There is only you and your camera. The limitations in your photography are in yourself, for what we see is what we are.

— Ernst Haas

STARTING WITH MULTIPLE CHOICE

In this blog, I will share on some choices we have before, during and after the making of images, and will share more in the captions of images included. This is not about the specific cameras or lens brands we choose, but rather about the progression of choice we make in the process.

In every area of life, we have choices, multiple ones at every juncture. And, for different reasons, the same is true at any and every level of our photography. All choices move us in a direction. What direction? It depends.

So, what are some of the decision points? Let’s consider: Subject, Lens, Perspective and Approach, in tandem with your “goals” for any given image. Keep in mind that there are times when we have a very specific “end game” for our images from start to finish. Often, we are more free form in our process. Sometimes we are surprised at where the image starts and where it ends. In all of this, we make choices that steer the final image as well as the creative process.

Not just nets … I see colors, curves, patterns, textures and light. I see a life of hard work.

WHAT’S YOUR SUBJECT?

In the simplest of terms, we choose our subjects much like we choose our friends. We like them, and some of them we love. The question we might ask ourselves is, “why?” What’s the “why?” Answer that first. For many of us, we are generalists. We’ll photograph anything, but we still have our favorites.

What is it about the subjects we choose that draws us in? In the broad sense, why portraiture or weddings and events? Birds or wildlife? Why landscapes, seascapes, nightscapes or cityscapes? Flowers and gardens? We become good at what we are interested in and what holds our attention. We are unique. It’s what keeps us engaged and eager to learn and continue to step up our game no matter what genre or subject calls our name.

We have our favorite “come-back” spots, bucket-list places, favorite birds and flowers and such. These are the ones that touch our heartstrings differently for different reasons. For example, I love flowers. However, I looooove dahlias, ranunculus and lisianthus more than all the others (at least right now). The reasons they are my favorites, specifically, are the colors, curves and sensuous nature of their curls. You may have others that are entirely different or overlap. I enjoy photographing birds and wildlife whenever I have good opportunities, but I’m not so drawn to them that I would travel cross country or around the globe to photograph them. Other photographers might, and many do.

Wabi Sabi in the smaller details of “Miss Martha” in Apalachicola, Florida.

I enjoy most genres of photography and love learning new things. In fact, every year I give myself a new skill to learn or improve. One year it was about using textures and blending and masking. Another year it was long exposures, and so on. The night sky has been on my list for some time. (Just recently I got my feet wet with the Milky Way in the Florida Panhandle, learning from Jimmy Daniels, who shoots the night sky all the time.) I learned about infrared from Mark Hilliard and have been shooting and expanding those skills for well over ten years. What I know is that there’s always something new to learn, even within your most favorite genre.

The more we learn, the more our subject choices expand. We choose them in the field and at home because of something that catches and holds our attention – color, light, texture, gesture, behavior, and often how they make us feel. This last part (emotion) is often reflected in our final images once we complete the refinement process.

A vintage look for this rusting old truck.

Same truck, different look and feel.

WHAT LENS DO I NEED?

It depends. Just as we all love different subjects and develop different styles, we also choose our lenses for what they can do to help us capture a moment and express our vision. The lens we choose to use, and having the “right gear for the job” makes a difference. Having a macro lens makes getting in close for details in any subject easier. Knowing that you can use accessories like diopters and extension tubes to get in close gives you an advantage when you don’t have a macro lens. Wider angle lenses with fast apertures (f/1.4 – f/2.8) are better options than slower and longer focal lengths if you want to shoot at night or in low light (or if you want to create really soft backgrounds). Longer telephotos make bird and wildlife photography much easier (unless you like your birds to be dots in the frame or are willing to risk safety to foolishly get closer to wildlife). Handholding the longer lenses is harder, but sometimes using a tripod is not possible. (Did I just say that?)

The bottom line – knowing and having the gear you need to make effective images of the subjects you love does make a difference. Are you travelling somewhere to photograph a subject that requires a lens you don’t have? Consider renting before you decide to buy. You might learn that the adventure is a “one off” or that you want to try a different lens. You might even decide that you’re not that into that area of photography after all.

The textures, colors and endurance of this vintage oyster crate are what drew me in. Smaller sections allowed for abstractions that still tell the story of age and craftsmanship.

Don’t want to be a “just in case I might need it” camera bag lugger? I sure don’t. Choose to go lighter and work your subjects and images around the lens or lenses you have with you. Don’t convince yourself that you “need” every lens you own on your back. Instead of kicking yourself for what you didn’t bring, embrace the opportunity that presents itself. I walked around with my 16-35mm lens for a stretch of time just to force myself to see and shoot differently. And, I did. Were there things in the scene I would have wanted to shoot with a different lens? Of course. So what. I “experienced” those moments instead of bringing them home on a memory card.

There is much to learn and to be said about being present. There is much to be felt in those moments of awe. Just don’t fret. Use the lenses and gear you have. Learn what you need for better results – the ones you want. Add those tools to your bag as the means and opportunity allow. After 25 years of growing in my photography, I have accumulated a lot of gear. My needs and interests continue to evolve and change. It may be time for me to do some lens “rearranging,” to look at what I use and don’t use. It may be time to trade out gear to match what I am doing, and want to do, now. More choices, more decisions. Make the choices for the lens you carry, buy or borrow that fit what you need to get the images you want – not the ones you think you “should” have.

Old wooden oars of different colors expressed with motion.

FINDING YOUR PERSPECTIVE AND APPROACH

What we see depends on where we stand . . . or sit or kneel or lean or lie. It depends on how close or how far away we are to any given subject. It depends on how tall or short we are – with or without a tripod. It depends on what we are able to include in a scene (large or small), which depends on which lens we are using at the time. Where do we need to be and what do we need to do to get where we want to go? Be open and willing. Be intentional.

The ”eye-level, fully extended tripod” perspective is the most common one I see photographers use. It is not the most useful – unless that’s the way you want to work all your images. Not only that, I see this approach coupled with the camera attached even before many photographers have even surveyed the scene to make a conscious choice as to what is drawing them in. Oh, dear. If your pattern in the field is to get out of your car, grab the tripod, extend the legs and attach the camera and lens and start walking before you even see what there is to see or feel, STOP IT. Be bold. Step out of the car “naked” – no camera and lens, no tripod. Look with your eyes and experience with your heart and mind. Figure out what is “tripping your internal trigger.” What do you want to bring home and share. Then, choose what lens, what position, what tripod height you need to make that happen. Oh, and please don’t stay married to any of those choices or leave after a few clicks. Ask yourself my favorite question, “Is there more?” You know the answer. There always is.