Tag Archives: Waynesville

Lists, Goals & Plans

Fall Color in Historic Frog Level, North Carolina
Fall Color in Historic Frog Level, North Carolina

Kathy and I love to travel, of course, and while we aren’t the “world travelers” that some have made us out to be, we’ve seen our share of the world and we spend a lot of time talking about what kind of travel we want to do. We have our lists of places we “should” go, and all of those have varying levels of interest and priority. And of course there are places that we would love to go but probably never will. Some of our favorite memories are from places where most people would never bother to go. Of all the places we’ve been, a trip to Kentucky a few years ago still comes to mind as one of our favorite experiences. Who’da thunk?

Dogwood in fall colors, Waynesville, North Carolina
Dogwood in fall colors, Waynesville, North Carolina

Like a lot of things, what we do and what we enjoy has to come from within. We need to be able to take the time to figure out what means the most to us. What are our priorities, rather than a heavily cliché-ed “bucket list” developed by some magazine publisher to sell more advertising. Who we are and how we feel is a product of our own existence and our own experiences. Comfort level has a lot to do with what we are willing to try. Not everyone has that voice that tells us to step out of our comfort zones. But for those of us who do, we definitely need to listen.

Fall Color in Waynesville, North Carolina
Fall Color in Waynesville, North Carolina
Fall Color along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Waynesville, North
Fall Color along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Waynesville, North Carolina

Like a lot of people, I’m often tempted by the idea of “if I knew then what I know now.” But I try to keep a lid on those thoughts, because ultimately I didn’t know then what I know now, and my entire life’s experience ultimately contributes to where and who I am today. I can’t change the past, so the best approach for me is to look ahead, because that’s the only thing I have any degree of influence on – to make the best of what I have and who I am.

Fall Color along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Waynesville, North Carolina
Fall Color along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Waynesville, North Carolina

In many ways, this idea of comfort zone has parallels with the way we see the world. For those of us who are observers, we see things that other people don’t see, and sometimes others see things we don’t see. And we travel the same way. When I first started doing photography seriously I would sometimes get up in the middle of dinner, afraid that I was going to “miss” sunset. I’ve since learned that I’m always missing something, and that helps me reconcile the idea that I’m not going to get to “do” everything.

Fall Color along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Waynesville, North Carolina
Fall Color along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Waynesville, North Carolina

Kathy & I are very close to the point where we can decide to walk away from our corporate lives. Quite often we find ourselves feeling that that day can’t come soon enough. There are other days when things seem to go along fairly well and it feels like collecting a few more paychecks won’t be all that difficult. The difficult thing is going to be determining when the right time might be to call it quits. We have established many checkpoints that will tell we’re on the path. Some of those we have met, many we’re close on, but a few major ones have yet to be realized. But we have a plan and hope that when the time comes we’ll have the guts to say, “NOW.”

Pumpkin Patch at First United Methodist Church in Waynesville, North Carolina
Pumpkin Patch at First United Methodist Church in Waynesville, North Carolina

For me, my primary goal for what I want to do in retirement is to stay retired!   If I end up doing some kind of work I’d like it to be for personal satisfaction rather than to pay the bills. The good thing is that there are a lot of rewarding things we can do that don’t cost an enormous amount of money. While they may not check other peoples’ boxes for fulfillment, they might be just fine if that was the alternative.

Fall Color in Historic Frog Level, North Carolina
Fall Color in Historic Frog Level, North Carolina

 We’ve never paid a lot of attention to the “if money were no object” scenarios because it was always our intention for that not to be an issue. Not that we expect to never have to think about money, but the idea all along has been to have provided for a level of financial security that would allow us to continue living the life we have become comfortable with. And if that doesn’t work out, I suspect we’ll figure out how to travel and buy wine with whatever we do have! So for now, we hope to hold on to the jobs we’ve got for as long as we can, and every paycheck is a victory of sorts. Murphy’s Law would suggest that as soon as we decide for one of us to stay home, the remaining job we’d be counting on would go away.

Fall Color along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Waynesville, North Carolina
Fall Color along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Waynesville, North Carolina

For a lot of people, their biggest fear with retirement is that they won’t have anything to do. That is the thing that I worry about the least! Whenever we decide to walk out of that corporate world, I know that there is a whole lot of world out there to explore. And while I don’t have a chance of ever seeing it all, Kathy & I both plan to make a point of enjoying whatever we do see as much as we possibly can. That doesn’t take a list, and it doesn’t take a lot of planning, but I think it is a pretty good goal.

