To grow in photography, to enhance your skills and your vision, requires that you continually push yourself beyond your comfort zone and work with subjects that are challenging. If all you ever photograph are the things that you're already good at shooting, you'll be living in a kind of technical and creative limbo--an artistic plateau. This happens to every artist in every medium, but it's important that you push through this invisible wall and experience the fun (and danger) of bigger and more demanding subjects.
Easier said than done and as I learned yesterday, it takes a lot of work to get good at something new. While out doing errands, I stopped by a small pond near my home to take a few practice panoramic shots so that I could get a bit more experienced with stitching images into panoramas before I take off on a few shooting trips this fall. After I finished shooting the sample pans, I took a walk to the edge of the pond just to see what was living there. I spent most of my childhood hanging out at this small park and it hasn't changed much since I was a kid. There is still a lot of pickerel weed growing along the edges and, as I discovered (and remembered from my childhood), dragonflies love pickerel weed.
There were dozens, if not hundreds, of beautiful dragonflies buzzing in and out of the weeds and among the wildflowers that grew at the edge of the pond. And as I was watching them, I had a bit of a photographic epiphany--I had never taken a really great photograph of a dragonfly and I've always wanted to do that. So I went back to the car, got out my close-up gear and decided to spend a few minutes to see if I could get any good shots. Well, of course, a few minutes turned into a few hours and by the end of the session I was getting incredibly excited about the subject--as well as incredibly frustrated.
Getting photos of these quick (very quick) little buggers is not easy! To call it a challenge is a huge understatement--it was like learning a whole new language. But I decided right then and there that I was going to make this my August goal: I was going to challenge myself to get some world-class dragonfly photos by the end of the month (or until they disappeared, anyway). I just absolutely loved photographing these beautiful creatures even though I knew that what I was getting was pretty lame photographically.
The shot above is probably the best of the lot and it is nice, but still has some (to my eyes, at least) technical flaws. I learned a lot about photographing insects in those few hours though and since the pond is only a short walk from my house, I'm going to spend as much free time as I can trying to improve my game. Tomorrow I'll tell you more about some of the very specific things I learned about shooting dragonflies--the frustrations, the techniques, the tools, etc. And we'll see if, by the end of the month or so, I can come up with a few really satisfying images.
In the meantime, think about a subject you've always wanted to master and see if you can't create a challenge for yourself. One you start to go after the subject seriously, I'm sure you'll find your pictures will grow much faster than you thought they would. And remember, growth and learning are always exponential things; once you get to the next level, you climb ever faster and ever higher to the next levels and pretty soon you'll be soaring around your new subjects like a dragonfly skimming along the surface of a pond.
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