The real key to better photography is more about YOU than it is about your CAMERA. Sure, camera features matter, but what matters more is how you use your camera and how well you understand the fundamentals of photography.
There’s the old joke about a person who invites friends over for dinner. The food was wonderful and the guests all enjoyed the meal. At the end of the evening, they said to the cook: “That was a wonderful meal! What kind of pots and pans did you use?”
As photographers, our “pots and pans” are our cameras and lenses, etc. I am not saying our camera gear is unimportant. I am just saying what matters more is how you use them.
Or as Ansel Adams said: “The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.”
The key to better photographs is about YOU:
Know the fundamentals of photography and all the technical aspects of aperture, shutter speed, ISO, focal lengths, white balance, etc.
Understand your camera features and use the right settings at the right times
Become an avid student of LIGHT, all aspects of light, qualities of light, ways to manipulate light, mixing light, creating beautiful light
Always strive to be better, always learning, always growing
If anything, these past 12 months have been a reminder of many things we may have taken for granted. All it takes is to remove those things, and then we realize how much to be grateful for:
the ability to be with friends (unmasked)
to have income and be working in a business that has not been shut down (or to be enjoying retirement)
to be able to afford to buy basic items for survival
to participate in worship services (in person)
to be able to have a vaccine for a new virus- to be able to turn on your water and have water flowing out of the faucet
to have that water be drinkable
to have heat in the cold weather
to be able to flip a switch and your room has light
to be able to take a hot shower
to be able to leave your home
to be able to drive in a car (not just walk)
to have fuel readily available for your vehicle
to have streets cleared of ice
to have working traffic lights
to have emergency personnel on call to rescue you if you are an in accident
to have a crew of professionals working 24/7 in bitter cold, sleet, snow, rain to repair power lines or water mains while you wait in the comfort of your home (at least more “comfort” than what they were enduring)
to be able to go to the grocery store and find basic food needs stocked on the shelves
to be able to get medications or go to the hospital and to find a crew of medical professionals there waiting to help you
to have friends and neighbors who watch out for one another and help each other through crisis
to have access to communications through cell / phone / Internet / radio / television the list could go on and on…
But remember, with all we have been through, there are MANY people in our community and the world who have none or very few of the things on the list above. For most of us, the loss of the things above have been an inconvenience, maybe even a major inconvenience, but for others, not having those things is a way of life.
In everything give thanks. Even be thankful for the painful reminders of all the things we weren’t being thankful about.
P.S. Support local small businesses! There are many (including mine) that were totally shut down for over a week. :-}
We’ll soon be moving beyond our week in the snow and ice. What a week it has been! I hope you have all been safe, and I hope your trees and water lines didn’t suffer too much damage. (We had lots of tree damage at my house.)
Hard to believe it may be in the 70’s this weekend!
Looking ahead, remember I have several great photography classes coming up next week!
Lightroom Classic CC Class An online interactive webinar where YOU set the price to attend! Learn how to organize and enhance your photographs with this powerful program!
Evening Class Feb 22+24+25, 2021 6:30pm-9pm CST NEW DATES!
Photoshop for Photographers Class Series An online interactive webinar where YOU set the price to attend! Learn important Photoshop skills and features all photographers need to know in these interactive online classes.
Photoshop Level 1: Mon/Wed Feb 22+24, 2021 10am-Noon CST
Photoshop Level 2: Mon/Wed/Fri March 1+3+5, 2021 10am-Noon CST
Online Course: Nature Essentials Photography Class An online interactive webinar where YOU set the price to attend! Let’s explore how YOU can create better nature / wildlife / landscape photographs! Kevin Gourley has years of experience leading many photographers on workshops in stunning Rocky Mountain National Park and other locales. If you have taken my Photography Essentials Class or Photography 101, this is another great next step we’d recommend!
You know the old saying, “When life gives you lemon, make lemonade?” Well much of the U.S., including those of us in the Texas Hill Country, are experiencing a lot of cold icy weather descending upon us. I hope you all stay safe out there. The roads can be pretty dangerous and there are lots of fallen trees due to the freezing rain. 🙁 Above all, be safe.
If you’re staying safe, let’s have some fun! If we do get all this snow that they’re predicting, let’s make lemonade out of the “lemons.” Or in our case, let’s make SNOW ANGELS! Or make a snow man (snow person?) and photograph it. Or photograph a snowball fight! Or just do something creative with your camera involving snow, icicles, etc.
