Monthly Archives March 2011

First off I would like to thank Scott (and Brad) for inviting me back as a guest blogger.  It was an honor the first time and it’s an even greater honor to have another opportunity to be here again.

Before we get started, here’s a little bit about me…

I am a professional wildlife and nature photographer. My images have been published in Outdoor Photographer, Outdoor Photography (UK), Photoshop User, Elements Techniques, and Layers magazines. My work also appears regularly on Audubon calendars and National Park Service postcards, calendars, and posters. I lead popular wildlife photography adventures in North America.  I am also a moderator for the Nikon Digital Learning Center on flickr. Prior to working as a professional photographer, I spent more than two decades in photographic sales, helping pros and hobbyists decide which equipment suited their particular needs.

In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell examines the factors that contribute to the making of highly successful people in many fields.  There are the genetic and the geographic factors but it’s the 10,000 hour rule which states that “A person must put in 10,000 hours of work on some skill to become not only proficient at but, in the top of their field.” That got my attention.  If you do the math that’s 250 weeks at 40 hours per week, factor in a two- week vacation and that’s five years working full time to become proficient at any one thing. Thinking along those lines led me to ponder the four stages of consciousness known as the Conscious Competence Ladder.  If it takes 10,000 hours to become proficient at one thing, what are the stages along the way that track our progression?

Unconscious Incompetence (You Don’t Know that You Don’t Know): At this level you are blissfully ignorant: You have a complete lack of knowledge and skills in the subject in question. On top of this, you are unaware of this lack of skill, and your confidence may therefore far exceed your abilities.1

I traded in my accordion for my fist SLR when I was ten years old.  My dad handed me one of his Pentax Spotmatic cameras with a 50mm f/1.4 lens attached.  I stood there looking at my dad and back at the camera, at my dad, the camera, dad, camera, dad… now what!  Little did I know at the time that the hobby I was about to embark upon would take me on a journey that would shape my life and career.

I didn’t have a clue what to do with this object in my hands. I was an Unconscious Incompetent.  I didn’t realize just how little I knew about the workings of my new camera.  I knew that it made photographs but I had no idea what dials to turn, what buttons to push, what was involved in adjusting the camera so that an image would be made.  Not just any image but an image that was composed and exposed properly.  One that represented my experience at the moment I clicked the shutter; an image that took your breath away when you looked at it, one that brought the scents, the sounds even the taste of the moment flooding back.  An image that transports your viewer to that precise time and place at the moment you clicked the shutter…

How did my dad get the exposure right every time?  How did my mom make images that captured my imagination, took my breath away with their vibrance and beauty?  It looked pretty simple: aim, focus, center the needle by turning a couple of dials, fire, wait a couple of weeks and when the yellow box arrived from the lab, review all the beautiful images.  But wait, where did those beautiful images go?  And, what was this out of focus,  shaky, underexposed, poorly composed junk that was mounted in little cardboard frames with my name on them?

Even with my first weak attempts, I was captivated.  I couldn’t get enough of this thing called photography.  I saw something, I aimed my camera and viola!, I captured a moment in time with the click of my shutter.  My camera became my constant companion over the years.  I had found a wonderful way of sharing my world with others through my images but, I had a lot to learn about f-stops, shutter speeds, ISO, depth of field, focal length…is your head spinning as fast as mine did at the mere thought of learning it all?

But wait, stop and think about that last sentence, if your head is spinning, you have moved to the next level of Conscious Incompetent!  At this point I knew that I had a lot to learn, that I knew so little about making beautiful images.  I was conscious of my photographic incompetence and was taking steps to become competent.  So, I immersed myself in photography.  I went to my dad for guidance on the technical aspects of photography, I joined the local camera club, I got a part time job in a camera store; I lived, breathed, and slept photography.  It was my life.  Photography opened doors for a shy little girl. As photography editor for my high school yearbook, I was given carte blanche to go where I wanted, when I wanted.  I was right there on the sidelines of the games, I prowled the hallways clicking photos of fellow classmates, I attended many school functions with my trusty Pentax along at all times.  I wasn’t shy when I had my camera in hand.

