Small Successes

Photography can be very frustrating. Anyone that has been bitten by the photography bug will tell you, it can be down right discouraging. I know, I have been frustrated by trying something new in photography more times than I care to admit. It used to bug me more than it does now, why I’m not sure, maybe it has something to do with getting older or (please don’t tell me) I’m finally growing up. Maybe I have just become confident that I will eventually figure it out or I can find the answer somewhere on the font of all knowledge, the interwebs. I am fairly confident there is a 12 year old somewhere in the world with a YouTube channel that has the answer I’m looking for. Anyway, frustration happens and it will continue to happen because the easy stuff is a piece of cake and the stuff that we really need or want is much harder to get. The trick is to not get frustrated enough to give up.

Look for the small successes. They happen more often than you think. When they happen take a moment to congratulate yourself. Remember that first picture that came out exactly as you wanted it to? Remember the first time that you knew exactly which blending mode to use in Photoshop to get the effect you wanted without trying two or three others first? Theses are small successes that we all should celebrate. One of the hardest things for me to wrap my head around was the relationship between f-stops and aperture. Why is it that when the f-numbers get bigger there is less light coming through the lens? I didn’t find the answer to that question until I had been shooting for 25+ years. I just forgot about the why and just accepted it as the way it is but I still wanted the answer. When I finally stumbled upon the answer, explained in a way that made sense to me, I had a minor freak fit. The answer was so easy, yet took so long to get, I felt a bit silly.

Small successes in photography can happen every day. Getting out with your camera even for a short time with your busy schedule can be a small success. Gaining the confidence that you have set up the camera so it can do it’s job while you are doing your’s, is another. Don’t let frustration spoil the fun of getting out with your camera and having a good time. Practice is always a good thing and leads to many small successes. The more you practice, the more small success will come your way and the better you will become as a photographer.

Get out there, have fun and celebrate the small successes!


Go Ahead, Fail

Let’s admit it, we are all afraid of failure. We do everything we can to try and avoid failure, but you know what? We are all going to fail every now and then. So, get on with it. Don’t let the possibility of failure hold you back. I said, back in August, that I was going to put out a newsletter in September. That was my goal. Well, I sat down several times to design it. “I want this to be great!” I thought. After several attempts and the month of September now gone, I sat down yesterday, October 2, and just did it. I put together a newsletter. At this point, I thought, it wasn’t going to be very impressive but I had to get it out. The thing in the back of my mind was, if it’s not very impressive, in fact if it sucks, well, that would be a bad thing. Yes it would, but it would also not be the end of the world.

So, I sat down and in one go got my first newsletter out. It went out to those who signed up for it. Mostly friends, other photographers and students. And guess what! Yep, FAIL! I missed a couple of things that I shouldn’t have. One was glaringly obvious only after I pressed send which is usual for me. Pressing the send button somehow clears the RAM in my brain and I usually find one or more mistakes in what I have written. It was there all along but I never saw it. So my thought for today, don’t worry about getting everything perfect. The world won’t end. You can learn from your mistakes and do better next time.

I have about three weeks until the next news letter should go out. It’s going to be great, award winning even! I only have three weeks to worry about it!

If you were asked “If you could go anywhere and photograph anything, where would you go and what would you photograph?” how would you answer? For me the first thing that comes to mind is getting on US Rt 1 and heading south. I’d stop when I got to a big marker that says “The Conch Republic, 90 Miles to Cuba, Southernmost Point Continental U.S.A. Key West, FL, Home of the Sunset.” That’s where I want to go.

From there I’d ride a bike around the island. I’d spend most of the day taking in all the places that I remember, not that they would be very familiar with all the time that has past since the last time I was there. As the day is drawing to a close I would head to Mallory Square and celebrate the sunset.

What would I most like to photograph? The sunset and everyone celebrating it. I remember standing in the crowd watching the performers do their acts and watching the boats sail back and forth in the golden light at the end of the day. What a great way to spend some time before doing the Duval Crawl! What’s the Duval Crawl you may ask, I’ll save what for another time!

Whether you are a keen amateur or a professional photographer you love photography. Photography is easy to love and hate at the same time. Below are a few observations of the love-hate relationship most photographers have with photography at some point.

We love those images of early morning light but we hate setting our alarm clocks for 4am.

