1 Hobby, 3 Highs

“What you feed in yourself that grows.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Recently I was challenged to a “Post a nature photo a day for 7 days” challenge on social media. I sort of like those challenges, they are a good excuse to intentionally make time to get out with the camera. The week I was challenged was the last week of work before the Christmas break, and the week of the least hours of daylight in the year. I went to work in the dark, and came home in the dark.

I expected to feel disappointment when I couldn’t get out and take a new photo everyday, but instead experienced enjoyment going back through recent photos, editing a few that I had previously overlooked, then posting them and connecting with other photography enthusiasts through the challenge.

That experience, coupled with an 8 hour drive across the province that offered ample time for reflection, led me to the following conclusion:

There are 3 distinct phases of photography that each come with their own unique enjoyment and satisfaction – making an image, editing or refining an image, and sharing an image.

This thinking was further solidified after reading a short article shared by my talented friend Rick Ruppenthal.

Although the author of the article may be a bit questionable (Rick didn’t write it, he just shared it!), the article itself was sound enough as it talked about the need to love the process as well as the goal, in order to achieve success. I’m not sure I could define “success” in photography just yet, so it seems all the more important to love the process.

For me, the process is the 3 phases I outlined above.

The first phase, making the image is social and solitary, planned and spontaneous. I equally love the carefully planned expedition with friends,  and the times when I’m out wandering alone when I notice something again for the first time. I can not think of a “bad day” out with my camera, even the days when I didn’t get a shot that I felt was worth editing and sharing. I have participated in instameets, where dozens of people show up to a pre-determined location and all go on a photowalk. I have been out with a friend or family member for the day, sometimes deep in conversation but often off in our own worlds, just crossing paths occasionally to check in.

Harrow-Snowy-Winter-trail
My brother and I have a tradition of going for a walk on Christmas day. This year it was a real winter wonderland, as well as valued time to catch up with my brother.

 

 

 

 

My family all have a connection to nature and to a lesser extent, photography. This year for Christmas my Mom got my Dad a new camera. Of course that meant we had to get outside and test it out at some of the more scenic locations near my parents’ home in the Kootenays!

Kokanee-creek-park-nelson
My dad got a new camera for Christmas, so obviously we had to head out to some of the scenic spots near his Kootenay home to test it out. It was a nice way to spend the afternoon, both spending family time, and reconnecting with the area I spent some time as a youth.

I also make a point of going out alone at times to explore some of the treasures the Lower Mainland has tucked away in plain sight.

chickadee-bird-burnaby
There is a park near my place where I enjoy going on the days when I only have a few hours free. The park runs along the bank of the river, so there is a range of things to see. It’s a great place to slow down for a few hours and appreciate the great outdoors, without having to make an expedition of it. The park is teeming with birds, which is also fun!

I enjoy all of those experiences equally. It is good for the soul to get outdoors and just notice and appreciate my surroundings. If a cool photo follows me home, all the better!

Once home, an new adventure awaits – seeing what’s on the card! Sometimes there is nothing noteworthy. Sometimes there are shots that I planned and schemed and have high hopes for, other times there is something that jumps out out on the screen that was less compelling in person. Regardless, it’s always fun to go through each shot and look at what worked or didn’t work, and contemplate what can be done with a bit of editing.

Usually I stick my memory card in my laptop as soon as I get home from a session with the camera. I like to see what’s there so I can think about possible edits. I really only know a few of the basic tools, I’m slowly learning more, but there is a lot you can do with a bit of cropping and playing with the balance and colour slightly. When I find a few hours, I pour myself a glass of wine, put on some music, and scrutinize in detail the latest batch of photos. Time flies by.

On our annual Christmas walk, my brother and I were trying o create little scenes that would be good photos for making Christmas cards next year. As I was trying to take shots of the red ornaments hanging on snowy branches, I couldn't figure out how to avoid our reflections. In the end, I decided to embrace the reflections, and play with the result with a bit of editing. I sort of like the softness of the result. It's a fun and festive selfie!
On our annual Christmas walk, my brother and I were trying to create little scenes that would be good photos for making Christmas cards next year. As I was trying to take shots of the red ornaments hanging on snowy branches, I couldn’t figure out how to avoid our reflections in the ornaments. In the end, I decided to embrace the reflections, and play with the image with editing. I sort of like the softness of the result. It’s a fun and festive selfie!

