Minty Nature Photography: Blog en-us (C) Dennis Minty 2017 (Minty Nature Photography) Thu, 04 May 2017 15:13:00 GMT Thu, 04 May 2017 15:13:00 GMT Minty Nature Photography: Blog 90 120 Tilting, The Little Town that Helps Me Remember Tilting

]]> (Minty Nature Photography) beautiful community dennis minty emotion fishery historic history labrador newfoundland photography Thu, 04 May 2017 15:07:18 GMT
The Way of an Iceberg The Way of an Iceberg

]]> (Minty Nature Photography) arctic dennis minty glacier global ice iceberg labrador newfoundland photography warming Thu, 04 May 2017 15:00:33 GMT
On Seeing Sunset Reflection, Change Islands, NewfoundlandSunset Reflection, Change Islands, NewfoundlandMinty_20160719_205940_copy

Perhaps a photographer's most important ability is to take notice, to pay attention. Simple, but profoundly important. No camera or lens provides this. Looking is what we do passively all day long to negotiate our way through our lives. Some things we notice, and we may linger a moment in that noticing, but most things we don't notice. The cinema of scenes in our lives, and the things that make them, barely enter our consciousness.

Active, mindful seeing takes you deeper. It is thoughtful and reflective. It is a state of energized stillness. You take much greater notice of how light gives shape and colour to things, how shapes relate to each other and create areas of contrast or the lack of it. With living things you notice what they are doing and anticipate what they are going to do. You look at the signals of gesture, body posture, expression. You are patient. You take in the environmental context and interpret how it either contributes or distracts.

King Penquins, South GeorgiaKing Penquins, South GeorgiaMinty_20051119_080145_copy

In short, you pay attention. Do you do it all the time? No. That would be too exhausting. But when you are shooting, you shift into gear and step of the gas. You get in "the zone".

"The zone" is where most other thought processes are pushed away and you are fully engaged in shooting. You are mindful of the pulse of life, both internally and externally. It is a kind of meditative state. Worries disappear. You release tension. You slow down. Time seems to vanish. You are open, accepting and non-judgemental. You are fully awake, in a state of high alert. Your radar is on. Everything is a potential subject.

The zone is joyful place. To me, it embraces attitudes such as acceptance, patience, gratitude, humility, compassion and curiosity.

Foula, Shetland Islands, ScotlandFoula, Shetland Islands, ScotlandMinty_20130609144438_copy

Active, mindful and creative seeing can be blocked or hampered many things. Stress and deadlines are at the top of the list. Mindful seeing is also hampered by the mundane cascade of thoughts and dialogues we have with ourselves that can cut us off from openly experiencing the external world. These mental barriers are caused by many things such as our concerns about our relationships ("did I say the wrong thing"), or by the need to get the car fixed, or what to make for dinner, or the unending flow of disturbing news on the media, and so on. This background noise can prevent you from getting in the zone. Instead of seeing the beauty of the raindrops we think more about the downside. “I don't want to go out in this.  I hope it clears up for the weekend.” Being mindful and fully present is the opposite of this. Perhaps it is not possible to stop the chatter in your head (especially for some of us) but you can make it quieter as you engage in mindful seeing and enter the zone.


So next time you are out and about with your camera, I invite you to shift from passive looking to active, mindful seeing. When you do, your experience deepens and the images you create will inspire.

]]> (Minty Nature Photography) attention noticing photography seeing sight technique Tue, 18 Apr 2017 15:34:32 GMT
Style Arctic fox (Alopex lagopus or Vulpes lagopus), Churchill, Manitoba A group of fellow photographers were challenged to pick one photo that illustrated what they believed to be their style. It got me thinking about the topic.

Cl​early all visual artists, musicians and writers can develop an identifiable personal style over time with practice and dedication. It's rare or never that we start out with one. As it develops others might recognize it before we are aware of it ourselves. Sometimes it finds the artist rather than vice versa. 

Style is an expression of our vision, our personal way of seeing. Usually this is based on a deep and enduring interest, dare I say passion, for something. For me it is the natural world, which I studied and then became a wildlife biologist before pursuing photography as a profession. Style is shaped by our history and culture, our up-bringing, our sense of place, our family and friends and so much more. Developing a style requires that you make something tangible based on your vision. There is no style if it’s only in your head. It comes from the photographer not the subject matter. Style is not simply the "look" of a few images. It becomes apparent across a body of work. 

