Monday, August 14, 2017

The Four Levels of Learning by Rick Sammon

The Four Levels of Learning
Rick Sammon

In looking at the opening photograph for this post, which I took while teaching a photo workshop in Provence, France, you may say something like, “Rick is a pretty good horse photographer. It’s cool that he got a shot of those horses, along with their reflections, running through a pond at sunrise.”

Well to be honest, I took the photograph in a very well set-up situation, and that image is a processed version of the third image below.

In looking at that image, as well as the work of any professional photographer, it’s important to remember this: most pros show only their best work. Believe me, I have tons of outtakes, not only from my Provence shoot, but from many shoots.

So it’s important to remember that when you look at an image, you usually don’t know all the effort that went on behind the scenes to make it – and how much that image was processed. Processing is a very important part of digital photography, for some, like me, it’s equally as important, or even more important, as image capture. That is not new news. Ansel Adams, perhaps the most famous landscape photographer of all time, spent much more time in the wet darkroom working on a photograph than he did taking one. Yousuf Karsh, perhaps one of the most famous black-and-white portrait photographers, also spent more time working on a print in the wet-darkroom that he did photographing his famous subjects.

The idea here is that it’s not always a good idea to compare your work to the work of others. It can be discouraging if you are not getting the kind of images you see in books, magazines and on the web.

It’s also important to remember that all pros were amateurs at one time, and that they followed a path – sometimes referred to as the four levels of learning – to becoming a pro.

I first learned of that path from one of my photo workshop students, who learned of the concept from Gordon Training International, an organization that published a paper called, The Four Levels of Competence.

Here is that learning path, one that I followed (not only with my photography, but with my music). Follow this path and you will see that you are not alone in “your quest to be your best” as I call it . . . in everything you do. 
1.  Unconscious Incompetence. We don’t know we are not good.

When we first get into digital photography, we take some shots, look at them on the camera’s LCD panel, and say something like, “Hey, that’s cool. I did that!”

One reasons is that the image-capture process is fun. It also provides instant gratification. Another reason is that everything looks good on the small screen.

Another reason is that, at this level of learning, just don’t know what makes a “good” photograph: exposure, lighting, composition, subject and, of course, the mood and feeling of the image.

Although this photographed captured a wonderful moment in Provence, it’s nothing more than a snapshot: the horizon line is titled, there no separation among the horses, there is too much dead space in the frame, and the picture lacks impact.

2.  Conscious Incompetence. We know we need help.

The second level of learning can creep up on us, or hit us like a ton of bricks. Either way, realizing that we need help and have potential is the first step in becoming a good photographer. We have hope! We can read books, attend workshops, take on-line training courses and so on to get help. We can also help ourselves, simply by taking more pictures.

Here’s the photograph from which I created the opening image for this chapter. Some beginning photographers get a picture like this and are pleased with the results. Photographers at the Second Level of Learning, however, ask: How could I have made a better in-camera image, and/or how could I process this file to create a better image?

Simple cropping, a bit of cloning, and then warming up the image (by boosting the reds and yellows in Lightroom), was all that was needed to improve this file.

3.  Conscious Competence. We know we are good.

Knowing we are good is a good feeling, for sure. But it takes a lot of hard work to get to this level of learning.

But how do we know we are good? Well, others may tell you that they like your work, they may buy your work, or you may get hired for an assignment. More important, however, is that you know (as opposed to think) you are good. You can’t fool yourself, which some people do unintentionally, when they are at the First Level of Learning.

Here are the reasons why I feel as though this is a good photograph
  1. All the horses’ heads are separated. In photography, separation of the elements in a scene is very important, as you will read in the Making Order of Chaos – Separation chapter.
  2. The highlights, the brightest part of the scene (horses’ heads) are not overexposed and washed out.
  3. There is space in the frame into which the horses can “run.” That space is very important in action photography.
  4. The horses heads are not “decapitated” by the horizon line,” which oven happens in the photographs taken by photographers at the First Level of Learning.
  5. The fast moving animals are sharp in the scene, thanks to the 1/2500th second of a shutter speed I used to freeze the action. I also set my Canon 5D Mark III to AI Servo focus, which tracks the subject right up until the moment of exposure.
  6. And finally, the two horses in the middle of the image have their front legs out of the water in a perfect running position. In horse photography, the position of the legs is very, very important.
All that said, I have called this image one of my best “dumb luck shots” in my presentations. Many elements came together, including one I will share with you at the end of this post, to make this a favorite image of mine.

