Stretching photography muscles for a successful 2022

January 11, 2022

Rock jetty in Cape May

If there’s a term for the stretch of days between Christmas and New Year’s, I’m not sure what it is.

That would seem appropriate because I’m not sure what those days are supposed to be. It’s not quite Yuletide, it’s not quite the start of a new calendar year.

They’re just … days.

Thank goodness the family and I trekked to Cape May, that famous New Jersey seaside town with its ornate Victorian charm, to spend four days.

Although crammed into a small hotel suite (small for five human beings), it gave us a chance to fill those in-between days.

For me, it was an opportunity to stretch the photography muscles before the launch of 2022.

And by stretch, I mean make some mistakes, relearn some old lessons, and make a few sharable images.

I haven’t exactly felt compelled to document our family trips since the onset of the COVID pandemic. The shutdowns, the anxiety, the seemingly endless morass the world is in, the effect it’s had on creativity has been well-documented.

I’m no exception. The pandemic and all its stressed had permission to suppress desires to write and photograph because I gave it permission. I recognize that now.

In Cape May, it was decided that had to end.

Late on the afternoon we arrived, I led my oldest son, soon to be 10 years old, out to the beach. It may be December, but a cold, cloudy, moody day on the shore is better than most days.

I hauled my Canon EOS 6D with an EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L II USM lens with us.

Right away, I had to relearn an old lesson.

We didn’t have much time. Daylight was fading and my wife expected us back quickly so we could order dinner.

I started snapping on AV mode without much thought, and 6D’s histogram told an ugly story. I just wasn’t getting an exposure I liked, and to be honest, even if the exposure was perfect, the images were bland.

A quick switch to my iPhone12 Pro, and like that, the production changed, evidenced by this image of my son on the jetty.

I’m not exactly proud of that the iPhone proved more adept for the situation for a couple of reasons, not the least of which the image quality of a RAW image made by an iPhone is no match for a DSLR.

After a decade of serious hobby or professional photography, I should’ve wielded that Canon EOS 6D like a champ.

As we returned to our hotel room, I reminded myself of an important principle of image making I learned in the trenches of wedding photography long ago — take your time and control what you see.

All you need is one good image

Taking our three kids to the excellent Cape May County Park & Zoo gave a chance to not only re-establish the principle of “control what you see,” it also provided two important lesson reviews.

One, whenever you go to a zoo, always take a telephoto zoom lens. No exceptions. You aren’t going to capture to many fabulous animal photos without at least a 70-200mm, and one with 400mm capabilities is even better.

Of course, I left my telephoto zoom lens at home.

The other comes from Rick Sammon, the prolific photographer and writer. If you haven’t yet, put his Photo Therapy: Motivation and Vision book on your must-read list for 2022.

A prime reason is Chapter 7. There Sammon discusses what he calls his “One-Picture Promise.”

“When you are in a (photography) situation, imagine you have one frame remaining on your memory card, and you can take only one picture. If you think like this, I make you this promise: You will have a more creative photography. what’s more, during a photo outing, you will have a higher percentage of creative photographs and fewer outtakes.

Photo Therapy: Motivation and Vision, Page 38

The Cape May Zoo has an abundance of peacocks strolling around the grounds openly, and this one male, well, he wanted to show off.

Keeping Sammon’s One-Picture Promise in mind, and with just a 24-70mm lens attached to the Canon EOS 6D, I went about making one halfway decent shot.

It’s by no means all that extraordinary, but it was satisfying. Again, this trip wasn’t about making spectacular showcase photography. It was about stretching the image-making muscles that’ve grown a little lazy these last two pandemic-stricken years.

What photography is about in 2022

Our last full day in Cape May featured another brief visit under moody skies to the spot where surf and sand mingle.

My wife spent some time working on her laptop, so I brought our three boys our of the tiny hotel room to the short jetty.

Impulsively, a photo opportunity presented itself. And instead of forcing it, I felt instincts kick in and took the time to properly build it.

I first asked the oldest to sit on the rocks and be casual. Then I placed his younger brother before moving the toddler in place.

As I did, the exposure triangle began to formulate in my mind. That’s important. I wasn’t trying to figure it out while shooting, which is a disastrous way to try and take an image of three brothers, especially one that’s two years old and gets bored very quickly.

I knew my f/stop and ISO before I even touched my camera. Knew the light on their faces was adequate for a quick portrait.

We could’ve spent those in-between days of December 27-30 at home, lounging and doing a whole lot of nothing.

Instead, we journeyed a few hours from home. And it gave me a chance to warm the creativity up for what I hope will be a fruitful 2022.

Great things ahead if we want them.

Dave Pidgeon is a writer and photographer from Lancaster, Pa., and he owns Creative Sports Photography. He and his wife have three boys.

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