Waiting for “normal”

This long endurance test imposed on us by COVID-19 is making us all weary. Here I sit in my studio that once had a thriving business with all sorts of activities happening in here each week, and now it mostly sits as an empty space, void of activity for the past 6 months with no end in sight. Of course there is the stress of monthly payments of rent, utilities, phone, Internet, security monitoring, insurance for this space I am hardly using.

Our studio is technically open for business and we are carefully following CDC recommendations and protocols but the demand is just not there right now for studio photography. So we are just hanging on, and waiting for better times while picking up a little business here and there.

I will be forever grateful to all who extended helped us out with our GoFundMe Small Business Relief Initiative Campaign. Your help was a life-saver for our small business.

Even though this has had a hard impact on my studio photography business and in-person classes, it have not been sitting around idle, waiting for better days. I have been working hard, scrambling to add all-new online classes to replace our many in-person classes I used to teach at my studio.

In a sense, we are reinventing ourselves to adapt to the new normal, just as many other businesses have had to do, such as restaurants who have had to alter their services to focus on take-out orders or curbside pickup. (I haven’t figured out how to do curbside headshots, but maybe I need to!) People are giving good reviews of our new online classes and we will continue those.

Also as an effort to help out others who have been feeling the financial crunch of this pandemic, all of our online group classes are set up where you can name your own price. We give a suggested price, but you can pay a little more to help us out, or pay a little less if you are financially struggling also. This plan has worked out very well.

Also our FREE Monday night LifeInsights group continues to meet, but we are doing so online via Zoom meetings.

Even though we are adapting, I still so much look forward to “normal” life again.

I guess I just want to say… “I miss you all.”

Here are a few photo memories of great experiences. My career has led me to meet to many truly wonderful people.

Kevin

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My Book: 30 Practical Tips for Better Photographs

Our photographs express our unique personal view of this world. Through our photographs, we are visual storytellers. We grasp fleeting moments in time, with images that help us remember special events, places, and people in our lives.

Because they tell our life story, our photographs have intrinsic value. We might even discover that some of our photographs are “priceless” to us, so it is worth spending a little time to learn how to take better photographs since we value them so much!

These days, most of us have cameras with us all the time, built into our smart phones. You can take a great photo with your phone, but there are some significant limitations with these devices. Of course, the best camera is the one you have with you at the time you need it, so that smart phone in your pocket or purse can really be handy at times.

If you have taken the next step into the wonderful world of photography, you may have bought a camera that has all kinds of wonderful features which will allow you to take a much better photograph. Some cameras have several automatic modes and other features you possibly find confusing or frustrating. You might occasionally get some really nice shots, yet other times, the camera doesn’t do what you want it to do and you are frustrated with the results. I wrote the book, “30 Practical Tips for Better Photographs” for you.

Lots of people think they just need to buy a better camera to take better photographs. Then they experience disappointment when the “better camera” isn’t taking better pictures. The real key to better photographs is to learn what YOU, as the photographer, need to DO to take better photos.

The camera is just a machine, getting smarter and smarter with each new product introduced, but it is STILL just a machine. No matter what camera you own, if you learn how to operate the “machine” better, you will get better results!

My book offers 30 practical tips to create consistently better images by showing you how to control the most important features of your camera. Put these recommendations into practice and you definitely will get better photographs!

I don’t want you to accidentally take a good photo every once in a while. My goal is to help you discover what you need to know to take great photographs consistently, not accidentally!

Whether you are using a digital SLR (DSLR), a mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses (MILC), or a fancy point-and-shoot camera, this book will help! Sometimes I might mention Canon or Nikon or Sony specifically, but much of what I cover applies to other brands as well. Canon and Nikon and Sony make great cameras and they dominate the current photography market, but other camera brands such as Pentax, Olympus, Fujifilm, etc. are also good cameras. Don’t think you need to go out and buy a Canon, Nikon, or Sony if you currently have another brand.

I recently saw an ad online for a used camera and the ad said: “Takes great pictures.” That would be like posting an ad for a paint brush and saying: “Paints great paintings.” What matters more than how fancy your camera is, is how well you know how to use it.