Conscious Incompetence (You Know that You Don’t Know): At this level you find that there are skills you need to learn, and you may be shocked to discover that there are others who are much more competent than you. As you realize that your ability is limited, your confidence drops. You go through an uncomfortable period as you learn these new skills when others are much more competent and successful than you are.1

Over the years I got better and better as I shot more and more.  With each series of failures, came the few successes that drove me to keep photographing.  I learned what works and what doesn’t by pouring over books and then by trial and error.  I learned about f-stops and their relationship to depth of field…

I also learned the basic differences between the different shutter speeds.  Knowing when to select a fast shutter speed to stop action…

or a slow shutter speed to blur motion…

and the relationship of ISO in the equation.  Low ISO for higher resolution, needs more light, tripod, fast lenses…

Or, high ISO for low light, which results in some noise

Through hard work, determination and a great deal of curiosity, I was progressing from a Conscious Incompetent to a Conscious Competent.

Conscious Competence (You Know that You Know): At this level you acquire the new skills and knowledge. You put your learning into practice and you gain confidence in carrying out the tasks or jobs involved. You are aware of your new skills and work on refining them. You are still concentrating on the performance of these activities, but as you get ever-more practice and experience, these become increasingly automatic.1

I now felt skilled enough to make creative images of my chosen subjects.   I could anticipate behavior and be prepared to capture the peak of action, I knew how to take control of the settings on my camera, how to work the light and create pleasing compositions.  I was constantly aware of my settings and their effect on my images, all the while watching for unusual behavior, combining photographic skills with knowledge of my subject put me in position to capture peak of action…

Unconscious Competence (You Don’t Know that You Know – It Just Seems Easy!): At this level your new skills become habits, and you perform the task without conscious effort and with automatic ease. This is the peak of your confidence and ability.1

After all the years I have invested in bettering my craft I feel that I am at the top of my game when it comes to wildlife and nature photography, I have reached my comfort zone.  And yet, I still have so much to learn.  Each time I pick up my camera it is with the anticipation of what the new day will bring, what wonderful moments will present themselves for me to document for the viewing pleasure of myself and many others who follow my work. At this stage in my career as a wildlife photographer I feel that I am a Subconscious Competent as I don’t feel that I am unconscious when I photograph but rather that I run through the technical functions sub-consciously in the back of my mind while concentrating on my subject rather than worrying about my camera settings.  That doesn’t mean everything I do is perfect but, it does mean that when the action is hot and heavy, I move quickly and naturally through the settings on my camera, selecting the aperture/shutter speed combo that best captures the defining moment.

or the subtle beauty in a scene…

I look forward to each new challenge that presents itself and to improving my skills to best capture a given moment in time so that you, too may enjoy the magical moments in nature that I am fortunate enough to experience…

Where is your photography on the Conscious Competence Ladder?  Are you blissfully unaware of all that you don’t know and happily clicking away?  Or, are you aware of all that you don’t know and frustrated with this lack of knowledge that will take your photography to the next level?  Are you on top of your game and sub-consciously operate your camera to achieve the best exposure for the given situation?  Do you still stop and think the settings through before proceeding?  Wherever you are in the photographic process, remember that it’s the journey, the people we meet along the way and our reaction to life experiences, not the destination that makes us who we are today.

In a few words, share what subjects you like to photograph, where you feel you currently are on the Conscious Competence Ladder and why…

Thanks again for tuning in and following this thread to the end.  Be sure to say hi if you see me in your travels.
Snapshots to Great Shots: Composition

1Quoted from the Conscious Competence Ladder at Mindtools

A big thanks to everybody who tuned in yesterday. It was our biggest debut for any show we’ve ever done, and we’ve gotten loads of positive feedback from viewers, which really made our day!

We also had lots of questions, so I thought I’d addresses a few of them here today in a quick Q&A. Here goes:

Q. I thought you were going to rebroadcast the show?
A. We are.

Q. So where is it?
A. It should appear in iTunes later today, and we hope to have our archived version posted any time now at (UPDATE: The premiere episode is now up!)

Q. What’s taking so long?
A. I asked my video crew the same question, and they told me they had to compress over 20GB of data down to something reasonable for the Web and that takes time. They were kind of snippy about it, too.

Q. Why does everything that has to do with video take so darn long?
A. I wish I knew. It drives me nuts, but this probably explains why I shoot stills.

Q. You know, I can’t watch the Grid on my iPad?
A. Actually, you can—you just can’t watch it live as it happens (although we’re working on that). Once it gets posted to iTunes, you can watch the rebroadcast right on your iPad.

Q. Hey, speaking of iPad—how’s that Kelby Training App coming?
A. Hey, look over there—-what’s that shiny object? (Misdirection in progress, because I don’t have a solid answer. It’s a moving target. Anytime I ask someone on my staff about it, they quickly move in a different direction).