The keyword here is "work". It takes investment and struggle and perseverance and practice pushed along by a strong work ethic. There is no free lunch here. I like Malcolm Galdwell's idea (at least that's who I discovered it from) that it takes roughly 10,000 hours to develop a serious level of expertise in anything. Eventually, given the work and creativity, an artist's style develops, expands, matures and becomes unique. There are no short-cuts.

Waved Albatross, Espanola Island


I'll end this little piece with a quotation from Alain Briot, "Achieving a personal style does not mean creating photographs that are outlandish, that rely on theatrics to be created, or that solely depend on bizarre content to be interesting.  Style is relying on solid values and concepts. Style is creating a firm foundation from which you will create your work." 


]]> (Minty Nature Photography) artistic style personal style photography practice work ethic Sat, 11 May 2013 23:22:30 GMT
Shooting from the Heart dddEspanola Island Sunset


While shooting in the Galapagos Islands a few years ago, a friend said to me, "Dennis, you shoot from the heart." We had been travelling together for several days by then and this was the beginning of one of many conversations we had about photography. Although I had not thought much about that idea until then, I was touched by his observation and I have thought more about it since. "Shooting from the heart", what does it really mean?


He did not mean that I was oblivious to the technical side of photography, but rather that I was not a slave to it. He also meant that I was deeply engaged in truly seeing what was going on around me. I know this because we talked about it. He, on the other hand, admitted that he did feel a bit enslaved by the technical aspects of shooting. Don't get me wrong, the know-how is absolutely necessary, but a photograph that only has technical merit is almost always flat and uninteresting, at least to me. I strive for something deeper, more meaningful - something to spark an emotional reaction, first in myself, then later, in others. In striving, I occasionally succeed and when that happens it is most joyful and satisfying.


Like writing, photography is usually an isolated pursuit. Although it can be a social time for some, it rarely is for me, unless I am teaching. My best work emerges when I am alone. Part of the reason for this is that I need to be in touch with myself, while also being open to the moment. I turn inward and outward at the same time. When this happens well, and it doesn't always, the imagination meets the environment and creativity is the product.



I think the idea means that the best images should evoke feelings and express something about the photographer. As Freeman Patterson says, "the camera points both ways." It means that in addition to the subject, a strong image should capture mood and atmosphere, action and gesture, compelling light and colour. It should also show what the photographer cares about. All these things need to come together in a composition that communicates quickly and clearly. Strong photographs should reveal something about the places where we live and travel. They should shed light on them as well as on the photographer who made the images.


So how do you do this?


Well, first you must be comfortable. If you are cold and wet, strong images are unlikely to happen.


You need to know your gear - what combination of lens and settings will do the best job. But you cannot be so preoccupied with these choices that you let the camera rule you instead of the reverse. You need to familiarize yourself with the essential controls much like driving a car. If you are thinking too much about the car's controls, you will not be paying enough attention to the road ahead of you. You gain familiarity with your gear by shooting, studying your results, and shooting some more. In other words, you practice. Then practice more. If significant time has lapsed since you last shot, you will feel rusty when you resume. Time to practice some more. It never stops.


You need to be free of fear and anxiety. You cannot be worried about looking foolish, being judged by others or about failing to meet your own expectations. Fear paralyses.


Pay attention. If you are thinking about personal worries, relationships, what you have to do tomorrow or last night's movie, you are not "in the moment". You are not engaged by the place and what you are doing. Better to immerse yourself in the process and let everything else fall away.


Ice Detail, Rensselaer Bay, West Greenland


Follow your instincts and emotions. If something catches your eye, stop and process what it is and why it caught your attention. Chances are there is a photograph there. As I have written before, we are capable of discerning a great deal of visual information in a very short time - as Malcolm Gladwell says, "in the blink of an eye". Learn to trust that and use it to make stronger images. The subconscious is a powerful tool.


Play. Don't make the process arduous. Be a child. Let yourself go. Open yourself to discovery. Once you make a discovery, then photograph it. Make mistakes, laugh at them, learn from them and make some more. If you are not making mistakes, you are doing nothing new. You are working only within your comfort zone and not pushing yourself.


Put the experience first and the results (strong images) second. In other words, enjoy where you are and what you are doing and the images will arise more easily than if you are fretting about "getting the shot".


Trout River, Newfoundland


Shoot close to home. We sometimes think we have to go to exotic places to make good photos - the lure of the exotic. But if you are from Kenya, then Canada is exotic. Good photographs can be made anywhere. So try to look upon your home area with fresh eyes, as though you are a tourist. Exercise your sense of wonder about what you see in your everyday life. You have an advantage over the tourist because you can go back to a scene as often as you like. As an assignment, try to make one meaningful photo in your home area every week for a year. Or, once a month walk around your home area and make 10 new images. Younes Bounhar said,  "new subjects can definitely breathe some creativity and freshness into your work, [but] a deep knowledge of your subject can put your images over the top."


