Monthly Archives: July 2013


Recent Work

What makes you want to get out and photograph?  Interesting skies do it for me, every time.  I’m extremely fortunate that where I live in northern Colorado, we have clear thin air, low humidity, and monsoonal storms in the summer, all of which help to create consistently wonderful displays of clouds in the sky.  I’m constantly gazing at the sky, trying to anticipate how the conditions will come together, judging the opportunities for a good photograph.  More than once, I’ve been doing something completely unrelated to photography and have had to stop and get my camera on account of a dazzling display coming together in the sky.

The image in this post, “Black Trees No. 7,” began during the mid-afternoon, when I was completely preoccupied with something else entirely and had no particular plans to photograph that day.  I happened to notice these interesting cloud shapes developing, where large swaths of clear blue sky were being punctuated with patches of billowy, drifting clouds.  The combination of such open spaces ringed by the natural frames of the clouds immediately had me imagining all kinds of compositional possibilities, and I felt the restless, irresistible urge to get out with my camera and see what I could make of it.

Is there something that calls to you action, that you can’t ignore when it comes?  It doesn’t have to be for photography, it can be for anything.  I think some of your best work gets done that way, when you have a strong connection with what you’re doing.  It gives you purpose and insight when you’re called to do something, that’s different from doing things in the ordinary course of things.  Don’t ignore it when it comes calling for you.  If you have it, you may be a skygazer, too.

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Some recent travels have me thinking about the role of perspective in photography.  If photography is the art of seeing, then your perspective will have a great impact on the work you produce.  When I travel somewhere new, naturally I tend to notice the things that are unique and different from my home.  This influences my choices in subject matter and presentation.  Traveling in Europe, for example, I might tend to focus on the great art, architecture, and culture that I would not otherwise find near my home in northern Colorado.

It occurred to me, however, that my home in Northern Colorado likely holds the same appeal for others who do not live here.  Certainly I know that people travel from around the country, and indeed around the world, to experience the natural scenery that is at my doorstep every day.  Their perspective as visitors to the place that is my home likely allows them to see the things I see every day with a different perspective.

I think it is important to be aware of what your perspective is, and to try to see things from a different point of view every one in awhile.  The tree in this post, “Black Tree No. 6,” is of a kind that is fairly common around where I live.  When I was photographing it, I recall that someone approached me and asked what I was pointing my camera at.  When I told them, they could not believe this tree would make a good photograph.  There is good photography available pretty much anywhere, though, if you have the perspective to see it.

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Some Thoughts on Owning Only One Lens

For most of the DSLR cameras I’ve owned, I’ve had at least two lenses, typically a mid-range zoom and a telephoto zoom.  Since upgrading my DSLR to a Canon 5d Mark ii last fall, though, I’ve had only one lens – the utterly fantastic Canon 24-105L.  All of my work since then has been done with that one lens, and that one lens only, so I thought I might share a few thoughts about working with only one lens.

First, the downside.  There definitely have been times I’ve missed having the more telephoto end of the range past 105mm.  I love, and in the past had gotten used to, picking details out of a grand scene, be it a tree on the distant horizon or an architectural detail on the top of a building.  Telephoto lenses also tend to have the effect of compressing the foreground and background in images, which makes them great for juxtaposing elements in a scene, such as a towering mountain in the background over a tree or building in the foreground.  They also are great for isolating patterns, textures, or other elements in an otherwise crowded scene.  My eye tends to gravitate towards these kinds of things naturally, and with the 24-105 I’ve encountered many subjects I couldn’t capture simply because I didn’t have the telephoto reach.

Now, the good.  Working with one lens definitely is a liberating, simplifying experience.  Your gear is lighter.  You never have to devote any thought to what lens you will use.  There’s no risk of getting dust or dirt inside your camera during a lens switch.  Being ready to photograph often means simply grabbing your camera and turning it on. You’re incredibly familiar with the settings and controls.

You get more creative with your compositions.  Working with a more limited range of focal lengths forces you to move yourself closer or farther away from your subjects.  In the process, you see angles and views you didn’t see before.

You work outside of your comfort zone a bit.  For me, this meant working more at the wide-angle end of the range than I had in the past.  I found myself getting closer to my subjects than I had before, sometimes maybe only a foot or two away, and often shooting from low angles.  Once or twice, I even found myself wishing I had a focal length wider than 24mm to work with.

You learn new things.  I began using hyperfocal distancing to a degree I never had before, to take advantage of the greater depth of field available at shorter focal lengths. This required me to seek out and find much new information that I might not have gone looking for otherwise.

Your images take on a consistent look, in a good way.  The image in this post is called “Black Trees No. 5.”  As the name suggests, there are Black Trees Nos. 1-4 already, and there probably are more Black Trees images in the works.  All of the Black Trees images were taken with the 24-105L, which I believe adds to the unifying, thematic look that binds these images together.

On balance, I would say that working with just one lens has been a very positive experience.  I definitely recommend it for other photographers out there, if only for a little while …

…. because, yes, I recently took the plunge and purchased a Canon 100-400L. I did miss doing those things I liked to do at the telephoto end of the range, after all.  Still, I think my experience with owning only one lens has made me a better photographer, and I hope that experience will carry over with the new lens!


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