Shoot In The Rain.

We’ve been lucky this year, here in the Pacific Northwest.  We just made it to something like 80 days in a row of no rain, well no measurable rain.  That truly is something and it hasn’t happend for 92 years.  But as those of us who live here know, it will end.  And as of yesterday it did.  The rains have returned.

With the rain comes, of course, gray, overcast days that don’t produce much light, very little contrast and soggy conditions that make you want to stay home.  This year I’m adapting a different approach.  I’m going to go out and stay out in it and make the rain, the wet earth, the gray skies my focus for photography for the winter.  That’s easy to say and the challenge has been made.

After all we are the center of the universe for goretex style clothing.  Between Eddie Bauer, Filsons, LL Bean and the rest, we here in the Pacific Northwest must account for a large percentage of their sales.  In other words we have access to all the dry, warm, well made clothing and shoes a person needs to go out in the inclement weather and enjoy the great outdoors, rain or rain and stay warm and dry.

To kick start my challenge of shooting in the rain this year I decided to head out on the very first day of a good downpour and went up to the Mt. Rainier National Park to Mowich Lake.  Mowich Lake is about 2 and a half hours from Gig Harbor, WA, up Highway 165 through Wilkenson and Carbanado.  Fourteen miles of this drive, just after Carbonado, is “washboard” roads that have been severely damaged by logging trucks so the drive is difficult. And along this stretch, not very pretty.  It’s been largely clear cut until you get to the park entrance.

But once you get to the Mt. Rainier National Park it all changes quite quickly to magnificently beautiful, even in the rain.  From the park entrance to the lake is a smoother drive through beautiful forest.  Arrival at the lake is breath taking.

The lake was shrouded in clouds, steady rain and 42 degrees F.  Quiet, peaceful and not one other visitor.  I knew I was in the right place and had made the right decision to shoot in the rain. 
However, my first thoughts were to wish for sunshine.  I thought to myself, wow, this is so beautiful I just wish it was nicer out.  But wait, isn’t that exactly the reason I was here, to look past the otherwise gloomy, unimpressive weather and find the natural beauty that lies in what was delivered?  My natural instinct was to want it to be different but what I wanted to do was have a change in perspective, to see in a new way, to appreciate the moment.

I spent the next couple of hours hiking around the lake on the well maintained trails and explored the area for photo opportunities.  Of course with the fall colors, the beautiful mist and the quiet peaceful atmosphere it was perfect.

As for my challenge to get out and shoot on these coming wet, gray and soggy days, this couldn’t have been a better send off or a more inspiring reason to keep doing it.

So, load up your gear, add some sandwich baggies and rubberbands to cover and protect your gear, make a sandwich, get your best and driest clothes and go shoot in the rain.

Thanks for Reading,
Tom

Shooting Your Own Backyard

Sometimes from lack of inspiration I sit and wonder what to photograph.  I really enjoy my pass-time but finding inspiration and coming up with ideas of what to shoot can be challenging.  Especially when you’ve been doing it as long as I have.

So I read magazines, surf around on the web reading blogs and looking for ideas.  One thing that always comes up as a suggestion is to “shoot your own backyard”.  They say in these articles to shoot your own backyard if your feeling stuck and need inspiration.  Just by shooting in your own backyard you’ll be forced to find something new.  Sometimes I don’t know whether to take that literally or not.  So I go out my back door and look around and realize that I’ve shot so many pictures in my own back yard that there’s no way I’m going to find inspiration there…although I have from time to time.

So what does it mean to “shoot in your own backyard”?  If you don’t take it literally, like I did, and expand on that thought just a little, it means your neighborhood, your town, your city, the countryside around where you live that’s just a short distance or drive away.  That seems so simple when I put it that way that I feel silly not having realized it before.  But wait, I have shot all those things before, but maybe not with a fresh eye towards something specific in my neighborhood, my town and so on.

So today I decided to drive around and see what my little town of Gig Harbor, Washington looks like on a foggy, gray and overcast day in the fall.  And, even though I’ve seen these scenes for the past 30 years, somehow today they looked a little different.  I don’t know why exactly but looking for a photograph in my own backyard that represented my town on an otherwise gloomy and uninspired day presented the challenge I needed to get out and shoot.

With fresh eyes and inspired after I came across this shot of one of our marinas I just kept driving and looking and wasn’t surprised at all by the beauty this small little town has but was surprised at how many opportunities there are for photographs everywhere and at any time of the year, right here in my own backyard.

