A Commitment to Becoming a Better Photographer

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To follow up on my previous post I thought that I’d share some of the things that I’d done to improve my photography and hopefully they may be useful to you. At the time I did all of this stuff I felt that I was a late starter and wanted to accelerate my learning as much as I could. This meant using the expertise and experience of photographers that I liked to quickly get a solid foundation. Please do chime in with your thoughts and comments too.

1. Find your true calling. Work out what appeals to you, what repels you. Start a scrap book real or virtual of images that appeal to you. Make a list of common attributes – color or black and white, landscape, portraiture, wildlife, fashion, wedding, dig a bit deeper what else do these have in common, what differentiates them.

2. Find a mentor. Have you found yourself gravitating to one or two photographers? Study what they’ve done and how they got the shots you particularly admire. Of course if they’re alive today they probably teaching workshops – take a workshop with them and get some advice from your photographic hero. Not only will you get some insight into how they achieve their signature works but you’ll also get some feedback on your own work.

3. Get the right gear. Figuring out what gear your heros are using to get the shots you admire and get the same stuff. Somethings you’ll want to buy now, others you should rent. But without getting the gear to get the shot you won’t get the shot. A good example for landscape photographers is a rock solid tripod – get a good one and it will last you for years.

4. Do what your heros do to get the shot. When I was at Alison Shaw’s Workshop on Martha’s Vineyard in 2009 I was bemoaning my lack of progress to Alison’s assistant Donna Foster. Donna quickly pointed out that there was a progression to my work but that my biggest problem was that I wasn’t shooting in the best light and that if I wanted to improve I should find some time to get out early or late and shoot when the light is good.

5. Get feedback on your work. There are a number of ways to get comments on your work I prefer one on one portfolio reviews with someone who is going to be brutally frank. Feedback from workshop instructors is also very useful, as can be comments from friends whose opinion you trust and value.

I hope that you found this useful. I’d be delighted to hear what you’ve done to improve.

A Morning at Oak Bluffs

After spending time at Lucy Vincent Beach, other Martha’s Vineyard beaches pale by comparison. That’s not to say that there are interesting images to be had here. I decided to forgo the bandstand in Ocean Park and headed down to the beach. There were a couple of piles of rocks and old pilings at the waters edge that caught my attention. The image above was one of the more successful images.

Alison Shaw Workshop: Thoughts & Comments

I’m just back from a week on Martha’s Vineyard to attend Alison Shaw’s workshop. It was a really fun week, great to catch up with old friends and make some new ones and to immerse myself in photography.

Like most of life, you get out of a week long workshop what you put into it. That means being at the location an hour before sunrise and staying at the evening locations until well after the sun has gone down. That makes for some very long days, especially if you try to edit photos when you get home in the evening. By mid-week everyone is a little punchy, filters are gone and everyone is in the groove.

This was the second time I’d visited Martha’s Vineyard, the first time was for Alison’s workshop last year. As a consequence the novelty factor is still very high for me even with places that most people are very familiar with such as Edgartown or Menemsha. While we went to some of my favorite spots, Lucy Vincent Beach and Vineyard Haven Harbor being high on that list, there were a few new places included in this workshop. We made it over to Chappaquiddick and after a stop at Mytoi, the Japanese garden, we headed for East Beach. While East Beach does not have the spectacular surf that Lucy Vincent Beach has there were enough photo opportunities to make the trip well worthwhile. One of the things that I appreciate about the locations that we visit is that they are rich with photographic opportunities, so even someone like me is able to come up with 3, 4 or more different photographs at each location.

Alison has an easy going nature and teaching style that she is able to adapt to the level of the student. While I could imagine some workshops being all about the instructor leading them, that’s not the case here. You get as much help as you need. While there is plenty of in the field instruction from Alison and a reasonable amount of classroom instruction, for me the real learning comes from the critique sessions. Alison was commenting on 80 + images every day, remarkably many were very different even though we were all at the place. I found that while I learned a lot from the critiques of my images, I learn just as much from the critiques of the other students.

For the September workshops Alison is usually assisted by Donna Foster. Donna splits her time between Charlotte, North Carolina and Martha’s Vineyard. I can’t say enough good things about Donna. Last year she really talked me off a ledge when I was in Menemsha and lost for something to shoot – if you’ve never been, think rusty junky old stuff and lots of it. Then took the time to review my images that I had brought with me and showed me that yes I was actually improving by sequencing and commenting on them. It was the boost I needed.

The week is rounded off by a group dinner and show. It was fun to see the progression in everyone’s work from the start of the week to the end of the week. I had an excellent time and look forward to spending another week with Alison in 2012.

The Tabernacle

I was lucky enough to spend my first evening on Martha’s Vineyard with my friend Ginny Newton. Ginny was the winner of Yankee Magazine‘s Editors’ Choice Photo Contest in 2010 and was also a guest blogger over on the Yankee Magazine webpage. We met at Alison Shaw’s gallery in Oak Bluffs and then Ginny gave me a guide tour of the campgrounds.  I guess this area is more formally known as the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association Campgrounds.  In any case the little cottages are pretty neat and Ginny had some fun stories to share of staying in various cottages including one across from Shel Silverstein.  The Camp Meeting Association is a religious association dating back to 1835.  As one might expect at the center of the campgrounds is The Tabernacle – a really interesting structure that has dozens of stained glass windows.  Because of the way the stained glass is arranged there are interesting colored patterns to be captured throughout the entire day.  I had a fun couple of hours on two occasions photographing the colored light.

 

Lucy Vincent Beach

I’m on Martha’s Vineyard this week to attend Alison Shaw’s photography workshop. The weather has been good but we’ve lacked the spectacular sunrises and sunsets so far his week. One of the things that going out regardless of the weather is that it pushes you to go beyond the bounds of what you might think are conditions needed for great photographs. I’ve bumped up against this a couple of times already this year and again for our evening at Lucy Vincent beach. There was a decent amount of cloud cover and it got foggy as the evening wore on. The image below was my favorite from the ones that I’ve reviewed so far.

Friday Inspiration: Alison Shaw

I’m getting ready to head over to Martha’s Vineyard for a week of photography starting Saturday. What better way to spend the week than being given a tour by the photographer who literally wrote the book on ‘Photographing Martha’s Vineyard‘ – Alison Shaw.  Alison is a fine art and editorial photographer who lives year round on Martha’s Vineyard and has done so since she came for the summer in 1975 and never left.  Here’s Alison talking about her book and photographing on Martha’s Vineyard:

The Essential Guide to Photographing Martha’s Vineyard

I have a number of Countryside Press’s Photography Guides and I’ve found the guides for the New England area to be generally well worth the money.  I was excited then to see ‘Photographing Martha’s Vineyard: Where to Find Perfect Shots and How to Take Them‘ arrive on my door-step. I was also curious to see how someone synonymous with photography on Martha’s Vineyard would share the insights from 25 years of shooting there. Would she hold back favorite sites? No worries there! All the sites that Alison took her workshop to last year are described, with just stunning illustrative photographs rolled in for good measure. There are even the ultra-fine details of how to find some elusive spots such as Lucy Vincent’s beach.

As a guide to the potential shooting locations should be essential reading for everyone heading to the Vineyard with camera in hand. Additionally, the introductory chapters on equipment and dealing with the beach environment are useful for someone who hasn’t photographed extensively along the shore. Go to one of Alison’s workshops, you’ll have a blast. If you can’t get to a workshop, this book will guide you to some of the most photogenic locations on Martha’s Vineyard.