Practice and More Practice

I’m trying to prevent sliding into a photographic rut again. By that, I mean that I’m trying to avoid those long periods of time (1, 2, 3 months) of not seriously photographing anything.

Last weekend I took a half-day trip out of town to photograph an old cemetery. It’s not my ideal type of photography, but I did enjoy it. I went with several other photo-buddies and also enjoyed the company and our discussions.

I then spent some quality time with a camera around my home. Within minutes of wandering around the backyard I found something really interesting: a 4-inch wide polyphemus moth hanging upside-down in the loquat tree.

I didn’t shoot any landscapes or the Milky Way. I didn’t get to travel anywhere that would be considered scenic, like the Big Bend. But I came away with photos that I like and had an enjoyable time doing it.

I just gotta keep doing it… :-)

Backlog

Most of my work day is spent sitting in front of a computer screen.

As I get older, I’ve become less tolerant of staring at a monitor for long periods of time. My head and neck hurt sometimes and I’m losing my ability to quickly focus and re-focus my eyes when looking away and then back at the screen.

I know I’ve said it before. The last thing I feel like doing when I get home is to spend more time sitting on my butt and basking in the electronic glow of a monitor.

The amount of photos that I’ve shot but not processed or edited has stacked up considerably over the past year. And this seems to get worse as time goes on, i.e. I feel less and less motivated to park myself in front of a screen do actually do something with my photos.

I’ve tried making things better for photo viewing and editing. I rearranged my desk to be more comfortable and easier to get things done. I bought a new (used) 2560 x 1440 monitor to have a larger screen. I kept my old monitor so that I have dual screen setup. Both are wide gamut NEC’s and are color calibrated.

But it still does not help :-)

Last weekend I forced myself to sit down and work on images. I got through a couple dozen, and it felt good to make some progress.

But I still can’t find the trick that makes it better. Maybe I’m just getting older and need to accept it :-)

Photography and the Day-to-Day Life

How do you fit photography into your life? And perhaps that should be stated real life: the life where you must eat, sleep, and take care of basic things like making sure you have food to eat and a roof over your head. Those things can require a lot of attention and time.

Photography is not a full time career for me. And I think even professional photographers (which is hard to define, but let’s just say it’s someone who earns a living from photography) have a difficult time putting real photography as a significant and meaningful activity into their lives.

And by real photography I mean the creative act of engaging visually with your environment and then, fast-forwarding through a lot of details, making meaningful images…. images that satisfy your creative itch. Images that fulfill something important deep inside your mind or heart.

I frequently want to go out and engage in a meaningful, creative act involving a camera in some manner, but then I’m usually faced with a daily schedule full of daily responsibilities combined with the schedules of my family and the things they need to do. Photography then takes a much lower priority on the big list, i.e. shit I gotta get done today.

I could say I’m a victim of regular, real life. Everything important to keeping my life and family going happily forward takes time and effort and most days I can’t spare even a moment to pick up a camera to do something meaningful and creative with it. But saying victim implies that the situation is out of my control, and it’s not despite how it might feel.

So what can be done?

Making some changes is an obvious path forward, but there are some things I cannot change and others that I don’t want to change. My family keeps me pretty busy and I happen to really like them :-)

Photography, unlike a lot of other activities and hobbies, is quite unique. It can be done as a primary activity or secondary as you perform some other activity. It can even be done without a camera.

Uh… wait. No camera?

Right, no camera.

No Camera

The important part of making an image is dialing-into something that interests you and thinking and visualizing how you might take a picture of it.

It can be anything. An interesting shadow. A caterpillar hidden away beneath some leaf in the landscaping outside of a building. Two people holding hands walking ahead of you on a sidewalk.

You see it. You engage with it in your thoughts. You enjoy the details and start working out a composition and think about how you’d make an image of it. You visualize the shot or a combination of shots to capture it.

That part of the photographic process is the significant and important part of producing an image. The rest is kind of technical and involves actually using a camera to capture the image you’ve visualized in your mind.

You can do this front-end process (everything but the camera) over and over easily as you go about your busy day.

In Practice

Yesterday I was busy. There was work (occupies about 11 – 12 hours of my day, typically), exercise, dinner, a few things to fix at home, time with my family, etc. A fairly typical day.

As I rode my bike I tried to think about photography. I enjoyed details here and there as rode past. But I passed them on purpose. I had to be home at a certain time and I did not want to stop and take a picture. (As a side note, I’ve put an priority on getting exercise because I really need it. So it is a conscious decision that puts my health first… because I’m now 40-something and my flabby middle section is not doing me any favors.)

During the ride, of all the things that attracted my attention, I really enjoyed seeing my shadow in front of me and how it changed depending on the direction of the path. As the sun set behind me my shadow grew and spread out in front of me. It was a simple sight but interesting.

