In my efforts to improve my photography in my photo-a-day challenge this year I have started to try to identify some of the techniques and concepts that I struggle with. My hope is that by identifying issues I will be able to focus on finding solutions to better understand and improve my skills. So, here is a list of some of the bigger things I’ve been struggling with this year:
Growing up I shot film. The common options were ISO 100, 200, and 400. 400 ISO film usually ended up with grainy prints, at least in the case of my limited skills at the time. So, I generally tried to stick to 100 or 200 film. In spite of current technology, I still have irrational fear of shooting over 400. I’m a diehard pixel peeper and over sensitive to grain in my photos. If there is significant grain at 100% zoom, I probably won’t share it.
I’ve been trying to overcome this. I’m limiting my pixel-peeping. Once I’ve chosen photos and worked on basic edits, then I will allow myself to zoom in to check focus. I will always select the least grainy of two similar photos, sometimes ignoring composition differences.
I had to print photos for a show this fall, and I printed all of them at 8x12. No grain problems, many of them could be printed much larger with no issues I’m sure. I’m starting to push up my ISO settings in camera. I usually set to 100 or 200, very occasionally 400. I’ve experimented with auto-iso lately, up to 800. Right now, that’s the edge of my comfort zone.
As mentioned, I’m a hopeless pixel peeper. Sharpness and focus often win out when I’m choosing photos to post or print. I would say there is definitely times where I’ve let a photo with great story fall by the wayside because it wasn’t sharp enough, or the focus wasn’t quite right. I’m also working on this. Same as above, trying to limit the amount of pixel peeping I do, looking at the whole photo before I zoom in to check the focus and sharpness.
Over vs. Under-exposing.
There’s two struggles here.
1: remembering which is which. It has taken me at minimum, a full year to get it solidly in my head that at its most basic, over-exposing is brighter, under-exposing is darker.
2: I tend towards overexposing everything. I prefer to look at photos on the high-key end of the spectrum. But I’ve blown many shots long past recoverable, especially recently.
I’m trying to remember that things look different from the back of my camera, to my screen, to print. For some reason it instantly strikes me as “fail” when a shot is “too dark” for my personal preference. With basic film cameras, if the shot was too dark, there's not much you could do (unless you print in your own darkroom, or have a custom printing service) to recover when you sent film for developing. When I look back through old photos I prefer the ones that while a bit blown out, I can still see details of people or pets or whatever was in the scene.
To balance this, I am actively shooting a bit darker in an attempt to ensure I don’t blow important highlights.
I have this inherent panic that I need to get the shot ASAP, for whatever reason: someone’s waiting for me to get out of the way, or I’m holding someone up and wasting their time, or I’m alone so I should be quick and get back in my car for safety, etc. So I often end up with disappointing shots. Being in such a rush all the time means I compromise on composition, depth of field, exposure, and Focus.
The weekend of October 9 my brother and I went out for a long drive/photo explore. The whole point was to take photos. At one point, we were getting ready to leave a spot and I asked him to stop the truck and let me out to get a shot (the photo above). I rushed out, snapped a few quick shots and jumped back in the truck. I didn’t get what I wanted. The photo is ok, but I wish I’d take the few extra minutes to get out my tripod, put on the ND filter and get the smooth water I knew I wanted.
I’m not sure how to work on this one. Its an instinctual reaction to keep up, get out of the way, don’t waste other people’s time.
Not stopping for the shot
There’s one shot I’ve been saying I want to get since the spring. It’s on my way home from work every day. It’s on fairly quiet road. It has wide grassy shoulders for me to park in, off the pavement. I still haven’t done it, and now it’s too dark in the afternoons when I come home, plus one of the elements I want, full growth crops, are now long gone.
I have no idea why I do this, or how to start making myself take the time to get the shot.
Not preparing for the weather
I do not have waterproof shoes or pants. Because of this I missed a couple of angles of Abraham Lake that I would have liked.
Obviously the first solution is be more aware of weather/environment. Prepare for the worst. Layer up.
2nd is consider investing in some waterproof, or water-resistant pants, and waterproof footwear. I’m pretty sure MEC has pants that fit the bill, and perhaps I could even find some at winners or something. Footwear, that’s more of a commitment. I tend to wear mostly “barefoot” style footwear. There is not a ton of cold or wet weather options that I am aware of.
Not sacrificing some of my comfort for the shot I want
That may seem dumb, but it’s not. I can be wimpy. If getting the shot I really want involves getting cold, wet feet in inclement weather, I probably won’t do it. I don’t think I push myself enough to get interesting perspectives. I could get down on the ground, or climb up something, or bushwack for a little bit to get a new perspective. I default to shooting from the “easy” spots. The shots that anyone else could get from standing in the same spot. At Abraham lake a few weeks ago, at our last stop, I avoided getting my feet wet for a particular shot. I would have been more satisfied with my shot if I had just gone ahead and stepped in the lake for a few seconds. And it wouldn’t have hurt me to have a wet foot for the ride home.
Organizing my photo library
This should be fairly simple, but it is a sizable problem for me. My photo library is ordered by dates, and that’s the extent of organization. At the end of every month I sit for almost an hour comparing my rated photos in lightroom to the albums posted on flickr and smugmug, trying to reconcile them to match so I can export a lo-res set for my blog.
For October, I’ve just stopped exporting high res versions. I’m only doing the lo-res ones so that I can just upload that whole set at the end of the month.
You’d think after nearly a year of doing this, that I would have figured out a system by now. I think linearly and chronologically so that basic system works. But beyond that, it’s sort of just a big mess. I generally go through a set and rate what I like as 3 Stars. Then I show only the ones that are 3 or more stars, edit, and post my favourites. Usually I remember to knock the ones I didn’t love down to 2 stars, or even 0. But sometimes I don’t. And sometimes, if I’ve only taken 1-2 photos in a day, I don’t rate it at all, so it gets forgotten in the mix, and then I have to go back to my instagram or flickr to figure out which photo I’m missing.
So theres some of what has been challenging me this year. What do you struggle with? Do you have any suggestions for the challenges I listed? Leave them in the comments!