Sep 252013
 
AHWP Womens Retreat_Silly

In accordance with tradition on all of my photography workshops, our group poses for a “silly” group photo on the shoreline of the Colorado River in Glen Canyon.

This past weekend, 17 enthusiastic women embarked on a remarkable four-day photographic journey to Page, Arizona on the third Arizona Highways Photography Workshops(AHPW), “Women’s Photography Retreat.”  Offered in a different location each year, this year our group marveled not only at classic locations like Horseshoe Bend and Lower Antelope Canyon, but also lesser-known spots like the depths of Glen Canyon on the Colorado River from a jumbo raft and the geological “teepees” of Little Cut.

AHPW_WPR_Everyones Own Vision

Everyone following their own vision while rafting down the Colorado River in Glen Canyon, Arizona.

During our location visits and classroom sessions, we reviewed photography techniques like conveying time through slowing our shutter speeds, getting closer to our foreground subjects and maximizing our depth-of-field, and taking test shots at high ISO speeds to determine the proper settings for long exposures of the night sky.  We also held discussions about we can gain inspiration from learning about the history of women in photography as well as how women photographers may see differently.  In between, we swapped “interesting” life stories (some involving things like cats and microwaves…) and loads of belly-aching laughs.  But most importantly, this workshop is – and has always been – about empowering women to try new things by pushing the limits of what we think we’re capable of in both photography and life.

Although the entire experience was unforgettable, what will certainly go down as one of my favorite memories of my photography career is our hike and night photography session at the Toadstools hoodoos in Utah. To watch the women light paint, photograph the Milky Way, and then hike back in the dark under the full moon light – all experiences some had never had until this past weekend – was incredibly rewarding.

We set out about an hour and a half before sunset to allow ample time to wander among this geologically rich area.  After photographing the hoodoos bathed in direct sunlight at sundown, the group refueled during our picnic dinner before starting our night’s activities.

AHPW_WPR_Wiggle the Pickle

While waiting for the night sky to fall and the moon to rise, we ate a picnic dinner on the rocks. Somehow, this led to a suggestion to “wiggle your pickle.” And if you’re going to wiggle your pickle among a group of photographers, someone is bound to get “THE” shot of everyone wiggling their pickle!

Since many of the ladies had never photographed in the dark or painted with light, we began with a quick introductory session around one of the clusters of hoodoos.  In a line, we focused (figuratively and literally) on composing the frame before losing daylight.  As the sun fell well below the horizon, the entire group tested their exposure settings starting at ISO 1600, an f/8 aperture, and 30 seconds shutter speed – an arbitrary setting to serve as a starting point for how much light our camera would collect during that time frame.  Based on the histogram, we could add or subtract light accordingly to record our vision.

As soon as everyone dialed to the right settings and achieved sharp focus, I counted “1-2-3″ and everyone snapped the shutter at the same time.  During the exposure, I painted the hoodoos from the left side with about five to seven seconds of light from a strong LED flashlight.  After the exposure, we all reviewed our histogram to determine whether our cameras had collected enough ambient light and flash light.  Then, we’d repeat.

After a number of snaps, a large, unsightly shadow line revealed itself at the base of the tallest hoodoo.  Because the neighboring smaller hoodoo prevented the flash light from hitting the taller hoodoo, the light needed to originate from the front – not the side.  Because of the longer exposure, I could solve this minor problem by running into the frame with my flashlight while the group’s shutters were released.

On my first attempt, I painted the hoodoos from the side for a few seconds and then danced into the frame (“Like a gazelle!”), painting the tallest hoodoo at the base to eliminate the shadow.   A quick review of the photos indicated the tallest hoodoo had received an excessive amount of light, so we needed to repeat the process with less flash light time.