When it comes to “dumb luck,” however, it is important to remember these two expressions: 1) Luck favors the well prepared. 2) If I had the choice of being good or lucky, I’d rather be lucky.

4.  Unconscious Competence. This is the level that we all want to reach in the things we care passionately about. We don’t really have to think too much about what we are doing . . . we just do it!

This is “it” when all that we went through in Level One, Level Two and Level Three come together and we can just shoot and get a high percentage of great images, and at the same time envision the creative possibilities that await us in the digital darkroom.

The rollercoaster ride of making picture is not over; we will still have creative ups and downs. But being on that rollercoaster is much more rewarding than being on the merry-go-round of being satisfied with pedestrian images.

As a brief aside, that rollercoaster/merry-go-round analogy can be applied to our lives, too. It’s easy to ride the merry-go-round, but the rollercoaster is much more exciting.

Many well-known musicians are at this Fourth Level of Learning. When it comes to jazz musicians, for example, when they are jamming with other musicians, they are not thinking about what key they are in (like the exposure in a photograph), what notes they are playing (like composition in a photograph), the importance of space between the notes (like separation in a photograph) and so on. They are just doing it, exactly like we need to do when it comes to photography.

One of the keys in getting to the Forth Level of Learning is practice. That includes getting to know your camera controls so you can make exposure and focus decisions in flash, just as a jazz musician knows how to improvise – even in the dark.

Knowing my camera controls, understanding some basic lighting and exposure techniques, and knowing some digital darkroom techniques, helped me get this image of a horse running on the beach at sunrise.

I think it’s important for photographers to be honest about what went into the making a photograph, so other photographers, as I mentioned, don’t compare their work to the work of others. What’s more, and this applies to my Camargue horse pictures, a photographer should not create the impression that any photographer can go to a location and simply take, while touring around, the same kind of pictures he or she takes.

Here is a behind-the-scenes snapshot that shows just one of five Provence cowboys who was helping my workshop group make pictures. These cowboys ran the horses toward us for three days at sunrise and sunset, so we all had a very good chance to make good pictures. I, and my workshop co-instructors, acted like movie directors, basically setting up a scene, which was great fun.

That is something else to keep in mind. There is a big difference between taking a picture and making a picture. You can do it, too.

When I teach digital imaging, I mentioned that simple cropping and envisioning the possibilities that await us in the digital darkroom. With a simple crop, and by adding the BuzSim affect in Topaz Simplify, one of the plug-ins I use, I was able to turn my behind-the-scenes snapshot into a creative image, one that looks more like a painting than a photograph.

Good luck in your journey along the path of the Four Levels of Learning. Never give up, and remember what the Buddhist say: Learning is Health.

See you in Chicago!

Rick Sammon is one of our main speakers.  He is a Canon Explorer of Light and award-winning photographer who loves his day job.  He is a tireless, prolific and inspirational image-maker who is called by some "the Godfather of Photography." Rick's enthusiasm for digital imaging is contagious.  He is a man on a mission - a mission to make digital photography fun, creative, exciting and rewarding for others.  He will be speaking on Sunday, November 19th on "Creative Visualization for Photographers."

To see the entire schedule of classes go to: or click here:  Home

Monday, August 7, 2017

Visual Echoes

For our first article by our CAPS (Chicago Area Photographic School) presenters, I would like to introduce Steve Gettle.

Steve's photography has taken him throughout North America and South America from the woods of northern Canada to the Cloud forest of Ecuador, from the coast of Maine to the high plateau of the desert southwest.  Although he travels extensively, he finds much of his inspiration in the natural areas surrounding his home, in Brighton, Michigan.  Steve leads photo workshops and tours all over the world.  As an instructor, he has taught for such organizations as:  The North American Nature Photography Association, The Rocky Mountain School of Photography, The Adirondack Photography Institute and many more.  He is a great nature photographer and will be teaching "Frozen Moments, High Speed Nature Photography on Sunday, November 19th.

Visual Echoes-
According to Google the second definition for the word echo is: 

A close parallel or repetition of an idea, feeling, style, or event.  

Whenever possible I like to incorporate what I call visual echoes into my work.  In the included image the main subject of the photograph is the relationship and similarities between the two cheetah faces.  Since the face on the left is sharper it becomes the main anchor point in the image.  the second out of focus face becomes a secondary element.  Our brains find the similarities within the shot visually interesting, the comparison between the two faces pulls the viewers eye around the frame and holds their attention.

