A Great Place to Photograph

I have often thought that it would be nice to live in some great place that everyone would like to travel to and photograph. Wouldn’t you? I was born in Key West and being very biased for that reason, I think it is one of the great places on the planet. But thinking about it, my wife was born in Stroud, Gloscestershire, in the Cotswold part of Engalnd, a pretty great place as well. Our two sons were born in Washington, DC, another great place. Lots of people travel to all three places, from all over the world, to visit and to photograph. Which got me thinking. Why is it that we ignore our own backyard, so to speak, and dream of traveling to distant lands to make images?

I live less than an hour’s drive from Washington, DC. Some people travel many, many hours to get to DC. Like most people in the DC ‘burbs, unless I have a good reason to, I don’t go to DC. Why not? There in lies the question that most of us have to answer. Why don’t we do more photography locally? I think it has to do with the fact that it is in our “backyard” and we can go there anytime we want to. I think we get used to a place and take it for granted. We figure we will have time later because we will be there for a while. Getting comfortable in a place and taking things for granted happens a lot in our lives. When we lived in Wheaton, MD, Susanne and I would joke “We will have this house fixed up just the way we want it six months before we move out!” Well, in fact, I finished working on that house, getting it just the way we would have wanted it, the day we sold it, six months AFTER we moved out! Have you lived somewhere only to move and then wish you had taken more time for making photographs while you lived there?

Life gets in the way of photography! Yes, its true! We let it, or we have no choice but to let it, and we dream. We get busy doing the things we do while we think “I can’t wait until I have time to photograph… (fill in your favorite place close by)” or dream of that big trip to some distant land. Do you know what is wrong with that way of thinking? By the time you get around to go to that place to photograph your photographic skills are so rusty most of the images are crap! At least to start with. It happens, to everyone that is not out making images on a regular basis. I know I get out of paratice and I must assume you do to. Have you ever noticed how the images from the last few days of your trip are so much better than the ones from the first week? Yeah, it happens to all of us. So what’s the cure?

Practice. Make the time to get out into your own “backyard” and practice. Your images will improve and you will be ready, photographically, for that world tour you will take, someday.

Feeling out of practice.

Yesterday I had a shoot with a model, Alison, that I had never worked with before. She is a great model and she has a great location to shoot at with far to many possibilities for great shots than you can shoot in one day. I realized yesterday that I am more out of practice than I thought when it comes to lighting. So what am I to do? Get back to the basics and practice.

Photography in general and lighting in particular is something you continually need to practice. Where will the shadows be? How to get rid of unwanted shadows? How to control light spill into places that I don’t want light? These were some of the problems that I was plagued with yesterday. At times it seemed that every time I moved a light I made things worse. The more I tried to get things the way I wanted them to be the worse it got. Yep, I’m out of practice!

When I started out years ago I kept a notebook with me to record everything I did when I took a photo. It could be several days or weeks before I got the film back so I took notes so I would learn what worked and what did not. With the instant feedback of a digital camera you can see what is not working right away. I found myself looking at lighting that I didn’t like.

Its time to get the cameras and lighting equipment out, practice, take notes and and relearn things that I have not been using for a while. If you have ever had images that you have made or taken that you don’t like then you know how frustrating this can be. I’m not saying that every image you create should be a work of art, but it should be something you learn from if it is less than successful.

Practice is the key to successful lighting. Start with one light and work from there. Take notes on power settings, distance to subject and any light modifiers you are using. Study the results and learn from them. As Albert Einstein said “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Yeah, it felt like I was going insane yesterday. We did get some nice images but how many more could I have gotten if I was on the top of my game when it comes to lighting? Who knows. Was it just an off day? Maybe, but all the same I’ll get out and practice.

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