I’ve rubbed elbows with some excellent professional photographers, but don’t consider myself one.
I’m an opportunist who is outdoors often enough to sometimes find myself in compelling locations, which provides an opportunity to capture some interesting scenes on occasion. But in equipment and experience, I still consider myself a novice.
The excellent photographers that I have known seem to have a few things in common. They have good equipment, they are infinitely patient, they have a good eye for composition and light, and this is the most important part- they see the photo before it happens.
A photographer who comes to mind is Bob Hallinen, who two years ago retired from the Anchorage Daily News after 33 years on staff. Covering a broad range of subjects, Hallinen’s photographs brilliantly captured the essence of Alaska life, its people, events, and the state’s stunning beauty. I’m sure that for many of those splendid images over three decades, he often predicted what the photo would look like, and then waited for it.
As a journalist for BP in Texas, I worked with a professional photographer named Marc Morrison. He is also a person with the ability to visualize a photo before he snaps the shutter. On one assignment in Louisiana, his photographic goal was to have the shadows of oak trees crisscrossing a narrow lane that led to a large white plantation house. He had me stand on the other side of the row of tall oak trees, calling out to him when the sun would peek through the clouds. We worked that scene for three hours.
Once while escorting a photographer at Prudhoe Bay and other North Slope oil fields, I recall driving around for three hours, and he hadn’t taken one photograph. “What are you looking for?” I asked. “I’ll know It when I see it,” was his off-hand reply. Eventually, he found it: some attractive pipe arrays at the Endicott oil field- tinted red by the setting sun. He also liked the Endicott oil production control room.
A National Geographic photographer that I escorted on the North Slope didn’t get out his camera gear until he talked with oil field workers for an hour or so. At first, they were stiff, shy, and reticent about having their photos taken. After the hour was up, they were more than willing to do anything he wanted. He had patience. It was fun to watch him work.
But what I learned most from these and other photographers was that for them, it’s all about light. They are obsessed with it.
They plan for it and wait. They know precisely when the sun will come up and go down and where; and how the clouds are arrayed and how they will drift in the wind. The outstanding ones are intensely driven, especially the wildlife photographers. In my opinion, no one works harder for their photos.
Modest equipment: As I’ve mentioned before, my camera equipment is simple. Rather than a heavy Single Lens Reflex (SLR), I use a very portable point and shoot digital camera–a Sony Cybershot (DSC RX-100). It has a 20.2 megapixel Exmor CMOS image sensor that is good in low light situations. It’s equipped with an f/1.8 Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T Lens with a focal length of 10.4-37.1mm (35mm equivalent: 28-100mm). The lens supports 3.6x optical zoom and 7.2x clear image digital zoom. I can take timed photos, or what sometimes are called “impromptu selfies.”
I’ve been using this camera for years, and it’s quite sturdy, but newer models have improved features- namely, viewfinders. Today’s iPhones also take some nice photos, and in this column, I’ll include one taken by my friend Carl Portman. He waited until late afternoon, when the shadows fell across Denali, to make the photo. Again, patience. Photos snapped earlier in the day were not nearly as dramatic.
My photography professor at the University of Alaska (Fairbanks), Jimmy Bedford, once told us to ALWAYS have our cameras with us. “I don’t care if you’re going to the post office or the grocery store,” he would say. “Take your camera!” I’ve missed many a great photo because my camera was sitting on the counter at home.
In summary, you don’t have to have the latest and greatest equipment to take some memorable photos. Closely examining one’s surroundings is the first step. I believe it was Vincent van Gogh who said, “Art demands constant observation.”