Where the Heck are the Patagonia Posts?

I really do dream big. I honestly thought I'd have time to blog my way through Patagonia over the past 4 weeks. But once the workshop was underway, I was consumed by it. I decided my time was best spent capturing, discussing, studying, and processing. Then, near the end of the workshop, my focus shifted to getting home.

There's a lot of story to tell from my visit to South America. It'll be coming soon; with photos of course. But I want to share my fully processed photos, not just straight-from-the-camera shots. Someday I'll be able to post process in a jiffy, but today I'm stuck trying to figure out my long-term file naming strategy for photos. Yeah, I'm way back there. Say hello to the newest Lightroom user. Luckily I'm loving this program.

Bear with me. Thanks!


Part 3 of 3: Blog as Motivator

This one is important. If photography is your passion, most of the time you love the feel of your camera in your hands. But there will be days when you can’t stand it. It’s good to take a break. One of the instructors at the Perfect Picture School of Photography where I took several classes once said that he didn’t touch his camera for a year. He needed to re-examine his art from a higher altitude, and sometimes the distance of time is the only way to do that.

Must have done him some good...his shots are striking.

So here’s the rub: As long as the fire burns within you, you’ve got to keep your skills sharp. Sharpening comes mostly from practice, and practice needs to be consistent. You’ve got to be out there shooting if you ever hope to get really good at something.

I joined a “Photo-a-Day” community within SmugMug in 2008. On my 40th birthday, I set out to capture that year of my life via a photo taken each day. Most of the time I looked forward to chasing after the day’s image, but of course there were days when I didn’t feel any inspiration to do it. Didn’t matter. I chased after a photo anyway, and published it. I wrote a caption to go with it and even divulged my post-processing steps. It was a sweet achievement reaching my 41st birthday without having missed a day.

Curious? That year of my life is in this gallery.

I had hoped to continue doing the same for my 41st year but I got snagged on back-to-back trips to Japan and Maine and never recovered. Once I was out of the routine I lapsed and there were stretches where I didn’t touch my camera. The fire didn't gone out, but I allowed things to get in the way.

With this blog I hope to keep the practice going, even if it won’t be daily. You should do the same, no matter what your passion is.


Part 2 of 3: Blog as Teaching Tool

I make photographic mistakes. Lots of them to be honest. Wrong exposure, wrong focus, wrong depth of field, and my personal favorite, wrong ISO. Just the other day I quickly realized that I showed up at an event with the wrong camera. Good grief, I didn’t think I’d ever do that. The number of photographic decisions you’ve got to make between seeing the “moment” and centering the framed print on your wall is a little staggering. It’s easy to miss one or two important decisions along the way. I personally think one of the better ways to keep on top of these decisions is to become a teacher of photography.

It’s one thing to be out in the field shooting. You can be privately cocky about the decisions you’re making. Later when you see the results, you can tweak those decisions that were actually crummy. (Eventually you become less cocky.) But when you’re surrounded by a student hungry to be a better photographer, you really ought to be right.

If you publish your images and invite others to view them, occasionally you get asked to give a free presentation. Sometimes it’s a travelogue of a place you’ve been, sometimes it’s just “pretty picture night,” and sometimes, they want a little photography instruction. I always accept these invitations when they arrive.

In September, I created and presented “The 3 Pillars of Photography” for a men’s support/social group. I was in front of about 25 guys, with a projector, laptop, and camera all connected together. It was literally the first time I had ever tried tethered photography, where you shoot a photo, which is then automatically transferred to the laptop, which is then immediately displayed on the big screen. This is a fantastic way to teach; you set things up, you shoot, you review. If you can show immediate examples of the inverse square law, or varying depths of field, or diffraction, or interval shooting, your students will remember these things much better than if you just talked.

I liked that the opportunity pushed me to try something new. Tethered shooting will come in handy later if clients are on hand and want immediate feedback. A new tool in the toolbox.

And who knows, maybe there’s money in teaching. Ever browse photography books at Amazon? There may be as many books as there are cameras!


Part 1 of 3: Blog as Diary

In my first post, I listed "diary" as one of the reasons I am now blogging. This one will be particularly applicable soon. Like, early-next-week soon. Twenty months ago, I signed up to attend "Photography in Patagonia with Thom Hogan" which finally gets underway on Monday. The workshop is 18 days through Argentina and Chile; to say I'm excited is a grotesque understatement. I've got two days to make sure I don't forget anything!

