Photo Cascadia Blog
July 13th, 2015
By Erin Babnik
When a photograph depicts a person, it is likely to suggest storylines in a fairly straightforward manner. A single or predominant person appearing within a scene will read easily as the story’s protagonist, and details in the image will help to establish strands of the narrative. Even photographs that contain only hints of human activity may express stories with relative clarity; the inclusion of a vehicle, a tent, or a personal belonging of any sort can provide a host of clues for surmising the circumstances of a scene, the events that may have preceded them, and the events that are likely to follow. But what about photographs that present no indications of human presence or even any animals in relatable scenarios? How do they tell stories?
Whereas images with figures in them have the potential to narrate quite literally, those that display natural features exclusively tend to require more interpretation, a difference not unlike that between prose and poetry. Landscape photographs generally tell their stories with relative subtlety, ambiguity, open-endedness, and mystery, but they are nonetheless capable of narration. If we find nothing meaningful in a compelling landscape photograph, it is only because we haven’t considered the implications of what makes it hold our attention. As I hope to demonstrate with a single photograph, landscape images can communicate stories on at least three different levels: the natural, the personal, and the metaphorical.
The photograph that I have chosen to use as an example shows a scene from the Mojave Desert, just after a rainstorm. The view presents a playa etched with wide mud cracks, lying beneath a dark, cloud-filled sky. Arcing across the darkness, a full rainbow springs from a mountain ridge at the left to open desert at the right. In the foreground, two especially wide cracks in the playa dominate the rain-splattered earth, each curving inward from either side of the frame and echoing the form of the rainbow above them. This simple description identifies the essential features of the photograph, but it omits any attempt at explanation or interpretation. Reducing a photo to its descriptive attributes misses out those qualities that make landscape photographs special as representatives of an art form that combines ‘found’ views with personal experiences and expression. Even though it may happen subconsciously, ideas about a landscape photograph will eventually come forward for the interested viewer, affecting the connection that the viewer will have with it. The following three categories explore some of the ways in which a photograph may convey those ideas and thereby suggest stories.
THE NATURAL LEVEL
Any nature photograph tells a story of creation, one about the natural processes that were at work in the formation of the geological features depicted. In the case of the desert playa, the bowl-shaped depression with its pattern of cracks sprawling across the surface evince the evaporation of a shallow lake that once existed in this location. What was originally muddy sediment of the lake’s bed has since contracted and cracked through the process of desiccation after the last of the water evaporated. The rainbow, as an indicator of both the sun and the rain, demonstrates the role that weather plays in affecting the topography of the area: rain created the lake, and then the sun caused it to vanish. These events are distinct chapters in a story that is perpetually in progress.
THE PERSONAL LEVEL
While a photograph may omit people within its frame, one person is always implied by its existence: the photographer. Behind every landscape image is a story of its making, even if that story never accompanies the image in any written form. Looking at the photograph of the desert scene, a viewer could guess much about the experience of the photographer at that moment: this person traveled to a remote area, hiked to a dried lakebed, probably got a bit wet from the rain, and then was treated to the spectacle of a full rainbow. Anyone who has visited a similar area or has witnessed similar conditions will be able to project additional details into the story based on personal experience, while others may embellish the narrative with details derived purely from a vivid imagination. The story could be envisioned as one of great adventure, of personal struggle, or of simple pleasures, but regardless of how well any of these ideas may match with the actual circumstances of the photograph’s creation, they still form part of its story for the viewer who imagines them. In this regard, the viewer mentally occupies the space of the photographer, and the two become elided as that implied individual who appears nowhere in the picture and yet serves as its protagonist.
THE METAPHORICAL LEVEL
The symbolic power of natural features allows them to suggest stories of a more timeless and universal quality. While symbolism can be very culturally relevant, the realities of nature provide experiences that people across the globe tend to share and to understand similarly. For example, a rainbow may have different spiritual or political connotations in different cultures, but most people will understand it as a phenomenon that occurs when a storm breaks and the sun begins to shine, so it is likely to register as something that marks the end of a difficult experience and as a herald of positive change. At the very least, a rainbow represents something highly ephemeral, a marvel that lasts a short while and is always fresh and new. In the photograph from the Mojave Desert, the rainbow appears in alignment with much older features, the cracks in the playa surface that resemble the rainbow’s form. For the viewer willing to ponder it, this coincidence may suggest a story of rebirth or renewal: the fractured past versus a bright future. Alternatively, it could suggest a happy symbiosis between old and young, an encapsulation of the cycle of life, or an epiphany revealing a connection between disparate ideas. Many more possibilities for interpretation exist, and any one of them may resonate without the need to go through any amount of deliberate analysis—sometimes we simply know that a photo is ‘speaking’ to us, without being fully conscious of what it’s saying.