Two ways of sharing: Email me your best snow shots at and we’ll share your photos on my blog and social media. Let’s have some fun! Be creative! and/or Share on social media with the hashtag #ourdayinthesnow
What an incredibly challenging year this has been for us all. We have seen our worlds turned upside down, where “normal” life abruptly changed. Depending on your life circumstance, you might be retired and feeling a bit trapped at home. Or you might be in a career that puts you out there with the public several days a week. Or you might have the added challenge of raising kids in the midst of all of this, and dealing with the you working from home and the kids doing “school” from home. Or this pandemic may have caused you to shut down your small business you worked so hard to build up.
Then add the intense political polarization that has hurt us all, pitting neighbor against neighbor, family member against family member. The pandemic is bad enough, but with this toxic mix, it has led to a crisis of isolation for many. Many people are suffering from a situational depression from all of this mess.
So what does this have to do with photography? (I’m glad you asked 😉 )
What I Changed In My Photography Classes – One thing I have done is acknowledge that this pandemic has financially impacted everyone differently, some with little impact and others pretty substantially harmed. So back in April 2020, I announced a wide range of new classes, and established a unique pricing model where YOU set the price for the class. I give a suggested price, but you can choose to pay a little more if you would like to help us out (because, yes, this has been really tough on my business also) OR you can pay a little less if you are financially strained also right now. I figure we’re all in this together. Let’s get through this together, helping each other out.
Coping With This All Through Photography – There is a very important connection with how we might all cope with these stresses of life, and using photography as a channel through which you can express yourself. Photography is really an expression of how you see the world around you. We only photograph what we see, and every person sees things differently.
Gratitude Project: One way you might use your photography is through practicing intentional gratitude on a daily basis. Look for those things in life for which you are grateful. That includes the big things and the small things and especially the things you might often take for granted. Make it into a project to photograph those things. You could do it just for your own personal project to create those images. Or you could then use some of them to make a photo collage to hang on your wall as a reminder of all that you are grateful for. Or you could post your photos on social media to tell the rest of the world what you are grateful for, and it might get them started doing their own gratitude project! Numerous studies have found that people are more happy if they practice a life of gratitude and express that gratitude to others.
Story Telling: Another photographic idea is to set out on a project to tell a story about the impact of this pandemic and how life has changed. Later on, after we get through all this (hopefully sooner rather than later) we’ll have photos to remember this time. And note the impact isn’t all bad. I have been going on daily walks (I call them our “sanity walks”) and in the process I have met neighbors even several streets away from our house and my circle of friends has increased. I have also seen more instances of parents out playing with their kids. Figure out a way to tell the story, YOUR story, of the great COVID-19 pandemic.
Give Yourself a Project to Expand Your Photography Skills: Choose some area of your photography you think could be improved. Maybe it’s how to operate your camera, or how to use Manual Exposure Mode, or learn more about your auto focus system in your camera. Or maybe you could set out on a project to expand your creativity and artistic expression. Or maybe decide to learn how to use Photoshop to do some of the photographic digital imaging “magic” you see other photographers doing. Choose a project. Grow your skills. Become a better photographer. Right in the middle of a pandemic, do it.
Connect with Others: A couple of years ago, we started something new at my photography studio in NW Austin. We called it “LifeInsights” and its purpose was really just an opportunity to connect with others and do various book discussions, but we quickly expanded to to discussions about various TED talks, and then I started inviting various wonderful guest speakers, and we went on group outings, got together at area restaurants, and held occasional pot luck dinners. Then the pandemic hit, and we were forced to shift over to doing our sessions over Zoom. It’s not the same as meeting in person, but it at least allows us to continue, and we have had some wonderful discussions over Zoom. If you’d like to know more about our little group, click here to learn more about LifeInsights. This offers another way to beat the isolation this pandemic has imposed on us all, and it is FREE (it’s always been free). 🙂
Classes: If you are interested in learning more about photography, make sure you check out my upcoming classes. If you have photographic questions, you are more than welcome to email me any time. I’m happy to answer your questions via email, no charge for that.
As we reach the end of this incredibly frustrating and problematic year, I was reflecting on our past 15+ years in business. In many ways, our little photography business is not “normal.” Our focus has not been on maximizing profits even though that is a generally-advised good business strategy. Instead, our business has been focused on serving the community, yes through striving for excellence in my photography and teaching, but also through simply trying to make our community a better place.
I just wanted to celebrate that decision to not be normal. We have helped so many local and national nonprofit organizations and other groups that are doing good things, and as I look over the list, I smile because the work we did made a difference, because we supported (and/or helped promote) others who are making a difference. Groups such as:
We Are Not Broken
Girl Scouts of the USA
Darius Pettway Youth Leadership Conference
Progeria Research Foundation
Susan G. Komen 3 Day for the Cure
Weekend of HOPE – Benefiting Austin SafePlace
Beyond the Lights Celebrity Golf Classic 2010 hosted by the Austin Community Foundation
PMDA Portraits of Love Program
Kidsave International and Kidsave Austin
Foundation for the Homeless, Inc.
