Not only do I share my pictures on Instagram, I also I post them on a few different contest websites that offer really cool prizes. I’ve not yet won a prize, but I’m okay with that…there’s some pretty hefty competition on those sites from amazing and talented photographers! I keep at it though, and not just for the minor ego stroke I get from votes or likes. My greatest satisfaction from photography still comes from the joy I get when I’m staking out a birdfeeder or standing out in the freezing cold night, hoping the clouds covering the full moon will part for just a moment. Plus there’s also the post-process, which I’m really digging. 😎
But the best thing about “prize” sites like Gurushots, Viewbug and 500px is that the contests have themes. And why does that matter? Because themes can help push you outside your comfort zone…they can get you trying new things with your photography.
“Try Something New” was actually the theme for one of the contests I entered. During the arctic weather we had last month, I saw a beautiful video reposted a hundred times on Instagram showing a soap bubble crystallizing in the cold until it froze over. Finally! A reason to be happy about the super deep freeze of winter! Of course, I didn’t happen to have a bottle of bubble mix with handy bubble-blowing wand, so I made my own…a little water mixed with dish soap and a regular drinking straw. The table on the deck had snow piled on it still, so I pulled on my parka, grabbed my bubble mix, camera (with trusty Macro Lens) & tripod and got set up outside.
It was so easy and I got the perfect shot on my first try! Not really…just kidding. As if anything can go that smoothly when you’re working in 2-degree weather! It actually took a lot of effort to just get a bubble to stick on the snow and not break in the breeze. And if one happened to stick, it would break a split second before I could release the shutter on the camera. Blerg! But, I was determined to get at least one good shot, so I mixed in a little more soap and tried again. Eureka! That was all I needed to get a bubble to stick and crystallize before breaking. I managed to get two shots that I am very happy with…
Now that I’d completed my Frozen Bubble Project, I was anxious to try even more new things with my camera…just not anything outdoors again.Or so I thought, until I started seeing some fantastic shots of snowflakes. But before I could attempt such a shot myself, I needed to practice first…in a much warmer place.
And into my camera bag I go! Over the last few months, I picked up a few items here and there that I hadn’t gotten around to really trying out yet…things like reflectors, flashes and reversing rings. But for this practice project, I needed the Extension Tubes, my Nikon 35mm lens, a flashlight and a couple of objects I wanted to look at up close…like, really really close.
Extension tubes are stackable, hollow tubes mounted between the lens and the camera body. They move the lens away from the camera allowing you to get closer to the subject. The closer you can focus, the more magnification you can get! For this project I wanted to try creating a natural bokeh effect. (Bokeh is the blurry quality rendered on out-of-focus points of light in a photo.) I stacked all the tubes and used a small flashlight to light up a glittery button and a sparkly butterfly pen. It was a strange feeling to have my lens practically right on the objects, but the pictures it produced were fantastic! And I mean that from a perspective of “derived from a realm of fantasy.” 😯🦄
Now that I had some extension tube practice under my belt, it was time to gear up and head outdoors again to try my luck at catching a snowflake!
I did a little research and found that the best way to capture a “beautiful” snowflake was using a black or dark-colored mitten or glove, but not while you wear it. 🔥 Patience was key, as most of the flakes falling on the glove were of the pebble variety. I opted to shoot this free-handed, without the tripod, because it was necessary to move the camera a lot in order to capture different points of focus on the flake. Finally, a tiny, thin “beautiful” snowflake landed, and I snapped 15 shots. Now on to the processing lab (aka the couch and my laptop).
It was painstaking work…stacking, aligning, blending and adjusting all those photos into layers to produce one fairly decent shot. Well…I say “painstaking” but the truth is that I loved every second of putting this photo together. ❄💙 It may not be as sharp or as spectacular as some of the very high-quality shots I’ve seen, but it’s very special to me.
The softness and the glow surrounding something so delicate feels very comforting. But what really makes it (and the other macro shots) so special is that wanting to get that particular shot made me TRY HARDER. I saw something that inspired me to try something new, to literally push me outside my comfort zone. When it didn’t work out right away like I wanted, I didn’t give up. I kept at it until I got what I was after. I love photography — it is my greatest passion, and it is always worth the effort I put into it.
Getting super close to teeny tiny objects helps you adjust your focus so you can look at things more closely. And not just subjects in front of a lens. It helped me see other parts of my life where I didn’t put in as much effort, where I gave up when the going got a little tough. Now I can approach those areas, situations, issues, etc. and know that I already have it in me to not give up! Photography experiments motivate me to reinvent myself and the way I live my life. In nature, in work, in relationships, in life…I am learning how to literally and metaphorically stand in the cold for hours, with snow piling on my head, holding my camera and patiently staring at a black glove, waiting for just one beautiful snowflake to fall…all with a smile frozen on my face.😁