Churchill, Manitoba, Canada


Learn as much as you reasonably can about your subject. There is a reason that some of the best wildlife photography is done by those who have spent time, often years, studying the animals. Learning about your subject informs you on what to shoot, how to shoot and when to shoot. You have a better idea what stories to tell through your images, what nuance or behaviour is critical, what light provides the best mood. Also the more you know, the more you will care. That care you feel within yourself as you are engaged with your subject will also be evident in your images. This is the "heart part".


These are just some of the notions that come to mind when I contemplate the idea of "shooting from the heart". As the great wildlife photographer Moose Peterson said when quoting a wise man: "A good photographer makes an image by holding the camera to his eye, but the great photographer makes an image by holding the camera to his heart!”

]]> (Minty Nature Photography) creativity emotion how to mood photography technique Tue, 23 Apr 2013 15:04:13 GMT
Spring Sea Ice  
Spring Sea Ice, Clarke's Beach, Conception Bay, Newfoundland, Canada

It’s beautiful, glowing stuff. The light bends around its edges and in places appears to be coming from within. On the underside it is a gorgeous aquamarine. Many people curse it because it makes a long winter feel even longer. But if you choose your moment when the light is soft, or low in the sky, it is nature at its most radiant.

This is sea ice (also known as pack ice or drift ice) that forms in arctic waters and drifts south on the cold Labrador current each spring. It envelopes the coast of Labrador and the northeast coast of Newfoundland extending as much as 200 miles offshore. It is frozen sea water in contrast to icebergs which are frozen freshwater from the land. Newly formed sea ice is indeed salty but over time the salt leaches out and what remains is fresh enough to put in a rum and coke, my preferred winter libation.

Although many people have the impression that salt water doesn’t freeze, clearly it does but at a lower temperature than freshwater - about -2C or 29F. So sea ice develops in the winter months and melts in the summer months. Some of it in the high arctic may not completely melt before the onset of winter again. This is known as multi-year ice and it can grow to considerable thickness.

Sea ice is most prevalent in areas with cold ocean currents. Therefore, the east side of the Atlantic, which is influenced by the warm Gulf Stream, has almost no sea ice at latitudes that are much further north than those on the west side where sea ice is an annual event. Therefore shipping along the coast of Norway remains open throughout the winter whereas that along the coast of Labrador and the eastern Canadian arctic must shut down.

Ecologically sea ice is very important because it is the hunting platform for polar bears and the whelping surface for millions of harp seals. It also has a tremendous influence on the world’s climate. Because it has a bright, light surface, it reflects most solar radiation back into space thus keeping northern latitudes cold. Global warming trends are significantly reducing arctic ice cover exposing areas of darker water that absorb solar radiation. Hence the warming escalates. This is one of the reasons why the polar regions are the most sensitive to the global warming phenomenon.

For me as a photographer sea ice is a delight. I look forward to this time of year when the ice pushes into our inshore waters near my home. I like to walk slowly around its edges frequently changing my angle of view to see the effect of light. Exposure can be tricky since the mostly white surfaces will cause light meters, which want to render tones to a medium gray, to under-expose. If I’m trying to get a single image with an acceptable exposure, I’ll over-expose between 0.5 and 1.0 stops. But when I’m looking for good exposures in both dark and light areas (the background and water areas as well as the ice) I will bracket and then blend images together in a treatment called high dynamic range (HDR) processing. Sea ice and HDR make a very good marriage of subject and technique. Another great marriage is sea ice and rum...but I already said that.

]]> (Minty Nature Photography) Labrador Newfoundland pack ice photography sea ice Sun, 14 Apr 2013 13:02:21 GMT
Bringing Depth to Your Images
Chinstrap Penguin (Pygoscelis antarcticus), Deception Island, Antarctica
Chinstrap Penguin Colony, Deception Island, Antarctica


We see a world with depth because our two, forward-looking eyes each perceive a slightly different picture. Our brains merge them together to form a three-dimensional interpretation. It is the amount of overlapping information that each eye perceives that is the secret to our depth perception. It would not work nearly as well if our eyes were placed more on the sides of our head, say, like a horse, which has traded strong depth perception for a much broader, wide-angle view. However, an animal with forward-looking eyes, like an owl, has excellent depth perception.

