5 Recommendations For Those Who Want to Get Started in Photography

I regularly get asked what resources I recommend for those who want to learn about photography. Here are five of my favorites.  

KelbyOne is the Netflix of photography tutorials. Classes range from beginner to professional level. Classes are taught by the best in the industry. Topics range from a variety of genres of photography, retouching, and business. Prices are around $10-$20 a month depending on subscription level. I became a member in early 2019. I have been going to live seminars of theirs since 2011.

The Professional Photographers Of America is a great trade organization. Membership includes a plethora of benefits. These include industry discounts, a subscription to Professional Photographer magazine, tons of how to videos, contracts, access to various insurances, and that is just scratching the surface. Becoming a member costs a little over $33 a month. I have been a member since 2013.

In 2017 I created the Michigan Photography Network Facebook group. This group was created for networking with fellow photographers in Michigan. The group has now grown to over 900 members. We have had several in person meet ups which have now been replaced by a monthly meet up at The Studio Shop in Williamston. Amateur photographers regularly ask photography related questions in the group and are met with responses from professionals around the state. I post at least twice a day in the group to helpful articles, videos, and other industry related news. Industry websites I regularly follow and link to include: fstoppers, petapixel, and strobist. CreativeLive also occasionally offers free classes on photography. For fellow podcast fans the PetaPixel Photography Podcast with Sharky James is great for short concise industry news.

Going to meetups, group shoots, assisting, and second shooting for photographers are ways most people get started in the industry. Since the closing of the Hallmark Institute of Photography and the Brooks Institute both in 2016, few traditional schools exist offering high end photography education. Finding ways to meet and work with working professionals is a great way to learn the craft. Reaching out to local professionals and finding ways to network with them is a great way to get your foot in the door.

One of the best ways to learn about photography is getting out and shooting. Trial and error. Reading photography books, magazines, tutorials, and videos are great but nothing beats actual experience. Get out and shoot.

How did I learn about photography? I started by entering contests on the website worth1000.com. I read every photography magazine and book I could find. I was also constantly out shooting. I got published in several magazines prior to my formal education at the Hallmark Institute of Photography. Things have changed a lot since 2009 though. Worth1000 is defunct. Shutterbug, the first magazine I got published on the cover of, went out of print in 2018. My alma mater the Hallmark Institute of Photography closed in 2016 due to a former president embezzling a large sum of money from the school. Even though the places I learned the craft from may no longer exist, amazing new resources, like KelbyOne, have arisen to offer amazing educational resources for aspiring photographers.

Productivity Hacks: Single Tasking


Over the years of owning my own business I’ve came to learn a lot of valuable things. These have been learn via trial and error, books, podcasts, magazines, and discussions with fellow entrepreneurs. One of the best productivity hacks I’ve learnt is single tasking.

When I first started running my business full time I would try to multitask. I’ve be trying to retouch, answer emails, do website updates, post to social media, and do a variety of busy work all at once. I regularly get confused as to what I was working on and rarely got much done. I’d have some many tabs and software open I regularly have my computer freeze up. Over time I learned that doing one task at a time was far more productive.

Now I try to single task. Single tasking is a very simple process. I simply take one thing I’m working on at a time instead of trying to do multiple things at once. For example today I’m working on blog posts. I’ll write a blog post, proofread it, then schedule it on my blog, and lastly schedule it via Buffer to be sent out to social media. I’m not retouching, accounting, nor writing social media copy. I’m just working on writing blog posts. By taking one task at a time I have become far more efficient and get much more done.

Find this article helpful? Buy Ryan a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/rywatkinsphotos

When To Put The Camera Down



I am constantly reading books. Not because I think I’m smart. For the opposite reason actually. I’m aware there is so much I don’t know and need to learn. I came across this passage recently which got me thinking.

“we need to rethink our memories. What if the point-and-shoot cameras in our phones make us less capable of retaining discrete memories? One psychologist calls this camera-induced amnesia the “photo-taking impairment effect,” and it works like this: by outsourcing the memory of a moment to our camera, we flatten out the event into a 2-D snapshot and proceed to ignore its many other contours—such as context, meaning, smells, touch, and taste… If the cameras in our pockets mute our moments into 2-D memories, perhaps the richest memories in life are better “captured” by our full sensory awareness in the moment—then later written down in a journal. This simple practice has proven to be a rich means of preserving memories for people throughout the centuries. Photography is a blessing, but if we impulsively turn to our camera apps too quickly, our minds can fail to capture the true moments and the rich details of an experience in exchange for visually flattened memories. Point-and-shoot cameras may in fact be costing us our most vivid recollections. But until we are convinced of this, we will continue to impulsively reach for our phones in the event of the extraordinary (or less).” Tony Reinke – 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You

