Finding Inspiration

December 04, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

How Other Photographers Inspire Me

In my last post I talked about how I am in continuous learning mode when it comes to photography. While online courses and self-paced learning are great ways to get specific techniques down, I find it even more valuable to either attend workshops or go out shooting with other photographers.

I have spent the past two days at a CreativeLive.com workshop in the audience (very different from watching online, where you can easily get distracted or walk away). My fellow photographer and friend Kamriell Welty has an abiding passion for wildlife photography, so she invited me to join her in the class being taught by one of her favorite wildlife photographers, the legendary Tom Mangelsen. I jumped at the chance – both for the opportunity to spend time with Kami, talking about photography, and to learn from Tom.

I don’t aspire to be a wildlife photographer, but I live in a spectacular location where I often have the opportunity to shoot images of wildlife. Tom’s work is special because he not only shoots ‘portraits’ of wildlife, but also captures wildlife in landscapes. I knew I could learn something from the course, so why not?

So, I did not attend the course with the intention of duplicating Tom’s life or lifestyle, but simply to absorb inspiration and information from a very successful and talented photographer. And because I had that intention, I found the course fulfilled my expectations and went beyond what I had hoped to gain from it. I always think if I take one useful tip away from a workshop, it was worth it.

In this case, I had several takeaways I think are worth sharing. These are things I think everyone should keep in mind when they are working on their photography.

  • Shoot what you know. Tom lives near Jackson, Wyoming, with the Grand Tetons in his backyard. It’s not surprising his has captured some astonishing moments in his own territory. Of course he has traveled and shot wildlife in many places, but in looking at all his images, I believe the images from where he lives are by far the best.
  • First and foremost, compose in the viewfinder. This was a valuable reminder that photography is about seeing and conveying what you see. It’s easy to get so caught up in the moment that you don’t look at everything in your composition. I think composing in the viewfinder comes with practice, but it’s a great thing to think about when you are out shooting. Don’t shoot to crop later –shoot as if the picture you are shooting is going straight to print. This one thing should help you pay attention to stray branches, odd lines, ugly backgrounds, etc. When I shoot macro images, this is something I am keenly aware of – I move if I don’t like the background. You should too. Look at your subject, then scan the rest of the image surrounding your subject. Should it be in sharp focus? If yes, use a higher F-stop for greater depth of field (F11, F16). Is the background distracting? Shoot at a shallower depth of field and blur it (F2.8,F4). Try both if you don’t know what you want.
  • Be flexible. I think this is at the heart of it all. Even if you’re shooting a pre-designed commercial image in a studio, it’s important to recognize that unexpected moments happen. Be ready to capture them. If you go out to shoot images of snow geese, and they are too far away, or not moving, but you see a pair of eagles flying in front of Mt. Baker, why not switch and shoot that?  Keep your eyes and ears open. Pay attention to the light. Maybe clouds are moving in and making the image you wanted to shoot look flat. Look where the light is and see if there’s another image.  

Flock of snow geese taking off in flight.Snow Geese Some 30,000 snow geese over winter in the Skagit Valley of Washington state.

After two days of listening and talking to Tom, and chatting with other members of the audience, Kami and I headed home both excited and inspired. We talked about photography the entire way home. It's wonderful to share your passion with like-minded people.


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