Close one eye and your depth perception is almost non-existent. Try it. Hold a pencil out in front of you in your left hand with the tip pointing towards your right. Now try to touch the tip of the pencil with the outstretched finger of your right hand. Yes you can do it, but you might miss the first time or two.
What’s the photographic connection? Most cameras only have one eye. (Stereoscopic cameras have two.) They cannot perceive depth. When we look out over an inspiring landscape with our eyes, the sense of distance and perspective is self-evident. When we make an image of it with our cameras, something very important is missing: the sense of depth. That’s why you need to help the camera simulate a sense the depth by using one or more simple techniques.

First, though, it helps to be aware of the effect of light on depth. The more intense the light, the greater the tonal contrast, the stronger is the sense of depth. Soft, diffuse light reduces the sense of depth. Light direction also has a bearing. Frontal light, coming from behind the photographer directly on to the subject, reduces the sense of depth, whereas light from the side enhances depth. Backlight, coming from behind the subject towards the camera also can enhance depth especially when foreground objects are silhouetted. Warm colours act as though they move forward while cool colours recede. This is one reason why the person in a red jacket tends to have prominence in a photo. Now for the techniques.
Foreground, middle ground, background

The strong foreground serves as a stepping stone into the image.
Many shooters will see an inspiring scene, photograph the middle ground and background and then look at the disappointing result that lacks any sense of depth. They missed a key element: the foreground. Compare the creation of this kind of image to writing a story. Any story needs a good beginning, middle and end. So does this kind of image. Whenever I’m in this situation, I look for something to serve as foreground interest, something that can work like that first stepping stone into the scene. When you include all three elements: foreground, middleground and background, you simulate a stronger sense of depth.

Our dog, Thule, imparts a sense of scale to frame.


Objects look smaller the further they are away, right? But our minds know that they are not actually smaller. So when we place an object of known size in a scene, say a car or a human figure, it immediately helps the camera to simulate depth. We know roughly how large a human figure is, so if it is tiny in the frame, we know it is far away, large and it’s near. Wide-angle lenses exaggerate depth since foreground objects appear so much bigger than background objects. Telephoto lenses, like binoculars, tend to bring the background forward and appear to compress an image from front to back. They reduce the sense of depth in a scene. A strong telephoto lens can make the background appear as though it looms over the foreground almost eliminating depth altogether.


The use of a 400 mm telephoto lens causes the distant mountain to be "pulled forward" reducing the sense of depth.
Repeating shapes

The grasses and the planks in the boardwalk serve as repeating shapes that grow smaller as they recede.


Think of the dashed lines on a highway. Those near you look much longer than those in the distance. Also those in the distance tend to run together while those near you are clearly separated one from the next. There is an illusion that the distance between distant objects appears smaller the further they are away. Apply this idea to photography by using patterns of similar objects, (planks on a wharf, pebbles on a beach) so that the elements of the pattern appear smaller as it recedes into the distance. Our minds interpret this as depth. Once again, a wide angle lens can exaggerate the effect and a telephoto will reduce it.

Converging lines
A strong sense of depth is created by the converging lines.


Photograph a path or a road from the side and it will appear as a horizontal or diagonal line. Do the same from a position in the middle of the path or road and the sides converge imparting a stronger sense of depth that leads you forward into the image. The optical principle here is that parallel lines appear to converge in the distance to a point where they seem to merge: the vanishing point. You can use this principle to impart a sense of depth. Your lens choice matters once again since wide-angle lenses exaggerate convergence. If you include the vanishing point you get a stronger sense of depth; eliminating the vanishing point gives you a weaker sense of depth. So next time you are in a large building, look for converging lines to create a sense of depth. It matters where you stand.

Overlapping shapes

The overlapping shapes as well as the atmospheric perspective imply depth. 


We know that near objects are in front of far objects. Therefore overlapping shapes imply depth. So when you are setting yourself up for a shot and want to create a stronger sense of depth, move around looking for overlapping shapes.

Atmospheric perspective

The depth here is created by the warmer more saturated foreground and the bluer less saturated background.
Dust in the atmosphere can affect the sense of depth in a scene. The further away an object is, the more dust there is between it and you. Hence it will appear lighter, less contrasty and less saturated. This is more noticeable as you look closer towards the sun because all the fine dust is backlit and looks brighter. Telephoto lenses seem to exaggerate the phenomenon. So look for these image planes, overlapping layers in a landscape where the nearest part of the scene appears darker, more saturated and has stronger contrast than the most distant. Also, with increasing distance, objects appear bluer because warm colours like red, orange and yellow are absorbed by the atmosphere. So placing warm hues in the foreground and bluer hues in the background implies depth.