On the next attempt, one second I was painting the hoodoos as I had down countless times before.  The next second, I was chewing on sand.  By taking a slight deviation to the right in my path in order to distance myself and my flash from the hoodoos to achieve less light, my right foot dropped into a two-foot deep trench and my entire body fell forward into the higher ground on the opposite side.  Not wanting to ruin the entire group’s photo, I yelled, “I’m OK!  KEEP SHOOTING!!”

(The hilarity of this statement becomes more evident when you consider the entire group had released their shutter for 30 seconds, making any adjustments to their shot impossible.  What were they going to do then?  Change their ISO?!)

With the flash light still moving in my right hand, I used my left hand to pick myself up so that I could continue running across the frame to paint the shadow area with light.  After the exposure completed and many laughs about my tumble, “Keep shooting!” quickly became our trip’s motto.

And what a fitting rally cry this was not only for this trip and all the AHPW Women’s Photography Retreats, but also for life in general.  When something brings you down, hose yourself off, get up, and try again.  When something gets in your way, walk around it.  When something does not go the way you hoped, try something else.  No matter the situation or obstacle, personal growth and success comes when we keep going.  Keep trying.  And always KEEP SHOOTING!

~Colleen

P.S. If you or someone you know would like to join us on the next AHPW Women’s Photo Retreat in Verde Valley/Sedona in April 2014, visit the AHPW website at ahpw.org/workshops/2014/Sedona-Arizona-Womens-Photo-Retreat-2014-04-25/ for more information and to register.  This workshop sells out quickly, so if you’re interested, I’d consider registering as soon as possible to reserve your spot!

May 152013
 

Sailing Your ShipAre you ready to run away from your mundane 8-to-5 job and start sailing your own ship as a freelance photographer after reading our blog post at the end of February, “Independence Day…in February” and our April post advising “Don’t Jump Ship Yet!  Start Your Own Photography Circus Before You Leave Your Job!“?

Whether your glorious Independence Day has already arrived or you have circled the big day boldly on your calendar – in both cases, congratulations! – before you start to think, “Oh sh*t, what have I done?!” consider these points to ensure you enjoy much success in your new life as a freelancing photographer:

  • Sell your work…without selling your soul.  Mortgages, car payments, and utility bills do not disappear when you start your own business.  As a new entrepreneur soley responsible for gaining income for your business, look for work that gets you out of bed in the morning, as your passion will show not only in the products and services you deliver, but also in the relationships you build with clients.  If your new career starts to feel too much like work (yay, aren’t taxes fun?!?), keep your love of photography alive by working on challenging personal projects in your free time.
  • “Just Say No.”  It may sound illogical to turn down business opportunities as you begin your new career, but heed these wise words from Nancy Reagan.  Once you’ve defined a niche for yourself, be comfortable turning down short-term money-making endeavors unrelated to your path to instead build your brand and skills within your area of expertise.  For example, if your focus is wildlife photography, build your body of work by photographing elk or eagles on the weekend, not the “wild life” of weddings.  By investing your limited time to find lucrative outlets within your domain, your sales will be greater in the long run.
  • Update your online portfolio.   No one wants to visit a website that you have neglected to update since 2010.  As your perfect your work and style, showcase your newest and best photography, as well as published tear-sheets and clips, on your website and social media outlets to keep your existing customers coming back for more and to attract new clients.
  • Keep the “unity” in your community.  Friends, supporters, experts, connections – literally anyone! – can turn into a paying client so it’s important to keep building your relationships and awareness within your circles. Ask “What can I do for you” instead of “Isn’t my picture pretty?  Do you want to buy it?”  Consistently deliver educational presentations throughout your local community, stay active in professional organizations, and engage with others in social media conversations.  Because of the snowball effect exposure can have in increasing your sales, even the smallest opportunity could transform into your future signature work.  Never underestimate the value of exposure (pun intended!).
  • Shut up and listen.  To gain business, don not rely upon the movie Field of Dreams’ motto, “If you build it, they will come.”  As you connect with members of your community, listen carefully to the comments, complaints, and questions they have related to their world to gain ideas for content in your next assignment, upcoming show, book project, or otherwise.  Proactively create your own sales opportunities by delivering solutions to them based on their input.
  • Keep your eyes on the prize.  Round up a couple trusted family members, friends, or mentors schedule frequent “Bored Meetings” (also referred to as “Board Meetings”).  Regularly reviewing your business plan with outside advisors will help you gain a renewed perspective on your direction, celebrate your successes, and gauge your progress against your defined “S. M. A. R. T.” – specific, measureable, achievable, realistic, and tangible – goals to stay on track.
  • Learn; there is no “fail.”  If you are blazing your own path and testing new ideas through a wide variety of experiences, inevitably you will have moments when things don’t go the way you hoped.  No matter how much mud you feel is covering your face, hose yourself off, and ask yourself, “What can I learn from this experience?  How can I improve next time?”  As Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
  • Working 24 x 7 does not equal success.  Though tempting, resist the urge to work day and night to keep your business moving forward.  Take time to step away from the juggling act to avoid burn out and refresh your creative soul.  As you would schedule vacation time in your previous job, set aside time to relax and enjoy activities unrelated to your profession, leaving the camera and laptop behind.