We love getting an image in our minds and hate the fact that it will take 27 layers and countless hours in to make it a reality.

We love the amazing images of the Milky Way but hate that there is so much light pollution that we can’t make those images in our backyard.

We love big sensors but hate the file sizes.

We love all the lenses and gadgets we buy but hate that we can’t afford a sherpa to carry it all.

We love going on vacation but hate that we have to bring our family.

We love the creative things we do as photographers and hate when someone says “You must have a great camera.”

We love buying new cameras and hate knowing that the next generation of camera is already in the final phase of development.

We love being out in the natural world but hate that there is no outlet to recharge a flat battery.

We love seeing a great sunset but we hate not being able to stop and park right when we see it.

We love images made in the vast wilderness and hate that a hotel is not within walking distance.

We love being creative and making images but we hate that things like work, family commitments and hunger get in the way.

We love finishing that image and hate is when we realize that the internet is down so we can’t upload it to several social media sites.

We love spending time getting an image to look just right in post processing but we hate that monument of realization that we haven’t saved our work in two hours just when the software decides it’s going to crash.

We love driving into the city to make images at night and we hate that the connector plate for our tripod is sitting on the desk at home.

We love all these things and so much more about photography but we hate that there is only one place that we can be at any given moment so get out when you can and know that a day with your camera beats a day in the office every time!

Until one Saturday last month, July 26, 2014 to be exact, I had never attempted to photograph the Milky Way. I have seen some great photos online but I had never gone out and figured it out for myself. I had been thinking about getting out and photographing the Milky Way for some time. I did some research on what other photographers had done so I was ready to get out and give it a try. I figured I would set it up as a Meetup for the Night and Low Light Photography Group. As the day got closer the weather reports called for various possibilities of rain and overcast. On the day of the Meetup the weather report called for partly cloudy skies with 20% chance of rain. Not bad odds and as it turned out, very nice because of a storm that came through. This is a composite of five images made while the storm was approaching.

Storm Clouds and Lightning

Evening Storm

I was the last one standing out in the storm and I only left when the rain came. Everyone else was in their cars and we all sat hoping the rain would let up. Most got tired of waiting for the rain to stop and the skies to clear so they left. Of the group that started there was only three left including me once the rain stopped. After the rain stopped the skies did clear and the Milky Way did make an appearance. I got out and got set up again and here are some of my first attempts to photograph the Milky Way.


Milky Way with the lights of Harrisonburg, VA.


Milky Way with a few clouds.


Milky Way with a single cloud.

I must admit that I almost left before the skies cleared. I knew that I had a 3 hour drive home but I’m glad I stayed. I learned a few things from this outing (I’ll share that in a post at in a day or two). Most of all, something that was reinforced here, every now and then you will be rewarded for your patients.

“f8 and be there!” Wegee (Arthur Fellig) and Galen Rowel both gave this advice about making great photographs. One was a press photographer New York City and the other climbed mountains to get his images but they both had the same philosophy, if you aren’t there you can’t make the photograph. Something similar has been used by different photographers for many years. “f11 and hold still” is the advice Walker Evans gave. It’s now different now then when any one of these great photographers said. Be there or you won’t get the photograph. So where does that leave each of us?

Well, it’s simple really, get out there! The more photographs you make the better you will get. You have to or you will give it up. I think that those who eventually give it up and stick to making snap shots are those that didn’t take the time to learn from their successes. They got bogged down in their mistakes. Learning from your mistakes can be easy, if the frame is dark then the exposure was wrong, simple enough. But what about those perfectly exposed happy accidents? We all have them but how many of us learn from them?

One of the great things about digital photography is Exif information. Your camera saves the data about how your camera was set up when you made that photograph. Unless you erase this information, and I don’t recommend you do, it is saved with your photos forever. Twenty years from now you can look back and see exactly what went right when you made that image. So I recommend that you not only learn from your mistakes but more importantly learn from your successes! You have all the Exif info you need from both! Get your camera, make some photo, good and bad, so you can learn to improve your photography skills.

f8 and be there… because if you aren’t there who is going to make that photograph?