I have taught photography workshops to beginner and advanced students for many years and I am well aware of the challenges photographers face that sometimes lead to disappointing results. My experience in teaching is what has led me to include the various chapters I included in my book. There is a lot more to photography that could take hundreds of books to cover, but I tried to distill it down to the most important things you need to learn to begin to master your camera.

I hope you’ll buy a copy! And also remember I reach a broad range of classes.

Happy Picture Taking!
Kevin Gourley

Readers are saying: “highly recommend” “many useful tips” “easy to read, learn and apply” “an excellent book for anyone wanting to improve” “very well written” “explains camera terms in a way that you understand” “a wonderful guide” “a great resource” “this book should always be in your camera bag

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Reaching Back a Few Years

I have loved photography for quite a long time, since my high school days over 40 years ago. I wholeheartedly dove into photography, learning everything I could, sharpening my camera skills, then learning B&W and Color darkroom techniques. I did my own film developing and printing. I did studio work, portraiture, landscapes, nature, really all aspects of photography, all while in my teen years. I even taught my first photography classes back then as well!

In a nostalgic way, I sort of miss those days when we created images on film and had to wait to see the results after the images were developed, and I miss the long hours spent in the darkroom. It was truly a different craft than what photographers do today. I miss it, but I’m not ready to go back to shooting with film. It is a bygone era, except for a few folks who are going “retro” and having fun with film, exploring the world I knew so well so many decades ago.

Looking back on all of my wonderful experiences with a camera in hand, I am grateful for the memories. I’ve included a few images, below, that I created wayyyyy back when I was a teen.

In whatever type of photography you pursue, I hope you find the part of it that you LOVE.

Kevin Gourley

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I Get By With a Little Help from My Friends

I guess most of you have heard of the song “With a Little Help from My Friends.” Well this blog post really has nothing to do with that song. :-}

In this blog post, I am really am just briefly talking about how much a little help from electronic flashes / speedlights can enhance a portrait. They are my best friends for portraiture on location whether indoors or outdoors. The key is to use them to enhance and blend with the ambient light in the scene to make the image better.

I have seen so many people say they hate using speedlights because they just don’t like the results they get, the light is too harsh. Actually the trick is to use them in the right way. Of course, you sure don’t want to add bad light to a scene. Use speedlights to add good light, to a scene. By “good” I mean light that has attractive qualities, mixing in soft diffused light, or adding subtle highlights intermingling with the ambient light. You can do this with various light modifiers such as reflectors, photographic umbrellas, or softboxes.

So, this post is intended to just encourage you to not give up on speedlights. Just use them in the right way at the right time. They are your portable magic light sources if used in the right way. They are your friends.

Want to know about my next online class on using flashes/speedlights? Click here

Want to listen to the song by the Beatles? Click Here

🙂 Kevin

Here are a few photographs that were created with a little help from my friends.

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Go Long! (Telephoto that is)

Depending on the type of photography you are doing, you may find your camera’s best friend is a long focal length (telephoto) lens! Especially for nature, wildlife, birds, and even landscapes, having a really good telephoto lens in your arsenal of camera gear can be so valuable.

What do I typically carry in my camera gear when I am doing nature photography? I have a Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM

This lens has served me well on my various adventures in wildlife and nature photography in the Colorado Rockies.

The Image Stabilization in this lens is excellent, which is great for those moments where I am shooting hand-held in lower-light early morning scenarios or on overcast days.

Also, its ability to focus as close as 3.2 feet is exceptionally useful for wildflowers and butterflies, etc.

I also sometimes use a Canon EF 2.0X III Telephoto Extender for those shots where I need the added boost in focal length.

For example this shot below was with my Canon 100-400 with the 2X extender, boosting my effective focal length to 800mm. I really don’t use the extender all that often, I find it useful when I need the added focal length.

But What About You?

If you photograph wildlife, birds, wildflowers, butterflies, a long telephoto lens might be perfect for you! Especially getting up into the range of 400mm, 500mm, 600mm is quite useful. (Remember if you have a non-full-frame sensor, take into account the crop factor. Ex: A 200mm lens on a camera with a 1.5 crop factor is effectively a 300mm lens.)

