AUTHOR’S NOTE: I appreciate the fantastic response to this print. The limited edition is sold out. It is still available for commercial license.
It’s been almost two years since that special day when I captured Cranes in the Fire Mist
. My audience has grown significantly since then and/or turned over, so for those who occasionally ask me about the picture – here is a repost of the story of my image – Cranes in the Fire Mist
.Slightly more than 12 years ago
, I saw an image by my friend Arthur Morris. It contained a pond full of Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese and Ross’ Geese, backlit by a blazing, golden sun.
The image struck me to the point that I spent the last 12 years trying to re-create my own version of it.
In the image that I wanted to make, there would be one or two birds flying into the pond while the others waited to take off. It’s an almost impossible scenario because a number of factors have to converge in a perfect storm for it to work. Unfortunately, once I pre-visualize something, it’s hard for me to let go of it.
First, I knew it would probably have to be made at Bosque del Apache. This is one of the few places where that particular combination of birds occurs in large quantities.
Next, it would have to be made in the winter when both the birds, and the weather conditions would provide the chance for the visuals to work.
Next, you have to find a pond that the birds like, which offers a good view to the east so that the sunrise will backlight the pond.
The fourth step in this improbable scenario involves the fog and/or mist. This occurs when the ground temperature is cold, around freezing, and warm humid air collides – causing the temperature of the air to lower to the point that you get fog. In other words, if it’s too dry, too warm, or too cold, you don’t get mist.
Fifth hope that the birds show up at all.
Next on the list, you need a cloudless day. This is important because that produces a golden sunset. If there are lots of clouds, you’ll get different colors, which might be nice, but in my mind, I wanted a golden hue to be the basis for the image. So no clouds.
Then, you need the birds to wait for the sunrise before they take off. You never know when they’ll take off for the day. The two days previous to making this shot, the birds flew out before dawn – in the dark, so when the sun rose, there were no birds in the scene.
Next, I had to hope for a moment when one or two birds were isolated enough to fly into the pond before the rest of the flock took off. I thought this was important for balance. I knew this last bit would involve the most luck, but I really wanted it.
Lastly, you have to hope for a west or northwest wind. There is only a 25% chance of this happening on any given day.
So if you’re following along thus far, you should have the following requirements on your list.
1. Travel to New Mexico
2. Be there in the winter
3. Find the right pond – one that allows an eastern exposure
4. Hope for fog/mist
5. Make sure that you get the right mixture of birds
6. Hope for no clouds
7. The birds have to wait for the sunrise before they fly-out
8. Wait for birds to fly into the scene before the others leave
9. The winds have to come from the west or northwest
So here I found myself faced with the perfect conditions. For years I had been traveling to find this image, with no luck. This time would be different. The day had come.
As I drove to the refuge that morning, my heart started to beat a little quicker than usual. I saw the bald, blue sky that I had bemoaned the night before, since it kept me from making the sunset shot I wanted.
I looked at the thermometer on my truck and saw that the temperature was exactly 32 degrees – the freezing point.
I saw the golden glow of the sun starting to creep up over the far eastern mountain range.
I had my Nikon D3 already set up and ready to go, mounted with the Sigma 300-800 f/5.6 zoom lens. I had preset my ISO to 800 and my shooting mode to Aperture-priority. I wanted to make sure I was wide open to keep the background from becoming too prominent against the foreground birds.
Because fog and backlit subjects often confuse camera meters, I dialed in plus two stops of exposure compensation to allow a little more light into the shot.
I sat the Sigmonster on a Wimberley Head II, mounted atop a sturdy Gitzo tripod. I made double sure to tighten, and re-tighten the tripod legs to get a sturdy mount. I also made sure the KirkPhoto lens plate was securely affixed to the head. I didn’t want any accidents.
I extended the big zoom lens out to 800mm, took a deep breath, tried to steady myself, assumed the best shooting posture I could, and said a quick prayer to the photo-Gods, reminding them of all the time I put into getting this shot over the years, asking that this time, THIS time, all things could come together for that perfect moment.
I saw the sun coming up. The mist began to glow. For a moment I was fearful that the birds were about to blast off before the time was perfect. I knew I’d only have about a two-minute window to get the perfect shot.