Tomorrow evening a meteor shower is predicted. That’s Friday May 23, 2014 for those who may read this years from now (I can dream can’t I?). The meteor shower might be so intense that it could be a meteor storm, whatever that is, but no one knows for sure. I’ve seen the odd shooting star but I have never seen a meteor shower. Well, in reality I have been out watching for a meteor shower but not much happened. Only a few brief streaks across the sky and nothing more. People have been asking how to make images of tomorrow’s event. Well here are a couple of post from this blog that might help:

15 Tips for Creating Star Trails

Prefocus for Astrophotography

To be honest there is plenty of information that you can find about how to photograph tomorrow’s meteor shower out on the inter webs. People have been asking about which setting they should use so here is a post by Ken Rockwell with some setting for photographing the Milky Way. In order to photograph the Milky Way you need to find a place what has little or no light pollution. A search will turn up several sites with maps showing where you might go to have far less light pollution than I have here at our house. Tomorrow night I will be out in the yard hoping to catch a few shooting stars and this is what I am going to try.

Moonlit Yard

Moonlit Yard

This is looking north in our yard the exposure for this one was 3 minutes, f5.0, ISO 100 (this is from a Point and Shoot by the way). I’m going for star trails and some shooting stars. A long exposure and widish aperture should be enough to allow the streaking meteors to burn a path through my images in the same way lights on an airplane burn a path through the night sky. Yes, there was a full moon on the night I made this images but tomorrow afternoon the moon will set at 3:15 p.m. and not rise again until 3:16 a.m. Saturday morning. If the night is very clear, which is predicted, there won’t be any clouds like the ones you see in this image. I’m looking forward to seeing what I get. I will be playing around with the exposure and I might have more than one camera going. At least one of them will be a Point and Shoot. I’m not too worried about the light pollution because I know we live in an area where I have no control over that. I will be in my yard, having fun, doing what I love, making images.


I’ve done a few self-portraits in my time. Mostly because I had to, not because I wanted to. I have done them because it was assignment for a class or because I need one for self promotion. I guess the thing I like less than doing a self-portrait is sitting for one with another photographer pressing the shutter. I don’t like my self-portraits even after I’ve put the effort into making one. I’m not sure why I don’t like any of them, I just don’t. Maybe it’s because I don’t like how I look in them (or how I look in any photos for that matter, I think I look dorky) or I tried to hard to look like something I’m not. Not dorky! Anyway, this week, the assignment for the 104 Weekly Photo Projects is to make a self-portrait. I didn’t make that the project for the week for no real reason. I did it because I need to do another self-portrait. I figured if I had to suffer then everyone should suffer with me! Nice guy right? Anyway, I’m not sure what I’ll do but I will do another post about it and describe what I was trying to achieve. The self-portrait has become a bit of a social media thing these days. Most everyone seems to have some sort of “selfie” on Facebook. I hope what I do rises above the typical selfie but you never know. Maybe I really do need a selfie for my Facebook page!

Have you ever planned a photo outing for a certain day and been disappointed by bad weather? Sure you have, we’ve all had that happen. What about having a day when the weather is less than stellar but still very nice for photos? Mind you, I don’t often hope for bad weather but when summer thunderstorms or a morning fog is predicted, I look forward to those days more than perfect weather.

For me, perfect weather conditions get boring. That’s right, boring! Give me an angry sky every now and then. Big dark clouds with lots of detail to photograph. Not the gray skies we usually get with bad weather. I’ll take some lightening or fog whenever it’s offered as well! I miss a good thunderhead rolling in just before sunset. Angry dark clouds with lightening out over the Gulf of Mexico. Once while I was in Key West, I went to the top of the building that I was staying in to photograph a thunderstorm rolling in. Great stuff!

The thing that gets me down more than anything else is when the “bad” weather lifts just before I can photograph it! OK, having a nice day go downhill fast because of bad weather is a bummer too. When the unusual weather turns nice that is really crushing. Spring is hopefully on it’s way and with it some interesting weather. Currently there is snow on the ground outside. It’s not much above freezing temperature wise, so I’m looking forward to spring showers.

Please, give me some weather I want to photograph, when I have time to photograph it! You probably already know the frustration of driving to a meeting, you have no time to spare and you see something that is begging to be photographed! Why do the photo gods taunt me! I carry a cameras with me all the time. So why is it that I get to watch very cool, interesting weather unfold right before me when I can’t photograph it?

So I will appreciate it, when I do photograph it!

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