Image sharpness and good stabilization is critical. Lenses vary in their degree of sharpness, distortion, vignetting, minimum focusing distance, focusing speed, etc. so shop carefully. There are many review sites out there to help you analyze and compare.

Image stabilization, just to be clear, is the technology built into the lens and/or camera body to minimize the impact of hand vibration/movement when shooting hand-held. It goes by many names, Image Stabilization (Canon), Vibration Reduction (Nikon), Optical Steady Shot (Sony), and many more. Depending on the lens/camera, this feature will allow you to shoot at slower shutter speeds than would otherwise be feasible, which also means you won’t have to resort to really high ISO values to get fast shutter speeds (which is the only other way to minimize hand motion blur). Consider this a must-have feature!

Beyond features, you also have to take into account your budget. Decide what features are worth paying for and which aren’t. Also weight is an important consideration. A lens could be outstanding but if you plan on carrying it on a 10 mile hike, you might not like it as much.

Depending on the make and model of your camera, here are some lenses you might want to check out. (Make sure the lens is compatible with your camera body!)

Do you have a favorite telephoto lens that is not on this list? Let me know, and I’ll add it. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of all lenses that are on the market. These are just some of the better ones available today! Of course, I haven’t used all of those lenses personally, so check reviews and weigh tradeoffs.

Happy Telephoto Picture Taking My Friends!

Kevin Gourley

P.S. I have a variety of great online interactive photography classes starting soon! Check them out!

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12 Inches Behind the Camera

Here’s a famous quote by legendary photographer, Ansel Adams:

“The single most important component of a camera is the 12 inches behind it.”

There is so much truth in this! What matters more than the particular camera features, is the photographer who is using it! You simply must manage the critical setting choices such as aperture, shutter speed, ISO, exposure modes, focusing, depth of field, focal length, white balance, metering modes, etc. The camera can’t make those choices automatically on its own and always get it right. You, as the photographer, must make those choices, based on the artistic intent that only you know. (The camera is not the artist, you are!)

We photographers must make choices that go way beyond camera settings. If we’re shooting portraits, we must bring out the best in the person being photographed, help them feel comfortable in front of the camera, shoot their best angle, manage the best qualities of light, etc.

If you are a nature photographer, you have a wide array of other issues to consider, the weather, sun angle and light qualities, timing, location, wildlife patterns, the flora and fauna at different times of the year, what time you’re getting up in the morning, travel plans, etc.

Yes your choice of camera gear matters, camera features, lens features, tripod quality, and all that, but still these other factors beyond the camera often matter more. Whether you shot the photo with a 20 megapixel camera from 10 years ago, or a brand new 60 megapixel camera will affect various image qualities such as level of digital noise, resolution and fine details, but ultimately the creation of a great image is up to you more than the camera. Whether you shot the image with a Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Sony, Fuji, Olympus, etc. is secondary.

You are that important component that is “12 inches behind the camera.” Upgrade that component, and you’ll get better shots!

Practice, practice, learn, practice some more. Make mistakes, but learn from your mistakes, and you’ll be a better photographer!

Want to know more about the kinds of decisions photographers need to make to create better nature pictures? I have a Nature Essentials Photography Class happening on Tuesday August 25th!

Happy Picture Making!

Kevin Gourley

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Q&A: “I just can’t seem to get consistently sharp images”

I hear this from so many photographers! In fact, I’d say this is the #1 issue people encounter. The solution is multi-faceted and I’ll touch on the key factors you, as the photographer, must keep in mind if you want consistently sharp images.