Thinking about photographs as bearers of meaning may not be necessary for the creation or the enjoyment of them, but it can be very worthwhile in either case. For the photographer, giving some thought to the stories that a location may suggest can help with the creative process, both in the field and during image development. Interpretation can also help with the process of self-curation, since those images that seem to narrate most clearly are often the ones that hold the greatest visual interest. For the viewer, taking a moment to consider a photograph’s possible narratives will slow down the viewing process, allowing greater appreciation of what an image has to offer, which is infinitely more rewarding than having knee-jerk reactions while consuming images in rapid succession.
If you enjoyed reading about the possible implications of my desert photograph, you may be interested to hear the actual story of its making. I will share my experience of that morning in a post to my Facebook page on August 3, so I encourage you to follow me there and to look out for that post. In the meantime, please feel free to share your thoughts on this topic in the comments below.
July 6th, 2015
One of the presents for my birthday this year my wife and girls got me was a great hardback book by Ed Cooper “Soul of the Heights – 50 years Going to the Mountains”. If you have a love for being in the great outdoors especially in the Pacific Northwest and don’t know who Ed Cooper is, it’s worth your time to check out his work and stories. This is only one of several books he has. I am sure the others are a feast to read and view as well.
Ed does a superb job taking the reader through a journey of what it was like being one of the early climbers in Pacific Northwest, pioneering many routes. What drew me to his work before I even got the book is a photo of his I happen to see online taken decades ago. Growing up in Oregon on large property with forest and creek I have almost always preferred to spend my time outside. Although I did not get to experience a wider variety of outdoor areas until I was older I enjoy the time travel of Ed’s photos taking me back to when I was a kid (or before in many cases) on what some areas looked like since places can and do change whether by human impact or natural occurrence. Getting back to the photo I first saw it was Mount Saint Helens… before the eruption. I was a very young kid when the mountain blew yet I still remember standing on a ridge near the Columbia River Gorge watching it erupt. His before and after series of the mountain is a reminder of the power of Mother Nature and the power of what photos convey.
After seeing the Mount St Helens photo I started looking through more of his work which has been equally enjoyable. Beyond the photos in the book are stories that start to paint a picture of how much easier we have it today in many cases. By this I mean the advancement of gear and technology to lighten our backs. I decided it was becoming too much to lug my “large” DSLR and accessories for long hikes and backpacking. With the recent quality improvements coming in smaller packages I bought a mirror-less camera setup to lighten my load. Yet here is Ed many years earlier exploring places high up, covering long distances and carrying his 4×5 or 5×7 camera and equipment that is most certainly more weight and bulk than my backpacking setup at the scale crushing weight of 8 lbs. or for that matter less than even my DSLR setup. What I am getting at is giving credit to early photographers like Ed that went the extra mile with all the right equipment to get great photos in the earlier days of photography.
Back to the book. It’s stated in the forward how Ed Cooper is a cross between Ansel Adams and Galen Rowell. I would definitely agree and was thinking along these lines before I even read that part simply from going through his work online. I would say most people reading this post have either Ansel or Galen on their list of inspiring photographers, and if Ed isn’t already I would highly suggest adding him. The stories in the book cover peaks not only in the Pacific Northwest, others across North America include Yosemite Valley and Bugaboos in Canada to name just a couple of them.
Reading stories in this book and within his social media pages is a stark reminder of what increase in population has done to restrict our freedoms in many locations we love to visit. Many of his photos captured decades ago when we had less people enjoying outdoor adventures allowed greater flexibility with less rules and regulations where and when you can go. Today many outdoor places from parks to wilderness we visit are not a free-for-all. I certainly understand why we need to have most of these limitations in place yet makes one think how enjoyable it must have been for adventurers like Ed.
If you want to buy one of his books I would suggest buying it directly from him like my wife did. Doing this you can get a personally signed copy should you want one. Here are links to his social media where you can view more of his work and follow him for future posts.
Mini Interview – Although the primary purpose of this post is mentioning my thoughts around Ed’s book and work he was gracious enough to answer a few questions for me as well.
Adrian: I read that you have moved over to digital. Can you tell me when that was and what you feel the advantages or disadvantages it has compared to film?
Ed: I made the complete shift to digital (after experimenting with it for two years) in May of 2007. There are plus and minus features.
On the plus side It relieved me of the burden of carrying heavy packs and time consuming set-ups with a view camera, and it allowed me to shoot many more different images in a set period of time than was otherwise possible. It was also a lot less expensive. At $2.50 of more for each 4×5 film exposure, and my shooting at least 4 to 5 sheets of film at each subject, to make sure one of them was the perfect exposure, costs added up quickly (My record was about 130 sheets of 4×5 film in one day in the Tetons some years ago). Also, in order for art directors and others to view the images, we had to send them out by mail or courier, a time consuming process.
On the minus side, the digital image lacks the control features of a view camera. With swings and tilts you can correct for foreshortening without having to use features of advanced digital imaging and editing programs such as Photoshop. Further, using a view camera, the user has better control of depth of field, enabling one to bring both flowers close at hand and mountains in the distance in focus in the same image. And lastly, only the most expensive digital equipment available can match the resolution in a 4×5 film image. When I scan a 4×5 image at 2400 dpi I get an image size of about 280 MB. This is enough to make a print of 30×40 inches and still have it at about 300 dpi. A sharp image indeed!
