Palo Duro Anger

“Sometimes the only way to make progress is to go backward first.”

Not only is this photo a top seller, it is one of my favorites.  The weather was supposed to be clear but there is a saying in Texas: “if you don’t like the weather, stick around because it’s going to change.”  And so it was this night that I was photographing stars.  In the beginning of the night there was not a cloud in the sky and there was none forecasted.  But that saying exists for a reason.  The time-lapse that I created is somewhat surreal because of the way the clouds showed up.  You can see the time lapse on my YouTube Channel.   

At first, as you can see, the clouds seemed to be almost mystical, they didn’t move in like normal, the sky just got hazier.  Then the clouds dramatically moved in.  The drops of rain were the size of grandma’s biscuits and while the night was hot, the raindrops were shockingly cold.  For a stove up old grumpy guy, I ran like a wind.  (Ok, like the wind might be an exaggeration) but I rain as fast as my limp would carry me.

Then the lightning started. So I slammed my tripod down and tried to capture the strikes.   This isn’t one photograph but three.  I wasn’t even sure I got any because as soon as the last strike hit, I ran for and got there soaking wet.  It was this night that I decided to switch from Canon.  No umbrage to Canon shooters but Canon’s are not as weather-proofed as Nikon and currently, the king of weather-proof is Pentax.  On a side note for you photographers, I have owned my Pentax for over a year, coming up on two. I have shot in all sorts of weather and have only had to clean my sensor once.

When I got home, I  found I nailed my shots.  I didn’t have a lot of time to think about the shots but reflexively because the strikes were close, I upped my f-stop (the size of the hole you let the light through in your lens).  With the lightning being way closer than I was comfortable, without even thinking I adjusted my camera.  I don’t even remember doing so.  I am not saying that to brag at all.  When I took this photo, I must have had literally, a million or so photos under my belt.  I am actually pretty slow with technology.  One of my favorite photographers, Henri Cartier Bresson said, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”  I didn’t get the hang of my camera for the first 500,000 or so.  But I loved photography, l loved getting out in the landscapes, I loved reading and looking at others works.  I found my very soul alive again after so much darkness in my former professional career doing social work and legal work. So shot after shot happened and with each shot I got slightly better.

Not long ago a friend took up the camera.  After 100 or so failed attempts he was very frustrated and felt like he wasted his money.  I assured him that it took me several 1000 failures for it all to start to make sense to me.   Now, most modern cameras do a pretty good job on automatic.  But for someone with artistic vision, you can’t allow the camera to make the decisions or you will rarely get the results you want.  So when a photographer steps out into the world of manual, oftentimes, the quality of their photos goes backward.  It is a lot to think about, f-stop, shutter speed, ISO white balance, depth of field, motion blur, etc. etc.…  and how all that interacts.  Learning to juggle you start off with one or two balls and as your skill progresses you add items to throw.  Photography in manual is like learning to juggle straight off with 6 balls.  So just like learning a golf swing, often you go backward to unlearn and relearn a lot of stuff.  Sometimes the only way to make progress is to go backward first.

Photography is like so many artistic endeavors.  Not only are you perfecting the art… color composition etc, you are always mastering the technical craft and really there are three crafts in photographer; the camera work, and the editing and the printing.   To hang a beautiful photo on your wall takes mastery of all three.  All three take practice, lots and lots of practice.  How could I, in mid-run, slam my tripod down, adjust my camera and catch a shot with no thought?  Several hundred thousand photos of practice.  The other kick to that, which is often forgotten, is its mindful practice.  When I do a photo, I stare at it for a long time trying to understand how to make it better, what did I do right and what did I do wrong so that when I pick up my camera again, I am better because of the last photo I took.

If you are not happy with the last photo you took, don’t worry, you will never be that bad again.  Every photo taken is one photo closer to being great!  Taking a good photo is easy, taking a great photo takes lifetime of practice or dumb luck!  Yea, I got those dumb luck photos too.