And thinking about it was refreshing as well as mentally beneficial. Rather than letting my mind chew on the details of my day and the plans that are ahead, I explored creative thoughts.

I did take the shadow idea to the next step just because I did have a camera with me and didn’t have to stop to do it. It was a quick technical execution to capture the image I’d been visualizing.

I finished my ride and went home to wrap up my busy day. But the collective few minutes that I engaged in the photographic process (or at least part of it) was nice.

All of this is mostly advice for me – to remind me to keep doing this because I enjoy it.

Stop. Just Stop.

How many times has something attracted your attention and that little voice in your head spoke to you? You know, the one that tells you to stop for a photo?

Call it photographer’s intuition. If you haven’t yet, it’s something you should learn to tune in to.

I struggle with it. There’s always something catching my eye that I might process for a moment and think about whether or not I want to stop and attempt to make a photo.

It’s usually the second part of that process that gets me into trouble. If I think too much about whether or not to stop for it, it being the shiny sparkly sight that’s pulled me out of my usual daze, then I’m likely to over-think the situation and pass it up.


Slow down and enjoy the scene? Or speed up and blast through it? :-)
click to enlarge

I’ve regretted the things I’ve passed up. And I’ve enjoyed and been rewarded for most of the things I’ve stopped and made time for.

There’s some advice I can offer here, and this advice is pointed mainly at myself. I have to remember these things every time I go out.

1. Allow yourself extra time. If going from Point A to B, then add a bit of extra time so that stopping for a photo doesn’t disrupt your schedule.

2. Don’t have high expectations. Don’t have any expectations. Some scenes work out great. Some don’t. The main point to all of this is to exercise your photographic eye and practice the photographic process. And you might also have fun doing it. I know I always do.

My Camera Does Not Shoot People

I sometimes get asked to take photos of people and other subjects outside of my usual areas of expertise and liking. Portraits, products, horses, groups, and even weddings!

It’s usually because someone has seen either my landscape photography work or my camera gear when I’ve been out shooting. I see what’s going on in their heads, and sometimes they even tell me. “You have a nice camera!”

I’ll stay out of that argument for the purposes of keeping this short. Let’s just say that it has little to do with the camera.

So, over the years, I’ve done the rare portrait session or the like for friends or family. I always advise against it. The usual disclaimer is something like, “if you want good photos, hire a professional that does this type of work on a regular basis” (i.e. not me). It’s not that I don’t want to do it. The problem is that I can’t live up to what’s expected from a photographer that is skilled in this kind of work.

So, my son’s cub scout pack wanted to do portraits for this upcoming school year, and guess who was asked :-)

I really don’t mind. And knowing that these photos would be used for the online scout messaging and events website only accessible by the scouts, I didn’t think there would be high expectations. With the help of a friend and also our den leader, we got it all done within an hour.

My photo-buddy, Wes, has been in the same type of situation many times before. And his response? “My camera does not shoot people.”

There’s no fooling around. There’s no discussion. He shuts down the discussion right away.

Maybe there’s some wisdom there :-)

Big Bend #VantagePoint

I often get asked about my travels through the Big Bend and where my favorite spots to shoot are. This is a tough question for me to answer. And I’m sure my attempts have been met with some frustration and eye rolling :-)

I do not have a favorite spot. Anywhere in the Big Bend region is my favorite spot. Well, just about anywhere… maybe not that lumpy, sloped and spider-infested spot that I tried to sleep on once while tent camping near Dominguez Springs.

However, I can think of one spot, a #VantagePoint that stands out and is a frequent stop for me during my travels to the Big Bend region.

Just east of the western entrance gate of Big Bend National Park along Highway 118 is a small parking lot on the north side of the road. You’ll probably not notice it as you drive past. I rarely ever see anyone parked there. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone wandering out in the desert near that little lot.

Lat. 29.2945°
Long. -103.4940°

Hike just a few yards to the north and you’ll come to a broad, open arroyo. This mini-canyon is a dry, wide opening in the Earth that is filled with interesting curves and colors. You can stroll right up to the edge of this impressive viewpoint and enjoy a quiet slice of desert. Several mountains spread across the horizon in front of you.


click to see larger

You’ll be greeted with an amazing silence. Nothing is more relaxing than to NOT hear the din of man-made sounds that we’re all too used to. You’ll hear the crunch of gravel under your feet and probably the wind blowing through the tall, spindly ocotillo. But gone are leaf blowers, car horns, angry people, giant freeways, and huge commercial jets.

The smell of the desert is clean and sometimes colored lightly with fragrance from the creosote bushes all around. The refreshing dry air will remind you how much you hate humidity when you feel the lack of it.

