How Videomaking Improves Photography

Being a newcomer to the “vlogging” and filmmaking scene, you have to start somewhere.

Having no prior “formal” education with video production, my only experiences are of an AV club in elementary school and an afterschool video club in high school.

Yet neither really dealt with nature or the outdoors, or vlogging or talking or jump cuts or b-roll or..

You get the point, I was started from ground zero, point A, from essentially nothing.

So then I looked to streaming videos online of my favorite photographers for inspiration. From there I began eruditely consuming content of the photographic greats.

I had been watching some of them for years and realized how much one can pick up on, extracting those editing details and nuances became the launching pad for this next creative outlet in my visual medium.

After mulling over the idea for a couple of months, I started a YouTube channel on New Years Eve of 2018, to be a tad bit cliche (and mildy OCD) this became a new year resolution. Unsure of my total commitment to it would satisfy.

I waited a couple more weeks before committing to putting something out there. See it below.

The very first video I uploaded, a simple slideshow set to music with images from the previous year.

The (real) first video of me in front of the camera was taken a local park I walked to during the peak of winter. Cold and unsure of myself, I simply wanted to film a few bits talking in brief of my background and what I wanted to accomplish with the channel. The camera propped on a tripod and no script in sight, I fumbled over my speech a dozen times before leaving at dark feeling unaccomplished. Almost ready to throw in the towel before I began..

I was reluctant to see myself talk again, so I waited a solid two weeks before even touching that video footage, however this became an important lesson in persevering.

This first step became a lesson in embarrassment, which in turn is a reflection of fear: the fear of being judged. Anytime you put a piece of art out there, there is the agonizing sting of rejection (or even compliments) that await from friends and peers. Yet the main takeaway is that the embarrassment is a sign of growth, it’s humbling! Pursuing a new creative avenue that I never sought to delve into.

If you asked me even a year ago if I wanted to stand in front of the camera rather than stay behind it, I would’ve laughed at you. Yet here I am, making short scripts, planning out visits and having the video workflow move seamlessly with the phototaking and post-processing. At the time of this writing, I am only six months in!

You can't just go waist deep, you have to go over your neck.

So one could say I am creating these videos to push my limits (both creatively and personally) and overcome my fears. A little dramatic to say but it is with sincerity. From shooting on location to editing at home, these projects can be massively exhausting. Pushing through all these uncomfortable feelings towards the the goal at the end. The results are worth it when you and others can enjoy the production.

To see the (fairly mediocre) intro video, look no further.

Six months (and counting) later, I am much more confident when explaining things and talking to the camera, almost to the point that it comes naturally. A monotone inflection is tossed aside when speaking excitedly about the incoming sunset or a potential bird photo. Speak even if your voice shakes!

Besides all this expository rambling, why am I telling you all of this?

Because videomaking gave me the confidence not only in that. but in shooting stills more.

If I could verbalize what I am seeing, then I should be more likely to correctly expose it on a camera, no?

The feeling of recording yourself talking about the subjects helps in slowing down and creating more of a story.

And photographs are about the story after all.

I shoot more with a purpose, as I want to share what I am feeling in that moment to the viewer. If I’m just on burst mode with no rhyme or reason then the photo feels empty.

Another question: Just at what point does a photographer become more of a videographer?

What about a YouTuber?

For me, the photos are always first and foremost as the main focus. Any supplemental footage (called B-roll by filmmakers) is secondary to “the shot.”

Let’s not forget to mention the editing that goes along with the visual creation, this can seriously take up valuable time spent on editing photos and, well, going out with the camera.

As a “one-man army,” all the shooting and editing is down on my own too. We must eventually strike a balance between video and stills, both when in the field and when processing it on the computer.

Obviously YouTube in particular is not a moneypot for most videographers, making only a handful of dollars in ad revenue per month. I view it less as another stream of income, but rather another tool and platform to share my work. This visual format gave me a voice.

Some photographers would argue that a video medium is essential in this day and age to market your work. To some extent I would agree

If you’re still with me up to this point, here are some playlists with which I have made video content. And of course, feel free to subscribe for future uploads. Thanks!

Start from the beginning to see my progression and skills improve, or watch them in whatever order you please.
Editing photos at the home office.
Strictly B-roll footage interwoven over nature scenes, sometimes with music.

Do you believe photographers should dive into video production on top of their regular photos?

Do you have a YouTube channel? Share it with us in the comments.

Good luck shooting (or filming.)

