Making Mistakes

So there are some bad habits I have in my photography process, and some things that I do for the first time and have to then learn from them.  It is only by trying and failing that we actually do learn, so I am not too hard on myself most of the time.

But if those mistakes cost me what could be a once in a lifetime shot, it can be a bit frustrating. Mostly its just day to day stuff like this:

1.  Forgetting to charge my spare battery

2.  Forgetting to take the CF card out of the computer after I upload images (and forgetting to wipe it too)

3.  Not having a regular cleaning routine for my kit – including hardware and the bags (sand!)

4.  Forgetting to check my settings on the camera BEFORE I go out for a shoot (REALLY BAD AT THIS!)

5.  Not always allowing enough time to get to a shoot and be there to properly take advantage of the outing

6.  Not stopping when I am driving – sometimes I am OK but most of the time I think “will get it on the way back” but then I don’t

7.  Being a bit rough on gear – like putting my tripod in the sea and it fills up with sand in the legs (tho I recently found out how to take it apart and clean it, worked a treat)

8.  Not bothering to get my tripod out when I really should – but getting better at this one esp now I have my new tripod head

9.  Sometimes not being brave enough to go for a particular image, it might be in a place that is challenging for me to get to or a style I don’t feel comfortable in (like street photography)

10.  Getting so caught up in the moment I forget a critical thing

This shot would have been 100% sharp if I had remembered to TURN OFF MY CAR ENGINE!

Sound familiar? All of the shots above were taken when I did something silly or had no idea what I was doing at the time.

Make me feel better :)  What are your mistakes?

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Being at eye level with your photography subject

On my recent guest blog post about Composition, I talked about two elements I want to combine here, focussing on the eyes and BEING at eye level with your subject.  This is very important with bird and wildlife photography when the creature is often much smaller than you, and usually at ground level.

When I started with my camera this was something that it took me a while to learn so I made lots of shots that looked like this:

See how my camera is angled down towards the subject, or they are looking up at it, so you can see that I am at a greater height.  In the case of the otters, there was a fence in the way, so this was the only angle I could shoot at.

For the ducklings I was trying to capture all of them in the shot, so doing it from a higher angle was how I managed it.

But it loses the direct connection and intimacy that you get when you are down at the subjects level

This particular image was my personal ‘eureka’ moment.   A family of Paradise Ducks had made a stretch of river close to where my work office was home, so one evening I headed out with my camera to shoot the ducklings (yes I have a thing for them :)

I took this shot stretched out flat on the grass (in my work clothes) in the dirt (and other things) as this brave little fellow explored his world in a patch of late afternoon sunlight.  It has many compositional elements, side lighting, catchlight in the eye and I am down at his level giving a direct connection to him.

This is a foal only a few days old at a breeder show, and he is very concerned at my presence, having one ear fixed on mum a short distance away.  I am crouched down on my knees for several reasons, not to scare him further, shooting between fence rails and again being down at his level.

Can you tell I also have a thing for otters :)  This is the group of 5 boys at Orana Park, and they gathered at the concrete edge of their pool and thankfully were about my height.  Contrast this to the other otter image above to see the different feel in the connection with them.

At feeding time the otters are trained to jump up onto these stumps to receive a fishy treat, happily elevating them to a level I could take a direct shot of, making you feel right there, watching the action close up. Its not quite as engaging because he is not looking at the camera, which also shows the importance of getting the “look” to fully engage with the subject.

This is a great “look” – to me this image has a different feel, like he is sizing me up as a tasty snack.  This is a goanna that is a good 6-7 feet long and HUGE claws.

Sometimes it just isn’t possible or more importantly SAFE to be at eye level with your subject, therefore do the best you can with what you have :)

He was about 25 feet long

These guys were about 10-12 feet long

Hope that these examples of the good and the bad help explain why it makes a difference to change your shooting height and be at eye level with the subject, focussing on the eye, and getting that important catchlight.

Happy Shooting!


Posted in Photographic Analysis, Posts with my photos, Useful Tips for Beginners | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Leading Lines in Photography Composition

Yes I am thinking a lot about composition at the moment, can you tell :)  This time it is ‘Leading Lines’ which are an important element to use well when they are available, but one that will only be available in certain circumstances.

What is a leading line?

It is a line within the image that takes you into, through or across the image.  Often in an obvious way, but not always.  It may take you to a specific point in the image or simply lead you through or around the image.

Paths, roads and train tracks are commonly used leading line composition elements.  However nature offers us many more options.