Adrian: You have been photographing professionally for many decades, seeing it change and grow. Do you have any thoughts on what the future holds for photography?
Ed: Now, with digital cameras and smart phones, everybody is a photographer. This, of course, makes it much more difficult for someone to become a pro. The use of cams in vehicles, sports helmets, and even in drones has expanded the range of what is possible. I personally don’t like drones as it really invades one sense of privacy. Can you image being on a difficult climb in the backcountry and having one of these things coming with a few feet of you to check you out? They are also quite noisy. We had one buzz our house earlier this year, and if I had a shotgun handy I would have blown it out of the sky. Selfies have become the rage now. My wife and I were on a photo trip for almost 3 weeks this June, and a growing percentage of the photos we saw being taken were selfies, many with selfie sticks as long as 3 feet. One thing is for sure. More images are being taken, both in still and video fashion, and where it will end I do not know.
Adrian: I am sure it’s virtually impossible to pick one trip or photo as a favorite. That said what is one of your favorite photos and or adventures and why?
Ed: There are quite a few images I would pick as my best, but for purposes of this blog I will pick the cover photo of the book “Fifty Years Going to the Mountains”, the east face of Bugaboo Spire in the Bugaboos in Canada, taken August 16, 1964.. Much of my early work was in B&W, and I developed the ability to “see” in B&W. I could look at a scene and immediately vision it in B&W. This was taken from a nearby peak in the Bugaboos. Having climbed this peak several years earlier, I knew the best time of day to be there to get the result I had pictured in my mind at that time. I arrived at the summit of this nearby peak, carrying a 5×7 view camera, at the proper time, in early afternoon. I used infrared film with a red filter. The side lighting on the face from the opposite direction provided the “shine” or glowing effect. I, together with Art Gran, made the first ascent of this face in August on 1960.
June 30th, 2015
By David Cobb
The first time I explored Croatia was when I crossed the eastern border through the countries of Montenegro and Albania. Six years later I explored the western portion of the country arriving through Slovenia. Both times I was greeted by friendly faces, wonderful food, and beautiful scenery to photograph. On my first visit I had time constraints so I only made it as far as Dubrovnik, but the second time I was able to explore more of the country along Plivitce National Park as well as some of the towns and villages along the Istrian coast and a bit further inland.
Dubrovnik is a photogenic city along the Adriatic Sea. The old town consists of many ancient churches, and its polished streets make for great reflections during night photography. Climbing the wall of the old fortress you can shoot down into the city and pick out patterns amongst the rooftops.
Along the western end of the country lies Plivitce National Park and its many lakes and waterfalls. Fall here can be spectacular, and there are so many grand waterfalls it’s hard to know where to begin photographing so just start and explore. I recommend you plan on spending more than a day here.
Inland near the Istrian coastline are a number of hilltop villages surrounded by vineyards. The small towns surrounding the ancient castles are more photogenic when you walk the stone streets—and offer views down to the surrounding agricultural fields that make for great pattern photography.
The Istrian Coast is beautiful too, with its beaches and cliff-side views. As always in Croatia, the towns along the coast are most photogenic and are photographed best during sunrise, sunset, and night.
There is still so much for me to explore in Croatia, especially in some of the backcountry river canyons and mountain ranges. I plan on seeing and exploring more when fellow Photo Cascadia member Sean Bagshaw and I join Luka Esenko for a fall color workshop here in 2017. There are still a few spaces available in the workshop for those interested in experiencing this great area.
June 24th, 2015
For this installment of our Featured Photographer series I decided to turn the tables on my friend, Alister Benn, and interview him. Alister and I first met a few years ago when he interviewed me for a podcast. Since then I have been an avid fan and follower. His work spans the globe, from his native Scotland to the Himalayas, and features a consistent and deliberate mood of primordial rawness and mystery. Perhaps just as impressive as his body of photographic work is the long list of interests, projects and ventures he participates in, from environmental activism and teaching to writing and music. In 2011 Alister and his wife JuanLi Sun founded the regarded nature photo site, WhyTake.net, with Rafael Rojas and Anca Minican. In September he will be presenting at the Scottish Nature Photography Festival and in the fall he will be leading a photographic journey to the Mt. Everest region with Oregon photographer, Marc Adamus. His instructional books on photographing seascapes and the night sky are works of art in their own right. I hope you enjoy reading our conversation and getting to see some of Alister’s photographs.
Give us some background into your history with photography.
I had my first SLR when I was about 13 or so and was always attracted to more abstract subjects, and birds of course. I had no idea about exposures, but picked up a few tips from my older brothers.
It wasn’t until 2003 that I had the time to invest and I bought a Canon 10D for shooting birds in the rainforests of Malaysia, where we lived at the time. Landscapes began on a trip to Canada the following year and my love of night photography started then and more or less drove my development for the next decade. I stopped photographing birds in 2007 as it had ruined birding for me, and now I am very happy to watch them without the need to make an image.
