Inspiration

IN SEARCH OF LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY INSPIRATION IN FLORIDA

Clyde Butcher and me at his Venice, Fla., gallery, studio and darkroom.

Clyde Butcher and me at his Venice, Fla., gallery, studio and darkroom.

I never thought I would retire to Florida. When I thought about where I would retire, I pictured myself in the Smoky Mountains, maybe the Pacific Northwest, perhaps somewhere in Montana, or Arizona and the Southwest. It just wasn’t Florida.

It’s not that I have anything against Florida, but I just didn’t consider it a landscape photographers dream location. And in retirement, one thing I was pretty sure of was that I wanted to spend a great deal of my time outdoors photographing landscapes.

But central Florida is where I ended up.

Happy about the move and once I settled on the fact that this would be home, I began researching Florida photographers, more specifically, Florida landscape photographers. One name appeared at the top of every search. Clyde Butcher.

Clyde is probably best known for his large format fine art black-and-white photography of the Florida landscape. Specifically, what caught my attention, was his work documenting Big Cypress National Preserve in Southern Florida where he owns 14 acres and where he continues to lead tours through the swamp located behind his gallery.

Clyde’s Venice Gallery and Studio is open Tuesday - Friday, 10 am to 4:30 pm . His black and white photography of the Florida landscape is inspiring me to get out and explore my new home state.

Clyde’s Venice Gallery and Studio is open Tuesday - Friday, 10 am to 4:30 pm . His black and white photography of the Florida landscape is inspiring me to get out and explore my new home state.

While browsing his website I saw an opportunity too good to pass up. Twice a year Clyde holds an open house at his Venice Gallery and Studio, located in an industrial park on Florida’s Gulf Coast, about 80 miles south of Tampa. And it just so happened that the November opening would take place when I was in Florida.

This was my chance to meet Clyde and get some first-hand inspiration. The gallery is beautiful and seeing his photographs in person, up close, was a real treat. I also had the opportunity to listen as Clyde talked about some of his work and then we discussed Fuji cameras and shooting digital while he signed my copy of his book Florida Portfolio II.

A 12x20 Ron Wisner Field Camera in Clyde’s studio.

A 12x20 Ron Wisner Field Camera in Clyde’s studio.

While known for his 8x10 view camera, I found out that Clyde has been using the Fujifilm GFX 50S 51.4MP mirrorless medium format camera lately and it just so happened that during PhotoPlus in New York City last month, I became interested in their latest medium format camera due for release in December, the Fujifilm GFX 50R. And it was Clyde’s photographs and those Florida landscapes that I was thinking about when I held that camera and formulated a plan to justify the purchase.

This huge rail camera turned enlarger, is just one of a unique collection of enlargers that occupy Clyde’s darkroom.

This huge rail camera turned enlarger, is just one of a unique collection of enlargers that occupy Clyde’s darkroom.

Besides viewing his photographs and talking to few minutes with Clyde, I was able to tour his amazing darkroom. It’s been many years since i’ve stepped into a darkroom, but it brought back many memories, and not just that familiar smell. It brought me back to how I started and there’s inspiration in that too.

I think I’ve found the inspiration I need and I’m ready to explore the Florida landscape. Next, I hope to visit Clyde’s gallery in Big Cyprus and maybe even take a walk in the swamp.







ISN'T THAT THE SECRETARY OF THE NAVY?

Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer talks with members of the Office of Naval Research STEM coordination office. Nikon D4S, 24-70mm, 1/160 @ f4.0, ISO 3200.

Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer talks with members of the Office of Naval Research STEM coordination office. Nikon D4S, 24-70mm, 1/160 @ f4.0, ISO 3200.

I pride myself on being a prepared photographer. Prepared for an assignment, prepared to make photographs and prepared to move those images when the assignment is complete. That doesn't mean mistakes don't happen or things always go as planned, but again, I like to think that I'm prepared to deal with those instances as well.

So perhaps I let my guard down a bit while covering the 5th USA Science & Engineering Festival at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center over the weekend. This event which has over 3000 exhibits and draws in excess of 350,000 people takes place every two years and I've covered all five during my time as the photographer for the Office of Naval Research (ONR).

Maybe it was because I was coming off a pretty large job in Panama City, Fla., and looking ahead to the largest maritime exposition in the United States, Sea Air and Space next week followed by an at-sea job at the end of the month, that I was not as focused as I should have been.

