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Photography Lessons from My Dad: Part I

April 21, 2009

My dad is a professional nature photographer (what a job, right?) who spends a lot of his working time teaching classes and workshops.  I’ve been lucky enough to “help out” at a couple (read: I carried the laptop and passed around the handouts), which means I’ve heard his photography advice a few times.  He always talks about the “Three Ps of Nature Photography,” advice which I probably should have paid  more attention to last weekend.

The first “P” is preparation.*  He always makes sure to scout his sites well in advance, figuring out when and where the sun will rise and set on a particular day, when the wildflowers will be blooming, even the current phase of the moon and what time it will rise.  Not surprisingly, he gets consistently good and often spectacular results.

I, on the other hand, practice the “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants” school of photography – not an approach I’m advocating, by the way.  Last weekend, Chris and I went on a relatively spontaneous camping trip – it was our first time (in over 3 years!) going away together, so my preparation was focused more on remembering to bring my new favorite board game and making sure we’d have enough to eat than on finding the best location for a great sunset shot.  I don’t regret this, since we had an awesome time (and had plenty of food, thankyouverymuch), but it did mean that my photography was limited to primarily macro shots**, which don’t really require a lot of advance planning and are less hindered by spectacularly sunny weather than images with a wider scope.

And I would hereby like to add a fourth “P” to my dad’s litany: PRACTICE.

I liked the upside-down staircase lines of the bark on this tree, but I really wish more of the image was in focus.  The only spot that’s crisply focused is in the top left quadrant – everything else is at least slightly blurred.  I had my aperture set at f/3.6, which I think really limited my depth of field here.  Though – does anyone know how much depth of field is possible with a macro lens?  Would it have been possible for me to get the whole frame in focus if I’d had the appropriate aperture settings?

This shot leaves me feeling dissatisfied.  I like how only the middle of the wildflower is lit, which was what I was trying to capture.  But I really wish the background was darker – I think the blurred, bright leaves in the background really distract from the flower.  I also wish the color was more saturated, but since I was shooting at noon, when the light is strongest (and when I really know better), I suppose I can’t expect much more.

I’ve got a little bit more fatherly photography advice to share tomorrow – stay tuned!

*You’ll have to ask him what the other two are – I know them, but I can’t give away all his secrets!  If you want to know more, he’s got both a blog ( and a website (  Check ’em out.

**Disclaimer: I love my macro lens and any excuse to take it for a spin is, in my book, a good one.  I was not heartbroken about being *forced* to play with it last weekend.


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