Once I have edited the image, my family has a shared dropbox folder. I usually put the image in there and get a bit of feedback. My mom has a good eye for discerning what is an ok picture, but I’m probably a little more invested in it for whatever reason than anyone else will be, and what others might find interesting. If I’m just planning on sharing the image digitally, that is less important, but if I’m hoping to make greeting cards or other items from an image, I like the feedback on whether it could be universally interesting, or if it should just stay in the family folder. For example, the photos I shared above should probably just stay in the family folder, but here they are, leaked to social media. The scandal!

An example of a photo that is more "universally interesting" could be this silhouetted shot of Thor and his some Leon on a recent evening snowshoe trip up Dog Mountain on the North Shore. I'm a total sucker for silhouettes, and I love the added impact of Leon's headlamp.
An example of a photo that is more “universally interesting” could be this silhouetted shot of Thor and his son Leon on a recent evening snowshoe trip up Dog Mountain on the North Shore. I’m a total sucker for silhouettes, and I love the added impact of Leon’s headlamp.

If the vote is for “universally interesting” I will contemplate using the image to make a greeting card, calendar etc. for the next round of craft fairs. I think of all the ways to share photos, I like the face to face opportunities the best. It is so much fun to have people come by, pick up the photos, talk about them, share their own stories, etc. In the coming year it is my intention to seek out more opportunities to share my photography in this way.

I also like sharing photos in online communities.  I have accounts on Instagram, Viewbug, and Fotoblur. I don’t post much on fotoblur for the lazy reason that there are size limitations on the photos I can upload, and I always have to make adjustments. I really like Viewbug, not only for the contests and challenges, but the community on there is pretty active. People give really meaningful and helpful feedback on photos I share. Instagram is good too, there is lots of interaction, but less actual tips and feedback. I can spend hours browsing all of these sites, seeing what other people are posting, looking for photos of specific locations I’m interested in, and looking at the work of local photographers.

As day to day life around us increases in complexity, I think it becomes even more important to feed the creative parts of ourselves, the parts that can become immersed in creating and have time stand still. I think it is in those times that we restore and recharge so we can navigate the other aspects of life in a more calm and balanced way. I’m so grateful I have not one, but three means of entering that space through photography.

Next time, some of my explorations from Oahu, Hawaii!

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Laying the Foundation for what Promises to be an Expensive Habit

After a few years of cultivating the habit of taking photos, I began to spend more time watching tutorials, browsing photographer’s websites and generally soaking in as much inspiration and as many tips as possible. It’s surprising how many people out there are fascinated by photography once you start the conversation. At one point a friend invited me to the end of year showcase for a local photography club. Each photographer presented a 2-3 minute slideshow of their photos. Some of the collections were incredible, shot in and around the lower mainland, and were so inspirational. After attending the showcase I had an overwhelming urge to join a club like that, or at least be around other people who also wanted to spend their spare time with a camera. I looked up a couple of local photography clubs and while they all said “beginners welcome”, it seemed the focus (pun discovered on proof reading and made me giggle!) was really on gear, and a LOT of gear.  That can be a little intimidating to someone who only has a point and shoot camera, or an Iphone, an Olloclip and a gorilla pod. There were local classes, lectures and tutorials available, but they all required a much more substantial camera than I had.  I ended up taking a few  online courses that were specifically related to composition and light. I figured that was a good place to start, since if a photo has pleasing lines and composition, I feel the eye is a bit more forgiving of other technical shortcomings. The courses were important as they gave me a bit of confidence, and I gave myself permission to just take photos and not worry about all the rest of the stuff I don’t know yet. Now I know there are bite sized bits of accessible learning available when it becomes relevant to me, I don’t need to figure it all out at once. That keeps the fun in the game!

