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Staying Motivated in Photography

Sometimes I get unmotivated to take pictures.  There are many reasons that this can happen.  It can be anything from being burnt out, thinking that there is nothing to take pictures of, or just not feeling satisfied with your work and putting the camera down.  One thing that sometimes happens to me is that I start looking at other photographer’s work and think that mine is not good enough.  This happens to most photographer but you shouldn’t get down on your work. There are too many things to take pictures of in a new way and so much time to learn how to become better.  I wanted to talk about how to stay motivated to take pictures and keep learning to become a better photographer.

1.  Enjoy moments without having to take a picture of them

We all get burnt out at times.  Sometimes all you may need is a little break from taking pictures.  Don’t totally forget about taking pictures though or you will end up leaving your camera in the closet for a year.  Other times you may have your camera but don’t feel the desire to take a picture.  Sometimes you just need to enjoy everyday life without taking pictures of the moment.  I bring my camera with me almost everywhere but there are times that I stop and just enjoy the moment without having to record it.  I am not saying never take pictures, I just want to state the fact that you should enjoy taking pictures and if you want to pull your eye away from the viewfinder for a little while it is okay.

2.  Work through the dry spell

There are times when you feel like there is nothing to take a picture of and you have no inspiration.  Don’t wait for the inspiration to strike you, just go take pictures and work through the times when your work isn’t at the high level that you expect it to be.  I think this is the biggest thing to think about.  Artists don’t wait for inspiration to create great work.  They keep working until they create something that is great. There is always something to photograph.  You can start any kind of photo project to get you started and keep working at it.

3.  Try to learn a new technique

Learning in photography never ends.  You can go out and learn how to do flash photography, which has endless things to learn. Or you can learn to take pictures at night with slow shutter speed photography.  It can even be taking pictures of something that you are not used to taking pictures of, like doing landscape photography if you are used to taking pictures of people.  By doing this you will broaden your creativity and it will reflect on how you take pictures.  Who knows, you may even find a branch of photography that you like even more then what you are currently doing.

4.  Believe in your photography

I think this is one of the most important.  You need to be confident that you can or are creating good photographs.  If you start browsing other photographer’s work and think that your work is horrible don’t worry about it.  Everyone feels this way about their photographs at some point.  Just keep practicing and learning and believe in the fact that you can become better.  You can even go through your older work and try to find the reason why your favorite pictures are your favorites and what you dislike about the ones that haven’t made your favorite list.  Everyone has their weaknesses, you just have to find them and try to overcome them.

5.  Get some new gear

Try getting a new lens or camera if you feel like your photography has hit a wall.  Its not that you absolutely need this gear to be a good photographer but it can help you stay interested or broaden the areas where you can successfully take photographs.  I have just recently bought a Canon 5D Mark II and it has opened a world of low light photography (due to being able to use high ISO) that I have never experienced before.  The pictures out of the camera look so much different than with my cropped camera as well which has made me view my pictures differently.  Don’t fall into the trap of needing to acquire new things to drive your photography passion though.  The newness of something can ware off really fast if you let it.  Appreciate what you have and make sure you use it.

6.  Use prime lenses

There is a lot of argument on blogs about whether you should use zoom lenses or prime lenses.  I am not going to feed this argument but I think that by using a prime lens it can help you be more creative.  You have to work harder to get your subject in the frame in a pleasing way by using your feet to zoom.  You will also be able to predict how an image will look with that prime lens without actually having to look in the viewfinder so it will be easier to find more interesting subjects.

7.  Start a blog

By starting this blog it has me thinking of new photographs that I can take to share and explain.  I am also motivated to take more pictures so that I can share them on my blog.  By sharing what I know it also helps me to better understand the subjects that I am writing about.  To teach something you really have to know it.  Starting a blog is like starting a new project to accelerate your photography.

8.  Make time to do photography

The biggest thing photographers gripe about is not having enough time to take photos.  If your are passionate enough about something you will make time for it.  Even if you only take pictures for 15 minutes a day, in the long run it will help you grow as a photographer.  Just take out your camera and take pictures, even if it is just at home around the house.  If you mark down all the time you waste during the day, like watching tv, staring at facebook, or just browsing the internet, it will really show you how much time you let slip away.  Make sure you are using your time efficiently because none of us really have that much time to live and enjoy life.

