Monthly Archives: May 2009

“What is it that you’re trying to shoot?”

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While I was at the GSMIT workshop, one of my instructors asked me this question (or something like it) while we were out on a shooting trip at Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Besides getting to understand my gear and it’s capabilities better, one of my goals for my shooting while at this workshop was to learn how to slow down. Usually, when I’m out shooting with other people in tow, especially those who aren’t photography enthusiasts like I am, I have a tendency to feel rushed. Unfortunately, this feeling can sometimes seep over into those times where I am by myself and actually have a good bit of time to devote to getting just the right shot–I still have to make a concious effort to slow down.

What slows me down? The act of setting up and adjusting a tripod to just the right angle definitely slows me down, but stopping long enough to ask myself what it is that I’m trying to shoot requires me to actually give more thought to things like composition and lighting. There may not be one right approach to shooting any given subject, so my thought process may ultimately produce several good shots that I would not have gotten otherwise if I had been in a hurry. Especially with shooting digital, there’s no need to worry about wasting film, so I feel more free to experiment.

On the subject of film, some people really do still like to use film because having a fairly limited number of exposures to work with (24 or 36 usually) forces them to take their time with each shot to make sure it counts so that no film is wasted. If you want to try something like that with your digital camera, get a small capacity (512MB or 1GB) memory card and set your camera’s file format or image quality to it’s highest level so that you’ll minimize the number of images that the card will hold (higher quality images take up more space on a memory card that lower quality ones). If you have a DSLR or high-end point & shoot that will shoot in the RAW format, then set it to that (a 1GB card in my Pentax K20D will hold approximately 40 RAW images); if you don’t, then set it to your camera’s best quality JPG mode. To really replicate the film experience, as you shoot, don’t delete any images until you’re done filling up the card and have had a chance to look at your results on a computer screen. While I haven’t actually tried this myself (someone on one of the photography forums that I keep up with originally suggested this), I’m going to give it a shot in the near future and see how it works for me. I’ve got a couple of older manual-focus lenses that I’ve acquired in the last couple of months that I really haven’t spent a lot of time with yet, so I think this exercise would be a perfect way to get to know them better. Perhaps I’ll share some of my results in a future post. 🙂

On a different note, I’ve finished editing my pics from the workshop itself (although I still need to go through the ones from the rest of the trip). Feel free to take a look at them. Here’s one that I’ll share here:

While the hike to this waterfall was fairly short at just under 1 mile, it was a bit of a challenge stepping and climbing on and over rocks, tree roots, and wet places to get to, but it was definitely worth it.

While the hike to this waterfall was fairly short at just under 1 mile, it was a bit of a challenge stepping and climbing on and over rocks, tree roots, and wet places to get to, but it was definitely worth it.

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Spring Photography Workshop at GSMIT–a review

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I originally wrote this as a post at Pentaxforums.com, so if a lot of this seems familiar to those of you who hang out there, then that’s why. For those of you who don’t hang out there, I’m posting it (with a few modifications) for your benefit.

Overall, it was a great experience and I would recommend it to anybody who’s interested in nature photography.  🙂

Originally, the workshop was supposed to be led by Bill Lea, but due to a family emergency, he wasn’t able to make it. Despite that, the other 5 assistant instructors did a great job teaching and helping us out in the field.

The workshop was a combination of shooting trips to various locations within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (determined by weather conditions), as well as lectures on various aspects of nature photography. The workshop started on Friday with a pre-workshop lecture on gear used out in the field and continued with presentations by a couple of the instructors of their own work, as well as another lecture on the basics of nature photography. Saturday and Sunday, the instructors had us going from before sunrise to sunset with field trips both in the morning and late afternoon. The instructors went along with us on the field trips and wandered around, helping us and giving us suggestions as we were out shooting. Sandwiched in between were lectures and individual instructor feedback on the results of our shoots (bringing a laptop loaded with your favorite photo editing software is advised). Sunday afternoon also included a group review where the participants presented 3 pics to the instructors and the rest of the participants for review and criticism. While Sunday evening was the official end of the workshop, there was an optional shoot (choose your own destination) and lecture on Photoshop on Monday morning.

As for the participants, the skill levels ranged anywhere from beginners to advanced amateurs and a few semi-pros, I think. The instructors were very accomodating to everybody’s skill levels.

There is a dorm and dining hall onsite; the food was good and from what I understand, the accomodations were pretty basic (think summer camp); Dad and I chose to stay offsite in his and Mom’s travel trailer at a nearby campground. If you go, there are several lodging options in the way of both small motels and cabins if you choose not to stay onsite.

Getting there: if you’re within reasonable driving distance, driving is the best way to get there, as many of us carpooled together for the field trips; there was one van, but it could only hold 10 people and their gear out of the 27 + the instructors. If you choose to fly in, Knoxville is the closest airport with jet service; it’s about a 45 minute drive to GSMIT. With your gear, you’ll want to travel light, as you may find yourself on a regional jet with very limited carryon space (like I was)–I unexpectedly had to gate check my rolling Tenba Shootout medium-sized backpack containing most of my gear and laptop and was not very happy about it.   Since getting home last Saturday (5/2), I’ve since sold this bag and plan on ordering something that’s a good bit smaller–most likely the Tenba Shootout Mini Backpack.
Overall, I got to know my tripod and newly purchased cable release a lot better–both were indespensible in helping me get the good results I did. I tried experimenting with smaller apertures and longer shutter speeds that I wouldn’t have done if I had been shooting handheld. Throughout the workshop, I relied on my Sigma 17-70, DA 55-300, and DFA 100 and really grew to appreciate their capabilities. I also learned that a backpack works a lot better for me than the hip pack I brought (since getting home, I’ve also sold that bag, too). Most importantly, using the tripod really helped me learn to slow down and think more when I’m composing my shots.

Costwise, the workshop was an excellent value. If you stay onsite, the total price is $555, $500 if you choose to stay offsite.

Just in case you’re wondering, I was the only Pentax user there. I did see one other person there with a Sony, but everybody else I was aware of were using either Nikon or Canon. The overall attitude was more about photography and less about the gear, so I didn’t get any flak about my Pentax. As a matter of fact, I got one or two positive remarks about my Pentax system. 🙂

GSMIT does have another photography workshop scheduled for October. If I can pull the finances together, I’m going to try and go again–if not, I’ll definitely be aiming for next spring. There were quite a few people at this workshop that were repeat participants, some many times, so I hope to see many of them again. 

This house along Elkmont Trail was actually a home for both humans and their horses. The stable is on the first floor, while the human quarters are upstairs.
This house along Elkmont Trail was actually a home for both humans and their horses. The stable is on the first floor, while the human quarters are upstairs.