Thanks for reading.
Tom

Image Quality versus Vision Quality

I’ve been pointing a camera at stuff for more years than I can remember.  I’ve never really known why and until recently (maybe just the past few years), I’ve never really understood the technical side of photography.  Learning to see light, understanding how that effects aperture, shutter speed and depth of field were all things that didn’t come easy to me.  Thanks to digital photography, digital darkrooms and the instant gratification of the LCD, I’ve learned a lot in the past few years.

Since the coming of age of the digital era I got immediately on-board, and have never looked back.  But I, like so many others, got caught up in the rush for bigger, better and newer.  From 1960 to 1970 I had one camera.  From 1970 to 1999 I had two cameras (still have one of them).  From 2000 to now, I’ve had more cameras than I can actually remember.  I’ve bought and sold no less than a dozen.

 

Over the period of time that I’ve shot digital, I’ve made images that number in the high tens of thousands.  And over that same time what I spent my eye, my time and my thought process on was the quality of the images I was taking to insure, sharpness, dynamic range, color, and pixel peeped until I went cross eyed.  Did I get some good images; yes. However the capturing of stories, interesting photos and pictures that had my vision behind them got lost to the quality of the image that the camera could make.  That’s what this post is about; keeping in touch with my vision, and the story I want to tell in pictures.  I want to let go of the need to constantly upgrade to the next bigger, better and newer camera.  I would rather take one good picture of something that tells a story and has some interest rather than 10,000 really sharp, well detailed photo’s with great dynamic range; and perfect color reproduction but say nothing.

Image quality versus Vision quality is probably a touchy subject for most of us.   I’ve been struggling with it for years and I have to say without some technical understanding of the photographic equipment your using, it’s limitations as well as its capabilities and some understanding of the light you see; you will still not be able to achieve what you want in a photograph.  Having said that, without a clear understanding of your vision and what you are trying to say in your photograph; knowing the technical side of your equipment won’t help you get the image you want.  No matter how great your gear is and how well you know it, your camera can’t tell the story.

Since the late 1990’s when digital imaging came onto the scene, digital photography, specifically digital cameras have changed so much and so fast, that keeping up with the technology has become, for many, the main focus rather than photography as a creative art.

When shopping for a camera you hear terms like “Pro-Level”, “Pro-consumer-Level”, Consumer-Level” and “Point & Shoot” cameras.  How these cameras are defined changes so fast that you have to wonder if, by definition, they are what they say they are;  when Canon and Nikon first came out with their dSLR’s they were considered to be a “Pro-Level” digital camera.  Today some of the smallest, least expensive Point & Shoot cameras have way more technical power than the original Canon and Nikon dSLR’s dreamed of having.  I don’t remember exactly, but I think Nikon was quite proud of their dSLR being a 2 megapixel camera.  Whoa!  So by that standard does one of today’s Point & Shoot cameras become a professional camera.  I don’t think so.  But can you make an amazing, interesting and story telling photograph with it.  Yes.

Even cell phones with their built in cameras are capable of making pretty decent images.  Professional level super sharp, lots of dynamic range, no.  But can they tell a good story; capture an interesting moment; yes.  Todays digital media has us looking at cell phone video and images nearly everywhere you cast your gaze.

Many of todays photographers on the myriad of photo sharing web sites are more interested in the type of camera and which lens was used, how it was processed and what software was used; rather than enjoying the photograph for the interest that it holds, or the story that it tells.  Something like having an extraordinary meal and asking the chef for the types of cookware he used to create the dish.

My struggle is and always has been to take a good picture that captures a moment.  The shot that tells a little story, and has some interest for a viewer and most importantly; that means something to me.  Use your technical skill to master your camera but use your camera to master the moments.  When you take a family vacation, don’t pack the camera for when you get there; wear the camera while you’re packing.  Begin telling the story when the story begins and on a family vacation that’s when the packing starts.  Wear your camera everywhere, shopping, dinner out with friends, a walk; you’ll be surprised to find stories everywhere you and your camera go.

So the point I’ve been drilling home to myself is that bigger sensors and more megapixels don’t tell meaningful and interesting stories.  They do capture moments, they do have great dynamic range; however without a vision of your own, and an understanding of what that vision is,  it just doest seem necessary to keep chasing a bigger, newer, better camera.  And for me, smaller is better.  I like having my camera with me everywhere and one of the big dSLR’s just didn’t work for me anymore.

Instead of developing super huge, super sharp images; perhaps develop a vision and tell a story.  Maybe we don’t need the biggest and best; just an eye, some time and a desire to tell a story in a captured moment.

Thanks for reading.
Tom