Lessons Learned

November 18, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Jordan Pond Shoreline Acadia National ParkFeeling MistyAs early morning fog rolls over Jordan Pond, the shoreline dances in and out of sight. Low water levels expose a great deal of pink granite.

Acadia National Park, Maine
Anyone who owns an SLR camera knows there's a lot to learn if the goal is to produce something more than snapshots. Beyond equipment fundamentals and mastery of the software required to process images, one needs to understand light, exposure, perspective, depth of field, elements of composition, and more.

Log enough time with the camera and you begin to learn other types of essentials. Just as important as the core basics, these have to do with how you approach your photography.

This came up in conversation again the other day so I thought I'd share a few of the things I've learned and observed along the way.

1. Photography Isn't "One-Size-Fits-All" 

Often there is no right or wrong way to do something. "Rules" are sometimes better to be thought of as suggestions. Trust yourself.

2. Photograph What You Love

Unless you're on assignment, shoot what interests you. This applies both to the subject matter and the way you choose to depict it. Of course the image should be technically sound, but beyond that, follow your instincts. You'll be more enthusiastic about what you're doing and the quality of your work will likely be better if you're concentrating on things you're passionate about.

3. You Can't Please Everyone 

Art is subjective. Different people are drawn to different types of subject matter or styles. One likes abstracts, the next prefers realism. Another enjoys intimate desert scenes while his buddy would rather look at big mountain landscapes. It stands to reason, then, that different people will react in different ways to your photographs. That's okay. 

As Rick Nelson sang once upon a time, "You can't please everyone so you've got to please yourself." Your value as an artist is not determined by the number of likes generated on social media. 

4. Don't Put the Gear Away Too Soon

Sometimes the subject is fleeting; you may have only enough time to click the shutter once before it vanishes. When things aren't so rushed, though, be thorough. Think about all the different approaches you might take with a scene. Switch lenses. Move. Change your perspective. Use different depths of field. Try both horizontal and vertical orientations. Stretch your creativity.

Especially if it's somewhere you can't easily return to, take the time to make some "insurance" images just in case. Shoot more than you think you'll need. There's nothing worse than discovering - after the fact - there's an issue which renders an otherwise powerful image unusable.

5. Previsualization Can Blind You

Depending on what you're intending to photograph, setting up the shot in your mind's eye ahead of time can be critically important. That said, what's in your head may get in the way of what's right in front of you if you let it. Avoid being so wedded to an idea that you end up not being able to see the forest for the trees. 

6. Receive the Gift Graciously

Know how to call an audible. No matter how careful and thorough the planning, nature photographers can't control what's going to happen in the field. Be ready to work with whatever the great outdoors gives you. I've never forgotten a line from a long-ago article regarding this subject: What kind of photograph can you make given particular conditions? Learn to be adaptable or you'll often find yourself going home empty-handed.

There's nothing you can do about the inaccurate forecast (or whatever the challenge). Set aside the disappointment and/or frustration and figure out what can be accomplished instead. You might surprise yourself and end up making a photograph that's even better than what you anticipated.


About the Image

Points 5 and 6 apply to this photograph. The year I made this it rained nearly the entire time I was in Acadia National Park. This wasn't my first rodeo there so I had a specific composition in mind for Jordan Pond. Unfortunately, the combination of low water levels (it had been a very dry summer) and all that precipitation got in the way of the picture in my mind's eye. 

I was on site very early on this morning even though the conditions were poor and I expected no sunrise. Initially the fog was so thick it was hard to see anything. Then it started rolling through in waves, which was fascinating to watch. Hiking the shoreline looking for a composition, finally I saw these two colorful maple trees peeking out from the conifers. Just a tiny pop of color but they're the focal point - and they also provide seasonal context. The low water level revealed a great deal of the pink granite which you normally wouldn't see. More warm color. The fog was moving quite a bit; I made a series of images so I'd have plenty of options to choose from. 

This is not at all close to the photograph I had planned to make but it didn't matter. It's one of my favorite Acadia images.


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