The Photographer’s Blues

You have been taking photos enthusiastically for months, with subjects ranging from landscape to macro to long exposures and you have participated, or at least been lurking, in many online forums but all of a sudden you just don’t feel it anymore, you want to go out and take photos but can’t bring yourself to do it. You’ve just been diagnosed with a common case of the Photographer’s Blues. It happened to me last year; after years of being driven to search a variety of light conditions, new locations, new angles on old locations, being an active member of the photographic community and devouring books and magazines, I bumped into a wall. The motivation to grab my camera was completely gone and I worried if it would ever come back. As months passed and a large pile of unread photography magazines piled up on my coffee table I occasionally would look at my non-growing collection of photos in my hard drive. Something had to be done, I wasn’t going to let this “photographic depression” take over and put an end to what had been a passion since the age of six. My first step was creating a blog, if grabbing my Canons wasn’t the highest of my priorities, writing was still something I considered enjoyable and personalizing a pre-existing interface for my new WordPress blog was actually a fun task. Some of you might not be too big on writing, but a blog doesn’t need to be a collection of long essays, you can post quick thoughts or just images with a caption. At first it might be just for you and your family or close friends but as you grow a following, you will find more inspiration, motivation as well as materials since many will offer their ideas. After all, this article would have probably never been written had it not been for a fellow blogger’s complaint that she did not enjoy taking photos anymore. Besides a blog, and as a good complement to it, if you haven’t done so already, starting a website gives you exposure (no pun intended) as well as providing another outlet to your creativity. Even if you’re not computer savvy at all, starting a website today is easier than ever. Internet Providers like 1and1 or Zenfolio (check my website under Discount Offers for details) allow you to register your own domain name for a small fee and give you a selection of tools, as well as templates, to start a website in minutes. You can create pages of any kind as well as professionally looking galleries. If you have a larger budget and some HTML and CSS programming knowledge or are willing to learn them, a software like Adobe Dreamweaver will really allow you to have total control and flexibility over your creation.

Photographers are everywhere, and most of them are social people looking to learn new things or willing to share what they know. So, why not get in touch with other photographers in your community and start a club or a weekly meeting/photoshoot. Not only that’s a great way to make new friends, but everyone wins in terms of knowledge and portfolio images as well as finding a great enthusiasm booster. Starting something like that can be easily achieved with just a post on Craigslist. I was a very active member of the online community of a well known photo magazine, but ended up abandoning it because of the excessive spam (eventually everyone left). It was great times, we had weekly assignments, photo critiques and everyone had something to share. It always saddened me how the magazine management let something that great just die. Recently I created discussion forums on my own blog and I’m hoping to capture the same environment of cooperation that we had then, minus the spam. Search “create online forums” on Google and you will find enough tools to make your own. Don’t feel up to the task? Make yourself a promise to become involved in a discussion forum with at least two or three posts a week. And don’t be afraid to ask questions, those who have the answers are usually more than happy to share; we all like the feeling that comes from having helped someone.

If you can afford it, take a photography seminar or in-the-field workshop. You’ll learn from a pro and be taken to places you probably didn’t even know; and chances are you will learn functions of your camera that you didn’t even know existed or that seemed too esoteric.

I left the most exciting one for last: travel!

Get in your car, get on a plane, get on a cruise ship… just go somewhere new. I’m what you could call a professional traveler. To me traveling is a way of life. I like to see new places, explore new foods, meet new people. I can guarantee you that traveling doesn’t have to be expensive. I’ve flown to Europe for as little as $400 round trip from Los Angeles. My two weeks in Peru (and who doesn’t want to photograph Machu Picchu?) came to a total of less than $1,000 (flight included from Salt Lake City). A 4 nights cruise to Bahamas was $262 (gratuities included as well). All it takes is a bit of planning and some good price shopping skills. Go to new places and you will come home with a new collection of photos that you will be excited to share with friends and other photographers.

And if you really don’t or can’t get away from home, find the nearest forest near you and photograph trees. Get into the woods with a wide angle lens and explore its possibilities. Try to make those trees look as imposing as you can. You will like the results.

I’m writing this while sitting on the steps of NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Arts. I hope my ideas make you want to grab your camera. I’ll end this article here as my right index is itching once again to press the shutter.

