#279- Visit a zoo
I must confess, that although I was going to a photography workshop at the Los Angeles Zoo today, taught by master photographer, Joel Sartore, I felt rather like this hippo when I woke up. It was chilly and dark, and I had awakened too late to make coffee or eat breakfast.
It was nice and snug in my bed. I wasn’t eager to get all my gear together, stop for gas, stand in the cold, and be decaffeinated and hungry for the better part of the morning.
But then I reminded myself, comfort is easy and nothing good is ever easy. (Scratch that if you happen to be holding the winning Powerball ticket. Also… call me.)
When I arrived at the zoo and checked myself in, I started looking around to see who else had pulled themselves out of bed. There were people of all ages. A few people had gear that cost more than my car, and I have a decent ride. Mostly, it was hobbyists and some beginners like me. It seemed that part of the group was interested in getting a behind-the-scenes look at zoo animals, while others were more interested in hearing what Joel Sartore had to offer.
I was in the latter group. If you read my blog last Thursday then you know that I attended his photography lecture at the Annenberg Space for Photography and managed to blurt out a few incomprehensible words when he said hello. (I think I left that last part out of my blog post, but there it is.) I was at the workshop today, because I really just wanted to see what he sees when he looks at the world.
Sometime in the ’80s, I took a UCLA Extension cooking class series. It was taught by a young French chef who was working in the kitchen of the much celebrated, but now closed, L’Orangerie. His name was Jean Luc and he was a terrible teacher, or so I thought. He was disorganized, often late, his handouts were incomplete or nonexistent, and his accent was as thick as his ratatouille. He was funny and charming, but I was concerned. Am I going to learn anything at all? Did I plunk down all that cash just to listen to his entertaining stories?
About six weeks later, I looked at my stovetop at home and realized that I had four burners going at once. I had stock simmering, a reduction going, veal chops in the grill pan, and pears poaching in red wine. Not only had I learned something, I had been totally unaware of it. Just watching Jean Luc work had taught my body how to move at the stove and I had learned how to move through the kitchen with efficiency and purpose.
Since then, I approach learning differently. While I love to open a book and try to teach myself something, I know that there is no substitute for being in the presence of an expert working his (or her) craft.
So, I wanted to walk in Joel Sartore’s shoes for a couple of hours and see what I could learn.
But first, I took a picture of them. Let me tell you, those are some hardworking shoes.
Here is a picture of Joel’s actual workboots.
I smile when I remember him saying, “You must be as familiar with your equipment as you are with an old shoe.” You can’t be adjusting settings, reading the instruction book, or taking off your lens cap when the moment is happening. You’ll miss it.
Kind of like this.
He said we can learn by analyzing photos in magazines. See what is working. Ask yourself how the people made the image. What is the story they are trying to tell?
Then, he said, begin composing your photo by looking at the background. Make sure it is clean and not cluttered with things that don’t help to tell the story. Next, check your light and adjust. Last, capture a moment. The moment elevates the photo, makes it unique, raises questions or answers them.
I learned some great things from watching and listening to a master photographer today. I’ll learn more from studying his videos which I purchased at The Great Courses.
(I must add that I would have completely given up on photography yet again if I hadn’t attended this class by Mark Comon at the Creative Photo Academy. He has been teaching the class for 25 years and he knows your questions before you ask them. If his store was closer, I would be there all the time, soaking up all that knowledge.)
For now, it’s just practice, practice, practice. My photos don’t look anything like the image I see in my head. They are mostly exposed incorrectly, out of focus, framed improperly, or boring, but some still manage to please me.
And, I get images that make me happy. Like this.
Yes, I know. I was at the zoo. Why am I taking pictures of babies? I love babies. Can’t help it.
I also love the zoo. For those of you who say you don’t like zoos or don’t believe in zoos. Please, please reconsider. Zoos are one of the last hopes for conservation around the world. They are fighting the good fight across the globe, a fight that we are otherwise losing since half the world’s species are projected to become extinct by the year 2100.
Watch this great 8 minute video and accompanying article, to see Joel Sartore and his mission to save these animals. Buy a membership to a zoo, or just visit some of these beautiful animals while you can. He wants you to look them in the eye. He wants you to care.
It was a wonderful day. So happy I got out of bed. (1. Get up.)
356 days to go.