As I write this, Southern Louisiana is in the grips of an unusual cold snap. Not the kind of weather I would go wandering around finding things in nature to photograph and certainly not the kind of weather I want to be out on the water. I would argue, however, now is the most important time for my photography and the success of the shooting season is dependent upon much of what I do now.
Here are some of the activities for the next several months:
At the beginning of the year I like to set my photography goals. What would I like to photograph? What can I improve upon? What trips would I like to make? I firmly believe in the mantra “Plan your Work and then Work your Plan”. So I spend an hour or so each week working on the plan. I try to get this in writing so I solidify it in my mind and break things down into steps. While things never really go as planned, getting this on paper helps move things in the right direction.
For example, this year I want to spend more time creating good landscape photographs and panoramic images. I’ll be looking for good opportunities to create these images in the off-season so I can focus on getting the photograph when the conditions are right. I also will set up the pano head and make sure I have the proper nodal point for each of the lenses I expect to use.
In order to be at my best in the spring, I need to be photographing all winter. So I create some self assignments to keep at it even though most of the resulting images will go into the trash.
Some examples of self photo assignments:
- Photograph a week with a single focal length and then the next week go to the opposite extreme.
- Create one photograph a day from the backyard for a week.
- Create one photograph a day of my cat or dog for a week.
- Create 3 good macro shots.
- Create a panoramic photograph of the front of my house.
I also make to sure to notice things on my walks with the dog and perhaps take a shot or two with my iPhone. I make it a point to pick up my cameras every day, even if I’m not photographing and go through the photo making process. I also try to take a camera with me on trips to the grocery store or shopping and take and few shots along the way. The key is practice, automatically connecting with my camera rather than needing to think through the technical aspects of shooting. See my article here.
Maintenance and Testing
During the winter months I do extensive testing of my equipment to make sure it is in the best condition for the spring photo season. I set each camera up and go through each of the lenses. I check for any potential problems with back or front focusing. I run a test on each autofocus lens with ReiKan FoCal that identifies the sharpest aperture, checking aperture in turn, generating a report for each. This identifies problems with my lenses. I also do an exposure test at each aperture for each of my lenses. Using this test this year I identifies two lenses with sticking apertures. I then either send the equipment in for repair, repair the problem myself or replace the problematic equipment. Finally I do a thorough cleaning of all the equipment and put things in their proper place.
Now is the time I like to purchase new equipment. During the active shooting season I don’t like to learn anything new. I prefer to have some time to get used to new camera bodies, lenses, computer software, etc. during the off season when I’m not under pressure to get the shot. Having gone through process of assessing the condition of my equipment and setting the goals for the shooting season, I can make intelligent choices concerning purchases I need to make.
This is also the time to make an assessment of the computing strategy and equipment needs. I check over things such as the amount of free storage on my computers, any potential problems with hard drives, etc. I run diagnostic software to find any hidden bugs. If I need to make any changes to my workflow, now is the time.
Also I spend time with photography and wildlife textbooks and doing research on the web. I subscribe to Lynda.com and now is the time to learn new software and shooting techniques. I like to spend time looking at the work of other photographers on Web sites like 500px.com. It’s also the time to reread camera manuals and guides like those published by Thom Hogan for my camera bodies.
While this time of year is not when I make most of my best images, it really is an Important time for getting things set for the rest of the year.
Space is still available for the 2015 Photo Tours, check it out here.