Q. Did I hear you mention you’re going to have some drop-in guests via Facetime?
A. Absolutely, and we expect to uncork that genie on next week’s show.

Q. It looked like you guys were inundated with comments from viewers?
A. It was insane, which is great, but bad at the same time, because it was impossible to keep up with the flow of comments, and there were a LOT of great comments. We have a better in-studio plan for managing them next week, so hopefully we’ll get to more comments on the air on next week’s show.

Q. Will the show air at the same time each week?
A. Yup—12:30 PM EST. At least, that’s the plan anyway. And like always, we plan to air a 13-week season.

Q. So Matt won’t be on next week?
A. Yeah, he’s heading to Houston for his Lightroom 3 tour on Wednesday (link), and then he’s off to Amsterdam to do the keynote for Adobe at Professional Imaging 2011, so I invited RC Concepcion to co-host with me, and he graciously accepted, rather than file for unemployment. (Kidding. Just a joke).

Q. How come you don’t get to do cool stuff like that?
A. Because currently my job is chase employees throughout the building until I find the one who will tell me when I’m going to have a Kelby Training iPad App. This is a 10-hour per day job, and so far it has yielded no results. But tomorrow’s always another day.

Q. I kept asking questions about lenses, but you guys never took my question. How come?
A. The show is actually a talk show, about industry topics, the business of Photoshop and photography, gear insights, and stuff like that. For questions like that, post a comment for Larry and RC over at D-Town TV, which is a show about lenses, and cameras, and stuff like that.

Q. Where can I read the comments from the first episode of “The Grid”?
A. On Twitter search for our Twitter hashtag #thegridlive

Q. Do you have the results from the DSLR Video poll yet?
Just got ’em. They are:

Weddings – 4%
Photojournalism – 4%
Self Promotion – 6%
Family/personal – 19%
Other – 11%
Don’t use it – 58%

Q. Scott, what do you see as your main role in this new show?
A. I don’t have any false notions about why I’m there. I’m there because they need some eye candy. Something pretty to look at. I knew that going in, but I’m actually cool with it.

Q. Were you nervous doing a live show like this?
Not at all. Broadcasting live, where every little screw-up has the potential to snowball into a full blown disaster, has a real calming effect. It’s relaxing. Kind of like diffusing a bomb while juggling chainsaws.

Q. I notice you didn’t mention HDR. How come?
A. Anytime you mention HDR, you can almost count the seconds until somebody pulls a knife. There’s always next week’s show though, and with RC co-hosting I think there’s a fair chance somebody’s going to get shanked.

Q. Hey, who designed your set? I really like it.
A. It was designed by our own in-house set designer, video art director, and just amazing all-around designer Nicole Procunier.

Q. It looked like you were in that movie Tron.
A. We were. Well, Matt was. I was at Chili’s having a salad.

Q. I liked that Jeremy Cowart guy. How can I stalk him?
A. F
ollow Jeremy on Twitter (I do) by going to @jeremycowart. He’s totally into Twitter and if you follow him, you’ll never be alone.

Q. Scott, are you on Twitter?
A. Absolutely. You can follow me by going to @scottkelby. Matt is @mattkloskowski.

Q. I tried to follow you on Facebook, but it says you have too many friends
A. What it really means is; I have too many pending friend requests, but since I never post there, I never check my pending friend requests either (My regular Facebook page is just for personal friends (people who have my cell number, with the possible exception of Vanelli). However, I have a public Facebook page where I post and comment regularly at and I hope you’ll stop by, hit the Like button, and then we’re connected like Legos.

Q. Thanks Scott. You will let us know when that Kelby Training App comes out, right?
A. Sorry, I can’t hear you. I’m going through a tunnel.

Hi Gang:

Remember last week when I did that post about my incredibly lame College Basketball Shoot? Well, after that post I heard from my buddy, pro sports shooter Mike Olivella (who laughed at me hysterically), but between his howls of laughter, he pointed me to the video above, which he put together showing how he shoots a College Basketball game, along with tips and insights on how to shoot a game like this. Here’s the link to Mike’s blog.

Thanks Mike for sharing this with us (and you can stop giggling now).

Today’s the big day as the Grid goes live at 12:30 pm EST!!!! PLUS, we have a VERY special in-studio guest for the entire show—the one and only Jeremy Cowart.