I made a quick test exposure and checked my histogram. Fortunately, I had it right. The shot was at 1/4000th of a second.
As the sun came over the mountain I began to fire. Out of excitement, I was shooting a little too carelessly. Part of me was thinking “safety shot.” After 12 years I wanted to get SOMETHING! Then, I guess my experience and training took over. I started being more deliberate. But despite that fact, the next two minutes were a blur. I later realized that I made 43 exposures – in short bursts, at nine frames per second. The image I pre-visualized was very strong in my mind. I credit the success of the final shot to having such a strong idea of what I wanted to create.
It dawned on me that the perfect storm of circumstances was nearly upon me. Then the truly improbable happened. I spotted two lone Snow Geese just out of my field of vision on the right. They were headed straight for the pond. This was the perfect moment. As Bresson called it – “The Decisive Moment.”
I took a deep breath, lined up the angle of the geese on approach, guessed at their flight path, and let go with a nine-shot burst.That was it. The birds landed. The rest of the flock took off. The sun rose so high the color left the scene. The wind changed direction. The decisive moment had passed. There would be no second chance. And it didn’t matter, the buffer was full anyway. I breathlessly waited for the image to appear on the back of the camera. It seemed to take forever.
I almost yelled like a little kid when I saw it. You can’t really tell if something is sharp on the DSLR LCD but I knew it. I knew that I had it. I am not sure, but I think I let out a little “woot.” Some photographers standing a few yards looked in my direction.
I immediately left the field, took that flash card out of the camera, and safely put it into my card carrier.
The remainder of the morning I busied myself helping workshop participants make great images. But the hours that ensued were agonizing. I couldn’t wait until the lunch break so I could get back to the hotel room, offload the card, back it up and then check the image in Aperture.
When I first saw it full screen on the MacBook Pro I knew I had it. A few minutes of clean up, cropping and levels adjustment, aided by some slight tweaking of the existing color–gave me the prize.
I am grateful for the result, and hope that by talking about this experience here with everyone else, you’ll see that pre-visualization and patience can pay off. Regardless of whether or not you like my image, I hope you can see that never giving up can give YOU the chance you need to make YOUR dream photograph.
Thanks for indulging me and letting me share this personal experience with you.
P.S. I forgot to mention that for some strange, weird reason that I can’t articulate, I was hearing the score to Jurassic Park – (the closing credits) in my mind as I made the final shot. Imagine that!
This post sponsored by the Digital SLR Store
Copyright Scott Bourne 2005 - All Rights Reserved
To be a professional photographer, you have to be able to be inspired. Guts and toughing it out won’t be enough. You will continually need to be inspired. Where you draw your inspiration from is a personal choice. I decided to share some of the things that have inspired me over the years in the hope that you will find something on the list that inspires you.
1. Watch a movie
Yes this is one of those rare times when you are allowed to kick back! Watch a movie. Study it or just experience it. There’s always the chance something will catch your eye.
2. Read a book
Grab something light and funny or deep and thought provoking. But read. I like to suggest The Artist’s Way. If want to be inspired as an artist by reading, check out The Artist Way. It will do the trick.
3. Learn a new goofy hobby
Take your mind off the world and learn a new hobby. The extra space this creates in your brain could lead to big-time inspiration. Suggestions? Here’s a zany one. Learn how to use a Yo-Yo. Yeah it looks easy, but to do it well takes some luck, affinity and skill. Believe me, photography will seem easy after trying to master the Yo-Yo.
4. Study and ask why
Look at photographs from photographers who you admire. But instead of the usual “Oh that’s cool” reaction – strive to know why. Ask yourself “Why did they make this image? Why does it resonate with me? Why is that visually inspiring or arresting or important?” WHY is one of the most important inspirational tools out there. People will do crazy things if the WHY is good enough.
5. Watch trash television
Okay I admit this one is on the edge, but it works for me. One of the things that stops many of us from being inspired is being down or depressed. All you have to do is watch 10 minutes of Jerry Springer or some similar show to realize how good you have it. I guarantee you that you’ll feel better about your life afterwards and if you go out with your camera right away, you’ll see a smile in your photos.
These are just a few of the ways I inspire myself. Try them and see if they help you.