9.  Wake up early, stay out late (Golden hour)

If you shoot outdoors then you definitely want to take this advice.  Just by being out during the golden hour, which is an hour at sunrise and an hour at sunset, it opens the door to many more photo opportunities.  The light is soft and warm and not harsh like it is during most of the day.  Your pictures will look a lot more interesting when they are taken during these times, which in turn will make you want to go out and take more photographs.  I take most of my pictures during the winter because the days are shorter and it is easier to get out at these time because they are at more reasonable hours.  During the summer the days are long so the sun rises early and sets fairly late, which are the times that I am not out and about.  I think it is definitely worth getting up early or staying out later to catch this time of day though.

10.  Travel

Travel to a new place, it can be either really far away or just to a new city.  By doing this you will see the place with fresh eyes and will be able to come up with more photographs then if you were just shooting in your regular areas.

There are many more ways to stay motivated in photography than this but I believe this is a good start.  I think the main reason people get unmotivated is because they are not doing everything they can to stay creative.  For this I would recommend Steven Pressfield’s book: The War of ArtIn this book he talks about overcoming resistance and fighting to not become mediocre, but to become what we are called to do.  Don’t be afraid to work past the fear and don’t be afraid to succeed.

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Vision Statement

My vision statement:

To capture ordinary, everyday subjects in a way that makes them meaningful in that specific moment in time.

Everyone should create their own vision statement to help guide their photographic goal.  Everyone sees the world differently and can create an image that no one else would be able to see in the same way.  Creating a vision statement will help you to focus your attention to get images that convey what you are trying to share with the world.  Everyone has their own experiences in life that shape how they will photograph a scene.

I had never thought of doing a vision statement until I stumbled upon the website where you do an assignment to help your photography every week.  I think this was a great way to start the project to get people to focus on what they want to do photographically.  I highly recommend writing down a vision statement and trying to take a picture around your house that reflects you vision.  It is hard to think of one sentence to guide your photography but it is important to sit and come up with something.  My vision statement photo is of my baby playing the keyboard.  It is an everyday scene but with the use of depth of field and all the colors it makes this ordinary scene more meaningful and interesting.

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7 Tips to help your photography

1.  Keep shooting everyday

We all see the world differently and we should try to use the camera to show how we see it.  The more you take pictures the better you will be at using your camera to convey what you want out of a scene.  You will also be able to better see what lighting conditions will make a great photo.  In photography it is all about the light.  Not every photo you take will be great but even the best photographers have to take lots of pictures to even get a few keepers.  Photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson said that “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”  Just get out and shoot everyday and it will pay off.  I took pictures of rigs for a whole year before I got one that I actually liked.

2.  Try to replicate great photographers’ work

If you can’t think of anything to take pictures of look at great photographers’ work online and  replicate it for learning purposes.  After a while you will eventually be able to forge your on photographic style.  I am still working on my own style and don’t think this process ever ends for photographers.  I think this is a great way to learn off camera flash.  You can usually tell what type of diffuser someone used by looking at the shape of the reflected light (either in the subject’s eyes or off of the object in the picture).  An example is when you use an umbrella to reflect the flash the highlight in the subjects eyes will be round.

3.  Think about what would make a great photo even without your camera

Whenever I am driving around or just out without my camera I always look around to see what could make a great picture.  By doing this you help develop your photographic eye.  There are also times when you will see an interesting location that you want to come back to later with your camera.

4.  Start a photo project

It can be anything like a 365 project where you take and post one picture a day or a 52 week project if you can’t handle everyday.  Or you can do a 100 strangers project where you take portraits of strangers so that you can get out of your shell and experience something new in your photography.  If you aren’t up for these then you can make almost anything into a project.  Some of my ongoing projects are pictures of fire hydrants and a photo project of the county I live in.  You can do a project of your daily life for a specified amount of time, like a year, and pick the best ones out to make a book out of.

5.  Organize your work

When you organize your work you will find that there are pictures that you have overlooked in the past that you like now.  These photos can become an inspiration for you to shoot more of that subject or start a new project building off of what you already have.  By organizing your work it will be easier to find and build your long term portfolio.  I have just recently bought Lightroom 3 and hope to get my photos better organized.