I went full time pro in 2009 and am incredibly grateful to make a living doing what I love.
From one landscape photographer to another, what is it about photographing the landscape that calls to you?
I can’t paint! But have a desperate need to say things about what I see in the landscape. For me it is a fundamental need to be expressive. As I get older, my wife Juanli and I are more reclusive and photography allows me to articulate myself without the boundaries or constraints of language or location.
Nature has a very quiet voice and can struggle to be heard under the clamor of louder, more aggressive screaming. I like to add the weight of my passion to that voice and hopefully it allows people to hear those whispers clearer and adjust their lifestyles accordingly.
You are from Scotland, which I envy. In just a few sentences describe the Scottish landscape to us through the eyes of a landscape photographer and a native. What has it taught you as an artist?
Yes, everybody has a little Scottish in them! I guess most people have a real love and connection with their home countries. My relationship with home is odd, as I left it when I was 23 after university and didn’t go back to live there until 2013, at the age of 47. I had never photographed it, and that sense of connection and discovery was really powerful for me.
Scotland is mostly a wild and sparsely populated place, with the majority of the 5 million residents living within a narrow lowland belt between the major cities. The rest of it is hills, forests, heather, lochs and bogs! The coastline is exquisite, and I am constantly finding new coves and hidden stretches as my explorations continues.
I cannot separate the landscape from my perceptions of what it means to be a Scot; the history, our culture and our passions. The landscape stretches before me both into the past and into the future.
I have only felt comfortable with calling myself an artist since earlier this year, until then I called myself an expressive landscape photographer. There is a subtle shift, but profound for me. Scotland did that, a full on immersion into the landscape and only making images when I have something to say.
In addition to your homeland, you have spent time traveling, living and photographing many parts of the world: China, Spain, Canada, Iceland to name a few. Where do you feel you have done your best work? Do you get more inspiration from exploring new places or from returning to places familiar?
Interestingly I am writing this from Iceland, where I have just finished a private workshop for a lovely couple from Canada. I’d say my best work stretches across the globe, from all the places you mention above. There are images I am quite proud of, but I think, like many, I am usually most connected with my most recent images.
I used to adhere very much to the familiarity methodology, especially where planning certain images was concerned: You know, moon coming up there, Milky Way there etc. now, less so, I am less of a weather chaser and far happier making appropriate images dictated by the now and the moment. For people traveling great distances to shoot iconic landscapes, managing those weather expectations is the hardest thing. I smile often here on Iceland when other photographers say things like “I was hoping for some clouds!”
Your images are dramatic and moody and have a consistent voice and feel. How would you describe photographic vision that guides your body of work?
As I mature (still waiting for adulthood!) – I feel much more compelled to inject myself into my work. It began as a conscious thing, not to shoot like anybody else, to try, whenever possible, to be Alister. Now, it is subliminal and just happens, I think I have found my style and my voice.
Basically, what I am saying is this. The planet is in a dark and desperate state, extinctions, deforestations, an ever increasing desire for sustainable growth – but despite all that pessimism, I feel an innate sense of hope. So, my images tend to be dark and ominous, but with a glimmer of radiance that is my beacon of optimism.
You are notorious in photography circles for your energy, vision and ability to work on several projects simultaneously. You collaborate with other photographers, lead tours, teach, write books and are also a talented musician. What current and future projects do you have in the works?
Wow, I didn’t realize all that! After nearly 5 years of work we are closing the whytake.net website. It’s been a labor of love, but demands a lot of our time and creative energy. I know that my personal work and Available Light Images have suffered because of that demand.
Juanli and I are currently excited by our own personal development, our continued exploration of the Scottish landscape and our workshops/tours. I truly love teaching, watching the lights go on in people’s eyes as they make that realization that they can shoot like themselves.
I am excited that my best images are in the future and not in the past, I am excited by photographing anonymous stretches of the Scottish coastline that are not all over social media!
See more of Alister’s Fine Art Prints – alisterbenn.com
Tours, workshops & eBooks – availablelightimages.com
Follow Alister on Facebook
June 22nd, 2015
By Kevin McNeal
The 2015 Yosemite in Spring photo tour began with expectations of lush green landscapes, spring-fed waterfalls and endless bloom of dogwoods—and Yosemite did not disappoint. After meeting my group at the Fresno airport we made the journey north through Wawona and into Yosemite National Park. En route we took the opportunity to look at a few of the anticipated highlights of the park. Our accommodation for the week at Yosemite Lodge was nestled right in the heart of the valley, so we would have access to many locations that were a short distance away.
Our first photo session was special as it was a night with a full moon and the anticipation of moonbow photography. This event occurs as a full moon in spring or early summer shines directly on a rushing waterfall to create a nighttime lunar rainbow. Mist from the waterfall, a dark sky, bright moonlight and the right “rainbow geometry” must all come together. Following dinner, our group was at Lower Yosemite Falls to see the rainbow and get good images of this spectacular event.
