Lessons from the Scene: Photography Ought to Be Fun


by Stanley Leary

From an early e.Newsletter I sent out in June 2006. The photos are from my first digital camera--Nikon D100.
“Brain research has now proven conclusively that play is essential. It actually restores our intellectual capacities and renews our spirits. It’s essential to good mental health and physical health and to the reductions of tension.”
--Joined at the Heart: The Transformation of the American Family 
Figure 1
My family has always taken pictures. One of my earliest experiences is playing with an old camera that used flash bulbs and making photos. I would run around pretending to make photos.
My father had a darkroom where he would develop his black and white photos. It was so much fun to watch the photos appear on the paper in the trays of chemicals.
Nature and wildlife are probably two of my favorite subjects when I make photos for myself.
This past week I took a few days and met my uncle who is also a professional photographer and who taught me a great deal through the years. He has been widely published as a nature and wild life photographer.
Figure 2
We decided to meet and camp at Cades Cove in The Great Smoky National Park, which is located near Townsend, Tennessee.
We would get up really early before the park opened and be one of the first through the gate each morning and one of the last to leave the park at night. The animals like white tailed deer, turkeys, and coyote typically are more active in the morning and early evening.
The black bear is more unpredictable and could be active at any time. We hoped to see black bears and did. However they seldom would stay around once they spotted us and turned for the woods more than once.
We also noticed that when we used our binoculars, more than one of the many bears we spotted turned into a tree stump. Sometimes when we were in the park you would hardly see any wildlife. We believed the heat kept many of the animals relaxing in the shade longer before venturing out to the meadows.
Before we would go into the park we would get a camera ready to go. I would use my Nikon digital camera with a 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 with a 1.4X teleconverter and a 2 gig flash card ready beside me. The lens was mounted on a monopod and the tripod was near by if the scene allowed for it.
Both my uncle and I commented how much more fun this was with digital over shooting film in the past. We shot more than we may have shot in the past, but there were many reasons we liked the digital.
The things we both commented about shooting digital was the pockets on our camera bags where we kept film were now empty or full of something useful. We also enjoyed being able to change the ISO as either it was getting darker due to us going into the woods or the time of day. We also enjoyed playing with the white balance. We experimented with different settings seeing what we liked best.
In the campground at night I could download my images onto my laptop and see the results from the day. So the next day, we were picky about what we would stop to photograph.
The minute we saw a great lighting situation or black bear, we stopped. For these types of trips you choose a long lens like a 300mm to get close enough to photograph a black bear. Any other lens, if the frame is filled with the bear—well…you may have more problems with a bear than your photographing abilities.
A teleconverter like a 1.4X or 2X can easily make the 300mm into a 420mm or even a 600mm and add very little weight to the bag.
A moderate wide-angle zoom will help you enjoy those scenic scenes with barns. I love using my Nikon 24-120mm lens for this.
There were not as many wildflowers this time of year as earlier in the spring, but I always have a macro 60mm lens for close-up pictures of flowers.
Figure 3
While I have a flash I use this as a last resort. But when inside an old farmhouse this can really help. I still prefer using a tripod, but there is always a possibility you might need one. Some of the cameras like my Nikon D100 have a pop up flash built into the camera and for just about anything they can help when you need a flash.
After shooting early morning, we would drive into Townsend, Tennessee for a good country breakfast. During the hotter time of the day was a great time to explore inside the woods the streams and water falls of the park.
For the really hot day we drove up to Clingmans Dome which is 20° cooler than the rest of the park.
Figure 4
Our goal was to make photos and have fun—we exceeded our goal. Remember to just take photos for the fun of it.
Figure 5