Clay Cliffs at Omarama

A curving path is an excellent leading line example, here where it leads your eye up into the image

Lake Pearson Autumn colour

Draw a line from the right at the top and bottom of the trees, and they lead into a convergence point to the trees and poplar at the end, drawing you across and into the image

Tyre tracks in snow

Tyre tracks in snow take you across and into the image

Glenorchy Jetty

The flat path of the wooden jetty and the fence down one side lead your eye down into the image, and then the texture in the mountains leads you across it

Light show

This is the most obvious leading line example I have, this was a huge light sculpture and the circle at the middle is where all the cables are suspended from

Sometimes especially in landscapes the lines are a lot more subtle and you have to look a bit harder to find them.  That can make for a powerful effect within your image, as it isn’t as obvious to the viewer

Blue Moon Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables

The light of the moon across the water (this is taken from a boat) leads you up to the main event, the full moon shining on the Remarkables

Macrocarpa stand in The Catlins

The eye follows the line of trees from the left to the right then up into the centre trees out into the sky.

Water droplets on flax

So, do you feel ready to tackle adding leading lines into your composition toolbox?

Posted in Photographic Analysis, Photography Questions, Posts with my photos, Useful Tips for Beginners | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

What gives an image the WOW factor?

I was talking about this with a fellow shooter recently, he was frustrated at his composition attempts in some landscapes and puzzled about the fact that images he really liked didn’t get the feedback he expected when posted online.

Now this is a phenomenon I am completely familiar with myself, and I have put it down to one simple fact “there is no accounting for taste but if people are liking one of my images (even if its not the one I prefer they would) then THAT’S OK WITH ME TOO!”

Here is one particular example – two sunrise shots taken on the same morning about an hour apart

Taylors Mistake sunrise – click to embiggen

This image has 537 views, 6 faves and 2 comments.  When people see it on my phone or iPad, they go “oooh look at the colours”  or “where was that taken”

Taylors Mistake, the right headland and the incoming tide – click to embiggen

This image has 1213 views, 21 faves and 5 comments.  And I truly have no idea why.  Its a nice image, its got lovely warm golden tones, and a bit of sea foam and haze and has a nice feel of depth.

Honestly I have no idea why people seem to prefer the golden image to the more spectacular (in my opinion) purple and pink version.

What gives this image the WOW factor the top one doesn’t have?

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Am I too literal in my story telling?

At a recent camera club meeting, we were invited to submit images for critique from on of the judges who does high level competitions.  Was a very interesting experience hearing his comments and feedback, but one of the things that he kept talking about was “whats the story behind this image”  or “what story is it telling us”.

I found this concept a bit challenging, some images (esp those with people) are actively telling a story, its obvious like the roller derby shot below.

Roller Derby

When it comes to nature or landscape images I find it harder to concieve of what the story is.  So many of my shots are taken because “I went there and saw this and it was pretty so I took a photo”  and I wonder if that literal approach is evident in my work?

Should I be looking for more of a story? Does it make an image have more appeal in some way?

I wonder perhaps instead of a telling story, maybe it could be sharing a feeling or emotion instead? Certainly a lot of my images are taken because they make *me* feel a certain way, but I have never asked this question before, and not really sure what the answer will be.

Do these images tell you a story or make you feel something when you look at them?

It snowed, and my cat walked in the soft snow and left these paw prints behind. Usually it is quite rare for us to have snow this deep but two years in a row we had a couple of good snow falls and I worked from home and lots of camera opportunities

Toi Toi grass in flower at sunset

Paradise ducklings on warm gravel having a nap, I had never seen one do this with its legs before

Early morning light on an old graveyard, highlighted the white oamaru headstone and caught my eye as I drove down the hill on the way out

I had no idea swans could do this with their necks!


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Not just Birds and Cats – other critters too

First of all, welcome to all the followers who found me via my Guest Blog on Leanne Cole’s site yesterday, so glad you took the time to come over and check out my work.

Got a few comments about my cat pictures and it made me realise that I forget to post my work of OTHER critters too, so here are some from the archives.

Following on from the compostion basics post, look out for the following composition techniques:

- going low to be intimate with the subject
– focussing on the eyes and getting a catchlight- filling the frame with the subject ie getting up close
– neutral or blurred out backgrounds

Some of these I achieve!


This is Bella, a weimaraner


Daisy a bichon cross


Ruby the Bernese Mountain Dog


Ruby tired at the end of lot of running around

WBankJan11ED-otter-3728Willowbank otters

Arabian Gelding

Blue Tongue Lizard in Australia

white butterfly in a butterfly house in dunedin

Posted in Photographic Analysis, Posts with my photos, Technique I have learned, Useful Tips for Beginners | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Hey, Im Guestblogging!

Over here on the lovely Leanne Cole’s blog

Talking about composition basics with lots of pix, both the right and wrong way to do it :)

(sorry the link was broken, its fixed now)

Posted in Posts with my photos, Tech Tips, Technique I have learned, Useful Tips for Beginners | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments