Getting 'up close and personal' for a great shot

I've been camping for the past couple days at Ottawa National Park in Michigan's breathtaking Upper Peninsula. This is the kind of place that begs the question, "What do I shoot?" We've had a light rain so everything is lush and glistening. It's the kind of place that a person can easily go shutter-crazy in, especially if you have a compact digital camera with a macro feature. If you haven't taken advantage of the macro feature on your camera yet, you're missing out on many great photo opportunities. When you see how much impact closeup photos have, you realize that you're often surrounded by great photos just waiting for you to unveil them.

Think about the vacation photos that your friends and family show you. I'm willing to bet that most of their photos are taken from a distance, with lots of distracting background. The classic example is a full-length photo of someone facing straight at the camera, often standing next to some historical marker or feature unique to that area. An example I saw yesterday is a waterfall. Most photographers stand WAAAY back to get lots of background in the photo. As a result, most vacation photos lack the 'umpf' that close-up photos offer.

If you think I'm wrong on this, let me give you an example and you tell me if you think this long far away shot of the waterfall... more interesting than this closeup photo of the same waterfall.

My personal opinion is that the far away shot of the waterfall only serves to show that I was near a waterfall. That's not so valuable when you consider that I could have gone into the local gift shop and bought a similar photo that looks better than the one I took. I prefer my close up photo because it's dynamic and has more 'umpf'. You know 'umpf' when you see it, because you feel it immediately. It's kind of like being in love, you either feel it or you don't. If you're ever in doubt, take both kinds of photos. Some people were looking at me funny when I took the closeup photo because I was getting sprayed on and I was in an awkward position, but a lot of the fun of photography comes from the process of creating photos that reflect your unique personality. It's the reason why I've created 10s of thousands of photos over the past 15 years. Trying getting closer the next time you pull out your camera. You may be surprised at how much more impact your photos have.

How to make your photos "amazing"

Last fall, I was going through a bout of insomnia that lasted about 2 months. No matter how late I went to bed, I woke up around sunrise. So instead of trying to go back to sleep, I got up and took my camera to Busse Woods in Schaumburg. I grew up in one of Chicago's worst neighborhoods (Humboldt Park), so for me, visiting Busse Woods is like visiting Shangri-La. I feel so relaxed when I go walking, fly a kite, or ride my recumbent bike there.

Thanks to my insomnia, I learned that Busse Woods is even more beautiful at sunrise. For weeks, I took many of the photos on my nature page. An interesting comment on one of the photos was, "I had no idea Busse Woods looked this amazing!" Now I appreciate a compliment as much as the next person, but the credit really should go to the gorgeous light that bathes the world before most of us wake up. I had the same experience at the Burning Man festival in Nevada. I was up at sunrise every morning and found that it was nearly impossible to take a bad photo when you have that early morning light working for you.

I've been taking pictures for over 15 years, but I never considered myself a nature photographer. Despite this, my nature photos are getting rave reviews from many people. In fact, a bride that I recently photographed told me that she chose me because of my nature photos! I guess the early bird really does get the worm.

"I'm in awe of your photos - tell me about your camera"

That was a quote from an email I received recently. I appreciate the feedback, but I wonder if she was really just complimenting my camera!

I learned how to take pictures on one of those fully manual cameras that you change the lenses on (SLR, or single lens reflex). I was in college when digital cameras were first released. During that time, I was intensely
focused on my photography classes, spending countless hours in the darkroom and really honing my skills. When my peers and I first heard about digital cameras, we swore we'd never replace our film cameras with a digital camera. (If you think that was hoity-toity, you should have met the art school students - now THOSE were some prize winners!)

It took many years and a few key observations to realize that I had the wrong perspective. One of the first things that shook me out of my ivory tower was seeing my mom's vacation photos. Despite my insistence that she get a "real" camera, she always took disposable cameras with her and, to my surprise, kept coming back with compelling photos. Then I started noticing all of my friends were buying digital cameras and having a great time taking photos with them. I finally came to the realization that disposable cameras and digital cameras have created a situation where more people are taking more photos, and that's definitely a good thing. If I shoot a roll of 24 pictures, I'm lucky if I get 2 photos that I really like, so I understand that in some ways, this is a numbers game. The more photos you create, the more great photos you'll end up with, no matter what you're shooting with.

The latest incarnation of cameras is cameraphones, and I admit that I poo-pooed them the same way that I poo-pooed digital cameras in the 90's. So it's ironic that my favorite recent photo was taken with a cameraphone. It's a picture of a ghost child that was taken the day before I arrived at the famous Baker Hotel to shoot a TV pilot. In the end, cameras are just tools, it's what you do with them that matters.

It's a great time to be a photographer!

More people own cameras than ever before. Thanks to digital photography, people are not only taking more photos than ever before, I believe digital cameras are helping to improve the quality of photos we're taking. I'm really excited for the opportunity to share with people who love being a picture taker or a picture takee. My hope is to offer something of interest for photographers and also for people who like to be photographed, whether you're a bride-to-be, a model, or someone with a story that you want to tell with pictures. With this in mind, I encourage photo submissions as well as written comments to this blog.

There's no end to photo opportunies. I should know, I stay very busy as a wedding photographer despite the fact that many wedding guests are snapping away right next to me! It's pretty hilarious when I'm competing with guests to get photos of the bride, but we're in a golden age of photography where nearly everyone has a camera and the opportunity to create something truly timeless. I gladly welcome this golden age.

As you can see from the long list of links to the right of this page, I do a lot more than wedding photography so please don't shy away if you're a nature photographer or want to learn how to shoot exciting photos of your children. Everyone is welcome. I'll post photos to this blog, but I have over 800 photos across several websites, so I want to leave SOME room for words here! If you'd like to comment on a photo of yours, let me know and I'll post it here as well. Thanks for visiting!