The following morning we were at Ahwahnee Lodge for breakfast and enjoyed some time to photograph the classic lodge in its stunning setting among blooming dogwoods. Photographing the interior of the lodge gave us a chance to practice some creative photo techniques. Later, returning to Yosemite Falls, we found some unique compositions and practiced our skills using a neutral density filter to photograph long exposures on the waterfall to create a different mood. Following lunch, El Capitan Bridge provided many opportunities for shooting reflections in the Merced River. The river was running very nicely considering California’s drought conditions. The lush green vegetation was better than expected and provided some nice backgrounds. At sunset we continued our exploration of reflections by shooting images of Half Dome in the Merced River near Chapel Meadow.
Starting out very early the next morning we drove to Tahiti Beach, a special spot along the Merced. It was a good morning for reflections in the river and in spring-fed pools and we were treated to stunning light on the Three Brothers and iconic El Capitan.
After a well-deserved late breakfast, we took a park shuttle bus—exciting for everyone as it was reminiscent of summer camp—to Mirror Lake. Taking our time hiking the 2-mile trip to the lake and back, we stopped along the way to photograph waterfall cascades. The lake provided some of the best photographic opportunities we had, including numerous unique reflections.
After dinner that day we headed out to the stone arch of Pohono Bridge to photograph spring dogwoods and sun stars. This gave us some good practice using creative techniques. We focused on both the dogwoods and a sun star to really capture both in the same image. We were even able to shoot some stunning late light under the Pohono Bridge. In the last two days we had found some incredible photographic compositions along the Merced River.
Still excited from the night before and the images we shot, the following day we looked for more interesting compositions at the Swinging Bridge which spans both sides of the Merced River. Here, the sunrise light hits Upper Yosemite Falls and reflects nicely in the river, making everything around it look lusciously green. We took the morning to shoot at a spot we found where we could photograph in all directions—and had something different to shoot every time.
After spending the last few days in Yosemite Valley we got news that Tioga Pass and the Upper Yosemite Road had opened. This was a nice surprise as the pass does not usually open up until late May. We spent the rest of the day on the journey over Tioga Pass, traveling to Lee Vining for dinner. Along the way, we found many places to shoot, including an out-of-the-way lake that was perfect for reflections. A stop at Olmstead Point provided one of the most stunning vistas of Half Dome, where we focused on finding unique compositions and using some of the photogenic solo trees in the image. We returned to Yosemite Valley for a sunset shoot at Tunnel View where some dramatic clouds made the breathtaking scenics even better. After a great day of shooting we headed back to our lodge for some well-deserved rest.
The next morning we woke to some very atmospheric mist and fog in the valley, making for interesting images at El Capitan Meadow, including some early wildflowers. After hearing news of overnight snow in the upper elevations of the park we drove to Tuolumne Grove for some forest scenes with snow falling around the giant sequoias.
Our final full day of the tour began with photography along the low-lying mist-draped Merced River. Then, as the fog began to lift, rolling in and out of the valley, Yosemite’s dramatic rock formations covered with the fresh snow rose out of the mist. I think we photographed just about every spot in Yosemite Valley when we saw those amazing conditions! While we were shooting in Cook’s Meadow we even had the rare opportunity to see two coyotes playing with each other for almost an hour—all while the surrounding peaks were providing some unforgettable moments. That evening we celebrated our day of success at our final group dinner.
In one week, we had experienced enough drama in the Yosemite’s springtime weather conditions and created stunning images to last us a long time.
On our final morning of the tour we were ready for an early start back to the Fresno airport, but rather than stopping for breakfast, we decided to take our last opportunity to look for the early morning fog which had made for some spectacular shooting conditions. Within minutes we knew we had made the right decision. Cook’s Meadow was lit up with beautiful morning light mixed with the low-lying fog—making it the best morning we had yet. We got some great shots and even made it to the airport in time!
We had captured Yosemite’s expected iconic landscapes, cascading waterfalls and creamy-blossomed dogwoods, but we also left with images of rare moonbows, unique “reflectionscapes,” unanticipated vistas, sequoias in a snowfall, playful coyotes, and dramatic low-lying tendrils of fog in Yosemite’s deep valley beneath towering rock peaks. Saying our good-byes we were already looking forward to reliving the week through our images.
June 15th, 2015
I just finished up a very enjoyable workshop season down in the Palouse region of Washington State. As many of you know, I live just on the North side of this beautiful area and I am lucky to be able to visit often and give multiple photography tours and workshops during peak season. This was my first time back since my little boy David was born. I had a wonderful group of clients this year and we had some really great conditions. I did a quick edit of some of the images we were after this spring and wanted to share some with you. The above and below images were shot from Steptoe Butte at sunrise while some nice fog rolled in and out of the hills.
Shortly after sunrise on our walk back down to the car, we found this nice patch of wildflowers and had some fun shooting them with these three trees up on the hill. A focus stack was needed for this shot. The flowers were blowing around a bit, and I didn’t want to go too wide and make the trees too small, so I used my 24-70mm zoom lens and shot a series of images for a blend in Photoshop to get good sharpness throughout the image.