6.  Share your work

Post your work online or show it to others in print form to get some feedback on it.  Flickr is a great place to do this.  You can find other photographer’s great work to inspire you or join groups to get feedback on your work.  Many of the groups constantly have conversations going on that can answer many of your burning questions.

If you don’t want to join an online community try to join a local photo club or shoot with friends.  If you know someone that has a good artistic eye you can have them give you some constructive criticism of your work so you can get another point of view to improve your work.

7.  Take pictures with the equipment you already have

A lot of people are worried about not having enough equipment or the right camera to take good pictures with but this shouldn’t stop you.  Use whatever you have and learn to work with what you have and find solutions for not having a lot of fancy equipment.  You may not have a DSLR but your iphone or point and shoot can take good pictures, you just have to develop your eye to see good pictures.  You may not have a professional off camera flash but you can always use natural light and reflectors to create good light.  Some day you may be able to acquire more equipment that can make your life easier, but don’t let it stop you from shooting today.

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11 Favorites of 2011

I read an article on ( about going through and evaluating your previous years photographs and picking out your favorites and decided that I would do it.  They said to pick 10 of your favorites but I decided to do 11 since it is 2011.  I had a pretty good year photographically and think that I learned how to use my camera a lot better since when I first got it.  I had started a 52 week project but only made it like halfway through before I started missing weeks.  I like the idea of only posting my favorite work instead of posting a random photo every week even if they are not good.  Some weeks I take multiple photos that I like and other weeks I don’t take any so I would rather not get into that project again.  I will try and do some projects this year though just to get my creative juices flowing.  Hopefully by posting these pictures it will give me some drive to try and create better pictures for the 2012 year.

It was fairly easy to pick out my favorites, mostly because I was already posting most of my favorite work on flickr.  The pictures are in no particular order.  Please take a look at my work and tell me what you think in the comments.

I took this photo at the zoo of this bird that was flying around in the bird cage.  I really like how the depth of field makes him stand out really well on the post.  The bokeh in the background also makes this picture interesting.  This was also the first zoo trip that my baby took so this picture has more behind the scenes meaning to me also.

I really like the colors in this photo with the orange grass in the front and the pink and blue clouds in the background.  I also like how the irrigation tires lead your eye across the picture.  I took this photo with my 18-55 lens that had a broken auto focus, so I got some experience at manually focusing a lens, which I had never done before.

I took this picture behind the apartment we used to live in.  We had lived there for a year and I never knew a scene like this was right next to us.  It is amazing the new photo opportunities that lie right around the corner.  I am not the best photo editor on photo shop but spent some time on this one trying to balance out the sky and foreground.

This picture is my favorite long exposure photograph.  I actually only took one photo of this scene and like it so much that I didn’t take another one.  I got really lucky with the car that drove through the picture while the exposure was happening.  What really caught my attention when I walked outside to take this picture of my neighborhood was the reflection of the trash can on the sidewalk and also the amazing cloud colors.  I think the streaking car lights just brought this picture together though.

I had to watch my baby for two weeks at the end of the year so I got to play around a lot with taking pictures of her.  This is one of my favorites from those two weeks.  I love the depth of field that my 50mm 1.8 lens created in this picture which leads your eye to her left hand.

My brother got some headphones for Christmas and decided to let my baby try them on.  I liked her reaction to them on so decided to take a picture.  This has to be my favorite picture so far of my baby.  I like the red/orange background and also how the light is on her face.  I used the same technique with bounce flash as I explained in my other blog post:

This was one of my favorite photos that I took during my attempt at the 52 week project.  I liked it better in black and white than color because of the streaky clouds that stood out better without color.  I like how this dull scene is made more interesting by just looking at it from a different angle.

This was during my babies first birthday.  I took this picture shortly after getting my new 24-70mm lens and I am amazed by how much I like it.  You can read more about this picture in this blog post:

I took a lot of pictures that I really like on this day because of all the clouds in the sky and the lighting that took place from the sun being partially covered.  I like how the post in the lower left leads your eye into the picture and just the overall scene of this broken fence in the middle of nowhere.

