From Meeting Goals to Asking Questions
Aerial drone image of Monocacy aquaduct

From Meeting Goals to Asking Questions

Have you ever been so involved with a task that you forgot what you were doing before you started? That wasn’t just a moment for me this summer. It went on for three…long… months.

Good news, I got my third conservation story published in August, and it was focused on community involvement in the Anacostia River restoration. The progress train is chugging forward at full steam. Now it was time to go back to …honestly, I sort of lost track.

Normally by the 4th of July, I have a hard drive half-full of images and video. Aerial drone shots, video from dragging a GoPro underwater, images taken while standing in the middle of a rapid – really anything involving the (Potomac or Anacostia) rivers, I can fill up a hard drive fast. They’re not all 5-star images and video clips, but it is a sign that I’m busy.

Not this summer. I had a 3-terabyte drive spinning away, and the only thing occupying its memory was archived copies of my stories, a few pictures of my wife on her birthday, and a cell phone video of my dog being cute. Yes, my dog videos get archived just the way everything else is.

I had become so focused on pitching those stories and getting them across the finish line to publication that I forgot what I normally do to explore the river and different ways of making images. Getting a story published is a goal-oriented task. You need to stay on track from researching the concept and pitching the article to making images, writing, and submitting. It’s an all-consuming task, and if you don’t treat it that way, all that work just gets archived and lost to the ether like my dog videos.

Does anybody ever watch their dog videos from several years back? Me neither.

During my summer hiatus, I went through my most compelling images outside of conservation story projects. It occurred to me that I didn’t have a particular goal in mind for any of these images. Take this spider image, for example:

This came from a 10-minute trip to my front porch between conference calls. I may have had my camera all set up for a macro image, but making this image wasn’t a task completed toward a larger goal. Yet this orb weaver image scored in the top 200 photos at the 2023 North American Nature Photographer’s competition. Go figure.

Going through my image archive taught me one thing. My most compelling images weren’t associated with a particular goal, but most of them were associated with a question, a hypothesis, or a challenge. That spider picture I mentioned – I wanted to see if I could shoot from a unique perspective. It’s probably not obvious when you look at the image, but I’m lying on my back, shooting towards the sky.

Moving forward to this past weekend, I had a free day to undertake an open-ended self-assignment. Question: how hard is it to merge video with time-lapse imagery? This actually comes from a growing interest in timelapse, and I’ve been dying to try it. The problem with timelapse is that the resulting video clip is only 10 or 20 seconds long. They don’t stand very well on their own, and you really need video to introduce the timelapse clip or to close the scene.

How hard is it to merge video and time-lapse? It’s not that easy. I still need to plan the sequence and transitions better.

Perhaps this video clip won’t end up in my portfolio, but I’m a lot closer to producing a timelapse that will. And I’m going to need a larger hard drive next year.

Monocacy Aquaduct
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