One day I wandered into a main street photo gallery here in Park City run by a guy named Willie Holdman. I liked his pics and talked at length with the receptionist- she asked if I was interested in workshops. I said sure, so she sent me a link to Willie's workshops. The first one on the list was a 7 day float through the Grand Canyon-- only one space was left. Karma is karma, so I signed up.
Immediately, I regretted it. I'm still pretty insecure about photography, and being in a "workshop" setting sounded like a prescription for competition to me. Pressure for every exposure to be museum worthy. The only guy there who doesn't know what he's doing. I was having coffee a few days later with a friend who's a serious Buddhist teacher- Ken McLeod (http://www.unfetteredmind.org/) I shared my misgivings with Ken, and his advice was to start every day by taking the worst picture I could ON PURPOSE. After that, everything else would be downhill!
Well, I didn't take his advice, but it was all good anyway. The group of 13 was all over the photo map, from folks with only a point and shoot, to serious guys with elaborate rigs. I was pretty much in the middle of the pack. Willie was terrific once he warmed up. A quiet guy, his initial role was to get the group to good spots in the canyon, which he knows well. It took a day or too for both Willie and for me to loosen up, after which he offered a me a lot of good specific advice on how to approach each location. A really pleasant surprise was how willingly helpful some of the better photographers in the group were, sharing ideas and techniques freely. Oh, there were a couple appearances of the "photo hog"- the critter who runs to every view point and set their rig up fast to make sure they get "the shot"; who can be so preoccupied with their own deal, they'll walk in front of your shot and set up their own gear. I don't think I was ever the "hog" myself, but when I get caught up, I do know I can develop tunnel vision myself, so it's possible I did and was unaware of it...
But as I said, the VAST majority of the interactions were really terrific and useful.
So, what did I take away from a technical perspective?
First, i had to get over my resistance to the fussiness of using a tripod. Especially for landscapes; even if it looks like the shot can be hand held, set up the pod. This way, you can be darn sure the image will be sharp, and I know from experience that NOTHING SUCKS MORE than getting home from a trip and seeing that my "Money shot" image(s) are not truly sharp.
Second, again for landscapes, use LIVE VIEW. This feature (available on the Canon and Nikon pro models) uses the back display as an electronic viewfinder. A lot of old school photogs (Willie included) don't like this much, but I thought it was really helpful This was especially true with the lens flipped to manual focus and then using the magnify button to zoom in on my focusing target (5x or 10x.) With my fading vision, my odds of getting a nice super sharp image sky rocketed.
Third, use the lens lock feature on those intermediate length exposures (like 1/8 sec to 1/2 second.) This locks the internal mirror up so when the shutter is flipped, there's no movement of the mirror to introduce dreaded camera shake. On really long exposures (2sec. or more) the movement of the mirror probably gets lost in the longer exposure, but still...
And from a personal perspective?
First, if I don't initially respond to a place, I'm unlikely to take very good images. This is part of the conversation aspect of taking photographs.
Second, the vast majority of exposures are gonna be flops relative to the handful of true winners. I took close to 1400 exposures for the week. In my personal files, I've kept about 250. For public sharing, it's down to 30-50. Of these, maybe 10 are really great (in my own view.)
Third, I'm not the kind of guy who can just shoot and shoot. I hit a wall several times on the trip and just needed to put the camera down. Others could shoot, seemingly, 24 hrs a day, but for me the joy died if I tried.
Finally, I really enjoyed the format of a field based workshop. What a place to take pictures!! I have a ton to learn, and that's terrific. My mind and heart were fully engaged pretty much every day all day.
This is the first of what i hope will a really direct commentary on taking pics, on wrestling with the technology and the emotions around creating and sharing. I need your help with this- If you disagree with something I say here, throw it in. If you agree, jump in as well. We all need encouragement.
As and old boss of mine used to say, "none of us is as good as all of us"