Going Beyond a Snapshot

When you get to a certain point in your photography, those snapshots that you are so accustom to taking are no longer going to cut it for you. You will tire of the uneven horizon lines and the blown out foreground elements that hold your eye for far too much time. You will soon become bored with the merging subjects and the partial body parts that have become your signature look.

At this point, you will finally break down and try to learn something about that gadget that has been in your hands for well over a year?? You may even find yourself on a quest to learn the intimate relationship between aperture, shutter speed and ISO that is required to shoot in manual mode. You’ll talk to other photographers and read just about anything you can get your hands on; you may even try to read the owner’s manual. Your thirst for knowledge will not stop there. You’ll spend hours upon hours sorting through a myriad of images on the internet trying to figure out what you are doing wrong.

You will, along the way, spend a lot of money getting the latest, greatest gear. But knowledge is the single best thing that you can bring into the field with you. The big secret in photography is simple, know your gear and how to use it. Yes, it really is that simple. Learn it all inside out and backwards. I can’t tell you how many times I have pointed out a great situation to a client and they will spend way too much time changing their settings or debating on whether or not to change their lens or teleconverters; by this time, the shot is gone.

Understanding the technical aspects of photography is very important and often overlooked. Exposure, exposure, exposure, the light, the light, the light… has to be paramount. Understand the camera’s meter and how it works and reviewing and reading your histogram is so very important to the overall success of your images. Complete and total knowledge of your camera will give you freedom; that freedom will allow you to concentrate on other things in the field.

Composition is more than placing your subject in a rule of third position or having a clean background. It’s about seeing the visual flow and weight of your scene and /or subject. It’s about putting together the elements or ‘puzzle pieces’ in a way that will greet your viewer and walk them through the scene highlighting the important aspects of the shot along the way.

After more time in the field than you’ll care to remember, bruises in places you won’t want to mention. After sleepless nights and early morning calls with long, long drives, over and over again. After 1000’s of hours at the computer and countless hours researching your subject you will finally get to a point where you can eventually breath. It will all come together…

One day you will awake to a new and fresh way of capturing your images, you will craft them. You will become the mastermind behind the lens, orchestrating everything right down to how many blades of grass will or will not be included in the scene. You will take into account every single element. Your backgrounds will become as important to you as the subject you are photographing. Gone will be the days of haphazardly snapping away with a Hail Mary playing repeatedly in your head.

Looking for new gear-check out my B&H link…

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32 Responses

  1. John Rowell says:

    Well said, Denise. This is a personal journey for those with the passion to challenge themselves to the craft that is photography.

    Hi John, thank you, it is a journey, isn’t it!

  2. I completely agree with you. I am in the middle of this process. Countless hours of browsing images, gear reviews all a thing of past.
    To learn from the masters, practice are my objectives for this year.

    Hi Krishna,
    I look forward to meeting you and working with you at Nickerson this year.

  3. Denise Dewire says:

    Boy, can I relate to every word you wrote!! Still working on the process…but certainly closer then I was two years ago!! Thanks for all you share with us to get to that creative process!

    Thank you Denise, your post processing is wonderful!

  4. Kristen eder says:

    Happy New Year!! Well said, you are always an inspiration. I can’t wait to see what 2017 brings

    Hi Kristen, Happy New Year to you too. I appreciate your kind words.

  5. Sue Eberhart says:

    It is a long road, for sure, but what I have learned and practiced from spending time with you makes this continual journey one of pure joy. I am looking forward to a trip or two or more with you for so many reasons including your encouragement and patience.

    Hi Sue, you are a pleasure to travel and work with. Your dedication to your art is encouraging to all! I’m looking forward to spending time with you in the UK!!

  6. Nancy Bell says:

    So well said. And studying your images and reading your blogs are huge in my progression. Thanks so much, Denise!

    Hi Nancy, you are too kind, thank you! Happy New Year to you and Chuck. I truly enjoyed spending time with you both in the Camargue. Chuck is such a happy person, he brings joy to everyone- you are blessed!

  7. Jim Fennessy says:

    With you help, I am so enjoying this road (it’s the best and most rewarding hobby I have ever had). Although we have been friends forever, I have only been trying this photography thing for less than a year. Nevertheless, I am loving both the improvement in my images and everything about this outdoor photography thing. For now, all of my very best images are taken at your workshops or with you, and I am confident that you will help me capture new personal best images in 2017 at your workshops in Alaska, Kenya, and anywhere else we happen to shoot. But your coaching has improved my photography skills to the point where I need less and less of your help (although no-one else will ever match your artist eye for composition). Nevertheless, even if I someday get as good at this as some of the amazingly gifted photographers that I have met at your workshops, I will always feel that my art can get better with you. Also, your workshops will always be rewarding, fun, and filled with the very best people. Happy new year and thanks for the gift of your art.

    Hi Jim, It has been great reconnecting with you through our mutual love of photography. I look forward to our trips together and watching you grow as a photographer. hugs, denise

  8. Francis says:

    So very true -Great advice.
    Happy New Year to you.

