Get the Reps

December 15, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

While I've been interested in photographs and cameras since childhood, I didn't set out to pursue photography as a vocation.

Upon receiving my first SLR camera and kit (a college graduation gift from my folks), I was serious about teaching myself how to use it and quickly became comfortable with both its operation and the fundamentals of lighting, depth of field, and composition. I went through quite a bit of film. That said, the camera was a hobby. 

My career in telecom and emerging technology had absolutely nothing to do with photography and for some years required me to be on the road a great deal. While hanging around too many airports I was unable to devote a lot of time to actively shooting, but kept up with my education. That's when I discovered people like Galen Rowell, John Shaw, George Lepp and Frans Lanting. I read their columns, bought their books, and studied their work. 

The trajectory of things changed when I relocated from California to New Hampshire. If you're interested in outdoor photography, the Granite State is hard to beat: its geography is richly varied, yet its size is compact. There were still long hours on the (day) job, but I didn't have to spend as much time traveling. The camera came out of the bag much more frequently.

When I (often) didn't have the time to venture very far into the field, I photographed close to home. Sometimes at home. 

I needed the reps, and finally started to get them.

It was a long and winding road from that first camera to now: casual hobby to avocation to vocation. 

I speak from experience when I tell you the only way to improve as a photographer is to shoot. Often. 

We all need the reps. There's a reason even world-class athletes spend a great deal of time practicing. 

Knowledge is obviously critical. Understand your gear. Understand light. Understand processing. But that's not enough. Foundational knowledge of photography requires action to have real value. It has to be put into use. We must build "muscle memory." We must train our eyes. If the camera is sitting in the bag gathering dust, you can't expect to improve your skills. Regular practice is necessary both to maintain technical proficiency and to improve artistic ability. 

Especially when you haven't shot for a long while, it's easy to forget how to perform various functions. If you're spending time fiddling with your gear trying to remember how to do this or that, you're not engaging with your surroundings and will miss opportunities. Better not to let that much rust form in the first place.

Shooting infrequently doesn't help advance your creative competency, either. The more you shoot, the better you'll get. 

Practice regularly.

Avoid viewing each shoot as an activity that must yield superior images. You might not even process some of what you produce. Give yourself permission to experiment. 

I'm not a proponent of forced daily shooting because it's an exercise that can easily become drudgery or induce stress if you fail to stick to the schedule. If that type of application works for you, by all means go for it. Otherwise, I think it's sufficient to be mindful about making time to shoot regularly. Exotic locales are not pre-requisites. There is always subject matter locally. Easy access; no excuses. 

Self-assignments can be useful when it comes to practice. For example, you might spend a session searching for and composing images featuring a certain color or shape. You could choose to concentrate only on subjects that are backlit. Limit yourself to using only a single lens. Challenge yourself to find 10 ways to compose the same subject. 

The sky's the limit.

If carving out time to practice still seems daunting, I can guarantee you'll find subject matter at home - maybe inside your house (even if you are first and foremost a nature photographer, remember this is practice).

This time of year there is no shortage of interesting things to photograph. Holiday decorations, anyone?

My first experiments with intentional camera movement were conducted years ago using my Christmas tree's lights. That was just about as convenient as it could get and it was festive, too. (Having since switched to white lights on the tree, I can definitively say that, for the purposes of this type of exercise, colors are superior!)

One year I challenged myself to find a variety of ways to depict my tree abstractly. This was one of the results:

Christmas lights are also great if you want to experiment with bokeh (see the example at the top).

Decorations and lights make good subjects as you explore creative options with various lenses. The bowl of ornaments below was photographed using a LensBaby Velvet 56mm. Scroll down further to see the same ornaments arranged differently and photographed with another lens (micro 60mm with the main ornament focus-stacked).

I've never done anything with these images nor do I intend to, but making them served a purpose. Besides, I'm a pushover for Christmas lights so I get enjoyment out of trying to find interesting ways to capture them.

The point is, there's always subject matter. Every session doesn't have to yield an award-winning result.

Get the reps.

Skill in photography is acquired by practice and not by purchase.
Percy W. Harris


In Local News

Yellowstone opens for the 2022/2023 winter season to oversnow travel today.

This has been one of the best starts to the ski season in the Tetons in many years thanks to generous snowfall and cold temperatures. Island Park, Idaho is also reporting excellent conditions for snowmobiling - running about a month ahead of last winter.

The Moose climate station in Grand Teton National Park recorded November 2022 as the coldest on record (dating back to 1958, when the station moved to its current location).

I haven't been inside the park to confirm, but Antelope Flats Road is still showing as open. The clock is ticking; it'll close soon for the winter. After that you'll have to access Mormon Row and the barns by foot.


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