Growing Your Photography: Imposing Limits

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Wonderful coincidence that led to new discoveries in my photographic journey today: It was Drop-Off Day for artwork to be exhibited in next weekend’s annual Exhibition and Sale at St. Catherine of Bologna Church in Ringwood, New Jersey. With my car duly loaded with my three for-sale photographs plus one for the Silent Auction, off I went down Route 17 and into beautiful Passaic County to relinquish my work into the loving hands of St. Catherine’s volunteers. It happened to be a beautiful day, and though I didn’t have much time to spare for a photo shoot, it was impossible totally to pass up the opportunity.

As it happened, en route to and from St. Catherine’s I had to pass Ringwood Manor, the scene of many of my recent photo shoots and the subject of two of the images I was submitting to the show (there’s a Bonus Tip for you: When deciding what to put into a show or sell at a fair, remember that people like to buy images of their own local region). Fine, I didn’t have to go out of my way; how could I ensure that I wouldn’t get carried away and spend more time there than I ought to?

The two-part solution: First, don’t take a lot of gear. In fact, don’t take the DSLR at all. I opted for my little Olympus Stylus SH-1, which with its zoom that maxes out to 600mm has served me well for  many a travel situation (read: taking on airplanes). Second, limit the pictures I would take to only one of the “Art” presets — the Pinhole, which, obviously, lends itself well to photographing subjects like old buildings.

That limitation — any limitation you choose to impose on yourself (some suggestions you’ll frequently read involve taking along and using only one lens on your DSLR; if you really want a challenge, make it a prime or fixed focal length lens) — will help to free your mind from all your usual presuppositions about what you expect to photograph. Instead, aware that you now have limited options, you will mentally narrow down your options in accord with the limitation you’ve set for yourself.

And so, despite the countless photographs I’ve taken at Ringwood Manor, I was able to find a number of brand new (for me) compositions that worked well with that Pinhole setting. (As an added bonus there’s the physical freedom afforded by toting a small compact instead of a DSLR and tripod.)  Here are a few of them for you to see. And if you’re in the neighborhood, why not stop by and see all the amazing work on display at St. Catherine’s Art Exhibition?  For the images I’ve submitted to the show, click here, here, and here. Thank you!

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Avian Photography and Bird Snapshots and the Olympus Stylus SH-1

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First, I don’t pretend to be an avian photographer. Avian photographers are people who take pictures of birds using bazooka lenses that look as if they evolved from cannons (ha! pun intended) that had their heyday at the Battle of Gettysburg. Avian photographers also have an amazing degree of patience. You can’t ask that Bald Eagle or that Song Sparrow to strike just the right pose in the right kind of light — you have to wait … and wait … and wait for the bird to do it. And don’t forget the catch light in their eye!

I don’t have that kind of patience. And my bazooka lens, a Tokina AT-X 80-400mm, is, in my hands anyway, better suited for shooting stationary objects like lighthouses rather than birds that you may capture on the wing. But what I do have is an amazing little point-and-shoot, the Olympus Stylus SH-1. It was recommended to me by fellow upstate New York photographer Dan Burkholder. In fact, the first time Dan and I met, at the reception for his gallery show in Hunter, we recognized each other because we each had this camera hanging around our necks.  With its zoom that reaches to an astounding 600mm, this Olympus is capable of getting bird close-ups that (for me, anyway) would otherwise have been impossible.

The image of the heron, above, is the closest I’ve ever come to “avian photography” with the Olympus Stylus SH-1. I was in San Diego on a business trip, and the heron obligingly posed in the waters of the harbor right outside my hotel. (I had gone out just after breakfast to photograph the ships–I have a thing about anything nautical–and this guy was there as an added bonus). Otherwise, as far as photographing birds is concerned, I find that this handy camera has various other uses. For example:

getting record shots of the birds that visit my feeders in winter (visual confirmation of the ticked boxes on the lists at the back of my Kaufman Field Guide), such as

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMr. Downy Woodpecker (the red cap identifies him as male), who seems to have moved in permanently; I sometimes see his mate, as well as a second male who is, in the opinion of the first Mr., avis non grata; or —

this White-Breasted Nuthatch. These are aggressive littleOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA birds who are able to run up and down trees, and when they run down, they go head first. Cute to watch. Always on the move, they’re difficult to photograph and so you have to keep shooting successively in hopes of getting something fairly usable.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnother application for photographing birds with the Olympus: Boasting rights, so I can email a photo such as this one of a White-Throated Sparrow to my birding friend in New England as proof that my feeder got one of these guys before his did. (Yup, that white stuff is snowflakes. This is the Northeast, remember.)

And similarly — to send to my birding friend for identification: Is this really a Carolina Wren? Yes,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA he confirmed, and I’m at the northern end of their range.

Finally, here’s one that I like to think goes beyond just a plain old bird snapshot. This Red-Tailed Hawk was perched in a tree at the McIntosh Audubon Preserve in Bristol, Rhode Island last month, patiently waiting to find someone to eat. Very patiently. And he wasn’t bothered by my walking slowly and ever closer to where he was. He had his back to me and eventually I was OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAable to pass the tree and get some front shots of him — even with that all-important catch-light in his eye. Eventually he did swoop down on something but I don’t think he caught it. He landed in a tree on the opposite side of the field, but after a time returned to his original perch. To think that I was almost going to leave the Olympus in my car and just take the Nikon DSLR. Moral of the story: Never ever ignore that little inner voice that whispers a suggestion.