Your Photos Don’t Need A Critique

Photo critiques are often requested by new photographers who are just starting off. Usually the point is to try and figure out ways they can improve their photography. It's a broken way of learning and IMHO, it should be avoided.

Photography is a visual representation of your creativity. That's it; nothing more, nothing less. As soon as you stop taking photos you want and start listening to what your critics say you should do, your work ceases to be a reflection of your creativity. It is at that point when your craft evolves into being a representation of someone else's creativity, not your own.

The important thing to remember here is, everyone's a critic and the internet is full of them. If you're not shooting for yourself first and foremost, then why are you picking up a camera to begin with? You are your own best critic. Only you can look at your work and decide if you've accurately captured a representation of your creative vision or not. There will be an audience waiting for you regardless of your skill level and there will be a critic waiting to criticize you just the same. The sooner you are able to accept that, the sooner you can get back to improving your craft.

Learn to grow from within and follow your own intuition. Don't allow other people's boundaries and perception to mold what you should and shouldn't do. The more you shoot the more you will grow. The more your creativity will evolve. Most importantly, read. A lot. Learn everything you can about how to use your camera, about compositional techniques, and about light. Knowledge is power. The more you know and understand, the more your photos will improve over time. Knowing your camera inside and out will help you understand how to use your camera as a tool for crafting your creative style.

Look at other people's work every day. Be inspired and discover new creative avenues. Know what you want to achieve, and ask for help to accomplish it. Share your work with the world. Let your vision be seen and experienced by others. Allow others to help you without dictating how you should or should not be doing it.

Know that not everyone will like your work but have the courage and drive to keep going, to keep trying, to keep creating, to keep growing, and to keep pushing yourself beyond what you'd conceive is possible to achieve.

Don't ask others what you should do different. It's your work, not theirs. They weren't in the moment. They didn't experience it. They weren't sparked by the same creative vision that ignited you and resulted in you picking up your camera.

The industry is full of so-called know it all's, industry experts, gate keepers if you will, people who would love to tell you they are the authority on photographic art, as if there are rules and boundaries to what can be considered creative art. As if creativity can be wrapped around a mold and bound to a set of rules and standards.

As cliche as it sounds, success in creativity is what you make of it. It's in your perception, not in the quantity of likes and comments you receive or the ribbons and accolades these so-called experts claim to hold the key to. Creativity doesnt need to be critiqued because its a form of expression that is unique to each living individual on this planet. Creativity is not taught but is discovered. It is learned through your own exploration and persistence to grow and evolve your craft as a creative artist.

Taking Chances

Ocean Fragments | Newport Beach, Ca

Ocean Fragments | Newport Beach, Ca

Everything that occurs in our lives can be summed up by the choices we make and the chance that our choices will bring an outcome we desire.  Some chances we take are more predictable than others. We go to college with the expectation that we will graduate, find a job, and then get paid. Others take chances with less predictable outcomes.  Some may perhaps skip college altogether or start their own business with the hope they'll arrive at the same outcome.

The chances we are willing to take are ultimately dictated by how much risk we are willing to accept. Balancing risk with opportunity is something I'm constantly managing, in both my personal and professional life.  Opportunities almost always come at the cost of another. Pursuing opportunities to develop my hobbies is a constant balancing act to ensure I don't sacrifice other important aspects of my life.

In the general sense,  it can be difficult at times to determine which chances we should take when opportunities are presented to us. If we take one path and not another, will we regret it in the end?  Will we ever know what could have been if we would have taken the path we chose not to take? Sometimes the path we embark on is a series of random events that we could never have foreseen at the beginning of our journey. One opportunity leads to another and before we know it we are somewhere completely different from where we originally intended.

When I bought my first camera, I never imagined it would lead me to the journey I've been on in my travels throughout the world. When I headed out to Newport Beach on this boring and drab evening, I was faced with two opportunities. I had to decide between shooting photos at the beach and staying home to edit photos.  Knowing the weather wouldn't be interesting, I took a chance and went to the beach anyways. This path opened my eyes to something completely new, abstract seascape photography.