Add them together
The boats serve as objects of known size as well as repeated patterns decreasing in size as they recede. The distant human figure adds another indication of scale.
So even though the camera cannot see in three dimensions like we can, there are tricks to imply depth when creating images. If you use one or more of these techniques together you will create an even stronger sense of depth.

]]> (Minty Nature Photography) depth perspective photography technique Sun, 13 Feb 2011 12:18:00 GMT
Photography in Winter

Winter Opportunities and Challenges

In photography, winter is the great simplifier. Details, like grass and leaves, are hidden, contours and edges are rounded, and the landscape is rendered to its most fundamental elements: line, shape, texture and colour. Even colour is more subdued and reduced in range from the vibrant green of summer, or the red, yellow and orange of fall, to the subdued blue of snow, sky and ice, or the browns of bark and dried leaf.
On overcast days in winter, the sky tends to be rendered as a large patch of bright, featureless nothingness. Landscapes are flattened because the diffuse light from the sky is reflected also from the snow reducing the overall contrast that we need in order to discern shape and line.
On sunny days the opposite is true. With the sun lower in the sky than in the summer, shadows are long and discernable all day long. In summer you may not consider shooting at high noon, but it's grand in the winter. The shadows help create line, shape and depth and impart visual interest to any object projecting above the snow.
Falling snow is beautiful to watch but difficult to capture well. The camera will likely focus on the background or some distinctive feature, rather than the falling snow itself. The movement of the snow also presents a challenge.
Other challenges for the winter photographer are keeping your own body warm and keeping your gear protected from the cold. On the coldest days, the electronics of modern cameras can fail completely unless precautions are taken.
The soft light of overcast days can cause the camera's autofocus system to struggle because it usually relies on some kind of contrasting feature to find a point of focus. So don't be surprised to hear your camera struggling to find something on which to focus.
Our cameras don't see the same as  we do. Winter scenes illustrate this well. We think of snow and ice as white or colourless, and our eye-brain combination usually interprets it this way. But snow is rarely colourless. Only in flat, neutral light,  is it white, or some shade of gray. Otherwise it is the colour of the light falling upon it, and this is how the camera sees it. Under a blue sky, snow is also blue. Warm evening light will impart a yellow, orange or pink hue. The shadowed side of a snow bank is the reverse or negative colour of the light source perhaps an intense blue, when the light source is yellowish,  or even purple when the light source is orange.
Exposure is tricky in a winter-white scene. Our in-camera light-metres want to interpret the snow-covered landscape as darker than it is. This is why your snowy shots can look rather muddy rather than fresh.  


Considering these characteristics and challenges of winter shooting, here are some ideas that might help deal with them:

With the simplifying effects of snow-cover, "go with the flow" and make your compositions stark and simple based on line, shape and the contrast between light and shadow. Look for opportunities to bring out the mood of profound quiet and solitude.

Look for lines including:

  • relaxing s-curves like those made by a winding road or path, a brook, snow drift or snow-shoe tracks that you can make yourself;

  • diagonal lines that impart energy and depth to a photo or divide the frame into triangles;

  • merging parallel lines that create strong perspective.

Embrace negative space. Negative space is the area around your subject that is empty of eye-grabbing visual features. When the sky is overcast, the lack of colour and tonal contrast can make the earth and sky appear to merge. Use this to create an ethereal, abstract look that lacks perspective, perhaps with one subject - a tree, rock, or person in a sea of negative space.


If the sky is bland and without any tonal character, minimize it in the frame or eliminate it all together.

When the sky is beautiful or moody, let it dominate the frame.


Notice how a frosting of snow can bring out the features and striations of a rock face or any other rough surface.

Try to capture the lace-like quality of snow-covered branches.

Look for interesting contrast between snowless tree trunks and snow-laden branches.

When shooting a large landscape where you want both a sharp foreground and background, use a small aperture (e.g. F16, f22).


Move around a subject noticing the changing effects of light direction and the background changes.

Shoot at all hours of the day although the magic hours just before sunset and just after sunrise are still the best.


Look for singular trees in the landscape, especially those with stark, graphic forms and make compositions with them small and near the edge of the frame.

In a forest, use a wide-angle lens and point towards the light source to create radiating shadows from the trees.


Look for some interesting detail such as a single icicle hanging from a berry or a few flakes of fresh snow on a fallen leaf and isolate it (with an aperture or f 5.6 or so to create a shallow depth of field).


Look for backlighting opportunities with ice clinging to objects.