  • Focus
    It is critically important to correctly focus on what is most important in your image. Whether it is an animal or bird in the trees in a wildlife shot, or someone’s eyes in a portrait. All current generation cameras offer automatic focus features, but you’ll need to make sure you really know how to use those features appropriately. A poor setting choice will lead to poor results.
    • WHERE to focus: You may not want the camera to simply automatically decide where to focus. Depending on your camera’s capabilities, that might even lead to terrible results. You might need to choose single point focus which allows you to point at exactly where you want the camera to automatically focus, or if you’re shooting portraits and your camera has an eye-detection feature, you could turn that on. Single point focus is pretty universal across all cameras, and that provides the greatest degree of control when automatic focusing.
    • WHEN to focus: Also, consider whether you want the camera to focus once, or continually focusing up until the shutter fires. For relatively static scenarios where there is not much movement, stick with One-Shot focusing (Canon) or AF-S (Nikon,Sony,…). For active scenes like an animal running or a bird in flight, use AI-Servo (Canon) or AF-C (Nikon,Sony,…)
  • Aperture
    Your choice of aperture value affects the “depth of field” (range that appears in focus). While this is not a focus setting, it is still very important. The higher the f/number, the greater the depth of field. A poor choice for the aperture value could lead to problems with part of the image not being in focus. Let’s say you photograph a group of people. If they are not all the exact same distance from the camera, you need to make sure you choose a high f/number like f/8 or even higher (just depends on how far their distance varies). Photographers often forget about this, and this leads to serious problems.
    • Then there is one more issue related to depth of field and focusing. For higher depth-of-field shots, when you choose a higher f/stop you can also achieve better results by not focusing on the foreground or the background, but instead focus on something in between. This technique is called “hyper-focal focusing.”
  • Shutter Speed
    Sometimes a blurry photograph has nothing to do with a focus or depth of field issue. It might be an issue where the shutter speed was simply too slow to freeze motion of the subject, or freeze any camera vibration that is problematic at slower shutter speeds.
    • Handheld Shots: A general rule of thumb is to keep the shutter speed at least 1 / focal length to ensure you minimize hand vibration blur. So if you are shooting at 200mm, make sure the shutter speeds are at least 1/200th or higher. Technically you would need to take into account your camera’s sensor crop factor that affects the effective focal length of the lens. At least this rule gets you in the ballpark of sufficient shutter speeds. When in doubt, err on the side of faster shutter speeds. It can really make a difference.
    • Action Shots: When there is movement of different elements within a scene, you might need to choose even faster shutter speeds. For example photographing birds in flight or an animal or person running, you might want shutter speeds in the 1/1000th or faster range.
  • Image Stabilization
    This feature, offered by many different camera manufacturers under different names (Image Stabilization, Vibration Reduction, Vibration Compensation, Optical Steady Shot,…), is designed to help eliminate motion blur caused by movement in hand-held shots, allowing you to break that 1 / focal length rule by a bit. The features vary depending on the make and model of camera and lenses you are using, but are quite helpful. I most definitely highly recommend taking advantage of this feature in hand-held photography!
  • Using a Tripod
    Another way you can stabilize your camera is to use a tripod. It won’t eliminate motion blur in moving subject, but at least it will eliminate or reduce blur caused by camera movement. There are still some situations you must be mindful of.
    • When Image Stabilization is a Problem
      Sometimes when your camera is mounted on a tripod that otherwise-wonderful image stabilization feature actual can cause a problem in some scenarios and actually introduce some vibration. So the general rule is to turn off image stabilization when using a tripod. Otherwise it could conceivably introduce a slight amount of motion blur.
    • Unstable Tripod
      There are several ways your tripod might not be as stable as you’d like. Let’s say you have the tripod on a wooden deck, that you are also standing on. You can introduce movement that might cause some motion blur, simply by moving around, so stay very still. Or if you accidentally bump the tripod when shooting, that can cause a problem. Or maybe one of the legs is not latched securely and the leg slides down ever so slowly while you are shooting, that could also cause a problem (hey, I’ve seen it happen).
    • DSLR’s Have Mirrors
      There is one other factor that is more rare but can cause a problem. It’s the mirror inside a DSLR. You mirrorless camera owners don’t have to worry about this. Inside a DSLR, when the shutter fires, the mirror slaps up very quickly to get out of the way, for the shutter to open. That action causes a very tiny amount of vibration right when the shutter fires. Even if you have the tripod on very secure ground, there is always a slight possibility that this tiny vibration can hurt image sharpness. Some DSLR’s support a “mirror lockup” or “mirror up” mode. Check your camera user manual for more information. This usually is only a problem in rare cases where you are using a long lens (400mm+) and a moderately slow shutter speed (1/4th – 1/60th ish).