I got a little later start than I wanted to on Saturday, but still arrived at the convention center around 11:15 and was surprised by how crowded it already was. I made my way to the Department of Defense exhibit space and made contact with those I was supposed to photograph. The booth was a little uninspiring, but those manning it were enthusiastic and were doing their best to engage attendees. 

Nikon D4S, 70-200mm, 1/160 @ f3.2, ISO 3200.

Nikon D4S, 70-200mm, 1/160 @ f3.2, ISO 3200.

My frustration was that despite a huge convention floor, the booth space I was concentrating on was located in a corner surrounded by other booths, making it bit of a choke point, and making clear shots difficult. For around an hour I tried to get some photos, any photos, of engagement with kids, or kids and parents, who wanted to learn about STEM opportunities with the Naval Research Enterprise but came up short.

It was during this time I found myself spending more time talking with friends and only half looking for photo opportunities. I noticed a member the ONR team talking with a casually dressed gentleman, but only lamented the fact that it wasn't a child. Then I noticed several of our team talking with the same person. At that point, I took a look to see if it was perhaps an executive or program officer from ONR. Satisfied that it wasn't, I went back to my conversation.

Well, thankfully I was interrupted by someone who pointed out that the gentleman was, in fact, the 76th Secretary of the Navy, completely alone, just taking in the Department of the Navy exhibits. I regrouped and immediately began making photographs, first with a 24-70mm and then switching to my second camera with the 70-200mm mounted to it.

A more traditional STEM image. Nikon D4S, 70-200mm, 1/160 @ f 2.8, ISO 3200.

A more traditional STEM image. Nikon D4S, 70-200mm, 1/160 @ f 2.8, ISO 3200.

Fortunately, the conversation lasted long enough for me to get several usable images. And just like that, I had my photo. Funny thing is that almost as soon as he left, I was able to make two more photos that featured more traditional scenes.

I stayed long enough to download and caption all my photos, transmit to DoD sites, upload to ONR's Flickr and Instagram accounts and email to our social media manager for posting to Facebook and Twitter.

Just another reminder to never take any assignment for granted and never take it lightly just because you covered it many times before or it's not as high profile as other assignments that are currently on your mind.

5 TIPS TO GET YOU OUT TAKING PHOTOGRAPHS

This sun flare photo was featured on  Flickr's blog  as part of a Flickr Friday project and now is one of my most popular photographs on the service with over 2,000 views and favorited 47 times.

This sun flare photo was featured on Flickr's blog as part of a Flickr Friday project and now is one of my most popular photographs on the service with over 2,000 views and favorited 47 times.

Do you find yourself with a desire to head out shooting but are really stuck for inspiration? Maybe you have a new camera or lens and want to put them through the paces and make wonderful photographs but can't think of anything compelling to shoot. Or worse, maybe you have a mental block and just can't visualize yourself taking photos.

First, let's understand that this happens to everyone, professionals, amateurs and all levels in between. There are some days you just aren't feeling it. And it's easy to think just pick up the camera, get out there and shoot, but that really isn't an answer or you would not have to read any further.

Professional photographers can normally push through those thoughts and so can you with these helpful tips to get your creative photographic juices flowing.

1. The reason professional photographers push through those thoughts is because the fear of returning from an assignment without a usable image forces them to. So why not start by simply giving yourself an assignment. It can be anything from pretending you are a National Geographic photographer sent to document a location or making a commitment to show others your results. How would a Geographic photographer approach a subject? And nothing motivates a professional more than having to show images to their editor following an assignment so think who could play the role of editor in your life.

I was looking for a reason to get out of the house, so I headed to  Glen Echo Park  in Maryland, a location I've been wanting to photograph for some time. Once there I decided my theme would be the Victorian architecture and while I don't think I captured any particularly compelling images, I know it is a location I will return to again.

I was looking for a reason to get out of the house, so I headed to Glen Echo Park in Maryland, a location I've been wanting to photograph for some time. Once there I decided my theme would be the Victorian architecture and while I don't think I captured any particularly compelling images, I know it is a location I will return to again.

2. Pick a theme. It could be anything from shadows, color, texture or something broader like weather, love, aging. This theme allows you to begin really observing the environment around you. And maybe while searching for photographs to fit that theme, you begin to see something else that catches your eye. Keep an open mind, but if you can stick to your original theme it really forces you to "see."

3. Participate in an online photo community and look for assignments there such as Flickr Friday or Instagram's Weekend Hashtag Project. In this case you don't even have to pick a theme yourself. For instance, every Friday Instagram's community team picks a theme and provides a hashtag so you just shoot and post the photos. Find out if there is a Google Plus Drink & Click photo walk in your area or any photo walk for that matter. Or just find a friend who also is looking for a reason to get out and shoot and get together.

Photograph taken with my cell phone at the U.S. Postal Museum in Washington, D.C. as part of an Instagram Hashtag Project. #WHPsentbymail. I don't have a big presence on Instagram, but this photo drew eight likes and I picked up followers.

Photograph taken with my cell phone at the U.S. Postal Museum in Washington, D.C. as part of an Instagram Hashtag Project. #WHPsentbymail. I don't have a big presence on Instagram, but this photo drew eight likes and I picked up followers.

4. Think beyond that one day with your camera and look for longer term projects. Is there something in the news that sparks your interest or are you a member of a group or club that is looking for someone to document their activities. These projects keep you thinking long term and will have you looking forward to shooting every chance you get. It is still helpful to set goals along the way and sharing your work will help you refine the project.

5. Think about a technique you want to get better at and develop a photo shoot around that. You can watch tutorials on the web all day long, but if you never attempt to try them, then nothing is gained. Say you just watched a video on shooting portraits with off camera flash, then grab a friend and get out there and try it. Both Adorama and B & H have YouTube channels that offer great tips for photographers at all levels. Additionally, websites such as Creative Live, Kelbyone and a whole host of other free and paid sites are available to find both instruction and inspiration.

I find myself returning often to Rosslyn in Arlington, Va., where i'm drawn by the shadows, shapes and architecture. This photo was taken during the 2013 Scott Kelby Worldwide Photo Walk I led and subsequently was featured on  Ibaroinex Perello's   YouTube channel on finding the  extraordinary in the ordinary  .

I find myself returning often to Rosslyn in Arlington, Va., where i'm drawn by the shadows, shapes and architecture. This photo was taken during the 2013 Scott Kelby Worldwide Photo Walk I led and subsequently was featured on Ibaroinex Perello's  YouTube channel on finding the extraordinary in the ordinary .

So even if you find yourself going to the same location over and over again, I hope that following some of the tips I've offered will force you to get out and shoot, force you to dust off that camera and most importantly force you see differently.

Anything that gets you out of the house with a camera in hand means that there is a potential for wonderful photographs and the potential for you to improve.

Remember that even if you don't take any photographs that thrill you each time you are out shooting, you've lost nothing, except the guilt of not trying.

INSPIRATION vs. INTIMIDATION

While some family and friends might provide honest feedback, at some point you will need to leave your comfort zone and seek professional critiques if you hope to grow.
While some family and friends might provide honest feedback, at some point you will need to leave your comfort zone and seek professional critiques if you hope to grow.
As I was thinking about this blog post I came across a quote in Guy Kawasaki's book APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book. While Kawasaki is talking about writers, I easily substituted photographer and it wrapped up something that I have thought about often over the years.
"Don't let successful writers [photographers] awe you. ...it's OK for you to admire them for the quality of their writing [photography] or their success. However, don't let other authors [photographers] awe you, because this is the first step to envy and self-doubt."
The final two words, self-doubt, really struck home. I was never envious of other photographers, but I have struggled with self-doubt my entire career.

When I decided I wanted to be a professional photographer, I read books by well known photographers, attended National Press Photographers Association Short Courses, looked through magazines and newspapers, paying particular attention to the photo credits and then following those photographer's work.

You might wonder what is wrong with that? Probably nothing for some, however I compared every shot I took with the work I was following or being presented with at conferences and guess what? It didn't come close. While it didn't stop me from becoming a professional, I know that it kept me from becoming a better photographer earlier in my career. Mostly because I was reluctant to widely share my photography and slow to find [photography] mentors.

Look for inspiration: I encourage every photographer to go back and look at the work of those that came before or follow photographer's whose work that they enjoy. There is nothing wrong with that, just be careful not to compare yourself too closely with others, especially if it causes you to put down your camera in frustration. Remember that there is something to learn from both the past and present, but only you can take a photograph that is your vision.

