

The Panasonic is the camera I’ve been using for the photo assignments for these Find Your Eye classes. I love the size and capabilities of that camera. But there were times when I became very frustrated because I simply couldn’t make it do what I wanted it to. I couldn’t control depth of field because the apertures are so limited. Many photos were very contrasty, with bright areas blowing out even if I deliberately underexposed the image.

Worst of all, in common with the latest generation of compact digital cameras, it has no viewfinder, only an LCD screen. The LCD is large and very bright and works just great in low light situations. But since I do most of my photography outdoors in bright sunlight, I was often literally working blind, having to just guess if my subject was where I wanted it in the frame, and if the camera was focused on the right target.

The happy ending to this long story

I did some research and, to make a long story short, decided on a Nikon D5100 with 18-55mm zoom lens. I got it just before my vacation, and if you can believe it, decided NOT to take it with me. I was traveling light. This past weekend, we had a glorious burst of Indian Summer, and I finally got into the field with my new baby. I am in love! I’d forgotten how wonderful it is to use a truly fine camera. Unfortunately, I’ve also forgotten much that I used to know about the technical side of photography with an SLR! So far I’m still on Auto, but we’re slowly getting acquainted.

Sunday, I took the Nikon and the Panasonic to the beach and took some identical shots with both, just to see how the images would differ. I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I am more than pleased with the results. The Nikon images are richer in color, with more subtle gradations in tone, and much smoother and finer in detail. Did I mention that I’m in love with my new camera?

I was trying to explain the difference to my sister, who is not a photographer, telling her that I didn’t know what I had been missing. I knew she “got it” when she likened it to a person with poor eyesight getting their first pair of glasses, something we both know well. Yes! That’s exactly it. The world looks a lot different through my new lens.

Here’s a little sample, SOOC (except for a little cropping in the side-by-side):

Left: Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7. Right: Nikon D5100

Taken with Lumix DMC-ZS7

Taken with Nikon D5100

The fine print

I want to emphasize that nowhere in her wonderful blog or her classes does Kat encourage her students to run out and invest in expensive cameras or any other equipment. In fact, she emphasizes that it’s not about your camera, and that whatever camera you have right now will work just fine. As we’ve all heard many times before, it’s not the camera, it’s the photographer who makes the image. Just like it’s not the paint, but the painter who produces the masterpiece.

I’ve learned a lot using the camera I had, and I’ll continue to use that camera. But one of the things I’ve gotten from this class is a desire, and a commitment to myself, to do more with my photography — not in the sense of going pro or any such thing, but simply for my own pleasure and satisfaction. For me, it reached the point where it really was about the equipment.

I am so ready for this.

 


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Familiarity Breeds…Frustration?

Today I tackled Lesson Three of my Find Your Eye class, an assignment to take at least 50 photos of a familiar subject. It turned out to be an exercise in frustration from the start.

I had planned to go out early this morning to a favorite spot where I’ve taken many wonderful photos, to see what I could find there to expand my horizons. But the day dawned gray. Not photogenically pearly or foggy or pending-storm gray, just drab and hazy. Not an inspiring day for exploring land- and seascapes. So I scratched my planned excursion, waited for the day to improve a bit, and then went out into my own back yard. (So to speak, since I live in an apartment and have no yard.)

I’ve had several enjoyable photo sessions before, exploring the narrow river’s edge behind my building. There are water, trees, wildflowers, vines with berries, even the occasional wildlife (mostly birds and squirrels). Today I was, frankly, bored. The leaves were thick and uniformly green, blocking any interesting views. There were no flowers, and no wildlife to be found, unless you count the mosquitoes that soon began dining on my arms and legs.

After a while, I walked back around the building and down the block to a nearby park on a little island. OK, that’s better. I still wasn’t feeling terribly inspired, but then I saw a butterfly on a thistle, and started trying to frame and capture it.

Soon I realized that my breathing had slowed and I was feeling calmer, and I began to enjoy trying to find new ways to photograph this little park that I walk past every day.

Even so, I only found a half-dozen or so images that I liked out of the 200+ photos I took, and I never did feel that I really got into a photographic “groove.” Nevertheless, a couple of hours did pass amazingly quickly!

What I really discovered from this lesson were the limitations of my camera. It was truly frustrating. I use a compact digital camera, albeit a good one, but today I was really forced to realize and admit to its shortcomings. Even though its controls allow for a fair degree of manual adjustment, it has two major drawbacks that really got in my way today.

The first is that, like all new compact digital cameras now, it has no viewfinder, only an LCD screen on the back. I find this affects not only my ability to see and frame the photo (especially in sunlight, hello!) but also my ability to hold the camera steady while focusing and shooting.  But perhaps even worse is that the largest aperture is f3.3, and that’s at the widest angle. Zooming in causes the aperture to become even smaller, which really limits my ability to control depth of field.

So…maybe it’s time for a DSLR. But that’s a discussion for another post.

Meanwhile, here is my favorite image from today’s session. The irony is that I didn’t frame this one through the viewfinder at all…just pointed the camera and fired! The result was a lovely surprise.