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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Developing the Camera Eye

Nov 02, 2015 02:36PM ● By Dale Bruder

Lucky Strike by Greg McCown

Greg McCown’s passion for photography began on a tourist boat circumnavigating the Hawaiian Islands. “I was awed by the sunset, the sky and the ocean,” says the photographer. “Never gave cameras much thought, but something had me pick up my wife’s camera, frame an image in the viewfinder and start taking pictures.” This moment started McCown on the journey to becoming a photographer.

The new hobby grew into an obsession. Each succeeding photograph deepened his understanding of what makes a great picture. The camera does not discriminate, it captures everything in front of it. McCown learned how to choose a camera viewpoint that makes the subject the center of attention through online tutorials and trial-and-error—shooting a ton of pictures.

Now his pictures fill the frame in a way that makes the focal point clear. Nature shots, in particular, offer large-scale features that can diffuse or create confusion. Majestic as rock formations, skyscapes and cactus stands can be, the camera viewpoint sees it all, whereas the human eye discerns and focuses on where the attention is drawn. McCown has learned to compose the frame to include an appropriate amount of empty space to complement the filled space.

McCown’s composition uses converging lines to give a strong sense of perspective and three-dimensional depth. His photographs of Arivipa Canyon’s sheer walls, scattered vegetation, meandering stream and the suggestion of sky above are printed in large format, giving the impression one can step into the scene.

His lightning photographs offer the most drama. McCown’s first consideration is location of the camera and setting the viewpoint. The mountains, hills, canyons and valleys of the Southern Arizona region offer many beautiful locations, but not all will yield the dramatic result every time. Joining one of McCown’s workshops provides photography enthusiasts the opportunity to go to his shooting spots and prepare for nature’s visual expression of weather, sun or moonlight and landscape. “The Colossal Cave region south of the Rincon Mountains often offers rich images for the beginning photographer,” recommends McCown.

McCown offers three private workshops on landscape, nightscape and lightning (as in thunderbolts) photography. His workshops are experiential, spending the dawning early morning and dusk to night hours with students, setting up and shooting pictures.

Workshop attendees are required to have a digital SLR camera, a selection of lenses with high ISO capabilities and a tripod. “Just because you have an expensive camera doesn’t mean you’ll take fantastic pictures,” says McCown. “Learning your camera takes time and attention to understand shutter speed, aperture and ISO settings. I spent hours and hours shooting pictures of my ceiling fan at every possible combination of settings to fully understand what my camera can do.”

That is just the beginning. Developing an eye for composition requires a discerning vision. Viewing a picture is a technique of scanning the image with a trained eye. The same eye is required in composing a picture—it’s called the rule of thirds.

Aside from attention to viewpoint detail and camera setup is patient observation. Sunrises and sunsets are always dramatic in a well composed shot, but weather moves quickly. McCown has learned and teaches how to be attentively patient for every possibility and to be ready in a nanosecond.

Automatic shutters are not that beneficial, in McCown’s view. There is a gap between each photo shot when the circuit board is busy collecting the image, while the tumultuous weather that produces the light shows we enjoy in the sky triggers with nary a warning. Light travels faster than sound and the thunder clap of the electrical spark that deafens our hearing arrives after our eyes have been dazzled.

Many amateur photographers catch lightning, but McCown has been in the right place at the right time to grab visceral feelings out of the sky.

The photographer avoids software that alters or enhances his photo images, and instead relies on his knowledge of his camera’s ISO capabilities. Simply, ISO settings refer to the camera’s sensitivity to light. His image of a jumping cactus skeleton and a saguaro lit by full moonlight appears painterly in its stark qualities. The night sky above shows the time the camera took to collect the image with elongated starlight. An eye for composition, perspective and empty space tells a visual story that is both provocative and stimulating.

McCown’s relationship with his photography became beneficial when the pictures hanging in his east side real estate office became wanted and desired. “Quite some time ago, someone asked if she could buy several of my pictures,” recalls the artist. “What I originally saw as a hobby evolved into something much more.”

McCown won’t be quitting his day job to become exclusively a photographer, but he is expanding his reach through his Facebook postings, where a lightning strike photo reached 100,000-plus likes—an acknowledgment of his skill set. “It’s paying for itself now,” McCown says. Arizona highways, take notice; there’s a developed photographic talent ready for his close-up.

For a gallery of Greg McCown’s photographs and a list of his workshops, visit Connect with him at 520-907-6760.

Dale Bruder is a freelance writer interested in creative people, social and cultural movements and applications of ancient esoteric knowledge. Connect with him at 520-331-1956 or [email protected].