Interfaith Hospitality Network
Fort Hood Earth Fest 2009
Creation Celebration 2009
Bass School of Music
United America Pageant
Oklahoma City University
Bethany House of Friends
The National Arts Program
VSA Arts of Texas
Bikes for Goodness Sake
Mobility Worldwide, TX-Austin
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas
H. E. Butt Foundation
Foundation for Laity Renewal
H. E. Butt Foundation
Mobile Loaves and Fishes
Community First Village
Hill Country Institute for Contemporary Christianity
C. S. Lewis Austin Conference
Deerpark Middle School, Roundrock ISD
Great Oaks Elementary, Roundrock ISD
Laurel Mountain Elementary, Roundrock ISD
Westwood High School, Roundrock ISD
NYOS Charter School
United America Pageant
Bethany United Methodist Church
Pure Sound Youth Choir
Eyes of Faith – Austin, Texas Photographic Media Interest Group
Power of the Cross Festival
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Cattlemen for Cancer Research – Annual Auction
Intergenerational Day 2012
Partnerships for Children
Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep
Life Insights – In addition to all this, in 2018 we (with the help of some friends) started a free group that met on Monday nights at my studio, with the vision that we can make our world a better place if we intentionally take a little time to get to know more people around us, and sharing in this thing we call “life.”
Sometimes social media these days is trending to be quite anti-social, often fostering polarization and discord. That is not what the world needs right now. We don’t need more polarization. So we started this group called Life Insights as a place where anyone can join us (for free) as we explore insights about life.
In a sense, our goal is simply to love our neighbors. Our “neighbors” are the people we encounter in our life, the people next door, the people in our city, our coworkers, our friends, and this includes the people who may or may not be like us at all. What a world this would be if we could all do more to love our neighbors. We are trying to do our part, at least in a small way.
We initially started out meeting in person at my studio in NW Austin. We started with a book study of The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. From there, we decided to continue with more book discussions, and then we expanded our activities to include watch parties for TED Talks and documentaries followed by discussion time, and then we started also inviting a wide range of fascinating guest speakers including people who are striving to make our community better in some way, or are sharing from their life experiences with various disabilities and challenges. We also occasionally hosted pot luck dinners or outings to area restaurants and occasional breakfast get-togethers.
When this COVID-19 crisis turned our world upside down, we didn’t let that stop us! We switched to doing online meetings using Zoom video conferencing, just scheduling programs week to week. We are continuing into 2021!
We have done a bunch of different book studies:
… and a wide range of TED Talk “watch parties” and discussions
… and discussions about various documentaries
We have had some absolutely wonderful guest speakers:
We had a fun time at our Drum Circle and Picnic Around a Campfire at South Wind Equestrian Center in Leander!
We’ve eaten together, pot lucks, dinner outings to area restaurants
We had a fantastic study of the book “The Road Back to You” led by two licensed professional counselors, Lisa Blackwood and Sherri Woodworth.
We can ALL choose to make this world a better place and love our neighbors a little more.
On this New Year’s Eve, as I reflect on all we have done through our little business, I smile. So many wonderful memories and great moments. I have discovered over the past decade+ that my business may be photography and teaching classes, but my real business is about loving people.
Thank you all for being a part of our lives. Gail and I both thank you so very much.
Wishing you a better 2021. We can all help make it a good year.
P.S. Please help us spread the word about our classes and my photography business. That’ll enable us to keep doing what we’re doing. 🙂
YES, any class registration may be designated as a gift for someone else! (It is an option on the class registration form!) A Photography Class may be the perfect gift for that photographer in your life! (Or maybe for YOU!)
Online Interactive Classes Where You Set the Price!Really!! (Our COVID-19 Special Offer Through the End of the Year)
Morning and Evening Class Options!
In a Rut? – Need Inspiration? – Boost Your Creativity – Fall in Love with Photography! We sincerely encourage all photographers to take this class regardless of your skill level from beginner to advanced!
Ok, I have to admit, I just HAD to post something about “Black Friday.” I mean, that’s what all the businesses are doing right now, offering Black Friday specials.
I have been offering something better than just a deal on Black Friday! Since this pandemic began, I have offered the best deals possible to all of you! Most of my online classes have been offered where YOU SET THE PRICE!
WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER: My thinking was (and is) that this pandemic has been pretty tough on us all, in different ways. For some, this has taken an emotional toll as we have been separated from “normal life” and maybe from our family members. For others, this has taken a financial toll. You may have lost your job or our business. For still others, this has not had a negative financial impact. We are all facing the same pandemic, but we are not all impacted in the same ways.
