Finding my Mojo

· Reading Time: 16 minutes

Friday, February 7, 2020

I know it has been a while since I’ve been out on a trek.  I’ve been a little busy here of late with getting ready for my first ever Intro to Photography class that is happening tomorrow, so my mind really has just been on the basics for a while now.  Toni and I also went to the mountains for her Birthday and visited Biltmore House which was the first time that either of us has seen the mansion.  It was a great time together and was a nice break from photography.  However, once we got back into town, I had things that needed to be done which kept me pretty well occupied during the first part of the week.  I have been working with The Art Shop in Greensboro on another image that they are needing for their project with Cone Hospital.  This isn’t just any image either, it is a 100 inch long panorama that I believe will be at the entrance to the new Women’s Hospital that will be opening up very soon.  Obviously, I wanted to dedicate the appropriate time to that project, so that kept me tied up and trumped any creativity that my mind have.

In other news, I had a meeting with a friend of mine about a project that will more than likely be happening over the Summer.  This is an opportunity to help in putting together a calendar for a fund raiser for the Special Olympics.  If the plan comes together, I will be photographing thirteen different cars which will be determined at a car show in June.  These shoots will all be individual locations and each car will be represented as their own month.  It will be a huge project, but I am really looking forward to getting it underway.  It has been a genre of photography that I have wanted to get into for a while now which I think will complement my rusty car photography quite nicely.  I’ll finally get to do some “pretty” cars and I get to capture the images for a great cause to boot!

One other thing that has been kind of floating around in the background for a while now is the upcoming Webinar that I will be doing on February 20th for Singh-Ray.  This free webinar will be discussing the benefits to finding locations locally to shoot rather than just waiting for those grand trips which come along just every so often.  This will be my second webinar that I have done with them and I am very excited about it as this topic is near and dear to my heart.  I encourage you all to sign up and join me (can even go back and watch it any time after it airs if you have signed up for it.  To sign up, you just need to go here and register.  If you aren’t a photographer, don’t worry about it as I will be talking about some of my photographs that I have shot around 10 miles from my house.  It will be a good insight as to how I get the images that I do.  You will also get the chance to laugh at me since it is a very unnatural thing to talk to an audience sitting alone in my office.  It takes me a little while to get warmed up and I’m liable to say something funny along the way.

Photography in Your Own Back Yard with Greg Kiser

As you see, it has been quite busy over the last week.  This has made it hard to get the time to go out, and then you add in several days of lousy weather where it must made no sense to go out and you start to see why I have been rather quiet thus far in the month.  I don’t have a problem taking a few days off from the creative process, but there is a down side.  Once I turn off the creative side of my brain I usually have a hard time turning it back on again.  It is kind of like kinetic energy where an object in motion stays in motion.  When I purposely shut down the creative end of my thoughts it is a whole process in itself.  Then, when I can start it back up again, it takes a lot of work to make it happen.  I wish I could just flip a switch and go out with grand ideas and visions but that isn’t the case.  By the close of the week, a barn was just a barn, a tree was just a tree, and I was seeing things the same way that everyone else does.  I could feel that taking place and I didn’t like it.  I tried to force myself to see compositions and evaluate lighting, but I just couldn’t.  I needed something to jump start my eyes and imagination, and I needed it to happen soon.

As the week wore on, I kept trying to get out in the field but every time I wanted to go it was raining.  Since I had no clear idea what I wanted to capture, I just shook it off and went back to other things.  The truth of the matter was I was in a slump and I knew that I didn’t need to force anything, but I was a little worried about my lack of inspiration.  With the heavy rains on Thursday and the flooding that they caused I was thinking that waterfalls might be the trick. This time of year I am usually doing a lot of waterfalls but really hadn’t shot any at all lately.  With the increased water flow I should be able to build up some excitement with them.  Looking at the weather Friday was going to be cloudy which was a good thing, but the winds were forecasted to be 20mph with higher gusts.  This was no good for waterfalls since any tree movement will blur over the course of a couple of seconds.  I decided to wait until the morning to see what the winds and the clouds were going to do.

As I was settling into the groove of planning a trek before bed we got a call from Sierra’s school saying that due to the flooding school was delayed by two hours.  Well, that pretty much killed my ability to travel anywhere since I would be taking her at 1030 and picking her up at 3:30.  I thought that I would try to head out first thing in the morning to do something before school and then hopefully get out again after taking her.  That idea didn’t last long.  In fact it was gone before the sun came up. There were still large pockets of rain passing by which would prevent me from doing anything before taking her to school.