The sights? It’s probably not the greatest view in the park. It’s certainly not one of the iconic views you see online and in publications. But it’s still an amazing spot. It’s amazing because it has all the elements of what makes the Big Bend so great and it’s super easy to get to.

Even more amazing is to wait until after dark. Look in a southerly direction from this parking lot, and depending on the time of year, the Milky Way will stretch up above the horizon.


click to see larger

I have enjoyed this spot and also photographed it many times over the past 10 years with a variety of different cameras. I even take my workshop students there sometimes.

It’s a location that you can hit quickly and move on if you have to. I prefer to spend more than just five minutes there, but that’s not always possible depending on my travel companions.

It helps to have good quality and highly portable camera gear if you’re going light and moving fast. My post from the other day described some of the cameras I’ve used when trying to minimize the gear needed.

Building upon what I said and looking ahead to new options, there is a new camera out now that has the features and specs to potentially be a superb go-fast-n-light pocket-able camera: the Light L16.

I’ve yet to see any reviews from real-world users, so I’ll reserve my judgement until later. The L16 has a unique approach and technology to capturing images that could potentially put it on a level with cameras that use much larger sensors considering the quality of the images.

I look forward to seeing what the L16 can do. Based on my good experience with the 2-year old camera tech in my current cell phone, I think the L16 has a ton of potential.

And it runs on Android. THAT is exciting.

Clouds

It’s too nice to be inside today, but it’s too hot to be outside. It’s mid-October and 92°! Really?

My sister has reminded me lately that cloud-watching can be part of the photographic process. I forget how inspiring and relaxing it can be.

So as I sit here at work and… well, work, there’s this great set of clouds floating by just outside the window.

And it’s still too hot. Enough already :-)

What Happened to the Take-Everywhere Camera?

Technology moving forward. That’s what.

I was in the habit of always having a dedicated camera with me as I went about my day. Usually it was a small point-and-shoot digital camera.

I used a Canon G11 for a while and then later picked up a Sony RX100. Both were good cameras, but the RX100 was exceptional in that it produced better image quality (specfically lower noise at higher ISO settings) and it was actually small enough that I could put it in my pants pockets.

About two years ago I got a new phone: a Nexus 6. The image quality of the cell phone cameras I’d had previously was so bad that I’d only use them for very quick snapshots and documentary type purposes.

The image quality from the Nexus 6 was quite amazing. So good, in fact, that I began to carry my Sony RX100 around less and less. And now it’s come to the point where I hardly use the RX100.

The RX100 is still better than the phone when it comes to image quality. However, the Nexus 6 gets the job done for most situations considering my needs.

Recently I enjoyed a nice sunrise from my office window and took out the old RX100.

And then I shot the same scene with the phone.

The phone’s HDR mode and default processing made the shot a little too saturated in comparison (and I could have fixed that later). But it’s quite impressive to see how a cell phone camera handled that scene especially compared to older cell phone camera tech.

So, I still carry a camera with me at all times (my phone) :-) it’s just a matter of putting it to use! I.e. get out and photograph things!

Spaces Available on Sept Big Bend Workshop

I have four spaces available on my upcoming night photography workshop in Big Bend. You can get the full details here: thomasjavery.com/workshops/ws_sep16.html.

Please contact me if you’re interested.


The price of tuition has been lowered to $750. The maximum class size is nine people. I currently have five signed up.

Don’t let the advanced description scare you. If you have at least a bit of experience shooting in very low light conditions and know how to change aperture, shutter speed, and ISO while in manual, then you’ll be okay. This workshop is designed to take basic skills and work them to gain advanced knowledge mostly by experience (so we’ll be spending a lot more time shooting in the dark).

Please contact me if you’re interested.

My Photos in Texas History Museum

The Bullock Texas History Museum in Austin is running an exhibit on Big Bend. They have chosen to display two of my photographs from Big Bend National Park.

The first image (above) is The Window taken early one morning in September 2008. Henry and Michael (my sons) are with me in the photo above, and they were also with me when I took the image (Henry was a toddler, and Michael was not born yet but due in about a month at the time). It makes for a neat image thinking about my boys and when and where I made the photo that’s now on display.

Also, just near that photo, is a display case showing a Canon 5D DSLR combined with a Canon 17-40mm f/4L lens. The equipment is not mine, but it is the same exact model camera and lens that I used to make that photo of The Window. It’s just an interesting coincidence.

The second photo is of Cerro Castellan taken in late afternoon in April of 2006. It was my first visit to that area of the park, and I fell in love with the interesting contrasts (white ash and red rocks) and the towering, multi-colored peak above.

The exhibit runs through September 18th, 2016. Catch it while you can!

www.thestoryoftexas.com/visit/exhibits/big-bend