Foggy days are some of the most interesting in terms of landscape scenes.  I don’t really get to take pictures very often while it is foggy but on this day I was driving and saw this pivot sprinkler going and liked how the water looked in the mist.

This picture make me laugh.  It is one of my first good pictures using my flash.  It probably would of been better if I used a big diffuser but instead I used direct flash by hand holding it and pointing down at my baby.  It was really hard to get her to sit still and actually look at the paper for this picture.  The glasses are funny too because she looks like a little grown up in a babies body.

Those are my favorites for 2011, here is to a great 2012 and hopefully more growth for me photographically.

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Bouncing Flash

This is my baby on her first birthday stuffing cake in her mouth, haha.  This is one of my favorite pictures from last year – and also one of the first pictures I took with my Canon 24-70mm f2.8 lens that I bought.  I like how she is so serious eating this cake (at least until the sugar kicked in and she couldn’t stop fidgeting).  I really like the lighting in this picture.  I also like the out of focus ice cream bucket in the background to give the picture some context that it was a party.

“To create interesting light, you have to create interesting shadows,” – Syl Arena.  This is what Syl says in his book Speedliter’s Handbook.  I recommend this book to any one that wants to learn how to use off camera flash.  He explains everything in this book such as: different modifiers that you can use, how to use Cannon speedlites, how to use gels and different type of lighting that you can incorporate into your shots.

Now onto explaining this shot.  Many people use the flash that is on top of their camera but that results in pictures that are flat and dull (lighting wise).  To get a better looking picture you either have to use off camera flash or bounce the flash off of something to get light that comes at your subject from somewhere besides the top of your camera.  By doing this you get more directional light which results in better shadows.  Shadows create depth in an image.  You also don’t want the flash to be too harsh which is where using a modifier such as a softbox or umbrella come in.  In this shot I did not use either of those but I did bounce the flash off of a white wall to the right of me which acts like a large modifier.  Whenever you are indoors and taking shots with a flash you should try to swivel the flash head to bounce it off of something to create better light.  I use a Canon 430ex II flash.  I think this is a good flash to get if you are just beginning because it doesn’t cost as much as the 580ex II (which is a more expensive flash because of the options it offers) but gives you enough options and flash power to create some nice shots.

Please leave a comment if you like this picture or have anything else to share.  Thanks for visiting.

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Oil Tank Silhouette

“Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop” – Ansel Adams

I took this photo at sunset yesterday.  I think I have started the year off well and I can see this as being one of my favorite photos of the year.  It is hard to make the oil field look pretty but I believe that I have accomplished my goal with this photo.  It is amazing how the camera can see something so much differently then we can.  After taking photos for a while you start seeing the world as photographic opportunities like this one.  This scene didn’t look like this at all because the human eye can see more stops of light then the camera.  The camera can’t take in the bright and dark parts of the image so it results in a silhouette when I metered for the sky, ultimately creating this beautiful scene.

In photoshop I made this picture more orange then what came straight out of the camera by adjusting the white balance.  This leads to my first tip in photography.  For those that don’t shoot in RAW format with their cameras they should be for this precise reason.  You can change the white balance in photoshop after the fact instead of shooting in JPEG format and being stuck with what you chose at the moment.  This saves a lot of time in the field when you are trying to get photos before the lighting changes such as in this picture.

I will finish this post off with some things that I have been reading lately about oil.

“An average barrel of crude (which is 42 gallons) yields about 20 gallons of gasoline.  When you refine the barrel you get different “cuts” ranging from light products like butane to heavy products like asphalt” (Power Hungry by Robert Bryce, page 185).

It is funny that people think that the only thing we use oil for is our cars when there are so many more things we use it for.  This is one reason why ethanol will not work to replace oil and lead us to using less of it.  Ethanol just can’t replace oil for things like asphalt, diesel and jet fuel which have been seeing recent increases in demand, unlike the demand for gasoline which has not risen much.  I highly recommend Robert Bryce’s book to anyone that is interested in learning more about “evil oil.”

Please leave a comment and tell me what you think about this photo.  If you have any interesting oil related photos please do not hesitate to share them with me.

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