How I Learned Photography

I began with a Kodak Brownie camera when I was 13 years old.  My mom bought the camera for me and also purchased a subscription to Modern Photography magazine.  Three years later when I moved to Montana I joined the photography club in high school. I learned how to roll bulk black and white 35 mm film then.  I wasn’t long until I was  developing negatives, making contact prints, and learning how to make large prints in the high school darkroom. I began to read more about photography.  I picked up library books, read articles in magazines, and began subscribing to photography magazines. During the time I was reading about photography I was also continuing to practice it when I had a camera and the time.

In 1986 I worked in Yellowstone National Park and bought my first 35mm camera outfit. It was a Pentax ME Super, a 50mm lens, a 70-210mm zoom, and an aluminum tripod. I hitchhiked many times that summer in the park with my camera and a cardboard sign that read “Park Employee.” I have many Kodacolor slides from that summer in Yellowstone. I returned to work another summer in 1987 and made many more slides. In 1988 I worked on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, bringing my camera gear. While at the Grand Canyon I sat in on many lectures given by professionals from Kodak at outdoor locations. I also hiked and rode the tour buses as much as I could on my days off of work. I was almost given a ticket by a National Park Ranger for being outside during a fierce storm trying to photograph the lightning. I didn’t get any photos of the lightning, as I did not have the knowledge or the correct equipment.

There were times from 1990 until around 2002 when I did not have a camera, which did not temper or slow my interest and passion in photography.  In 2002 I bought a used 35mm camera from a pawn shop in Spokane and continued my photography.  I have also met and spoke with several photographers over the years I lived in Spokane and Montana.  I learn more by reading and doing, along with some coaching from others who have the knowledge and experience I may not have yet.

Fast forward to 2011 which is when I bought my first DSLR camera with a kit lens. I continue to read as much as I can on photography. I subscribe to four photography magazines (Outdoor Photographer, Shutterbug, Popular Photography, and Rangefinder), read online articles, check out books at the local library, and from time to time buying a book on photography. My skills as a photographer are improving every time I use my camera, as I am looking for new subjects, unique compositions, and much more. In the last year I have bought a professional lens and used it for several events, photographing a model, photographing wildlife and landscapes. My most recent addition to my photography gear has been a muslin background and portable support system, which I have yet to use.
Call to Action: I have many suggestions for photographers of all ages and skill levels. Read and understand your camera manual. That is very important. You have spent the money on the camera you now own. Do your best to know how to use it from that manual. Then for more advanced knowledge read much more, all you can on photography; lenses, cameras, lighting, composition, and photo editing software. Talk with other photographers of all experience levels and ask them many questions. Most photographers enjoy sharing their passion and what they have learned about photography. Practice, practice, and practice even more. Every time you can, you should have your camera with you and shoot anything and everything. You will have some images that did not turn out as well as you had hoped. That is okay, as I have had photographs that did not turn out perfect, great, or to my liking. What did I do? When it was possible, I took the photo again. Now and then I will put the image I am not sure about aside on my computer and work with it later (several times) in the photography software I own. I make adjustments to the RAW file. I try to keep all of those files and then only convert to JPEG when I am well satisfied with how the image looks. (Editing photography will be another blog entry that I will try to not make too complicated or too long.) When in doubt, seek help from other photographers you may know or follow. We may not have all of the answers, though we will do our best to help you and in turn we learn more about photography.

I hope this entry has helped you and rekindled your passion and interest in photography. If you found this blog entry helpful or provoking questions, ideas, comments, or thoughts; please contact and follow me.

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Autumn Raindrops and Fall Leaf Photograph

The photo was a challenging one to create, as an October rain storm had just stopped. I was hiking in a wildlife viewing area that is on MT Highway 200 west of Plains, Montana. There is no clear trail into the area and I spent much of my time carefully walking over slippery rocks and wet grass. The sun was not out very long and I was going to need to use the flash on my camera. I set up my tripod and took several minutes to compose the image you see now. Over the last two years the photo sat on my computer in different cropped versions, none of them appealed to me. I decided to go back to the first and original crop, keeping the blurred background intact. The final photograph is one that I find very appealing and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Autumn raindrops lightly dust a dfall leaf in Montana.

Autumn raindrops lightly dust a fall leaf in Montana.

Here is the information on what I used to create this photo: Canon Rebel XS, Canon 18-55mm IS Lens, one Velbon tripod.  (The EXIF data: 44mm, ISO 200, Auto white balance, 1/400, F5.0).

