How I Got the Shot: The Peak In Field

Way back in 2011 my parents and I made a trip out to the Canadian Rockies in Alberta and British Columbia Canada. In 2017 I revisited many of my old nature images and have done new retouching in Lightroom and Photoshop. This image was one of the few which needed no new or improved retouching applied to it.

Most of the days of my parents and I’s trip in the Canadian Rockies thus far had been cloudy. This lead to me mostly photographing wildlife such as black bear, elk, moose, and grizzly bear. I had yet to get many landscape shots I was very happy with (with the exception of a shot of the well known Peyto Lake). On this day as sunset approached, my parents and I crossed over into British Columbia near the small town of Field (an ironic name if you think about it). Most of the rest of the trip was spent in Alberta. We drove across some very curvy mountainous roads and eventually came to a very large waterfall that my parents were trying to find (I no longer remember the name of the waterfall). After viewing the waterfall for a while we started our trip back to our hotel (which was in Canmore, Alberta). A beaver ran out in front of us (how Canadian). My dad tried to stop the car in time for me to get a shot of the beaver, but we were to late. Shortly after the missed beaver, the sun started to break out of the usually overcast clouds. The light streamed thru lighting this one lone peak. We were able to pull off on a scenic turnout on one of the thin twisty mountainous roads, where I was able to get out of the car with my massive Velbon metal tripod (upgrading to a carbon fiber Feisol about a year later was quite the relief). I stood in the middle of the road and grabbed as many frames of this mountain peak as I could before that lonely light bean was removed by the passing clouds. I’m incredibly thankful for how my parents and I were able to providentially come across this beautiful scene. Many landscape photographers prefer images of lesser known areas (such as this nameless mountain peak in Field, British Columbia) than well known icons (think Mt Rundle for the Canadian Rockies or Tunnel View in Yellowstone). In Photoshop I increase the contrast and cropped the image in tighter. This image would later be published in Outdoor Photographer Magazine in their March 2012 issue. More images from that trip are available to view and purchase thru my fine art website.

Shot using a Nikon D200 with a Nikon 70-300mm AF-S VR f/4.5-5.6 Lens on a Velbon Metal Tripod. ISO 100 140mm f/8 1/20 of a second shutter speed.

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Really Don’t Mind if You Sit this One Out: My Love of Music


This is another personal post where you get to learn more about the man behind the camera.

Since I was fairly young I have had a love of music. I still remember as a young kid helping my dad work on his model train layout while he had the 70s progressive rock band Yes playing in the background. I think this played a major role in me later growing to love progressive rock (commonly referred to by the short hand prog).

Even though I have enjoyed listening to music from a young age I have never spent much time learning how to play music. I had a friend who could play guitar and I remember staying up late with him one night as he tried to show me how to play some basic riffs. I kept failing miserably, so he got frustrated and I eventually gave up. Since I had had approximately eight years of martial arts experience, the muscle memory in my hands has been trained to go in certain directions far different from where they need to be to play guitar (or similar instrument). I figure retaining the muscle memory for self defense is more practical than learning an instrument.

This interest (and appreciation) for music was heightened when I was in college by a lecture from my professor David Turner. DT (as we called him) gave a lecture about appreciating other craftsmen (regardless of trade). This lecture really stuck with me and helped me learn to appreciate other art forms such as music.


After college (when I started to become influenced by sounder theology) I was very convicted that I had let music an idol for me. I was wasting to much time listening to music and some of the things I was listening to were to vulgar. I almost cut out music from my life altogether. As C.S. Lewis wrote about in his famous book “The Screwtape Letters” the devil’s always encourage extremes. In 2015 and 2016 I was so focused on studying things and redeeming the time that even the Lord’s Day was so full of reading theological books that I never really rested. In 2017 I decided to make an active choice of incorporating rest and some leisure activities into my schedule. One of these things was music. I went thru my iTunes and looked thru the lyrics of the various albums I had on their. A few were removed due to having things I couldn’t listen to in good conscious but most got to stay. I still won’t listen to music if it has vulgar or raunchy lyrics even if it is in the style of music I like.