When I arrived at my spot, I realized the weather was too boring to shoot wide like I usually do. I had no other choice but to try and focus in on the details instead. I was out of my photographic comfort zone for the first time in awhile. I was shooting seascape photos at the beach, not with my trusty Canon 16-35, but with my 70-200 telephoto lens instead. It felt completely foreign to be using such a long lens at the beach. At first I didn't know what to do. I could either pack up and go home or force myself to change my perspective. I was so upset by the poor conditions for shooting photos but I was determined to make something of the evening. It's difficult to explain exactly what happened but basically I just started experimenting with different compositions, focal lengths, and shutter speeds, and then fell into a groove. I started really digging my results with certain shutter speed and focal length combinations. When you have a firm understanding of the exposure triangle and the settings on your camera, your photographic possibilities are endless. Even though Southern California is still in a dry spell for interesting weather, I'm finding myself very eager to return to the beach to expand on this recent discovery.

Technical Details
Focal Length: 159mm
Shutter Speed: 1/1000 second
Aperture: F/11
ISO: 800
Comments: Shooting with a telephoto lens allowed me to zoom in on the water droplets from a distance without having to worry about getting washed up by the tide. The high ISO of 800 allowed me to increase my shutter speed to 1/1000 of a second without under exposing the photo. I could have opened up my aperture to F/4 instead of bumping the ISO to 800, but doing so with a long telephoto lens would have required me to sacrifice my large depth of field. I wanted all of the water droplets to be in focus as much as possible, so a smaller aperture was in store for this shot.

Tranquil Nights

Tranquil | Joshua Tree, California

Tranquil | Joshua Tree, California

I arrived at an undisclosed location in Joshua Tree at what felt like the corner of No Where Street and I'm Lost Avenue. After shutting everything off, I stepped outside, closed the door, and all the clutter disappeared. Feelings of tranquility hit me as I suddenly realized the noise had been subdued. Beautiful sounds of silence began to displace the distractions. I drew another breath in and watched the moisture from my lungs fill the air around me. The Florescent Gods were no longer towering above me and it was such a liberating feeling. There was no more pressure from seemingly important tasks that were more trivial than I tend to realize. It was as if there was a big reset button on the top of the head and someone pressed it. I really started to wonder how we can work ourselves tirelessly to support such lavish lifestyles and at the end of the day, expect to have enough energy to really enjoy it all. It's as if we preoccupy ourselves with material possessions to impress others and even our own self, and then flock to social media to brag about how well off we are. Meanwhile I'm standing out in the middle of nowhere, watching the sky transform before me, and things couldn't be more perfect.

How To Predict a Colorful Sunset

Inspiration Point | Corona Del Mar, California

Inspiration Point | Corona Del Mar, California

I've been trying a free demo for a new service called Skyfire. It was recently added as a subscription service within the Photographer's Ephemeris app on iOS devices. Unfortunately, it hasn't been made available yet on the TPE app for Android devices, so I'm stuck having to use this service on my iPad. The idea is, your standard weather report can tell you basic information about how weather conditions will be but it doesn't predict how colorful the sunrise and sunset will be. That's where services such as Skyfire step in to fill that gap.

Before Skyfire, I would check the weather report for cloudy conditions and then head out to shoot photos with the hopes that the weather conditions would provide a beautiful sunset. As every landscape photographer knows and has experienced, a cloudy weather forecast is no guarantee for optimal conditions. A cloudy forecast could mean anything from being completely grey and overcast, to being clear skies with an occasional cloud. The only way to know for sure how conditions are is to take a leap of faith and drive to your destination, all while hoping for the best conditions along the way. Skyfire helps to alleviate the frustration of showing up to your destination only to find out that weather conditions will make for a very dull sunset.

How it works is, you search on the map within the TPE app for your destination and then tap sunrise or sunset. The TPE app will overlay color shading on the map surrounding your plot point. The color shading indicates how colorful the sunrise or sunset will likely be, relative to the plot point where you plan on shooting photos from. Red shading indicates a 90% or greater chance of there being a colorful sunset, yellow is a 75% chance, turquoise is 50% a chance, white is overcast, and clear indicates a clear sky with no clouds.

The concept is fantastic but it's not without its flaws. There's also a fairly big learning curve to be able to use it effectively. Sadly with all weather prediction services, you have to take it with a healthy sized grain of salt. In my experience using it, the forecast was accurate to a degree. The accuracy was limited to the exact area in the sky where the sun was setting, which is also what the TPE app helps you find, and is also the direction you will likely be photographing in if you're shooting landscape photos. There are some obvious exceptions to this. Often times you can turn your back to the sunset and experience even more beauty in the sky. However, if the sky is overcast, all hope is usually lost for experiencing a colorful sunset in any direction. This is the part that gets confusing because when I searched for Laguna Beach, the app shaded the entire region with yellow to indicate a 75% chance of a colorful sunset. In reality, I arrived in Laguna Beach to discover that the entire area was blanketed in dark grey clouds except for a small break where the sun was setting. This area in the sky was also being hidden by all the cliffs. I'm not entirely sure how Skyfire makes it's predictions but based on my experience, I suspect it takes into account what the local weather report predicts. On this particular date and time, the weather report was saying partly cloudy skies, which makes sense why Skyfire indicated a 75% chance for a colorful sunset. Case in point, Skyfire will only be as reliable as your local weather forecast.