Through all this, I had an Instagram account that I posted to occasionally, but without much intention. At the same time, a good friend of mine, Chris, was getting really into IG and was embracing all the social aspects of IG as well as the photography. He has since become something of an IG star, if you want to see IG done right, check out his gallery! He encouraged me to join him for an Instameet where a group of people, some friends, some strangers, all gathered at a location, in this case New Westminster Quay, to socialize and take photos. People had everything from cell phones, to polaroids, to high end gear. And the best part, we all got to see other people’s perspectives of the same experience when the photos were posted to #newwestwalk.

One of the other fun happenings that came from that first Instameet was the introduction to #thenewwestproject, a hashtag formed by the visionaries at the Sixth Street Pop Up and Gallery. They encouraged people to post their photos of New Westminster to the hashtag, then they selected 30 or so of them for the opening show in their new little Pop Up gallery. Two of my photos were chosen for the show, and I was so excited! It was such a great community project, and it was fun to share the experience with some of the other Instagrammers I had met at the Instameet!

Chris and I spent a rainy evening on Columbia Street in New Westminster trying to trick our cameras into capturing the
Chris and I spent a rainy evening on Columbia Street in New Westminster trying to trick our cameras into capturing the “perfect” out of focus shot. It was lots of fun, and I’m pretty sure everyone who saw us thought we were nuts!
Nuts or not, it was worth it, as this photo was one chosen from #thenewwestproject and was displayed at the opening show at the Sixth Street Pop Up and Gallery!

For a while I was content with posting photos to Instagram, although it was pointed out to me that my lack of a “theme” is a limitation on IG.  I take pictures of things that move me or I find interesting, and that can really be anything, from nature to “stuff” to whatever the heck the photo above is!  Maybe over time I will find a niche, but that hasn’t happened yet. There is still too much to learn about, well, everything. The second limitation I noticed with IG is that while there is lots of encouragement and validation, there is very little real feedback. It doesn’t matter whether you post a spectacular landscape, or a picture of your breakfast, you get the same “heart” emoticons and accolades. The the virtual love is certainly nice encouragement, and great to receive, and I’m also looking for actual tips, suggestions, pointers for how to improve as a photographer.

In the search for practical feedback I opened a Flickr account and a Fotoblur account, but never really bonded with either site. Finally, through my cousin’s good advice, I joined the photo-sharing site Viewbug. I still use IG as I do like the social aspect, but mostly I post photos to Viewbug these days. On VB I’m not limited to a square crop, and I get genuine feedback on my photos. Even the “award” system narrows the feedback down to categories like composition, creativity, etc. making it focused and constructive. I can also sort my gallery from newest to oldest post, or by most popular, which I really like. There is a particular “type” of photo that has risen to be the most popular in my gallery, mostly close-ups of birds and animals. Sunsets also do well, but landscapes tend to languish at the bottom of the proverbial heap. There are daily competitions and challenges, so I often enter photos in those, and gather even more feedback.

Ironically, this is my
Ironically, this is my “most popular” photo on Viewbug. It’s a flower from a container on my patio, I was using it to play with the macro settings on my camera. Add in a little Colorsplash app (supposedly a cardinal sin) and the most popular photo is born!

I suppose here is where I should confess that I bought another camera, still not one of the “big guns”, but one that suits what I am doing and gives me more options to try out.  I bought a Nikon P900. It has a built in 83x optical zoom, which is so much fun to play with! It has dozens of preset scene modes, but also has a pretty good range of manual settings, that I’m beginning to get the hang of. Right now it is the perfect camera for me, though I’m sure the day will come when I feel it’s limitations and finally invest in something more substantial. That day has not yet arrived, my camera and I are still on the honeymoon!

With that, I will leave you with one of my favourite shots so far from the Nikon P900!

The zoom on the Nikon P900 make it the perfect camera for photographing birds! I happened to spot this heron mid-meal at the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Ladner, B.C. This was the 4th fish the greedy guy gobbled down, while I clicked away. The fish looks a little startled, as he realizes his luck has just taken a downturn!
The zoom on the Nikon P900 makes it the perfect camera for photographing birds! I happened to spot this heron mid-meal at the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Ladner, B.C. This was the 4th fish the greedy guy gobbled down, while I clicked away. The fish looks a little startled, as he realizes his luck has just taken a downturn!