When I was in middle and high school I had a camera with me all the time. The camera on me was always the best camera I owned. I would document everything. Hanging out with friends. Family get togethers. Nature scenes and wildlife on the way to and from church, school, or commissioned shoots. Everything. If I didn’t bring my camera with me it seemed like the event was a waste. During college my thinking started to shift. I started only bringing my professional camera with me to professional shoots for school or clients. As I grew older I became less and less obsessed with documenting every mundane detail of life. Instead I choose to live in the moment. This thinking didn’t change overnight. It wasn’t even something I really thought about until I came across the Reinke quote. It was something that gradually happened over time. In December 2013 I bought my first iPhone. The iPhone became the camera I would document ordinary life with instead of a professional camera. I even created a personal series of iPhone images from late 2013-2016. The series saw less and less additions as time went on. In 2017 almost no new images where added. In 2018 I fully removed the gallery from my website. Now in 2019 I rarely take photos with my iPhone. The exception would be images for other business related tasks instead of artistic endeavors. Photos of business cards, location scouting, or of my car so I can find out how to get back to where I parked. I’ve had to many awkward experiences with the former to not be overly cautious now. Get togethers with friends, networking events, and my other ordinary busy work see no photographic documentation from me.

A friend of mine who runs in the same entrepreneurial circles I do shares a similar outlook. He greatly enjoys travel, but doesn’t take photos of his trips. Why? Because he would rather enjoy the moment than worry about getting a good photo.

It is okay to put the camera down. Enjoy the moment. You don’t need to document every minute detail of your life.

“I now find peace in the realization that countless potential masterpieces happen each moment the world over and go unphotographed.” Dan Winters – The Road to Seeing

Find this article helpful? Buy Ryan a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/rywatkinsphotos

Productivity Hacks: Buffer


In 2017 I made a ton of changes to my business. One of the smartest decisions I made was starting to use Buffer. Buffer allows me to schedule social media posts in advance from my computer or phone. I use Buffer to send posts to my business Facebook page, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and the facebook group I manage. Using Buffer saves me a ton of time. I no longer have to interrupt conversations and other tasks to post at the optimum time on social media. I single task. I will write several weeks or months worth of social media copy at a time and schedule it using Buffer. I would highly recommend anyone who uses multiple social media platforms for business check out Buffer.

Find this article helpful? Buy Ryan a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/rywatkinsphotos

How I Got the Shot: Frigid Gesture

 

Since I first got started in photography I loved wildlife and nature photography. I even got some of my bird photography published in Audubon, Nature’s Best Photography, and a few other publications back when I was in high school. Due to using primarily shorter telephoto and standard lenses (which are a bit short for wildlife photography) I don’t shoot a ton of wildlife work anymore.

In early December 2016 I woke up early Sunday morning to head to church. I put the key in the ignition of my car and it didn’t start. I messed around with it trying to get it to start until it got to the time that I would be late for church anyway. I went back in and noticed the beautiful light streaming down on the frigid trees in my backyard. I grabbed my Nikon D600 with my go to Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 Lens. When I got out there were several chickadees out their as well eating from our bird feeders. This chickadee had just landed on the barbed wire fence causing some snow to fall off of the fence. The golden light streaming thru the trees lit this falling snow making the image. This little bit of movement and gesture is what makes the shot one of my better wildlife images.

Shot using a Nikon D600 with a Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 Lens. ISO 800 200mm f/2.8 1/4000 of a second shutter speed.

Find this article helpful? Buy Ryan a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/rywatkinsphotos

 

How I Got the Shot: Bird Butt

Because I primarily shoot portraiture and weddings my gear choices reflect that. I have a great deal of respect for those who shoot wildlife but I don’t get to do it much myself anymore due to other priorities. The longest lens I currently own is my Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 (yes 80-200mm not 70-200mm; the 80 is cheaper and I don’t need the bells and whistles of the 70) which is great for portraiture but can be a bit short for wildlife. Due to this I’m limited to shooting wildlife I can get close to.

For years I’ve wanted to get a good cardinal image (especially when I was younger and my aunt who loved cardinals was still alive). The first time I had gotten a cardinal image I was happy with was a year prior in 2016 (that image would later get used as the cover of the Phone Guide Isabella – Gratiot County January 2017-2018). These birds are very skittish. I was worried that my camera’s shutter noise would scare off the cardinal (one of my few gripes with the Nikon system is how loud their camera shutters are and the quite mode’s uselessness). The cardinal stayed put long enough for me to get right up into the window. As the cardinal flew away it kicked up some snow off the railing. Later in post I would crop in quite heavily to emphasis the snow being kicked up. Little bits of gesture like this in any photograph greatly improve their quality. This ended up being one of my most liked images on Instagram in 2017 and an image people have mentioned they liked to me in person several times over the year.