If you’ve started a new career or independent business, what tips and tricks have you utilized to stay afloat as you charter new territory?  Leave us your thoughts in the comments below!

And of course, no matter where you are in the transition, I wish you the very best of luck in your journey as a professional photographer!  Go forth and conquer! And keep us updated with your progress and learnings along the way!

<shameless plug>If you would like more hands-on guidance in planning your successful transition to a photography career, join me for the Arizona Highways Photography Workshop “There’s No Business Like the Photo Business” on June 22-23, 2013.  Visit the Arizona Highways Photography Workshops website at www.ahpw.org/workshops/2013/Phoenix-Arizona-No-Business-Like-Photo-Business-Workshop-2013-06-22 for more information and to register.

If you’re content with keeping photography as a hobby but would like more information on how to sell the photographs collecting dust on your hard drive, then  join me for the 1-day Arizona Highways Photography Workshop, “Selling Your Work Without Selling Your Soul” session on June 1, 2013.  For information and registration, visit www.ahpw.org/workshops/2013/Phoenix-Arizona-Selling-Your-Photography-2013-06-01. </shameless plug>

Apr 032013
 

Are you ready to run away from your mundane 8-to-5 job and become the ringmaster in your very own sensational circus as a full- or part-time photographer after reading our blog post at the end of February, “Independence Day…in February?”

If so, before you trade in your badge for the life you have always wanted as a freelancer, here are suggested actions to take to begin as the CEO of “You, Incorporated” on the right foot:

  • Get busy on your breaks. Though it may feel like you are working two full time jobs, start your new business before you leave the windowless office.  Take care of little tasks like registering for state and city tax licenses, opening bank accounts, and ordering business cards now so you gain legitimacy as a business owner as you walk out the corporate door.
  • Transform the scribbles on your beer-stained napkin into a Fortune 500-quality business plan. Without a manager standing over your shoulder and barking orders at you, it’s time to get “S. M. A. R. T.” when it comes to running your own circus. Formalize what you seek to accomplish in the next three months, one year, and three years, testing your goals to make certain they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Tangible. The statement, “I will make $1,000 from photography print sales by December 31, 2013,” is S. M. A. R. T. while “I plan to win the lotto tomorrow” is not. Once you have set a course, write out the specific steps and resources you need to get there.  Then, complete one step a day towards your goal.
  • Showcase your talents.  Build a professional-quality portfolio of work that accurately shows off what you can deliver. Post relevant examples of your photography and tear sheets of published work that demonstrate a recognizable style and focus that potential clients will notice and purchase.
  • Don’t act like the government. When it comes to making money as an independent, it’s not rocket surgery:  the “goes-IN-tus” to your bank account must be greater than the “goes-OUT-tus.”  In other words, your income must be greater than your expenditures.  Track sales and expenses to not only give Uncle Sam his cut later in taxes, but to also make sure you can cover your incoming bills. And no, you still don’t need that expensive new lens.
  • Expose yourself.  Although streaking down the street would certainly attract attention – albeit the wrong kind for business success – awareness is always the first step in making sales. If customers do not know of your products and services, they will not buy either. To build your network, provide educational presentations throughout your local community, join professional organizations, and be active in social media outlets. Volunteering your time for worthy, related causes can also often generate significant income over time.  Never underestimate the value of exposure. (Pun intended for those who use histograms.)
  • Learn to how to increase your “goes-IN-tus.”  Take a marketing class right now.  Not next year. Not next week. Now.  Though the thought of using your left-brain during lectures may make you break out in hives, at least go rub shoulders with ambitious marketing majors who might be interested in supporting the sales work for your business in the future.
  • Schedule the fireworks for your own Independence Day. Whether your sought-after day of freedom is two weeks away or a year off, circle the date on the calendar.  Having a light at the end of the tunnel can breathe new life into you until you say “adios” to your stuffy gray cubicles walls.
  • Burn the ships after landing. In 1546, upon reaching the shores of Mexico, Hernán Cortés did not make failure an option. When you land your new freelancing career, neither should you. Replace the voices hemming and hawing about what will happen if you fail with more productive thoughts about what you can do to succeed. Heed the advice of automotive pioneer Henry Ford who aptly suggested, “Whether you think you can or can’t, you are right.”

Now are you ready to enter your very own big top?  In a future blog post, “Staying Afloat in Your Photography Career,” we’ll explore the best ways to not only stay on the tightrope, but to also how to give a spectacular performance in your new career.

<shameless plug>If you would like more hands-on guidance in planning your successful transition to a photography career, join me for the Arizona Highways Photography Workshop “There’s No Business Like the Photo Business” on June 22-23, 2013.  Visit the Arizona Highways Photography Workshops website at www.ahpw.org/workshops/2013/Phoenix-Arizona-No-Business-Like-Photo-Business-Workshop-2013-06-22 for more information and to register.

If you’re content with keeping photography as a hobby but would like more information on how to sell the photographs collecting dust on your hard drive, then  join me for the 1-day Arizona Highways Photography Workshop, “Selling Your Work Without Selling Your Soul” session.  Though the April 13th class is now full (waitlist available), a new session on June 1, 2013 has been added to the schedule!  For information and registration, visit www.ahpw.org/workshops/2013/Phoenix-Arizona-Selling-Your-Photography-2013-06-01. </shameless plug>

Whether photography-related or not, if you’ve made a transition from one job to another, what tips and tricks that helped you make a successful transition to a new career would you offer to someone who is considering a change?  For those of you who are considering a change, what’s your biggest fear or obstacle preventing you from making the leap?  Leave us your thoughts in the comments below!

Jan 022013
 

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
~Eleanor Roosevelt

Happy 2013 Everyone!  A new year means a blank canvas on which to create new friendships, opportunities, and achievements!  I hope you each have big dreams in mind, and perhaps even more importantly, I hope you follow them relentlessly and passionately so they all come true for you in the new year.  After all, “you can sleep when you’re dead,” right?

Whew, what a year 2012 was for CMS Photography!  Last year will go down as our busiest, most successful, and by far the most exciting year to date, with many countless “thank you’s” owed to you, as I could not do what I do without your continued support!  I feel truly fortunate to be surrounded by so many inspiring, creative, and enthusiastic people.

Some major highlights for us from last year include (in no particular order):

And just when you think you can’t have any more wild fun, 2013 shows up!

Going into our sixth year as a full-time freelance photographer and writer, I couldn’t be any more pumped for the year to come, not just because of all the travel planned and the new projects we’ll announce throughout the year, but all the great times and awesome learning opportunities we’ll share together, whether that be during our upcoming Workshops and Presentations or simply out in the field sharing some light and good laughs.