I know this sounds like a lot to think about, because it is! With practice, this is not really all that hard. I cover these topics in my various Photography Essentials classes and in my book “30 Practical Tips for Better Photographs” available on Amazon.

I hope this helps. Now go out and create those sharp images you’ve been wanting to create!

Kevin

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Let Us Know: Preferred Times for Adding New Online Classes

Your Input Matters!

Help us decide the best times for us to offer more online photography classes!  We have a variety of different types of classes, but we’d love to know what times best serve YOUR needs!

ALSO: Would you be interested in an ongoing group where we meet regularly and give out projects for the group to do and review results?

WE JUST NEED TO HEAR FROM YOU!

CLICK HERE to complete the brief survey!

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Rough Waters

Wow, I feel like we have all been having to navigate through rough waters since March 2020! In January 2020, my business was going great! Then March hit, like a sudden unexpected storm and my world totally changed, as did all of yours.

Now it looks like the storm is not only continuing, but getting worse, with hospitalizations climbing and the city of Austin teetering on the brink of entering into “Stage 5” with further orders to curtail business activity. Officials are trying to NOT go there, but this still means we all need to do what we can to avoid this pandemic from getting worse, and this is really hard on a studio photography business.

I really hope to ride through this storm and not have to give up my studio but with each month this is frankly getting harder since I have a space that has now sat empty and unused for months, even though I have monthly overhead of rent, utilities, Internet, phone, security monitoring, insurance etc. Thus the reason I have been scrambling to transition over to offering online classes to at least keep my business afloat during these hard times.

I am still intent on persevering through this and not letting this shut down my business. In fact, I haven’t really ever seen my business as just being about “business” and not even just about “photography.” What I really have cared the most about is the PEOPLE I have met along the way, people like you, all of you, truly wonderful people.

I have strived to use my business as a community service in a variety of ways, helping a wide range of nonprofits or individuals who are making this world a better place, and hosting our free Monday night LifeInsights group that is open to all, and is about just bringing our community together, to encourage ways we can “love our neighbors” more. I am intent on keeping this going, so I thought I would just reach out to you all, if you might be inclined to help me keep this venture going. Here are ways you can help:

GoFundMe:
Several months ago, I took advantage of that program by GoFundMe where they offered a $500 matching grant in their Small Business Relief Initiative. I really had no idea what the response would be, but it turned out to be truly overwhelming and humbling. (I admit, I shed a tear or two when I witnessed your kindness.) At the time when I set that up, I had no idea just HOW hard it was going to be on my business in the subsequent months. Your donations were like a lifesaver to my business. As this crazy COVID-19 storm continues, my business still faces tough challenges. IF any of you feel inclined to donate to the GoFundMe campaign to help my business, you can still do so. All donations are appreciated. I actually feel embarrassed to even ask, so I am not really “asking.” You have all been so immensely generous already. You have helped us get through several really hard months, but it appears more hard months are ahead, as we now have been forced to cancel several major workshops recently. Still, do not consider this as me “urging” you to donate to the GoFundMe campaign. I just wanted to let you know it is there IF you would like to help in that way. To say I am “grateful” is a huge understatement. I will never forget the kindness and generosity you all demonstrated.

Online Classes
Make sure you check out my various online classes I am offering now.
Click Here
Also remember one thing I am doing to help others who have also been financially hit hard by this pandemic, I now have made the pricing be variable, so you can set the price when you register, based on your ability to pay.
– I have a class coming up next week on Adobe Lightroom Classic.
– I have a new class on managing LIGHT for better photographs starting on July 21st.
– And if you are just starting out in photography or want a refresher on the basics (or if you have a friend who might be interested), check out my Photography Essentials class. I will continue adding more classes in the weeks ahead!