If snow dominates the frame, over-expose by one to two stops, especially in soft light, to make snow look whiter rather than muddy gray as your meter will want to render it. Bracket to be sure. Watch your histogram and don't clip the highlights. If there is only a small amount of snow in the frame shoot it as metered.

In hard light (bright sun), it might be better to shoot it as the meter suggests or even underexpose a bit. Hard light will emphasize texture and contrast. Also consider backlighting or sidelighting when the light is hard.

Use a low view point at sunrise and sunset to bring out the texture of snow.

With falling snow, turn off your in-camera flash. It will overexpose the flakes closest to the camera. Instead, use no flash or an off-camera flash over to one side or even pointed at an angle back towards the camera.

Also with falling snow, you might want to manually focus on whatever you want sharp, either the falling flakes or some other subject.

Find a position where falling snow stands out against a dark background.

Use fast shutter speed to freeze falling snow. Or, use a slow shutter speed to allow falling flakes to blur in soft streaks. This will emphasize the falling motion. Either fast or slow shutter speeds can be effective. Try both.

Use a telephoto lens to capture the feeling of falling snow. It will create an impression of more concentrated snow because of its tendency to reduce perspective.

In very cold weather, wear a large parka and keep your camera inside it to keep the batteries warm.

Do not blow on your camera to remove snow or other particles.

Carry spare batteries and keep them in a pocket close to your body until you need them.

When its especially cold and you want to walk around with your camera attached to a tripod (as I do), consider taping hand-warmers directly to the bottom of your camera. Also you can attach moleskin to the fixed parts of your camera that you will handle.

Put foam pipe insulation around the upper part of your tripod legs to reduce the heat loss from your hands.

Hold your breath when you are looking through your viewfinder to avoid condensation.

If your shutter freezes up, return to the warmth until its function is restored.

When you go into the warmth, prevent condensation by keeping your gear covered until it can warm up slowly.

Use a lens hood to create some protection around the lens especially when it is snowing.

Use well-fitting gloves that are not so thick that they prevent you from using your camera controls. Mitts with flaps the cover your fingers when you are not actually shooting are also beneficial.

Check the forecast but don't be ruled by it.

Loose the attitude that you would rather be indoors by the fire. Just get out there with a smile on your face.


One last very important point: do not disturb wild animals, especially in winter. It is a critical time for them when food is scarce and energy conservation is imperative.

Enjoy your winter shooting.


]]> (Minty Nature Photography) cold how to photography technique winter Mon, 24 Jan 2011 15:40:00 GMT
What Malcolm Gladwell Taught Me About Photography Baobab Tree at Sunset, Tanzania Baobab Tree, Tanzania, shot from the back of a moving pickup truck.

A couple of years ago I read Malcolm Gladwell's wonderful book "Blink". It makes the case that we should put greater faith in our instincts, especially our initial, intuitive responses to a person, object, or event. Even though these assessments might happen in a few milliseconds, they can be, and often are, better than those based on more protracted deliberation. According to Gladwell's research, this ability is based on the way the human brain has evolved to assess stimuli (largely visual) subconsciously  and render trustworthy judgments very quickly. Of course, this is not always true, and Gladwell also talks about certain factors, like biases and prejudices, that can impede our subconscious ability. Nonetheless, he makes a very strong case for the power  of quick, intuitive assessments that can happen in a "blink".


So what does this have to do with photography? Just this: your first visual impressions are important and reliable. The photographs you make based on them may not be your best shots in any given circumstance, but they might be. So, I say, "shoot first and ask questions later". Rather than thinking very much about why you like something, just dive in. We have all heard or said "I know what I like, but I don't necessarily know why".  That's OK. To record your first impressions, you don't necessarily have to know why something attracts you, but you do have to recognize that it does. You have to feel it.

Brown Pelican and Surf, Espanola Island
Brown Pelican and Surf, Espanola Island, Galapagos


I believe our visual instincts can be very strong and quite trustworthy. When we analyse, especially with words (even if they are just in our heads), we can loose sight of our first impressions, what it is that attracted us in the first place. Seeing and feeling come first. Words can even impair our vision because they are part of our conscious minds, whereas  visual recognition is much more closely associated with the subconscious.