Fall Color along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Waynesville, North Carolina
Fall Color along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Waynesville, North Carolina

Good Words

Random photos from downtown Waynesville, North Carolina
Random photos from downtown Waynesville, North Carolina

One of the many non-photography blogs I follow is Becoming Minimalist by Joshua Becker.  I found these quotes especially appropriate given some of our recent discussions.

Random photos from downtown Waynesville, North Carolina
Random photos from downtown Waynesville, North Carolina

“Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.” —Malcolm S. Forbes

Random photos from downtown Waynesville, North Carolina
Random photos from downtown Waynesville, North Carolina

“Focus is often a matter of deciding what things you’re not going to do.” —John Carmack

Random photos from downtown Waynesville, North Carolina
Random photos from downtown Waynesville, North Carolina

Stop trying to impress others with the things that you own and begin inspiring them by the way that you live.

Random photos from downtown Waynesville, North Carolina
Random photos from downtown Waynesville, North Carolina

“Money is a poor indicator of success.” —Joshua Becker

Random photos from downtown Waynesville, North Carolina
Random photos from downtown Waynesville, North Carolina

Time and Commitment

Sunset at Cowee Mountains Overlook, Blue Ridge Parkway MP 430
Sunset at Cowee Mountains Overlook, Blue Ridge Parkway MP 430

I’ve written lately about how I feel like I am in a bit of a slump, photographically.  Many readers have made comments along the lines of “gee, I’d love to have a slump like that.”  But I’ve recently come to realize what I mean by what I’ve written.  What I’ve pretty much decided is that doing the kind of photography I like to do requires an investment of time, energy and dedication that, for a number of reasons, I just haven’t been committing to this year.  And this applies not just to the shooting, but to the processing and printing parts of the process as well.

As much as I’d like to think I can, I can’t just show up at a place and take meaningful photographs.  I can take photographs for sure, and many of them may be good technically.  But to create photographs with meaning requires more time.  I need to get to a place, get my mind and my heart tuned in to what is happening, and sometimes just sit for a while until I start hearing the voices.  “Being open to the gifts” is what my friend Les Saucier likes to say.  I can’t just pull the magic out of my camera bag, toss it out there and expect to take meaningful photographs.

Sunset at Caney Fork Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway MP 428
Sunset at Caney Fork Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway MP 428

Mostly what this requires is an investment of time.  Time partly to allow things to happen, but also time to get to a place in plenty of time for whatever is happening.  Sunsets are a good example.  I can’t just show up at a spot 10 minutes before sunset, pull out the camera and start taking amazing photos.  Sometimes the best photos come well before the actual setting of the sun, sometimes as much as an hour before, such as when the sun is moving behind a low-lying layer of clouds and casting sunbeams, or highlighting ridgelines as they recede into the distance.  Often by the time the sun sets all the magic is gone.  Occasionally, the magic is just beginning at sunset, as the real color begins to appear after the sun has gone below the horizon.  But I need time to “tune in,” to see what is happening, and to figure out what to shoot and how to shoot it.

Fall color along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Waterrock Knob
Fall color along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Waterrock Knob

The other way that my photography requires an investment of time is in having plenty of time to enjoy myself.  Kathy & I enjoy good meals at nice restaurants, both at home and when we travel.  That generally doesn’t involve sitting at an overlook with cold chicken and potato salad.  Sometimes it does, but not usually.  So in order to do a little bit of both, it’s often necessary to have more than just 24 hours in a place in order to really do it justice and to find that balance between sunset on the Parkway and dinner in Waynesville (or wherever).  One of the ways that this year has differed from previous years is that we have been taking more 2-day weekends and fewer 3 or 4-day weekends.  This results in less time in a specific place, and I find that this takes time away from everything.  I don’t like to feel like the clock is ticking while I am photographing.  And the smaller window of opportunity that is dictated by a shorter weekend makes that clock tick like a parade of Harleys going by!  With less time, success is more dependent on luck than creativity, and I don’t work so well when I am depending on luck.