Shot using a Nikon D600 and a Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 Lens handheld. ISO 800 200mm f/4 I/4000 of a second shutter speed.

 

Find this article helpful? Buy Ryan a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/rywatkinsphotos

 

How I Got the Shot: The Accidental Homage to Kinkade

 

I enjoy shooting commercial photography, but due to my area (rural mid-Michigan) I seldom get to shoot much which would fall under that category. A few years ago in late 2013 and early 2014 I was commissioned to shoot images of the exteriors of various churches which were part of the Church of Daniel’s Band (a non-denominational church with its roots in Methodism which I grew up attending). I knew shooting these images at midday would result in boring images. Instead I opted to shoot them during the “blue hour” (as us photographers call it) shortly after sunset when everything has a bluer tint to it. This would create contrast between the warm tungsten bulbs lighting the interior of the church and cool evening light hitting the exterior. I also wanted the church to have some shape and dimension to it as well. To achieve that look I used my Alienbee B1600 flash to light the part of the church with the entrance door. I placed the flash far enough back that the light would spread and light that entire side of the church. This made that side of the church slightly lighter giving the church some dimension (making it look more three dimensional). The light put off by my strobe is daylight balanced (which means it looks white to my camera) so I had to adjust the colors in post making the strobes match the ambient blue light. Looking back now I could have also attached a CTB (color temperature blue) gel to the light to minimize my time in Photoshop correcting the colors. I also added a moon to the sky in the background in post to add to the night time look. After showing this image to various people many have commented that it reminds them of Thomas Kinkade’s paintings. People have made similar comments about other night (images taken shortly after sunset during the “blue hour”) images of mine that they remind them of Kinkade’s work. I’ve been aware of Kinkade’s work for years but none of my “blue hour” shots have been intended as an intentional homage to his work (even though I’ve always liked his work). He and I use a similar technique to make our images shot (or in his case painted at this time of day) look dramatic. The natural color contrast between the warn interior light and the cold exterior light always makes for dynamic engaging images regardless of medium.

Shot using a Nikon D600 with a Sigma 28-70mm f/2.8 Lens on a Feisol Carbon Fiber CT-3371 Tripod with a Kirk B3 Ball Head with an L bracket. Lit with an Alienbee B1600 triggered with Radio Poppers and powered with a Vagabond Mini. As I’ve stated before I quit using Radio Poppers in 2016 and switched to the cheaper and more reliable Yongnuo triggers. ISO 100 28mm f/10 0.8 of a second shutter speed.

 

Find this article helpful? Buy Ryan a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/rywatkinsphotos

How I Got the Shot(s): The Ents and The Omelettes

In early 2017 I spent a good amount of time reading business books and shooting winter landscapes around (primarily) Clare, Michigan. Since I first got started in photography I have loved photographing nature. As I’ve grown older I’ve learned to love the small town community I grew up in as well. It seems like a natural fit to shoot the countryside around Clare.

 

During my travels thru the rural roads near Clare I eventually found places I would return to frequently. One of those was the historic Dover School. Many places near the Dover School proved to be beautiful locations for both the fall colors and the winter landscapes. If you take a right leaving the Dover School parking lot and take a right at the first road you see and keep going you will eventually run into the tree featured above. I have always loved this old craggily tree. These have some much texture and character which makes them great photographic subjects. I had photographed this tree several times but had yet to come across it when the conditions were right to make a good lasting photograph. With trees on property I have access to I can easily get out my artificial lighting and make the tree look really cool. Since this tree is on private property (and I have a very high view of private property rights) I’m restrained to what images I can get of this tree from parking lots and the road. Usually when I would come to visit this tree there was little separating it from the trees behind it making it blend in with them resulting in a busy cluttered photograph. When I was out shooting on this particularly blustery winter day the high winds were kicking up snow between the ent like tree and those behind it. These snowy wind gusts made a white background separating the tree I liked from those behind it. This image is actually a small panoramic composite of two images. Because I knew I would want to print this image large I shot two images right next to each other and combined them later in Lightroom creating one large file which can be printed at even larger sizes. One of the reasons I like this image is the tree seems reminiscent of the ents from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I had read the books multiple times back in middle and high school and hope to again sometime sooner than later.

Shot using a Nikon D600 with a Nikon 80-200mm lens handheld. ISO 800 80mm f/4 1/4000 of a second shutter speed.

