Learning

When I was in college, I learned a lot of things. I learned about how to create dimension in table top product photography from Dick D’Alessandro. I learned how to find and convey emotion in portraits from Gregory Heisler. I learned how to pose any size group in any light from Richard Barnes. I learned the importance of giving back and donating my time and skills from Beth Reynolds. I learned a ton from my fellow students, who came from all different backgrounds and walks of life. All of that stuff was immensely important. But, the most important lesson I learned in my life can be summed up in six words, first expressed to me by my 8th grade Algebra II teacher, Mr. Novakoski – “Never stop learning.” “Don’t be mediocre.”

It’s strange what sticks to your head when you’re in school. I remember everything about that lecture that day. See, Mr Nova was well-known to go on tangents. Students assumed it was just because he got easily distracted, but not me. I always believed Mr. Nova had planned these tangential escapades as part of his curriculum. Whatever the real reason, this lesson in particular stuck with me for one reason – I felt his passion.

Looking back on it now, it’s clear to me that he cared a lot. He was very passionate about teaching and instilling in children that they shouldn’t hold themselves back, or let other hold them back. That they should be fighting everyday to improve themselves and their lives. Don’t settle. Look life in the eyes and take control. It didn’t fully resonate with me at the time, but there it sat in my mind all these years. For over 14 years, it sat; relevant life lessons coalescing around it. Gaining relevance and slowly seeping into every minutia of my thought process like a vine.

I like to say that no matter what I do, I want to try and be the best at it. That’s not to say I believe myself to be the best at everything I do, far from it. Rather, if I ever hope to improve, I need to hold myself to a high standard. If I practice, execute, and learn everyday, then even if I don’t become “the best”, I very well may achieve the best version of myself.

It takes passion, resilience, determination, persistence, strength of will, and sometimes even cockiness and aggressiveness. And I think the heart of what Mr. Nova said 14 years ago was that it’s not good enough to just be yourself. You need to be the best possible version of yourself. Strive to be more and better everyday, and not just for you. For your friends, family, coworkers, colleagues. Because if you can do that, you’ll achieve happiness regardless of your circumstance, and from that happiness will spring more success.

Thank you, Ed Novakoski. For this lesson, I will be forever grateful.

Below is a turtle who reminded me of this life lesson after he demonstrated his non-mediocrity to me by, using what I can only imagine to be shear strength of will, altering the physics of the universe itself to safely cross a busy road in the rain in Lancaster County Central Park. Stay you, little guy!

Turtle_Road.jpg

Nikon D750
1/125th (handheld)
Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 @ 50 1.8
ISO 100

Tom

 

Perspective

It’s amazing how things change, yet stay the same. Over a decade ago, I was walking around the trail at Mill Creek, where it meets the Susquehanna River with my Nikon D40. I had almost no idea what I was doing, but I knew enough. It’s a beautiful area complete with trails, falls, mossy rocks, and usually it’s not too crowded. It’s much the same now. The trails and falls are still there. The creek still flows exactly where it did ten years ago. But now, I see it completely differently. With time, it seems, people change more than nature does.

Now more than ten years older, and having learned much more about photography – and more importantly, myself – I often find myself looking at things in a different way, both figuratively, and literally. My trip to the Mill Creek trail head today brought with it a resurgence in my love for that area.

It had become stale in my many years of photographing it, but when I arrived today, it felt different. I started seeing things I’d never noticed before, (or maybe I should say, have never seen before). The clouds in the sky were a welcome sight, as it was sunny earlier in the day. The thick, grey clouds blocked the sun that had already sank below the ridge overlooking the creek and falls. The light was probably the softest I’d ever seen it there. I setup first at the trail head, under the bridge over the creek to get the scope out the conditions, as well as check out the level of the water. Water level was good, and the rocks were still damp from the rain overnight, which surprised me, as it was already a little before 4pm.

After settling into the shooting conditions, I set off up the trail, and that’s when I noticed I was seeing everything with new eyes. The mossy rocks presented themselves in patterns I had not seen. The water felt thicker, as if it were flowing sap. The bushes that dotted the narrow, steep banks seemed greener.

Botom_Falls.jpg

Nikon D750
1.3 sec
f/11
24-120 @ 24mm
ISO 50

Shutter speed wasn’t a problem today. I could shoot at anything I wanted, from a quarter second all the way to 30+ seconds, any aperture. Sometimes the canvas can seem bigger when you have a bigger selection of tools. I settled into 2-8 seconds around f/11, which I find to be ideal for slower moving shallow creek water, shorter falls, and smaller capture areas.