This post sponsored by the Digital SLR Store
Copyright Tamara Lackey
Guest Post by @TamaraLackey
A tried and true tip on how to gain inspiration in your work is to look around at imagery that inspires you and think about why.
In my experience, though, I actually find that doing the opposite actually helps me to better crystallize what, exactly, I am drawn to, simply by better honing in on what is not of interest to me.
Here’s a great exercise: look around at images you see every day – magazines, movie posters, imagery on websites. What are you *not* drawn to? What leaves you feeling flat, bored, uninterested? Why do you flip the page rather quickly with this image but linger on that image for a good, long while? Keep in mind that we’re considering images that do very little for you, which is not the same as images to which you respond negatively.
Isolate a few of those average, uninteresting images, the ones you normally race past, and see if you can’t find a common theme.
Maybe it’s flat lighting, or overly harsh lighting. Maybe it’s because the subject is wearing the same copycat expression you see everywhere, and you’re subconsciously feeling tired of it. You may have liked it at one time, but it’s just been overdone (like hearing a favorite song on the radio; yes, it’s catchy, but by the 40th time it loops through that week, you find yourself groaning audibly).
There could be a variety of reasons you don’t respond to an image, but try to narrow it down. Perhaps it’s an intangible uncomfortability you sense in the subject, or an awkwardness in the pose … whatever it is, do your best to put a name to it. Then, armed with that name, work hard to avoid it in your own photography.
So, if unease is the culprit, and you feel a lazy shot coming up where the subject looks even slightly uncomfortable … even if you’re nearly finished with the shoot, consciously stop the pattern. Resist the complacency of clicking the shutter. Make an intention to either more directly interact with your subject, or to step back from them even more – whatever it takes to make them feel more at ease. And only take the shot when you sense that you have truly succeeded.
This exercise might take a little extra effort at first but, after a while, it will just become one more tool in your arsenal, another defining element of your increasingly particular style.
Push yourself to eliminate the uninspired from your work – and watch your passion for your own photography soar.
This post sponsored by Ray Flash – Ring Flash Adapter
Copyright Scott Bourne 2007 - All Rights Reserved
When you hit the wall, and you’re finding yourself bored with photography, it’s often not because you’re really tired of photography. It’s because you’re really tired of YOUR PHOTOGRAPHS. There are some things you can do to change this.
1. Recognize that photographs which lack a message, or theme or story will often be boring. Stop taking snapshots and start MAKING photographs by thinking about the story you want to tell with your camera. Pretend words don’t exist. Only images. What images can you make that will let you and others who see your work realize that there is a story in everything.
2. Make a pledge. Pledge to devote more time to SEEING. Spend time honing your vision. Look at lots of photographs. Look at lots of photographically attractive places or subjects. SEE what’s in front of you. Then pledge further to approach those subjects with passion. Pledge to stop taking empty photographs. Pledge to start seeing the beauty around you and capturing it in a meaningful and moving way.
3. Change your perspective. Change your camera’s perspective. Take on the perspective of a stranger. Use simple techniques like shooting every subject with your shortest and then your longest lens. Shoot every subject wide open and stopped down. Shoot every subject with a slow and a fast shutter speed. Shoot every subject from both a high and a low angle. Shoot every subject horizontally and vertically. While these are just tools and technique. when inspiration is lacking, technique can help fill the void. Maybe switching lenses or angles or shutter speeds, will deliver something new and fresh for you that sparks your imagination and restarts your creativity engine.
Bonus tip – get off the couch and keep shooting whether or not you “feel” like it. Push through the wall – there’s plenty of cool stuff on the other side!
This post sponsored by the Digital SLR Store
Copyright Scott Bourne 2003 - All Rights Reserved
You’ve heard it before – “Life is short.” Too short for some. Tomorrow is promised to no person. We all owe a death. But it’s not the death we live for, it’s the life in between. When you’re in your 20s, you think you’re untouchable – you’ll live forever. When you’re in your 30s, you live as if you still have most of your life ahead of you. When you’re in your 40s, you start to realize that you have less time than you thought to accomplish your dreams. When you’re in your 50s, your friends start to pass with alarming frequency. You no longer suspect – you know your time is limited. I can’t tell you what happens to folks in their 60s, and beyond. You see I haven’t made it that far yet – and have no idea whether or not I will.