While training my second shooter for weddings, Nikki Robinson, I found out that she always calls the Amish omelettes. I have no idea why this is now this is but  I find myself accidentally referring to the Amish as omelettes now to. I’ve heard people say you become like the people your around the most and I guess this proves that theory true.

 

On that same day that I shot the ent like tree I also came across these cold omelettes raveling home in the fog. I slowed down and grabbed a few images of them before passing them and traveling to other locations to photograph. As I’ve grown older I’d grown to love this local community here in Clare, Michigan and I think this image of these Amish traveling in the snow is a beautiful representation of Clare, Mi.

Shot using a Nikon D600 with a Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 Lens. ISO 800 170mm f/4 1/4000 of a second shutter speed.

Find this article helpful? Buy Ryan a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/rywatkinsphotos

How I Got the Shot(s): The Change of Seasons

2016 marked a return to photographing fine art nature and landscape work for me. I had loved this type of photography when I was in high school, and had even had some of the images in this genre of photography published in magazines back then. As I grew older and photography became a profession instead of a hobby I’ve ended up putting more emphasis portraiture and weddings.

One of the big projects I worked on in 2016 was photographing the local fall foliage (primarily) around Clare County. After a few days of shooting I found a handful of places I liked and returned to. I regrettably didn’t keep a close track of some of the more hard to find places that I came across. A place I ended up coming back to several times was the Dover school just outside Clare, Michigan. This place usually has beautiful fall colors during the entire fall season.

While shooting these fall colors it started to unexpectedly snow allowing me to capture images with both snow and the fall leaves. These images remain some of my favorite fine art nature images that I’ve taken in recent years. At no other time have I been able to capture both the fall colors and snow in the same images.

Capturing (most of) these images was pretty simplistic. I would drive around the rural roads pull my car over and walk up and down the roads capturing the best leaves. When you point your camera at a subject your camera thinks it needs to make the subject 18% grey. Regardless of if you are photographing a black bear in a cave or a polar bear in the snow your camera thinks the photo needs to be 18% grey. Due to this when shooting in the snow your camera will usually make the images slighting to dark (or underexposed). If you are using an automatic or semiautomatic mode (like aperture priority or shutter priority) you can easily correct this by slighting increasing your exposure compensation to +⅓ or + ⅔ of a stop. Take some test shots to make sure your aren’t making the image to bright (overexposing). Many cameras have a function I usually refer to as the “blinky” which will alert you if their are pixels so bright in your images that they can’t be saved in post production. The pixels will flash red. Turing this feature on is very helpful when shooting in the snow.

The image at the top of this post was captured just down the road from the Dover School. I have photographed these trees numerous times. A few months later I would get images of these trees during a snowstorm which would become one of my most liked images for the year of 2017. Shot using a Nikon D600 with a Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 Lens handheld. ISO 400 105mm f/2.8 1/1600 of a second shutter speed.

This next image was shot on the same road near the Dover School but I had to use a different technique to capture it. I moved my camera from left to right shooting several images with the same exposure intending to later merge the images in one large panoramic image later in Lightroom. To make the panoramic stitching easier I made sure to shoot in manual exposure mode the brightness of the images wouldn’t vary. Also using a long lens at a shallow depth of field allows for a look most people aren’t used to seeing in landscape photography. Shot using a Nikon D600 with a Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 lens handheld. All images which were later stitched together were shot at ISO 400 80mm f/2.8 1/1600 of a second shutter speed. (panoramic)

This image was shot in the parking lot right next to the Dover School. This is another tree I have returned to and photographed many times in many different seasons. Shot using a Nikon D600 with a Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8 Lens handheld. ISO 400 100mm f/8 1/320 of a second shutter speed. (Dover school snow on tree)

This last image was shot on Maple Road right off of Tobacco Drive outside Clare, Michigan somewhat near Loomis, Michigan. I used a wider lens to capture more of the scene and stopped down to a narrower aperture (larger f number) to ensure the entire scene would be in focus. From using my Sigma 28-70mm for years I’ve learnt where the lens is most sharp and has the least vignetting which was another factor into why I shot using f/8). Shot using a Nikon D600 with a Sigma 28-70mm f/2.8 lens handheld since I was standing in a road. ISO 1600 28mm f/8 1/250 of a second shutter speed. (maple road)

After photographing Maple Road my windshield wiper motor died. My car is constantly having bizarre yet minor issues with it (this case being the perfect example). I drove to Coleman to get it fixed. I wasn’t able to get it fixed that day so I had to drive in the snow to Midland than evening to a Bible study without windshield wipers. I’m incredibly thankful that I was providentially kept safe during that experience.

Find this article helpful? Buy Ryan a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/rywatkinsphotos

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.

Find this article helpful? Buy Ryan a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/rywatkinsphotos