Does this mean that you shouldn't bother to study a subject more closely, to "work it" and try to find the best position or manner of shooting it? Absolutely not. Applying good camera skills, strong composition and use of light will help you create stronger images. The more you practice, the more automatic these skills become, the more subconscious they become. If the tennis player is thinking about how to hit the ball, it's almost certain that the shot will fail. The process needs to become mindless, subconscious, automatic. How do you do this: practice. See, feel, shoot, evaluate and do it all over again...and again and again. So trust your first impressions and hone your visual instincts by practicing your craft. Then trust your first impressions. The best shot, might be the first one.
Minty Nature Photography
]]> (Minty Nature Photography) Gladwell Malcolm emotion how to instinct photography technique Thu, 06 Jan 2011 06:50:00 GMT
Two Kinds of Shooters (at least) Big Sea at Perry's Cove, Newfoundland, Canada Perry's Cove, Conception Bay, Newfoundland, Canada, Dec. 28, 2010

In your reading about photography have you come across the idea of pre-visioning or imagining your shot in advance and then going after it? Sometimes it is treated as a prerequisite for good image-making. Certainly it is a valid method and one practiced by many excellent photographers, but rarely do I practice it, and I certainly don't see it as a "essential secret" to making strong images.

I think its closely connected to your ability to imagine visually. Some are very good at it, others less so. For example, my wife might suggest that we move the couch from here to there, or to paint the walls a particular shade of whatever. She can actually see the change in her mind's eye. She can make a disturbingly (to me) accurate guess at how it will work out. It's a gift, but one that is not as strong in me. I have to move the damn couch to its new location and then assess whether it works or not. She can do the whole thing in her head, which is a whole lot easier on the back.

So some photographers have this gift and others lack it, or have a weaker capacity for it. My point is that there are two kinds of photographers: one that pre-visions the image and then proceeds to create it, and the other (like me) that is more reactive to the world around us. In my (perhaps self-serving) opinion, one is not necessarily any better than the other.

While "pre-visioning" is totally valid, I think we need to guard against it over-ruling your spontaneous reactions to our ever-changing world. Also I think we can all work at "active seeing". Active seeing is letting your imagination and the environment interact freely; it is letting go of preconceptions and embracing discovery; it is seeing with all of your being and total engagement.

When I go out shooting, very rarely am I thinking about a particular subject. I'm mostly responding to, and interacting with, what I encounter, especially the light. Once I find something that merits shooting, I work with it to find the best composition, lighting and so on, but it is not as though I imagined it all beforehand. It is reactive photography.

This said, I am not diminishing the importance of preparation and anticipation, two key ingredients for any kind of successful image-making. Preparation involves having the right gear, being in the right place at the right time, having the batteries charged and much more. Anticipation involves pointing your camera in the right direction, framing the shot in readiness for some action, choosing the best exposure settings, foreseeing the behaviour or movement of an animal or person, being ready for the "decisive moment". These are requirements for all of us whether you are a skilled pre-visioning photographer or a more reactive one.

Also one way of shooting can be more important than the other depending on the situation. For example, when I'm on assignment, I will prepare a shot list to ensure that I comply with the needs of the client. I might then imagine how to shoot a particular subject - time of day, soft light, hard light, key elements of the composition and so on. But even then, I leave a lot to my spontaneous reaction to the location.

So this is not about good or bad, strong or weak. It is about recognizing your own capabilities and using them to create images that reflect your individual view of the world, your style, your passion, and not getting bent out of shape about your ability to envisage the perfect shot in your mind's eye beforehand.

By the way, my wife is a good photographer too.

Minty Nature Photography

]]> (Minty Nature Photography) composing imagining photography planning reacting visioning Sun, 02 Jan 2011 10:52:00 GMT
Finding the Essence Gala, Canadian Horse, Clarke's Beach, Newfoundland

The art of nature photography can be a daunting task. You are surrounded by a world of exciting visual material - animals, plants, objects, land, water, sky as well as their abstract components of colour, shape, line and texture. In addition there are the non-visual elements such as sounds, smells, wind, warmth, cold, damp, dry - all of which contribute to your total experience when you are immersed in nature. Then there is the internal environment of our beings, our feelings and thoughts from one moment to the next. When you place your eye to the viewfinder all this is rendered down into a strictly-bounded, two-dimensional frame in which you try to depict what you see and, more importantly, what you feel in that moment. For those who have truly tried to do this, you know it is not easy.

It's also inescapably subjective. It has been said that you are in every image you make. Each one is autobiographical. This is because the way you choose to frame an image, select its content and set its boundaries, is such a personal thing. During our tours and workshops I am often with other photographers, both professional and amateur, at the same place, in the same light, at the same time, each of us with high quality gear and perhaps similar skill. But when we share our images afterwards, it's surprising how different they are. Each eye chose a different way to frame the scene or subject.

