10 things I learned from a priceless, golden hour

A golden hour wraps itself around sunrises and sunsets, allowing brief, optimal light, perfect for young surfers, old fishermen, and seasoned photographers.

Monday morning, guided by one of the latter, I made my way down to a beautiful beach and enjoyed a shooting lesson. What follows are 10 things I learned from my patient sensei (and cool brother in-law) Chip Bunnell. (Check out his photography here.)

1) The A on the mode dial does not stand for AVOID or ABORT. It stands for aperture priority and it’s a not nearly as scary as I thought. In some ways it settles the epic tug of war that happens when a stubborn, digitally controlled camera battles a twitchy, impulse-controlled human operator. In this mode, you pick the aperture, or size of the opening you’re shooting through, and the camera sets the shutter speed to match.

2) It’s not the camera. Photography is an art; it relies on an innate eye, a developed skill set, patience, timing, experience and post production. The best camera in the world can’t give you any of that.

3) It’s not the lens, either. If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone, maybe even me, say, “I wish I had a better lens, so I could get that shot,” I’d be able to shell out $42,000 for the Canon CN-E 30-300mm T2.95-3.7 L S EF Mount Cinema Zoom Lens. Certainly, good lenses help, but not if you don’t know how to use them. Start with the basics and work your way up.

4) It’s the photographer. I am lucky enough to be Facebook friends with a lot of great photographers, so I get to see their work every day. They know what to look for in a shot, how to set it up, how to shoot it, and how to process it. They don’t take pictures, they make photographs and I really admire their work.

5) There’s a rule of thirds, in which you break a photo into thirds, both vertically and horizontally, which leaves you nine parts. It takes the guess-work out of photo framing and I find myself thinking about it more and more as I set up shots.

6) Tripods are worth the pain it is to set them up and lug them around. If you want clear photographs, you have to hold the camera steady and the best way to do that is to avoid holding it at all.

7) For this same reason, you should use the self-timer setting on the camera. I had some vague idea that this setting was available on the camera, but until my Monday morning lesson, I’d never used it.

8) The exposure triangle involves ISO, Aperture and shutter speed. These are the three things to remember when you’re setting up your shot.

9) Take advantage of natural lines in your photo and look for contrasts there. Reflections are cool too.

10) Know what story you’re trying to tell with your photo, and make sure you’ve conveyed it.

These are the main tips I learned from my morning lesson with Chip. It’s a lot to absorb and I’ll be doing plenty of practicing in the coming days. In the meantime, I have these shots to tell the story of the morning I spent on a Florida beach with my friend and fellow outlaw, Chip.

This is Chip setting up a shot. We arrived pre-dawn and worked our way through a really pretty sunrise, which you can just see forming in the reflection on the beach.
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I like the reflection of the bridge in the water and the way the pier leads your eye to the first blush of sunrise.
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Here’s the same concept, shot a little later in the morning, with more animated waves.
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A random surfer showed up and added another element to the frame. Here there is a reflection behind him and he is standing right between the reflected poles, which was an accident for me but a planned shot for Chip. I didn’t realize I had this shot until I uploaded my photos.
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I wasn’t sure I had anything here, until Chip pointed out the cool heart wave. I made it the focal point of the shot.
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This one’s all about perspective and the texture of the waves against the solid beams.
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I liked this shot because I thought it was cool that this gentleman was searching for beach treasures with his metal detector, while I was looking for beach treasures with my lens.
Just to prove it's not about the camera or the lens, I shot this picture the following morning with my cellphone. I ignored the rule of thirds a little, but I liked the sky and the reflection of the sunrise on the water.
Just to prove it’s not about the camera or the lens, I shot this picture the following morning with my cellphone. I ignored the rule of thirds a little, but I liked the sky and the reflection of the sunrise on the water.


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