We’ve got some great topics for the first show, and we’ll be taking your comments via twitter (@thegridlive), and you can catch the show live as it airs today, or afterward in our free rebroadcast (so you can watch it whenever you want) at

I would be very grateful for anything you can do to help us spread the word about our new show’s premiere today (via Facebook, Twitter, your blogs, etc.). We’re really excited about the premiere, and I hope to see there today at 12:30 pm EST.

See you on The Grid!


P.S. Here’s the link again, ya know, just in case. ;-)

I’m honored to be Scott Kelby’s publisher and proud to publish Scott’s books under both the Peachpit Press and New Riders imprints. Today I have a piece of exciting and important news to share with you that hasn’t been made public yet, so you’re the first to know.

Drum roll, please…
The numbers are in, and for 2010, your friend and mine, Mr. Scott Kelby, has been recognized as the top-selling photography book author! This has been confirmed according to Nielsen BookScan, which is the industry standard for tracking the book industry’s sales.

Congratulations, Scott, so well deserved. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I can’t tell you how amazing it is to work with someone who has consistently written so many best-selling books that truly transform people’s lives. In my entire publishing career, I’ve not seen any single author make and beat so many industry records. You’re an inspiration to all of us. (And hats off to the incredibly talented team at Kelby Media, too. Simply a joy to work with all of you!)

Publishing Industry Insights:
For those of you who are interested in this kind of stuff, I’ll give you a little background. For many years, the photography book category on Nielsen BookScan had been limited largely to books about “traditional” photography. Sales of most of the top books didn’t come close to sales of the top books in the much larger computer book category (a neighboring category, because that’s where all Photoshop books and some Lightroom books reside, for example). Even when DSLRs started coming down in price and the number of amateur hobbyists and serious shooters hit critical mass, still no single general digital photography book seemed to lead the pack in any significant numbers.

Until 2006
That’s the year Scott’s wildly popular The Digital Photography Book was published. It was—and continues to be—an incredible success. In my business, we call that a “breakout” book. A “barnburner.” It sets the bar for the whole category. Scott set that bar while still holding the Number One position in the computer book category (six years in a row!). As Scott’s leadership in the photography category grew, he/we made a strategic decision to move away from more general computer books (a hard decision given how many best-sellers he was authoring in that space—remember The iPod Book?). Anyway, it turned out to be a brilliant decision. Scott puts tons of passion and hard work into his photography and Photoshop books, and he hits them all out of the ballpark. He’s helped millions of shooters all over the world improve their skills, grow their business, and get the shot.

But there’s more…
What’s really interesting about the 2010 results is that the number of actual copies of Scott’s books sold in the photography category alone exceeded the total number of books sold by any author in the computer book category. And if you add the number of books Scott sold both in the photography category AND in the computer category, he soars above any author in either category by more than 50%. Any way you slice it, Scott is making a lasting and meaningful impact on a whole lot of people’s lives and livelihoods.

Again, Scott, congratulations on being the #1 photography book author for 2010. Here’s to many more years of best-selling books, happy readers, and being #1!

Nancy Aldrich-Ruenzel
Publisher, Peachpit Press and New Riders

Wednesday night I got photo credentials (thanks to my buddy, sports photographer Andy Gregory) to shoot the USF Bulls vs. Pitt college basketball game and I absolutely stunk. So much so, I wasn’t even going to show any photos from the shoot, but there was one teaching moment in all of this mess, so I thought I’d show just enough to keep from totally humiliating myself.

First, a lovely iPhone photo of my gear
Here’s what I took to the shoot. Two bodies: A Nikon D3s and a D3. Two lenses: my beloved 300mm f/2.8 and 24-70mm f/2.8 on my second body. It got there in my Think Tank Airport International rolling camera bag, and I remembered the all important basketball shoot collapsible seat. A lean, mean set-up. So far, all is well.

It Started Off With Such Promise
When you shoot basketball, in many cases the spots where you’re allowed to shoot from are pre-assigned before you get to the arena, and when you get to the photographers work room, you look at the seating chart to find out where you’ll be sitting. They only had 8 spots filled (and there’s usually around 16 or more), so I was pretty happy to see lots of open spots (my name wasn’t listed, but I figured somebody wouldn’t show up, so I’d take their spot).

About two minutes prior to game time, there were a total of only four photographers in their spots, so I just took a seat to the right of the basket, with the Bulls heading my direction. So far, I’m thinking “This is going to be sweet. I can shoot for just about any corner, or right up under the basket. Lots of room to move, stretch out. This is going to be a great night.”

