10 Tips to Soulful Photography. Tip #2: The Wow Factor

You can do this (well sorta) with your cell phone.

Tip #2: Find Something that Takes Your Breath Away!

When was the last time you said under your breath (or exclaimed out loud), “WOW?”

Last summer I went up to Mt. Rainier to hike under the stars. I was hoping to experiment doing some night photography, using some new techniques I had learned but not yet perfected. I remember getting set up with my tripod and beginning to compose a few shots and explore some different angles. I didn’t really know if the Milky Way would align with the mountain, creating the marvelous optical illusion of exploding out of the peak of our famous volcano. It was quiet, incredibly beautiful as we watched the orange to dark blue color spectrum emerge, provided by the sun setting in the west. We drank in the views of the rolling foothills below us that carried the streams and rivers fed by glacial melt from Mt. Rainier through lush forests.

Just near sunset I heard some noisy people coming up the trail to our spot. I was a little annoyed actually. Soon, two other photographers came bounding up to the spot where we were setting up near the fire lookout on Mt. Fremont. These guys were hootin and hollering, exclaiming the conditions were about the best they’d seen for a while. They were salivating. Their joy and excitement could not be contained. My annoyance began to dissipate as they started offering me advise, explaining where the Milky Way would appear and different camera settings. They were captured by the awesome wonder that was beginning to unfold before our eyes in the night sky as the sun sank deeper and deeper into the Pacific Ocean to the West. These guys were like kids.

When was the last time you felt wonder burst upon your emotions? Here’s tip #2. You need to Cultivate the Wow Factor. Look for it. It’s everywhere if we take time to look. Furthermore, you need to practice this. Like a healthy habit. What do you take in through the eye gate to keep you seeing the world like a little child? We all have had those moments when we stopped in our tracks. Go back in your mind to one of those moments. For many people (and landscape photographers seem to know this because of the types of photos we take) it’s a sunset, the pounding ocean waves, a majestic mountain enshrouded with snow. Maybe it’s a favorite iconic scene from a favorite National Park. But the sense of being awestruck can also come from a beautiful flower where you see the perfect symmetry of a blossoming flower bud. Or a droplet on a petal. I’m offering you an invitation to cultivate the habit of being profoundly moved by something.

I want to dismiss from your thinking that you need a high-end DSLR camera to capture the Wow. Sure, a better camera helps with some of the challenging issues of low light, or other limitations you have with a cell phone. But one of the rules of good photography in general is the best camera for capturing good photos is the one you have with you. Very few people walk around without their cell phone in their pocket these days. And these little guys are closing the gap between high end expensive cameras and that little piece of electronics you carry in your pocket. The point here is to open your eyes. Look at the world like a little child. Seek to recover your sense of wonder and awe. Btw, here’s a short gallery of photos I took just today on a walk around Green Lake with my cell phone. Look for the WOW factor close by.

The Skinny on this Photo: A tripod is necessary for this kind of shot. Strap on the camera. Open the ISO to around 4000. Open your f-stop to as wide as you can and take a few shots to see your results. Shutter speed should rest around 20-30 seconds. If you go longer you’ll start to get blurred stars. Which is another effect you can go for of course, making star trails. Experiment with the white balance function, moving to Kelvin 4800 to 5200′. I like to get something interesting in the foreground for star photography so the fire lookout is classic in my opinion and Mt. Rainier is just hard to improve upon. Look closely at the lower flank of the mountain. See two small lights? Those were climbers beginning their ascent up the big hill before midnight! Talk about AWESOME!

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