What I do have is today – right now – this moment. And I’ve learned that living IN THE MOMENT or FOR THE AMAZING MOMENT can be very rewarding. But getting to this place was a process. It didn’t happen overnight. And the WAY I got here is the reason I’m writing this post. You see, it was in large part my photography that taught me to live for amazing moments.
Henri-Cartier Bresson is closely aligned with the phrase “The Decisive Moment.” And this tracks with my life philosophy of living for AMAZING moments. Another Bresson quote really drove this home for me. He said, “There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative,” he said. “Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.” Isn’t this much like life itself?
We’re offered thousands of moments each day. What we do with them…How we react to them…Our opinion of them. These things all influence the quality of our life, wether or not we acknowledge them.
When I look at my favorite photographs (both mine and yours) I see lots of special and amazing moments. In my own work, I am rewarded not only with the visual reminder, but an emotional reminder since every photo I make is also part of my life’s experience. I’ve been very, very fortunate to go places and see things most never see. Some of these moments were truly amazing. Like walking into the Lower Antelope Corkscrew Canyon for the first time, or cresting a ridge near Paradise on Mt. Rainier for my first full look at the mountain in all its glory. Or the time when I stood a few yards from the big, Coastal Brown Bear in Kennack Bay or shot my first nude study outdoors in the dessert with a beautiful woman posing freely.
These are just a few of the amazing moments I’ve enjoyed.
So what makes a moment amazing? That depends. Sometimes moments borne out of tragedy or simple mistakes are amazing because of what you learn from them. Sometimes the chance to simply CREATE is amazing. So many of us walk through life going from task-to-task as if that is our only choice, until our time runs out. Being able to recognize our inner need to make a difference, to matter, to make something that lasts, to contribute – that is amazing.
Then there is the simple realization that not all amazing moments come when there is a camera in hand, or at least the camera doesn’t matter. It might seem strange to read this paragraph on a photography site, but I don’t think you can separate your photo life from your real life. They fuel each other. It’s impossible to be the best photographer you can be without pouring the real YOU into each image. So it follows that the real YOU is something you should develop as fervently as you study your craft of photography. On occasion, I have been somewhere, or seen something, that was simply so beautiful and yes, amazing, that I didn’t make a photograph. I got caught up in the moment, and merely forgot to press the shutter or just lost interest in making a picture. I decide to LIVE that moment instead of photograph it.
My first trip to Bosque del Apache was just such a moment. I went there to photograph what we call the “blast off.” This is the moment when the tens of thousands of geese take off and make their way north each morning looking for food. They take off all at once. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, and the wind’s right and the conditions warrant it, they take off against a brilliant sunrise. On my first trip there, I’d been briefed on what to expect. But nothing I read or heard about the experience was able to really prepare me for its amazingness! The birds took off and like a statue, I stood there in awe. It was amazing in every way. I merely forgot to press the shutter. And guess what – that’s okay if it happens to you too-really. Nobody has to know unless you’re a fool like me, and you pour your heart out to thousands of people every day on a photography web site!
I’ve often said that being creative has little to do with finding something new and much more to do with simply being you. The bare, naked soul within you is your number one source for photographic inspiration. That’s where the desire to tell amazing stories about amazing moments comes from.
If we live and photograph with purpose…If we make images because they matter – at least to us…If we participate in the amazing moments instead of just letting them pass us by, then we are not only better photographers, we’re better humans. Oh, and we’re likely to find more amazing moments as a reward.
I am spending what time I have left on this planet in hot pursuit of amazing moments. Both those I can photograph and those I that I can simply be a part of, no matter how small. I want to take big bites out of life. There’s probably not as much left for me as there is for most of you. I’m not wasting any of my time and hope you aren’t either.
My camera and my ability to make images with it have taken me lots of amazing places. I’m not settling for less any more. If it’s not amazing, I’m moving on to where amazing is hanging out. We all deserve a chance to live for amazing moments, no matter how many we have left. I hope this post (long as it may be) has somehow inspired you to go find yours.