Private Instruction
With this private learning option, we can focus on your specific photography needs and your schedule! We can do this online via Zoom video conferencing from anywhere. It’s easy to set up! Plus I have added a new program that I call “Teaching on Retainer” where I am your resource any time throughout the year, for an extended amount of hours at a much-reduced price. I have several photographers who have already taken advantage of this option.

Join Us in LifeInsights
LifeInsights doesn’t cost anything and is always free to attend. We have totally moved this online, so you can connect via Zoom video conferencing from anywhere. It is just a way to connect with others, to hear other perspectives, and to be heard. During this pandemic especially, we need to stay connected to one another. We do a variety of different things, just open discussion, occasional online “happy hours,” as well as TED Talk watch parties and discussions, book discussions, and occasional guest speakers, inviting people who are working to make this world a better place. We have been meeting for over 2 years, and we intend to keep meeting, and would love for you to join us any time. You can always check out what we’re doing by going to this web page.

I am looking forward to calmer seas. This storm will pass.

Love you all,
Kevin Gourley


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The Smell of Rosemary

In these crazy uncertain times, I know many of you are under such stress maybe due to your business being shut down, or you lost your job, or you are in the COVID-19 “high risk” health category, or you are fed up with people arguing “mask” vs. “no mask”, “shut down businesses” vs. “don’t shut down businesses”, and the seemingly unrelenting bickering by the immensely politically polarized world around us.

I am frankly tired of the “noise” of it all. We can focus so much on what we have lost, that we lose sight of what we have in abundance all around us.

Gail and I go for a walk every morning, usually 5-7 miles or so. I call these my “sanity walks.” They are my escape from all the chaos. Since we are not around others, we walk without masks, and the world just feels “normal” as if we were not even in the midst of a major pandemic disaster. We talk about life. No tweets or posts popping up. No emails or news notifications. We are just walking.

Occasionally, we have a special treat of having our 4 year old granddaughter Addison spend the night with us. She likes to go on walks with us in the late afternoon, usually around 2 miles (and for a 4 year old, 2 miles is a long walk). Addison brings along a little bag, and she calls these walks “nature walks” as she’s always finding a leaf or twig or acorn to put in her bag.

Every time we pass by a rosemary bush, Addison stops, rubs her small fingers on the fragrant needle-like leaves and breaths in the wonderful smell of rosemary. She smiles and says in her cute little 4-year old voice “I love the smell of rosemary!”

That is our routine. Every time we pass rosemary bushes, Addison has to stop and smell the rosemary again, and remind us yet another time, just how much she loves the smell of rosemary.

I also love the smell of rosemary, and every time I pass a rosemary bush, I think of Addison and how thrilled she is to encounter a rosemary bush.

There is so much about this world around me that reminds me that this world is still a beautiful place, and I have SO much to be thankful for.

In spite of the chaos. In spite of the uncertainty of each day. In spite of all that is “wrong” in the world, there is so much that is beautiful, so much to be celebrated, so many sights, sounds and smells of nature that are wondrous. If only we would pause long enough to appreciate it all.

I love the sounds of the birds. I love the bright array of colors of the flowers. I love the slight cool breeze in the morning before it gets hot outside. I love the sunshine. I love the rain. I love the deer we sometimes encounter. I love seeing the other neighbors out walking as we say “hi” each day. I love holding the hand of a 4 year old while I walk. (Those are special occasions.) And yes, most especially, I love the smell of rosemary.

Since we have been doing these walks, I have been taking snapshots with my iPhone of some of the sights I have encountered on my morning or evening “sanity walks.” The point isn’t really about “great photography,” at ALL. I am not on a mission to photograph. I am on a mission to escape and simply walk. It’s about SEEING the world around me, and simply affirming the beauty I encounter each day.

I encourage you to take some time to experience the world around you more, pushing aside the distractions and chaos. Don’t miss the beauty that is ALL AROUND YOU.

Look for some rosemary bushes. Smell the rosemary.

Kevin Gourley

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Kevin Gourley Photography Workshops, Austin, TX – Austin Photography Classes