While out and about, we found this fascinating structure and photographed it for a while. The whole thing was made out of 2×4’s and none of us could figure out what it was. It had these hatch doors through each wall seen in the shot below looking through.
The Canola was a little late this year because of an early freeze but we found a really nice patch just out of Colfax.
A trip to the Palouse just isn’t complete without a stop at a barn or two.
With clouds overhead, there can be some great spot lighting during times of the day other than sunrise or sunset.
Catching the sunrise up at Steptoe Butte is a must.
Although Steptoe Butte is a favorite, there are many other places to photograph the sunset.
Many techniques used on these images are demonstrated in my image editing videos
For more images and info on my workshops visit my website chipphillipsphotography
June 11th, 2015
Lightening and darkening (often referred to as dodging and burning) in selective areas of an image to enhance existing light and shadow, to guide the eye or to increase depth and contour is a technique I commonly use. Both in Lightroom and Photoshop there are many ways to make localized lightening and darkening adjustments.
One of the most popular and effective dodging and burning techniques photographers use is the 50% blended gray layer method. This is a technique I have demonstrated in several of my tutorials, including THIS ONE and THIS ONE as part of previous video blogs I have published here on PhotoCascadia. The 50% gray layer technique works great, but it does have a limitation. Often, after using the 50% gray layer method to lighten or darken, I wish that I could easily make further adjustments to the lightened or darkened areas…for example, I might want to adjust the contrast, saturation or color balance of just the the areas I had lightened or darkened. There isn’t an easy way to do this with a 50% gray layer, but using an empty or transparent layer instead of a 50% gray layer solves the problem. In this video I deomstrate how it works:
I hope you find this technique a useful addition to your Photoshop skill set. Give it a try and leave me a comment to let me know what you think.
June 3rd, 2015
by Zack Schnepf
When it comes to photography, I get excited when I see a storm in the forecast. Many of my favorite images are taken before, after, or during a storm. It doesn’t always work out, and there are risks to shooting in stormy conditions, but there is potential for dramatic light and atmospheric conditions that can turn a normal scene into something extraordinary. Galen Rowell wrote a lot about transitional light and atmosphere and it is in those transitional moments when you can often capture things you normally don’t get to see. Rainbows, lightning, a fresh coat of snow, or massive cumulus clouds catching the setting sun. In this article I’ll talk about many of my own experiences photographing before, after, or during storms and illustrate some of the incredible and dramatic things you can see.
This first image is a perfect example of how a storm can turn an ordinary scene into an extraordinary one. While photographing the Mesquite Dunes in Death Valley, I found this spot and knew I wanted to come back if conditions became interesting. Sure enough, a thunderstorm rolled through that afternoon. It was moving fast and I was on the other side of the dunes, so I ran as fast I could to get back to this spot. I arrived just in time to capture this scene. A few moments later the dappled light on the dunes was gone and storm was dissipating. For me, the dramatic clouds and dappled light make this image, something I would only see during a storm.
During my trip to colorado last fall with Sean Bagshaw we encountered several storms. It would have been so easy to take the day off and catch up on sleep, but both Sean and I know the potential of shooting around storms, each time we would get really excited for the potential to see some dramatic storm conditions. The two images I’ve included here are both good examples of beautiful scenes that were transformed into something incredible with the dramatic light and atmosphere afforded by the storms.
This next image is one of the more unique scenes I’ve witnessed in person. I had been watching the forecast and saw a chance for a break in the storm track. I arrived at 2am to start hiking through the deep powder. It was still snowing hard and there was no sign of it letting up, but I persisted in knowing that if it did clear there would be the potential for something special. Sure enough, as I reached the top of Tumalo mountain I looked back toward Mt. Bachelor and saw one of the more awe inspiring sights of my life. The clouds were parting around the mountain and the landscape was bathed in a dreamy purple/pink predawn light. I’ve never seen anything like it. A great example of the type of light and atmosphere you only see around storms.
Sometimes the storm itself is the subject. This thunderstorm rolled over Kevin McNeal and myself several years ago while photographing on Steptoe Butte. We watched the storms build and move toward us, we both were pretty excited as we don’t get the opportunity to photograph lightning very often in the Northwest. This image was captured as the sun was setting into the storm and the lightning was firing away.
This image is one you might not expect to be a storm image, but in fact it was taken during a clearing rainstorm. I was teaching a workshop with Adrian Klein and Kevin McNeal in the Palouse. We headed out for sunrise even though it was not looking very promising. It was cold and rainy, but we persevered. We didn’t see a sunrise on this morning, but about 30 minutes after sunrise the clouds started to break up and the sun shone through the falling rain creating the atmosphere in this scene. If you look you can see the sun filtering though the rain in the background.
Sometimes it’s the aftermath of the storm that makes an image spectacular. This image was captured at the end of a 2 week cold wet snow storm near Mt. Hood. I saw a clearing coming up on the forecast and decided to really commit to capturing this image which I’d been trying to capture for some time. I backpacked in and camped for four days on this ridge above mirror lake. It snowed non stop for the first three days, but on the final day the storm cleared revealing the most pristine snow scene I’ve ever witnessed. Everything was coated with a thick icing like layer of snow creating one of my all time favorite images.