Do you think the leaf should be in the right third of the frame? Do you find the bright yellow in the background to be a help or a distraction to the leaf an overall composition?  How could the photograph be improved?

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Buy Photographs and other items for Cancer Research and Treatment

Inspirational words to give you pause and encourage.

Inspirational words to give you pause and encourage.

The post this time is very personal and is an appeal for your help in fighting a disease, Cancer.  I recently learned that I have had two types of Cancer.  Today (November 16, 2015) I had one Cancer mass removed.  The doctor found a second type of Cancer underneath the mass that had been removed.  That second type of Cancer can be treated without surgery.

I would like your help in funding Cancer treatment and research for me and so many other people.   I will donate 50% of all of my sales every single month to the American Cancer Society.  The remaining 50% of sales on my Redbubble website will be used by me to fight Cancer and continue creating many more images.

Here is the link to my Redbubble website:  http://www.redbubble.com/people/douglaswilks

In this season of thankfulness and generosity, please help me bring hope to the many people battling Cancer.  Thank you so very much.

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Minutes Can Make a Difference

This Mule deer was resting in the shade near a Lilac bush in western Montana.

This Mule deer was resting in the shade near a Lilac bush in western Montana.

The first image here was taken at 9:59:49 a.m. on September 28, 2015.   The sky had very few clouds and it was a mostly sunny morning.  I used my Canon Rebel XS, 70-200 F4 IS lens and had the ISO at 800 (which is normally too high a setting for me to use).  In both photos here I used F8 and the focal length was 200mm.

I decided several minutes later to see if the Mule deer was still in the same location.  Fortunately for me the deer had not moved from that spot where it was resting.  In this next image I changed the camera orientation from landscape to portrait and changed the ISO to 200.  The time the photograph below was created was 10:19:14 a.m. on September 28, 2015.

Several minutes had gone by and I made a few adjustments to camera orientation and ISO.

Several minutes had gone by and I made a few adjustments to camera orientation and ISO.

By waiting a few minutes, the amount of sunlight helped change the look of the subject (as did my change in the ISO and camera orientation).  Waiting several minutes between creating one photo and another and making some adjustments to your ISO and camera orientation you can create two very unique images of one subject.  This is helpful if you are wanting to create a portfolio for clients, photo editors, or yourself that is varied and demonstrates your skills.

What ISO speeds have you used to change the look of your subject?  Are you shooting mostly in landscape orientation or portrait?  How often do you only make a few photos within a short time and not returned to the subject several minutes later when the lighting has changed?  Which of the two photographs do you find more appealing and why?  If you were the photographer of the subject here, what would you have done differently?

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Create Amazing Photos

A White Tail Doe eats off a fallen tree limb as the fawn watches.

A White Tail Doe eats off a fallen tree limb as the fawn watches. (Rebel XS, Canon 70-200mm F4 IS lens: Lens set at 70mm and F4,0, Camera settings: Cloudy white balance, no flash, ISO 200, Shutter speed 1/60)

 

What techniques are needed to create an amazing image like the one shown here? Photographs should be amazing in every detail, which involves the following elements; the selection of the subject, excellent composition, and proper use of equipment. All of those elements will be discussed briefly in the paragraphs that follow.
How do you get to know your subject? One of the best ways to understand something is by observation. In the photo above I spent over two hours observing and photographing the white tail doe and fawn. I observed where they stood, how they moved, and how that movement impacted the photograph I had in my mind that I wanted to create. Knowing your subject takes spending time with them to see their mannerisms. This is true for both animals and humans. You want to capture your subject at the right time and looking their best, which will take a good deal of observation. Once you know your subject well, you will want to understand some basics of composition to help them look amazing.
Basics of composition involves many important elements; placement of your subject in the frame, awareness of lighting, and depth of field. Placement of your subject using the Rule of Thirds is often helpful. The Rule of Thirds divides your frame into thirds vertically and horizontally. By placing your subject at or near the intersection points it will lead the viewer to see more of your photograph and cause the subject to be more amazing. Lighting is something that every photographer needs to understand. Creating, manipulating and then capturing the right amount of light for your subject involves using the right shutter speed, proper F-Stop on the lens, and the correct white balance setting. Shutter speed refers to the length of time your camera shutter is open. F-Stop refers to the size of the opening inside your lens (the aperature) and the amount of light your lens brings into your camera. White balance refers to the kind of lighting used. Is it one of the following; sunlight, cloudy, shade, flash, tungsten, or florescent? Each light source has a different temperature and will result in a change of color to your subject. Experiment with different lighting to see how your subject looks in each one. Depth of field refers to how much of the foreground, subject, and background is in focus. If you want everything in focus you will most likely use a lens setting of F8 and higher (F11, F16, F22, and F32). If you want more of your subject in focus and less of the background in focus (getting the bokeh effect) you may want to consider using the quickest F-stop on your lens (F1.8, F2.8, F4.0 or F5.6). The terms used here involve knowing and understanding your camera and lenses very well.
How well do you know and understand your camera and lenses? Have you read your camera manual? Are you familiar with the more advanced camera and lens settings than Auto? Your photographic equipment is well crafted tools that can help you create amazing images, if you know how to use them properly. There are many magazines, videos, and books that will help you learn how to use your camera and lenses and greatly improve your skills. Go online, to the library, or buy them from a book store. Make sure you spend time taking notes and then practice the techniques the photographers have used to create amazing photographs.
Amazing photographs just don’t happen by magic or luck. The photographer often spends many hours on learning and observing the subject, creating the right composition, and understanding their equipment.  Now then, get out there and create some amazing photographs of your favorite subjects.