    Thanks Francis, I appreciate it. Happy New Year to you too!

  9. Kathy Graff says:

    What a wonderful message to start out the new year, Denise. Sage advice. I love the photo too. It’s simply perfect, every detail. But would you help me out? I think it’s a cormorant (because of the bill and the shape of the head) but can’t identify it specifically. And…the upper mandible crosses over the lower mandible and that’s unusual…at least for the cormorant’s I’ve seen.

    Hi Kathy, Thank you, it is an Imperial Cormorant photographed on Bleaker Island, Falkland Islands.

  10. Liz Lauer says:

    Happy New Year Denise,

    So thoughtful and well stated. I look forward to the journey.

    Happy New Year to you too Liz, thanks so much!

  11. Vicki jauron says:

    Funny … I read this as I’m already agonizing over what my photographic goals should be for the coming year. First and foremost not to spend so much time generating nice but ultimately mediocre photos. I’m not a beginner, but I’m certainly not at the level I want to be. I love reading your blog and seeing your photos. They are so very inspiring. Thank you and Happy New Year!

    Hi Vicki, thank you and it is so nice to hear that I inspire you. I agree mediocre is not a place that you want to be. Strive for better, and be gentle with yourself when you fail.

  12. Bill Hedges says:

    Happy New Year Denise.

    It’s a great journey for sure! Such a well written blog!

    Looking forward to joining you later this year to continue the journey I started on last June.

    Hi Bill, we have several adventures that will continue our excellent journey! Happy New Year to you as well!!
    hugs, denise

  13. So very well written Denise I especially love your description of composition!

    Hi Genevieve, thank you so much. I appreciate it. Happy New Year and I hope to see you in the field this year!

  14. Neil Hickman says:

    Hi! For somebody who started bird photography by holding a $100 camera up to binoculars and a telescope I learned very early on how to screw the maximum out of the gear you have. This latest blog reads like a great introduction to an e-book (or three??). My plea would be to assist the artist who is lurking within to “come on out”. Of course – most of your images do this on a constant basis. The question sometimes is “how do you do it?” I think that you are also talking about the artistry required in capturing the image as well as mastering tools of the trade. The images that you begin your post magic on are simply startling.

    Hi Nick, thanks so much. Yes, it is full knowledge of your gear that is essential. I have considered writing an ebook titled “The Visual Artist” but have not had the time to piece it together. One thing regarding gear…I have found on my journey that good gear sure does help 🙂 Happy New Year!

  15. Kathy Graff says:

    Thank you for the info on the cormorant. Gosh, that’s a beautiful bird.

    Thanks Kathy, it really is a beautiful bird aka as Blue-eyed Shag.

  16. Luc Schoonjans says:

    I love this post. This is so appropriate, especially on the 1st of the year. One of my “intents” for 2017 is to spend more time with my camera and get better at composition and post processing. The journey begins today….

    Happy New Year

    Hi Luc, I’m so glad that you enjoyed this post. All the best for 2017 and your exciting journey ahead!

  17. Hi Denise,

    Great blog post!!

    In Malcolm McDowell’s book “Outliers: The Story of Success,” he writes:

    “Practice isn’t the thing you do once you’re good. It’s the thing you do that makes you good.”

    In fact practice is how we leverage natural ability. Practice, practice, practice, constantly expanding skills, striving to do better, etc. is how we become a master. Denise is a great example of how to become a truly great photographer and artist.

    Happy New Year!!

    Best regards,


    Hi Marc, Words to live by, practice truly is key. Thank you for sharing and for your kind words. One of my favorites quotes that I say over and over again especially when I feel defeated is “Winners never quit and quitters never win.” ~ Vince Lombardi. I am not a football fan but this has resonated with me since the first time I heard it.
    Happy New Year!

  18. Everett Davis says:

    I know others read your post, but I have to think you are talking directly to me. You have seen my work and know your advice applies to me. Thank you for reminding me what I need to be doing to improve. The advise you are giving is spot on. Have a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2017!.

    Hi Dee, thank you kindly, I appreciate the comments. Happy New Year to you as well! And continued success on your journey!

  19. James Saxon says:

    Very well said Denise. Photography is a journey where the learning never stops. That said, creating meaningful images is half of the process as it generates the raw material for post processing. In today’s digital world some of the magic happens at the computer with the well exposed, well composed and well designed image. Thanks for all your inspiration. Looking forward to a great ’17. Still trying to grow as a photographer and not just at the waistline.

    Hi James, Yes, the digital end can be as rewarding as the actual capture once you get beyond the basics. Thanks and here is to a great new year!

  20. Sharon Hallowell says:

    So well said, Denise! It’s just so hard to read that damned manual!!!

    Great January 1st post!

    Thanks Sharon,
    Re: It’s just so hard to read that damned manual!!!
    LOL!! Too funny 🙂
    Have a great New Year! I appreciate your continued suport.