It takes discipline and work to select the essence of an image and eliminate the distractions. You can do this as you shoot the original image of course, but you have a second crack at it when you are editing. Then you can crop away the parts of the image that do not contribute to your vision. Sometimes when you are shooting it's simply impossible to position the camera to get rid that unwanted branch on the top left or the highlight near the bottom edge. Or perhaps you discover a different version of the image, an image within an image, later when you are examining it on you computer or light-table. That's where cropping and editing come in. These processes allow you to ask the question, "What is the very best way of rendering this image?" You want it to be both true to the subject and true to your emotional response to it. You hope it will stimulate the viewer to appreciate your view and have a sense of your feeling about it.

So go ahead and capture your first impressions of a scene. Sometimes these end up being the best images. But don't give up there. Keep working it. Move around. Seek out different angles and notice how the light changes with each camera position. Change lenses and see how that affects your perspective. Ask questions like, "What do I feel right now?", "What might the surface of the petals feel like?", "How would a small insect see this scene?" Then try to answer those questions with an image. Be a child. Enjoy the discovery.

]]> (Minty Nature Photography) compose composing composition how to photography planning simplify technique Wed, 14 Jan 2009 11:13:00 GMT
The Photographer's Attitude

We have many tools to work with when we go out to make pictures. There is the light that gives colour and shape to everything we see. There's the gear we take with us: the camera, lenses, filters and multitude of lesser items. There's the knowledge and skill that we build up over the years. And there's our attitude - the inner feelings we carry around with us, that, like the light, will shape our ability to see. A positive attitude towards your craft sits lightly on your shoulders urging you along to discover and find the best way of seeing your subject. A negative attitude, perhaps arising from some other aspect of your life, or from your lack of confidence in what you are doing, will impair your sight and ability to capture strong images that are technically good and emotionally compelling.

So here are some ideas to help create a positive attitude towards your photography.

Be curious about the world around you. Ask yourself questions: How does that work? What is that bird doing? What might that dog do next? What is the relationship between that bug and the plant that it's on? Why is the light so appealing right now? What does that feel like? Each question pulls you deeper into the subject and the pictures you make will show it.

Be observant. It goes hand-in-hand with curiosity. Don't be satisfied with the first impressions of things. Dig deeper.  Stay with your subject for a while. Change positions and see how that affects your subject or your feelings about it. Take notice of things that normally may escape your view. Look at details as well as the whole.

Be enthusiastic about what you are doing, and life in general for that matter. Embrace them like dear, old friends. Show your passion, be it for motorcycles or moose, soccer or sailing. If you don't care about what you are shooting, how can anyone else? If you are enthusiastic about you shooting, it will show in your images.

Be there. Be truly present both in body and, more importantly, in spirit. If your mind is somewhere else - on a conversation that upset you, on what to make for supper, on tasks that you face tomorrow, on the bills that await your attention, even on the movie you saw last night, it will affect you photography. It might take some mental discipline, but cast aside these distractions and "focus" on where you are and what you are doing. Be truly mindful of the place that you find yourself in at any particular moment. No matter if it is your backyard, or the most exotic location you have ever been in, it is, at this time, in this light, in your state of mind, unique. Don't waste it.

Be patient and persistent. All those great shots you see in photo magazines are rarely the result of quick, cursory experiences. Most are the result of returning to a place again and again, of waiting for the light to be just right, of slogging up-hill for most of the day, of taking the time to know your subject, of not being satisfied with first impressions. Be patient not only with your subject, but with yourself as well. If you don't get it right the first, or even the tenth time, do it again. If it looks good shoot it. If something changes and it still looks good, shoot it again.

Be respectful – of culture, of place, of wildlife. If you are in a foreign place and amongst people of a culture different from yours, be aware that you are the one that should conform, not them. Learn a few simple words in the language. Smile and acknowledge the presence of others. Ask permission to take a picture with a simple gesture with the camera and a questioning look. Leave things where they are. Don't pick the flowers or break the stems of plants. Don't trample the ground cover unnecessarily. A small amount of harm might be inevitable but try to minimize it. With wildlife, try to minimize the disturbance you might cause. Don't move towards the animal until it inevitably flees. Stop as soon as it begins to look uncomfortable. Wild animals are usually doing things with purpose, whether it be resting, feeding or interacting with others of its kind. So it is important not to cause a behaviour change that to you might be minor, but for the animal could be critical.

These are the attitudes I try to bring to my shooting exercises. They work for me. I hope they do for you too.

]]> (Minty Nature Photography) compose composing composition how to photography reacting technique Mon, 25 Aug 2008 11:36:00 GMT