Fall color along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Lone Bald Overlook, MP 432
Fall color along the Blue Ridge Parkway near Lone Bald Overlook, MP 432

So what does this all mean?  Well, it means several things.  First and foremost, I think it means that I need to do a better job of managing my time so that I have the freedom and flexibility I need to do the kind of photographic work I find most inspiring while also finding time to do the other things I love.  Photography and fine dining aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.  Some times of the year they are, so I’ll need to work that out.  Sometimes it will mean a nice but late dinner, and sometimes it will mean cold chicken on the Parkway.  The other thing it means is possibly traveling less frequently but for longer periods of time.  And perhaps staying longer in one place instead of trying to see multiple locations and moving around constantly.  I generally shy away from what I refer to as the photographic “death march” and don’t do a lot of good photography while I’m driving down the road.  Give me a place to sit and chill for a while and I’m more likely to get inspired.

I’ve done some good work this past year and hope to do some more before it’s done.  This year has been a little weird for a lot of reasons, and I’m looking forward to settling back into my usual routine next year.  We’ll see where that leads, but I’m hoping it will lead to more fulfilling photography for me, and less of my whining about it to Kathy!

Sunset at Cowee Mountains Overlook, Blue Ridge Parkway MP 430
Sunset at Cowee Mountains Overlook, Blue Ridge Parkway MP 430

October Wallpaper Calendar

Morning light and fall color from Pounding Mill Overlook on the

I didn’t shoot a lot of desktop-worthy fall color last year, so I had to go back two years for this one.  While it isn’t “fall leaves and acorns” it is nevertheless color in the sky that you just don’t get too often over the summer.  Not until the humidity blows off do you get these vibrant colors in the mornings.

Pounding Mill Overlook is on the Blue Ridge Parkway just south of the SR 276 intersection, so whether you are in Brevard or Waynesville it is an easy sunrise destination, especially in the fall when sunrise is at a very civilized time.  People don’t believe me when I say that the best color is often 30 minutes or more before sunrise.  Why?  Because people don’t usually start looking that soon, and because it is still really, really dark.  But the color is there, you just have to be ready for it.

Kathy & I have a little bit of fall travel planned, although we will mostly be making day trips. I’ve used up nearly all of my vacation time for this year, and we’re holding onto what few of our vacation dollars are left until we can close on our house.

Still Here

Wandering around downtown Waynesville, NC on a weekend perfect for a wanton disregard of critical obligations.
Wandering around downtown Waynesville, NC on a weekend perfect for a wanton disregard of critical obligations.

I thought I had better post a few words and some pictures just to prove that I am still alive and kicking.  Things have been a little hectic lately around The House of Dills.

After about 5 years of preparations, Kathy & I decided in February that this seemed like the right time to put our house on the market.  We began working with a Realtor to get things finalized so we would be ready for the spring sales market, which we expected would be a good one.  It’s amazing how much there is to do to a house to get it ready to sell – things you haven’t thought about or had just put off because you just hadn’t gotten around to it.  Despite having been “getting ready” for the last couple of years, there was still a last-minute rush to get things done.

Wandering around downtown Waynesville, NC on a weekend perfect for a wanton disregard of critical obligations.
Wandering around downtown Waynesville, NC on a weekend perfect for a wanton disregard of critical obligations.

In true Tom & Kathy fashion, we did the sensible thing and immediately headed out of town for a quick rest-up before we got started.  That was the weekend in February when we headed to Charleston, SC.  When we returned, we dove head-first into a 6-week period of repairs, staging and primping.  I also took photos for the listing, which I’ll probably share in another post.  By the end of March, we were ready.

Wandering around downtown Waynesville, NC on a weekend perfect for a wanton disregard of critical obligations.
Wandering around downtown Waynesville, NC on a weekend perfect for a wanton disregard of critical obligations.

Kathy & I had decided that we didn’t care to be hanging around the house for the first weekend that the house was on the market, figuring that most of our traffic would come that first weekend and we likely wouldn’t spend much time in the house anyway.  Another excuse to travel!  The listing hit the MLS on a Wednesday, and we immediately started getting calls for showings.  We went to work on Friday packed and ready for a weekend in Waynesville, NC, one of our favorite weekend getaway destinations.  By the time we were ready to come home on Sunday, our Realtor called to tell us that we had “multiple offers.”  Amazing.

