Thirteen Ways to Work on Photography at Home

We live in challenging times, with the spread of COVID-19 coronavirus around the globe and now with the United States surpassing the total number of infections of any other nation. Many people are either by choice or by local government order staying at home, and limiting or cancelling their travel. We all had plans of one sort or another that may have involved travel, a local trip, or something else where we were going to explore our photography. Well, fret not, there are ways that you can work on your photography entirely from home!

  1. Organize your Digital Files. It is possible that, over the years, you have been simply dumping files from your camera on to your computer with no organization at all. You keep putting it off because you don’t have the time, don’t know how to do it, or don’t have the tools to do it, or a combination of the above. Well, during our COVID-Crazy times, now is the time to do it. But first, you have to figure out the system around which you will organize your files. How you do it is up to you. Some people do it by year, by trip, by subject, by location … it really just depends on what makes sense to you. It is possible you can do this simply by using the file explorer system on your computer, but it really is best to use Adobe Lightroom (some prefer Adobe Bridge, but I will explain later why Lightroom is superior). Once you figure out your system, start organizing. It is best to first create a single master folder, call it whatever you like but for purposes of this exercise we will call it Digital Library. Now create subfolders that reflect your organization system, and start going through and moving photo files into their appropriate subfolders. As part of this, you will want to come up with a file numbering system that reflects this organization, and renumber your files accordingly. Both Bridge and Lightroom are excellent for this. Adobe has a whole series of instructional videos, including the basics of getting started.
  2. Review your Digital Library. If you have already done step one and have an organized digital library, it is time to take a virtual walk through it. In Lightroom, while in Library mode, just click “All Photographs” under your catalog and go to the oldest photo in your library. Double click on the thumbnail to open it up to full view, and start scrolling through your library, using the right arrow to advance each image. There are two things to do: cull the lower-quality images and rediscover the good ones.
    • Culling the Library. What you are looking for is older images that no longer look good to you. The more you photograph, the better you will become. Every three winters or so, I go through this exercise to cull my digital library. The easy way to do this is to simply hit the “X” key for very image you want to reject. When you are done, select “Attribute” from the top options in Library mode, click the black flag, and now all of the ones you have marked for rejections will show. Select all, and then right click and select “Remove Photos.” A prompt will ask you if you want to “Delete from Disk” or “Remove.” Select “Delete from Disk.” Boom – all of those older, lower quality images are now gone.
    • Revisit Photos. One of the advantages of the newer subscription system for Adobe products is the constant updating. Lightroom continually gets new tools that make for easier, more efficient editing, and give you new opportunities to process your files. These updates give you a chance to take a new look at your photos, try new ways of editing them. One of the recent tools found in the Basic menu in the Develop section is the Dehaze slider. That has been a game-changer in revisiting landscape images for me. So take another look at those favorite images and see what new tools are available to enhance them.
  3. Keywording and Captioning. This is one of those things that I am guilty of doing, and it is an easy thing to forget – regularly keywording and captioning your photos. It is much easier to do this as part of the Lightroom import process, but mechanically and practically. You can keyword during import, and it is best to do it then while details are fresh in your memory: where you were, who was in the photos, etc. But, it is also easy to not do this at the time of import. So, this is another great thing to work on while you are stuck at home. Better to do it now than when you are trying to get together a submission where the recipient wants keywords and captions in the files. Both Bridge and Lightroom make this an easy thing to do, as you can do batch keywording for files that have the same subjects in them.
  4. Contemplate your Personal Style. Well-known photographers are very much like well-known composers: people who are familiar with them recognize the style of the artist. One of my favorite types of music is original scores for movies/television. I can tell within the first few minutes of a movie who did the score if it is a familiar artist – whether John Williams or Michael Giacchino. The same thing goes for photography – Ansel Adams, Art Wolfe, Jim Brandenburg – they all have recognizable styles. But, after a while, we all develop that personal style. Do you know what yours is? What defines your photography and subjects, and how you photograph them? One thing you can do while conducting your digital library review is to think on that, and ponder what your personal style is. If you cannot see one, then perhaps you can start thinking about how to develop a personal style. This is one of the defining things for an artist, and if photography is something you really enjoy, you will want to be able to define it.
  5. Look at What Other Photographers Are Shooting. Related to the previous point, spend some time reviewing other photographers to check out their style, subjects, and inspiration. Art Wolfe once told me that there are principally two things he does to relax when he is at his home in Seattle and not out in the field creating photos. First, he likes to spend time in his Japanese garden. But second, he likes to look through other photographers books. He explained that he likes to see what others are doing, to explore their creativity. By now you may have identified some photographers who you admire. Check out their websites or any books they have published to explore their work as part of examining your own. I have several books in my collection by photographers who inspire me in many ways. These include Art Wolfe, Jim Brandenburg, Craig & Nadine Blacklock, Galen Rowell, Elliot Porter, Robert Glenn Ketchum, Florian Schulz, Paul Zizka, and Amy Gulick.
  6. Create a Photo Wish List. Now that you have seen what you have, think about what you don’t have. What are some things that you would like to photograph, but have not yet? It could be locations, subjects, types of images, photographic techniques – anything. Now write them down on a list – actually create the list. Just like anything in life, in order to progress, you will want goals. And having a Photo Wish List is a great way to set goals. For the purposes of this exercise, I actually went through the process. For some time now, I have been telling guests on our tours that after 20 years of living in Alaska, I have been developing an Alaska Photo Wish List that keeps getting longer – but it was a mental list. Now it is on paper.
