Stopping To Evaluate Your Progress


Welcome to another edition of Let’s Talk Photography!

When I started this hobby of mine, I was bound and determined to become a great photographer of stunning architecture and landscapes. I had discovered the basics of High Dynamic Range photography and created some very unique and exciting shots of the various old stone buildings in Jamestown and that’s when I knew I was hooked. I’m sure many of you got your start in photography in a similar fashion. You picked up your camera and shot something unexpected, only to find out you were excited about the experience of taking that photo and it led you to take another, then another, and so on. I was so determined to follow up on this one idea that I had declared I would never take photos of people, such as portraits or family photos, because I knew that it would not excite me the way this process touched my creative drive.

Shortly after feeling like I was at a point that I would consider becoming better than good at what I was shooting, something interesting happened. I took my camera to a hockey game and shot a few photos. They were terrible! However, unlike every other time I got frustrated and declared I wasn’t going to try THAT again, I got frustrated in a different way and thought to myself “what do I have to do to get that shot?” I’ve written about this before, but I wanted to revisit because I think we should all take a moment to evaluate where we started, where we’ve been, and where we’re heading with our progress in photography. So, please bear with me if you know some of the story.

I played with the camera and tried to remember all that mumbo-jumbo about the exposure triangle and how it related to the situation I was in. I then remembered a few articles about how you should settle for an underexposed shot in order to get the action and the sharpness in some cases. I made some adjustments and, by the end of the game, I had scored some pretty cool shots. I took them home, ran them through Lightroom, and suddenly my focus had shifted a bit from the HDR world to the action sports world. It’s funny because I had made my mind up that I was not going to waste my time with people because it wasn’t nearly as fun and as exciting as the complicated HDR stuff. But, I discovered that shooting the hockey was exactly the same in the sense that I had to think a lot about the shots then find ways in post production to make them look great. It’s like the people weren’t even in the shot, rather the action was the subject. I don’t even think I thought once about the people, afterall, I don’t shoot people, right?

Hockey photos ended when the season changed and I was then beginning to coach baseball (tee ball to be exact) and the opportunity came up for me to take on photographing baseball players. Again, they’re not people, they’re athletes, so I was safe in my continuing defiance to shoot people, right? Hockey started again and, wait, what’s this? I was asked to shoot NA3HL portraits (headshots) for the Xpress team. Well, that means I have to start bringing in a flash and maybe I need an umbrella, or something, to soften the light, and I have to think about where the light hits the face, and the key light and the rim light and the hair light and YUCK! I’m shooting people!

Now, I’m finding out that it’s a fun challenge to try to figure out how to make these portraits look like portraits. Don’t think about the people, I said to myself, think about the light. Shape the light. Sculpt the light. Soften the light. Capture the light. And, it started to work.

The Xpress led to the Timbits, which led to the Babe Ruth, which led to more Xpress and then BANG … I’m suddenly asked to come take some photos for the Jamestown High School yearbook. So, now I’ve gone from never shooting people to suddenly having a few hundred students in front of my camera along with all the sports teams I could juggle into my daily routine. Talk about a bit overwhelming, but again, they’re athletes, so I have a slight comfort zone to work with and that’s the gritty, action packed, tough look instead of the soft, delicate, precious look. I can work with that.

I’m sorry, did I say no soft, delicate, precious stuff? Yep, here comes the figure skating opportunity. Fast, high energy skating but dance like moves that require a softer look.

I write this because I find it interesting to look back and think about what my original thoughts and goals were and then see where those thoughts and goals ended up going. I was thinking about this a couple weeks ago when I was out with the drone shooting church towers and I suddenly realized that I still love shooting the architecture just as much as ever before. So much so that I got home and couldn’t wait a moment to get on the computer and start working with the photos and seeing how awesome the would turn out. How close was I to the vision I had when I launched the drone into the sky? But I was also looking at some photos that I had taken for this year’s JHS yearbook sessions and I realized that I’m doing things with portraits that I hadn’t imagined I would ever be doing. I believe it’s mostly because I recognize a challenge and take it head on, but also because I’m able to translate most of what I am passionate about with photography to any subject. I can shoot people the same way I approach shooting a stone church and it works. And, that’s why I love this hobby so much.

Is there a topic that you’d like to learn more about? Send feedback, share your photos, or offer topic suggestions to If you’re looking for a place to connect with local photographers in Chautauqua County, search for the group “Shoot ‘n Share Chautauqua” on Facebook.