Ted Keller gave an excellent presentation to 31 members on “The Value of Practice in Photography” at the NAPfS November 3rd Thursday meeting (2019). Ted’s website is photographybytedkeller.com
Experience: Ted worked 14 years with many famous photographers including Galen Rowell and Art Wolfe at a photo company that did workshops in national parks. Ted was an assistant to photographer instructors when they could not be present at every student’s tripod. Something he never expected to learn is what these master photographers do between photo shoots. Even though they take spectacular photos, which is true, they get to be superstars because they always practice.
What Should I Practice?
Master photographers have developed exercises that increase their chances of getting good photos. Spectacular light doesn’t stay around forever; wildlife doesn’t stay still for long. You must practice your skills to be prepared so you can get that one in a million photo.
Ted recommended building “artificial experience” with practice assignments so that you don’t need to be out shooting for National Geographic for 20 years. The master photographers uses their camera equipment until they have thoroughly tested it. They want to know how every camera and lens combination performs. To get this same knowledge, Ted sets up a newspaper page on a board and takes photos from varying distances, at different apertures, and analyzes the resulting photos to determine the best combination camera setting and lens for each situation. In an example that Ted showed, his lens was sharper at f8 than it was at f22, which is unexpected. You should learn the “sweet spot” for each lens so that you quickly know which lens to use when a photo opportunity occurs.
It is also a good time to test the manual metering in your camera. You shouldn’t depend on auto metering. The newsprint is bright, about 1.7 EV. Although matrix metering works about 80% of the time, familiarity with manual spot metering will get better photos from difficult light situations like a leopard hidden in the bush shadows.
He recommended that you should study your camera manual. Many manuals are long and complicated so just take one aspect of your camera, such as focusing modes, study the manual, and play with the settings for an hour or so to get familiar with it.
All craft artists must practice using their tools. So study your camera’s manual focus settings, shooting modes, apertures, depth of field, ISO settings, shutter speeds, lens focal lengths in order to fully master your camera.
Some camera manufacturers have gone too far with “auto” controls. Ted shared a story of a camera that he owns with a “dog” mode and a “cat” mode, whereby the camera will only take pictures if the appropriate animal is in the frame. To test this, Ted and his grandson went to a calendar store where they had lots of calendars with dogs and cats on the covers. He put the camera into the “cat” mode, pressed the shutter, and walked down the row of calendars. Amazingly, the camera took a photo whenever he passed a cat calendar. He did the same thing for the “dog” mode and the camera snapped only dog calendars. This is a humorous example of a camera feature, but is it useful or useless to us.
Where to Practice Photography?
Ted takes a lot of photos in his yard of insects, birds, wildlife, etc, in various situations so that he knows how to set his camera when he’s in the field. You can also learn a lot from your practice mistakes.
Go to the zoo, go to the mall, and take your camera wherever you go to practice taking photos.
Set “Bucket List” Photo Goals: Ted showed us a fantastic close-up photo of a puffin in Alaska flying at 50 mph with a mouth full of fish in sharp focus. It took him three trips to the puffin island to get that shot. His first two trips resulted in photos that were out of focus and exposed incorrectly. The puffin was white on one side and black on the other, so auto exposure metering was not correctly working. On his third trip, he finally got the shot he wanted by going entirely manual on his camera. He figured out the correct exposure by picking a white subject and manually setting the exposure for it. This included pre-setting his aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. His lens was pre-focused to the distance where he wanted to take the photo. After studying the birds for an hour, he got his “bucket list” photo when the bird flew by at the focus length that he had selected.
Exposure compensation is extremely important. Used with the camera’s histogram, you can take properly exposed photos. Learn to recognize various light and dark values so that you can expose correctly with your spot-meter and camera exposure compensation.
He recommended practice learning various EV values in a scene. For sunsets, he exposes for one of the brighter areas and manually sets the exposure for the EV of that area. Another way to practice this is to get a standard neutral gray card and use it as a reference. Look at something, guess its EV compared to the gray card, and set your camera to that value. Then monitor the gray card reading to see if your guess was correct. Of course, your camera, monitors, and printers should all be calibrated.
Take practice shots and ask other people what they think of your photos. You can learn a lot about composition and what other people like.
Be Prepared: Ted says master photographers always keep “preset” camera settings. In other words, find aperture, speed, and ISO settings that you’re comfortable with and set your camera to those settings. Whenever you finish taking photos, return your camera to those standard settings so that you’ll be ready for the next photo. which could occur unexpectedly. Ken’s favorite settings are 400 ISO (800 if cloudy), aperture priority, f8, single servo, centered auto focus, and matrix metering.
Ted’s conclusion is that the greatest photographs are taken before the light ever enters the camera because it’s all in your head, the camera settings, your experience, and how prepared you are to take the photo.
Ted teaches many types of photo workshops. The descriptions are at his website.
Patti Mitchell Print Display
Patti Mitchell displayed her prints of famous musicians on stage, concert brochures, magazine and CD covers she shot from her past days as a music group photographer. She also told a lot of interesting stories about her photos. Thank you, Patti, for sharing.