This post sponsored by the Digital SLR Store
Copyright Scott Bourne 2010 - All Rights Reserved
As I made my way from Gig Harbor to Las Vegas for the WPPI convention, I was reminded of how important photography is in our world. The highway is lined with billboards containing photos. People drive by with pictures on their car or in their windows. When I stopped for food and gas breaks the restaurants and gas stations were full of images.
All of these photographs, good and bad, can serve up inspiration for photographers. The most routines places and experiences in our lives can motivate our photography. Where else can we find inspiration?
1 - Movies
I don’t have much time to go to the movies these days, but when I do go, I go for two reasons. The first is to hope for entertainment. The second is to look for imagery. If you study the work cinematographers like John Alton or Charles Bryant Lang, Jr., you can’t help but be inspired. Cinematographers have to struggle with the same issues we do as photographers. Look at how they tell stories with motion picture cameras and learn from their expertise.
2 – Old Family Photos
I love looking at old family photos. I don’t even care if they’re from my family. ANYONE’S old family photos can be a source of inspiration. What backgrounds caught my eye? How did the pose from the old days compare with one I might find now? What patterns moved me? Old family photos can be a gold mine of information and inspiration for modern-day photographers.
3 – Museums
Whether or not your local museum displays photography, there’s plenty of visual stimulation at the average exhibit. Movement, shape, color, form, lighting, etc. are important to many art forms. Look at how other artists use these tools to create their art and apply it to your photography.
Now this might sound weird, but I often find myself visually inspired by auditory input. When I listen to certain types of music, I start to create visual imagery in my head that goes with the music. That seems to get cataloged somewhere in my tiny brain and just when I least expect it, instead of being able to remember my Safeway Customer Loyalty Card Number, I hear the melody and see a corresponding image that causes me to want to make a photograph.
5. Go For A Walk
When I was in Florida last month, I regularly went for a walk along the beach. I often came upon patterns, reflections, and other things that would cause me to think about photography. Maybe the information I took away from walking down the beach didn’t directly and immediately translate to a photo opportunity, but it often stimulated me to take action on a photographic idea later.
6. Read the Sunday Paper
If you have access to a major Sunday Newspaper – spend 15 minutes looking at the images. Don’t read any stories, just look at pictures. Most Sunday newspapers have a Sunday magazine or a features section that will be full of the best work from talented photojournalists who are master storytellers. I find this sort of imagery very instructive and inspiring. It helps me to see in new ways.
7. Get a New Lens
Okay, I had to throw in something for the gear junkies. (I can see it now, hundreds of photographers furiously printing this post out on their inkjet printers to show to their spouse or significant other to use as an excuse to make a trip to the local camera store!) Sometimes literally looking through a new lens can cause you to be visually inspired. I’ll never forget the first time I looked through a fisheye or a tilt-shift lens. It had a big impact on me and caused me to want to spend more time trying new things with my camera.
8. Buy a Child a Disposable Camera
This is one of my favorites. Kids aren’t afraid to try new things. Heck, to them, everything IS new. They haven’t learned to be self-conscious or doubting yet so they just go for it. Kids don’t care if the picture “comes out” as much as they care about the experience. If you hand a kid a disposable camera and say, “Let’s go shooting together,” be prepared for your inspiration meter to peg hard to the right. Kids see things differently (and sometimes more clearly) than we do as adults. Follow their lead and you will be inspired.
9. Photograph for Charity
If you are bored with your photography, one of the quickest ways to get a pick-me-up is to stop thinking about yourself, and start thinking about helping somebody else. Years ago I started a project taking inner-city youth out on a monthly photo walk. I don’t think the term “photo walk” had even been invented yet. We’d go photograph around town and a local lab would develop contact prints for each child. We’d have a little contest and give EVERY kid a $50 grocery gift certificate so they could be assured of food on the weekend. Talk about inspiration. Watching and working with these kids gave me so many ideas that years later, I still thrive by them.
10. Ignore the Critics
One thing that will kill your creativity faster than anything else is the critic. Ignore negative people. They exist for one reason – to steal your inspiration. Look at them and treat them like thieves. Stay away from them. Exclude them from your life. The trolls can’t do what you can do so they have no choice but to try to make themselves feel better by cutting you down. Don’t fall for it. The most inspirational thing you can do is surround yourself with people who support your photographic efforts. Find people who are rooting for you to win – not people who are hoping (and helping) you find find failure.
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