Feeling frustrated, I got back in my car and headed North up Pacific Coast Highway to look for an unobstructed view of the sunset. By the time I got to Corona Del Mar I realized I had to stop driving and find a spot. The sun was setting quickly and I was almost out of time. I knew if I didn't stop right then, I would miss the opportunity to shoot photos completely.

I parked my car anyways a little further north than I usually do at Corona Del Mar and ran out to the railing against the edge of the cliff. Despite Skyfire telling me Corona Del Mar would have a colorful sunset, it too was blanketed in clouds. I couldn't believe it. I felt completely let down. I stood there against the railing and veered north while contemplating what to do. A small break in the clouds was began to form and the sunset started to look spectacular, just as Skyfire promised it would be. What I also discovered completely blew me away. There was a small look out point called Inspiration Point mid way down the cliff and a trail leading there. I couldn't believe how I had never discovered this before. I've been to Corona Del Mar more times than I can count and I never knew it was there. It was the absolute most perfect look out point overlooking Corona Del Mar and it was positioned right where the sun was setting. I ran down the trail to the look out point and stood there in pure bliss as the sun peaked itself through the clouds to light up the entire sky and the beach around me.

Somber Sky

Laguna Beach, CA

Laguna Beach, CA

I don't always find myself with an abundance of time in recent days. With work and family taking a priority in addition to hobby time being split between a classic Mustang and photography, evenings at the beach are a refreshing break from everyday life. What has made things more difficult is that I've been feeling a bit uninspired and discouraged lately. I knew I had to get out and shoot again though to get out of this funk. I didn't know where to go, nor did I even know what I wanted to photograph. I just knew I had to get myself out there and that I could count on Crescent Bay as a source of inspiration in a time of need. I've been visiting this spot for years, it is one of my many happy places. I know I've said this before but it's truly one of two places I can always go back to and never get sick of photographing.

Making the decision to get out of the house and do this, I got in my car feeling hopeful. I threw back the sun roof, put on my favorite Social Distortion playlist, and just started to drive. The feeling was quite liberating. The weather report promised me cloudy skies for what I imaged would be a vibrant sunset to spark some excitement within me. As soon as I hit highway 133 and saw the heavy marine layer, I knew conditions were not going to be what I had expected. When I arrived, I spent a few minutes wandering up and down the beach, wondering what to do, and contemplating the disappointment that was overwhelming me. June gloom was living up to its typical reputation but I still felt great just digging my toes into the sand, smelling the salty ocean air, listening to the waves crashing, and feeling the ocean mist. I dug my camera out of my bag for the first time in what felt like ages, attached my 16-35mm lens to the camera body, and enjoyed the beauty that was surrounding me.

Jumping Cholla

Joshua Tree, California

Joshua Tree, California

The experience of visiting Joshua Tree can be compared to the likes traveling several decades into the past. You'll want to put your smart phone away and any other internet connected device or Bluetooth device you rely on every day. You won't be needing any of that stuff. Where you'll be going, there is no internet or 4g. Heck there isn't even 1g or 1xRTT. When the park ranger asks if you need a map upon entry into the park, you best be saying yes because that's about all you're going to have to go off of, unless you were smart enough to come equipped with a hand held GPS. I almost forgot to mention, a ham radio will be your only ticket to the outside world for the duration of your stay. Oh come on, it's not that bad. Remember the days when your car broke down how you'd have to walk miles to find a pay phone to get help? Well if you're a millennial you've never had to do this, but the rest of us all had to go through this at some point in our lives before cell phones existed.

The Cholla Cactus Garden is a popular spot deep within Joshua Tree. The only sign of civilization near by is the road that gets you there and the small parking lot at the trailhead. The Cholla Cactus earned it's nickname as the Jumping Cholla due to how easily the needles detach if you rub up against one. It's as if they jumped out at you. I can certainly attest to this considering I still have part of a needle embedded in my thumb. I have accepted that this needle is now a permanent addition to my thumb. I could have stayed on trail like the signs suggested, but venturing off through a maze of jumping cholla ment capturing a much more interesting composition. I'd say its a small price to pay for a cool shot. It was all worth it in the end.

