Michael's Rediscovery of Nature

Ramblings and observations of a former biologist and a lifelong naturalist, who has recently returned to his roots in east Texas. After a many years of working from coast to coast in an industry far removed from biology, it has been a pleasant change of geography, activity, and attitude. No stressful job decked out in a three piece suit. No city living. Instead there is a rediscovery of the woods, of something scurrying through the leaves, of the clear notes of a bird call, and of reliving the joy that I had when nature was a playground and a classroom.

Who Do I Bill For My Self-imposed Photo Assignments?

I have decided to create some self-imposed photo assignments for myself.  The whole reason for it is that we learn better when we are pushed a bit. Right now when I go take photos, I am an equal opportunity photographer. My aim may to see what birds are out or to look for butterflies. I likely start out with my telephoto in my hands. However, as I amble about, I may see bees around a nice flower and so my aim changes. I put on my Micro lens and may pull out my flash for fill light. Then I may see a delicate mushroom pushing through the moist earth. Then, I am down on my hands and knees or, sometimes, flat on my stomach to make the shot. When I walk a little further, I may crest a hill and there is a beautiful view of the lake and the piney woods behind it. So, then I am slipping on my wide angle and digging out my polarizer filter. I adjust to whatever the situation may require.

Moon071416 2 of 1So, is that a bad way to go taking pictures? Not at all. I love doing that and it is why I burden myself down with so many pieces of equipment on my walks.

These days, I am most likely to be walking with my 200-500 mm lens mounted on my main camera. Often, I have it mounted on my tripod and carry it over my shoulder. There are times, though when birds (or other subjects) are active and I may need to make some fast shots. Then I will have my camera in my hands and the tripod on a shoulder sling. In my holster is my second camera and it will usually have the 105 mm Micro lens attached. I can quickly pull it out of the holster when needed. In another pouch, I may have my 18-300 mm zoom or my 14 mm wide angle. In my pockets, I will likely have my flash, a 1.4 tele-converter, a remote shutter release, some filters (polarizer, ND. . . ), memory cards, extra battery and a few cleaning supplies (brush, micro cloth).

That is my "normal" gear. It does vary depending on what I am thinking about photographing. For example, if I am purposely going to be doing macro, then I might add a ring light, knee pads, reflector/diffuser, etc. With this gear, I am ready for most situations. Whatever pops up, flies over, crawls by or magically appears, I am equipped to get a decent shot.

Okay, back to "is that a bad way to go taking pictures?" Again, I will say "Not at all". Ah, but I must put in a "however". However, if I want to purposely grow as a photographer, I should push myself to learn and improve my techniques for certain situations. Yes, I should continue to improve as I take photographs and critically review myself. Taking pictures and more pictures is one of the best way to learn how to take better pictures. But most of the time, unless you are traveling to a new location, you are going to be taking the same type of photos, in the same types of locales and, often, of the same subjects. Through time and shutter clicks, I you are going to improve your photography in those situations.

But what about the unusual situations? What about the types of photos that you don't see every time you go out? For example, I love macro photography and I am learning to take better macro photos, but I am not happy with much of my macro work. I luck out and get a good image now and then but not as consistently as I would like. How can I get better? Practice, of course. So, if I stay with my method above, of rather aimless wandering with my camera, looking for any opportunity, I will on occasion see a chance to slap on the ring light and get down with my Micro lens. I will take a few shots, trying to remember my criticisms of my last Micro shots. Likely, I will make some level of improvement. Then a Mississippi Kite flies by and I am up praying that the setting changes I made on my camera since the last attempt of catching a bird in flight, will help me do better with catching the Kite. So, off I go after the Kite.

With these types of photos, I am going to improve a little at a time. It is not conducive to really zeroing in on improving in specific and planned methods. Thus, I have come back to self-imposed photography assignments.

I want to continue to grow and improve as a photographer. There are certain areas that I really would like to add to my skills. Well, in some areas, I have only rudimentary skills and would really like to polish my techniques in those areas.

A good example of that is astrophotography. I love images of the Milky Way, of stars in general and even of the moon. I have read a fair amount about that type of photography lately, but haven’t done much with it yet. In the past, I have had mixed results, although, through time, my results are better. That is not good enough. I want to be able to take ooh and ah photos of the night sky. So, one of my self-imposed assignments will concern photographing stars, meteor showers, the moon, etc. I want to improve my skills in that area and my giving myself an assignment to do that type of photography, I am going to improve. I am going to make myself improve in a planned and measured manner.

There are other areas that I will be giving myself assignments. Here is a short list of assignments that immediately come to mind:

  • Lighting in macro photography – I must improve my lighting techniques with my macro photos
  • Photo stacking – played with it but haven’t gotten serious. I must develop techniques in this area
  • Birds in flight – I have had some success but must improve. Need heavy practice and experimentation with camera settings.
  • Photos of the night sky – as mentioned in the paragraph above.

It is my plan to keep giving myself assignments and making myself improve my skills in these and other areas. I hope to provide results and feedback in later posts.

One thing for sure. I will post my improved version of the moon shot with the one at the top of this post being the "Before" shot.

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Wednesday, 11 December 2019
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