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Breaking The Rules

A single Pine Cone stands out from beneath three Pine trees in western Montana.

A single Pine Cone stands out from beneath three Pine trees in western Montana.

Rules were meant to be broken.  That is a phrase that you may have heard once or twice in your life.  What specific rule of photography have I broken in the photo that starts this blog post?

Most photographers will immediately say the Rule of Thirds, indicating that the Pine Cone would probably be better if it was not in the exact center third of this photograph.  The Rule of Thirds cuts the frame into equal thirds vertically and horizontally, the subject can be placed anywhere in those thirds.  Most photographers may argue and say the main subject or element should not be in the exact center.  The reason for placing the subject or element some where else is to guide the viewer to more of the photo, create or emphasize the other elements, or other reasons.

If you look at the other thirds you will see why I have chosen to place the Pine Cone in the exact center.The right third of the photo contains the following elements; a trunk of a tree, tree branches, blue sky, Pine needles, and the blue water of a lake.  The left third of the photo contains the following elements; a trunk of a different tree, tree branches, blue sky, Pine needles. and the blue water of a lake.  The center third of the photo contains the majority of the Pine Cone, which is the main element. This photo is balanced and the Pine Cone in the exact center pulls your eye there; while still giving you an appealing composition that includes so many of the other elements that are balanced on both sides of this photograph.

Other photographers most likely would have spent much more time with placing the Pine Cone in one of the other thirds, or even at an intersecting point.  They would have spent many minutes adjusting their camera position so the Pine Cone would not be in the exact center.  That is the great thing about general rules of photography; once you know and understand the rules you are free to interpret the rules as you have chosen.  As the photographer you decide what will work for your photograph.

How would you have photographed this Pine Cone?  Would you have placed it in the right or left third?  Perhaps the upper or lower third would have been a better placement of the Pine Cone?  Or would you have placed it at an intersecting point?  Do you ever break the Rule of Thirds?  When was the last time you broke general rules in your photography?  Why do you think it is important to break the general rules of photography at times?

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Winter Doldrums

I haven’t posted anything here for sometime.  Winter has been challenging; the cold, snow, overcast days, and my own busy hectic life.  In the past I have moved my photography indoors and tried to do some unique things with inanimate objects or Christmas lights.  This year there has been much going on in other parts of my life that kept me from doing much more than getting through one day.

Photography is a challenge in winter; the cold, snow, rain, fog all play into the chances that your camera will be inside the case or inside the house.  I don’t risk damaging my camera on those days when weather is  difficult.  I have read about some photographers have the right gear to protect the camera and lens from the elements.  They go out and get the photographs of wildlife and landscapes that I appreciate and am in awe at times.  Great job ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you for being so tenacious and dedicated to your photography.  You are an inspiration and I wish I could be the same way  Unfortunately, I am not at a place financially or health wise to go to the places where the iconic winter scenes happen; Yellowstone in winter,  the North Pole, Alaska, and many others.

Perhaps this spring, summer, and fall will be the seasons when I create the photographs I have always imagined and wanted.  At this time in winter, I am just plowing ahead to get to the next day.

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