Every Day Is A Great Day To Shoot Photos

Swells | Corona Del Mar, California

Swells | Corona Del Mar, California

Being a landscape photographer in Southern California has been a bit of a challenge for me. I'm constantly battling crummy weather and not a whole lot of scenic landscapes that are easily accessible. Not to mention the fact that we're enclosed by several mountain ranges that keep tons of smog trapped over our cities.

As any landscape photographer can vouch for, we always go out hoping for cloudy skies and perfect sunsets, but it rarely works out that way. The evening I shot this, I left the house not even being able to see Mt. Baldy, due to all the smog. To give you a bit more perspective on this, Mt. Baldy is less than an hour drive from my house. By the time I got to the beach, the sky was so hazy that you couldn't even make out the sun. It was as if the sun was hiding behind a curtain of fog, except it was smog.

It has become a challenge of mine to continue shooting through all the dull and uninspiring days, like on the evening I shot this photo, and to break free from my dependence on perfect sunsets to be able to shoot great photos. I read once that a great photographer can shoot great photos regardless of the conditions they are shooting in, and that is what I strive to achieve every time I go out shooting.

Downtown Portland

Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon

My wife and I recently paid a visit to Portland Oregon for our wedding anniversary. If you have a weekend to kill, this city is the place to see. We love visiting new places and when we found out Portland is essentially known as Beervana, we got really excited. I'm not by any means what you'd consider a beer snob, but I do enjoy craft beers. My beer vocabulary doesn't typically include stuff like Coors or Michelob. When I found out my favorite brewery, Rogue, had a public ale house in the Pearl District not too far from my hotel, I was through the roof.

If you like pub crawling, a weekend in Portland is perfect. All within walking distance from each other is Rogue, 10 Barrel Brewing, Brew Cycle, Bridgeport, and several others. My favorite, unsurprisingly, was Rogue. They had an amazing selection of limited release beers, including an interesting concoction only available at the Flanders Street location called the Haze-O-Lantern. I was about to order my favorite Hazelnut Brown when the server told us about this new specialty brew, a mix of their Hazelnut Brown, Chocolate stout, and Pumpkin Patch ales. I skeptically and reluctantly deviated from what I really wanted, and gave this unfamiliar brew a try. I've never tasted anything like it before, it was pure happiness, a combination of three of my favorite types of beers in one pint. I wanted this in a case to go but sadly it was a concoction they had to mix right there on the spot. It was proof that good beer isn't required to have the three letter acronym IPA. Dear Rogue, if you want to do something completely awesome, package the Haze-O-Lantern in bottles and ship it out across the nation.

The rest of Portland was a lot of fun too. It's a unique little city with lots of character. Running into the large homeless population right by the Hawthorne bridge, where I shot this photo, was anything but exciting, but the view is great. All the locals jogging along the Eastbank Esplanade didn't seem the be phased by the homeless either.

If you have about an hour to kill, wait in line at Voodoo Doughnuts. One of the highlights of this trip was ordering a half dozen box of these crazy not-so-little diabetes inducing globs of goodness for my wife and I to share. I barely made it through one full donut, and then out of obligation and guilt, I forced myself to try the others. It's not that I didn't like them, oh no, just the opposite. I had consumed so much sugar that I started getting sick. I felt like I needed to get up and run a 10k. Seriously though, you've never tried donuts until you've tried these. They're pretty darn awesome.

Overcoming Setbacks

Laguna Beach, CA

The Last Stand | Laguna Beach, CA

Setbacks happen all the time. They're simply an inevitable fact of life. It's our response to these setbacks that pave our way for future success or failure. The truth is, each and every one of us could sit around and victimize ourselves about how some force beyond our control screwed us over and left us in a state of despair. We justify in our minds over again how we are not the ones at fault, as if some unfortunate tragedy was suddenly inflicted upon us against our will. What we seem to forget most though, is that actions have consequences, and consequences present with them new opportunities, if we choose to see them.

