Master What You Own

Master What You Own

My photography started back in the days of film. I’d always have two cameras strapped over my shoulder. One contained slide film and the other black-and-white. In my camera bag lived four compartments: one with Kodak 100VS slide film, one with Velvia, one with 100 speed T-Max B&W and the last with 400 speed Tri-X. For those of you now smiling because you can relate, kudos to you. I was a firm believer in mastering the nuances of each film so I knew what to expect when I got it processed. This was essential back in the days of slides because the chip of processed film was the final product. Post processing wasn’t an option unless the slide was printed. This dictated everything had to be perfect the moment the shutter was pressed. It taught me to master what I owned. For this I am grateful. I’m still a firm believer in this and I encourage all who read this tip to adopt the same principle. The advantages are many.

Big Horn Lamb: I have an amazing location one and half hours from my door. If you don’t know Mount Evans, it’s time you become familiar. I go up a few times a year on my own in addition to leading a week long photo tour to the majestic mountain. The wildlife is amazing and the scenics are breathtaking. In addition, there’s a bristlecone pine forest that offers a plethora of images. I’m thankful it’s so close. I never know what I’ll encounter while driving the road—as I round the next hairpin turn, I don’t know if I’ll be making a scenic or if an animal will emerge. With this in mind, it’s tough to know what lens to have on my camera. In anticipation of making a landscape, my camera body was set to scenic mode. On it, I had my 16-80mm lens / f16 / ISO 100 / Polarizer on / Single-shot AF / single advance. I came around a bend and two bighorn lambs stood before me in beautiful light. I quickly pulled over and while I approached the lambs, I changed lenses and adjusted my camera to my “wildlife settings”: wide open aperture / high-speed motor drive / no polarizer / continuous focus / ISO of 400 / 51 point focus. In keeping with the title of this week’s tip, I’ve learned what I own. I was able to switch from my scenic settings to my wildlife settings without thinking. This proved to be very important, as the lambs didn’t linger. Needless to say, if adjusting everything for the situation had not been intuitive, I’d have missed the shot. Master what you own!

Master What You Own

Rose: With macro photography, depth of field is of great magnitude. One of my tag lines is, “The Background is Equally as Important as the Subject.” In macro, this is especially true. If the background is too sharp, it competes for attention. If it’s semi out of focus, it looks like an accident. If there’s a wash of color, it allows the subject to pop, which is a good thing. The key is to know how to get a background that complements the subject. One factor that impacts this is how far from the background the subject lives. If it’s too close, the background can’t be thrown out of focus. Another factor is the focal length of the lens. If too wide a lens is used, the background can’t be thrown out of focus. With a longer lens, there’s more potential to create a wash of color. Master the lenses you own. A third factor is the working aperture. Wide-open apertures create less depth of field than stopped down ones. Take advantage of how depth of field influences the outcome of the capture. Finally, knowing that subjects placed very close to the front element of the lens creates a wash of color enables you to create a semi vignette around the focal point of the photo. Again, master what you own and take advantage of the knowledge that allows you to create successful captures.

Master What You Own

Nursing Wildebeest: I finally added a long prime lens to my arsenal. It was long overdue and now that I own it, I don’t know how I ever got along without it. I brought it to the Serengeti after taking it for a number of test-drives on local outings in the Denver area. I learned that it was masterful in throwing the background out of focus. I learned it was incredibly accurate in its ability to grab focus and be tack sharp. I learned for how long I could handhold it if needed. I learned what its close focus capability is. In other words, I learned what the lens could do and what I could do with the lens. Taking it to the Serengeti, the image of the wildebeest is one of the first photos I made with it. It’s full frame to the max. I love what it did to throw the background out of focus, the speed at which it locked on to the subjects was instant and I knew that I could shoot it wide open and still maintain the depth of field I wanted. Master what you own! It pays you back in spades.

Visit for information about his nature photography tours and safari to Tanzania.

Photography is what motivates me to move through life in a positive way. Photography is ͞All About The Light͟ and it’s the first thing I seek out before I press the shutter. Optimally, I pursue great subjects in great light, but if there’s an ordinary subject in great light, I still press the shutter. I love to share the photographic knowledge I’ve accumulated and I hope my enthusiasm is contagious so I can motivate others to feel the same way I do about my photography.


    Thank you for this, Russ. I have relatives and friends who have purchased 35mm DSLR cameras but never really learn how to use them because they have the push-here-dummy-point-and-shoot mentality and think the fancy camera will set itself like their point-and-shoots did. Then they wonder why most of their images are bleh, and they blame the camera. My husband’s niece just bought a 35mm DSLR; and when she complained that her images weren’t coming out like mine, I told her to learn to shoot on Manual or at least not leave the camera on Full-Auto all the time. “Master what you own” will be my new catch phrase.

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