  21. Jeanne Lesperance says:

    I appreciate your openness, suggestions and candor more than you can imagine. Attended a day workshop you and Artie did for MA Audubon several years ago and have been following you ever since. Thank you, thank you. Jeanne

    Hi Jeanne, thank you, I appreciate it. I hope to see you on future workshops 🙂

  22. Eloise says:

    Your workshops have helped me learn my equipment. You are such a great teacher. You’re able to communicate in a way I’m able to understand and learn. Thanks!

    Hi Eloise, thank you kindly, I appreciate that. I will see you in October!

  23. Evie young says:

    As always, you are so inspirational. Thanks for this wonderful post. And happy and healthy new year.

    Hi Evie, I am so glad that we had a chance to meet in Montreal. I enjoyed our time together and look forward to a return visit :). A happy and healthy new year to you too.

  24. Glenn Wagner says:

    Know your gear and how to use it?
    Well, I flat out disagree with that, Denise.
    July 15, 2011. I’d gotten in the habit of riding my bike to the beach every night for a swim. So this particular night I’m walking down the beach and I see an attractive gal sitting in the sand with a camera. She’s with a friend,and so as I’m walking by I asked her if she had gotten any good shots and she told me that you just can’t take a bad shot at the beach. To which I thought to myself, that just isn’t true-I’ve taken hundreds of bad shots at the beach. Anyway I go for my swim, and on the way back I notice they are still there. She flags me down and asks if I could help her with her camera. Sure. Oh no, it’s a Nikon. ( I shoot Canon) She didn’t have a clue as to how to operate her camera. But we ended up talking for over an hour, and to make a long story short, here’s the deal. Cathy and I went out for ice cream about 10 days later……and we’ve been together ever since. And so here’s the moral of the story. Know your camera. Know your gear. But if you don’t……ask the guy walking up the beach 🙂

    Hi Glenn, That is a great story! Too funny, thanks for sharing. I love happy endings…

  25. Ron May says:

    Written like someone who has “been there, done that”. This hits way to close to home for me and, I suspect, a lot of others. You statement “know your gear and how to use it” is so true and should become a mantra for all beginning photographers. I like to think of a carpenter who has to know how to use every tool in his toolbox. As a photographer, I have to know how to use every tool in my toolbox – the camera is one of those tools. Thanks for reminding me.

    Hi Ron, Thank you and I agree, my camera is a tool!

  26. I live in NJ, but I didn’t learn abut you until the beginning of 2016 and have been reading your wonderful blogs since. I will refer back to this post often. Thank you for this.!!

    Hi Marilyn, thank you and I am glad that you found me 🙂

  27. Ron May says:

    Denise as part of knowing your gear and going from snap shots to “artistic” images, I came across this saying, can’t remember the origin, but as a followup to your suggestions to share this with folks here on the blog, given that photography, as you and I and a lot of folks see it, is an art form, I like this perspective –

    Music is what emotions sound like, Art is what emotions look like.

    Hi Ron, I love that quote, thanks so much for sharing it with everyone here 🙂

  28. Michael Zajac says:

    Hi Denise, you hit the nail on the head with this one! So true.

    Thank you kindly Michael.

  29. Robert Gartner says:

    Denise, your blog is extremely difficult to read because the type fades away against the background. Hope you can improve it. Bob

    Hi Robert, I don’t have any plans to change my typeface at the moment.

    I wrote a blog about my typeface, here is the link and information, hope that helps:


    Typeface Issues… There is no such thing as typeface being too small. If you are viewing a blog and you feel that the letters are too small than please try one of the suggestions below:

    If your Web browser is Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Netscape, Chrome, or Opera:
    1. Press the Ctrl key on your keyboard.
    2. While holding the Ctrl key, press the + key to make your font size larger.
    3. While holding the Ctrl key, press the – key to make your font size smaller.

    If your Web browser is Safari:
    1. Select “View” from the menu at the top of your screen.
    2. Select the option “Zoom text only” (this option should have a check mark next to it).
    3. Press the Ctrl key on your keyboard.
    4. While holding the Ctrl key, press the + key to make your font size larger.
    5. While holding the Ctrl key, press the – key to make your font size smaller.

    Alternatively if you are on a PC you can follow these instructions:
    Right click on your desktop and click Screen Resolution- no we are not going to change the resolution of the screen.

    Click where it says Make text and other items larger or smaller
    Choose one of the following:

    Smaller – 100% (default). This keeps text and other items at normal size.

    Medium – 125%. This sets text and other items to 125% of normal size.

    Larger – 150%. This sets text and other items to 150% of normal size. This option appears only if your monitor supports a resolution of at least 1200 x 900 pixels.

    Click Apply. To see the change, close all of your programs and then log off of Windows. This change will take effect the next time you log on.
    * If that is still not large enough you can Set the custom text size (DPI) on the left side of the dialogue box.

  30. Joe Subolefsky says:

    Very well written 100% spot on and the perfect post for a new year.

    Hi Joe, Thanks Bud, I am glad that you like it and can relate to it.

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