But, before we start running down the 2013 street like a bat outta hell, though, I’d like to share my favorite 13 (a lucky number for the new year!) photos in celebration of a joyful 2012.  For more inspiration, be sure to also head over to Jim Goldstein’s Blog, hes posted his traditional and ever-growing list of other photographers’ own favorites and best from 2012 for his “Blog Project: Your Best Photos from 2012.

Here goes:

1.  Winter’s Serenade, Death Valley National Park, California (January 2012)

UCADV_00036

Cottonball Marsh area along Salt Creek in Death Valley National Park, California, USA (Prints available – click on photo to order!)


2.  Walk the Line, Death Valley National Park, California (February 2012)

UCADV_00048

Cracked mud and stones in the Panamint Dry Lake in Death Valley National Park, California, USA (Prints available – click on photo to order!)

3. Sunrise at Boulder Beach, Acadia National Park, Maine (June 2012)

UMEAC-00114

er Beach and the Otter Cliffs, Acadia National Park, Maine, USA (Prints available – click on photo to order!)

4.  Bunchberry Dogwood, Acadia National Park, Maine (June 2012)

UMEAC-00116

Bunchberry dogwood (Cornus canadensis) at Acadia National Park, Maine, USA (Prints available – click on photo to order!)

5.  The Totem Pole and Yei Bi Chei, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona (June 2012)

UAZMV-00029

The Totem Pole and Yei Bi Chei rock formations in Monument Valley Tribal Park, Arizona, USA (Prints available – click on photo to order!)

6.  The Colorado River Flexing its Muscle, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona (June 2012)

UAZGL-00082

The sandstone cliffs of Marble Canyon reflect into waves in the Colorado River near Lee’s Ferry, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona, USA (Prints available – click on photo to order!)

7.  The RCMP Musical Ride, 100th Anniversary of the Calgary Stampede, Calgary, Alberta, Canada (July 2012)

ICACA-00002

Abstract view of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s Musical Ride during Stampede in Calgary, Alberta, Canada (Prints available – click on photo to order!)

8.  Reach for the Sky, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona (August 2012)

UAZGL-00079

Abstract sky pool pattern in Lake Powell, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona, USA (Prints available – click on photo to order!)

9.  Autumn on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona (September 2012)

UAZGC-00088

Gambel oak line the edge of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA (Prints available – click on photo to order!)

10.  Autumn Regeneration, Kaibab National Forest, Arizona (September 2012)

UAZKB-00016

Abstract view of a regenerating burned forest during autumn in the Kaibab National Forest, Arizona, USA (Prints available – click on photo to order!)

11.  Mother Nature’s Ice Cream, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona (October 2012)

UAZVC-00087

Striated bentonite clay beds in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona, USA (Prints available – click on photo to order)

12.  Spell of the Sea, The Big Island, Hawai’i (November 2012)

UHIPC-00001

Waves and volcanic rock along the Puna Coast on the Big Island of Hawaii, USA (Prints available – click on photo to order!)

13.  Winter Solstice Eve, Canyonlands National Park, Utah (December 2012)

UUTCY-00001

Viewed from the Green River Overlook, the sun sets over Island in the Sky district in Canyonlands National Park, Utah, USA (Prints available – click on photo to order!)

Thank you for stopping by the “You Can Sleep When You’re Dead” blog!  Let’s all make 2013 a year to remember!

~Colleen

zp8497586rq
Sep 052012
 

One of the most enjoyable and valuable educational aspects of the Arizona Highways Photography Workshops (AHPW) – of which I’m honored to lead a number of each year – is the post-workshop critiques.  Though we conduct image review sessions during the workshop, a post-workshop critique allows participants additional time to edit and process their photographs before submitting to their instructors for additional feedback after the class concludes.