Even though this pandemic has had a severe impact on my studio photography business, I decided back in April to make my online classes available to all with a “suggested price” but YOU get to choose the price you pay.
If you can’t afford very much right now, pay what you can, and that’s ok.
If you can afford to pay a little extra to help out my little business, and are so inclined to do so, then do that.
Instead of my Black Friday special, maybe I should call this my Black Year special!
A little about me: I have been an avid photographer for over forty years, a professional photographer for sixteen years, plus I have been teaching the art and science of photography, both professionally and with various community photography groups I have organized over several decades.
But it’s really all about you: Central to my pursuits has really been to connect with others, and in some way, help them along in their journey (whether it’s photography or otherwise).
I have found in my later years in life, my greatest fulfillment has not just been in the images I have created but rather it has been through the people I have met and have come to know as friends, and experiences along the way.
I love seeing others succeed in their photography and in their lives. My goal in my teaching has always been focused on you. It’s really all about you.
I have met so many photographers who have taken classes from other places and they say their teacher spent much of the time telling them how great they were or the teacher “spoke down to them” and they learned very little. This is unfortunately all too common.
More than anything, I think photography and really all the arts is about humility not arrogance. It is about awareness of the beauty in this incredible world. It is not about personal greatness or the ego. It is about appreciation of this life we have been given, and sharing in this journey with others.
A photograph captures a moment. In a sense it is a way of saying “thank you” for that brief moment, a remembrance of that instant when the sun first appears on the horizon and light rays flood across the sky into the clouds, or when a baby is born, or when the person in front of you just gets that perfect smile and their eyes light up, or when you suddenly encountered wildlife on a trail you were hiking, or when a dog leaps into the arms of its owner, or when someone is in their final days of life.
My goal in teaching is really not about me. It is about you, helping you move further along in the skills you need to be better at creating the kinds of images YOU want to create.
Worry less about whether other photographers are better than you. Art does not have to be a competition. Sometimes in doing so, it can take the joy out of the art. Find what you love in photography and do that. Forget what others think. Be the best “you” you can be. If I can be of help in you reaching that better place in your photographic skills, then I have succeeded. Find the fun in photography. If it is not fun, you’re not doing it right. 😉
At some point, I will be retiring, but not just yet. I have a few more years where my passion is still leading me to continue doing my photography and teaching others. This pandemic has hurt my business tremendously, but I am still here, adapting to the madness as best I can. In the midst of it all, I would be honored to be your photography instructor.
That phrase pretty much sums up 2020: “Major Change of Plans.” For all of us, we never imagined what this year would be like, one year ago.
The truth is, we never know what lies in our future. We make plans. Plans change, as we perpetually are confronted with new realities, new challenges, unexpected events that cause us to push aside our plans.
In fact, we all face moments where we are reminded of just how little we really have control over in our lives. At best, we embrace illusions that we are in control.
So many people are looking at this pandemic as a disaster of epic proportion, and granted it is painful to see how hard this has been on everyone, with businesses failing, many people getting quite sick and some dying, people acting out of panic, various forces with political agendas to sew seeds of mistrust.
In the midst of all this turmoil, people’s anxiety levels are rising, and more and more people dealing with depression.
My hope is that we call can step back a bit from all of this chaos and turmoil, and focus on this moment.
As Oprah Winfrey once said “Living in the moment means letting go of the past and not waiting for the future. It means living your life consciously, aware that each moment you breathe is a gift.“
We can’t live in the past. We can hang on to good memories, but we can’t go back there. Nor can we predict or control the future. All we have is right now. If we live with our minds focused on the future (which we can neither predict nor control), we will likely be perpetually disappointed that the future didn’t go as planned, all-the-while missing out on the present.
Thanksgiving is quickly approaching, and my hope is we can ALL focus on doing more thanks giving this Thanksgiving.
Embrace this moment for what it is, even in hardship, even in disappointment, even in pain, even in tragedy, even when it seems impossible to find ANY good in this moment.
This moment is where you exist. Tune out the noise. Intentionally assess what all you ARE grateful for in this moment, especially the things you are taking for granted. Make it a long list. If your list is short, you are not done. Keep at it.
We will always have moments where there is a sudden major change of plans. We adapt. We move on, even if it is hard to do so. Often our “plans” are focused on a destination, but our lives are lived on the journey. Make the best of the journey.
An idea for photographers: Start a project photographing the things YOU are grateful for in your life and share them on social media.
P.S. On my “gratitude list” are all of YOU. I love my job, although these admittedly have been VERY tough times for my little business, but what I love most about my job is having met all of you.