Ancient Stars over an Ancient Tower

Last Friday I had the pleasure to lead a group of local photographers to an excursion in search of some great sunset and night shots. The location we decided upon is called Cala Domestica and is situated a short but breathtaking drive south of the town of Buggerru in Sardinia. The two beaches of Cala Domestica are situated at the end of an inlet (Cala, in Italian) and are connected by a perilous walk passing through a short natural cave at about half-point. Since the sun was still high, we took advantage of the light to take HDR photos of the emerald colored water while grabbing some details from inside the cave. The walk to the cave is short, but it is not a smooth path so good gripping shoes are strongly recommended, and some small leaps necessary. To ascend to the promontory were the tower is located we took another uneasy path. The hike is only about 15  minutes long but steep and a good balance is necessary, particularly when carrying equipment as we did (cameras, tripods, flashlights, etc.) nonetheless it can be done by nearly anyone, children included. As a matter of fact I was 7 or 8 years old when I hiked this path for the first time. Construction of the current tower started in 1765 and was completed by 1780 although part of it collapsed due to the poor quality of the work and the tower was finally finished in 1785.

The sun was still a little high when we arrived at the top, just as I had planned. We took some shots of the tower in daylight and then turned our interest toward the sun as it started its descent toward the horizon to then sink into the sea revealing a burning orange glow. Comparing photos taken with a zoom we discovered that the air was so clear we could see spots near the equator of the Sun: Sun Spots! Our luck extended to the whole night as not a single cloud showed up. Not one minute after sunset we started setting up for our night shot, knowing that light was limited and darkness would have fallen soon, while at the same time taking some photos of the tower in the afterglow when the top of the sky has that nice purple color while the bottom is still reddish. The biggest challenge was placing nearly 130 tea candles kindly provided by my friend Barbara, with whom I had discussed and decided the shot a few days earlier. A pleasant breeze coming from the sea picked up and therefore we set each candle inside a plastic cup for protection. That apparently wasn’t enough as it took us nearly 5 minutes just to light up the first one, but after a bit of dismay and more perseverance we proceeded speedily toward our goal and managed to light up most of the candles.
The first shots were a test: 4 cameras were set on their tripod with remote controls ready to go and I took a photo on my Canon 7D set to a 1600 ISO and a minute of exposure helping it by light painting the tower for 2 seconds. Once happy with the results and now that the sky was nearly black (pitch black never really happened even without the moon as we had some glow from far-away towns beyond the hills) we proceeded to the realization of our main shot: a one hour or so exposure featuring the tower and possibly the North Star. The results were great, within the limits of each one’s equipment and forgetting for a moment that we were under the relentless attacks of the local mosquitoes as they attempted to protect the tower from a Saracen invasion. A good part of the fun was being in company of enthusiastic people whose love for photography and for learning new techniques keeps them smiling and facing environmental challenges with optimism. My thanks go to Barbara, Fabio, Patrizio and Giorgio.

More photos are located in the album Scenes of Sardinia on my Facebook page.

Star Trails

I was reading a blog page of someone who was experimenting with taking photos of star trails and gave some advice. I decided to repost it here as other new photographers might find this useful to experiment with.

First of all, trails alone are a good exercise but of little photographic value because identical results can be produced with a software without having to be outside for a long time at night, especially a cold night. So, a very important element you want to add is a foreground or background subject, as in this two images of mine:

The first photo was a hour exposure with the moon rising. The moon gives enough light to expose the sage brush as well as the mountains.
You also want to be careful to exposing for too long with digital cameras, the sensor can over-heat resulting in burned pixels (those red and blue dots you get in an image) and that’s irreversible damage. Also, it’s preferable to use a full frame sensor camera, as well as a low ISO setting (I prefer 100) because less noise is introduced that way: the longer you expose, the more noise you will have. Ultimately, because of this problems, I think in this particular occasion film camera are still better than digital.
For the kayak I used the technique of light-painting, using a flashlight I lit up the boat so that it would expose properly. The white spot on the top right is a cloud moving. This night had a full moon, so I had to kill the shutter after less than 45 minutes so it woldn’t burn the image.