This last example is my favorite image. It was taken in the Enchantment Lakes wilderness in the Stuart Mountain range of Washington. After a brutal backpack trip into the area, I quickly dropped all my gear and scouted the area for sunrise the next morning. I only had a few minutes before the light was gone. I set up camp and went right to bed. I woke an hour before sunrise, but when I peeked my head out of my tent I saw the early dawn light was already illuminating the clouds of an approaching snow storm. I literally jumped out of my tent, grabbed my gear and sprinted to the spot I scouted the night before. I arrived just in time to capture this scene before the storm clouds obscured the rising sun. The snow storm blocked the sun for the rest of the trip, but it was all worth it for this one incredible image of a snow storm lit up by the sunrise.
As you can see, there can be incredible opportunities for photographing around storms. You do need to be careful, as I’ve had a few close calls photographing during storms as well, but the potential for dramatic light and atmosphere keeps me coming back to photograph storms more and more.
May 25th, 2015
By Erin Babnik
Landscape photography entails a variety of challenges that can make a successful outing feel like a real triumph, but chief among them may be the task of ‘organizing’ nature through image composition. Nature’s many forms typically coincide in haphazard displays until an act of framing and alignment brings a sense of order to the chaos. Fortunately for those of us who are willing to look for them, there are numerous patterns common in the natural world that can give an image some essential structure. The five patterns that I have chosen to feature in this article each work well as a primary compositional scheme, providing an image with strong grand forms that can register a clear sense of intention. While these five are among the more prevalent patterns in landscapes, there are many others worth finding, and creating an exhaustive list of them would probably be impossible. At the same time, even these five patterns have qualities in common, owing to their shared reliance on aesthetic principles. Having a strong understanding of the fundamentals and complexities of those principles will always provide the greatest foundation for making compositional decisions, but recognizing patterns can be an excellent aid in thinking abstractly and in responding to visual stimuli.
While I chose to feature these five patterns because of their prevalence in nature, they also have in common a tendency to work well in combination with strong hierarchical arrangements: compositions that feature a point of visual interest that registers as the primary one in a scene. Of course, not all successful compositions must employ the principle of hierarchy; for example, some images, especially many abstracts, derive their visual interest from a complete lack of it, presenting instead a kind of patterning that keeps the eye entertained by subtle variations within an otherwise homogenous collection of forms. My own habits favor hierarchy, however, so the examples that I have included here are of that sort.
Before committing to any one of these patterns in the field, it may be helpful to remember some tips for maximizing their effectiveness. Above all, for any of these patterns to read well, they should probably be dominant structures in a scene, clearly expressed and not competing with any other strong forms. Secondly, for them to help to establish a sense of visual hierarchy, they will have to contribute to the overall order of the image, ensuring that the viewer’s attention gets directed towards whatever part of a scene constitutes its primary point of interest. In other words, forms that lead to or emphasize a feature will tend to strengthen that feature visually, playing a supporting role and helping the eye to identify where it should rest between explorations of the frame. Lastly, it is important to keep in mind that lines in nature may correspond with these forms and still not read well if the light in a scene is working against them, so it is never enough simply to find lines—those lines will require light that helps to define them. Indeed, light may be the very quality that creates forms that would not exist otherwise.
With those caveats in mind, we can now have a look at each of these five patterns separately. The icons below summarize each pattern graphically for the sake of clarity and recall, but they are not intended to represent complete compositions or to depict the exact forms that a pattern must take. These patterns are simple components that may appear in combination with other elements, and the icons are merely suggestive of a range of possibilities that exists for each pattern.
Compositions featuring this pattern will contain a prominent mass or collection of elements that attract the eye to the foreground and then plunge it into the background of a scene. The form that directs the eye may originate from any area near the bottom of the frame. If the shape of the pattern leads to a clear visual payoff in the background, then it will help to establish that background feature as the primary point of visual interest.
When one prominent element in a scene repeats the forms of another, it creates a visual ‘echo’, as it were. The related elements strengthen each other by association, and if one of them is the primary feature of the scene or else leads to it, then the entire image is likely to have a strong sense of hierarchy and intention. Finding an ‘echo’ in a scene will usually give the viewer that ‘aha moment’ that can make viewing an image particularly exciting.
THE LAYER CAKE
When overlapping layers have adequate separation, they can create an exciting sense of depth in a scene. Layers that share visual qualities will also provide an image with a certain rhythm that helps to hold it all together. Hierarchy in this case will be established by one layer being picked out in some way, perhaps by light or by it containing a strong element that anchors the entire scene.
Similar to The Plunge, this pattern leads the eye into the background, but in this case using diagonal lines that may leave room for negative space or for an area of texture in the foreground. The lines may be literal (that is, solid lines) or suggestive (that is, made up of repeating elements that cohere into lines), and they will typically emanate out of the lower corners or else near to them. Whatever area the diagonal lines point towards will become the focus of attention, so it is usually best if the viewer can find something interesting there.