Of course visual echoes don’t need to be so overt. For an example of a more subtle visual echo, consider the included image of a herd of elephants moving across the grassy plain. In this image the line of elephants, the line of light across the plain, and the horizon line each echo one another, or imagine a shot of a beach and sky where the ripples in the sand and the clouds above are similar to each other. Be on the lookout for visual echoes. Try to incorporate them in your work to add more interest and layers to your photographs.

Image: Cheetah Siblings, Serengeti National Park, Africa
Nikon D4S, 600mm w/1.4, 1/250th @ f8, ISO 400, Image cropped 10% for final composition.

Image: Elephant herd on the move Tarangire National Park, Tanzania
Nikon D4S, 24-85mm, 1/125th @ f11, ISO 200, Split ND filter to darken clouds.

Good Luck and Good Light!

Wilderness Images
The Nature Photography of Steve Gettle
8877 River Valley Ct.
Brighton, MI 48116
Office 810-231-8118
Fax 810-231-8119

To see the entire schedule of classes go to: or click here:  Home

To register go to:  Chicago Area Photographic School (CAPS) 2017 | Summary | powered by RegOnline

Friday, August 4, 2017

CAPS- Chicago Area Photographic School 2017

It is hard to believe that it has been two years and we will be coming upon another CAPS-Chicago Area Photographic School.  This year's event will be two days on Saturday and Sunday, November 18th and 19th at the Elgin Community College Business Center.  We have two great main speakers- Mike Moats a stunning Macro Master photographer sponsored by Tamron; and Rick Sammon, a Canon Explorer of Light who has been called by some "the Godfather of photography."  We will have two days packed with speakers and workshops that you won't want to miss.  We will be using this blog to share articles from our speakers.  So stay tuned to the weeks ahead.

To see the entire schedule of classes go to: or click here:  Home

To register go to:  Chicago Area Photographic School (CAPS) 2017 | Summary | powered by RegOnline

Saturday, November 14, 2015

"Get Off Your Butt and Go Shoot" by Chris Smith

As photographers, we can't wait for the day that we can pack up the car or jump on a plane to take our next big photo adventure. But we live near one of the greatest cities in the world for photography! Chicago offers opportunities for street photography, architectural photography, and cityscape photography. You can decide at 3pm that you want to get out to shoot and you'll be shooting great stuff all evening. Here are some of my favorite places to shoot in Chicago.

The Best Interiors
Chicago's churches, museums, and universities in Chicago offer a wealth of amazing interiors.  My favorite churches are St. Mary of the Angels, Holy Name Cathedral, and Rockefeller Chapel.  The best museums to photograph are the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Chicago Art Institute. The staircase at the Museum of Contemporary Art is a destination on its own. You can also have a great day shooting at either the Shedd Aquarium or the Museum of Science and Industry. Head to the University of Chicago for a day of great interiors and architecture.

If you are a landscape photographer, have you tried shooting cityscapes? The techniques are the same. The equipment is the same. And you can get stunning results in Chicago. The Hancock Building and North Avenue Beach are my favorite places to shoot the city. Adler  Planetarium gives you the best view of the city, but it's not easy to get a unique shot.  Just like with landscape photography, you'll get your best shots at the edges of the day. Plan your trip to be there at dawn or dusk. I prefer to go for sunset because then I can keep shooting into the night.

This is where Chicago beats every other city in the world. Head down to the Loop to surround yourself with fantastic buildings. Wander the Riverwalk to shoot Marina Towers, Trump Tower, and others. If you've never shot architecture, this is the place to do it. When shooting architecture, avoid photographing the entire building. This is the view that everyone has of a building. Instead, concentrate on one part of the building. Look for an interesting pattern or shape, or unique point of view. By looking at the building in a different way, you make the image your art, not just the work of the architect.

Street photography
If you are looking to photograph people in the city, the best places are the Loop, Wicker Park, and Pilsen. My favorite is the Loop because you can also shoot the phenomenal architecture while you're there. Find the perfect background and wait for your subject to walk into it!

In my CAPS presentation, Photographing Chicago, I will go in-depth about my favorite places to shoot in Chicago and give tips for getting great shots. I am squeezing everything I know and love about photographing Chicago into one 90-minute session. I'll tell you where you can use your tripod and where security will chase you away as fast as possible. I'll also give some tips for shooting Chicago at night. I hope to see you there!