A lot of people who have met me more recently are surprised that I have always enjoyed music so much. Because I had made it into an idol at a young age I’m very intentional about not spending much money, time, or thought on it as I did when I was younger. I also think the obsession many people have with music (especially less aesthetically pleasing genres) helps contribute to the perpetual youth culture which plagues my generation. Therefore I keep this pastime to a minimum to prevent it from becoming an idol.



As I had stated prior my favorite genre of music is prog rock. I almost exclusively listen to this genre. There are other styles of music such as classical, jazz, and jam bands that every time I hear them I enjoy, but I have yet to delve deeply into those styles like I have with prog. I particularly like prog because it has always strived to take rock music to a higher form of art than other subgenres of rock music. Many of its albums are conceptual telling a story and has very technical virtuoso musicianship. The length of many songs (and their complexity) border on that of classical music with a few of my favorite songs being over 20 minutes long. Prog also heavily borrows from various other genres such as jazz, classical, folk, and rock creating unique musical compositions.

Even though I think he would probably deem the prog rock genre a type of pop music, a YouTube video by Roger Scruton called The Tyranny of Pop Music perfectly describes (in a far better way than I can) why I like this complex thought provoking music over the common radio friendly pop songs. Charles Spurgeon mentions in one of his sermons that there is a learning curve to appreciate art and I think that is especially true of this genre of music. It takes time to appreciate songs over 20 minutes long with extensive soloing all with a fantasy story interwoven between the various other songs on the album. For those interested in the genre this article from The American Conservative is a great start and written far better than anything I could write.


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How I Got the Shot: The One I Don’t Like But Everyone Else Does

I think anyone who is honest with themselves can look back at things they’ve done and go “well that was stupid.” The story behind the above image is one of those. Back when I lived in Massachusetts my friends and I would regularly go to an abandoned insane asylum called the Belchertown State School. We had got wind of rumors that the asylum would be demolished soon so we went there quite frequently. The Belchertown State School specialized in treating children, but their methods in those days were probably closer to what we call torcher than treatment today. Not a nice place. The “school” had been closed down for years and many buildings were in various states of decay. It was also a hot spot for “paranormal research.” We ran across people who were “paranormal researchers” there and got to hear some of their (not quite compelling) claims. Due to the decay many of the multiple story buildings were very dangerous to navigate thru.

Outside of our normal assignments at the Hallmark Institute of Photography (which was pretty much a trade school for photographers) we would have various contests as well. One of which was all about breaking the traditional rules of photography. The above image was my entry.

This image as shot inside one of the many buildings comprising the Belchertown State School. I had my camera set on a tripod and lit part of the hallway with a flashlight (yes an ordinary flashlight not a traditional camera flash). I moved the camera on the tripod (by changing the camera from horizontal to vertical orientation) and lit other parts of the hallway. This was done by using a very long exposure. I did several tests with this exposure being my favorite at the time. I did some minor global (affecting the entire image) adjustments in Lightroom. This image ended up winning the aforementioned contest.

At the time I thought this image was cool. Some people even thought they saw my reflection in the image (the dark shape which looks like it is wearing a driving cap and a black sweater). There’s nothing reflective in the image so I don’t buy it. Looking back now this image is a far cry from the things which encapsulate my style (clean simple elegant timeless). Does this image showcase the good, the true, and beautiful? Not really. It shows a place with a dark past lingering in decay shot using a weird gimmicky technique. Not very aesthetically pleasing. Never the less people still really like this image even though as my understanding of art and aesthetics have grown with age I have grown to dislike it.

Shot using a Canon 5D Mark III with a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 Lens on a tripod with a pan and tilt head. ISO 1600 24mm f/13 30 second exposure.

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Displaying Your Finished Prints

Here at Ryan Watkins Photography I offer a wide variety of prints and products which can be displayed in a variety of different ways. Here are some recommendations for different ways to display your final prints.

