Just How Big Is It?

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Devils Tower (There is not enough foreground to help the viewer answer, just how big it is.)

Recently, Elena and I took a tourist/photography trip to Wyoming and South Dakota. Traveling through Wyoming, we had to stop at Devils Tower National Monument (the first National Monument). This landmark is also well known for the alien landing in the film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

The photography problem showing just big Devils Tower is a problem of perspective—it’s very big but compared to what? What’s helpful in photographic situations like this where you want to show how big something is, is to show a known reference—like a tree line or a fence post, or other items that the viewer can compare the reference to the larger item. The above image shows Devils Tower National Monument with a tree line to show the size of this rock formation.

Devils Tower (Note how the foreground helps the viewer to determine how big Devils Tower really is–even though it is further away than the first image.)

This photo shows Devils Monument much further back to give a better sense of perspective of how big it is. This photo also shows the great value of adding a foreground, middle ground, and far away ground in your landscape images. Think in terms of threes: something close by (fence), something in the middle (the evergreens and pasture) and far away (tree line and Devils Tower).

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What Digital Camera Will Make Me a Better Photographer?

Looking Closer but Still on the Outside, Portand MN, 2004

Looking Closer but Still on the Outside, Portland Maine, 2004

I remember one summer evening when I was young, my Mom and Dad took me to a shoe store, and I bought a pair of new and popular Keds sneakers. After lacing them up, I felt these shoes would make me run faster. I remember I wore them out of the store and ran up and down the shopping center. I told my Mom, “Mom these shoes make me run faster!” (It probably wasn’t the shoes that night, but my added effort–and my belief–that made it seem so.) My mom, a wise woman, just smiled.

I often think of my Mom’s reaction when I am repeatedly asked in digital photography classes which camera they should buy to improve their photography. Like many of my students, when I started photography (this month makes my 11th year) I badgered many people with the same question. I needed a better camera to be a better photographer.

I once had an extended conversation with a teacher associated with a prestigious art/photography school; I tried several ways asking which camera she thought was best, and she repeatedly avoided the question. Finally overwhelmed, she said, “You are missing the point—it is only a tool; as your photography experience improves, you will grow frustrated with your current tool, as it will no longer serve its intended purpose. But until you improve your photography skills buying a new camera won’t make you a better photographer.” She looked at me, a very new, excited, and a very amateur photographer, and said, “Keep your current camera and become a better photographer first.”

Circa 2001, Looking Outside, Instead of Inside, Santa Fe, NM

Looking Way Outside, Instead of Close Inside, Santa Fé, New Mexico, 2001

Since, I’ve become a better photographer and owned many cameras, but I have continued to heed her advice. I learned to improve my craft and work my cameras until I outgrew them. But that is hard to do; it’s a lot easier to believe that the camera is holding you back, not the camera operator. Trust me, I know; I secretly still like to believe my Keds really did make me run faster.