Chris Smith is the founder of Out of Chicago Photography and the Out of Chicago Photography Conference. He is the author of "The Photographer’s Guide to Chicago" and host of the Out of Chicago Podcast. Chris specializes in photographing Chicago at night. By day, Chris is a high school physics teacher and lives with his wife and two kids in the Chicago suburbs. Follow Out of Chicago at  Out of Chicago Photography | The Chicago Photo Experience (
Out of Chicago will be at the CAPS conference and is offering CAPS specials on upcoming Out of Chicago events.

To go to the CAPS website go to:  Home

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Grass is Always Greener? by Steve Gettle

No doubt about it most outdoor photographers love to travel to new and exciting locations to capture the subjects we love.  But truth of the matter is that most of us can’t be jetting all over the globe whenever we want.  Most outdoor photographers I know are able to take one two or maybe three major trips a year.  Sadly, I also know many photographers that only use there cameras when they are on one of these major trips.

But I would argue that those same photographers are missing one of the greatest locations available to them... there own backyard.  Most of us live within a short drive of a local park or piece of undeveloped land where we could practice our craft.  There are many benefits to working an area near your home.  One of the greatest benefits is simply being out there working, it is impossible to make great pictures if you are not in the field working.  Another important benefit of working close to home is the ability to go out on a moment’s notice, say when the lighting is really nice, or during unique weather conditions.  Also you can get to know a smaller piece of land and its inhabitants more intimately.  You can make sure you are there when the cardinals nest in that bush, or you photograph that patch of wildflowers when they are at their peak. 

Consider developing the area to suit your needs, get permission to put up some feeders and birdhouses to attract birds to the area.  Often times you can obtain permission from a developer to rescue wildflowers from an area that is going to be developed into another subdivision or strip mall.  Take these rescued flowers and transplant them onto suitable habitat where you will be able to shoot them.  Sure this is a long term prospect, but you will find these small steps payoff over the long haul with huge photographic dividends.

We all need to look at our own backyards with fresh eyes, the eyes of a traveler. Remember your backyard is very often someone else’s hot travel destination try to look at things with the eyes of a visitor, you will often be surprised by what you see.

Good Luck and Good Light!

Image: Crystal Balls, Dewdrops and Spider Web… from my backyard!

Wilderness Images
The Nature Photography of Steve Gettle
8877 River Valley Ct.
Brighton, MI 48116
Studio 810-231-8118
Fax 810-231-8119

Steve's photography has taken him throughout North and South America from the woods of northern Canada to the Cloud forest of Ecuador, from the coast of Maine to the high plateau of the desert southwest.  although he travels extensively, he finds much of his inspiration in the natural areas surrounding his home in Brighton, Michigan.  Steve leads photo workshops and tours all over the world.  As an instructor he has taught for such organizations as:  The North American nature Photography Association, The Rocky Mountain School of Photography, The Adirondack Photography Institute and many more.  He is a great nature photographer and will be teaching a half day class on both Saturday and Sunday, November 21st and 22nds at CAPS- Chicago Area Photographic School. Steve is being sponsored by Hunt's Photo and Video at CAPS.

To go to the CAPS website go to:  Home

Friday, November 6, 2015

"Flights of Fancy, Birds in the Air" by Walt Anderson

When pursuing avian flight photography there are several decisions you must make before taking a photograph.  One of the first is how you wish to show your subject and its motion.

If you wish to stop motion and show all the feather detail of a bird you will want to use a very fast shutter speed.  I would normally set my camera at 1/1000 of a second as a minimum. Often times with smaller and faster birds I will increase the shutter speed to as high as 1/2500.  When trying to photograph hummingbirds without using flash, I would go to an even higher shutter speed.  Because you want at least some depth of field, use an aperture setting of F5.6 to F8.  To achieve these fast shutter speeds and reasonable depth of field, you will need to use higher than normal ISO settings on your camera.  Luckily for us, each new generation of digital camera gives us better results at higher ISO's.  Depending on the amount of ambient light, I start at ISO 800 and increase it as needed.  I am often using ISO 1600 to 3200 to gain the shutter speeds I desire.