I'd love to tell you that my photos—alone—are all the storytelling you'll need. I actually laughed typing that. But I imagine there will be 2 distinct stories to come out of Patagonia: the stark, pristine beauty of the place, and the logistics of seeing it for yourself. One of these is helped immensely by the written word. Hello!

This will be my second photo workshop. The first was 5 days in Vermont in October, 2008. Care to guess what we were shooting?

Yeah, Vermont has a lot of that in October. At that time I was celebrating my first year of DSLR ownership (a Nikon D80). On one crisp morning during that workshop, as we hovered over frozen flowers, I felt that my camera was having focus issues. So one of the instructors grabbed my camera and took a few test shots. As I watched him work with my camera, I suddenly didn't care so much about the focus...I wanted to see those test shots! Wow! With one glance I saw how much I had to learn about composition and light. Up until that moment I had attributed his success to his fancy cameras and expensive glass.

Anyway, Patagonia is on my mind right now, and I plan to blog each day through it, even if I don't have internet, which could mean the occasional flood of posts. The workshop runs from Dec. 27 to Jan. 13.

After the workshop, I hope to continue using this blog to journal and share the things I'm learning. I expect I'll never feel that I've "made it." But then, as long as the journey is the destination, I'll never be unhappy.


Who am I to Think the World Needs Another Blog?

It's my first blog! Welcome! I wish I could say that I motivated myself to do this, but as usual, I am merely following my younger sister in this endeavor. This has been the story of our lives: she rode a bike before me, she swore before me, she dated before me, the list goes on. No regrets, though, since she's always had good ideas. Thanks, sis!

This blog will aim to document my photographic journey. It'll be part diary, part teaching tool, part self-motivation. I'll try to make these posts informative and fun, and I'll give myself bonus points if you learn something along the way. With any luck, a story that's been building up in my brain will finally get told.

A little about me first. I don't really remember my life before I knew what a camera was and what it could do. My mom had a Kodak Instamatic that I just loved. I have no idea what my very first picture was. All I know is that I loved photography enough that I got my own Kodak Instamatic for Christmas in 1980 when I was 12. It took 126 film and Flipflash (mom's used the flash cube). Below is my very first photograph with it. On the right side you can see the yellow box the camera came in:

Not an award-winning photo by any stretch, but one that I spent 10 minutes studying tonight in quiet, achy nostalgia. Let's chase around it, okay? I already pointed out the yellow box, but the subject is clearly my sisters (Rebeccah and Rachel) enjoying their Christmas morning loot. In their pajamas. While it is still dark outside. Learning a little something about my family yet? Rachel's new 33⅓ rpm record reveals that the compact disc is not yet commercially available. Beccah has so much stuff she can't carry it all.

Now veer to the right edge—that blue chair and ottoman is demoted to being a table in this shot, but will be a major compositional element for one of my favorite photos, taken a few years later. Now head due left, all the way to the edge. You can't see it too well but I recognize two of the Wise Men in my family's nativity stable. Slide right again and find my mom's jade plant under the bay window, looking gnarly but happy. Go left again, up high—the sight of paper chains and strands of popcorn/cranberry garland revive memories of fun evenings after school with my sisters. Finally, make a dash to the right to that locked door, which startles me a little, since it will be removed a year or two later during a major remodel. This change will also mean the end of cold, cold linoleum. Oh! That's visible in the shot too!

I'm sorry if you are dizzy. But do you think I could create a thousand words for this image? You bet. Indeed, the image has become vastly more poignant for me this week, because this house burned to the ground exactly 1 week ago as I write this. No one knows why. A spark when no one was home, and *POOF* 3 decades of stuff turned to ash in just hours.

To my family's great fortune, "no one was home" is the key sentence there. Although none of the stuff in the above photo exists any more, those 2 lovely young women are alive and well, raising their kids in their own homes. Probably they checked their fire detectors this week. I know I did.

So life-changing grief is not a theme of my 2010 holiday season. Instead, I've got a pile of photos that are giving me moments of "achy nostalgia." Plus, as my family starts to cope with insurance investigators, the photos are helping us compute the value of the things that were lost.

Don't worry, this blog isn't about how to make the prettiest imaginable insurance photos. Nor is it about how to chase around a photo to extract the story it's telling (because your job as a photographer will be to be the storyteller). Still, I'm occasionally going to get personal because, well, it's part of the journey.

Hang on...the ride will soon be a lot more fun.