So we came home, settled on the offer that looked the best and seemed like it would have the best chance of closing, and signed.  Now we’re waiting.  In NC the buyers have a period of time – the Due Diligence period – when they can pretty much just change their minds and walk with minimal consequence, and that period expires next week.  We have every indication that the buyers really want the house and that we will get through with no issues, but you just can’t be 100% certain.  You really can’t start heavy-duty packing just in case the house has to go back on the market.  In the mean time we have been organizing and getting ready to pack and move, so we’re ready to go once we get the green light that the deal is going to go through.  It’s a frustrating process, but one that I suppose will benefit us when we decide it is time to buy.

Wandering around downtown Waynesville, NC on a weekend perfect for a wanton disregard of critical obligations.
Wandering around downtown Waynesville, NC on a weekend perfect for a wanton disregard of critical obligations.

Here are a few photos from our weekend to Waynesville.  Just so you’ll know I’m still around and doing a little photography.  We’re planning to move to an apartment on May 23, and we’ve already got plans to head out of town on May 25 for another getaway weekend, so all is good here!

Wandering around downtown Waynesville, NC on a weekend perfect for a wanton disregard of critical obligations.
Wandering around downtown Waynesville, NC on a weekend perfect for a wanton disregard of critical obligations.

May 2013 Wallpaper

Sunset from Waterrock Knob, Blue Ridge Parkway, NC
Sunset from Waterrock Knob, Blue Ridge Parkway, NC

This month’s photo was my second choice for last month’s wallpaper, and I liked it so much I decided to run it for May.  Plus there is an added bonus of getting to tease my friend Kevin W. who made the mistake of telling me that he was homesick for the NC mountains and that my photos made him more so.  Come on back, Kevin!

Amazingly, this photo was taken just 4 1/2 minutes after the photo I used for last month’s calendar.  Looking west from Waterrock Knob, out over Cherokee and the Oconoluftee River toward the crest of the Smokies, this is one of my favorite views.  Not as famous (or as crowded) as some other sunset spots, I like it because I can practically shoot out of my car, and there are facilities nearby!

In the months and years after I took this photo, the view started to get overgrown with trees and brush.  Until the Park Service recently cleared some of the overgrowth, it had gotten to the point that there were very few vantage points for a good sunset view.  I’ve been back a few times recently, but the conditions haven’t been cooperative.  But it’s a place I return to often, and one day I’ll get my next Waterrock Knob sunset.  Maybe soon!

I know I’ve been a little quiet lately, but I’ve got some non-photographic backlog to get through and I’ll be back.  That’s a promise!

An Early Fall Getaway

Morning light and clouds at Pounding Mill Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway MP 413

Kathy & I had a last-minute chance to take off to the mountains this past weekend and meet up with some friends.  There are definitely signs of color in some spots, primarily the higher elevations.  We didn’t spend a lot of time photographing, preferring instead to explore the towns of Waynesville and Sylva.  I did manage to crawl out of bed early on Saturday for an attempt at sunrise, but we left with no evidence that the sun had risen other than the fact that the sky got lighter.  We did end up seeing some sun later in the day and on Sunday, but for the most part things were on the cloudy and foggy side.

Like many weekends in the mountains, this was one of widely variable conditions.  We found sun in some spots, were totally socked in with fog in some spots.  We discovered fall color in some places, while in others summer was still holding on tight.  We stopped by a waterfall along one of the side roads and in 15-20 minutes didn’t see a car, while earlier on the Parkway traffic was starting to get busy.

Waterfall on West Fork Pigeon River, Route 215 Lake Logan Road, Pisgah National Forest

I’m still struggling to find my photographic “groove” and I didn’t help myself much this weekend.  I guess I’ve just allowed myself to get out of practice.  It has been a crazy year so I have a good excuse, but it’s frustrating to feel so out of it, creatively.  I’m back on the upswing though, and am confident that I’ll get things back on track over the next month or so.

All in all we had a great weekend.  Good food and good times with friends are tough to top!

City lights of Hendersonville, NC shine through the pre-dawn fog from Pounding Mill Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway MP 413.