I decided to use that time to get the final preparations done for my Intro to Photography class as I needed to get the Powerpoint presentation polished and saved to the laptop.  As I was completing that, the rain stopped and the sky started to get really interesting with the moving clouds.  I still had no idea what I was going to shoot, but I was seeing a potential for an image or two with the conditions that were unfolding.  When it came time to take Sierra to school the sky was still looking good, but the wind was incredibly strong.  That is always a challenge for photographers as you have to deal with both subject and motion blur with the camera.  I was headed out to see if I could find some inspiration though, and that was a positive thing.  It was the first time I had been out with the camera since late last week.

When I dropped her off, I decided to go by a graveyard so see if I could do something with a tall grave marker and the moving clouds.  There was one locally that I was driving by anyway so I stopped over there for a minute to check things out.  The sky was pretty much solid blue over the property and I saw no tall markers that would work for what I had in mind.  Nothing was catching my eye at all.  I left there and started to go back down the road headed over to an area that I had recently discovered about 15 minutes away.  I knew that there were some barns and a few old trucks that might get me going again.  Sadly, nothing on the street caught my eye at all.  Everything was just blah and the light wasn’t helping anything at all.  I continued out in the area of Union Cross because I had heard recently about a couple of structures that are out there that might be decent subjects.  I never found them.

In my meanderings I found myself back in the area of Salem Lake which has always been a good subject for long exposures.  Since it was right at mid day, the sun was harsh, but the clouds were looking pretty decent.  I decided to head over there to see if there was anything that I could use as a solid anchor point in a composition.  I love to use the boats that are usually pulled up on the shore, but I figured that with it being Winter and after a serious storm, I would be hard pressed to get any boats there waiting for me.

When I got to the parking lot I was met by an empty shoreline with an undulating boat jetty.  There was just one boat in the water and it was moving wildly while there was one on the jetty that was moving with the ebb and flow of the water.  The only thing I could use for a foreground was the actual pier which was relatively stable in the water.  I sat there looking from the parking lot not feeling a bit of inspiration from the scene in front of me.  I had shot here before and wasn’t all that wild about how things lined up with the pier.  I knew that there would be vibrations on the pier so shooting from it wouldn’t yield a sharp image.  I’ve shot here before on a windy day and sharpness was a huge issue in many of the images.  If I were to get down on the shore, there wouldn’t be enough separation between the pier and the distant shore.  I was seeing separation from the parking lot though.  Could it be that simple?  Could I just take a picture from the parking lot and call it a day?  I might as well give it a try to see if it would work

I got my gear and worked my way around the parking lot until the light poles on the pier straddled the distant channel on the opposite shore.  I had the separation that I needed from this location.  While I normally would shoot with my wide angle lens, I decided that I needed to go a little narrower for this composition so I mounted my 24-70mm lens to check the composition.  Zoomed into 70mm I found the composition that I liked and started to look at exposure options.  I knew that I wanted to get a little more definition in the sky, so I added a Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer which deepened the blues to add contrast to the sky.  That did the trick for the sky, but I could see that the water was a little too dark for my tastes.  I was pretty sure that this was going to turn into a monochrome image so I was already looking at the tonal values that I was going to be working with.  In order to bring the values of the water back in line with what I was wanting, I added a Singh-Ray Galen Rowell 2-stop soft edge ND Grad Filter.  The sky immediately came into line with the water in the way that I wanted it to.  I was starting to feel a little artsy fartsy with this image and was liking how it was going.

Looking at the clouds, they were moving from behind of me to in front of me so the motion would be a fitting part to the composition I thought.  To capture that movement I decided that I would use an ND filter.  I was needing about two to three minutes to have the clouds cover the space that I wanted them to, so I went to my Lee Filter’s app and dialed in the exposure that my camera was telling me was right for the filters that I had mounted thus far.  Even with a 10-stop filter on, I wasn’t going to get to the time I wanted at f/11, so I had to stop down to f/14 in order to get a 2:40 exposure.  That was going to work so I got the Mor Slo filter mounted in behind the grad filter and switched over to bulb mode and blocked the viewfinder from any stray light.

