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Photos in Your Backyard
By Terry Livingstone
Introduction by Gary Bernstein

For nearly 40 years, I have earned my living as a fashion-glamour-commercial photographer. But I didn't start that way. In fact, I started just like the majority of hobbyists--taking scenic photographs--landscapes, sunsets, close-ups of flowers--you know the routine. I also started by loading my own film, processing it, printing it and retouching it--all in a darkroom. But as the recent PMA show indicated--you don't have to do that anymore--not with digital photography--what an amazing tool. And what better place to get going than right here at RitzCamera.com!

At my home ZugaPhoto.TV, we are just introducing Pay-Per-View photography shows--very cool indeed. And what we're finding is that there are more and more hobbyist becoming pro shooters than ever before--and doing their schooling at our website. No doubt--digital shooting has made it so much easier and quicker to reach that goal. But regardless of whether you're shooting "pixels" or film--one thing will never change: If you want to be a successful photographer, you've to to know how to make a pretty picture. It is the ONLY thing that ever sells a photograph. And as for those scenic pictures?

It wasn't long before I realized, that taking scenic photographs was more than just pointing your camera at a pretty scene. You really had to know what you were doing. Face it--there's a reason why the truly great professional scenic photographers earn the big bucks--why their work is constantly published in calendars and books. The best place to learn is from the best. And the best I know is Terry Livingstone. That's the reason he's part of ZugaPhotoTV's new "How to Take Great Pictures" DVD -- that's loaded with great tips regardless of whether you want to make money with your camera or just shoot like a pro. Now here's a special article from the one and only Terry Livingstone.

Finding photos close to home

A lot of people seem to think the only way to do serious nature photography is to travel to exotic locations around the world. And though I'd be lying if I said I don't love to travel, the fact is, thousands of images in my files, including many of the best-selling ones, were created within 5 miles of my home.

And no, I don't live near any sort of photographic Mecca. I'm nowhere near Yosemite or the Everglades or anyplace like that. There's no wilderness in sight. But I do live near a city park.

So that's where I've been going for over 20 years: to a city park near my home. That's where I taught myself the craft of nature photography. And it's the place where I continue to go, week after week, year after year, to keep my photographic skills sharpened. In fact, that park is the subject of my first book. The point is, you don't have to travel very far to get good pictures. You can find them in your own backyard or local park. No matter where you live. Let me share with you a few tips on how to make the most of a familiar location.

By the way...you can learn a ton of great photo techniques by checking out the new ZugaPhoto.TV DVD "How to Take Great Pictures" Zugaphoto -- How to DVD. I appear on the DVD along with never-before-seen shows from many of the world's best pro photographers (along with their portfolios)--and it covers everything from portraits and party pictures to sports photos and travel pictures.

Tip #1: See the light

When something is very familiar to us, we tend to stop seeing it. We become visually numb. To get out of that rut, train yourself to see the light falling on the subject, rather than just the subject itself. That old field full of dead winter weeds, for instance, may not be exciting. At least, not until the sun hits it just right, and turns the browns into a luminous gold. And that dusty gravel road might not be worth a second glance, until one foggy morning when sunbeams turn it into something special.

One of the lessons I've learned over the years is that almost any place can look good if it's shown in the right light. It's not so much where you go, as when you go. Normally, the best light happens early in the morning, late in the evening, or just before or after a storm. Personally, my favorite time to shoot, my favorite kind of light, is early morning.

Tip #2: Slow down

If you're like me, the time you get to spend in the field, doing photography, is time carved out of a hectic schedule. An hour here, a couple of hours there. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Except that I often wind up unconsciously pressuring myself to hurry and find something good to shoot. And that's a self-defeating effort.

It's hard to be creative when you're in a hurry. And it's hard to see a potential photograph when you're rushing to see what might be around the next bend in the trail.

The way out of this labyrinth is straightforward: slow down. Force yourself to walk slower. Sometimes I even like to stop altogether, and just sit down for a few minutes, to give myself a chance to change mental gears.

I remember one winter day I was frustrated because I couldn't find anything at all to photograph. Everything in the woods around me was brown and gray and uninspiring. So I stopped, and sat on a nearby log. I had about decided to give up for the day and go home, when I noticed the carpet of dead leaves on the ground in front of me. Looking closer, I realized there were all sorts of delicate hues and patterns right at my feet - potential photographs I never would have seen if I'd been hoofing it down the trail. Which brings me to:

Tip #3: Shoot the small stuff

To exponentially increase your creative output, whether you're shooting professionally or for your own enjoyment (or both!), I strongly recommend that you learn to do macro photography. If you can fill the frame with little things, there is literally no end to the subjects you can find. Flowers, insects, dewdrops, webs, patterns in leaves and moss and lichens and bark and stone. Close-up photography can quite literally open up whole new worlds of subjects to photograph. Anywhere, anytime. (By the way, most point-and-shoot digital cameras can focus as close as a couple of inches, with no additional accessories needed; making close-up photography much easier than it's ever been before.) So here's the bottom line. If you want to improve your skills as a nature photographer, don't let your camera gather dust on a shelf, waiting till you go on vacation. Find a little patch of nature, no matter how humble it may seem, somewhere close to home. Go there early in the morning, and/or late in the afternoon. Walk slowly, and look closely. Go back again, and again, and again. You'll soon find yourself getting better at taking pictures; but more importantly, you'll get better at seeing. Then when you do travel, you'll be taking those lessons with you. And you'll bring back stronger images than you've ever created before, images that go beyond just the obvious snapshots. And it all starts with a walk in the park.

Road, sunbeams (T6)
Nikon F3, 100–300mm lens, on Kodachrome 64 film. Metered with a handheld Pentax 1 degree digital spotmeter, averaging readings taken from the brightest part of the fog and the shaded grass in the lower left of the frame. Exposure was unrecorded, but something like 1/15 second at f/22.
Winter leaf with melted frost (PA19)
Subject about ½ life size, photographed with a 105mm Micro lens, Nikon F3, Fuji Velvia film. Exposure 1 second at f/16, using camera's meter.
Dew drops on web (PA31)
Nikon F4, 70–300mm lens with a PK-13 extension tube (for a reproduction ratio of about 1:1.5) on Fuji Velvia film. Exposure was ¼ second at f/11, based on a reading from a gray card held in front of the subject.
Road, autumn forest (T26)
Nikon F3, 70–300mm lens (near the wide end of that lens' range), on Fuji Velvia film. Metered with a handheld Pentax 1 degree digital spotmeter, reading the pavement, and exposed for 1 second at f/22.
Meadow, morning light (FG60)
Nikon F3, 24mm lens, 1 second at f/22 on Fuji Velvia film. Metered with a handheld Pentax 1 degree digital spotmeter, reading the fog bank in the background.
Blue butterfly (N32)
Subject shot at 1:1 reproduction ratio (life size on film) with a 105mm Micro lens and PK-13 extension tube and Nikon F4. Normally a longer lens would be necessary to get this kind of shot, but when I first spotted this butterfly it was too chilled by the cool morning air to fly away. By the time I got set up and in position, though, the air had warmed. I got only 2 frames before it took off. Exposure unrecorded, but somewhere near 1/30 second at f/11 on Fuji Velvia film.

This is Gary again. To get more info from Terry, and watch the man himself in action, please feel free to watch his shows at ZugaPhoto.TV, or check him out on the "How to Take Great Pictures" DVD. Happy shooting! We'll see you next issue of the RitzInteractive Newsletter.



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