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A List of Favorite Nature Books

As you can probably tell from this blog, writing is one such interest and passion of mine. So naturally talking about my favorite books related to the subject of nature and photography seemed incredibly poignant.

A majority of these books are ones that combine nature and photography as I obviously prefer those the most. Others are more about the hikes and scenery, while others focus more on the biology of the land.

My preference (both ideally and literally) at this time to stay local (in Ohio) which means the majority are exclusively about the Buckeye state. For your convenience, I have separated the strictly Ohio books from the others.

Save these for a nice rainy spring day or brutally cold winter day. Read up, do your research, and be willing to learn!

Here’s the list hitherto, no affiliate links (affixed photos are not my own) but you may copy/paste the titles and authors into your browser to find them. Enjoy!

OHIO BOOKS

Wild Ohio: The Best of Our Natural Heritage – Jim McCormac, Gary Meszaros

A very satisfying read of natural features in Ohio. The depth of info about the flora and fauna from a well-known naturalist like Jim and photographer like Gary. A page-turner from beginning to end.

A Place Called Aullwood – Its Flowers, Woodlands and Meadows: Photographic Essay – Allan Horvath, Paul E. Knoop, Gail Horvath

A beautifully-told narrative of how Aullwood Garden came to be, the history and married couple who sought to protect this property from outside urban influence. Aullwood became the first nature education center in the country. Fortunately Aullwood is still a stunning place to visit to this day, where the history is alive and well as you take each step through the meadows and garden trails. This piece of land was the Aull’s gift to the world, and must cherish it all that we can.

A Photographer’s Guide to Ohio (Volume 1 & 2) – Ian Adams

A very treasured two-volume guide to nature and scenic photographers in the Buckeye state, I have discovered a number of new locations close to home to explore with the camera and lens. Discover everything from lighthouses, hills and bluffs, forbs and petite waterfalls. There is so much out there that many would be happy to see.

Discovery and Renewal on Huffman Prairie: Where Aviation Took Wing – David Nolin

A story-driven book about local naturalist Mr. Nolin’s experience and knowledge of the famed tallgrass prairie. Huffman Prairie Flying Field is arguably a historical crown jewel of wet meadow and prairie habitat in southwest Ohio, mixed in with a rich history of aviation. The book goes through the entire history of the area from conception, to the Wright Brothers era, to threats of farm and human development, to the way it is protected today.

The Ohio Nature Almanac – Stephen Ostrander

This is practically a bible for the entire state. Jam-packed with trivia, facts, and detailed descriptions for boating, fishing, hiking, hunting, running, and so much more. Listed in detail are state parks, wildlife areas, nature preserves both big and small. A rather thick nonfiction book at around 500 pages, this will surely make you want to get out there and experience all the Buckeye state has to offer.

Natural Wonders of Ohio – Janet Groene, Gordon Groene

If I had to give a perfect example of all things natural in Ohio, this is the book! A bevy of trivia and anecdotal stories and sprinkled throughout the text, as well as listings of state parks, wildlife areas, nature preserves. Locations where one can hike, bike, fish, boat and swim are given, and the information is limitless in this large book.

Much less a book for hikers and more of one for aspiring naturalists and nature enthusiasts. This publication lists out many different nature preserves and state-protected natural areas. Reasons to visit include the typical wildlife viewing and observation, botany studying and other “passive” recreational activities.

50 Hikes in Ohio – Ralph Ramey

A short and sweet book detailing many major (and some smaller) hikes to take all across the Buckeye state. I’ve already done a handful of these on my photography trips however discovered many new-to-me locations to explore.

OTHER BOOKS

Notes From the Field – Tom & Pat Cory

An indispensable guidebook to nature photography of all kinds. Written in the late 1990’s for film, the advice and tips still hold up to this day. Technical knowledge is very useful in this easy-to-read book however I felt myself disagreeing with some of the composition techniques. A fantastic read that is currently out of print.

Deer, Elk & Moose: Grand and Majestic Creatures – Stan Tekiela

Stan’s naturalist background shines in this short photo book, detailing these ungulate’s life cycle every year and season. The variety of photographs at different angles provide a narrative-styled and intimate look into these “grand and majestic creatures” everyday happenings.

The New Art of Photographing Nature: An Updated Guide to Composing Stunning Images of Animals, Nature, and Landscapes – Art Wolfe, Martha Hill

If I had to give an all-around pick for learning nature photography, this would be the book. Reading and “studying” (as I call it) an Art Wolfe book is like taking a master class through the photographer’s lengthy career. A wealth of photos and techniques are shared.

The Art of the Photograph: Essential Habits for Stronger Compositions – Art Wolfe, Rob Sheppard

My favorite book for getting out of a creative rut. This one helps you see the world in a new way. Compositions are everything to creating a compelling image, and this piece of text will challenge and delight you with new ways of seeing.

Photographs from the Edge: A Master Photographer’s Insights on Capturing an Extraordinary World – Art Wolfe, Rob Sheppard

Some of the best photographs have a story, and this photo book is no slouch to that. In fact, the entire premise is to share the stories behind each photo in this book. So much goes into taking an image, and explaining what you cannot see adds so much more to the entire experience.

Earth is My Witness – Art Wolfe, Wade Davis

A career retrospective look at the stunning work of Art Wolfe. Nature, travel and cultural photography are all nicely blended in this publication in a seamless matter, displaying the best this planet has to offer.

Trees: Between Earth & Heaven – Art Wolfe, Gregory McNamee

Learn about the world’s towering giants and experience their size and scale through photographs. The immense size of this photo book really lends itself well to page-spreading trees. Paragraph-filled captions of the spiritual and traditional meanings of trees in each region of the world add a lot of context. Perhaps my favorite example of an impressive presentation of nature photography in a photo book.

Honorable Mentions

Rarely Seen : Photographs of the Extraordinary – National Geographic

Examples, The Making of 40 Photographs – Ansel Adams

Creatures of Change: An Album of Ohio Animals – Carolyn Platt

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail – Ben Montgomery

Bonus: Favorite Magazines

If shorter magazines are more of your thing, here are some of my top picks for nature, photography and the outdoors in general.

Outdoor Photographer, Birds & Blooms, Birdwatching Magazine, Backpacker Magazine, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Outside, Ohio Magazine, National Wildlife, National Geographic, Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, Smithsonian

Make a visit to your local bookstore or library to find any of these and others.

Happy reading!

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Is Photography Art?

I have visited a number of fine art galleries big and small over time, and only one so far has said ‘no’ to accepting any photography.

And so recently I visited a local art gallery with a juried exhibition.

The subject matter? Landscapes.

All artistic mediums were accepted, and fortunately I saw a variety of them present: a lot of paintings, sculptures, wall art, ceramics, mixed media, and of course photography.

Photography was in fact well represented, more than half of the exhibit was such.

And what’s wrong with that? Landscape photography is massive at the moment. So much that the industry is bloated with them, admittedly so.

While I enjoyed the both film and digital photos, my annoyance came when viewing the guestbook halfway through the show..

“Too much photos/digital stuff.”

“Too much photography.”

“Where are the paintings?”

With some optimism sprinkled in between such as..

“Nice to see photography being represented well!”

To be honest I felt a little bit offended, and I wasn’t even showing any of my work in this group exhibit! I felt a little sympathetic for the very talented photographers exhibiting.

People have their opinions and that is fine. To be honest I will say I wished there were more landscape paintings involved. Art is simply art to me.

And while none of them said photography isn’t art. It still got me thinking..

what really is Photography?
is it Art?

To start, we need to know what art is; what does that word objectively mean?

So, art is defined as…

Let’s rationally break down what a typical photographer may do in their day-to-day activities and operations.

“Skill acquired by experience, study, or observation.”

In its simplest form of explanation, I go out and press the shutter button. But that’s not it, to make a halfway decent photograph requires a trained eye for pleasing composition and balance. That to me sounds like a skill or set of skills based on experience, study and/or observation.

“An occupation requiring knowledge or skill.”

Photography can and is an occupation for millions of people around the world. Any occupation requires a legitimate set of knowledge and skills in order to finish the task.

I only can improve with making an effort and with time. Studying the works of others and observing my own failed photos helps to become a better photographer.

Even after the shutter capture, I still meticulously edit the image file, then print on the suitable papers, checking all the colors for accuracy. Then choosing a frame and matting that appeals to the photos’ strengths while improving the overall “experience.”

And as I said, many people make a living producing these works or similar, whether for a client on commission or for a gallery.

“The conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects.”

This is perhaps my favorite definition for the word. I am taking a tangible three-dimensional reality, for example a old-growth forest, and transferring it to a two-dimensional photograph. There is a conscious need to know what looks right vs. wrong in making a photograph of something real.