(Above: He’s got a funky look on his face, but I like the frantic coach in the background. Not a good shot, but then, none of these are. Brad says it looks like the coach is slapping him in the head).

Then I Picked up my Camera
It seemed pretty bright in USF’s Sun Dome arena, but when I picked up my camera and pressed the shutter button half way down to get a reading at my usual starting aperture of f/2.8 at 1,250 ISO, I was stunned to see it read a shutter speed of only 1/200 of a second. I need at least 1/1000. Uh oh.

I cranked it up to 1,600. Oh oh. 2,000 ISO. Rats. 3,200. Still between 1/500 and 1/640. I wound up at 4,000 ISO and still couldn’t get much above 1/800 most of the night. This was the first time I had ever shot at f.2/8 and had to shoot above 1,600 ISO. I want to apologize in advance to every one reading this who is thinking, “I have to deal with lighting like that all the time.” If it’s any consolation—I truly feel your pain.

It wasn’t just the lighting
If there’s anything worse than bad lighting for sports photography, it’s probably empty seats, and on this particular night, there were plenty of them. The arena wasn’t full, and everybody that was there sat on the sides, which left the sections behind the basket nearly empty. So were all the top sections, so if I went wide, you saw lots of empty seats. If I shot down court you saw lots of empty seats. So, I tried to compose so you wouldn’t see a bunch of empty green seats. Bad idea.

It wasn’t just the lighting and the empty seats
It was me. I just had a lame night of shooting. I couldn’t get anything going. I was stinking—I knew I was stinking, and I still stunk it up. It was stink-fest 2011. My timing was off. I didn’t like the color of the images. I was missing stuff left and right, and absolutely had no excuse. Uggh.

Assigning Blame
Although I am totally to blame for this lame shoot, I think it’s fun to assign blame to others anyway. Let’s start with the refs. They were clearly out to get me. I saw this view more than any other all night. If I moved to a different shooting location, I swear I could hear one of the refs call out to the other refs—he’s over there now. Stand right in front of him.

Death From Above: Flash grenades
There was another photographer I recognized there, and he was shooting for the Bulls themselves. Nice guy, and we’ve talked several times at different events. He had some flashes mounted in the arena, and he used them against me, setting them off any time I might get a decent shot (as seen above). I’d look over and instead of shooting, he was watching me shoot, with one hand on the trigger of his Pocket Wizard. This was all part of a master plan to make sure I wouldn’t get anything decent. Their plan was working.

A Teaching Moment
Besides learning that I can really stink it up, there is something that might potentially help someone new to shooting sports, so here goes. For most sports shoots, I shoot in JPEG mode (don’t freak out—read this post first, then freak out). On my 2nd body (with my 24-70mm) I notice that the shots are looking really flat. I check all my standard settings, and take a few more test shots, and they’re just looking incredibly flat, so I go to my Shooting Menu to see what my Picture Style settings are. For some reason (Brad!) they had been changed from Standard to Neutral. Normally, if you shoot in Raw, Lightroom and Camera Raw completely ignore these settings, but in JPEG it applies them, and that Neutral setting is really flat.

During a time-out in the first period, I took the test shot you see above with the Picture Style still set on Neutral (I was shooting the floor, not the cheerleaders), and sure enough—the brightly painted wood floor looked pretty flat.

Then I switched back to Standard, and I could immediately see the image look much more contrasty and the colors look more vibrant. Of course, I could have switched to Vivid Light as well for even more vibrant colors (and I considered it), but I thought I’d stick with Standard, and from there on, the color looked much better. Of course, improved color can’t override bad photography, so while it didn’t help my case, at least this Picture Style thing is something you can keep in mind when you’re shooting in JPEG.

All in All, It Stunk
Getting bad shots is bad enough, but it gets worse. The USF Bulls are my home team (The University of South Florida is in Tampa. It’s where Matt graduated from), and although they were leading at the half, in the 2nd period Pitt just caught fire and we wound up losing by like 19 points. Yeech!

A Bad Shoot is Still Good Practice
It was still worth going, and I learned to make sure I check Picture Styles when things look flat. Most importantly, I got to practice some real world blame assignment, in which I was able to liberally assign the root causes of my lame shoot to everything from the arena lighting, the guy with mounted strobes, the refs, to even the JPEG camera settings themselves. All and all, I feel pretty good about spreading it around like I did, which is an art unto itself, and an important step in my growth as a blame-assignment photographer. ;-)