Lessons from the Scene: Photography Ought To Be Fun


by Stanley Leary

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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
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.  He taught me a great deal through the years. He has been widely published as a nature and wildlife photographer.
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 the 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 bear 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.
Preparation is Key
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 with 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 it was using 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, the film pockets on our camera bags 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.
Using Long Lens for the Bears!
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. If you fill the frame with the bear using a shorter lens—well, you’ll have more problems with a bear than your photography.
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.
Sometimes You Need a Flash
While I have a flash, I use this as a last resort. But when inside an old farmhouse, having a flash is very handy. I still prefer using a tripod, but there’s always a possibility a flash may be needed. 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 days, we drove up to Clingmans Dome, which is 20° cooler than the rest of the park.
Our goal was to make photos and have fun—we exceeded our goal. Remember, just take photos for the fun of it.