Not only that, but the photo must have a stopping-power that only the best can do. Stellar use of contrast, color or subject matter needs to apparent, and that only comes with harnessing a creative imagination.

Now, that image you have created is the production of an aesthetic object. Photos can document and spread awareness or ideas, but at the end of the day they are a means of communication or entertainment. With the photo being an object to admire and appreciate for aesthetic purposes.

“One of the fine arts.”

This is obvious, but a good majority of photography can be classified as “fine art.” To be fine art photography in my opinion is producing an image or print in hopes of selling if after the fact to prospective buyers. In essence, the opposite of commercial photography. I am creating this image first and foremost for myself and with my unique vision, but then intending on someone else to “buy my unique vision” in the form of an open or limited edition print.

You can probably guess, but yes.

I believe photography is an art form, and always will.

Art transcends digital pixels and technology and is no different from using a paintbrush or pastel, which at one point were considered new technology as well.

So with that being said, I personally don’t care what camera you choose to use, or whether you shoot digital or film, full-frame or mirrorless.

The point is, to keep on shooting shutter bugs and f-stoppers.

Photography is alive and well.

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Finding Your Photographic Style

A photographic style, kind of like finding your life purpose.

Same day, same sunset. It pays off to turn around for another look!

Style is defined as “a distinctive manner of expression.”

Over the years, I have narrowed my style down to a particular set of guidelines or standards.

To make a metaphor. I see all the muscles as parts that make up your creative style, but they always will flex on the same arm, also known as your body of work.

Like muscles, you have to train and develop those points of interest over time.

Some Ohio naturalists and biologists wanna simply document living species, regardless of the quality of light.

An experiment with panoramas. While the lighting isn’t too exciting, this surely documents the area for future visits with better light.

There is nothing wrong with this! To me photography is the perfect artistic medium where “anything goes.” Nature photojournalism has a powerful niche within that place. Some of my favorite photos do just that, documenting the living things around us.

But one has to wonder when the photojournalism is elevated to an art form.

Personally I want my body of work to stand between these lines. Further blurring fine art and nature photojournalism.

Over the years I realized that I don’t wanna just simply document, at least not always.

I wanna show nature artfully while keeping true to its’ roots.

Describe Your Process of Seeing With Words

I have noticed that I describe the photos to others using one word a lot: juxtaposition.

Juxtaposition is defined as “the act of placing two or more things side by side to compare or contrast to create an interesting effect.”

I enjoy conveying the calm and collected fragility of nature, while sometimes switching it up with jagged and “intense” leading lines. This is one example I noticed throughout my work, a strong use of these straight lines, interwoven with vanishing points and curves.

The above two images were taken in different months, two different locations, two different seasons. Yet I captured them in the same way. Upon seeing the two photos together as prints, the connection became clearer.

Likewise, I enjoy making aimless and meandering pieces of art. The minimalism clashing with the chaotic. Balancing the two in a single image.

The photos display inner details and ideas, while others show everything no matter how beautiful or ugly.

You Won’t Figure This Out Overnight

In order to find your photography style, keep shooting!

I am several years in and just now starting to see patterns and connections in my entire portfolio.

The more you shoot good and (more likely) bad photos, your trained eye will gain a sense of perspective.

Certain people enjoy specific compositions more than others, that same goes for focal lengths, colors, lighting conditions, etc.

Now I personally don’t narrow my portfolio down to a certain white balance and color tone, other photographers achieve this so well. Is a moody color palette with a warm splash of red or orange more of your thing? Own up to it!

It goes without but “what do you like to see?”

More so, “what do you want to see more of?”

What is lacking in the art and photography world? Find a way to carve a definitive niche in the industry.

Your peers and viewers of your work will admire your desire to stand out from the crowd.

One last idea, and this is more of a writing prompt to try.

Write an Artist Statement

Yes, an artist statement can be an oft-forgotten part of the photography world. Typically written by fine art photographers only, I recommend creating your own regardless of genre or niche.

Clearly you shouldn’t copy another’s statement, but read a few others before embarking on your own writing. Get inspired!

Diagonal lines, reflections, horizons. This is a big part of my way of seeing.

Like how this writing piece began, a photographic style is like finding your life purpose.

Never give up that search, those who seek it will eventually find their style.

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Why Is Photography Important to Me?

November 2017, Indoors Self-Portrait

This question was begging to be answered. I suddenly had a burning desire to know “the why’s” for which I do what I do. Even though I had an idea of why, did I truly know the reason?..

Why does photography matter so much to me?

Why do I even bother waking up before sunrise? Is it worth it to brace whatever weather may come? The dry humid summers, the bitter cold winters and everything in between? Putting it all off and sleeping in is much more attractive.

To be completely honest, my inner-critic talks me out of getting outdoors with the camera: every. single. time. You wage war with yourself just to stay at home once again but until you overcome that hunch, you’re creatively deadlocked and will never further progress as an artist.

I don’t believe I have ever truly regretted going out to photograph. A lot of days start out with me being tired and cranky, but by the end I am still tired, yet fulfilled and satisfied. Big difference for sure.

When life tries to derail you, remember why you started in the first place.

In order to nurture this symbiotic relationship with the art-form and life itself. I sat down for about half an hour and jotted away in my journal. Paper and pen seemed to be the best medium in which to start this journal prompt before being translated to the keyboard and screen. I had to strike a delicate balance between my thoughts racing to “throw up” on the page before my hand could even keep up. Once I started, there was really no stopping..

Four pages later, I had a sufficient enough response. Here it goes.

“Photography is important to me in that it gives me an excuse to get off my behind and explore the outdoors. This hobby seemingly overnight carved a divine and special niche in my psyche to where it is now a lifestyle. No other artistic mediums have quite dug deep enough into my soul as this one has. Through photographs, I am given a second chance to cherish and relive those would-be forgotten memories I have experienced. A new appreciation is gained for how small and insignificant we all are in the grand scheme of things. Putting ourselves into perspective of which we must be eternally grateful every passing moment from which we breathe.

Photography gives me a voice and a platform of sorts from which to speak and share. Photography gifts me with better vision, both in the spacial/seeing sense as well as the acute mental awareness. The world we inhabit is perfect in its’ imperfections, beautiful as it is ugly. Therein lies the solution: the actual act of pressing the shutter is a combination of numbers and technical know-how. The other side of the coin is the creative inspiration and driving motivation to express your ideas.

Photography seems like it should be work. Don’t get me wrong, this is perhaps the most challenging task I have endured in my entire life. The stress and decisions made everyday want me to throw in the towel. For some reason, photography still feels like play. More than it should, drop me in a natural setting and my eyes widen up like a child in a candy store. How is it that something so mentally-taxing and draining be so creatively and existentially rewarding?

Photography harnesses a possessive undertone between the capture; this is my photograph, my unique vision and ideas poured in and bleeding into fruition. Literally no one else can produce the same image. A dozen other photographers could attempt to capture the same scene and their sets of eyes would automatically see something different. The collective results would be so far removed from one another! If I’m quite honest, there is a sense of ownership and entitlement in that sentiment. This isn’t to say my work is any good or particularly better than anyone else’s. It means that “I created this” from which there is an obligatory responsibility to own up to the artwork produced.

Photography for me is to acquire an intensive thirst to explore and an innate curiosity to learn. To go on an adventure, one does not have to travel far away to realize these desires exist. If you are strong-willed enough, you will make this become your reality. A backyard can quench this thirst with a myriad of photographic subjects. I could spend all my time here and still would have more than a lifetime’s worth of inspiring photos! Think about this: we all have 24 hours in a day, 365 days in a year. The only exception being is the different stages of age and life we may be involved with. For me, photography fulfills this existential craving to preserve my memories, to preserve some sort of legacy. Once again, not because I am an idol but rather a legacy to prove my own inner worth. I may very well die with a camera in my hand and would full and well accept that possibility. Regardless of subject, barring any self-imposed genres or labels. At the end of the day, I feel internally invigorated everytime I get to hold a camera, no matter where it may be pointed at.

Photography is an art using mechanical tools. This little box with folding mirrors and prisms somehow becomes an extension of my life. Sometimes you don’t need a reason. No one is forcing me to travel down this path…this path chose me. The ball is in my court, and I took it and ran with it.

Photography showed me the lights and shadows of my existence without me asking for that guidance. In return I will show the camera the best use of what light and shadow is given.”

I could’ve wrote ad infinitum about this topic but there needed to be a finite ending of sorts.

Collage of various images taken over the years. Each one is a different and unique experience I’ve had that amounts to a life well spent..and we’re just getting started.

I would insist that you go on a reality check every once in a while with this question. This has helped “ground” me more and more in what I do. Ask the difficult questions: Are you still having fun? What could I do to improve? What do I not like shooting? Etc.

Listen with both your heart and mind as you click that shutter, and you will certainly never be wrong.

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