Keep Shooting ’til it Hurts
Earlier I wrote about stepping toward greatness in your photography, concerning a 10-step approach outlined by Steve Simon in his book The Passionate Photographer, Ten Steps Toward Becoming Great. That post also discussed step one: working on personal projects, and I described several personal projects I’ve been working on.
Step two is volume – shooting lots of images to improve your craft. Not just shooting for shooting’s sake, but shooting volume with a purpose. By taking lots of shots, you can learn from your successes and mistakes, such as which compositions work and which don’t, as well as making sure your subject is covered from all angles.
To illustrate these concepts, I give you 24 images I took of the Freeze Community Church outside of Potlatch, Idaho from my trip last week to the Palouse. While at the church, I made a conscious effort to really try to cover it from all angles (at least the angles where I thought the light was good enough). Since leaving the site, I’ve thought of at least five or six additional compositions I’ve should have tried – obviously I need to keep working on this step. On your next photo shoot, try to really cover your subject and let me know how it goes; do you think of any shots you should have taken but didn’t?
In his book, Simon mentions that rarely is your best image of a subject the first one taken. How true this is. In travel photography in particular I’ve noticed this. When I finally reach a particular site I’ve been itching to photograph, I’m excited by the scene, and hop out and start taking pictures immediately. That’s fine, but rarely are those images any good. Further, those images are almost never unique. They typically are the same tired images that every tourist with a point-and-shoot or camera phone takes (no offense to those of you that only shoot with point-and-shoots or camera phones; I’m just trying to illustrate my point).
To get that great shot, that unique shot, I need to investigate the subject and cover it from multiple viewpoints and with multiple compositions. I admit, even though I typically shoot a lot of images (see this earlier post), I get lazy and don’t cover each subject like I should. And I know better; if you are like me, how often do you find your best image of a particular subject is one taken near the end of your session rather than at the beginning? I think this is true of other forms of photography besides travel; I’ve found it true in portrait photography as well (at least until the model gets tired).
Taking lots of shot also opens your mind to angles and compositions you may not have seen earlier – both earlier in the particular session and earlier in your photographic career. Several photo clubs I belong to have an annual scavenger hunt, where each participant is given a list of topics to shoot. Later, at a club meeting, the images taken by all the photographers for each topic are shown. I’m always amazed how other photographers, given the same subject as I, come back with some incredible images that I did not even come close to seeing. I’ve found that when I practice shooting a subject with as many compositions as I can think of, my mind becomes more open to potential shots. In other words, I’m training myself to see more potential images, and all it takes is practice – the practice of shooting, shooting so more, and shooting until it hurts (mentally that is, when I can’t think of one more composition).
It’s really quite easy to do, but something most of us don’t because we are either lazy or just unconsciously trained by today’s fast paced society to get it done fast and get on to the next thing. You need to fight the urge to settle for immediate gratification (common in today’s social media driven world), i.e. hopping out of the car, grabbing a quick shot, and then heading on to the next spot on your list. If you want to improve your photography, take time to cover subjects in detail. You will come home with better images, and you will train yourself to see better images. Give it a shot, well actually, lots of shots.
Getting Stinky in the Palouse
Last week Tanya, Carson and I traveled to the Palouse region of eastern Washington and northern Idaho on a photo trip. I had originally planned on spending three nights in the area, but was only able to spend one due to receiving an assignment from American Bungalow magazine to photograph sites in Spokane (look for my photos in the August edition of the magazine). Luckily, the day I spent in the Palouse area was very productive.
The highlight of the trip, for me at least, was a pair of visits to Steptoe Butte, once at sunset and again during the following sunrise (which, I might mention, comes damn early in mid-June; in fact, the sun rose at 4:53 a.m., the earliest time all year for that location). Upon when driving up Steptoe Butte before sunset, we were lucky enough to run into my good friend and fellow photographer Jack Graham, who was leading a photo workshop in the Palouse. We hung out with Jack’s group and witnessed an excellent sunset. The sunrise (a mere 8 hours later), in contrast, was very plain (no clouds), but the early light did wonders with the rolling hills of the Palouse. It would have been perfect if it wasn’t for the wind, which shook my camera and softened up many of my images. I’ll have to go back next year with a bigger tripod.
