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Tuesday, 31 January 2023


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I've spent a large portion of my life waiting for spring to come in western NY State. You're right-don't wait. Get out there with your eyes open on any day it's not precipitating... pictures just might appear. Unlikely as it amy seem, even in late winter.

Fred Picker taught the same thing; know how to set up without thinking, so you can respond in time when *it* happens. And he was talking about tripod-mounted view cameras, a complicated business at best.

"You can't catch any fish if you don't go fishing".

With a monochrome camera, the time to be ready is Winter, not Spring, IMO. Especially in snow and ice-prone regions. Not practice time; real shooting time. So far in my mid Atlantic location, every day of Winter so far has been zero precipitation and well above normal temps. I’ve been keeping in shooting form, but still feeling deprived. Might have to drive north soon.

We had freezing rain here yesterday, along with blustery wind and bone chilling wet cold. TV weather predicted everything icing over. What to do? Same as we do almost every day: Dress warm, put extra camera batteries in a pocket, grab a favorite camera and lens (yesterday is was the Leica CL and a 50mm f0.95 TTArtisan lens) set the rig to Monochrome HC (because the weather sucked the color right out) and head into downtown for a long walk. I shot a couple hundred shots and in between stuck my hands in some down mittens to warm them back up. After a couple hours walking and shooting the rain started to soak through and that was the signal that I'd had enough "practice" for the day.

Came home and immediately ingested the ones I liked into Lightroom. About ten in all. Played with them, posted them and then quit for the day.

Well, not really. After dinner I pulled out the Leica SL and practiced hyperfocal focusing via a focus by wire Sigma 35 and the feature on the Leica that shows hyperfocal distances for lenses used in MF mode. In real time. On the top panel.

Proficiency comes with practice. No other way.

Broken record: No matter how much you practice with your camera you can't shoot for long periods of time without being in good shape physically. That's why daily exercise is important to photography. It's the shoe leather that puts you into position to find the stuff you didn't know you wanted to shoot but realized it when you saw it. (weird sentence...).

The routine described above is not a once in a while thing but an almost every day practice. What else do we have to get to? Surely not watching sports on TV...

It is like cooking; we must know how to prepare the food before we can enjoy it. Having good technique makes everything more enjoyable. Cooking can take all day when you factor in prep and clean-up, not to mention grocery shopping. Once I learned how to cook what I enjoy eating, the number of kitchen tools got smaller, and clean-up got easier—knowing the right tools and techniques for either cooking or photography can positively impact our productivity. After I mastered a few dishes and achieved portfolio pieces, it was downhill from there.

I am fortunate that between my graphic design work and photography, my entire life has been about color, shape, and visual composition. When I go to work, I am content with what I create during my work time. However, I did go through a period about a decade ago when I realized I wanted to pursue more personal work, and it was a bit of a challenge for a while.

I am accustomed to a road map of what the commercial client expects. When I became the client, I had to reach for the box of crayons and relearn to think like an amateur. I try to remember what Gemma Gatti, one of my commercial photography instructors, said during a critique: (I am paraphrasing here) my visual message should be a blend of fine art and commercial art for it to be successful.

Probably not everyone can understand this, but because I was "trained" in advertising early on, I had to learn to loosen those reins and color outside the lines as I had as a child. My problem has never been motivation; it's a mindset. I need to keep the storyboards and typefaces out of my imagination when I create art for myself.

After I read Temple Grandin's book: Visual Thinking: The Hidden Gifts of People Who Think in Pictures, Patterns, and Abstractions, I understood more about how a part of my brain thinks. It is an interesting book for visual thinkers and educators.

I started this practice this weekend - needed a camera with a intervalometer to help record science fair project progress, so looked through what we had. My daughter googled and said 'My camera can do it!' with a gleeful, yelp, beating dad to the punch. So focus drills, but also feature drills, help you remember what these microcomputers can do. And props to Nikon for building that in the Z series easily, I still remember how to set my F4 to do the same thing but a lot more cumbersome...