  7. Do Some Trip Planning. Okay, so now you have a Photo Wish List. I assume that some items on the list are not in driving distance – some of mine are, but many are not. Now is a good time to do some trip planning. You can do it the old-school way and order some travel guides to help you get started. Pretty much any location has a tourism or visitors bureau that will send you printed copies of travel guides for free – from Arizona to . Some places have great virtual travel guides, like Iceland. Go to your local book store and peruse the travel section for local or regional guides. You will find some that are specific to photography locations. And then there is always the route of simply Googling a location for great places to photograph. Once you figure out where you want to go, I recommend using The Photographer’s Ephemeris to check out things like sunrise and sunset, moonrise and moonset, timing of twlight at those locations. You will also want to check historical climate information if you want to improve your chances for traveling at a time with favorable weather. Want to visit a national park? Well, Google Arts & Culture has created a marvelous virtual tour of five national parks, called The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks. You can enjoy this visual journey while waiting for when you can actually travel to visit one.  The key is to do your research now, collect it all in a central location, and file it away for when we can all travel again.
  8. Identify Micro-Projects. Photography projects are a great way to focus your creative energy and get something accomplished. An incredible example of this is the story behind Jim Brandenburg’s book Chased by the Light. That was a very intense project, and we don’t need to do something that is going to lead to a book to benefit creatively (let alone, a project that took over twenty years to complete like Q. T. Luong’s Treasured Lands, which documents all national parks). Just think of some mini-projects, from documenting the nature in your backyard, exploring a local park, taking only pictures at night – whatever it is. Jot down some ideas, select a few micro-projects, and think about how you would go about shooting those projects. Developing a shot list may be one approach. If your project can be done in your backyard, get to it. Other projects may have to wait, but, the idea is to create a goal and work toward it when you can.
  9. Do Some Reading. Whether a blog or a series of books, now is a good time to read up on technique, creativity, bios of famous photographers – the opportunities are boundless for ways you can read things that will inspire your photography. If you do not follow any photography blogs currently, now is the time to look for some. Again, a Google search will get you in the right direction. Find some photographers whose styles and approaches you appreciate, then subscribe to their posts. The same goes for books, but here are some of my favorites that I can recommend (caveat – these are all a bit older and discuss film cameras, but the issues that touch on the creative process, composition, and use of light are still good):
    • Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs by Ansel Adams
    • The Nature Photographer’s Complete Guide to Professional Field Techniques by John Shaw
    • Mastering Landscape Photography by Alain Briot
    • Beyond the Basics: Innovative Techniques for Outdoor/Nature Photography (Vol. I & II) by George Lepp
    • The Art of the Photograph: Essential Habits for Stronger Compositions by Art Wolfe & Rob Sheppard
    • More than a Rock: Essays on Art, Creativity, Photography, Nature, and Life by Guy Tal
  10. Watch Some Videos. Whether it is how-to instructional videos, video blogs, or actual television series, there are a lot of videos you can watch about photography to keep you inspired while you are hunkering down at home. A lot of the work you did on the earlier points in this list may have led you to some videos already. There are some photographers who have produced television shows, like Art Wolfe’s “Travels to the Edge” and Doug Gardener’s “Wild Photo Adventures.” Do a search on Netflix for “photography” and a few options come up, like “Tales by Light,” “Abstract: The Art of Design,” “Night on Earth: Shot in the Dark.” Other shows, like “Planet Earth,” are not about photography but involve mind-blowing photography that cannot help but inspire.
  11. Listen to Podcasts. Yes, there are podcasts about photography. Like many of the ideas above, what is a good podcast for you will depend on your interests and goals. Do a search for “best photography podcasts” on Google and that will get you started.
  12. Organize and Clean your Gear. One good thing to do to help your photography for when you get out in the field again is to make sure your gear is clean. This means the points of contact for your lenses and camera bodies, the glass on your lenses, the feet of your tripod, the inside of your camera bags, and your camera sensor to name a few things. For the camera gear cleaning, there are a variety of blog posts and videos out there on how to do it. I personally use the Delkin Devices SensorScope Cleaning System to clean my camera sensors. Make sure you watch a video on how to use this correctly, or else you could end up doing what I did when I first started learning – scratch my sensor. A safe and easy method to clean the sensor is to use the Giottos Rocket Blower for sensor cleaning. To clean out my camera bags, I use a hand-held vacuum cleaner with a nozzle attachment to get all of the insides free of dust and debris. And while you are at it, maybe see if there is a way to better organize your gear so you know where things are when you are looking for them.
  13. Explore your Camera. Lastly, take some time to review your manual and play around with your menu to become more familiar with all of its features. We never have time to do this in the field; we just run out and photograph the things we want to photograph, using just what we need of the camera to accomplish that goal. Well, now with all of our spare time, we do have that time. Learn about things you did not know your camera could do, but also become so intimately familiar with the primary functions that they simply become second nature.
bull moose with cow and calves
black and white mountain landscape - photo tips for home
frost on alpine tundra plants
composition of wetlands in Tordrillo Mountains
icebergs on black sand beach in Iceland - photo tips from home
sunrise in Rocky Mountain National Park
slot canyon in Arizona
sparring polar bears - plan your next trip
Arctic lupine with mountains
mountain in the clouds