Falling Off The Figurative Horse
A couple of months ago I was shooting photos at Bluebird Canyon in downtown Laguna Beach. It was high tide and I made the mistake of leaving my camera bag on the ground behind me a ways back. The exact wave you see pictured above hit the shore and washed out my camera bag. It destroyed my Zeiss 21mm and Canon 16-35mm f4 lenses. It also claimed my phone, wallet, and car keys. Panic set in the second I realized what had happened. I spent an entire evening at a nearby hotel waiting to be rescued, with my water soaked gear in hand. As the dust started to settle, I began feeling hopeless. I spent years saving up for my Zeiss lens and had just purchased my 16-35mm lens not even two weeks prior. The salt water rendered my lenses completely useless. The financial significance of this loss left me screwed. I was contemplating selling off my remaining gear and walking away from photography. I couldn't understand how this had happened to me.

The Reality of the Situaton
With the support of my amazing wife and family, I was able to pull myself together. I realized I had to accept the reality of the situation. I could choose to be strong or give up and move on. I had to accept that I was responsible for the outcome of the situation and that I was responsible for overcoming the loss. I made a grave mistake that evening by leaving my camera gear unattended. I made another mistake by investing a significant amount of money in camera gear without protecting it with an insurance policy. As soon as I accepted responsibility and stopped being the victim, I was able to see the opportunities this situation had presented. I realized that all hope was not lost despite the difficulties I needed to face in my journey back to the top.

Setbacks will always be difficult to overcome. It's the reason we call it a setback. The most successful people did not become that way while while walking down a clear path. Thomas Edison, my childhood inspiration, once said "Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time."

Moving Forward
It is true that we are only human, no body is perfect. Setbacks will always happen. That's ok though, it's a part of our learning process. They help us to grow stronger, smarter, and more determined. Life is a journey with many ups and just as many downs. To think we have control over everything that happens to us is nothing more than an illusion. My father once taught me three very important words from his years of experience in the military. Improvise, Assess, Overcome. Do not be so rigid in your plans that you cannot spontaneously adapt to the changing circumstances you encounter.

Capturing Wide Angle Perspectives with a Telephoto Lens

St Anne's Beach | Laguna Beach, CA

St Anne's Beach | Laguna Beach, CA

I love wide angle photography. My go to lens is my Zeiss 21mm Distagon T*. I recently purchased the new Canon 16-35mm f4 lens and fell in love with wide angle photography all over again. I don't like getting too complacent with my methods though. I'm constantly pushing myself outside of my comfort zone into situations where I'm forced to learn and grow. I captured this wide angle perspective of St. Anne's Beach with a 70-200mm telephoto lens. It's a concept I never really gave much thought to until that evening at St. Anne's Beach. I was feeling uninspired by everything. The sunset didn't appear to be that spectacular at first, the shoreline wasn't rocky or interesting, the surrounding cliffs that define Laguna's coast were seemingly far away from the perspective of a wide angle lens. Rather than pack my bags and head home, which was very tempting, I figured what the heck do I have to gain by calling it quits for the night. I started experimenting with the different lenses in my bag and compositions they could bring to the table. I needed to figure out a way to create a more impactful shot from an otherwise dull experience.

The difficulty I found myself trying to overcome was that I was shooting with my new Canon 16-35mm f/4 lens for the first time and I really wanted to bring home something amazing to show for it. I was very impressed with the performance of this new lens but I just wasn't feeling a sense of satisfaction with the composition that I was capturing with my wide angle lenses that night. It was a problem that even my Zeiss 21mm lens couldn't have resolved. I was capturing a wide sweeping perspective with tons of detail, but there was too much and it was all too small.

Wide angle lenses are known for being able to capture a lot of detail in a single frame. You can stand very close to the subject area of what you're photographing and bring in a lot of detail. There comes a point though where the details become too small to take notice because the lens is zoomed out too far. If you were to stand much further back and capture the same subject with a telephoto lens, the longer lens would have a way of magnifying the subject while still capturing a wide perspective. This is due to your physical position from the subject area being further back.

Moving your physical location to zoom in and out is a concept that prime lens shooters are all too familiar with. Zoom lenses are typically purchased by those who don't want to have to move their physical location to zoom in and out.

When I captured this photograph I started off with my 16-35mm lens. While looking at the results, I noticed that the hills and surrounding landscape were all too small to be able to make any significant impact in the photograph. Wide angles lenses simply do not magnify the subject in the way telephoto lenses do. To experiment with this concept, I walked to the far end of the beach, away from everything. I then swapped over to my 70-200 lens and captured the same scene. The hill and surrounding landcape in this photograph resulted in a much more impactful presence. You get a much better idea here of just how large the hills are in Laguna when standing on the beach. Now, scatter houses all over those hills and you have one heck of a view that people pay a fortune for. Some day, maybe!

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