Chomping at the bit

Spring, California Gold Country, Sierra Foothills

It’s been over a week since my last post. I have 350 Maui images on my hard disk, calling my name, but I’ve been so busy since coming home that I haven’t touched them. To give you an idea how busy I’ve been, last Tuesday my new 5D MarkIII arrived and I haven’t clicked the shutter once. That will change in a few days (if it kills me).

I love being a photographer, but it’s an unfortunate reality that turning your passion into your profession risks robbing photography of all the pleasure it once offered. Suddenly earning money takes priority over taking pictures, especially in this day when images just don’t sell the way they used to.

When I decided to make photography my livelihood, it was only after observing other very good digital photographers who, lured by the ease of digital photography, had taken the same path without recognizing that running a photography business requires far more than taking good pictures. Rather than becoming further immersed in their passion, they found themselves forced to photograph things not for love, but because it was the only way to put food on the table. And with the constant need for marketing, collections, bookkeeping, and just plain keeping customers happy, they soon realized that there was no time left to do what caused them to become photographers in the first place. Sigh.

So when I decided to change from photographer to Photographer, it was with a pretty good idea of what I  was risking. I vowed that I’d only photograph what I want to photograph, that I’d never photograph something simply because I thought I could sell it. In my case that meant sticking landscapes: no people or wildlife–in other words, pretty much nothing that breathes.

But how to make money? My previous life in technical communications–I’d been a technical writer for a (very) large high tech company and before that had spent many years doing tech support, training, testing, and writing for a small software company–combined with a lifetime of camping, hiking, backpacking, and (of course) photographing throughout the American West, made conducting photo workshops a very easy (and enjoyable) step for me. Supplementing the workshops with writing and print sales has allowed me to pay the bills, visit the locations I’ve always loved, and explore new locations. And most importantly, it has allowed me to keep photographing only the things I love photographing.

One of the things I love photographing most is spring in Northern California. March is a month of bipolar weather swings, a time when blue skies with puffy clouds turn into gray, frog-drowning downpours with alarming suddenness. March is also when our hills reach a crescendo of pupil-dilating green, the oaks leaf out with new life, and poppies start to appear everywhere.

One of my favorite diversions on these spring afternoons is driving into the Sierra foothills east town to photograph the poppies. With the window down, Spring Training baseball on the radio (go Giants!), and doing my best to get lost in the maze of narrow, twisting foothill roads, I’m in photography heaven. I found the above scene a couple of years ago on a quiet hillside beside the Cosumnes River in the Gold Country of the Sierra foothills. But this scene could be just about anywhere in California’s ubiquitous rolling, oak-studded hills.

Despite the current busy schedule, there’s comfort in the knowledge that our spring conditions will persist into June. Next month I’ll find poppies and other wildflowers mixed with redbud in the many canyons roaring with Sierra snowmelt. And come May, it’s dogwood time….

6 Comments on “Chomping at the bit

  1. Nice isolation shot and article. Just wish you would give the technical data too as Don does. Do you use Nik software or is it all PS/Lightroom? Yes we need more winter but we take what the upper atmosphere winds give us.
    Really enjoy your posts and your one shot capture ethic/philosophy/etc. Not sure of the word. Thanks

    • Thanks, Tom. I do all of my processing in Lightroom and Photoshop.

      My settings are never a secret, I just feel very strongly that many since aspiring photographers don’t understand that settings have very little value without the motion, light, and subject distance at the moment of capture, routinely providing them does more harm than good. (I’ve actually seen photographers try to duplicate another photographer’s capture by simply plugging in the settings.) I couldn’t in good conscience give capture settings without providing the scene’s variables too. Sometimes it’s simply a time thing, but often I just don’t remember.

      For example, this image was captured four years ago. From my exif data I know it was captured at ISO 200, f7.1, and 1/125 second. My focal length was 340mm (full frame); the time was 1:40 p.m. But all that information is of little value without the specifics of the scene. While (believe it or not) I actually remember composing this shot, and exactly where I was, I have no memory of the wind, light, and distance details at the time of capture. I can’t tell you whether I went to ISO 200 because there was a slight breeze, or if I was just too lazy (or forgetful) to put it back to ISO 100 after an earlier shot required 200. It’s also likely that I was using an extension tube (or tubes), but I can’t tell you what size (if any). Without that information, not only is there no way to know how far the foreground purple wildflowers are, or how far behind them the poppies are, there’s no way to make any sense of my f-stop choice.

      Probably a much longer answer than you’d bargained for. The short answer is, the technical data is never secret and always available on request. You can also get it for any shot I’ve posted on my Aminus3 blog: http://garyhart.aminus3.com/ (the Aminus3 images usually lag my WordPress images by a week or so). The basic exif data is there because it’s the default for that site, and because that site is more specific to photographers who (in theory) should know better than to give it much credence.

      • Gary thank you for taking the time to reply. All makes sense w/o question. It is my curious nature that asks questions. Each time I get behind my lens I ask myself where to focus and is it a hat, baseball or rifle distance. Most times it is a hat. Thanks as you have help my images pop w/o an iPhone in my pocket as I do not have one nor will. Now if I could just afford your w/shops. Enjoy the spring and editing 350 Hawaii images w/o Nik. That was encouraging to know that you just use PS/Lightroom. Thanks, Really!

  2. Pingback: Things You’ll Find Interesting March 27, 2012 @ Chuqui 3.0

  3. I always love your “pearls of wisdom”, Gary and please keep them coming. I was at a Canon Explorer of light seminar last night and a Canon representative was there, he had the mark 5D53 series and I was able to handle it. I’d love to hear your take on this camera and what you think about it.

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