Founder of the Air Force photojournalism program Ken Hackman, right, offers advice during the Visual Media Workshop in Arlington, Va.
Founder of the Air Force photojournalism program Ken Hackman, right, offers advice during the Visual Media Workshop in Arlington, Va.
Same thing goes when attending workshops, trade shows or conferences. These gatherings can truly offer some inspiration and provide you with ideas or techniques that will help you get better. Challenge yourself to not be overwhelmed and just enjoy the experience of being around lots of creative people. And if you do share, you might be surprised just how many others feel the same way you do.

Beware of intimidation: As you progress and become more confident as a photographer, you will want to share your work outside friends and family. Opening yourself up to that honest critique is hard, nobody wants to hear that they may not be as good as they think they are or that photo you are proudly hanging over the couch is not appreciated by others the same way you enjoy it. As hard as it can be to hear that truth, don't allow yourself to be intimidated by it. Seek out critiques from photographers whose work you admire and that you know will challenge you. Seek out lots of critiques because every one is different too. This how you will grow?

Shane McCoy, a photographer and videographer with the U.S. Marshals Service, provides a critique during the Visual Media Workshop.
Shane McCoy, a photographer and videographer with the U.S. Marshals Service, provides a critique during the Visual Media Workshop.
I've had critiques early in my career that almost made me walk away from photography and I've had students who came to me in tears and were ready to change majors after receiving a particularly harsh critique. As an instructor it was my role to reassure, but also be honest. I offer that because there is nothing wrong with receiving a harsh critique if along with that you are offered constructive ideas on how to improve. Remember also that sometimes people can just be jerks. That happens and as hard as it is, move on. Sometimes it is because there is not an appreciation for what stage you are at.

I never stop trying to make a better photograph today then I did yesterday. Sometimes you are the only one that likes a particular shot and that is fine. Be proud of your work and don't let the fact that there are numerous "celebrity" photographers all over the web intimidate you or keep you from shooting. Again, if you like the photograph and want to hang it on the wall, then do that.

I recently attended the Visual Media Workshops DC Shootoff and one of the presenters, Lou Jones, who has been taking pictures for decades, looked out at the audience at the conclusion of his talk and said, "I consider every one of you my competition, and I welcome it."

That's a great attitude. Take the pictures that you want to take and realize that not everyone will like or appreciate them, but so what. Just keep shooting and sharing.


INSPIRED

HDR photograph of Owl's Head lighthouse in Maine.
High Dynamic Range (HDR) photograph taken during a family vacation to Maine during the winter. This was the first vacation that I remember where I specifically wanted to take photographs as part of the experience.
For many years taking pictures has been my job. That's not to say I didn't like being a photographer, in fact I loved it, and still do, however over time I came to realize that the only work I had to show was related to the job. And while I am proud of that work and still get excited to see my photos in print, I had stopped taking images for the fun of it. Very little personal photography.

When someone would discover I was a photographer they would invariably ask what I liked to take pictures of, or where they could see my work and until recently the best I could offer was a website that hadn't been updated in nine years or maybe tell them to do a Google search on my name plus Navy and they would see some examples.

So what changed? What has me excited about personal photography again? Why am I blogging and tweeting again, posting photos on Flickr, 500px, and Google+? The answer isn't simple, but I do know it has something to do with the web and more specifically the incredible photographers, some young and some recognizable, out there who are sharing their work and techniques everywhere, mostly on the sites I mentioned above, but also through their blogs and videos on YouTube.

HDR photograph from the rafters of the Museum of the U.S. Navy.
Experimenting with HDR at the Museum of the U.S. Navy located at the Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C.
This didn't happen overnight and it's been kind of a slow return. I really started getting excited about the time that High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography was coming on the scene and I stumbled across Trey Ratcliff's stuckincustoms.com site. Trey's incredible images and willingness to share how he made them had me trying HDR techniques myself and I was hooked. It was fun to try something new. But more than that, blogs and web TV from Scott Kelby and the Photoshop guys, podcasts from Leo Laporte and the TWIT network, all had me itching to get back out there.

Joe Macnally of National Geographic and small strobe fame along with David Hobby from Strobist.com had me actually looking forward to taking environmental portraits at work again.

All this isn't really new I guess, I've been following photographers like Rob Galbraith, Dave Black and others on the web for a long time. I suppose it all just hit the tipping point and I'm glad.

So thanks to all those photographers who are so willing to share and make it easy to feel as if I'm surrounded by friends with the ability to share work, discuss work and for the inspiration to dust off my website and blog.

After 28 years in the business it really is nice to feel so inspired again.