***

 I love the Blue Ridge Parkway, and it is one of my favorite places to visit any time of the year, especially in the fall.  But more and more I find myself struggling with the sheer number of people that head for the Parkway when the leaves start to peak.  In particular I’m bothered by what appears – to me at least – to be an increase in the irresponsible behavior and lack of respect that some drivers have.  This past weekend I witnessed a number of “bad apple” drivers, in particular motorcycle riders, doing stupid and reckless stunts.  Passing on curves and in no-passing zones, tailgating and intimidating drivers who weren’t going fast enough to suit them.  It really takes away from the peaceful experience that I have always gone to the Parkway for.  I understand that not everyone goes to the Parkway for peace and quiet, but when the antics of a few people manage to wreck the experience it is hard to tolerate.

I had already made plans to experience fall in other places this year, but after this past weekend and some similar experiences last year, I think I’m going to wait until I have time to plan my visits in mid-week to hopefully avoid most of the crazies.  I realize that most drivers and riders are careful and responsible, and that for the most part their biggest offense is making a lot of noise, but I think I’ll wait and head back in November and December, when only the most hardy adventurers are willing to brave the elements.

Morning light and fall color at Pounding Mill Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway MP 413

Fall happens everywhere, and I think my goal for this year will be to find Fall in some of the less-discovered places!  We’ve got some interesting adventures coming up, so stop by again soon to see what we’ve been up to.

Morning light and fog at Pounding Mill Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway MP 413

The Myth of Manual?

Frog’s Leap Public House Restaurant in Downtown Waynesville, North Carolina

Several weekends ago, Kathy & I were having an interesting discussion about why someone should or should not shoot in Program or Auto mode on their camera instead of using one of the “serious” modes such as Manual, Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority, and what might be right or wrong with that.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, actually.

Kathy knows more about the workings of a camera than a lot of people I know who have spent much more time in photography.  But she also knows that trying to remember all those things can sometimes take the fun out of just going out and making photographs.  So she asked me, and we talked about, “what’s wrong with just shooting JPEGs in Program Mode?”  What’s wrong, indeed?  Kathy & I were talking more in terms of the camera, in many cases, being smarter than we are.  And to a certain extent, she makes a very, very good point.

Frog’s Leap Public House Restaurant in Downtown Waynesville, North Carolina

My very first SLR was a Konica TC that I bought back in the late 70s, and while it had a meter, it was Manual everything, so when I set the aperture, a little needle would tell me whether my shutter speed was high or low, so I adjusted until I had it where I wanted it.  And I learned about things like exposure compensation the hard way, after I got the film back and tried to remember what I did!  But because I first learned photography with a camera that only had manual controls, it’s pretty easy for me to think in terms of aperture or shutter speed on the fly – I have “Program Mode” in my head!

I put the Konica away sometime in the 80s then shot for years with a number of different point & shoot cameras while the kids were growing up.  This worked fine until I decided to get back into photography more seriously and bought a Nikon N70 around 2000.  It had auto-focus and auto-metering!  But I mostly shot it in Manual and Aperture Priority because that’s what I was used to.  I would venture to guess that most people buying that camera, however, probably shot it in Auto mode.

Light fixture in Downtown Waynesville, North Carolina

Shortly after buying the Nikon, someone suggested that I needed to buy a medium format camera, so I went out and bought a Mamiya 7 rangefinder and a 65mm lens.  Soon after I added a 50mm lens and a 150mm lens.  That camera was manual everything with a funky little meter that, once you learned how to use it, worked pretty well.  Again, I was perfectly comfortable with the manual exposure controls and manual focus, because that is how I learned.  I eventually ended up trading all that Mamiya film stuff in toward a Canon 5D.  And I’ve wished for that Mamiya 7 back until recently, when I got my 5D Mark III.  That is the first camera I can say is better than the Mamiya 7, but that’s a story for another post.

In a recent post on his blog, Paul Lester talks more about how people are perfectly satisfied with photos they are taking with their phones.  No controls, no exposure compensation, no thought, just point and shoot.  Paul recently met and talked with photographer and teacher Ibarionex Perello who told him that he no longer teaches aperture in his classes, because no one wants to know about it.  Students can’t be bothered learning about depth of field or the effect of aperture on shutter speed.  They just want to take pictures.  I’m sure some of them will eventually drift into the World of Manual as they explore various creative options, but most of these students will be perfectly happy using their cameras in Program mode, and if they want to get creative with their photos, they can always do that later with software.

