There’s Always Something to Shoot…

I’ve often thought about what makes the difference between an amateur and a professional photographer.  Sure one of the obvious answers to this question is no doubt that a professional photographer makes money with his/her camera, how much money is a question of some debate.  I personally don’t think this criteria is necessarily what separates the real “pros” from the rest of the unwashed masses toting a digital slr.  From my point of view and experience as a professional photographer the key difference is a pro photographer’s ability to make images whenever and wherever, even when the conditions and subjects are less than ideal.  Anyone can show up at one of the often photographed and well scouted icons in a National Park at sunrise and make a stunning image.  It’s the mark of a true professional photographer to be able to produce winning images when the cards are stacked against you; the conditions are subpar, the subject matter not so photogenic, the light sucks, it’s raining, etc, etc, etc.

Over the course of my career as a photographer I’ve picked up lots of tips that help me produce winning images, but the following rule can often be the difference between coming home empty handed or bringing home the bacon.  There’s always something to shoot! The first bit of advice I have for finding images is to keep your mind and eyes open.  We often have a wish list or set of expectations for the images we’ll make prior to any trip or photo shoot.  Pre-visualizing our shots is a great strategy, however sometimes focusing too much on our expectations can stifle our creativity and keep us from really seeing what’s in front of us, leading to missed opportunities.  Unfortunately when it comes to scoring beautiful sunrises, sunsets and other epic displays of light, I’m somewhat cursed as a photographer so I’ve learned to make images the hard way, by working for them.    Here are a handful of tips for making the most of adverse conditions:

Look down – when the light is not particularly nice, the wind is howling or it’s raining keeping an eye to the ground will turn lots of macro or “tiny landscape” opportunities.

Acadia National Park, Ice Abstract

© Kurt Budliger Photography

Look up – one of the best ways to jump start your creativity is to alter the perspective or shooting angle to your subject, this simple method of getting down low can add a whole new look and feel to an often photographed subject and can even make up for lackluster conditions.

Bass Harbor Light House, Acadia National Park Maine

© Kurt Budliger Photography

Focus on Color – spend some time wandering around looking for color(s), make the subject of your images the color, think abstractly (it helps if you’ve spent some time in a previous life following the Grateful Dead).

Lobster Buoys coast of Maine

© Kurt Budliger Photography

Eliminate Color – learning to see in black and white can be invaluable for salvaging a photo excursion.  Often times when the light is less than favorable or the color is blah, I’ll focus instead on the tones (shades of light and dark) within the scene and pre-visualize the image as a black and white.

Swift River, White Mountain National Forest New Hampshire

© Kurt Budliger Photography

Look for texture and patterns – kind of like picking a color but this time you’re focusing on the texture and patterns created by your subjects, often times I’ll try to find a background texture or pattern that is somewhat uniform and then include some element that is different to create some  visual tension.

Fishing Nets coastal Maine

© Kurt Budliger Photography

Go Long – extend your shutter speeds by using small apertures, low iso values, and/or neutral density filters.  Long shutter speeds can be great to create otherworldly, abstract effects (especially of moving water, vegetation and animals) and ultra saturated images, if there’s any color in the scene the longer exposure time will really bring it out.

Eagle Lake Acadia National Park Maine

© Kurt Budliger Photography

Experiment – don’t be afraid to try something new.  If you’re a nature photographer go look for street scenes or portraits to shoot, find a mill, farm, dock or some other place where some real work is being done and shoot a photo essay.  We don’t grow as artists if we don’t push ourselves outside the comfort zone every once in a while, try it, you’ll be amazed.

Aspen abstract Acadia National Park Maine

© Kurt Budliger Photography

Fishing docks Maine coast

© Kurt Budliger Photography

Fly Fisherman New Hampshire

© Kurt Budliger Photography

Follow these simple strategies and just remember there is always something to shoot, it’s just up to us to find it!


~ by kurtbudliger on November 23, 2009.

One Response to “There’s Always Something to Shoot…”

  1. […] Don’t get me wrong photo equipment is important but if you don’t have it with you when the mood and/or circumstances align, you ain’t got squat!  I take a lot of pictures every year with some pretty darn nice camera equipment.  Many of these images are for pleasure, you know to satisfy my creative sole.  But the majority of the images I make are for paying clients, weddings, portraits, editorial assignments, commercial projects, etc.  For the most part my picture taking is scheduled and predictable, so of course I’ll have my gear with me then.  What about the rest of the time, like a quick trip to town for milk or when I go to visit friends for the weekend?  I’m often guilty of not having a camera with me during these times.  Unfortunately, I’ve often wished I had my gear and because I didn’t I missed something great.  You never know when there will be something good to shoot, and if you’ve been reading my previous posts you know there is always something to shoot. […]

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