Today was one of those days where I felt better and better about what I was getting the longer I went. I utilized a lot of low angles to add dimension to what can sometimes be a flat landscape when working with such a narrow and shallow path of water. I did find myself at least attempting to compose wider, higher vantage points, but that usually proved to be fruitless.

As I started working my way up the creek, I even made a friend. I felt I owed him a decent photo having almost stepped on the little guy.

Frog.jpg

Nikon D750
1/100th
f/4
24-120 @ 120mm
ISO 1600

The day ended when I reached a fork. In all, I spent around three hours shooting a total of 82 images.

I wonder what other familiar places I’ll visit that will seem new next time I make an appearance.

-Tom

Life

While I was attending Hallmark Institute of Photography, there was a volunteer project we were all fortunate enough to take part in. The Franklin County Relay for Life. This was the first time I’d had the opportunity to photograph such a unique event and it wouldn’t be the last.

Such an event is a challenge and a blessing to photograph. The raw emotion that is present at an event like that can be overwhelming to first time participants.

Two years after I graduated, in 2012, I had the chance to donate my time to the Lancaster County Relay for Life. I was there for 24 hours capturing the event and it really effected me. I couldn’t wait for the opportunity to do this event again, so when the date was announced this year, I immediately made plans to attend. June 9-10th I’ll be at Conestoga High School for Lancaster Relay.

I’m looking forward to capturing the life-saving and life-changing efforts of the caretakers, survivors, family members, and volunteers. I’ll be posting an update and full adventure post after I attend, so keep an eye out for that. If you get the chance and are able, I highly recommend volunteering, donating, or sponsoring a relayer.

Below are some images from the 2012 relay.

06-09-2012_Lancaster_County_Relay_for_Life-390.jpg

Kids_mist.jpg

Relayers_Shadow.jpg

First_lap_wide_low.jpg

-Tom

Rediscovering Tucquan Glen

Years ago, when I was younger, my parents took me with my Uncle, David, and his kids to a place called Tucquan Glen. I was about 7 or 8 years old. I wasn’t a photographer, obviously, and I wasn’t even that interested in how beautiful the landscape was. I was more interested in cooling off in the cool, flowing water. I was a kid

Today, about twenty years later, I made the trip to Tucquan Glen once again, but for a far more creative purpose. I needed to unwind after a stressful past week and wanted to test out my new 77mm polarizing filter. When I arrived, it was raining. Not pouring down rain, just a light drizzle dripped from the cloudy skies as I began capturing my first images. I started out with my Nikkor 24-120mm f/4 G, as it’s the only 77mm threaded lens I have (and the reason I bought the filter set in the first place). This lens is great. Very versatile and my new go to for my D750.

It was absolutely beautiful. I was on my own as well. I did see three cars parked in the lot areas, but didn’t see my first person until about a quarter mile down the trail. Even though it was very cloudy, the sky was still quite bright. I went down to Lo 1.0 (expanded ISO 50) in order to get an extra stop of shutter speed, which put me between 1 second and 2 seconds depending on shade. I didn’t actually put on my polarizing filter until later, and I also put a 1-stop ND on later as well.

The breadth of the stream really caught me off guard. I’m not used to shooting flowing water with such a wide footprint outside of larger rivers like the Susquehanna. I really enjoyed the variety of shooting situations on offer and it let me get creative with some things that I don’t usually get to try.

About half a mile down the trail, I came across a gorgeous scene. The mist began rising from the recently dampened trail and provided some beautiful opportunities to capture some rare light. I always wear my waterproof hiking boots so I can really get into the water. I usually come out with my feet soaked anyway, but that’s part of the fun.

I ended up shooting more than 100 images with my D750, all with my 24-120. This is my favorite from the day. I didn’t stack the rocks, but I’m glad some awesome stranger did.
cropped-tucquan_glen_stacks1.jpgShot around 3:15pm, I was very grateful to have captured the moment the mist began to flow through the trees.

Nikon D750

  • 2.5 Seconds
  • f/11
  • 32mm
  • ISO 50
  • 1-stop ND + Polarizing filter

I can’t wait to get back there and spend more time exploring the trails including some of the higher vantages I didn’t get a chance to explore today.

-Tom