One of the easiest ways to display your photographs is by ordering either my Luxury Metal or Luxury Wood prints. These speciality prints (printed on either wood or metal) come with backings which make them ready to hang. No frame is necessary. Metal prints are very popular with seniors where as wood prints tent to be popular with clients who’s home have more of a log cabin-esque decor.  

If you prefer the more traditional route my Luxury Canvas prints give a timeless quality that is loved by my family portrait clients. These prints will require framing (here are some places that I recommend for getting picture frames). A more affordable alternative to Canvas are my Standard Prints. Unlike if you print your images from your session yourself, I will replace any print or product that is purchased thru Ryan Watkins Photography free of charge if it is damaged or broken. Standard prints can also be ordered from the private online gallery I send all clients within a week of their session and shipped to the client’s home.

If you have several images you’d like printed from your session Portrait Books can be a great alternative to prints. These are also portable so you can carry them with you and show them to friends and family.

For the full list of prints and products I offer visit this page.  

Guest Blog Post: 3 Tips For Capturing Unforgettable Family Moments by Wendy Dessler


You have been hired to take family photographs at an event. It could be a day at the beach or a family reunion. Whatever it is, the family wants to remember their lives at this particular moment in time.


If you are a new photographer, you may think the only way to accomplish this task is to get some killer backdrops from an industry leader like Denny Manufacturing and have the family stand up in front of it and say “cheese.” Backdrops and props are always a good idea as they add depth and creativity to the shot. But the mechanical smile and posed position of the family may not be what they are looking for. It certainly will not add to your portfolio.


It is important to talk with the family. Get an idea of how they live. Some families are very structured. They may live by a strict timeline and maintain control at all times. This is the family that would like the traditional family photo. Other families are all about having fun. They work hard, play hard, and have a great time just playing with their kids and pets. So how do you get a photo of this family?

Tip 1

Create a comfortable atmosphere.


When you are preparing to take your photos, tell them to just hang out for a few minutes while you get your equipment set up. During those moments they do not know you are taking photos. Some great shots often happen while they are laughing, interactions with each other, and just being themselves.


It is great to have the photos they didn’t know were being taken along with the photos they sat for. Even the family that is very structured loves seeing how they really look when they are just being them.


Tip 2

Make it fun and be creative


You can get all kinds of props that will make your photo better. Having the family sitting on an old park bench, on a log, or sitting and standing under a tree. Make it fun for the family. Have them each make sure their hands are showing. They can place a hand on the shoulder of the person next to them. They can place their hands on their laps, or everyone can point in odd directions.


Have them pair off and hug each other. Have them wave for the camera. Whatever they do, make it fun and you will see natural smiles on their faces.

Tip 3

Who is the family?


Many people have pets that are very much part of their family. Do the people have dogs, cats, or other animals that are part of the family? Get that member in some of the photos. It may be a challenge, but it is worth the effort.


Hang around taking random shots after the shoot is over. You may catch a kid petting his dog or a man throwing the ball for his dog to retrieve. You may see the cat curled up on mom’s lap as she sits in the shade. Again, you can get some great shots during the time that the family thinks you are preparing to leave.


The most important part of any photo shoot is to understand exactly who you are working for and what they expect. Then just make it fun and you will give them moments of their lives, frozen in time.


Riley and Katie Engagement Session in Kalamazoo, Michigan

I had a great time photographing Riley and Katie’s engagement session in late October. We started the session at a vineyard which they rent a home on. We then did more images in downtown Kalamazoo. I can’t wait to photograph these two’s wedding in 2019. 

Jeff and Nicole Engagement Session in Mt Pleasant, Michigan

I had a great time photographing Jeff and Nicole’s engagement session at Nelson and Island Park in Mt Pleasant in late October. These two are a super fun couple and super easy to work with. I can’t wait to photograph their wedding next year. My favorite images from their session can be viewed below.