The first exposure looked pretty good, but I didn’t like that the light poles were below the tops of the trees.  I felt that didn’t work for the image.  In order to get lower and have them reach into the clouds a little bit, I was going to potentially sacrifice the separation I had with the distant shoreline.  I started to move the camera around and I got in a bit closer on the hill leading down to the water.  About half way down I could see that two of the three poles were now above the trees and framed the distant channel nicely.  I set the camera up and found that 63mm was the winning focal length for the composition.  It included more of the sky than before, and actually gave a nice perspective on the pier which angled up just at the edge of the frame to keep it from dumping the viewer’s eyes out of the frame in the lower left.  I kept all of the filters on from before and just adjusted the horizon line on the Grad filter before starting another exposure.

That exposure didn’t show the movement in the clouds that I was after so instead of pulling off the filters and determining a different exposure, I just knew that I wanted something around 3:20 in exposure time.  All I had to do was to go back to the app and see what the difference was between the current 2:40 and the desired 3:20.  That was only a third of a stop which was a single click.  Something that I have been working on in my class preparation is the theory that one click is one click, so I knew that all I needed to do was tighten the aperture by a click to allow for the 3:20 exposure.  I fired off that long exposure and waited to see what happened when it was all done.

It was a very long three minutes and twenty seconds, and then I fumbled with the remote and added an additional two seconds to that.  Oopsie!  The nice thing with these long exposures is that a difference of even 20 seconds is really negligible in the grand scheme of things so I wasn’t worried at all about the two added seconds.

Pier Pressure“, Canon 5D Mk3, 24-70mm f/2.8L Mk2, Singh-Ray Color Combo Polarizer, Galen Rowell 2-stop soft edge ND Grad, and 10-stop Mor Slo ND Filter, Converted to B&W in Lightroom, 202 second exposure

When the image came up on the camera I really liked what I saw.  I had the drama and movement in the sky that I wanted and the water was silky smooth despite the waves that were rolling across the scene from the wind.  I was so happy with this one that I didn’t even both with doing another exposure.  It was my 10th of the morning and I was pretty sure that the last one was going to be my keeper.  I’m happy to say that I was right and that last image was my keeper from this session.  I was out there maybe 30 minutes to get this one image, but I am quite happy with it, especially considering that I had no idea at all how the day was going to progress or what I was going to be shooting.

I packed up my gear and continued on with my meanderings in an attempt to find something else to photograph.  I was feeling that fine art vibe so I was looking for shapes and shadows more than anything at this point.  I just wasn’t finding anything at all to my satisfaction.  I was still in my slump, but at least I had gotten an image I was reasonably happy with.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I didn’t want to force it anymore than I already had.  I had dipped my toes back in the creative pool and that was enough for the day.  I have a really bad habit of judging myself as a photographer based on my last image and if I forced another image I was most certainly going to end up with something that would be less than what I was after.  With that in mind, I headed home after a couple of hours in the field with only ten frames to represent the effort.

When I pulled the image into Lightroom, I wasn’t all that happy with what I saw.  It was a very flat image and the colors were all very muted.  I had shot it with the idea of going monochrome so I made the conversion and found the color profile that suited the tones the best.  It still wasn’t where I wanted it to be, but I was getting closer.  The more I adjusted the tonal relationships, and the contrasts within the image the more I started to like it.  When I had a pretty good rough edit done on it, I took a break and went to get Sierra.  When I came back to it, I was liking it even more.  I did a few more localized adjustments until it fit the vision that I had for it.

I really liked the composition, and I was glad that I moved in closer and lower to get the light poles above the trees instead of below that line.  The exposure time was perfect for the clouds and showed just enough motion to add that drama to the scene.  The water was silky smooth as I had envisioned which simplified the foreground so that you just concentrate on the pier.  I know that there are some wildly different opinions on this effect on bodies of water and I have sat in both camps over the years.  I have finally decided that it is the right thing to do in some situations and it isn’t in others.  This was one of those times that it needed to be done in order to keep the visual weight equal between the clouds and the water.  The pier has enough going on with it that it firmly holds the attention all on its own with the water smoothed over.

It wasn’t a very fruitful trip, but it was so nice to get back out again with the camera and do something creative with it.  I just hope that it has helped me put an end to my creative slump so that I can start getting back out there again capturing even better images than before.

Until that next time…

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