This pattern is characterized by a multitude of strong lines or forms all converging on a single element. The directional forces may originate in any area of the frame, and there may be any number of them, but a strong element will pull them all together.
As I mentioned above, these five patterns are just a selection that have certain aesthetic principles in common, such as their ability to create directional force or to help establish a visual hierarchy. Are there any patterns that you tend to find often in nature that are not represented here? If so, please feel free to describe them in the comments below.
Erin divides her time between Cascadia’s Californian southern boundary and Slovenia, traveling and photographing extensively from home bases in both locations. Make sure to bookmark Erin’s site at www.erinbabnik.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter and 500px.
May 18th, 2015
There are a few photographers I have met that don’t have any immediate family, by this I mean no significant other and no children. The majority of us have at least one or both. If you are young maybe none of the above still applies yet give it time and it will likely change. I have heard the comment many times that you can’t mix family and photography very well into the same trip and if you want good photos you need to have a photography only trip. I used to think that was mostly true before changing my tune over the years.
Don’t misinterpret what I am saying, I understand it’s a completely different dynamic when you are out on your own or with a few friends photographing versus as a family trying to make time for photos. That said it can work with the right perspective. I am married with young children. I experience family trips in beautiful places working on balancing it all out. Landscape photography is certainly harder than other professions or hobbies that might be all at home or local, rather than requiring travel. Now I look back with quite a few photos in my portfolio from trips taken with my wife, just the kids or the whole family even if they are not carrying a camera or with their radar always on for photos like me.
There is one photo that for some reason sticks out in my mind which relates to this topic. It is from well-known Marc Muench, and I saw it a number of year’s back when he posted on Facebook. You can see more in the link, yet in short it’s about having a small window to get the shot before a child needs your attention or are playing in the middle of shot quite possibly changing the scene. The photo is beautiful storm sky scene and had he not made any comments about his children playing while photographing I would have seen only the serene scene in my head. Without additional context you simply don’t know what is happening outside the view of the lens.
Fortunately I have an amazing wife who is supportive of my photography, and kids that love being outdoors which certainly makes it easier to walk the balance beam of family and photography. That aside there are things to think about that can help balance out unreasonable expectations from reality to make everyone happy in the end.
1. Communicate what your intentions of a trip are ahead of time. If you have one thought and your family has another, these will collide during the trip and you don’t want that.
2. Don’t force a family trip into being 100% about the photos you want to capture. Be okay not getting every shot and moment. Your camera is not the only focus.
3. Support your significant other for their passion or hobby. Your intense burning desire to sprint out the door for photos may not be met with the same level of enthusiasm by your partner if it’s only one sided.
4. Don’t sulk about missing a great sunrise or sunset. Trust me this is not easy yet I am a little more at peace with this now than I used to be when I started photography.
5. Plan your photo trips and family trips (when possible) so it’s not always a surprise. We use a shared online calendar so my wife and I are always in the know of each other’s plans. For example if there is a low tide I want to hit on the coast I add it to our shared calendar so it’s visible to her what I am planning to do.
6. Realize you cannot take endless time scouting and photographing when on a family trip. Ask yourself if this scene is one you want to take or move on. It’s the difference between a scene that you clearly see a great composition vs one you know has good potential yet might take a while working it to get what you want.
7. Take photos of your family; then they won’t feel like it’s all about you. Sometimes they add to the scene for your landscape photos not to mention memories.
8. If you have a young child that still takes naps leverage this. Get up early on the trip for sunrise photography and then catch up on sleep later on during the kids nap time (assuming someone is there while he/she sleeps in). It’s a win-win with photo time and losing little family time.
9. Don’t think every trip needs to be a big multi-week production of thousands of miles on the road or multiple layovers. In many cases a 3 to 4 day trip just for photography allows you to focus without worrying about the balance for a long trip. The reverse can be said too.
10. Include your kids in your photography (hoping they have an interest). Let them take a photo with your camera and show it to them on the LCD. Show them what the buttons and settings do. Even if nothing ever happens to that file it’s the connection to what you’re doing that matters.
11. If you like to spend time with your photography outdoors for hiking, camping and the like don’t wait until your kids are older to expose them to that life. Start young and you will see there is a good chance they will grow to enjoy it making it easier and more fun for everyone later on.
12. If it’s a short single day trip and you have different camera systems bringing your smaller light weight system might be a better approach (ex: your mirror-less system). At least if you bring your larger camera system leave some of your arsenal of lenses and accessories behind so it doesn’t give the appearance you are taking over the day.
It’s been an internal tug-o-war for me since the relationship between photography and I became serious about a decade ago that only over the last couple years have I dealt with much better. Although I love taking photos of primarily nature it’s the photos I have of my family from these trips that I will remember as much or more decades from now. In a matter of days I am off to the Redwoods for 5 nights with my family. The plan is a blended trip of family and photography. Wish me luck on striking the right balance!
If you have stories to share on what works for you (or doesn’t) please feel free to share with a comment on this post.