I’m taking a brief break from the desert road trip posts to reflect a bit on 2016.

Many say 2016 was a horrible year, but I don’t quite share that sentiment.  George R. R. Martin unleashing his wrath upon the celebrity world aside, my year was full of amazing travel, loving family, and more action than any single person should squeeze into a single year (you should see our Christmas cards!).

I also grew significantly as a photographer (as I did in 2015).  These are some things that changed my photographic world in 2016:

I joined more photography Facebook groups

This not only gave me another avenue for sharing my photography, but it also provided many new ideas from others in the group.

I started doing photo challenges

These force me to think outside of my normal realm and consider how to meet the challenges’ prompts.  As a result, I played more with motion and composites.

I got the commuter camera

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016

Portland South Waterfront

I lamented every sunrise I saw on my daily commute that I simply couldn’t properly capture on a cell phone.  Occasionally, I’d pack the monster DSLR, but I certainly wasn’t going to cart that around with me everywhere (for a number of reasons).  I wanted a camera I could take with me everywhere.  I wanted my DSLR quality in a compact package.

Enter my little Sony.

This tiny camera packs a powerful punch.  It is small, so it easily fits into my backpack, but it comes with RAW and full DSLR capabilities.  It suffers a bit in low light at the high ISOs, but for my everyday use, it’s exactly what I needed.

Having this camera with me everywhere, I am more easily able to give in to my spontaneous creative whims, snatching a spiderweb in the fog or an inspirational piece of garbage.  I have to be careful to actually eventually get to work and not spend the entire day shooting, but this near-daily practice gives me every opportunity to hone my skills.

I discovered manual focusing with 5x and 10x zoom

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016

Cosplay Contest, Kumoricon 2016

The Sony also opened my eyes up to manual focus.  While I shoot in manual, I’ve still let autofocus do its thing.  However, with the superior quality of the Sony to my good ole Rebel, I decided to retire the latter in favor of the former as my secondary.  This introduced an adapter so I could use my existing lenses on the new camera.  And with this comes an inevitable hit to autofocus speed.  My telephoto is going out anyway (I’m pining after a replacement), and the autofocus doesn’t always work.  Therefore, it’s the perfect candidate for manual focus.

Playing with this on the Sony got me thinking about it on my 7D as well, and now I use it all the time with my landscapes and astrophotography.  The 5x and 10x zoom allows me to see far more clearly on the tiny LCD screen when I’m actually in focus (particularly important with stars).  While I don’t always focus as quickly manually (and this should really be done on a tripod), I have found my ratio of sharp keepers has actually gone up, especially once…

I discovered focus peaking

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016

Our Mochi!

This is all the mirrorless Sony; I wish my 7D had focus peaking.  What is it?  Well, put simply, it is a colorful indicator of the focus plane.  Little dots highlight the areas that are in perfect focus, so you can clearly see when you’re focused on someone’s eyes instead of their nose.

I dusted off my tripod

With all this manual focus, a tripod became absolutely vital.  Ordinarily, I prefer to shoot handheld.  It’s far more flexible, and it’s one fewer piece of equipment I need to lug around with me.

However, it’s far easier to to get tack-sharp landscapes with a tripod, even in broad daylight.  It’s necessary for sunsets and low light, but it also lets you get those smooth waterfalls with a longer exposure.  Even when you don’t need a long exposure, leaving the shutter open longer can create some beautiful scenes as clouds blur.  You can also use long exposures to make persistent photobombers disappear.

I consciously decided to boycott “spray-and-pray”

© Brianna Shade 2011

Key West, Florida

Aaron and I have a home video of us on a sunset sail off of Key West.  Aaron was filming (as he is wont to do), and I was photographing the sunset (as I am wont to do).  Watching this video now makes me cringe, as I can witness myself taking dozens of bursts of photos of a near-stationary object.  Why, past me?  Just, why?  Did I really want over 100 pictures of that sunset? (yes, really)  Or more importantly, did I really want to process that many photos of a single event?  ::facepalm::

While there are instances where a “spray-and-pray” approach is necessary (I’m looking at you, sports photography), it shouldn’t dominate your photography style.

Over the years, I have gotten much better, but I made a conscious effort this year to abandon it entirely (at least in the capacity I was still doing it).  Now, I do everything within my power to take only the keepers, mostly because I want less time behind a computer in post.

When I look through the viewfinder, is it an interesting photo?  Will I want to look at it, or will it wind up in the “meh” pile?  Don’t let the “meh”s pollute the “awesome”s; they aren’t worth your time.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016

Crater Lake, Oregon

Take just one photo.  Shooting in RAW affords a lot of flexibility in post.  I endeavor to minimize my time editing, so I try to get the best photos straight out of the camera.  I don’t always get it right on the first try (though I’m also working to up this ratio), but it’s a balance between getting the “perfect” shot and my time editing afterwards.  One shot is best; two should be the maximum I need in most situations.

Really slowing down and paying close attention to each shot has forced me to really consider my intention behind every photo.  This focus also ensures every click has a purpose, which results in a better finished product.

© LotsaSmiles Photography 2016

Horsetail Falls, Oregon


How did your photography change over the past year?  I’d be curious to hear other things you’ve incorporated into your techniques that have proven effective.  Please leave a comment below!

What do you think?