The Perfect Time To Learn
Sea smoke rises from the Atlantic Ocean near Straightsmouth Lighthouse thanks to below zero temps.
While I do go out to shoot during the winter months, I’m sure I’m not alone when it comes to being cursed with limited tolerance to cold weather. I definitely spend more time indoors at this time of year due to the drop in temperature and shorter daylight hours. With that said, some might think that my photography skills might stagnate or diminish during the winter months. Quite the opposite actually.
I see winter as the time to turn my cold weather weakness into a photographic strength. There’s always a way to turn what some may consider a negative into a positive. I use the winter months to learn more about my craft so that I can expand my knowledge, continue to improve my skills, and ultimately take my images to the next level.
Best of all, I can do it all from within the comfort of my nice warm home studio.
So what’s my game plan? Here are some areas that I focus on to achieve my winter learning goals. Perhaps they’ll work for you too.
Know Your Camera
Do you really know all of your camera’s functions and control combinations? Winter is a great time to dig out your camera’s manual and give it a good skim. I bet you’ll come across a control or feature that you didn’t know (or totally forgot) your camera has. If you want to know more about it, but reading the manual makes your eyes glaze over and your brain feel like it’s left your head, don’t quit. Just Google your camera’s make and model, along with the name of the control or feature that’s piqued your interest, and check out the related videos that pop up in the search list. Then bookmark the ones you find most helpful and place them into their own bookmark folder for quick reference.
Tip! For easy, on-the-go reference, save the bookmarks to your cellphone as well. Doing so gives you the info at your fingertips without taking up much usage space on your phone.
Line Up Your Lenses
Take a look at the lenses in your arsenal and ask yourself when was the last time you used each of them? If you have to really search your memory, chances are you might be overlooking a lens that really could add some value to your portfolio of images, or you’re holding on to something that you could sell and apply the funds to another desired piece of gear.
I’m the first to admit that my Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 lens spends far too much time in my camera bag — which is totally my fault and not that of the lens (it’s excellent!).
That lens is now on my “To Shoot With Next List.” I realize I’ve been short-changing myself by not taking advantage of it lately. Best of all, I can certainly use it indoors where it’s warm and toasty. My furry foursome make great portrait subjects.
Lightroom Library Module
Odds are more than likely that you already have shots sitting in your archives that have never been touched or are from photo shoots long forgotten. Winter is a great time to start mining your archives for images that somehow got overlooked. I know I’ve stumbled across more than a few gems. Fellow NEPG member Jeff Sinon wrote quite eloquently about this very subject not too long ago.
Tip! While perusing your archives, I suggest multitasking and adding any missing keywords at the same time. You’ll thank yourself down the road, especially if you are a Lightroom user.
Post Production Tools
One of the items on my winter “To Learn List” is how to program and most proficiently use my new Wacom Intuos Pro Tablet.
Wacom Intuos Pro Medium
The main reason I purchased my Wacom tablet is for digital painting, incorporating textures into my work, and retouching in general. I want to create and edit with as much accuracy and pressure sensitive control as possible. The Wacom tablet will allow me to do just that.
Wacom has many great free tutorials online. I also purchased a great webinar by Dave Cross specifically on how to set up and use a Wacom tablet. It’s nice to always have his videos on hand for quick reference, especially if I want to reconfigure my controls down the road as my skills improve.
I find winter to be the perfect time to experiment with new software, or commit to learning more about my existing software (i.e. Photoshop Content Aware feature).
Topaz Labs released both Topaz Impression and Topaz Glow this past year, and even offered the entire Topaz Photography Collection for a great discount during Black Friday weekend. The recent arctic air blasts from Canada have been a great motivator to stay indoors and learn more about these great programs, and have allowed me to experiment to my heart’s content. Each product within the collection is available as a free trial download.
During the past year, I purchased two digital painting workshops by Melissa Gallo (“Painting With Photoshop,” and “Painting 2015 for Photographers”), as well as several online photography-based webinars from CreativeLive. All include downloadable videos that allow me to view the entire workshop/webinar at my leisure.
I always consider winter to be that leisure time for me. I have a dual monitor setup that allows me to view the videos on one monitor while I follow along and practice in real time on my primary monitor in the relevant program (i.e. Corel Painter 2015).
My dual monitor setup also allows me to conveniently watch online tutorials of the new features of software program upgrades (i.e. Photoshop CC and Lightroom) while having the same program open on my primary monitor. I love not having to shrink windows to cram everything onto one monitor.
Those are just a few of examples of what’s on my winter “To Learn List.” We all have our own favorite time of year to get out and shoot. Just remember that what you choose to do on non-shooting days can also improve your photography. After all, knowledge is power.
So let winter empower you. See what you can add to your “To Learn List” and consider sharing your ideas with your fellow photographers. We all might learn something new.
~ Liz Mackney
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