18. July 2015 · Comments Off on In Naiveness all things look simple; even in photography · Categories: Mental Process, Philosophy, Practice, Preparation · Tags: , , , ,
Random chaos & order - It was my naiveness that let me do fall colors the first time without a place to stay

Random chaos & order

Sunset, Moon rise. Planning, not naiveness let's us be at the right place at the right timeAs a kid, I read Tom Swift books.  In these he invented all sorts of very reasonable sounding incredible inventions.  I kept wondering if he could do them in the books, why were they not actually invented yet, seemed simple enough in the books…  The naiveness of a child.  How does my naiveness show up today, or where or when do I choose not to be prepared?

Over the years, I have learned, that if things looked simple and had not yet been done, that I was probably naive.  It would be a call for me to dig into what was the reality.

The mass marketing of photography plays to this. ‘It is simple to get a great photo,  just buy the latest technology and hold your finger down on the button until the great photo shows up.’   True, higher end stores like Keeble & Shuchat have a book section, but even many of these seem to promise ‘if only you did this’ you would have great photos.

But the truth is, there is a lot to consistently (as opposed to an occasional lucky shot) getting good (and sometimes great) photos.  Yes, lucky is good, but ” Chance favors only the prepared mind” is still true today, otherwise it is just random chance.

What is the ‘prepared mind’? what do we need to do for ourselves to improve our photos?  Let’s look at some of the things that go into a typical good photo.

  • The photo is sharp (not usually fuzzy).  So technology can help here, if it is used appropriately.
    •  We can use a tripod
    • We can use image stabilization
    • We can use faster shutter speed (what are we trading off for this?)
    •  Do we have the picture focused on the right thing, or are we focusing on the wrong point…?
  • Is the image lit correctly? Do I have the correct exposure?
    • Cameras today have built in exposure systems that are very good at generating snapshot like images.  However, if you want a dramatic image, then you might have to understand lighting; low angle light vs overhead light, or flat even light vs. hard light, or the color of the light (before or after sunrise, or mid day).
  • Composition – There are so many things here, and there is not nearly the help from technology that there are for sharpness and exposure.
    • Do I really want the subject dead center, or do I want it some place else?
    • Remember rule of thirds
    • Don’t put the horizon on the mid line
    • Make sure that there is not ‘extra’ in the photo
      • No strong lines coming out of someone’s head
      • No extraneous lines that are not contributing (twigs, branches, arms…)
      • Make sure that borders and corners are clean and are not distracting
    • Are you or can you frame the photo?
    • Do the lines lead you into the photo?
    • Is the expression on the face  the expression you want? (or is their mouth open?)
    • … and the list goes on ….

And if you can do all of the above in the 2 seconds that you bring the camera to your eye and snap, you are a better person than I.

What is a prepared mind with regard to photography?  For me, and folks that I work with it means that we practice evaluating photos to see what works and what doesn’t work in photos.  We practice enough that looking at a photo on the screen or in the camera or in magazines, until it is second nature to figure out what works and what doesn’t work.  Where does naiveness show up in your photography?

So, we can try and practice with our own photos, but I have found that usually doesn’t work very well, particularly for learning in the beginning.  What I have found works much better is to practice with other people’s photos.   I strongly recommend that you get yourself an account on 500px .  Then force yourself to write reviews of photos.  Having to write a review forces you to evaluate the photo and what works and does not work in it.   After a few hundred reviews you will understand what sorts of things work in photos and what does not.  This is the practice that creates the prepared mind.  And now, taking good photos is not so naively simple.

Oh, and remember,




04. July 2015 · Comments Off on Trip Planning · Categories: Plan, Practice, Preparation · Tags: ,

“Chance favors the prepared mind” Louis Pasteur

Most every year my wife, Laurie, and I make a spring trip to the Southwest. It is a time we both look forward to; as she says ‘you drag me to such beautiful places and you don’t rush me once we are there.’  The trips are planned around getting good photos.   How many times have you seen really nice photos and said to yourself, ‘ How come mine don’t look like that?’  Getting great pictures is not particularly a matter of luck (although luck certainly helps in getting dramatic skies, or blue skies as desired).  In this case it is a matter of trip planning.