If you wish to show a sense of motion in your photograph of flight, you need to use a much slower shutter speed.  Start at 1/100 of a second and go slower from there depending on the size and speed of your subject.  I often find that a 1/60 or 1/50 of a second works well for me.  With this you will need to use the technique of panning with your subject. When trying to use slow shutter speeds to pan on bright days, you need to set your camera to a low ISO (100) and stop down the lens to F16 or F22 as necessary.  An alternative way to achieve slow shutter speeds is to use a neutral density filter or even a polarizing filter to block some light.  Panning with your subject to show motion while maintaining a somewhat sharp subject requires more practice than when trying to stop the birds motion.  You will need to allow yourself time to adjust to the speed and flight pattern of the bird.  I personally always try to have a least one portion of the bird in sharp focus (usually the head) when doing blurs, but that is an individual choice.

These photos were taken on the same day and location at Lock and Dam 14 on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River about twenty minutes apart.  The first was using a 1/1000 shutter speed and the second was at 1/60.

Walt Anderson is an award winning photographer/inventor specializing in wildlife, landscapes and Americana subjects.  In addition to being published in both books and magazines, he has sold prints at art shows, lead tours and workshops in North America, and is teaching photography classes at Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL.

Inspired by Larry West at an early 1990’s workshop, Walt started to explore the capabilities of the new TTL flash units that were just being introduced.  He founded Visual Echoes Inc. to   produce and market his products including the Flash X-tender™ (also marketed under the name “Better Beamer”) and the Panning Plate.  He has shared his knowledge of the use of flash with his Sunshine in your Pocket program for many conventions and clubs and served as a mentor for the NANPA College Student Program.

Walt will be presenting his program at CAPS- Chicago Area Photographic School on Saturday, November 21st.

To go to the CAPS website go to:  Home

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Adjustment Order in Lightroom by Tim Grey

If you know about Tim Grey you probably have subscribed to his eNewsletter where he answers daily questions from readers about photography and Adobe software.  He has been doing this for 15 years.  Tim is one of our featured speakers at CAPS-Chicago Area Photographic School on November 21st and 22nd.  On Saturday he will be talking about workflow in Lightroom.  This will be  the full morning session on Saturday with a repeat in the afternoon.  For a full morning session on Sunday he will be talking about optimizing images in Lightroom and Photoshop.  On Sunday afternoon he will be talking about advanced adjustments in Photoshop.  Below is one of the sample questions that he gets.

Today's Question:
How do adjustments in Lightroom (for blacks, whites, shadows, clarity, vibrance, etc.) affect noise? Should noise be dealt with first or last, after all other adjustments?
Tim's Quick Answer:
In general concept, you can make changes to the various adjustments within Lightroom in any order at all, since the order you apply adjustments doesn't impact the actual effect of those adjustments. That said, it is important to evaluate the impact of one adjustment on another. For example, if you brighten up shadow detail you may need to increase the strength of noise reduction.
More Detail:

Lightroom employs a non-destructive workflow for your photos, meaning that when you are working in the Develop module you aren't actually changing pixel values in your original capture, but rather creating a set of adjustment metadata that is used to adjust the appearance of your photo within Lightroom, and as the basis of the processing for the photo when you export a copy of a photo.

Among other things, this means you don't need to apply your adjustments in any particular order to achieve a given result for a photo. In theory, for example, you would want to apply noise reduction before sharpening, so that the sharpening doesn't enhance the underlying noise. In the case of Lightroom (and also with Adobe Camera Raw), it doesn't matter whether you adjust the settings for noise reduction or sharpening first. All that matters is the final settings established for these controls.

To be sure, if the noise reduction adjustment doesn't eliminate the noise altogether, other adjustments may make the noise more visible or more problematic. For example, sharpening can serve to emphasize noise in an image, and brightening shadows can make noise more visible in the photo.
Any adjustment that enhances color or contrast, or that brightens up detail in the photo, has the potential to make noise more visible in the photo. But if the noise reduction settings you've applied cause the noise to be mitigated adequately, the effect of those other adjustments on any noise that remains will generally be relatively minor.

Tim Grey is a photographer who has written more than a dozen books for photographers, has published dozens of video training courses, and has had hundreds of articles published in magazines such as Digital Photo Pro and Outdoor Photographer, among others. He also publishes the Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter, the monthly Pixology digital magazine, and a wide variety of video training courses through his GreyLearning website. Tim teaches through workshops, seminars, and appearances at major events around the world.

Website: Tim Grey - Photographer, Author, Educator, Digital Imaging Expert 

To go to the CAPS website go to:  Home

To register for CAPS go to: Chicago Area Photographic School (CAPS) 2015 - RegOnline