Shadows and Gate, Downtown Waynesville, North Carolina

Along this line, some of the commentary surrounding the recent Canon EOS-M camera has fascinated me.  Like the Nikon mirrorless cameras, they are designed to shoot primarily in Program or one of the various “custom” or “scene” modes.  While they do have the ability to shoot in a manual or semi-auto mode, those controls are menu-based instead of accessed simply by turning a dial or two.  This has fostered some real debate.  Hardly anyone has actually touched one of these cameras yet, let alone shot a few photos with one, but immediately the analysis and commentary began.  People started using words like (and you can find them easily) “crippled,” “mundane, run-of-the-mill, off-the-shelf-with-spare-parts,” “uninspired,” No EFing Viewfinder!!! Well that is a deal-breaker for me.”  Every camera that is introduced inspires its share of forum jockeys who are too busy making excuses about every camera that comes out that they never get around to actually taking photographs.  Give me a break!

Yellow Coneflower at Beartrail Ridge Overlook at MP 430 on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina

Do you honestly think that a company with the research and marketing budget that Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Olympus, Sony and others have is going to bring out a brand-new camera that is such an immediate failure that no one will want it?  Probably not.  It’s just that so many of these photographer wannabes think that no one else in the world could possibly want to shoot in Program Mode.  In truth, I think these cameras are aimed squarely at a very clearly-defined market.  It just ain’t us, sorry.  Canon will probably sell millions of those cameras.  And that will fund the next 5D megacamera that I’ll want!

There is absolutely no reason that a person with a basic level of interest in photography has to shoot in anything but Program to be serious about their photography.  Granted, for a lot of us more serious folks, the ability to control exposure and depth of field is critical.  But we often forget how long it took us to get to the point where we were comfortable with manual controls.  I shot in Manual for years before I really learned how to control background blur or balance exposure between a bright sky and a dark foreground.  But today, some cameras can figure that out for you, and for all the money we pay for our equipment, we might do well to just let it!

Yellow Coneflower at Beartrail Ridge Overlook at MP 430 on the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina

So anyway, someone who is starting out and just wants to let their camera take pictures will do perfectly well over 98% of the time.  And if they shoot JPEGs and learn how to properly expose their shots they won’t need to work on their photos in software.  What a deal!  I know a number of successful commercial photographers who shoot everything in JPEG and beat the snot out of a lot of people who shoot RAW.  Granted they are probably using manual controls and are sometimes using studio lighting, but if you know what you are doing, it’s no different than shooting slide film.  Remember that?

In many ways, photography is like riding a bike.  We don’t start off riding the fanciest machine that a Tour de France participant would ride.  As kids we start off with a single-speed bike with training wheels.  As adults getting back into cycling we might dust off the old “10-speed” and ride it around for a while.  Eventually we will decide that we could be more comfortable, ride faster or generally be happier with something newer, lighter or more advanced.  If we get really serious we buy the shoes, the jersey and the spandex shorts so we really look the part.

The same holds true for photography.  Those starting out will use their phones, their point & shoot cameras or their SLRs – all in “P” mode.  And for most people that’s as far as they’re going to get.  A few of them will start experimenting with things like depth of field and shutter speed and realize that the camera they are using might not suit their needs.  At that point they might move up to something with more manual controls, or they might just make do with the camera they have.

Bluegrass player sculpture in Downtown Waynesville, North Carolina

Kathy understands a lot of the mechanics of photography, but wants to spend more of her time looking at the scene in front of her and pondering composition and expression and less of it on figuring out the right f-stop.  And I support that.  If she gets turned off now by all of the technical stuff and gives up the camera entirely, than how is that success?  If she can enjoy what she is doing now, and later gets to the point where she wants to do more with the controls, I think that is perfectly fine.  And if she never moves beyond the “P” setting but enjoys her photos, that is perfectly fine and I support it!  There are many ways to do this photography thing, and very few of them are wrong!

Bluegrass player sculpture in Downtown Waynesville, North Carolina

Just Get Out and Shoot!

I ran into a friend of mine the other night, and he walked up to me with an expectant look on his face and asked, “so how is it?”  I looked at him with a puzzled look that I hoped read as “so how is what?”  And he said, “the camera, the Mark III.  How do you like it?”  Ohboy.

This friend, we’ll call him ‘Bob,’ has frequently sought my advice on cameras and lenses in the past.  I like ‘Bob’ and he’s a nice guy and good friend, and the fact that he asks my advice means he is also smart. 🙂  But ‘Bob’ has asked my opinion on cameras before, in fact, he has been the subject of my blog posts before (sorry, ‘Bob’).  But I’m afraid that he may just not like my advice.