Many things go into a successful photo expedition; and getting them right  makes a huge difference both in the photos, and in the enjoyment.  Mostly trip planning is about all of the various logistics that are involved:

  1. What do I want to accomplish?  What types of photos, what types of locations.  Am I headed for Le Mans and car racing, or in this case the American Southwest.  If you don’t know, then look at magazines, travel guides until you have an idea of what you want to do photographically.
  2. Having decided the what you want, then the trip planning is the logistics of travel and lodging given where and when you want to be someplace for a particular photo.  For example; if you want Mesa Arch at sunrise
    Mesa Arch at sunrise

    Mesa Arch – Island in the Sky – Canyonlands

    , then you need to figure an hour plus from Moab to the arch (maybe longer), and you want to arrive at least half an hour before sunrise.  Arriving at a place at sunrise is better than a couple hours later, but arriving before sunrise is so much better, particularly if you want one of those dramatic photos that you see and wonder why aren’t mine like that?  Oh, and remember to bring a headlamp for walking in the dark, and a tripod that you know how to use for the long exposures.

  3. So, using the Mesa Arch as an example, what else is there to see that could be seen?  Dead Horse State Park
    Road, Canyons, the LaSals from Dead Horse State Park

    Road, Canyons, the LaSals from Dead Horse State Park

    comes to mind, or False Kiva.

  4. Oh, did we get the car gassed  up the night before (most gas stations are not open at O’dark hundred).
  5. How do we get to Moab? Well it takes 2 days driving, need a place to stay along the way as well as a place in Moab. (AAA books are nice).
  6. What are the plans for each of the 10 days?
    1. Drive to Barstow, CA in the evening after work; what are we doing for food & water, where are we staying?  Have I planned to have the car serviced before the trip?
    2. Day 1: Barstow to Moab the next day (I15 to I70).  Do I want to stop, is there time to stop for some rock art photos?
      Rock Art

      On a major byway through the mountains

      If I want rock art photos, what do I need like off camera flash? If I am planning a sunrise shoot the next morning, have I gassed the car up the night before, even if it is midnight?

    3. Day 2: Sleep in, continental breakfast in motel/hotel.  Sunset shoot at Dead Horse, scout other locations.  Maybe get False Kiva.
    4. Day 3:…
    5. Day 4:

What I have found to be successful for planning is asking a bunch of questions and then keeping notes on the answers that I group together .

The questions include

  • What do I want?
    • If I don’t know where or what I want I refer to either the AmericanSouthwest.net or to Photographing the Southwest, both are excellent sources of information about thing to shoot, and how to get there.  Although the parks and BLM have good visitor sites, a good guide book or website can help you find locations, and plan that the visitors centers can’t.  I have found both of the above to be quite useful.
  • Getting There
    • How long to get there?  Do I have the needed maps?  There are places GPS doesn’t work very well.
    • When do I want to be there?  Is there some slack built in for the unexpected? The featured image requires you to be there within a fairly small time window.
    • What do I need?
      • What camera equipment
      • What clothing (Jacket? Sun hat, sun screen, boots, socks, etc.)
      • Food & water (cases of bottled water work very well)
      • What does my wife need (she doesn’t like the cold, and wants to be fed regularly, imagine that…)?
      • Unusual things, e.g. first aid kit,  head lamp
      • Car charger and other electronics
    • What preparation is required?  e.g. servicing the car before the trip, motel reservations, checking out places to eat on yelp.
  • What are alternatives if things don’t work out (e.g. the road is closed).

Asking myself these kinds of questions and knowing how to get answers (see references above) are critical to setting yourself up for success.

One of the things learned through not having done it, is to build at least a partial itinerary (say by half days) of places.  It really doesn’t very well to go oops, I meant to stop at, and it is now two hours away.   So, I might have an Island in the Sky itinerary that looks like:

  • Mesa Arch (leave sunrise -2 hours)
  • Aztec Mesa ( 2-3 hours)
  • Lunch at visitors center
  • Shafter trail long canyon 2 hours (get locations of rock art, and arches)
  • False Kiva for late afternoon (2 hours)
  • Dead horse point for sunset (easy)
  • Return Moab, dinner

Some planning ahead of time greatly enhances the experience.

See more Southwest photos at PatrickLynchPhotography.com/Gallery

30. June 2015 · Comments Off on Composition – Framing – no not the wood around the photo · Categories: Composition, Practice · Tags: , , , ,

“Art is the imposing of a pattern on experience, and our aesthetic enjoyment is recognition of the pattern. “

Alfred North Whitehead

Dancing Trees

There are several composition topics in photography that are most easily learned through examples rather than prose.  I thought I would write a series of articles on several of these with a few photos in each to help illustrate the point.

I’m starting with framing because it was one of the easier ones to start with, not because it is more or less important, but just easier for me to write about.

One way to look at framing is that the subject around the edge draws your attention to the main focus point.  I would encourage you to log onto 500px.com and see what you can identify as successfully framed photos.

Laurie in Little Wild Horse slot canyon

It could be reasonably argued that the above photo is really about lines, but notice how we have both lines and color framing my wife.

The photo below is an example of classical framing.CRW_0598You probably recognize this type of framing from travel post cards.