Whether we complete these productive reviews during or after the workshop, we analyze the positive aspects of each student’s images and constructively outline ideas for how to potentially improve them from a technical and artistic perspective.  Kind of like this:

What the Duck

“What The Duck” comic strip copyright and courtesy of the author and artist Aaron Johnson at http://www.whattheduck.net.

All choking and joking aside, the point of the evaluation is to go beyond answering the simple question: “Do you like this picture?”  The true value of the exercise comes in when we define in-depth we WHY like and don’t like an image, which generates new ideas to sharpen our skills and polish our individual styles from our different answers.

Earlier this week, I completed the post-workshop critique for the recent Women’s Photography Retreat at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  Although I’ve shared image-specific comments for 45 images, I thought I’d share a summary of the three main take-away’s from this particular critique session:

The Totem Poles and Yei Bi Chei at Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona

Example:  Tilting my camera down emphasizes the sandy landscape and allows the sky to become a less dominating backdrop. By composing so that the line of bushes and the patterns from the wind-blown sand lead my audience into the frame, it helps guide the eye through the landscape towards my primary subject: the side-lit Totem Poles at Monument Valley. Do you agree?  How would you critique this image?  (Prints available! Click on photo for a direct link).

  1. “Half and half” works well in coffee, but not always in landscape images. Unless you aim for symmetry among the various elements within your frame (e.g. a reflection of mountain in a lake), placing the horizon line in the middle of your frame will only serve to divide your viewers’ attention.  Should they look at the land or the sky?  Make it clear:  If the sky is more interesting, tilt your camera up and place the horizon line at the bottom

    third of the Rule of Thirds tic-tac-toe grid.  If the land is what caught your eye, then tilt your camera down so the horizon is at least at the top third of the grid.

  2. Let there be light…oh, and a strong subject too!  Is there anything better than sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon and recordings the rays of the setting sun break through the clouds, turning the landscape and sky into a fiery mix of orange, pink, and purple? (In more technical terms, we call this “super yummy light.”)  YES!  That same spectacular show by Mother Nature happening over a well-thought-out composition!  Good light alone is often not enough to make a great image.  Similarly, a strong center of interest without interesting light may lack shape, contrast, and mood.   To capture the best subject in the best light, visualize strong compositions first in the field, then return to work the scene when the light is just right.
  3. As “all roads lead to Rome,” all lines should lead to somewhere important.  Lines can direct your viewer to through your image, but the payoff at the end of the line shouldn’t be a one-way ticket out of your frame.  To keep the viewer’s interest, ensure the visual path doesn’t extend beyond the edge of your frame and leverage diagonal, converging, S-curve and other style lines to pull your viewer not just into your frame, but also somewhere interesting.

If you’re a past student of AHPW – not just of this specific workshop, but any of them – you have the ability to view my image-specific comments by logging into the Arizona Highways Photo Workshops Smugmug site with the password you received during your workshops and selecting the “Women’s Photo Retreat” folder.  You also have the ability to leave comments as well, so hop on the site and let’s here you’re thoughts!

If you aren’t a past student of AHPW, there’s no need for you to feel left out.  If you’d like input on one or more of your images, stop by my page and submit your shots at GuruShots at www.gurushots.com/colleen-miniuk-sperry.

In closing, I’d like to thank the ladies who submitted their beautiful photographs for critique:  Denise, Deanna, Christy, Amy, Julie, Tamara, Sue, Pearl, and Jeanne.  As Abigail Adams once said, “Learning is not achieved by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.”  May we all embrace learning like these and all of the women who attended the Women’s Photo Retreat have.

AHPW Women's Photo Retreat:  Silly Group Photo

The attendees of the AHPW Women’s Photo Retreat having a “Zen” moment during our Group Photo.  I’m not sleeping, I’m merely practicing “Corpse Pose.”

zp8497586rq