Nature photography is natural. It’s amazing how complicated it become: f-stop, shutter speed, depth of field, et al.
Nature is sweet,
introspective, serendipitous, serene. Photographing it should be the easy part, and yet photography requires a camera, and a camera is technology, so understanding a few details makes a big difference. As a minimalist, I try to rely on as simple a camera as possible, as few details as possible, and enjoy it as much as possible. Life as a frugal is like that, reducing the experience to the essence, seeing past the clutter. Evidently, I do that well enough that I’ve been asked to teach a class on nature photography. (Page 62 in the off-line catalog and page 64 in the online catalog.) How that happened is as example of persistence and intuition at work; which applies to much more than taking pretty pictures.
I celebrated the news by telling some photographer friends that I was going to teach the class. One laughed, and then apologized. I understand. Most photographers have armies of lenses, filters, tripods, and flashes. I have a Nikon D-40, a camera so far down the line that it could be replaced for the price of one of their lenses. My favorite tripod is an old ski pole, so it’s really a monopod. I don’t have an MFA. I do have forty years of taking photos. I can’t talk tech specs. I can talk about how to schedule a sunset session that spans the wildlife, lighting, and environmental issues that vary over three hours of photography. I also know that I can sell my photos. (Whidbey Island & Washington’s Cascades)
Life has changed dramatically within the last decade. The change has been rapid, yet not so rapid that people haven’t embodied the change. Once upon a time, Kodak sold film. It is anachronistic to point out that people had to use a camera, tended to only take as many pictures as would fit on a roll, then would drop off the film to get processed and printed (maybe getting dupes on Tuesdays!), and share them by handing them around with friends. It wasn’t that long ago, and yet it was a different era. Food porn wasn’t possible. Selfies were self-portraits. News events captured on film were rare. Now, if you’re carrying a cell phone, tablet, and laptop you are probably carrying anywhere from three to six cameras. And, you might even carry a camera that does nothing else except take photographs (though it probably also does time lapse, panoramas, and videos with audio.) Photography has become easy and very common.
Frugality is the appreciation of the value of everything. When you realize how valuable some things are, there frequently isn’t a need to acquire more things. In my case, that applies to cameras, too.
I enjoy nature, and haven’t been getting enough doses of it. I’ve almost always carried a camera on my hikes, ski trips, and bike rides. When I’m carrying my camera, I’m carrying it; the work is being done by a car, a plane, a bus or a train. The bicycle helps, but there and with the rest of my trips, every pound I carry I have to spend energy and effort to move. The more things I carry, the more things I have to take care of, and the less time I spend enjoying the journey. I naturally reduce and refine until I’m usually carrying one camera and one lens – and then relying on intuition and trusting to my choice. As many artists practice, it is the self-defined constraints that help define the art. One five year photo essay I completed was done without tripod, almost exclusively with one lens, with no flash, without cropping, and only minimal color correction. The biggest alteration was having a professional remove the inevitable mist and dust marks from the images. Photographing by the seashore has some messy elements, just like almost all nature photography.
The good camera on an iPhone 6 captures more pixels than my old Nikon. The bad camera on the iPhone 6 is better than the camera that I used before that. Yet, both of my cameras produced images that sell. Allow me a big of self-acknowledgement. Using both of my cameras, I’ve produced images that have sold. Photography is as much about the camera as cooking is about the oven. Yes, a high-end Viking oven is an awesome thing, but I’m making tonight’s chicken and rice dinner from scratch in an oven that may be original to this 1965 house.
Too many people downplay their abilities, and lately assume it is because they are not good enough for their equipment. Bah! I’m amazed at people’s abilities. Much of what’s required to use today’s technology is knowing what to turn off, not trying to understand every option and menu built in. That’s true of cameras, ovens, cars, and software. It’s more important to understand what you want to do, than understanding everything the equipment will allow you to do. Just because your car can go over 100 mph doesn’t mean you have to practice driving that fast. If all you need is 55, then don’t think about 100 and beyond. (But I do still enjoy Top Gear, but that’s another story.)
The world is overwhelming. Before we were global we weren’t as aware of every crisis in every community. It is easy to get to the point where you just want to unplug. Good. A nature walk is not an escape. A nature walk is a return to reality. The photo that became that poster is from a 3 mega-pixel point and shoot (that sadly was subsequently accidentally dribbled across a parking lot.) The most important thing in using any tool is your intent, what you want to do or say, rather than what the machine can do. Whether it is photography, or writing, or living your own life, your intent is the most important thing. Discovering a person’s passion and intent is something I enjoy doing. That I can teach, regardless of the camera. That’s something we all can learn, regardless of the topic.
Now, if only I had a point and shoot to show you the chicken and rice with roasted tomatoes that’s coming out of the oven. But, the important part of dinner is the flavor, and that I can’t catch on film.
If you want to take the class (and missed the link above), here’s the link again. If you want me to teach it somewhere else, contact me. If nothing else, we’ll have a good time chatting.