For the opening photo, notice how the branches frame the moon.   This would not have been as effective if the branch split the moon.  This also illustrates that not all framing needs to symmetrical in position or content.

Early morning light catching the spray from a waterfall

This photo illustrates a classic concept involved with framing; that is that the borders or the frame is darker than the central point of focus.  Eyes are typically drawn to the bright parts of the photo.


In this example, the bright trees frame the waterfall which is itself framed by the dark rock.  This photo illustrates again that framing does not need to be symmetrical, nor even conventional with bright being the framing of the waterfall.


This photo is again asymmetrical framing, this time of El Capitan framed with trees.

The challenge to you is to experiment with framing in your photos and decide what works and does not work for your photos.

“If you see a whole thing – it seems that it’s always beautiful. Planets, lives… But up close a world’s all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life’s a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern.”   Ursula K. Le Guin

Check out other images for framing or the lack there of… on my website

27. June 2015 · Comments Off on When I get to the pearly gates, St. Peter … · Categories: Philosophy, Photography, Practice, Preparation · Tags: ,
At the end of the chess match, the black pieces and white pieces go into the same box- Russian Proverb
Shooting the photographer

Lower Antelope Canyon. Slot canyons are a great opportunity to practice composition and see what you learn

Dragon in the town of Joseph

Dragon in the town of Joseph

St. Peter will not ask ‘Did I shoot with Nikon, or Canon?’   My friends were teasing me and said, no he will ask ‘if you shot with Hasselblad?’, or Leica.  Or will he ask, ‘Have you been the best photographer you could be?’

There have been times in my life when I have been badly infected with ‘lens lust’; that is the belief that the next lens, gadget, techno wizzy thing will help me have the perfect photo !  It will won’t it?

And on the flip side is;

No photographer is as good as the simplest camera.- Edward Steichen

I suspect that Steichen was correct, that at best we might get 80% out of our camera.  I remember my sister-in-law getting incredible shots with her instamatic camera.  And yet it is naïve to say that technology doesn’t enable us to take photos we couldn’t have taken otherwise.

As much as I love new toys and new gizzies, I know in my heart that quality, stunning photos come from the photographer, not from the camera.  There is a What the Duck cartoon with a person saying to the photographer, ‘Wow your camera really takes nice pictures’ and the Photographer responds with ‘and your lips make nice noises’. This Link is to a humorous article that covers this affliction in detail. And we learn from humor as well…

So, how do I continue my learning to become an ever better photographer?  I read, and I practice.  As I practice, I have to continually review and see what works and what does not work and figure out why that is so.  Here are some of the areas that I practice and learn  in:

  • Camera setup and manipulation; for each of the lens what is the ‘best’ way to change the lens, how do I set the camera up for a time delay shot, how do I choose focus points, how do I do things in the dark?   I was at Bryce Canyon standing on top of a soon to be hoodoo spire of rock that was barely big enough for the tripod legs and trying to change lens. The lens was attached to the tripod (third hand) and in one hand was the new lens, and the other the body when the tripod blew over, lens hits camera & cracks the back, and I nearly go over the edge… a learning opportunity…
  • How do I compose a shot? do I check my corners?  What exposure do I really want? did I get it?  The pic below is an early pic.  It could have been much stronger if the branch were on a diagonal and the pine cone in the bottom right. The white sky background doesn’t really do much for me either.  So, what can I learn? Pay more attention to diagonals, don’t use the sky as a background.  And the start of composition is built, as guidance rather than hard fast rules.

    Pine Cone

    Pine Cone

  • What works for work flow, what better ways could I do something
  • Do I like the feeling in the photograph?  If not, what don’t I like and why?  The pic below has both the rear and the head of the buck, it would have been a better photo head on without the rear.  Additionally the pic is too contrasty for my tastes.

    Butt Head

    Butt Head

  • As I learn new techniques, how would I use them, where would I use them?

There are always opportunities to continue to improve, and yes, some may involve a new toy or gizzy, but the real photographer is me.  Similarly, how do I approach my life, am I learning, or do I hope that the next something out there will magically strike me wonderful?

To see more of my photos visit .


22. April 2015 · Comments Off on Sad Demise, The King is Dead, Long Live the King · Categories: Philosophy, Photography, Practice · Tags: , , ,
Babies without a mom

Elephant Seals,Piedras Blancas

“One of my greatest fears is not being able to change, to be caught in a never-ending cycle sameness.  Growth is so important” Matt Dilon


I sad to report the demise of Photosig, a site that I have recommended for a decade.  I have watched numerous students’ photos improve dramatically as they developed a photographer’s eye.  The idea was simple;

  1. Someone post a photo of theirs.
  2. Others would write critiques of the photo.  And this is where the learning takes place.
  3. And if still others found the critiques to be useful they were rate with thumbs up.  The critique writes then earned points that allowed them to post photos.