‘Bob’ shoots with a Canon 40D, which is a very good camera.  I own one, still use it and some of my photos from it have made me money.  It’s still in my bag, although it has been relegated to third position behind my 5Ds.  Right now I am using it to hold my Holga lens, but at any time I could throw another lens on it and it would work fine.  Either way it will make good photographs, at least as good as I am able to make.

When we spoke 8 or 9 months ago, ‘Bob’ was thinking about buying a new camera and was vacillating between a 5D Mark II and a 7D.  He had seen photos taken by friends with newer cameras and was convinced that their photos were “better” than his.  I told him at the time that if he wanted a new camera he should just pick one, then take it out and use it.  Either camera would have been, and still would be, a great choice.

What ‘Bob’ told me the other was that he never bought a camera in November.  But now he was getting ready for a trip to Europe and felt like he needed to make a decision.  He had recently rented a 5D Mark III and really liked it, but he decided he didn’t want to spend that much money.  Which is quite understandable, it’s an expensive beast.  So ‘Bob’ decided to buy an “interim” camera and picked up a refurbished 7D.  That’s a very good camera, and one he might have purchased back in November.  But he’s thinking of sending it back.  The problem, he said, is that when he compared the photos from the 7D with those from the 40D, he didn’t feel like he was seeing the improvement that he thought he should be seeing.  But he felt like the files from the 5D Mark III were a lot better than those from the 7D.  Uh, huh.

He then started talking about Nikons and something about 36 megapixels and whether Canon was going to match Nikon and maybe he should just buy another lens and what kind of lenses he should consider.  I kind of zoned out.  Yes, there are cameras with lots of megapixels and big sensors, and huge dynamic range, and there will be more tomorrow.  And there will be more the next day and next month and next year.  But what are we going to do today?  What can I shoot now?

I bought a 5D Mark III in April, which it turns out was a little ironic since the June issue of a newsletter I write for contained an article I wrote about how gear didn’t matter.  I even stated that I didn’t think I was going to buy a new camera.  And then I bought a new camera (I wrote the article in January – things change).  But I didn’t buy it because I thought it would improve my photography (honest!).  I bought it because it was time to upgrade my tools and I wanted to have the latest technology, so that the photos I took with it would give me the best results possible.  The best raw materials, if you will.  But it is still up to me to take the photographs, and I only hope I can do it justice.

But that makes it hard for me to tell ‘Bob’ not to buy one.

One of the things I’ve found about the 5D Mark III is that the camera is so good that it amplifies my mistakes.  That’s good in that it forces me to work harder, but bad because it’s easy to screw up.  One thing I’ve learned with this camera is to stop looking at the files at 100%, since that magnification is way too high.  My new default is 50% for that camera, going to 100% when I really need to get fussy.  Otherwise, at 100% you are imagining flaws that aren’t really there.  Yeah, it makes nice files, but if the photo is crap it’s just a nice file of crap.

Long afterward – too late for me to say anything to ‘Bob’ (I always get my best thoughts hours later!) – I thought that what he did was a lot like test driving the Mustang and buying the Focus.  If what you really want is the Mustang, you’ll never be happy with the Focus.  But if you know you’ll never cough up the money for the Mustang, don’t drive the Mustang.  I think ‘Bob’ wants the 5D Mark III, and until he buys it he won’t be happy.

In many ways, ‘Bob’ represents a lot of us.  We are our own worst critic.  Often I look at my own photos, whether on my computer screen or on a print I have made, and I feel disappointed because I don’t think they measure up to what I see others show.  Other people’s photos often look better than mine.  It’s an example of “the grass is always greener” principal.  Our photos always look worse to us than they really are.  But then I see one of mine hanging on a wall or online next to others’ photos and I think, “hey, that looks pretty darned good.”

We all have the desire for that Magic Button, whether it’s a camera, a lens, a tripod or a computer, we often feel that there’s that “one more thing” that will make us the photographer we know we can be.  But you know what?  That’s just not the case.  The problem is that, except to the extent that a new camera motivates us to get out and use it, it doesn’t really improve our photography.  Sure, a new camera might produce nicer files, but nicer files don’t necessarily mean better photographs.

My advice to ‘Bob’ was to pick a camera and get out and use it.