Good idea. Spring, both real and metaphorical, sneaks up on you. I also find it the most difficult photo time. Muddy, branches still mostly bare, all the garbage the snow was hiding now in plain sight. But it feels good. More light, more warmth, a spring in your steps. So keep exercising, body, soul, mind and eyes. You never know when a practice shot might become something more.

My dad loved playing pool. But unlike most people, he was both ambidextrous and he was virtually unbeatable. Even taking road trips to Brisbane (15 hours away from Townsville), I saw him lose less than then ten games in my life. And he was both a gracious winner and loser.

It wasn't until I read your article that my mind went back to the weekends we spent at my uncles place. Where dad would practice and practice and practice. As great as he was, he maintained that level the same way he achieved it.

Thanks for reminding me about my dad. I can say for a fact, that he'd have loved reading your blog.

PS: How's your book going?

How many people read a tech manual for their camera/system? I used to read computer manuals professionally because it is actual work to interpret what they are trying to say and see what they aren't saying.
I own a D800 and have Thom Hogan's guide, so I bought the D850 1000+ page monster. I read the first 300+ pages and I can understand how this would be a better tool for me. I'm up to the setup and use of the camera, but I want one in my hands first.
Even though the technical explanation of the sensor went on for....... pages, it was very comprehensible and complete. And always "this is what it does to your picture".
This reads like a novel; I think his style has improved since the D800 book. This clarity takes a huge amount of knowledge to present simply and usefully. If you have a Nikon, it's the best accessory to buy. Sorry for the plug, but I'm impressed. It makes me want to try things.

Awesome! I agree 100%. Have to admit that I have been feeling ludicrously rusty and awkward with a camera after a couple of years of less-than-daily practice.

I would add that even without a camera, at least one aspect of making photographs can be practiced, which is the seeing, as in: recognizing, framing and composing a picture. Some kind of rectangular frame--eyepiece, slide holder, one's hands, etc.--is needed to keep one honest about the frame. (Sketching has its own rewards, but won't keep us honest, as it lets us fudge the critical problem that the camera records *everything* in frame, and nothing that isn't.)

Wow, photographic techniques and "habits" are all over the place, of course, and mine are sure different from some practices you have suggested over the years (Get out there and take pictures - often!). But having just "clicked" 80 a couple days ago, my habits are well honed - but not consistently employed. I went nearly a decade without taking many pictures and any that I did are lost. It coincided with times of strenuous hiking and much "seeing" but not much "capturing" if you will.

For me, photography has always had an "environmental" twist to it and I often took pictures for land owners who needed documentation of property damage or as an activist helping to establish a national park or wilderness area. "Damage" or "irreparable loss" such as clearcutting a virgin forest were my focus and it took no training or incentive to do it - it simply came as naturally as getting out of bed every morning. Not that I didn't make mistakes, which were numerous and mostly due to being compelled to move quickly. So my skills at having the camera as ready as possible were well honed.

It helped matters that my start was in the all manual world of picture taking and metering and "zone focusing" and "sunny 16 rules" were always on my mind. I became an F8 to F16 guy long ago, almost always with a tripod.

Turns out I've rarely carried a camera unless there was a "mission" to do so. My cell phone's proximity hasn't prompted more spontainaity. My Nikon Z7ii and 3 lenses (4th camera system in 2 years) sits in pelican case always ready but rarely practiced with. But when I head out to my familiar Redwood National & State Park, to capture a meaningful image of change over a half century - my "50 Years Later project" - I don't think my skill at that has diminished much over time. I have carefully programmed the camera and I'm still able to zone focus a 21mm manual focus lens - @F8 naturally!

With all due respect, I think this thesis falls into the problem of defining 'photography' or 'shooting' in too generic terms. Sure if you are engaged in technical stuff like product or sports photography, you need to keep your hand in. However, for e.g. street and candid stuff not so much. It's not about your ability to use the camera - more your reaction to your surroundings.

[We can disagree on this. --Mike]

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