Following sunrise, I drove some of the many back roads in the area looking for photo opportunities with the eventual goal of photographing the Freeze Community Church outside of Potlatch, Idaho. I shot a lot of pixels at the church and will show some of them in a follow-up blog post soon.
Eventually, I drove back to Colfax, Washington, where we were staying, and picked up Tanya and Carson (both of whom didn’t want to get up at 4:00 a.m. to go photograph the sunrise, imagine that!). Our afternoon goals were to visit Pullman (home of Washington State University, where Tanya went to school) and see Colton, a small town co-founded by my great-grandfather and great great uncle. The afternoon light didn’t offer many good photos, but we had a good time exploring the country side. Perhaps the most surrealistic moment was when we stopped at St. Gall’s Cemetery in Colton and seeing a headstone with my name on it, which belong to some long-lost relative of mine, as well as a headstone with my parents names – actually belonging to by great-grandparents (considering my Dad is still alive and my Mom is buried in Spokane).
While my highlight was Steptoe, Carson’s highlight of the trip was when we stopped to photograph the street sign for Becker Road (which is north of Colton and surrounded by wheat fields). Carson, being a dog of course, didn’t care about the sign, but did find something dead at the edge of a field which he promptly rolled upon. We remembered a pet grooming shop in Colfax, but when we drove by, it was closed with a sign stated “please call for an appointment.” Not very convenient when you have 140 pounds of stinky dog in your car. We called, but there was no answer, so we kept going on our drive to Spokane, where we were to spend the night at my Dad’s house, Carson (I’m sure) enjoying the smell much more than we did. In Spokane, we stopped at PetCo and found a waterless dog shampoo, which worked wonders and left us with a clean smelling end to our quick trip to the Palouse.
Potato on Display
I’m about to head off to eastern Washington on another photo trip and hope to have some new stuff to show you next week. I wanted to give you a quick post before I left, so for now, I’ll leave you with an image of a potato I shot in my studio. This particular image was selected for display at the juried Kent Summer Art Exhibit which starts Friday June 15th and runs through August 31st. It’s held at the Centennial Center Gallery at the Kent City Hall campus, 400 W Gowe St, Kent, Washington. Check it out if you’re in the area.
Stepping Toward Becoming Great
I recently had another article published on the Travel Photographers Network (TPN). This one is a book review of The Passionate Photographer, Ten Steps Toward Becoming Great by Steve Simon. If you have a goal of improving your photography, and haven’t already read this book (which was published last year), you really should. Steve Simon explains in a step-by-step fashion how to turn photographic passion into unique, strong images. This is not a book on what equipment to buy or what camera settings to use, but rather how to take the your own photographic drive and move up to the next level in your craft.
Briefly, Simon’s book has 10 chapters, each dedicated toward one step toward becoming a great photographer. Each chapter explains how the step fits into the larger goal of improving your photography and provides concrete exercises to help work on the particular step. I have decided to try to work on these ten steps. Periodically throughout my coming blog posts, I’ll report my progress on the steps, and you be the judge whether my photography improves.
First, step one. This step involves working on personal projects. Simon suggests taking on photographic projects that challenge you as a photographer, but ones you have some passion. He gives several examples of projects he worked on, and challenges his readers to brainstorm on their own projects.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about personal projects I might work on as step one and came up with a list of six or seven. I’ve picked five that I want to pursue, three of which involve photography that I might not normally concentrate at – portraits and still lifes. The fourth involves travel photography, and the fifth involves documentary photography. I’ve started work on three of the five – the one involving travel photography, the documentary, and the one with still lifes.
For my travel related project, I’m covering travel photography sites in Seattle. My goal for this project is to publish an ebook about Seattle travel photography. If you’ve followed my posts this spring, you know I’ve been up to Seattle several times working on this project. The black and white shot included here is from that project – its an image of the downtown Seattle Library and some of its surrounding buildings. The still-life project involves making images of found objects on Tacoma streets in my studio. I’ve started collecting stuff I’ve found along the streets (mostly in my neighborhood of North Tacoma) and, so far, have come up with a few interesting objects, including the small Radio Flyer four-wheeler shown here.
The third project involves documenting the demolition and re-construction of the Tacoma Mountaineers building. I’ve been taking photos of it approximately weekly since January. When the building is finished, I’ll post a video that shows its evolution – stay tuned! Meanwhile, take a step toward being great and read my review of The Passionate Photographer.