Friday, October 17, 2008

Winter Photography Blues

Some photographers, usually amateur photographers but even professionals, get bored as they do not know what they should go shoot next. They are looking for excitement but do not know where to find it. Their home town becomes hum drum and all they look to are dreams of new and exotic subjects to shoot on travels in some far off land.

This dilemma, a lack of what to shoot has been around for generations. What most of these photographers lack is a sense of creativity or more specifically creative thinking. I could spend hours and hours, even days shooting around my own town. I already have plans on doing shoots for the next twelve to sixteen months. Some are waiting for the right environmental weather. One is waiting on another clear moon filled sky and another on some snow. Other shoots are waiting for spring to come around and yet others are being researched so that I am ready for when the appropriate time comes. I have some that are ready to shoot but I am just waiting for some free time. All in all I think I have too much to shoot and not enough time.

I live in the tiny village of Tsawwassen, British Columbia, Canada where there is not much. I must admit that our surroundings that include the ocean and mountains are pretty spectacular being near Vancouver. Despite my living in the suburbs finding subjects are not a problem.

I long for the day when I can shoot the great old buildings and countryside’s of England, Wales and Ireland yet it was only a few months ago on another site where someone from that region of the world told me they were bored, had nothing to shot and wished they lived somewhere more exotic like Vancouver or Melbourne. I can’t be creative for you. I do not live in your town and do not know what is available to you, but I do know that given some suggestions and with a little thought, you can become more creative and a better photographer.

The first place to look for inspiration and also the best place to learn is to shoot subjects you are not familiar with? What about the basics? Do you know all about your shutter speeds and what you can do to capture “speed” and “motion” or how to freeze time in high speed situations? What about Panning? I see many amateur photographers’ images that all have standard f8 or f11 apertures and they never isolate their subjects with Depth-Of-Field and low apertures. White Balance is another big issue with most photographers, even some professional photographers do not understand the necessity of proper white balance or in some cases even the concept of White Balance. What is Bokeh? Make sure you know all your basics and that you understand them. Use your lack of knowledge as a means to learn and become a better photographer. When shooting for learning, the subject matter is not so important but make sure the subjects are appropriate for techniques you are learning. If you do not know or understand something I stated in the above paragraph, research it and learn.

Other ways of learning includes shooting subjects that you are not familiar with. Subjects like Night Photography, Panoramas, Portraits, Still Life, Animals, Sports, Snow, Sunrises, Sunsets and the Moon all pose their own technical and artistic challenges as do many other subjects. I would venture to guess that most people reading this article have not shot all the listed subject matters I just mentioned. You may argue that sports are not your interest, or that some other subject is not your interest, that is not the point. The point is to learn the challenges and techniques required to take an incredible photo under any circumstances. Learning to shoot a listless animal at a zoo is different that quickly shooting a cheetah running down an antelope on a safari or large wildlife reserve. The running cheetah would require the “sports” skills. Would you be ready to do a great job capturing the Running of the Bulls or some other exciting event should you happen upon it?

Different sports require different techniques and different strategies. Games like American football, soccer and basketball all require a good understanding of the game. You need to know where to stand and what plays to anticipate so you can capture that perfect moment. If on the gridiron, should you be on the scrimmage line, 10 yards down or behind the end zone? Basketball is very different and requires a completely different thought process as does soccer. Basketballs game movement includes horizontal and vertical motion. Other sports like hockey, skiing, skating and racquet sports like tennis have other challenges. How do you capture the three dimensional game of the fastest racquets sport in the world, badminton, in close tight quarters under usually low light conditions? Even without an 85mm f/1.2 lens, great shots can be had. The nice thing about sports is that many events are free or inexpensive to attend. High school football or basketball, college football or baseball, children’s league soccer or rugby, the possibilities are endless. Learn and learn to be ready.

Animals can be found in parks and zoos but better closer wildlife can usually be photographed at animal shelters, the SPCA, pet stores, farms or bird or animal sanctuaries. Very often you can get permission to photograph animals in shelters. You may need to volunteer some time or perhaps exchange some free photos for the opportunity, but nothing is cooler than shooting an owl or falcon or eagle from only a few inches away. What is that worth to you? Some pet stores may even let you purchase lizards or other critters knowing you will bring them back later that day after you provide proof you will be able to properly care for them. Then of course there are always the birds and animals found in the wild. Try it out.

More industrial areas like downtown, airports, docks, tops of buildings, or any of these locations at dusk or dawn or at night can all be great motivating locations to shoot. Head to the hills or mountains, the lakes, streams or rivers for more shooting options. Even old tourist favorites that you haven’t been to in years like botanical gardens can bring inspiration. Add a little culture to your photos with a trip to China Town, the Church, a local Mosque or a cultural area like the Italian or French quarters. Try cultural events like Greek Days or Chinese New Year’s celebrations or 4th of July fireworks.

Totally bored and the weather is keeping you inside? Try your hand at still life. You do not require a studio or studio lighting to create great still life. You can use natural window lighting or other lighting supplemented with flash. You will need an understanding of White Balance though. Grab some items, flowers, your favorite fruits or vegetables and shoot away. Research still life photography on the internet or grab a book and learn some tips or tricks. Back lighting and through lighting can create great results. Don’t know what through lighting is? Another great chance to learn. Play with color or apertures, add mist from a spray bottle, use glossy wet paint, or give food photography a try, the possibilities are endless all without leaving your home and without spending a dime. How about trying your hand a flowers or even portraits? Need a great shot of your new puppy?

If you are still out of ideas, grab a magazine or read an on-line photography magazine or browse an on-line photography site for ideas. Write them down. Make a list of your ideas, make notes on other photos and create a check list of techniques to try and skills to learn or improve upon. Note and categorize photo ideas and see which ones inspire you the most.

If the winter blues have set in and the weather is keeping you from getting out, and books just aren’t helping, then it must be time to crank up the music and work on your blog or web site!

© 2008 Francois Cleroux

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I value thoughtful comments and suggestions. If you like or dislike this post, please let me know. If you have any ideas or suggestion, comments or corrections (I do make mistakes) please also let me know. Thanks.

- Francois Cleroux