Every professional photographer has their way of doing things. It’s their style and what has made them successful. This is a great thing when viewing their work.  But, can be a rude awakening when taking a workshop from one of the preeminent photographers in the country.

We signed up for a workshop in Yosemite National Park with Moose Peterson.  We expected the format to be more of the same, that is, a sunrise/sunset shoots, class time, and photo critiquing. Boy were we in for a surprise.  The group was to meet up for drinks and an introduction on the eve of the workshop. Looking forward to meeting many new photographers and building some camaraderie, we eagerly set out for the for the first session.  We found Moose and sat down at table with his wife and another photographer.  He said, “we are all here so lets get started.”  What?!?  Three photographers in the workshop?  That’s all?  Nearly one-on-one instruction? Our world was rocked.

I thought I was getting pretty good at this photography thing. After all, I do receive a lot of positive feedback on my shots. But here on day 1, pretty much everything I was doing was thrown out, I had to learn a new way of thinking.  I liken this to going to a golf pro for a lesson.  The pro says, “let me see your swing.”  Then, after the swing, he says “OK, we are going to break your swing down and then build it back up.”  This is how I felt after a few hours with Moose.  We kept telling each other that this is good.  We are now learning the proper way to take good photos.  Oh, but it was so painful.  I’d take a picture, show it to Moose, and get “you’ll hate it in six months.”  Maybe I will, but I guess Moose hated it now.  OK, “Moose, how about this one?” He’d say, “what’s the story? What’s the subject?”  Well, all I could say was, “its a beautiful scene.” “No No No, what’s the subject?”, he’d ask.  Arghhh.  We just couldn’t figure it out. Our world was rocked.

If you are reading this, you probably think we take pretty good photos.  Or, you are my mother. We admit we were totally lost.  We couldn’t believe that we were so bad.  There was no way we were showing Moose any of photos from a previous trip.  No way! We like them and we want to remember them as such.  Now, where do we go from here?  Well, out for another shoot with Moose, of course. It’s dangerous out there.  This time we walked around Yosemite Valley looking for fall colors.  We started to shoot some beautiful scenes where I zeroed in on a tree.  That’s my story/subject.  I was ready for him.  But, then he asked something totally different, “What is your while balance set at?”  Uh, “Sunny,” I respond.  “Now why would you want to do that?  Sunny setting is totally wrong.”  But, it’s sunny out, no?  Well, it turns out that he knows the developer of the Nikon white balance algorithms who told him that only the Automatic and Cloudy settings are worth using.  So, now we have been shooting with these cameras for quite some time and have been using the wrong white balance.  The Nikon manual never said any of this.  It said to use “sunny” when it is sunny out.  Certainly made sense to me.  Oh, our world was rocked.

Now, as landscape photographers we use a setting called aperture priority.  This allows us to set the proper depth of field and let the camera take care of everything else. (Moose says this is why we spent all that money on the camera, to let it do the thinking).  We learned this a couple of years ago.  It worked great.  But, a few months ago we were convinced by the instructors at the NYIP (where we are taking an online course) to use Manual mode where we are required to make all the settings.  Professionals use manual mode.  And, we want to be like the professionals.  So, with much practice over the summer, we now shoot manual mode exclusively.  Not any more.  Moose says that for landscape photography, we should be using aperture priority.  That’s it.  And we are to use exposure compensation to control the amount of light the camera sees.  We should be under exposing (so the picture looks darker) to get richer, more saturated colors and set the mood of the photo.  At this point, we have forgotten how to use aperture priority.  No matter – back we go. Alas, our world was rocked.

Now, a funny thing happened at the next shoot.  Our photos started getting better, culminating with Moose exclaiming, “Kathryn nailed it.”  And, you know, he was right.  The photo is excellent:

Closeup of a bubbly stream . Moose proclaimed as "Nailed."

Closeup of a bubbly stream . Moose proclaimed as “Nailed.”

In just a few days he broke us down and rebuilt us.  Our photos were markedly better.  And, we started to feel good about ourselves as photographers. The moral? Thanks, Moose, for rocking our world.

Oh, by the end of the workshop we figured out how to answer the Moose question of, “what’s the subject?”  Well, “the subject is the light on the _____________ !”

It’s all about the light!