Learning to give a useful critique is important in several ways.  First, you have to learn to articulate what works and doesn’t work with a photo.  This requires engaging the photo and finding words to your reactions and figuring out what caused it.  This is critical to becoming a good photographer. Second, because it was someone else’s photo, there is much more detachment than if it were your own photo.  We tend to be our own worst critic; either too harsh or too lenient.   Third, because the critique has to be useful.

Photosig provided the structure that led us to learning. I am sad with the demise of Photosig.

The King is Dead, Long Live the King.  A toast to the cycle of kings.  Can we do no less?  Who is the new king? 500px seems to be the new king.  If you haven’t already looked at 500px you should check it out.


In my opinion, the quality of the images is better at  500px than it was at photosig, both from a clarity perspective, and from composition.  Critiques though are less structured and don’t lead people to grow as much as photosig did.   If you can learn to figure out why you like an image, then 500px  has more good images to look at and learn from.



25. March 2015 · Comments Off on Plan, Prepare, Practice, Patience · Categories: patience, Philosophy, Plan, Practice, Preparation · Tags: , , ,
At times those skills were really hard to do because not only was I having to contend with the camera, but I was having to learn these new skills and the ball was always kind of doing what you didn’t want it to do. So it got a little bit frustrating at times but we got there.- Parminder Nagra
Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning.- Winston Churchill
Girls Volleyball,Stanford,Volleyball

Girls Volleyball, Stanford, Volleyball

I have ADHD.  For those that know, it is well like DUH! So, for me to write, let alone an article on Plan, Prepare, Practice, Patience is quite something !

Regardless of whether you are an Instagram shooter, shooting for a paper, portraits, landscapes, you name it; Plan, Prepare, Practice, Patience all  pay dividends.  Seldom do we get a chance as photographers to do over again. and even the ability to do over again, requires planning and preparation.

  •  A product shots requires planning to allow a redo.
  • I think of my son who posts on Instagram and Facebook multiple times a day of friends, food, activities; there is no redo for those occasions.
  • Landscape photography, will the lighting be the same, will you be in the same spot, will the landscape be the same?
  • Portraits, will the person(s) be able to have the same expression, will you have the same lighting?
  • As an event photographer (think sports) the moment is fleeting and gone forever.

Not all photos, and types of photos require the same degree of Planning, Preparation, Practice, and Patience.  My Instagram son, who uses his phone for photos plans, as do every other photographer I know.  What do these four “P”s  really mean?


Planning is the process of mentally looking into the future and imagining what is going to happen, and how you will respond.  And then, taking notes (mental or otherwise) on what you will do.  Here are a few examples:

  • To take an early morning  sunrise photo, I will need a light to see the camera, I will need a tripod for long exposures, I will something to keep me warm.
  • To get pics of elephant seals fighting I am going to need a longish lens.
  • What are the settings  I need on the camera for what I am shooting.

Most of us do some amount of mental planning, but do we actually pay attention and think about what it is that we want to do? Often, planning is the result of learning from things not well enough planned.


This is an action step: This is where I collect what is needed, or the process of getting what is needed available.

  • Buy gloves and a headlamp for my before sunrise photo
  • I find out if the elephant seals are visible to public and obtain needed permits
  • Charge batteries
  • Pack the camera bag
  • Get water and munchies for during the day
  • Clean the camera & lenses
  • Fresh memory for the camera

All of these types of activities are implicitly the result of planning and recognizing what actions need to happen.  I often make a work list so that I won’t forget something, and that I can add to as I remember other things.  I set up various categories that I need to deal with such as clothing, camera, lighting, props, batteries.


There are many times  and types of photography where there is not a lot of time to figure something out; kids, wild life, event photography, even landscape as the light is changing from predawn to dawn.  I remember, one pre  dawn at Mesa Arch, and three guys came in late, but they had a tripod, but they didn’t know how to connect the camera to the tripod.  Some types of photography, such as sports or wild life, require a knowledge about the subject if you want good photos.

Mesa Arch, being prepared

Canyon Lands National Park,Island in the Sky,Mesa Arch,Southwest,Utah,buttes,canyons,sunrise


I am in some ways surprised that I am a photographer with my ADHD.  Waiting for the moment and not getting frustrated in the waiting and not just clicking frames out of impatience that later have to be weeded out.  The elephant seals, and the volleyball practice are both examples of this.


In parting, if you think about it, what would you do more of, what would you do less of: Plan Prepare Practice Patience?